An ancient Egyptian sign of life in hieroglyphics, transmitted to the Christian Egyptians as the cross or sign of eternal life. The ankh in the form of a cross with a rounded head was always carried by the gods of Egyptian mythology as well as by the pharaohs, who were also regarded as gods. The regular cross is also to be found in ancient Egyptian art. The child god Horus, wearing a chain with a cross round his neck, is sometimes seen sucking at the breast of the goddess Isis.
The same is encountered with the god Nefer-Hotep and the god Bess. In the early Christian period, the ankh was automatically adopted as a cross, sometimes with a regular cross inside the rounded head of the ankh. According to the church historian Socrates (380-450), when Pope THEOPHILUS (385-412), the twenty-third patriarch, ordered the destruction of the Temple of Serapis in Alexandria, numerous cross signs were found engraved on its walls amid the hieroglyphic writings (Historia ecclesiastica 5.16). The Christians affirmed this feature exultingly as signals of the life to come in the new religion, which was consequently adopted by throngs of converts. The Temple of Serapis, full of ankh or cross signs, was eventually turned into a Christian church, according to such writers of Christian antiquity as RUFINUS (345-410) and SOZOMEN (fifth century).
- Budge, E. A. The Gods of the Egyptians, 2 vols. London and Chicago, 1904; New York, 1969.
- Cramer, M. Das altägyptische Lebenzeichen im christlichen- koptischen Ägypten. Wiesbaden, 1955.
- Neale, J. M. A History of the Holy Eastern Church— The Patriarchate of Alexandria. London, 1847.
EMILE MAHER ISHAQ