Legend of Ra and Isis.
"Ra in heaven and upon earth?" Now, behold,
each day Ra entered at the head of his holy mariners and established himself upon the throne of the two horizons. The holy one
had grown old, he dribbled at the mouth, his spittle fell upon the earth, and
his slobbering dropped upon the ground. And Isis kneaded it with earth in her
hand, and formed thereof a sacred serpent in the form of a spear; she set it
not upright before her face, but let it lie upon the ground in the path whereby
the great god went forth, according to his heart's desire, into his double
kingdom. Now the holy god arose, and the gods who followed him as though he
were Pharaoh went with him; and he came forth according to his daily wont; and
the sacred serpent bit him. The flame of life departed from him, and he who
dwelt among the cedars (?) was overcome. The holy god opened his mouth, and the
cry of his majesty reached unto heaven. His company of gods said, "What
hath happened?" and his gods exclaimed, "What is it?" But Ra
could not answer, for his jaws trembled and all his members quaked; the poison
spread swiftly through his flesh just as the
The holy god opened his mouth and said, "I was passing along my path,
and I was going through the two regions of my lands according to my heart's
desire, to see that which I had created, when lo! I was bitten by a serpent
which I saw not. Is it fire? Is it water? I am colder than water, I am hotter
than fire. All my flesh sweateth, I quake, my eye
hath no strength, I cannot see the sky, and the sweat rusheth
to my face even as in the time of summer." Then said
Legend of Ra and Isis.
his mother,' from whom spring the delights of love.
I have made the heavens, I have stretched out the two horizons like a curtain,
and I have placed the soul of the gods within them. I am he who, if he openeth his eyes, doth make the light, and, if he closeth them, darkness cometh into being. At his command
Thus we see that even to the great god Ra were attributed all the weakness and frailty of mortal man; and that "gods" and "goddesses" were classed with beasts and reptiles, which could die and perish. As a result, it seems that the word "God" should be reserved to express the name of the Creator of the Universe, and that neteru, usually rendered "gods," should be translated by some other word, but what that word should be it is almost impossible to say.
The belief in One God.
From the attributes of God set forth in Egyptian texts of all periods, Dr. Brugsch, de Rougé, and other
eminent Egyptologists have come to the opinion that the dwellers in the
[1. The hieratic text of this story was published by Pleyte and Rossi, Le Papyrus de Turin, 1869-1876, pll. 31-77, and 131-138; a French translation of it was published by M. Lefébure, who first recognized the true character of the composition, in Aeg. Zeitschrift, 1883, p. 27 ff; and a German translation by Wiedemann is in his collection of "Sonnensagen," Religion der alten Aegypter, Münster, 1890, p. 29 ff.
2 A similar difficulty also exists in Hebrew, for elomhim means both God and "gods"; compare Psalm lxxxii., i.]
unity of a supreme and self-existent being, his eternity, his almightiness, and external reproduction thereby as God; the attributing of the creation of the world and of all living beings to this supreme God; the immortality of the soul, completed by the dogma of punishments and rewards: such is the sublime and persistent base which, notwithstanding all deviations and all mythological embellishments, must secure for the beliefs of the ancient Egyptians a most honourable place among the religions of antiquity." Nine years later he developed this view, and discussed the difficulty of reconciling the belief in the unity of God with the polytheism which existed in Egypt from the earliest times, and he repeated his conviction that the Egyptians believed in a self-existent God who was One Being, who had created man, and who had endowed him with an immortal soul. In fact, de Rougé amplifies what Champollion-Figeac (relying upon his brother's information) wrote in 1839: "The Egyptian religion is a pure monotheism, which manifested itself externally by a symbolic polytheism." M. Pierret adopts the view that the texts show us that the Egyptians believed in One infinite and eternal God who was without a second, and he repeats Champollion's dictum. But the most recent supporter of the monotheistic theory is Dr. Brugsch, who has collected a number of striking passages from the texts. From these passages we may select the following:--
God is one and alone, and none other existeth with Him--God is the One, the One who hath made all things--God is a spirit, a hidden spirit, the spirit of spirits, the great spirit of the Egyptians, the divine spirit--God is from the beginning, and He hath been from the beginning, He hath existed from old and was when nothing else had being. He existed when nothing else existed, and what existeth He created after He had come into being, He is the Father of beginnings--God is the eternal One, He is eternal and infinite and endureth for ever and aye--God is hidden and no man knoweth His form. No man hath been able to seek out His likeness; He is hidden to gods and men, and He is a mystery unto His creatures. No man knoweth how to know Him--His name remaineth hidden; His name is a mystery unto His children. His names are innumerable, they are manifold and none knoweth their number--God is truth and He liveth by truth and He feedeth thereon. He is the king of truth, and He hath stablished the earth thereupon--God is life and through Him
[1. Études des Rituel Funéraire des Anciens Égyptiens (in Revue Archéologique), Paris, 1860, p. 72.
2. La croyance à l'Unité du Dieu suprême, à ses attributs de Créateur et de Législateur de l'homme, qu'il a doué d'une âme immortelle; voilà les notions primitives enchâssées comme des diamants indestructibles au milieu des superfétations mythologiques accumulées par les siècles qui ont passé sur cette vieille civilization. See Conference sur la Religion des anciens Égyptiens (in Annales de Philosophic Chrétienne, 5ième Série, t. xx., Paris, 1869, pp. 325-337).
3. Égypte, Paris, 1839, p. 245, col. 1.
4. Le Panthéon Égyptien, Paris, 1881, p. 4.]
only man liveth. He giveth life to man, He breatheth the breath of life into his nostrils--God is father and mother, the father of fathers, and the mother of mothers. He begetteth, but was never begotten; He produceth, but was never produced; He begat himself and produced himself. He createth, but was never created; He is the maker of his own form, and the fashioner of His own body--God Himself is existence, He endureth without increase or diminution, He multiplieth Himself millions of times, and He is manifold in forms and in members--God hath made the universe, and He hath created all that therein is; He is the Creator of what is in this world, and of what was, of what is, and of what shall be. He is the Creator of the heavens, and of the earth, and of the deep, and of the water, and of the mountains. God hath stretched out the heavens and founded the earth-What His heart conceived straightway came to pass, and when He hath spoken, it cometh to pass and endureth for ever--God is the father of the gods; He fashioned men and formed the gods--God is merciful unto those who reverence Him, and He heareth him that calleth upon Him. God knoweth him that acknowledgeth Him, He rewardeth him that serveth Him, and He protecteth him that followeth Him.
Monotheism and polytheism coexistent.
Because, however, polytheism existed side by side with monotheism in Egypt,
M. Maspero believes that the words "God
One" do not mean "One God" in our sense of the words; and Mr. Renouf thinks that the "Egyptian nutar
never became a proper name." Whether polytheism grew from monotheism in
The sun the emblem of God.
From a number of passages drawn from texts of all periods it is clear that the form in which God made himself manifest to man upon earth was the sun, which the Egyptians called Ra and that all other gods and goddesses were forms of him. The principal authorities for epithets applied to God and to His visible emblem the sun are the hymns and litanies which are found inscribed upon
[1. Brugsch, Religion und Mythologie, pp. 96-99. The whole chapter on the ancient Egyptian conception of God should be read with M. Maspero's comments upon it in La Mythologie Égyptienne (Études de Mythologie, t. ii., p. 189 ff.).
2. Hibbert Lectures, p. 99.
omtrent de wording van den Egyptischen
Godsdienst (in Geschiedenis
van den Godsdienst in de Oudheid,
4 See the chapter "Dieu se manifestant par le soleil," in Pierret, Essai sur la Mythologie Égyptienne, pp. 18, 19.]
Confusion of gods.
the walls of tombs, stelæ, and papyri of the XVIIIth dynasty; and these prove that the Egyptians ascribed the attributes of the Creator to the creature. The religious ideas which we find in these writings in the XVIIIth dynasty are, no doubt, the outcome of the religion of earlier times, for all the evidence now available shows that the Egyptians of the later periods invented comparatively little in the way of religious literature. Where, how, and in what way they succeeded in preserving their most ancient texts, are matters about which little, unfortunately, is known. In course of time we find that the attributes of a certain god in one period are applied to other gods in another; a new god is formed by the fusion of two or more gods; local gods, through the favourable help of political circumstances, or the fortune of war, become almost national gods; and the gods who are the companions of Osiris are endowed by the pious with all the attributes of the great cosmic gods--Ra, Ptah, Khnemu, Khepera, and the like. Thus the attributes of Ra are bestowed upon Khnemu and Khepera; the god Horus exists in the aspects of Heru-maati, Heru-khent-an-maa, Heru-Khuti, Heru-nub, Heru-behutet, etc., and the attributes of each are confounded either in periods or localities: Tmu-Ra, and Menthu-Ra, and Amen-Ra are composed of Tmu and Ra, and Menthu and Ra, and Amen and Ra respectively, and we have seen from the hymn quoted above (p. lii.) that already in the XVIIIth dynasty the god Osiris had absorbed the attributes which belonged in the earlier dynasties to Ra alone.
History of the god Amen.
Still more remarkable, however, is the progress of the god Amen in Egyptian theology. In the early empire, i.e., during the first eleven dynasties, this god ranked only as a local god, although his name is as old as the time of Unas; and
[1. E.g., the litany from the tomb of Seti I., published by Naville, La Litanie du Soleil, Leipzig, 1875, p. 13 ff.
2. E.g., Hymn to Amen-Ra, translated by Goodwin from papyrus No. 17, now preserved in the Gizeh Museum (see Les Papyrus Égyptiens du Musée de Boulaq, ed. Mariette, Paris, 1872, pll. 1-13; Records of the Past, vol. i., p. 127 f., and Trans. Soc. Bibl. Arch., vol. ii., p. 250), and by Grébaut, Hymne à Ammon-Ra, Paris, 1874); Hymns to Amen, translated by Goodwin (see Records of the Past, vol. vi., p. 97 f.; Trans. Soc. Bibl. Arch., vol. ii., p. 353), and Chabas (Mélanges Égyptologiques, 1870, p. 117); Hymn to Osiris, translated by Chabas (Revue Archéologique, t. xiv., Paris, 1857, p. 65 ff.), and Goodwin (Records of the Past, vol. iv., p. 97 ff.). The various versions of the XVth Chapter of the Book of the Dead, which consists of a series of hymns, are given in the Theban edition by Naville (Todtenbuch, Bd. I., Bll. 14-23), and the text of the later Saïte version is discussed and translated by Lefébure, Traduction comparée des hymnes au Soleil, Paris, 1868, 4to.
3. "Amen and Ament," are mentioned in 1. 558 of the inscription of this king; see Maspero, Recueil, t. iv., p. 66.]
it is not until the so-called Hyksos have been
expelled from Egypt by the Theban kings of the XVIIth
dynasty that Amen, whom the latter had chosen as their great god, and whose
worship they had declined to renounce at the bidding of the Hyksos
king Apepi,[l] was acknowledged as the national god
of southern Egypt at least. Having by virtue of being the god of the conquerors
obtained the position of head of the company of Egyptian gods, he received the
attributes of the most ancient gods, and little by little he absorbed the
epithets of them all. Thus Amen became Amen-Ra, and the glory of the old gods
of Annu, or
"This is the sacred god, the lord of all the gods, Amen-Ra, the lord of the throne of the world, the prince of Apt, the sacred soul who came into being in the beginning, the great god who liveth by right and truth, the first ennead which gave birth unto the other two enneads, the being in whom every god existeth, the One of One, the creator of the things which came into being when the earth took form in the beginning, whose births are hidden, whose forms are manifold, and whose growth cannot be known. The sacred Form, beloved, terrible and mighty in his two risings (?), the lord of space, the mighty one of the form of Khepera, who came into existence through Khepera, the lord of the form of Khepera; when he came into being nothing existed except himself. He shone upon the earth from primeval time [in the form of] the Disk, the prince of light and radiance. He giveth light and radiance. He giveth light unto all peoples. He saileth over heaven and never resteth, and on the morrow his vigour is stablished as before; having become old [to-day], he becometh young again to-morrow. He mastereth the bounds of eternity, he goeth roundabout heaven, and entereth into the Tuat to illumine the two lands which he hath created. When the divine (or mighty) God, moulded himself, the heavens and the earth were made by his
[1. The literature relating to the fragment of the Sallier papyrus recording this fact is given by Wiedemann, Aegyptische Geschichte, p. 299.
2 The hieratic text is published, with a hieroglyphic transcript, by Maspero, Mémoires publiés par les Membres de la Mission Archéologique Française au Caire, t. i., p. 594 ff., and pll. 25-27.
3 A district of Thebes on the east bank of
the Nile, the modern
4 See within, p: xcvii.
6. ### neter netra. M. Maspero translates "dieu exerçant sa fonction de dieu, dieu en activité de service," or "dieu déisant."]
conception. He is the prince of princes, the mightiest of the mighty, he is greater than the gods, he is the young bull with sharp pointed horns, and he protecteth the world in his great name 'Eternity cometh with its power and bringing therewith the bounds (?) of everlastingness.' He is the firstborn god, the god who existed from the beginning, the governor of the world by reason of his strength, the terrible one of the two lion-gods, the aged one, the form of Khepera which existeth in all the gods, the lion of fearsome glance, the governor terrible by reason of his two eyes, the lord who shooteth forth flame [therefrom] against his enemies. He is the primeval water which floweth forth in its season to make to live all that cometh forth upon his potter's wheel. He is the disk of the Moon, the beauties whereof pervade heaven and earth, the untiring and beneficent king, whose will germinateth from rising to setting, from whose divine eyes men and women come forth, and from whose mouth the gods do come, and [by whom] food and meat and drink are made and provided, and [by whom] the things which exist are created. He is the lord of time and he traverseth eternity; he is the aged one who reneweth his youth he hath multitudes of eyes and myriads of ears; his rays are the guides of millions of men he is the lord of life and giveth unto those who love him the whole earth, and they are under the protection of his face. When he goeth forth he worketh unopposed, and no man can make of none effect that which he hath done. His name is gracious, and the love of him is sweet; and at the dawn all people make supplication unto him through his mighty power and terrible strength, and every god lieth in fear of him. He is the young bull that destroyeth the wicked, and his strong arm fighteth against his foes. Through him did the earth come into being in the beginning. He is the Soul which shineth through his divine eyes, he is the Being endowed with power and the maker of all that hath come into being, and he ordered the world, and he cannot be known. He is the King who maketh kings to reign, and he directeth the world in his course; gods and goddesses bow down in adoration before his Soul by reason of the awful terror which belongeth unto him. He hath gone before and hath stablished all that cometh after him, and he made the universe in the beginning by his secret counsels. He is the Being who cannot be known, and he is more hidden than all the gods. He maketh the Disk to be his vicar, and he himself cannot be known, and he hideth himself from that which cometh forth from him. He is a bright flame of fire, mighty in splendours, he can be seen only in the form in which he showeth himself, and he can be gazed upon only when he manifesteth himself, and that which is in him cannot be understood. At break of day all peoples make supplication unto him, and when he riseth with hues of orange and saffron among the company of the gods he becometh the greatly desired one of every god. The god Nu appeareth with the breath of the north wind in this hidden god who maketh for untold millions of men the decrees which abide for ever; his decrees
[1. Literally "his heart," ab-f.
2 I.e., Shu and Tefnut.
3 I.e., the Sun and the Moon, ut'ati.
4. nehep; other examples of the use of this word are given by Brugsch, Wörterbuch (Suppl., p. 690).]
"are gracious and well doing, and they fall not to the ground until they have fulfilled their purpose. He giveth long life and multiplieth the years of those who are favoured by him, he is the gracious protector of him whom he setteth in his heart, and he is the fashioner of eternity and everlastingness. He is the king of the North and of the South, Amen-Ra, king of the gods, the lord of heaven, and of earth and of the waters and of the mountains, with whose coming into being the earth began its existence, the mighty one, more princely than all the gods of the first company thereof."
Theories of the origin of the gods.
With reference to the origin of the gods of the Egyptians much useful
information may be derived from the pyramid texts. From them it would seem
that, in the earliest times, the Egyptians had tried to think out and explain
to themselves the origin of their gods and of their groupings. According to M. Maspero
they reduced everything to one kind of primeval matter which they believed
contained everything in embryo; this matter was water, Nu, which they deified,
and everything which arose therefrom was a god. The
priests of Annu at a very early period grouped
together the nine greatest gods of Egypt, forming what is called the paut neteru or
"company of the gods," or as it is written in the pyramid texts, paut aat, "the
great company of gods"; the texts also show that there was a second group
of nine gods called paut net'eset or "lesser company of the gods"; and
a third group of nine gods is also known. When all three pauts
of gods are addressed they appear as ###. The great cycle of the gods in Annu was composed of the gods Tmu,
Shu, Tefnut, Seb, Nut, Osiris, Isis, Set and Nephthys;
but, though paut means " nine," the
texts do not always limit a paut of the gods
to that number, for sometimes the gods amount to twelve, and sometimes, even
though the number be nine, other gods are substituted for the original gods of
the paut. We should naturally expect Ra to
stand at the head of the great paut of the
gods; but it must be remembered that the chief local god of Annu
was Tmu, and, as the priests of that city revised and
edited the pyramid texts known to us, they naturally substituted their own form
of the god Ra, or at best united him with Ra, and called him Tmu-Ra. In the primeval matter, or water, lived the god Tmu, and when he rose for the first time, in the form of
the sun, he created the world. Here at once we have Tmu
assimilated with Nu. A curious passage in the pyramid of
[1. La Mythologie Égyptienne (Études, t. ii., p. 237).
2. See Pyramid of Teta, l. 307 (Maspero, Recueil de Travaux, t. v., p. 46).]
heaven nor earth, and when neither gods had been
born, nor men created, the god Tmu was the father of
human beings, even before death came into the world. The first act of Tmu was to create from his own body the god Shu and the goddess Tefnut; and afterwards Seb the earth
and Nut the sky came into being. These were followed by Osiris and
Dr. Brugsch's version of the origin of the gods as put forth in his last work on the subject is somewhat different. According to him there was in the beginning neither heaven nor earth, and nothing existed except a boundless primeval mass of water which was shrouded in darkness and which contained within itself the germs or beginnings, male and female, of everything which was to be in the future world. The divine primeval spirit which formed an essential part of the primeval matter felt within itself the desire to begin the work of creation, and its word woke to life the world, the form and shape of which it had already depicted to itself. The first act of creation began with the formation of an egg out of the primeval water, from which broke forth Ra, the immediate cause of all life upon earth. The almighty power of the divine spirit embodied itself in its most brilliant form in the rising sun. When the inert mass of primeval matter felt the desire of the primeval spirit to begin the work of creation, it began to move, and the creatures which were to constitute the future world were formed
[1. Recueil de Travaux, t. viii., p. 104 (l. 664). The passage reads:--
mes Pepi pen au atf Tem an xepert pet an
Gave birth to Pepi this father Tmu [when] not was created heaven, not
xepert ta an xepert reth an mest neteru an xepert met
was created earth, not were created men, not were born the gods, not was created death.
2. Recueil de Travaux, I. vii., p. 170 (l. 466).
3. Religion und Mythologie, p. 101.
4 A number of valuable facts concerning the
place of the egg in the Egyptian Religion have been collected by Lefébure, Revue de l'Histoire
des Religions, t. xvi.,
according to the divine intelligence Maa. Under the influence of Thoth, or that form of
the divine intelligence which created the world by a word, eight elements, four
male and four female, arose out of the primeval Nu, which possessed the
properties of the male and female. These eight elements were called Nu and
Nut, Heh and Hehet, Kek and Keket, and Enen and Enenet, or Khemennu, the "Eight," and they were considered
as primeval fathers and mothers. They are often represented in the forms of
four male and four female apes who stand in adoration and greet the rising sun
with songs and hymns of praise, but they also appear as male and female
human forms with the heads of frogs or serpents. The birth of light from the
waters, and of fire from the moist mass of primeval matter, and of Ra from Nu,
formed the starting point of all mythological speculations, conjectures, and
theories of the Egyptian priests. The light of the sun gave birth to itself
out of chaos, and the conception of the future world was depicted in Thoth the
divine intelligence; when Thoth gave the word, what he commanded at once took
place by means of Ptah and Khnemu,
the visible representatives of the power which turned Thoth's command into
deed. Khnemu made the egg of the sun, and Ptah gave to the god of
light a finished body. The first paut of
the gods consisted of Shu, Tefnut,
Seb, Nut, Osiris,
Egyptian account of the Creation.
In a late copy of a work entitled the "Book of knowing the evolutions of Ra, the god Neb-er-tcher, the "lord of the company of the gods," records the story of the creation and of the birth of the gods:--"I am he who evolved himself under the form of the god Khepera, I, the evolver of the evolutions evolved myself, the evolver of all evolutions, after many evolutions and developments which came forth from my mouth. No heaven existed, and no earth, and no terrestrial animals or reptiles had come into being. I formed them out of the inert mass of watery matter, I found no place whereon to stand . . . . . I was alone, and the gods Shu and Tefnut had not gone forth from me; there existed
[1. Brugsch, Religion, pp. 128, 129.
2. Ibid., p. 132.
3. Ibid., p. 140.
4. Ibid., p. 142.
5. Ibid., p. 148.
6. Ibid., pp. 149, 152.
7. Ibid., p. 158.
8. Ibid., p. 160.
9. Ibid., p. 161.
10. Ibid., p. 163.
11. Ibid., p. 187.
12 The variant version says, "I developed myself from the primeval matter which I had made." and adds, "My name is Osiris, ###, the substance of primeval matter."]
"none other who worked with me. I laid the foundations of all things by my will, and all things evolved themselves therefrom. I united myself to my shadow, and I sent forth Shu and Tefnut out from myself; thus from being one god I became three, and Shu and Tefnut gave birth to Nut and Seb, and Nut gave birth to Osiris, Horus-Khent-an-maa, Sut, Isis, and Nephthys, at one birth, one after the other, and their children multiply upon this earth."
Summary of theories.
The reader has now before him the main points of the evidence concerning the Egyptians' notions about God, and the cosmic powers and their phases, and the anthropomorphic creations with which they peopled the other world, all of which have been derived from the native literature of ancient Egypt. The different interpretations which different Egyptologists have placed upon the facts demonstrate the difficulty of the subject. Speaking generally, the interpreters may be divided into two classes: those who credit the Egyptians with a number of abstract ideas about God and the creation of the world and the future life, which are held to be essentially the product of modern Christian nations; and those who consider the mind of the Egyptian as that of a half-savage being to whom occasional glimmerings of spiritual light were vouchsafed from time to time. All eastern nations have experienced difficulty in separating spiritual from corporeal conceptions, and the Egyptian is no exception to the rule; but if he preserved the gross idea of a primeval existence with the sublime idea of God which he manifests in writings of a later date, it seems that this is due more to his reverence for hereditary tradition than to ignorance. Without attempting to decide questions which have presented difficulties to the greatest thinkers among Egyptologists, it may safely be said that the Egyptian whose mind conceived the existence of an unknown, inscrutable, eternal and infinite God, who was One-whatever the word One may mean here and who himself believed in a future life to be spent in a glorified body in heaven, was not a being whose spiritual needs would be satisfied by a belief in gods who could eat, and drink, love and hate, and fight and grow old and die. He was unable to describe the infinite God, himself being finite, and it is not surprising that he should, in some respects, have made Him in his own image.
[1. The variant version has, "I brought into my own mouth my name as a word of power, and I straightway came into being."
2 The papyrus from which these extracts are
taken is in the