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WILEY Blackwell 

Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Blackwell Ancient Religions 

Ancient religious practice and belief are at once fascinating and alien for twenty- 
first century readers. There was no Bible, no creed, no fixed set of beliefs. Rather, 
ancient religion was characterized by extraordinary diversity in belief and ritual. 

This distance means that modern readers need a guide to ancient religious 
experience. Written by experts, the books in this series provide accessible 
introductions to this central aspect of the ancient world. 


Ancient Greek Divination 
Sarah Iles Johnston 

Magic in the Ancient Greek World 
Derek Collins 

Religion in the Roman Empire 
James B. Rives 

Ancient Greek Religion, Second Edition 
Jon D. Mikalson 

Ancient Egyptian Tombs: The Culture of Life and Death 
Steven Snape 

Religion of the Roman Republic 
Lora Holland 

Greek and Roman Religions 
Rebecca I. Denova 

Exploring Religion in 
Ancient Egypt 

Stephen Quirke 

WILEY Blackwell 

This edition first published 2015 
© 2015 Stephen Quirke 

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 

Quirke, Stephen, author. 
Exploring religion in ancient Egypt / Stephen Quirke. 
pages cm 

Includes bibliographical references and index. 

ISBN 978-1-4443-3199-8 (cloth) - ISBN 978-1-4443-3200-1 (pbk.) 
1. Egypt-Religion. I. Title. 

BL2441.3.Q575 2015 



A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. 

Cover image: Detail from outer sarcophagus of Khonsu, from Tomb of Sennedjem, 
Luxor, c.1270 Bc. Egyptian Museum Cairo/photo © Jiirgen Liepe. 

Set in 9.5/12pt Utopia by SPi Publisher Services, Pondicherry, India 

1 2015 





Belief without a Book 

Finding the Sacred in Space and Time 

Creating Sacred Space and Time: Temple Architecture and Festival 
Chaos and Life: Forces of Creation and Destruction 

Being Good: Doing, Saying, and Making Good Possible 

Being Well 

Attaining Eternal Life: Sustenance and Transformation 












A proposal to present a new book on ancient Egyptian religion is a double chal- 
lenge: first, to do justice to the vast range of existing studies across all that the topic 
can cover, and, then, to find the most productive ground for those interested in and 
actively working in those broad areas. From the foreign territory of English litera- 
ture studies, the Palestinian-American writer Edward Said once delivered to an 
anthropological audience a frontal assault on the entire practice of anthropology 
(Said 1989). In the deconstructive approach of the time, every word in the title of 
his paper became an invitation to work with words more seriously, to appreciate 
how the ground of our study shifts like sand in the field of language users. His aim 
was not to remove the ground for research, but to pursue any enquiry fully con- 
scious of its difficulty. Said is most famous for his longer assault on European study 
of the Arab World (Said 1978), where his methods and conclusions have long been 
both denounced and acclaimed. In that wider debate, readers sympathetic to his 
motivation have expressed fundamental objections to the precedence given to the 
literary, misgivings which I share (Ahmad 1994). Nevertheless, in his paper on 
anthropology, Said offers a cautionary model to follow, particularly in Egyptology, 
considered part of the study of human societies. Rather than taking any term for 
granted, I would never underestimate the weight of the baggage we bring from the 
twenty-first century across more than two millennia to the land and people of 

In this spirit, the first chapter begins with caution over the words we use, and 
may have to use, to talk about people in another time—and, for anyone outside 
Egypt, another space. In turning our attention to something we call ancient 
Egyptian religion, even the first recognition of words in a book title may imply that 
we have a sense roughly of where we are going and where we are. That sense of 
familiarity can be a powerful motor in learning, but it may also involve blocks of 
assumptions that need rethinking. Accordingly, the chapter identifies some core 
terms that cannot be left unattended in any effort at archaeological or historical 
understanding. The very first word that needs a warning sign is religion itself, 
closely followed by priest, king, and temple. For an Egyptologist, defining any of 

Preface vii 

these is a problem to be explored—an active research agenda, awaiting always new 
study and discussion. In the battle to dislodge, or at least make visible, the embed- 
ded obstacles of vocabulary, researchers may return to different ranges of sources: 
first, to the evidence of the full archaeological record, rather than the selection 
dominant in Egyptology, where the focus has been on ancient writings and depic- 
tions; secondly, to comparative anthropology and cultural studies, and the wider 
circles of social and historical sciences. Many Egyptologists have advocated 
and worked on comparative approaches, and my aim has been to follow their 

Chapter 1 also introduces some of the places and deities prominent in sources, 
and here every writer in a language foreign to the people who wrote those sources 
must become a translator, and apply choices, conscious or not. The names in this 
and any other West European language translate into Latin-based scripts such as 
English the written form as preserved in the ancient African script of Kemet— 
Egyptian hieroglyphs, and its handwritten variants. Those scripts preserve the hard 
and more constant edge of language sounds, called consonants in English, but not 
the movements between them, called vowels in English. This “consonantal writ- 
ing,’ also known from many other scripts, is perfect for conveying the meaning of 
many languages, including Egyptian; alphabetic writing makes Egyptian harder, 
not easier, to read, because words are built on roots or sound-groups, and so, regu- 
larly, a whole group of words may sound the same (Loprieno 1996). Despite a 
widespread view that the alphabet is the vocation of script (countered by Harris 
1986), there is no deficiency or lack in Egyptian hieroglyphs. However, the differ- 
ence in script does compound the difficulties already present in translation from 
one language to another, multiplying the choices available to translators. Three 
means of translating names predominate in Egyptology, and two centuries of 
European-language writing on ancient Egypt leave little option other than to min- 
gle these. The first approach is to accept previous European writings, starting from 
ancient Greek and Latin versions (e.g., Heliopolis, Sesostris). The second approach 
is to return as closely as possible to the ancient writing (e.g., Iunu, Senusret). In a 
third, more radical approach, indirect sources such as ancient and medieval writ- 
ings in other scripts are used to estimate the ancient sound behind the writing (e.g., 
On, Senwosre). Throughout the book, I have attempted to follow the less-ambitious 
second approach, while accepting some European forms for names, particularly 
where the original consonantal core is not certain (so, Osiris instead of Wesir/ 
Asetir/Isetir and Isis instead of Iset/Aset). In the aim of returning as closely as 
possible to the tangible evidence, I risk introducing confusion from unfamiliar 
versions of ancient names. The place names in particular may seem unnecessarily 
different: Abu for Elephantine, and for Memphis even two names, Inebhedj for the 
early Old Kingdom, and Mennefer from the late Old Kingdom onwards. I would ask 
the reader to use my choices again as an invitation to think about our distance from 
the world under study, and, whichever choice the reader wishes to make, to make 
the choice consciously and on the basis of evidence. 

Chapters 3-7 test the exploratory approach of opening to wider or different 
ranges of sources across archaeology and comparative studies. Each chapter takes 

viii Preface 

one thematic area prominent in the archaeological record and in current 
Egyptological writing: temple and festival, deities and the relations between them 
(including the Egyptological debate over the presence or absence of myths), ethics 
(ma’at “what is right”), healing and well-being (conceived holistically, in opposi- 
tion to modern divisions such as magic and medicine), and burial customs. Before 
entry into this sequence of segmented areas, Chapter 2 presents the issues that 
unify all themes: in Kemet, what does it mean to be human, how are human life 
stages understood and expressed, and which spaces and times, if any, are marked 
as different, as more intensely sacred than others. The first part of this chapter 
offers more general discussion, followed by case studies where the reader can tread 
in greater detail in the footsteps retrieved in archaeological fieldwork. These sec- 
tions sketch a threshold at which to pause and consider the full social, material, 
and historical context for all the evidence for the themes in Chapters 3-7. At the 
end of Chapter 7, I briefly return to the question of unity and segmentation, toward 
a future collaborative approach for a more holistic understanding of past people 
along the Saharan Nile. 


Belief without a Book 


Word Worlds: Ancient and Modern 


In this book, I seek to address those questions of life in ancient Egypt that most 
speakers of modern European languages might place under the word religion. 
More neutrally, the core question could be rephrased as: how did inhabitants of 
Egypt in ancient times express their places in the worlds of Nile and Sahara and 
their relation to one another, to other peoples, and to the forces and features of life? 
The terms religion, from Latin, and philosophy, from Greek, can be used for these 
topics, but both belong firmly within European histories and therefore carry asso- 
ciations that may fail or obscure attempts to understand non-European settings. 
The French writer Jacques Derrida has emphasized the specifically West European 
weight of the word and concept religion (Derrida 1998). If we replace religion with 
the word belief, we find the same risks of imposing alien ways of thinking on other 
peoples (Davies 2011). Today, the declaration “I believe in One God” defines the 
speaker as not believing that there are many gods, as holding one belief and not 
another. Such affirmations place belief in a system of choices, where personal faith 
may be built on the rock of one Holy Book, as with the Torah of Judaism, Christian 
Bible, and Quran of Islam. Before and outside the idea of the sacred book, faith and 
belief may not be matters of choice between opposing systems. Whereas religions 
of the book refer explicitly to other options of believing or disbelieving, a human 
group may instead express itself without reference to any contemporary or earlier 
other society or way of expression. 

An analogy might be drawn with literacy. A part-literate society deploys writing in 
different ways to a fully literate society; in part literacy, then, our clearest analogy 
would be not reading-and-writing literacy, the norm in richer countries, but com- 
puter literacy, still variably extended through social lives. Today, religion occupies a 

Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt, First Edition. Stephen Quirke. 
© 2015 Stephen Quirke. Published 2015 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. 

2 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

part in a society, even in a deeply religious society, because the religion expresses 
itself in relation to other religions and other beliefs such as agnosticism or atheism, 
denoting them, for example, as superstition, paganism, or apostasy. Most sources for 
ancient Egyptian society correspond instead to a single expression of being in the 
world: the expression applies across not a part, but the whole, of social life—much as 
reading-writing literacy may cover most of West European or East Asian society. 
After 525 Bc, long-term foreign rule brings different belief systems into the Nile 
Valley more emphatically than before. Achaemenid Iranian rule (525-404, 343-332 
BC) introduced Zoroastrian ideas as well as some larger Jewish communities into 
Egypt; Macedonian Hellenistic rule (323-30 Bc) then installed the Greek. When 
Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire after 30 Bc, the pace of Hellenization 
increased, accompanied strongly from the third century AD by conversion to 
Christianity, the state religion from aD 313. With these changes, the final millennium 
of ancient Egyptian religion seems to involve a mixed environment structurally closer 
to the present world of differing belief systems (see papers in Clarysse et al., 1998). 
By contrast, in the history of Egypt from the first writing (3100 Bc) to the begin- 
ning of Achaemenid Iranian rule (525 Bc), only once was a different choice 
expressed as the newand nowsole option: years 5-17 in the reign of King Akhenaten. 
For those dozen years, old expressions of a divine Hidden One (in Egyptian Amun) 
were physically erased in word and image, and all images of the king were directed 
to anew formulation expressed in image as a sun sphere (in Egyptian Aten) extend- 
ing the hieroglyph ankh, “life,” to the nose of the king, and in words as “Ra Horus-of- 
the-Horizon, rejoicing in the horizon, in his name as Light which is in the aten” 
(Figure 1.1). The next generation restored the earlier system (Figure 1.2) and even- 
tually dismantled the monuments of Akhenaten; later king lists omitted the names 
of those who had made offerings to the creator in the formula “Ra Horus/Ruler-of- 
the-Horizon, rejoicing in the horizon, in his name as Light which is in the aten.” 

- (| 





Figure 1.1 Visualizing the creator as sun disk with two kingly names, as formulated in 
the reign of King Akhenaten, North Tombs of high officials, Akhetaten, about 1350 Bc. 
From Richard Lepsius (ed.), Denkmédiler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien, Berlin 1849-1859, 
vol.3, pl.99. 

Belief without a Book 3 

Figure 1.2 The creator expressed in animal-human form sailing over the defeated force 
of chaos, depicted as giant snake, tomb of King Sety I, Valley of the Kings, Waset, about 
1290 Bc. © Gianluca Miniaci. 

Egyptologists have emphasized this reign as a breakthrough in the history of reli- 
gions, as the first visible example of monotheism or of belief, and as the exception 
that illustrates what was ancient Egyptian religion for the rest of this 2500-year span 
(Assmann 2001). The Akhenaten rupture may be of particular fascination for 
twenty-first-century readers also because they can more easily understand it as a 
choice in belief, confirming the modern meaning of religion. For other periods, 
without that apparent choice, the words belief, faith, and religion may stand in the 
way of an attempt to understand the lives and self-expression of past people. 

Modern study of ancient worlds 

The words for the object of study are not the only obstacles: the words for, and 
practices of, the study itself raise equally serious barriers. Over the past 200 years, 
distinct university disciplines were developed for study of societies. Despite efforts 
at interdisciplinary research, a university might separate the department of archae- 
ology to study past societies, anthropology for contemporary small-scale societies, 
sociology for contemporary large-scale societies, history for written documents, 
and art history for visual sources. Much as past and present producers in different 
materials adopt forms and technologies from one another, each discipline has 
developed productive methods and approaches that other disciplines can 
then take up for study of their own main area. To take two prominent examples, 

4 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

ethnoarchaeologists developed anthropological applications to interpret archaeo- 
logical evidence, and the mid-twentieth-century Annales historians adopted 
quantitative measures from sociology. 

Both the separation of disciplines and their reconnection in new fields such as 
cultural studies can help generate fresh insights in understanding the world we 
inhabit. Egyptology occupies a curious position within this academic landscape, 
somewhere between archaeology and history. Taken literally, the combination of 
French or English Egypt(e) with Greek logos, “word,” might be expected to desig- 
nate a holistic study of Egypt. Yet, already from its early use in the nineteenth cen- 
tury, it was taken for granted that Egyptology never meant all Egyptian studies—that 
would have covered land, fauna, flora, and people ofall ages, in short, the full range 
found in the monumental Description of Egypt published out of the French 
Expedition of 1798-1801 (Godlewska 1995). Instead, the word narrowly denotes 
study of the Egyptian past through the ancient Egyptian language as preserved in 
hieroglyphic inscriptions on monuments, together with any associated finds. The 
latest version of the language, Coptic, is still used in Christian liturgy in Egypt and 
is often added to Egyptological study area. Any reader enquiring after ancient Egypt 
needs to be aware that, in university departments, Egyptologists generally train to 
read Egyptian writing, not to undertake archaeological fieldwork, or study visual 
arts, or even comparative or historical linguistics. The discipline developed, not as 
an area study, but as the philological recovery and study of ancient writings—less 
Egyptology study of Egypt, than Egyptiology study of ancient Egyptian. If the reader 
does not know this, she or he may have false expectations over what we can pres- 
ently know, and the very name of the discipline can become an obstacle to under- 
standing the past. The same risks are run with the rest of our vocabulary, as with 
modern categories religion, philosophy, and indeed economy, society, and nation; 
each writer and reader must make their own decisions on which terms can be used 
and how, and few are likely to make great impact on how, collectively, any one term 
will continue being used in any group. For our choices, individual and collective, 
some awareness of the history of use can still be useful. In the case of ancient 
Egyptian religion, the recovery of available evidence may be distorted as much by 
the term Egyptology, as by the category religion. 

Three hurdles 

From the experience of preparing a workshop in Berlin on animal cults in ancient 
Egypt, the Egyptologist Martin Fitzenreiter identified several major failings in 
Egyptology, with substantial impact on the modern question of religion in ancient 
Egypt (Fitzenreiter 2004): eurocentrism, overemphasis on written sources, and lack 
of theoretical reflection. 


Egyptians today speak Arabic, and people of different cultural backgrounds around 
the world express strong interest in the ancient past of Egypt. Yet, early twenty- 
first-century Egyptology remains overwhelmingly a European-language study in 
institutions of European form: research university and, to a lesser extent, museum. 

Belief without a Book 5 

Eurocentrism makes this condition seem natural, assuming lack of interest by 
non-European peoples in their own histories (Said 1978; Colla 2007). Internal 
factors contributed to the emergence of West European studies of the Egyptian 
past, ahead of Egyptian Arabic and Ottoman Turkish, in the mid-nineteenth 
century (Mitchell 1988). Current gaps between Arabic-language and European- 
language production follow most directly from European overseas intervention. 
Anglo-French control of Egyptian finances after the construction of the Suez Canal 
opened the way to British invasion of Egypt (1882), with military occupation down 
to 1952 (Al-Sayyid Marsot 1985; Cole 2000). London-dictated budgets, laws, and 
university fees and structures, along with Anglo-French agreements on museum 
directorship and antiquities inspectorate, ensured that Egyptology neither 
supported Egyptian professionals nor published in Arabic (Reid 2002). 

Already from the 1820s, the first people to be called Egyptologists were as 
European as that word itself. It was they who defined as primary target of study the 
script area of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic script. That script first became acces- 
sible in print publication in French through Jean-Francois Champollion (1824 
Précis, following his announcement in the 1822 Letter to M. Dacier). Inside and 
outside the discipline, we forget that he was taught Egyptian language (Coptic) by 
an Egyptian Christian in Paris, Father Hanna Chiftigi (Louca 2006, 89-116), and 
that numerous Arabic studies on ancient Egypt were written before print by 
Egyptian and other Arab world geographer-historians such as Makrizi and Abd al- 
Latif of Baghdad, drawing in part on earlier Muslim scholars such as Dhu al-Nun 
(El Daly 2004). The endemic historical amnesia maintained by Egyptologists led 
the contemporary feminist Egyptian writer Nawal El Saadawi to accuse them of 
cultural genocide (El Saadawi 1997, 169). 

Overemphasis on writing 

Since the Champollion 1820s publications, Egyptology has remained predomi- 
nantly a study of ancient writings in the Egyptian language. In the history of ancient 
Greek and Roman archaeology, written evidence also tended to receive most atten- 
tion (Morris 1994). As there, philological focus on particular writings separated 
Egyptology from archaeological fieldwork practice and theory (Giddy 1999). With 
relatively few exceptions, Egyptologists worked on monumental temples and 
tombs and failed to apply the advances in prehistoric archaeology to settlement 
sites, resulting in chronic gaps and distortions throughout our knowledge of the 
ancient society (Moreno Garcia 2009). 

When Eurocentric philological Egyptology adopted as its object of study the 
language area of ancient Egyptian, they might have defined ancient Egypt as one 
speech community, tangible in space and time through ancient manuscript and 
inscription. For emergent nations of nineteenth-century and above all early 
twentieth-century history, language area may have provided an implicit natural 
definition as the earliest nation-state. However, in Egyptological practice, script 
took precedence over language. Although Egyptian is still today written in a Greek- 
based alphabet, Coptic, and although Coptic is taught in many Egyptology depart- 
ments, Egyptologists keep the ancient hieroglyphic script as the hallmark of their 
area of study. Their choice builds on intermittent precedents in Greek, Latin, 

6 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Renaissance, and later European writings, where hieroglyphs epitomized enig- 
matic, mystical forces of symbolism. Definition by hieroglyphic script delineates a 
time-space block ancient Egypt as the span 3100 Bc-aD 400, in Nile Valley and 
Delta, from Aswan to the Mediterranean. The block has been expanded to cover 
prehistoric material culture in the lower Nile Valley, where it is considered ances- 
tral to ancient Egypt, and to adjacent areas where ancient Egyptian script is found— 
eastern and western Egyptian deserts, Nubia to the south in the Nile Valley and 
adjacent deserts, and Sinai to the east, with more limited distribution of hiero- 
glyphic inscriptions across southwest Asia and Mediterranean islands and coasts. 

In general, a linguistic definition of ancient Egypt provides a clear criterion and 
so a clear object of study. The focus on writing has brought remarkable advances, 
particularly in the privileged domain of literary studies (Loprieno 1996). Yet the 
discipline has become too easily isolated and lost the advantages of comparative 
and interdisciplinary study, with surprisingly limited engagement even with the 
disciplines of linguistics and history. Written sources often interweave with figura- 
tive art and can only be understood in architectural context, and philological 
Egyptologists have often included study of visual arts. Nevertheless, despite 
remarkable studies within Egyptology, no developed contribution can be found 
within art history, perhaps the result of too little sustained contact with art 

The extent of disciplinary isolation can be exaggerated, and the problem is not 
confined to Egyptology (archaeology and ancient history Sauer 2004; and anthro- 
pology Gosden 1999). Although Egyptology and archaeology tend to practice 
mutual exclusion, some archaeological expeditions in Egypt have introduced 
current archaeological theory into Nile Valley fieldwork (Wendrich 2010). The 
inclusion of prehistoric Egypt into many Egyptological departments and confer- 
ences has allowed greater contact with archaeology and anthropology (Wengrow 
2006). In some countries, there are also strong links between Egyptology and 
religious studies (West Germany after World War II, the Netherlands, where 
Egyptology sometimes belongs within theology departments). 

If these links all tend to remain within Eurocentric philosophical frames, that 
itself is a general problem in interdisciplinarity. From its service in colonialism, 
anthropology developed the strongest self-critical debate, with insights of great 
potential for the future of Egyptology and archaeology (Asad 1973; Fabian 1983, 
2007). Self-critique holds the power to return beyond the disciplines to their more 
humane motivation, a description of a society where we seek to understand rather 
than to control another, aware that understanding only avoids control when resist- 
ance is possible from the other side. In his 1940 Theses on the Philosophy of History, 
Walter Benjamin warned that even the dead are not safe from lethal impositions of 
the present (translation Benjamin 1968 [1940]). The moment of danger does not 
pass. If we aim to hear, as well as study, past people of Egypt during its centuries 
with written evidence in Egyptian scripts, the most secure path may be within com- 
parative social sciences, incorporating the advances in understanding provided 
from philology. In this approach, the study of religious practice or ideas about life 
can start as an open source-grounded effort to recognize what members of that 

Belief without a Book 7 

society marked as distinctive and how—whether or not that corresponds to religion 
within our own understanding of societies. 

Egyptologists prioritize written sources in their own writing about ancient 
Egyptian religion, perhaps because their questions and assumptions over religion 
require narrative evidence. Despite the anticlerical Republicanism of early nine- 
teenth-century philologists including Champollion, the first question in religious 
studies of ancient Egypt came to be, did they believe in One God (monotheism) or 
many (polytheism)? In answering this anachronistic question, the researcher 
would extract from collections of written sources the evidence for or against mono- 
theism. Fitzenreiter emphasizes how, whether consciously or not, the models for 
the approach were scripture and theological commentary as developed in and 
for monotheistic religions of the book. In prominent sources, ancient writings 
combine with images are strongly framed by monumental architecture, the principal 
home of inscriptions and images from ancient Egypt. However, art and architec- 
ture did not provide ready verbal answers to such questions as the creation of the 
world, or the relation to divinity. Instead, these answers were sought in narratives 
of deities, in manuals for rites, or in hymns and prayers. The work of Jan Assmann 
stands out for the way he questions what religion means in the context of ancient 
Egypt and for his close attention to the specific context of each piece of writing and 
to changing contexts over time. Relatively few studies have started from a wider 
context as in landscape archaeology, but this aspect is receiving more study now 
(Effland and Effland 2010; Jeffreys 2010). Similarly, few general accounts of ancient 
Egyptian religion start from settlement evidence, outside the monumental frame. 
Nor, where monuments form part of the living landscape, have we yet considered 
the impact in practice of a monument or inscription on what might be called, 
following the historian-sociologist Michel de Certeau, the daily invention of each 
social life (de Certeau 1980). 


Despite a professed love of word, the philological focus has been on detail rather 
than holistic picture. Philologists have left intact a received picture of ancient 
Egypt, by their unreflective use of generalized concepts and categories such as 
society, economy, and religion. For describing any other society, particularly out- 
side the European frame, our vocabulary for cultural and material practices may be 
inappropriate. Even our most general categories turn out to be unexpectedly 
recent: Timothy Mitchell has charted the extraordinarily late (mid-twentieth- 
century) development of the contemporary meaning of economy in European- 
language use (Mitchell 2002). General terms for dimensions such as economic, 
political, religious, and social may be useful filters for sifting and analyzing evi- 
dence. Yet they continually merge and overlap in practice, and the way we use each 
term in the set must affect our understanding of each of the others and of the whole 
set. Our approach will differ according to whether we adopt society or culture or 
ethnic group as the label for the totality, however porous and impermanent we 
consider it. If we do not define our terms, or reconsider our categories, we are likely 
simply to reproduce the dominant ideas of our place and time. This problem, 

8 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

raised by Marxist historians (de Ste Croix 1989), should be of concern to all 
interested in studying any society, because those dominant ideas may not apply 
automatically to our particular field of study. 

An ancient Egyptian definition of religion? The composition 
the King as Priest of the Sun 

For the dimension of religion, over the past fifty years, Jan Assmann has worked 
most prolifically to define our terms explicitly in a West German theological and lit- 
erary frame. From eight sources connected with kingship and its writings, Assmann 
reconstructed a remarkable ancient Egyptian written composition, with no ancient 
title, called by him The King as Priest of the Sun. One key passage states why the crea- 
tor sun-god Ra installed the nswt, “king,” on earth (Assmann 2001, 3-6): 

the Sun-god installed the king on the earth of the living, for ever and eternity, 
to judge between people and to satisfy the gods, 

to create what is Right, to annihilate what is Evil, 

giving offerings to the gods, voice-offerings to the blessed dead. 

Assmann interprets the first two lines as a broad definition of religion, as ethics and 
justice: the king must make possible maat, “what is right,’ the just and ethical 
behavior among humans, underpinned by law, to judge between people. The next 
two lines would then respond to a narrow definition of religion as ritual: the king 
must ensure that offerings were made to satisfy deities and the blessed dead. By 
using this source to illustrate his broad and narrow definitions of religion, Assmann 
anchors the Egyptological argument firmly in ancient writing. 

The power of the research by Assmann comes not least from his unsurpassed 
knowledge of the written sources and sensitivity to their architectural and histori- 
cal context. Yet here, the limitations of the definition from writing can also be seen, 
both in the restricted circle of sources for this ancient articulation and in the open- 
ness of writing to different analysis. In other ancient Egyptian written sources, 
particularly the literary genre of Teachings, the concept of just and ethical behavior, 
includes care for the deities, and the dead (see Chapter 5). Therefore, the division 
between ethics and cult, central to religious movements such as Reformation 
Christianity, may not apply in any clear-cut fashion to that ancient Egyptian definition 
of kingship. In another evident limitation, the Teachings describe ethical precepts 
as given by father to son: even within a conceptual frame of the nuclear family, they 
leave unanswered how a father might have advised a daughter and a mother a son 
or daughter and how sisters and brothers spoke. Feminism and gender studies 
introduce fresh questions and prospects for research. 

Accordingly, in place of a theological focus on the most developed expressions 
of religious thought, Fitzenreiter prefers an anthropological focus in order to con- 
sider more broadly religious practice, as social activity, out of which religion might 
emerge as acollective longer-term presence, as religious institutions. This approach 
allows him to suspend certain Eurocentric assumptions, such as the centrality ofa 

Belief without a Book 9 

written tradition, or the monotheism versus polytheism debate (as in Hornung 
1996), extensively discussed in Egyptology, with reference both to the definition of 
the word netjer (used in Christian writing in its Coptic form noute as the translation 
for Greek theos, “God”) and to the dozen years when King Akhenaten focussed 
worship and offerings exclusively on one deity. According to Fitzenreiter, a shift 
away from word focus to practice allows greater attention to recurrent and promi- 
nent phenomena marginalized in previous histories of Egyptian religion, such as 
ancestor cult and divination, oracles, and the phenomena studied under the head- 
ing of animal cults. 

Using written sources in context 

Eurocentrism, logocentrism, and disciplinary isolation are not overturned in one 
step, and the challenge from Fitzenreiter cannot be met until more studies of 
broader ranges of sources have been undertaken, from archaeological survey and 
fieldwork and from new material cultural studies. If the focus on written sources 
seems set to continue, research can at least be set on the most productive footing 
possible, following Assmann to seek greatest possible awareness of partiality and 
context. In one of the main disciplinary divisions, of archaeology from history, a 
misreading on either side has tended to reinforce mutually a lack of trust and 
interest between those studying pasts. History may tend to privilege written above 
material context, without discussion, while archaeology may eject all written 
sources as elite, without defining elite (a problem in sociology also, see Scott 
2008, 27). 

In place of this standoff, a material primacy could be acknowledged, within 
which writing provides one more indirect approach to peoples in the past, one with 
the power of human speech (Morris 2000). All writings may be biased to a particu- 
lar view, but archaeology can help in identifying and analyzing bias, because it 
offers a context for each manuscript and inscription. Regularly, this context is not 
direct or primary, as most written material survives only in second, third, or fourth 
hand places of deposition or inscription. Still, even secondary or tertiary context, 
precisely observed, allows modern readers to assess the social location of words, 
much as an anthropologist in direct observation has an opportunity to assess the 
social location of their participant in conversation. 

In the end, the danger with writing bias lies in our usage: we fail too often to 
observe precise social context, and we exclude other evidence, as if written and 
spoken words provide a direct guide to the society of the speaker. Implicitly, we 
assume a society free of contradictions and complexities, one which we could sim- 
ply read in words. Yet, if we omit the written evidence, we might still impose mod- 
ern categories and thinking on the past. Beyond any message or communication, 
the enormous potential of ancient writings is in their linguistic content: they give 
words to the world in a language that is not the language of the modern writer and 
reader. The words may prove to be from an elite, but even where the linguistic 
evidence can be made so simple, the vocabulary is not directly that of a twenty- 
first-century global elite that writes and reads studies of the past. As long as we treat 

10 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

writings as just a subset in the range of evidence, their vocabulary and syntax can 
help to create a different, less Eurocentric introduction to their society. 

Language and politics 

In both written and spoken forms, language can act as a medium for expressing or 
effecting change or continuity in a society. According to one understanding of lan- 
guage, words do not merely label phenomena in a fixed reality, but rather they are 
one of the means by which humans model and construct social life. In social and 
historical context, there are collective forces around individual speakers. For 
appreciating and analyzing those forces in words, we might adopt from the Russian 
literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin the concepts of unified language/centralizing 
monoglossia as against different dialects/centrifugal heteroglossia (Hirschkop 
1999). There is a danger that our interpretation might become one-dimensional, 
pitting heteroglossia as heroic resistance against monoglossia as the epic voice of a 
tyrant. Against this, the complementary linguistics of the Italian political writer 
Antonio Gramsci can keep open to historical enquiry the precise measure and 
impact of monoglossia and heteroglossia in each context (Ives 2004). 

The two extremes of the European twentieth century underpin these two writers. 
In Russia, Bakhtin had to live through the lethal effects of a unified official vocabu- 
lary and speech during the Stalin years of terror before and after the World War II, 
including mock trials, mass-scale executions, and mass sentencing to labor camps. 
For Bakhtin, the singular sober voice (monoglossia) carried a literal death sen- 
tence, even if, unlike his communist cowriters and friends Valentin Voloshinov and 
Piotr Medvedev, he survived horrendous hardship to teach in university in the 
Soviet Union. Conversely, Gramsci saw disunity in speech as a fundamental reason 
for the fragmented resistance that allowed Mussolini to take power in 1920s Italy, 
leading to an alliance with 1930s Germany under Hitler. Broken by ten years in 
Fascist prison, Gramsci did not live to witness the Nazi concentration camps, but 
his prison notebooks, smuggled to Moscow after his death, preserve his incom- 
plete explorations of the problems of language in human society. Gramsci studied 
linguistics at university, and his insights may encourage those in archaeology 
working on even the more elite written sources from part-literate societies. 

According to the linguistic school in which Gramsci was trained, all speech con- 
tains evidence of contradictory workings, allowing us to see how some social 
expression acquires the force of prestige, almost forcing others to model their own 
expression on that of the center. Gramsci recognized how those dominating a soci- 
ety are best placed to express their place in the world and to apply its expression to 
maintaining that place. By contrast, only a fraction of resources for articulating and 
sharing beyond local horizons would be available to those whose lives are domi- 
nated by manual labor. To describe and analyze the more fragmented reflections 
among manual laborers, Gramsci subversively used the label folklore (Crehan 
2002). These concepts of unifying versus fragmented, and of prestige in expression, 
may be productive for Egyptologists. They can help to account for changes over 
time in the ancient Egyptian written evidence, as well as giving a framework for 

Belief without a Book 11 

assessing the social position of any particular verbal expression from the past. The 
social understanding of language provides crucial justification for including writ- 
ten sources prominently within the archaeological study of the past. 

Applying critical theory to Egyptology 

With the conceptual tools of mono-/heteroglossia and prestige, from Bakhtin and 
Gramsci, the written evidence can remain an essential part of the range of evidence 
for the particular society/societies in ancient Egypt, provided that it is decentered 
from its status as core. The subject of study ancient Egypt might still be defined as 
the area of the language community ancient Egyptian speakers, if only as a provi- 
sional device to commence study. From the introduction of the hieroglyphic script 
around 3100 BC to the start of Achaemenid Iranian rule in 525 BC, ancient Egyptian 
is the main language attested in the area from First Cataract to Mediterranean. 
Accordingly, dominant script and language have formed together one of the crite- 
ria for defining my time-space focus as that time span and area. The geographical 
limit is reinforced by the fusion of the hieroglyphic script with ancient Egyptian art, 
a specific manner of figurative expression. The far larger scope of material culture 
without writing or depiction further broadly confirms the language area: the same 
archaeological map emerges from study of the major production industries, pot- 
tery and textiles. 

In time, the boundary might be drawn later or earlier: during the early first mil- 
lennium, material culture shifts with the introduction of iron production, and in 
the opposite direction, the script art fusion remains strong as late as the second- 
third centuries AD, when some of the best-preserved ancient Egyptian temples 
were built and some of the most informative ancient Egyptian temple manuscripts 
were copied. Against these earlier or later alternatives, the major justification for 
525 BC as an end point is the change in script/language use. As a unitary and inte- 
gral social field, ancient Egyptian religion ends at the point when the Achaemenid 
court and administration introduce into the Nile Valley a government using 
Aramaic script and language, and Zoroastrian beliefs. Even if the new script/lan- 
guage/beliefs exist alongside the ancient Egyptian and even if such coexistence 
finds New Kingdom antecedents, a new long-term history begins at this point. 
Coincidentally, or perhaps from the first formal observation, Johann Joachim 
Winckelmann had inferred the same break in his massively influential 1764 history 
of ancient art, where he proposed just two periods of ancient Egyptian visual pro- 
duction, pre-Achaemenid and Achaemenid, to Roman. 

As ancient writing is my own research focus within the evidence spectrum, 
doubtless, it remains too central throughout this volume. This introduction is 
intended to keep the reader fully aware of the bias. Alongside visual arts and archi- 
tecture, the range of material culture and the less tangible yield of modern exten- 
sive archaeological fieldwork remain to be explored. Only a joint staff could muster 
expertise to cover all the possible domains, and a full history of religious practice 
would need new multidisciplinary research. Within these constraints, a philologist 
introduces the terrain, noting separate and joint limitations and potential of each 

12 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

in its range of source types. In the distance, the impossible ideal of a total history 
remains a powerful frame of interpretation and motivation. In a society, those with 
greatest economic resources may be directing the material form and content of 
production, as well as the ideas that influence all parts of the society. Research can 
target these dominant structures and their impact and assess the scope for filling 
some of the gaps in our knowledge, for example, the religious practices of frag- 
mented dominated groups, including the bulk of the population in ancient agricul- 
ture and animal husbandry, or groups less visible in written and visual source 
material, by their age, gender, type of work, or ethnicity. 


Writing after the January 25, 2011 revolution, new directions may emerge in the 
study of the past within Egypt, and Arabic may rejoin European languages as a 
leading research medium. However much we hope for this, much needs to be 
learned from the lack of change in exactly this area after the 1952 revolution, 
despite the pan-Arabism and pan-Africanism promoted by Gamal Abdel Nasser 
into the 1960s (Hassan 2007). The early twenty-first century is being seen as 
shifting the global centers to South and East Asia; the implications of this for 
Eurocentric academic studies, including anthropology and archaeology, 
remain uncertain. A shift in centers of prestige could create new scope for non- 
European studies, including here Arabic studies of Egyptian evidence, whether 
or not divided into the same time blocks as now. On the other hand, 
Eurocentrism may be replaced not by Egyptocentric or Afrocentric study, but 
by absence of study and thought, amounting to a gap in being human, a failing 
that is denounced in Islam by the Arabic word jahaliya, “ignorance.” The better 
future lies in the hands not of established Egyptologists but of a new generation 
of thinkers particularly in Africa, including Egyptian Egyptologists and extend- 
ing broadly across reflective and creative worlds. 

Elementals and Sources 

Landscape forces and resources 

The unique setting of Egypt combines two extremes, expressed in the ancient 
Egyptian names Kemet, “Black Land,” for the fertile Nile Valley and Delta and 
Deshret, “Red Land,’ for the Sahara desert with its mountains, flats, and sand seas 
of shifting dunes. The valley supports abundant plant and animal life; desert cliffs 
and mountains contain quarries of hard and soft stones, mines of precious metals, 
and routes to other lands. The Kemet-Deshret dividing line became sharp as today 
by 3000-2500 Bc, when the climate changed to the hyperarid phase that still guar- 
antees almost zero rainfall across northeast Africa between central Sudan and Nile 
Delta (Wengrow 2006). With the onset of hyperaridity, the river floodplain became 
far more closed as a social field. The extent of closure can be exaggerated, as in the 

Belief without a Book 13 

Egyptological myth of a uniquely isolated ancient Egypt. In practice, the isolation 
seems more relative, within dominant patterns of movement for most inhabitants; 
desert borderlines are always open for crossing, but desert oases never support the 
same level of population as the river valley, and agricultural settlements might 
have interacted only sporadically with desert nomads. Until the regulation of the 
river in the nineteenth-twentieth centuries (Tvedt 2003), the Black Land would be 
separated from the Red anew in a tense drama every summer, at the unpredictable 
rising of the river. Summer rains in Ethiopian highlands would swell the river, first 
detectable in Egypt at the First Cataract, around mid-July, when water pools on 
Elephantine may have gurgled in anticipation and the waters began to muddy. 
August and September marked full flood, as low-lying land in the river plain filled 
slowly or torrentially, until any higher ground stood as islands within a vast elon- 
gated lake penned in by desert at either side (Butzer 1974). By November, most 
floodwaters had spilled out into the Mediterranean, leaving behind a blanket of 
fertile black silt. 

These annual convulsions would have radically different impact on human 
populations of the Black and Red Lands, depending on their way of life. A trad- 
ing nomad, a shepherd, and a settled farmer each needed to react at varying 
speed, to secure collective or individual resources. Those living above the high- 
est predicted flood level might have most time, if a flood surge hit that year, and 
nomads might have the option to move away entirely for the season of danger. 
Medieval and early modern Nile levels demonstrate how utterly impossible it 
would be in any one year to predict the height of the coming flood (Seidlmayer 
2001). Too high a flood would create a destructive surge, sometimes inflicting 
high death tolls on people and animals; the deluge in 1821 was strong enough 
to sweep away temple ruins at Qau al-Kabir (Belzoni 1835). Too low a flood 
would leave insufficient water and silt for the farmer, and famine might follow; 
at different periods, ancient and medieval, Egyptian written sources indicate 
repeat low floods and devastating famines. Under this lethal annual tension, 
the flood attracted greater reverence than the river itself. From ancient Egyptian 
written sources, no name for the Nile is known—it is simply iteru, “the river” 
(the modern word Nile from Greek Neilos possibly derives from the plural na 
iteru, “the rivers,” the Delta branches). In contrast, the Egyptian word Ha’‘py, 
“Nile flood,” is a divine principle; Ha‘py was depicted as a bearded man with 
heavy-hanging breasts, delivering the abundant food and drink that the flood 
made possible (Figure 1.3). 

Once the Nile flood subsided, again, different opportunities would arise for trad- 
ing, for herding, and for farming, where a season of sowing could follow and the 
crop be ready in time for a summer harvest. A detailed history of irrigation cannot 
be written, until we have an archaeology of the countryside, but in very general 
terms, increasing numbers of dykes and canals eventually allowed for a second 
crop and harvest (by 1250 Bc?). The floodplain divides into segments, each com- 
prising a basin, into which floodwater flows and overflows away from the main 
river course and then back around to the river. As a result, irrigation is a relatively 
local matter, against earlier theories that river control contributed to the creation of 

14 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Figure 1.3 The Nile flood (Egyptian Ha‘py) in dual form as two men with pendant 
breasts, tying together Upper and Lower Egypt. Inscribed block from the palace of King 
Merenptah at Mennefer, about 1225 Bc. From W. Petrie, Memphis I, London 1909. 

a centralized state (Wittfogel thesis of Hydraulic Oriental Despotism, refuted by 
Butzer 1974). The ancient agricultural annual cycle disappeared in the nineteenth 
century AD, when river dams allowed far greater control of water, with year-round 
irrigation. For ancient times, the interactions between larger and smaller settle- 
ments, between town and country, and between different social groups within the 
settlements remain largely unknown. 

Town and countryside 

Archaeological sources for the countryside are sparse, but by 4000 BC, agriculture 
and animal husbandry are visible in the settlements and cemeteries along the 
desert edge in Upper Egypt. The annual river flood has removed most of the evi- 
dence for the lives of past people, who must have lived in greatest number within 
easiest reach of fresh water, so in the floodplain area. If they lived anywhere the 
flood reached in later centuries, their homes lie buried along with their fields 
within the floodplain under accumulated meters of annual silt deposits. If they 
lived on the higher ground islands above the flood limit, the same ground is most 
often still settled land, and so their homes remain today beneath modern cities and 
towns, awaiting future archaeological investigation with more sensitive tech- 
niques. The desert edge alongside the fields preserves ancient housing much more 
accessibly, and some of the best-known excavations of ancient towns have been 
along the Saharan fringe of the Nile valley (Middle Kingdom Lahun, New Kingdom 
Amarna) (Figure 1.4). 

Belief without a Book 15 



Figure 1.4 Section of the Nile floodplain in Middle Egypt, where the Bahr Yussef, a 
lateral Nile branch, runs roughly parallel with the main river. © Wolfram Grajetzki 
after Kessler 1990. 

By 3200 BC, larger settlements formed at Nekhen and Nubet in southern Upper 
Egypt, later historic centers (Trigger 1983). Already, the Nile Valley would have 
offered at least two different experiences of town life: the high-ground island within 
the flood plain, where inhabitants became islanders during the autumn flood 
months, and the desert margin, where the island of life would be formed on one 
side by the permanent presence of the Sahara and on the other by the temporary 
intrusion of the Nile. When we now consider how the inhabitants of ancient Nile 
Valley and Delta experienced and expressed their lives, we are already facing a 
wider range of life experience than implied by our term the ancient Egyptians. In 
addition to differences in life chances according to age and gender and by 3200 Bc 
also social class, there are the varying ecologies among the urban, rural, and desert 
based, with different seasons and spaces. Even within a unit we might assume to be 
relatively homogeneous, the farming village, historians of more recent rural Egypt 
warn us against our assumptions on the life of the fallahin (the Arabic word for 

Egypt’s peasantry were not a homogeneous mass. At the beginning of the nineteenth 
century, village society comprised economic strata ranging from ‘large’ landholders 
of 50 feddan or more, to smallhold fallahin and the landless. (Cuno 1988, 133) 

For assessing ancient expressions on our place as humans in our world, different 
answers might be expected for every one of the social groups implied by our words 
village, town, countryside, and desert. 

Time-space blocks: ancient egypt as a chain of ecologies 

From the geography of Egypt, the diversity of experience across the Black Land can 
be set at the level of ecology or lifestyle. Ecological unit then becomes the critical 
factor in an open definition of religion provided by Gramsci: 

the problem of religion understood not in the confessional sense but in a secular sense 
as unit of faith between a conception of the world and a corresponding norm of conduct 
(though why call this unit of faith “religion” rather than “ideology” or just “politics”). 
(Gramsci, ed. Gerratana, Quaderni del Carcere II, 1975, 1378) 

16 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Table 1.1 Time-space blocks of ancient Egypt 

Region (with modern cities) Ecology 

Southernmost Upper Egypt (Aswan to Narrow floodplain, sandstone cliffs/desert 
Northern Upper Egypt (Luxor to Asyut) Broad floodplain, limestone cliffs/desert 

Middle Egypt (Asyut to Beni Suef) Broad floodplain, Nile branch, limestone cliffs/ 

Fayoum Nile branch outflow basin forming oasis W of Nile 

Northernmost Valley (Cairo) Narrow floodplain, limestone cliffs/desert 

Western Delta fringe and Wadi Natrun _‘ Floodplain margin, desert flats, natron/salt 

Central Delta plain Extensive floodplain, sandhills, northern marshes 

East Delta fringe and Wadi Tumilat Floodplain margin, desert flats, herding terrain 

Again following Gramsci, we might define regions in terms of their relations with 
one another, in a chain of adjacent different ecologies. This approach suggests eight 
units within the Nile Valley and Delta from First Cataract to Mediterranean 
(Table 1.1 and Map 1.1). 

Rather than this multiple identity, ancient written and visual sources emphasize 
the duality of Egypt on varying models: Shema’, Upper Egypt, and Ta-Mehu, Lower 
Egypt; idebwy, the Two Riverbanks; or Deshret, Red Land, and Kemet, Black Land. 
A small number of second-millennium BC written sources confirm the different 
status of regions 1-2 as tep-res, “head of the south,’ divided at Waset (modern 
Luxor), or as Khen-Nekhen, “Hinterland (?) of Nekhen”—Nekhen being a town in 
the center of region 1 (Quirke 2009-2010). For the Red Land, the western desert has 
well-trodden trade roads and the major oases of Dakhla, Kharga, Bahriya, Farafra, 
and, farther west, Siwa, while the eastern desert has roads to quarries and across to 
the Red Sea, notably through the Wadi Hammamat parting from Qift/Koptos or 
Qena, and farther south from Nekheb (Friedman 1999). It is uncertain how far 
Egyptian language dominated those desert areas. From the second millennium 
BC, its term for Egyptians was remetj-en-Kemet, “people of the Black Land,” per- 
haps not excluding the Red Land but rather as the home to the overwhelming 
majority of the settled population. Different readers may choose different numbers 
of regions to test evidence and assertions in this book—the eight ecological regions 
of the Black Land, or just the six forming the core Valley and Delta, or, instead, the 
10 regions, adding the western oases and eastern trade routes. The important point 
is less an exact number of regions than the plural regional characters and lifestyles 
to consider beyond the general headings Egypt and Kemet. 

The time of kemet: dynasties and periods 

For time divisions within the third to first millennia BC, Egyptologists use a frame- 
work of 30 or 31 dinastiai, “groupings of rulers,’ from a history in Greek by the 
third-century BC Egyptian writer Manetho. His work is preserved mainly in early 

Belief without a Book 17 

e Djanet 
8 «Hutwaret/Per-Ramses 

¢ PerBast 
¢ Natahut 
xP *| Itjtawy 
Henennesut ® 

1 Southernmost Upper Egypt (Aswan to 
2 Northern Upper Egypt (Luxor to Asyut) 
3 Middle Egypt (Asyut to Beni Suef) 

4 Fayoum 

5 Northernmost Valley (Cairo) 

6 Western Delta fringe and Wadi Natrun 
7 Central Delta plain 

8 East Delta fringe and Wadi Tumilat 

Map 1.1 The regions of Egypt as defined by arable floodplain, with central cities of 
3000-525 Bc. © Wolfram Grajetzki. 

medieval Greek and Armenian summaries, sometimes contradicting each other 
(Waddell 1940). Each dynasty is identified by city, perhaps because Manetho 
considered the city deity to protect those born there. That already indicates a 
difference between his conceptions of time and those of more recent historians. 
Some groupings can be confirmed from sources dating to the particular rulers, and 
some comprise members of one family, as in the European concept of dynasty. 
However, many groupings do not start or stop with a new family, and some may 
derive from ancient revisions of sources (Malek 1982) or literary devices in earlier 

18 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

records of the past. In one version of Manetho, “the Seventh Dynasty is seventy 
kings of Memphis, who ruled seventy days” (Waddell 1940, 56-57); the numerical 
alliteration seems to be a literary means of expressing the end ofan era. As a further 
complication, Egyptologists employ dynasty numbers selectively and variably; 
most consistently used are 1-6, 11-12, 18-20, 26, and 28-30. Broader, often more 
manageable divisions can be constructed on the criterion of political unity versus 
disunity, giving Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms and Late Period, separated by 
First, Second, and Third Intermediate Periods. The centers of power and produc- 
tion can also be used to construct a sequence more closely anchored in the land 
and the archaeological record. The summary in Table 1.2 includes concordance 
with dynasties; year dates before 664 BC are all rough estimates and the place-names 
cited in the form known from the particular period. 

Table 1.2 The time of ancient Egypt 

Period Years BC Dynasties Regional centers 
Early Dynastic 3000-2700 1-2 Abdju-Inebhedj 
Old Kingdom 
Early 2700-2500 3toearly4 Inebhedj only? 
Late 2500-2200 Late 4-6 Abdju-Inebhedj/Mennefer 

First Intermediate Period (division) 

2200-2050 7/8-9/10 to early 11 Waset-Henennesut-Mennefer 
Middle Kingdom 
Early 2050-1850 Late 11 to mid-12 Waset-Mennefer (from 1950 
Late 1850-1700 Late 12 to mid-13 Waset-Abdju-Itjtawy-Hutwaret 

Second Intermediate Period (division) 

1700-1550 = Late13to15to17 Waset-Hutwaret 

New Kingdom 

I 1550-1350 = Early/mid-18 Waset-Mennefer-Perunefer 

II 1350-1325 Late18 Akhetaten-Mennefer? 

Ill 1325-1200 End 18-late 19 Waset-Mennefer-Perunefer/ 


IV 1200-1050 End19-20 Waset-Mennefer-Natahut 

Libyan (united) 1050-850 21 to mid-22 Waset-Mennefer-PerBast-Djanet 

Third Intermediate Period (Libyan, divided) 

850-725 22 to 23 to 24 Waset-Mennefer-PerBast-Sau 


Napata/Kushite 725-664 25/Assyrianinvasions As TIP but under Napata, 
671-664 Ashur 

Saite 664-525 26 Waset-Mennefer-Sau 

Achaemenid 525-404 27 As Saite but under Persepolis/Susa 

Late Dynastic 404-343 28 to 29 to 30 Waset-Mennefer-Sau-Tjebnetjer- 

Achaemenid 343-332 31 As Saite but under Persepolis/Susa 

Belief without a Book 19 

Figure 1.5 The sepat, “provinces,” Neit south and Neit north, depicted as kneeling Nile 
flood figures, bringing the abundance of water and food offerings, amounting to power 
(was scepter) and life (looped ankh hieroglyph). Red Chapel of the joint sovereigns 
Hatshepsut and Thutmes III, about 1475 Bc, temple of Amun-Ra, Karnak. 

© Gianluca Miniaci. 

Greater detail combined with national coverage can be obtained from a series of 
ancient written sources, which preserve a conceptual geography of Egypt in thirty- 
nine sepat, “districts” or “provinces,” from Aswan to Delta shore (Figure 1.5 and 
Table 1.3: often Egyptologists cite 42 sepat, but this number is only found in some 
Ptolemaic Period sources; see Helck 1974). From at least the Eighteenth Dynasty, 
on formalized measuring rods offered at temples or placed in the burial equipment 
of senior officials, the sepat are tabulated and aligned with subdivisions of the 
cubit, a standard length measure at 52.5cm (Schlott-Schwab 1981). This eternal 
chart sets all centers at the same level, without historical variables of changing 
population size, political significance, or cultural production. Nevertheless, when 
considering the sources on which we build any image of ancient Egypt, it is worth 
checking their chronological and geographical distribution against this ancient 
ideal tabulation, because the larger number of units allows more detailed assess- 
ment and highlights just how fragmentary the source base remains. 

Preservation: geological and historical factors 

The list of provinces illustrates the massive gaps across Middle and Lower Egypt in 
preservation of temple walls, one of the main sources for inscriptions and depic- 
tions in modern accounts of ancient Egyptian religion. If we add the temples 

20 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Table 1.3 The sepat, “religious provinces,’ of ancient Egypt 

Upper Egypt 
Name of sepat Town Name ofdeity Extent of preservation of temples 
with (modern ; 
usage) number Pre-332 Ptolemaic/ 
1. Landofthe Abu Khnum Blocks, 
bow foundations 
Satet Reconstructed 
2. Throne of Edfu Horus Gateway Intact main 
horus temple 
3. Nekhen Nekhen Horus Foundations 
Nekheb Nekhbet, Sobek Foundations 
4. Waset Waset Amun Substantial 
Mut Blocks, foundations 
Khons Intact 
Ipet Intact 
5. Twin gods Gebtyu Min, Isis Foundations 
6. Iq(crocodile Tunet Hathor Intact 
7. Bat Hutsekhem Hathor? Bat? Blocks 
8. Tawer Abdju Osiris Foundations 
9. Khentmin Ipu Min Under town? 
10. Wadjyt Tjebu Nemty Nile destroyed 
1l. Seth (?) Shas-hotep Khnum Not located 
12. Tatfet Per Nemty Nemty Not located 
13. Nedjfetfore Saut Wepwawet, Not located 
14. Nedjfetrear Qesy Hathor Not located 
15. Wenet Khemenu Thoth Gateway Blocks, 
16. Mahedj Hebenu Horus Not located 
17. Input Saka Bata, Anubis? Not located 
18. Nemty Hutnesut Nemtywy? Blocks, 
19. Wabwy (?) Sepermeru Igay? Not located 
20. Naret fore Hutnennesut Heryshef Blocks, foundations 
21. Naret rear Shenakhen/ Khnum/Horus Not located 
22. Medenyt Tepihu Hathor Not located 
Fayoum Shedyt Sobek, Horus Blocks (site 
overbuilt in 

the 1990s) 

Belief without a Book 21 

Table 1.3. (Cont’d) 

Lower Egypt 
Name of sepat Town Name ofdeity Extent of preservation of temples 
with (modern : 
usage) number Pre-332 Ptolemaic/ 
1. Inebuhedj Mennefer Ptah Not located, under 
2. (Name Khem Khentykhem Not preserved 
3. Imentet Hutihyt Sekhmet- Not preserved 
4. Neit south Djeqa‘per Sobek Not located 
5. Neit north Sau Neit Not preserved 
6. Khasu Perwadjyt Wadjyt Limited remains 
7. Wa'mhuwest Besyt? Not located 
8. Wa'mhueast Peratum Atum Limited remains 
9. ‘Andjety Djedu Osiris Not preserved 
10. Kemwer Hutherib Khentkhety Blocks 
11. Hesbu [Tell Moqdam] ? Not preserved 
12. Tjebnetjer Tjebnetjer Inheret-Shu Not preserved 
13. Hega‘andju Tunu Ra/Atum Enclosure, blocks, 
14. Jabty Benu?/Tjaru. Horus Not identified/ 
15. Heb? 2 Thoth? Not identified 
16. Hatmehyt Djedet Banebdjedet Granite shrine 

First attested as sepat in reign of Hatshepsut, circa 1450 Bc: 

17. Behdet Tunamun Amun Foundations 

First as one sepat in reign of Sety I, circa 1300 BC; as two under Napatan rule, Dynasty 25, 
circa 700 BC: 

18. Imet fore (Per-)Bast Bast Blocks, foundations 

19. Imetnorth  Imet Wadjyt Blocks, foundations 

Attested as sepat under Napatan rule, first in lists of sepat in Ptolemaic inscriptions: 

20. Sopdu Persopdu Sopdu Not preserved 

constructed for the eternal cult of rulers during their reign, including the pyramid 
complexes of the Old and Middle Kingdom, a similar pattern emerges. The best- 
preserved structures are all sandstone monuments in southern Upper Egypt, with 
the exception of the limestone monuments of the pyramid complexes and associ- 
ated cemeteries from Fayoum to Giza, and buried temples at Abdju. 

In this architectural geography, natural history combines with human interven- 
tion. Geology gave Egyptian builders two main stones, coarser sandstone and finer 
limestone. From central Sudan to as far north as southern Upper Egypt, the Nile 

22 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Valley is bordered by sandstone desert and quarries; from Waset/Thebes to the 
Delta, so for most of the Egyptian Nile Valley, the surrounding desert cliffs and their 
quarries are limestone. As builders would use blocks from nearby quarries for the 
bulk of any stone construction, most stone temples from southern Upper Egypt are 
of sandstone, the northern outpost being the late Ptolemaic and early Roman 
Period temple of Hathor at Dendera, while stone temples from Waset/Thebes to the 
Mediterranean are otherwise of limestone. Recycling was common practice at 
many if not most periods, but the Romans introduced a new method of recycling 
limestone: it can be burned to obtain lime, essential for the plaster used to cement 
a new civic architecture. At the end of the fourth century AD, Christianity became 
the exclusive official religion of the Roman Empire: the temples, already without 
institutional funding since the third century AD, suddenly became sites for a vast 
industrial enterprise, lime burning. The effort required for dismantling monuments 
must have been as great as the effort in their original construction, so this is no local 
village-level iconoclasm, but a massive expression of national or state will. At a 
number of sites where limestone monuments once stood, limekilns have been 
unearthed, some dated by coins to the late fourth to fifth centuries AD (Petrie 1890). 

In sum, the ancient architecture survives in Egypt in three specific circumstances: 

Structure too large to dismantle (the largest pyramids, though these too are in 
variable condition, and not one preserves its original outer casing intact) 
Structure covered by sand during major periods of ancient to modern disman- 
tling (pyramid complexes and surrounding cemeteries of Old and New 
Kingdom at Saqqara, kingship temples at Abdju) 

Structure built of sandstone (temples of New Kingdom at Waset/Thebes and of 
Ptolemaic and Roman Period in Lower Nubia, Kom Ombo, Edfu, Esna, 
Waset/Thebes, and Dendera) 

The resulting absence of evidence for entire regions, across Middle as well as Lower 
Egypt, is compounded by the loss of the very core to ancient Egyptian religious writ- 
ing, the temples at Iunu/Heliopolis and Mennefer/Memphis. On the basis of scat- 
tered but repeated writings, these were arguably the two greatest sacred enclosures 
in the country. For Iunu, some information has been gained from sporadic excava- 
tions on the vast site; the base of a structure might be identified as remains of an 
extraordinary artificial mound that elevated the main precincts for the worship of Ra’, 
the sun (Contardi 2009). For Mennefer, the site remains a mystery; visitors are often 
shown a low temple site as the temple of Ptah, but its inscriptions and depictions 
indicate that it was for the cult of King Ramses II, and it seems to face west toward the 
original Ptah temple, perhaps buried below a renowned medieval village Mit Rahina 
(Malek 1992). The Ptah temple has a name unique in form, Hut-ka-Ptah, domain of 
the ka-spirit of Ptah, perhaps the origin of the Greek Aigyptos, in turn the source of 
West European names for the country including English Egypt. Here, it seems, there 
once flourished a sacred precinct so central to Egypt that it became its very name; yet 
we do not know why the shrine should, unlike any other sacred place in Egypt, be 
identified as for the ka-spirit of a deity, rather than directly for the deity itself, and we 
have no information on the form or plan of this Hut-ka of Ptah (Figure 1.6). 

Belief without a Book 23 



Level of 
water table 

STEP es 

Figure 1.6 The High Mound of Iunu, as recorded by two early twentieth-century AD 
archaeologists: (a) E. Schiaparelli, redrawn after F Contardi, Il Naos di Sethi I da Eliopoili. 
Un monument per il culto del dio Sole, Milan 2009, p.14 (b) W. Petrie, Heliopolis, Kafr 
Ammar, Shurafa, London 1912. 

Even with those gaps, the climate, geology, and history of Egypt have preserved 
a quantity and scale of ancient monument with few parallels across the world. 
Moreover, there are substantial compensations for the gaps in the architectural 
record, in the wide range of manuscript sources and the smaller sculpture and 
inscription available. Egyptologists have privileged the written evidence, sup- 
ported by visual arts, across these three source types—the architectural monu- 
ment, sculpture in three and two dimensions, and the manuscript. From written 
and visual evidence around material monumental remains, we can identify sacred 
architecture as primarily a space for making offerings, with three types of recipient: 
netjeru, “deities”; nesyu, “kings”; and akhu, “the effective/good dead.” Yet is this 
ancient Egyptian religion, or rather, what part of ancient life in the Nile Valley are 
we choosing to see here? And what are we omitting? 

Beyond written sources: mudbrick architecture 

Gramsci commented that “every religion ... is in reality a plurality of distinct and 
often contradictory religions” (Gramsci 1975, 1397). We might start, then, not from 
a modern sense of religion, with buildings and books, but set out instead on a com- 
parative quest for how other groups of humans have historically marked out parts 
of living as intensive or separate, so in our terms as sacred. If we turn from geogra- 
phy, with its spatial analyses, to the historical periods, for analysis by time phase, 
we might draft a rather different list of architectural sources by date. Here, we might 
consider not the most visible, but the least tangible, where archaeological 
techniques and questions have both retrieved immeasurably more sheer data and 
generated most substantial new understanding of how different groups of humans 
live or have lived. From the evidence of the smallest recorded units, through every 

24 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

scale of structure and settlement, we could restore attention to less central and less 
well-preserved temples such as the mudbrick structure uncovered near Badari at 
the border of Upper and Middle Egypt (Chapter 3). Here, the greatest advance in 
Nile Valley archaeology has been outside the Egyptological mainstream, from 
research into predynastic Egypt and into Sudanese and Egyptian Nubia to the 
south (Edwards). The record within the time-space of ancient Egypt remains less 
intensively developed, despite the important analyses of recent decades (Lehner 
2010). A list of excavated sites from which plans of small-scale house units have 
been published could start from a draft such as Table 1.4. 

Greater geographical-historical range can be gained from cemeteries, always 
taking into account the different chances of preservation and, often overlooked, 
the variations in funeral and burial customs. Burial practice varied far more than 
the view, common even among Egyptologists, that ancient Egyptians took every- 
thing with them; even richer groups only stocked tomb chambers with full-house 
inventories at only two points in Egyptian history, the period around unification, 
circa 3000 Bc, and the period of greatest military presence in western Asia, circa 
1450-1300 Bc. Changing funeral and burial customs dramatically affect the selected 
edition of life made available to us as burial equipment (Chapter 7). At some 

Table 1.4 Some key published settlement sites in Egyptian archaeology 

Date BC Upper UpperEgypt Middle Oases Fayoum Lower 
EgyptS N Egypt Egypt 
4000-3500 Badari Fayoum Merimda, 

3500-3000 Adaima _ Badari 
Nekhen (Naqada) 

3000-2400 Nekhen Giza 
Abu Abusir 
2400-2000 Abu Abdju Balat Mendes 
Kom al-Hisn 
2000-1600 Abu Wahsut Balat Lahun Abu Ghalib 
Waset Qasr Hutwaret 
al-Sagha Lisht 
1600-1450 Abu Deir al-Ballas Hutwaret 
1450-1100 Abu Malkata Akhetaten Madinat Qantir 
Waset al-Ghurab Mennefer 
1100-650 Abu Madinat Khemenu Mennefer 
650-525 Abu Madinat (Naukratis) 


Belief without a Book 25 

periods, a small selection of goods was placed with richer men and women, as if to 
sustain them on one final journey, rather than to stock them for eternity. More 
often, the burials of younger women and of infants would receive greater protec- 
tion in the form of amulets and jewelry, as if for puberty or childbirth rites they did 
not live long enough to see (Dubiel 2008). In addition to the variations over time, 
substantial differences may be expected to nuance, adjust, or overturn the gener- 
ally top-down normative picture within each period. With improved knowledge of 
the history of burial rites, a researcher can explore cemetery excavation records as 
another always-mediated mirror of life. 

Across different sites, we might look less for monumental or written assertions of 
activity and first for more direct material traces of actions. Votive deposits provide 
the primary sources for offerings, and studies of these have begun to bridge the gap 
with a more broadly defined archaeology of religion (Pinch 1993). Similarly, food 
and drink, or their containers, and floral remains would provide the essential evi- 
dence that the banquets depicted in chapels did take place. Archaeological floral 
and faunal deposits place in context the visual and written sources for rites of daily 
and festival offerings and celebrations. Some activities may only be accessible to us 
in written and visual form, such as the words and gestures of hymns among other 
ancient performance and practice. Finally, ethnoarchaeology looks to descriptions 
of living societies to shed light on archaeological material. Direct comparison with 
other societies can risk doubling the heap of assumptions we make about other 
societies, but an indirect or heuristic comparative anthropology can provide fresh 
material from one society for rethinking assumptions about another. The decoloni- 
zation of archaeology in general and of Egyptology in particular should advance 
the same aim, of multiplying the number of approaches to ancient material, 
beyond current Euro-American monopoly on production of knowledge. 

Ancient practice and modern prejudice in distinguishing 
elite and popular religion 

One of the most deeply rooted modern assumptions pervading accounts of ancient 
Egyptian religion is the opposition between official cult and personalized practice. 
Such distinctions have impact as a mechanism for legitimating our own practice 
and demoting those of others. In the history of religions with a founder figure (so 
including Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism), later reforming movements 
express the need to return to the first generation when the founder was alive, in 
order to recapture the purity ofa pristine initial form of practice. These movements 
identify any intervening developments as deviation but may in turn be denounced 
as deviating from the original intentions or mission of the founder. In western 
European history, the sixteenth-century AD Reformation and then Counter- 
Reformation provide dramatic examples of this violent religious history. A Muslim 
parallel to Luther or Calvin might be the eighteenth-century AD Wahhabi move- 
ment in Arabian Islam. 

The vocabulary used against religious opponents within a founded religion 
includes charges on the one side of superstition, magic, or witchcraft and on the 

26 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

other of an empty official cult or ritual devoid of sincerity. Perhaps the motivation 
for attack and counterattack lies in a political and/or psychological need to know 
who is sincere in their religious practice and who is not. Sincerity and purity tend 
to be located by modern society outside institutions and their buildings, which 
may be seen as corrupted and commercialized. In any particular historical context, 
there may be strong evidence for the accusations against the institutions and strong 
need for reform. However, there may also be human limits to the ability to identify 
sincerity and falsehood in others and therefore powerful human drives to institu- 
tionalize the sincerity/falsehood division by new forms of religious practice in 
explicit rejection of others. 

In considering practices in other societies, in particular in other times, modern 
writers struggle to set aside ingrained thinking. The European oppositional 
approach seems set already by the time of eighteenth-century Enlightenment 
perceptions of initiated elite, manipulative priesthood, and gullible populace. On 
this model, Egyptologists have asked whether a popular religion existed outside 
the monumental temples, implicitly equating temple with church or mosque or 
synagogue. Later twentieth-century Egyptologists recognized these assumptions 
and so considered instead whether the official cult might not be a small part of a 
religious world that included practical religion with practices that included ances- 
tor worship, divination, and oracles. However, the practice/cult division remains 
caught on modern binaries of elite/popular, initiated/ignorant, and ritual/prayer, 
none of which may apply. The central topics of ancestor worship, divination, and 
oracles require fuller attention to wider ranges of sources, but all appear also 
within the written and visual sources for kingship and the highest officials of the 
royal court. Most of the material consigned by Egyptologists to categories of, 
formerly, magic or superstition or, currently, practical religion could be placed 
without social bias under the heading of healing. In the verbal, visual, and mate- 
rial struggle for good health, there is no evidence that a king or courtier turned to 
any forms or forces different to those invoked among any other visible sector of 
society. Deities protecting birth, maternity, infancy, and health appear in the 
same form on amulets found at all levels of society in the archaeological record 
(Chapter 6). 

In arelated, equally persistent fallacy, a religion of the poor might be identified 
whenever and wherever inexpensive, often organic materials, sometimes in 
forms requiring little time or skill, are used for offerings, instead of visibly 
skillfully produced or inscribed materials—as if the rich make the things they 
use. The offering of a lump of mud tells us nothing automatically about the 
social status of the offerer; a particular offering practice might, instead, require 
that the person in need, or in gratitude, must fashion an offering with their own 
hands, in which case the rich adult and poor infant may produce similar 
material results. More sensitive recording of archaeological contexts can be fol- 
lowed by a more open comparison of contexts, with a conscious self-critique to 
identify as much as possible of the bias each of us brings to drawing a picture of 
the past: implicitly, the picture will have to become a collaborative and 
open-ended venture. 

Belief without a Book 27 

Suspending assumptions 

In order to avoid the automatic attribution of any form or material to a particular 
point on a presumed social scale, we might recast these assumptions as questions 
for new research. Age and gender categories are among the more destabilizing 
frameworks both in a society and in analysis of that society for instituting continual 
processes of change within the body of the person/group and for disrupting the 
tendency of description to produce a static image of the society described. Useful 
models could be sought here from fields where the assumptions may be least 
active, for example, in predynastic studies (Hendrickx, Huyge and Wendrich 2010) 
and Sudan archaeology (Edwards 2005). 

Within the written record in the ancient Egyptian language, clues to at least the 
explicit construction of identity at birth and puberty could be sought in the wide 
social spectrum documented in personal names. Whereas wealthier levels of soci- 
ety are the more visible in the material record in general, the legal and administra- 
tive records from the third to first millennia include manual labor in at least as great 
numbers, even if still not in proportion to the overall population (written records 
attest to a high proportion of the highest officials, against only a fraction of the over- 
all population, but the total number of names recorded will be in the low thousands 
for both less and more wealthy). In very general terms, in each period, no great dif- 
ference can be found between social classes in the patterns of naming children. For 
example, in lists of stone haulers from Lahun, circa 1800 Bc, many men are named 
after the king whose burial and cult complex were at Lahun, Senusret II, in the same 
manner found for high officials of the same period (e.g., Collier and Quirke 2006, 
49-53, UC32170, 32184). The connection between hometown and its cult and per- 
sonal name can be confirmed from other sources. Other worker name lists show a 
similar preponderance of individuals named after the local god, so placed under 
their protection. From the same period as the Lahun lists, a legal document from 
Waset names runaways in southern Upper Egypt town by town, and here again, 
repeatedly, men from a particular place are named after the main deity of that place 
(Hayes 1955). Generalizing across the three millennia, the local anchoring of the 
personal name in local temple cult is an extremely significant finding for the study 
of the relation between different sectors of society in relation to deities, for it indi- 
cates a single social field, with emphasis on king and on local deity—without the 
class division introduced in studies of popular or practical religion. This finding jus- 
tifies closer examination of the written and visual record for the netjer niuty, “city 
deity,’ of the main towns of ancient Egypt (Assmann 2001, 17-27). 

Netjeru deities: names and forms 

Across the regional map of Egypt, as preserved from scattered inscriptions, certain 
names appear twice or more as principal deities of a town or sepat, whereas others 
appear only once. From the depictions of different periods, we also obtain an 
impression of the visual forms most often associated with the names (Table 1.5). 
Table 1.5 is not intended to present a pantheon of all Egyptian deities. Instead, it 

28 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Table 1.5  Netjeru, “deities,” in the sepat, “religious provinces” 

1. Attested as principal deity in more than one sepat 

Name of deity Main form 

Amun Man wearing double falcon plume, ram with down-curling horns 
Anubis Jackal/jackal-headed man 

Atum Man wearing double crown 

Hathor Woman with cow horns and sun disk, cow/cow-headed woman 
Horus Falcon/falcon-headed man with double crown 

Isis Woman wearing throne hieroglyph (Isis) 

Khnum Ram with horizontal horns/ram-headed man 

Min Man with erect phallus, wrapped body, raised arm holding a flail 
Neit Woman wearing red crown or crossed lines on oval 

Nemty Falcon on boat/falcon-headed man, Seth animal 

Osiris Man, wrapped body, wearing ostrich plumes headdress 

Sobek Crocodile/crocodile-headed man 

Thoth Ibis/ibis-headed man, baboon 

Wadjyt Rearing cobra, lion-headed woman, woman with cobra 

and sun disk 
2. Attested as principal deity in one sepat 

Bast Lion-headed woman, cat 

Bat Human face with cow horns, on plinth 
Heryshef Ram with horizontal horns/ram-headed man 
Igay Rare 

Khentkhety Falcon/falcon-headed man, crocodile 
Khentykhem Falcon/falcon-headed man 

Mont Falcon/falcon-headed man with double falcon plume 
Nekhbet Vulture/woman with vulture headdress 

Ptah Man with wrapped body wearing skullcap 

Satet Woman wearing tall horns and plume headdress 
Seth Seth animal/Seth animal-headed man 

Soped Man with long beard, double plume headdress 
Wepwawet Jackal, jackal-headed man 

summarizes the main forms for just the main deities listed for the 39 sepat that 
constitute the conceptual geography of ancient Egypt. Other deities are equally 
frequently attested, as partner to main deities or main deity in other towns: 
Sekhmet appears in cult centers of Ptah, depicted most often as a lion-headed 
woman; Mut has her own temple, south of the Amun precinct at Karnak, and is 
depicted as a woman or lion-headed woman wearing a vulture headdress and 
double crown. Even within its limits, though, the list demonstrates two fundamen- 
tal features of the ancient Egyptian depiction of deities: a name could be given 
more than one form, and the same form may be used for more than one name. 
Correlation of even these names with just their principal forms should, then, be 
enough to convey the dominant principles behind ancient Egyptian depictions of 
deities—teaching us how to read the visual form and how not to. 

Belief without a Book 29 

Evolutionary readings of ancient images 

Nineteenth- and early twentieth-century commentators interpreted ancient 
depictions as idolatry, animal worship, and fetishism. Wallis Budge summarized 
the work of a generation of Egyptological colleagues at the British Museum under 
the title From Fetish to God in Ancient Egypt (Budge 1934). By the time this was 
published in the 1930s, it must have seemed dated to researchers in other fields; 
the philosopher Ernst Cassirer was then already redefining his more synchronic 
approach to symbolic forms (see Chapter 4). Earlier histories of Egyptian religion 
confidently ascribe object forms to a prehistory in which people supposedly wor- 
shipped objects or emblems as fetishes; according to this view, people became 
more sophisticated and worshipped animals instead, until, by early historic times, 
they were worshipping human forms. This evolutionary history allowed early 
Egyptologists to read the various forms of deities as an amalgam of different phases 
in a history of depiction, where human, human-animal, animal, and object stood 
in a hierarchy on the road toward a single anthropomorphic deity or, in more 
agnostic or atheistic readings, no deity at all. Yet no such evolution appears in the 
attested sequence of depictions over time. Following the fourth-millennium BC 
patterns of depiction, a radical reformulation of depiction accompanies the intro- 
duction of writing shortly before 3000 Bc. In the new system of depiction, alongside 
the introduction of hieroglyphic script, the forms of images follow the same princi- 
ples of composition as the hieroglyphs; or, to put it the other way round, hiero- 
glyphs are small images constructed on the same principles and proportions as 
large figures. In this new world of expression and communication, art and script 
are fused (Fischer 1986). From the sparse Early Dynastic sources, all four options 
for depicting a deity seem already available—human, animal headed, animal, and 
object (Figure 1.7). Far from being an evolutionary sequence, the four image types 
are a series of contemporary options for depicting what is not known, according to 
the information to be conveyed and the requirements of the composition. 
Compositional considerations may account for the recurrent choice between 
depicting a named deity as an animal and as an animal-headed human. None of the 
names listed earlier was depicted only as an animal or only as an animal-headed 
human, nor are there any examples where more ancient sources show only animal 
form, more recent only animal headed. Presumably, then, the body/head choices 
offer complementary means of visualizing the being or force evoked in the same 
name throughout the history of this religion art. At a simple level, the compositional 
principle may have been rhythm and harmony, whereby artists resisted radically dif- 
ferent forms within a line of deities, particularly where the king stands or walks or sits 
among them. Also on the simplest, pragmatic level, a human body might most flu- 
ently serve a composition where a named deity would need to sit on a throne or to 
hold a scepter. Other artistic principles could have generated different results, with, 
for example, birds holding tall scepters or quadrupeds seated on chairs; such choices 
are found within ancient Egyptian sources, on manuscript visual descriptions of a 
world turned upside down (as in the so-called Satirical Papyrus of Turin, from Waset, 
about 1250 Bc, Omlin 1973). The preference for animal-headed human bodies must 

30 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Figure 1.7 Synchronized differences: different depictions of deities as human, animal 
headed, animal, and object within the period 3100-2900 Bc: (a) stone bowl inscribed 
with image of a deity as a standing wrapped man in a shrine, identified by the 
aforementioned three single-consonant hieroglyphs as the god Ptah (Semenuhor 
cemeteries, tomb 231, about 3100 Bc); (b) two forms of one deity on a single seal 
impression, (i) falcon and falcon headed, generally identified as Horus, and (ii) mixed 
(?) animal and human with the same head, generally identified as Seth (images 
reconstructed from mud seal impressions found in tombs of late Second Dynasty kings, 
Abdju); (c) deities depicted through living animals and distinct objects, (i) wild (?) bull in 
an oval enclosure (second register) and (ii) emblem with crossed arrows in a rectilinear 
enclosure (first register) (wood label with name of King Aha, found in tombs of First 
Dynasty kings, Abdju). From (a) W. Petrie, Tarkhan I, London 1913 and (b) and 

(c) W. Petrie, The Royal Tombs of the Earliest Dynasties IT, London 1901. 

Belief without a Book 31 

Figure 1.8 Limestone stela with two images, cow and adult woman, both with cow 
horns and sun disk, jointly identified in the hieroglyphic inscription between the two 
hearing ears of the deity as Hathor, lady of the sycamore. From Mennefer, about 1300 Bc. 
W. Petrie, Memphis I, British School of Archaeology in Egypt, London, pl.28. 

be recognized as specific decisions within a particular conception of, and desire for, 
harmony—not as some natural or inevitable device in a system of visual rules. 
Comparison of the frequent depiction of the same named deities in whole animal 
form generally confirms that this is not an attempt to show a different kind of divine 
nature, but a choice guided by the aim of the composition. A named deity may be 
depicted as a falcon or hippopotamus particularly in scenes where difference is 
emphasized either among the deities (as in Late Period and later catalogues of dei- 
ties) or between deity and worshipper (as on New Kingdom and later votive stelae). 
Entirely animal forms are also more common where a deity is depicted alone, as in 
votive sculpture. However, in some instances, a visual composition includes other 
principles of duality or symmetry, where different shapes are juxtaposed without any 
such spatial logic (Figure 1.8). In such cases, the plural, perhaps even antisingular, 
image can be recognized as one strategy to communicate a multifaceted divine pres- 
ence, using visual means where a hymn might deploy combinations or sequences of 
names or phrases to delineate the elusive deity. On present evidence, a supposed 
historical evolution from animal to human form seems implausible, as it cannot be 
seen at work in the choices of creative producers at any period. 

Ancient and modern multiplication of forms of netjeru 

Late Period and later bronze figures of deities can create an impression of 
endless variety, particularly where the individual images accumulate in tem- 
ple deposits or, even more, are assembled from different sites in modern 

32 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

collections. In ancient times, the number of different forms within a single 
group may not have been so overwhelming, and each form seems to have had 
tight localized meanings, lost wherever exact provenance has not been 
recorded. The bronze figurines were common in early modern collections of 
Egyptian antiquities in Europe, reinforcing biblical and Roman prejudice 
against ancient Egypt as home to animal worship. However, the form of the 
figurine need not be an ancient statement identifying a named deity. Frequently, 
for example, cat figurines are inscribed with invocations asking the goddess 
Bast to give life to a named person, and the museum label will then identify the 
cat as Bast. As the inscriptions do not explicitly identify form and name, it 
would be more accurate to interpret them as evidence that the cat could convey 
some feature essential to Bast. In other words, no ancient Egyptian deity is an 
animal or a bird, but instead, the animal or bird world could be used to convey 
some quality considered divine. 

The closest to animal cult, in the sense of worship of a living animal, would be 
the extraordinary status of the sacred bull of Ra at Iunu, Ptah at Mennefer, and 
Mont at Armant (see Chapter 2, Section The separateness of the human). Only one 
sacred bull was alive at any one time, the next being sought immediately on the 
death of the old; the exceptional role of these three bulls is reflected in the unique 
special name for each—Menwer for the bull of Ra, Hep/Apis for Ptah, and Bekhu 
for Mont. The sacred bull lived in a special enclosure, as the herald of the god, and 
at death was buried in a stone sarcophagus like a king or high official. The unex- 
plained and remarkable care for the three bulls did not stop, but nor did it seem to 
foster, the new practice after 700 Bc of embalming literally millions of birds and 
animals for burial in substantial, apparently state-funded catacombs (Figure 2.2). 
The later embalming of species perhaps reflects instead the meeting of two phe- 
nomena: spread in embalming techniques in the first millennium BC to a wider 
social and geographical range and the use of certain species to denote qualities of 
netjeru. Rarely, a living species might denote a quality only found with one name, 
separate from all other named divine forces, as in the case of the ibis, only deployed 
for images of Thoth. Far more often, a particular animal or bird might depict a 
quality found with several separate names, as the falcon might be a form appropri- 
ate for depicting Ra, Horus, and Mont or the lioness for Sekhmet or Wadjyt. 

Visual forms as poetic metaphors 

As with any language, the elements in this visual repertoire gain their meaning 
from the ranges and contexts of their use, often most clearly seen at the point where 
they are not used. The lion-headed woman form may not automatically evoke any 
eye of Ra (force sent out in fury from the creator), because not all images named eye 
of Ra take that form. On the other hand, fury more broadly may be a core idea in the 
lion metaphor. In reading visual and verbal together, modern readers may find it 
easiest to consider each visual(-verbal) composition not as art, but as poetry—as 
Ogden Goelet recommends us to read ancient Egyptian afterlife literature in the 
same frame of mind we might bring to surrealist poetry (Goelet 1994). By taking 

Belief without a Book 33 

each visual form as a metaphor to decode, we may come closer to the aims of the 
composer. The surviving range of written sources, literary and others, can help to 
interpret the visual forms, minimizing the associations we might think natural for 
each form. For example, the cow form can more plausibly be identified with mater- 
nal love, because the hieroglyphic writing of the verb ames, “to care for,’ ends with 
the hieroglyph of a cow turning to lick the calf at her udder. Before this interpreta- 
tion begins, archaeological fieldwork and survey provide the context of material 
culture and ecology for each period, essential to any understanding of the words 
and images. 

Rare compositions combine different forms in an emphatic demonstration of 
multiple faces of a deity. In one striking example, four forms of a goddess, perhaps 
Hathor, are combined in a single statue from perhaps the mid-first millennium BC 
as cow, rearing cobra, lion-headed woman, and woman with sun disk and cow 
horns (Louvre E26023). The four forms create an exceptional impression specifi- 
cally on the number four, separating this quadruple divine force from others. Such 
combinations are not frequent at any period, especially on the scale of that 
substantial stone image, perhaps intended to act as cult image at a place where 
offerings would be made to the goddess. In some instances, Hathor is depicted as 
the maternal cow, providing milk for the king, eternally effective as a statue in offer- 
ing chapels; the best-preserved example is from the temple of Hatshepsut as king, 
at Waset, and others include one in a cemetery chapel at Iunyt (Downes 1974; 
Figure 1.9). Late Period images of the creator adopt a different strategy for a similar 
effect, adding to one body elements from several different species, sometimes with 
two or more heads, as a visual statement on the plurality of creative force within the 
one creator. 

Fission and fusion in names of netjeru 

The combinations indicate different possibilities for constructing imagery and 
developing name: whereas the quadruple Hathor statue opens a single name to 
subsets, fissioning into several deities, the creator images merge the multiple 
into a single, opening the possibilities of fusions. Both directions are frequently 
found across the two and a half thousand years and can be understood perhaps 
most easily as changes in focus. In a sense, each deity name identifies for us 
what an ancient group wished to mark out, or experienced as marked out, as 
divine; even at any one period, the areas demarcated as separate, by the strat- 
egy of naming, might overlap. Over time, the singular impact of an area or force 
might come to be considered multiple, and each of the multiple parts might be 
considered sufficiently separate to receive offerings, sometimes under different 
forms. Horus might be visualized as Horus the Child and then as Horus the 
Child of a particular place; in specific context, an image of a child deity might 
be intended to refer to only that localized presence of a divine force. Some con- 
texts might require a succession of different expressions of one divine force; in 
the embalming rituals, four forms of Anubis may correspond to the four cardi- 
nal points or to four duties required in the physical operation. Claude 

34 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Figure 1.9 The statue of Hathor and King Amenhotep II, as found in the rock-cut chapel 
beside the temples of Hatshepsut and Thutmes III, overlain by the later monastery Deir 
al-Bahari, on the West Bank at Waset. The statue is now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo; 
the photograph shows the statue in its original location, just after it was uncovered. 

E. Naville, Deir el Bahri I, Egypt Exploration Fund, London, 1895, p1.27. 

Traunecker has noted the impact of architecture on the historical process of 
fissioning: a particular architectural feature, such as a symmetrically sited 
chapel or a slot in a sequence of symmetrically arranged wall registers, might 
create a space for new use of a divine quality as a full name (Traunecker 1997). 
By this wall theology, from Isis the good sister, the quality of good sister (in Late 
Egyptian Tasenetnefret) might separate off to provide the harmonious rhythm 
of wall scenes or temple chapels, where Tasenetnefret might stand as an inde- 
pendent deity receiving offerings of her own, a separately acknowledged divine 
quality to which people of that time and place decided to give space and in 
some instances offerings. 

Equally, over time, two areas might be fused to a composite form (syncretism), as 
in the dominant New Kingdom combination Amun-Ra, where the expression of 
universal power as imen, “hidden” (Amun), combines with the expression of 
universal power as the source of light and heat ra‘ “sun” (Ra), leaving three possi- 
ble areas to celebrate: Amun, Ra, and Amun-Ra. Rather than puzzling over the 
decision to leave all three as options, we might understand each occurrence as a 
choice by one ancient inscriber or composer to focus on one or other or both of the 
sources of universal power. 

Belief without a Book 35 

Ancient descriptions of netjeru: hymns and narratives 

For understanding the shared features as well as the separate identities of netjeru, 
Egyptologists have explored three types of ancient writing: hymns, descriptive 
treatises, and narratives. In hymns, the reciter defines the netjer(et) in sets of 
actions or qualities, where hymns to each named deity can be compared, to cata- 
logue features as shared or unique to one name. Hymns to Osiris and to the sun-god 
as creator have received most attention. Sometimes, the regular frame of praise is 
expanded to include more explicit references to relations between netjeru (see 
Chapter 4, stela of Amenmes). Treatises with descriptions of religious geography 
bring together deities in statements of action more often. Among the treatises, the 
passage of the sun through the sky of the world and underworld, core motif in 
tombs of New Kingdom rulers, and the dramatic depiction of the world on ceiling 
compositions in the tomb of Sety I and in the unique tomb-shrine for the god Osiris 
behind the temple for the king at Abdju/Abydos may be counted. More difficult to 
place architecturally, a loose block of basalt inscribed in the period of Napatan rule 
over Egypt preserves accounts of the creation and of the establishment of kingship 
at Mennefer/Memphis (Shabako Stone). In general, modern researchers draw on 
narrative sources, where nefjeru are more clearly described in action together. Yet 
longer tales of deities are so rare that Egyptologists have had to rely in part on 
ancient Greek and Latin versions, above all the account by Plutarch of the Osiris 
myth. In 1975, Jan Assmann proposed a radical rethink, arguing that there were no 
myths, in the sense of narratives about deities, before the New Kingdom. As will be 
discussed in Chapter 4, in the subsequent debate, Susanne Bickel proposed to 
widen the definition of myth beyond narration, while Joachim Quack has observed 
how telling the story of a deity is a form of worship and that the primary goal of the 
ancient Egyptian sources is to praise—hence the dominance of hymns and the 
relatively rare use of long tales. 

Some Egyptologists have doubted that a religion could have gods without narra- 
tives to teach each new generation who and what the gods are. Yet if, following 
Gramsci, religion concerns the connection between human behavior and the con- 
ception of human life, then the ethics can be grounded in individual episodes, with 
no privileged or prior role for a chronological sequence of episodes. Even from an 
anachronistic position, the religions of the book do not need to be, and in fact are 
not, taught from a narrative of birth to death of the founder, but instead, begin from 
the main precepts for behavior put forward by the founder. These ethical precepts 
can certainly be placed in the life narrative of the religion founder, as in annual 
festivals evoking Genesis and Exodus, birth and death of Christ, and the life-trans- 
forming journey of Muhammed. Yet, precisely the annual rhythm of the religions 
shows that each episode carries meaning for the faithful through the link to the 
teachings of the founder, rather than as a didactic story where you start each time 
at birth and finish at death. Any overall story can be built up over time, but need not 
be fully present at any one moment. Moreover, in teaching practice, ethical advice 
and the guiding content of sermons and sayings take precedence over biographical 
story lines. For each festival, ritual, and other social action, the immediate relations 

36 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

of the act in their divine dimension would be a stronger starting point than a longer 
story—which might never have been needed until, in Plutarch, a Greek tradition of 
narrative met the ancient Egyptian motifs. Whether or not we call the relations 
between netjeru, “myth,” when they are expressed outside narrative form, is a deci- 
sion for the reader: given general current English usage, though, myth may be 
another word that confuses when applied to a society that did not primarily narrate 
its divine world. These sources are explored in Chapter 4. 

Instituting sacred space: the question of priesthood 

The monumental scale of well-preserved temple architecture and sculpture 
encouraged later generations to a caricature of ancient Egypt as a land ruled by 
priests and superstition. However, the temples in question were not designed for 
crowds to hear sermons or readings, but more as containers for safely defusing the 
encounter between offerer and deity. As offering place, the sacred architecture 
required stocking with goods and staffing with personnel to keep the place clean 
and the offerings flowing each day and at festivals. In this sense, there is no clergy, 
only a temple staff (Egyptian wenut). Against the image of a separate priestly caste, 
written sources indicate that most staff served by monthly rota. Anyone with a tem- 
ple position might serve a maximum of three months in a year but quite possibly 
less. The rest of the time, presumably, they worked outside the temple, explaining 
why men with temple positions often also bear administrative titles—a reminder 
too that ancient work was not a 9-5, 365-day commitment. As will be discussed in 
Chapter 3, there was no one word for priest: the English word is used for a series of 
ancient Egyptian titles, which presumably reflected different responsibilities but 
are difficult to separate in practice—god’s servant, god’s father, and pure. Perhaps, 
the ancient word closest to our term priest is the nesut, “king,” who must be initi- 
ated into sacred knowledge of the workings of life. However, little detail is yet 
known on the Egyptian term for such initiation (bes), leaving much to be discov- 
ered, as considered in that chapter. With neither priest nor king, the ancient 
Egyptian landscape is marked by institutions we also struggle to understand in our 
efforts to classify: the House of Life, the House of Gold, and the holders of the title 
Bearer of the Festival Roll at the palace and temple. The entire framework seems at 
odds with all the assumptions we bring to the study of the sacred in the past. 

Checklist on assumptions 

At the close of these discussions, a reader might compile a short vocabulary for key 
words where regular English usage renders the term difficult or impossible to apply 
to the study of ancient Egypt and use this to check the content of the chapters to 
come. The following words might figure on the list, but each reader will have their 
own warning vocabulary: 

Cosmos (and cosmology) 

Belief without a Book 37 

King (and kingship) 





The words will continue to circulate, and most recur in most chapters. The more a 
reader remains conscious of problems in using them to describe other worlds, the 
better the chances of a dialogue with those worlds. 


Finding the Sacred 
in Space and Time 


Holiness: Absolute or Relative 

In a comparative study on sacred landscapes, the anthropologist Jane Hubert 
reflects: “Not every stone or plot of earth can be treated with the same degree of 
respect. Does this mean that there are degrees of sacredness? Or is it, again, merely 
limitations in the understanding of the cultures and languages concerned?” 
(Hubert 1994, 18). On these lines, we might ask whether people in Egypt 3000-525 
would live their lives in constant appreciation of all matter and being as infused 
with divinity. Or is such extensive sanctity a projection from more recent European 
traditions? Anthropology of religion charts the wide range of ways in which differ- 
ent human groups conceive of time and space, including the time and space of the 
body. Twenty-first-century citizens may separate out categories of time and space, 
each divided into ordinary and special, for example, between daily life and carnival 
days or between unmarked space and separated, sacred, or forbidden space. 
Space-time segments can frame our lives with greatest impact where we would not 
use the term religion. In contemporary urban societies, the most heavily marked 
space might be a mental asylum or a prison, where physical separation is rein- 
forced by both interior policing and an external collective act of forgetting. 
Against the patterns in secular cityscapes, other societies might, in theory, avoid 
separating out any time or space at all and instead consider all lived experience as 
sacred. In such a view, sacredness would be a permanent quality of earth, air, and 
all materials from water and rock to animal and human bodies. Archaeological 
sources, including writings and depictions, offer limited but still useful evidence 
for any attempt to identify the main approaches to sacredness in ancient Egypt. 
Writings on the earth god Geb or sky goddess Nut might imply that the earth itself 
was considered a sacred material on which we walk and the air a sacred material 
wrapped around us. If the names and roles of these deities suggest a world where 
everything is sacred, we then need to ask whether ancient individuals felt conscious 

Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt, First Edition. Stephen Quirke. 
© 2015 Stephen Quirke. Published 2015 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. 

Finding the Sacred in Space and Time 39 

of that sacredness throughout their day and night. In this chapter, while bearing in 
mind the possibility of evenly sacred world, I examine evidence that some times 
and spaces were marked as more sacred than others. 

The human body 

Humans on the world: separation versus continuity 

In traditional European-language division between culture and nature, human 
impact on the environment is contrasted with a world without humans. 
Anthropologists and historians have explored other ways in which different socie- 
ties might think about, or express, the relations between humans in the world. In 
one radical review, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro identifies outside European tradi- 
tion a widespread insistence on the continuity between all that exists. Only his 
term for this, perspectivism, seems still caught in other European traditions, where 
art, philosophy, and politics all maintained a belief in the individualized point of 
view of an all-seeing individual eye (introduction and critique Ramos 2012). 
Nevertheless, his writing takes most direct aim at the European instinct to classify 
and so to reduce all being to categories, starting with animate and inanimate. 

In contrast to Viveiros de Castro, Philippe Descola finds differences between 
human groups around the world in the way they relate the group member to others 
and to what European science would classify as nonhuman (Descola 2005). He 
considers varying expressions of physical exterior and interiority of beings or, 
perhaps more neutrally, the tangible externals and intangible other qualities. The 
logical product of these two options would be a quartet of possible combinations, 
where, at each encounter with any other physical being, the thinking individual 
might consider that other as having: 

1. Similar physicality, similar interiority 2. Similar physicality, different interiority 

3. Different physicality, similarinteriority 4. Different physicality, different interiority 

The quartet is intended not to straightjacket peoples by descriptive labels for their 
views, but instead as possible ways to see, or to think, around the variety of recorded 
accounts from groups across the world. For this rethinking, Descola finds new uses 
for terms that have been defined in more than one way in previous generations, 
and gives examples, geographical distribution and definition for each: 

1. Totemism: Other beings are considered to have similar external and internal 
properties; some Australian groups identify a knowledge-man with an animal 
species (not an individual), which can assist him and, when damaged, can 
hurt him; other Australian groups identify their sub-groups with species. 

2. Naturalism: The physical construction is considered similar, but ethical and 
moral properties differ; in a European scientific approach, everything 
animal has similar bodily properties, distinguishing them from everything 
vegetable and mineral, but the human alone has such features of subjectiv- 
ity as conscience and free will. 

40 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

3. Animism: Differences in external appearance conceal underlying shared 
interiority; what may seem different species, such as human and jaguar, are 
kin, as among Amazonian groups in South America. 

4. Analogism: Both exterior and interiority are different, in a great plurality of 
species that allows for an equally vast web of analogies; west African groups 
express the human body as a hybrid fusion of elements, for example, the 
Samo (Burkina) human as comprising body of flesh from mother, blood 
from father, breath (from blood of the heart), nyini essence (from blood of 
the body) generating heat and sweat, mental personality (understanding, 
memory, and imagination, may be reincarnation of that of an ancestor), 
double (immortal essence unique to each individual, traced in the shadow, 
also characteristic of plants, animals, and some inanimate materials such as 
clay and iron), individual destiny (determining the lifespan), and name. 

The fourfold classification may be disputed, both in the differences between terms 
and in the number of categories. Dominant features in this account reside within the 
European philosophical traditions that Viveiros de Castro seeks to escape: the distinc- 
tion between physical exterior and interiority of beings seems to recast a European 
dichotomy body-mind and the logical quartet as a philosophical device derives from 
Aristotle in fourth-century BC Greek writing, via the twentieth-century French writing 
of Greimas. Although Descola does not claim to describe all human societies in this 
tight frame, the danger of the Aristotelian quartet is that it induces such totalizing 
descriptions in reading and application. Nevertheless, the exploration by Descola 
provides fertile ground for considering how we understand the evidence from ancient 
Egypt. As ethnographers have recorded such varied expressions of being human in 
the world, where would ancient Egypt be placed? Or, perhaps more productively, 
which of these relations to others can shed most light on our fragmentary record? 

The separateness of the human in Egypt 3000-525 Bc 

The anthropological summaries prompt us to consider how relations between 
human and animal were expressed in Egypt 3000-525 Bc. The evidence for special 
treatment of animals alongside humans seems strongest at the outer limits of this 
time span. For the period leading up to state formation, perhaps 3200 BC, current 
excavations at Nekhen have revealed an unparalleled range of animal burials, 
including the most formidable creatures outside the agricultural and pastoral cir- 
cle: African wild bull, large feline (leopard?), elephant, and hippopotamus. The 
significance of the astonishing assemblage remains uncertain. However, as Nekhen 
is a major center of kingship in the late fourth to third millennia BC, the animal 
burials might collectively demonstrate the variety of creation under the power of 
the ruler (Friedman, Van Neer and Linseele, 2011, Figure 2.1). 

After 700 BC, so at the other end of the period studied here, certain species of ani- 
mals and birds begin to be embalmed, wrapped, and deposited in mass burials on a 
spectacular and unprecedented scale. Although these mummified species are among 
the most familiar and popular sights in modern museum displays, we know extraordi- 
narily little about the history and social setting of this religious practice. Possibly, 

Finding the Sacred in Space and Time 41 

Baboon S 
Hartebeest wo) oY 
Elephant Se 
3 XC T16 

Goats c gO © Ors / 

Cow and 

Calf O 

© Dogs Dogs 
O* ° 
Bull D 
10m Hippopotamus 

Dog and Goat 


Figure 2.1 The animal burials around Tomb 16, at site H6, Nekhen. Drawing by 
Wolfram Grajetzki after the preliminary report by Friedman, RF, W. Van Neer, and 

V. Linseele, 2011. The elite Predynastic cemetery at Hierakonpolis: 2009-2010 update, 
in Friedman, R.E & Fiske, P.N. (eds.), Egypt at its Origins 3. Orientalia Lovaniensia 
Analecta 205. Peeters, Leuven, 157-191. Drawing © Wolfram Grajetzki. 

species were identified as emblems of the powers in solar creation and renewal, for 
rituals of the solar New Year which required an immortalized presence, so a mummi- 
fied (eternally alive) rather than a living (mortal, to die) example. Innumerable votive 
inscriptions and later manuscript documents attest to the devotion of individuals in 
dedicating the mummified creature. Yet the construction of catacombs and temples 
to house them and maintain cult for them seems to be an operation on a grander 
scale, equal to the building of great temples for deities in the same periods. On this 
scale, the operative ancient Egyptian institution is kingship; many inscriptions and 
images indeed attest to the central role of kings in founding and maintaining estates 
and buildings for cult of divine animals (Kessler 1989). New research is needed into 
how and why the practice of mummifying such large numbers of animals and birds 
began and whether it continued uninterrupted over the following eight centuries into 
the early first millennium AD. Within that time span, at least at some periods, the 
mass mummification of species involved a cull: X-rays of mummified cats in different 
collections show that the individuals were mainly very young, most often with neck 
wrung, and in these instances, the provision of a mummified animal for a ritual or fes- 
tival was evidently the overriding concern, not any devotion to the individual animal in 
the manner of a modern, or ancient, pet (Figure 2.2). 

Two special cases emphasize the central role of the bull in particular throughout 
Egyptian history: at lunu/Heliopolis, the creator sun-god Ra could be approached 

42 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Figure 2.2. Rock-cut catacombs for burials of mummified animals and birds, northern 
cemeteries of Mennefer (Saqqara), first millennium BC. Excavation photograph, © Egypt 
Exploration Society. 

through a bull in the role of herald (the Egyptian word is wehemu), called Menwer 
(in Greek Mnevis), and similarly at Mennefer/Memphis, the creative force Ptah 
had a herald bull named Hep (in Greek Apis). These special cults were closely tied 
to kingship, with a race of the Hep among kingship rituals from the third millen- 
nium BC. At least from the time of Amenhotep III (after 1400 Bc), Hep bulls were 
buried in massive hard-stone sarcophagi, like kings, at first separately, after Ramses 
II (from 1290 Bc), grouped along great corridors, at Saqqara. The herald bulls may 
have served as a model for the later practices of mass animal and bird mummifica- 
tion. However, unlike those, the Hep and Menwer remained individual animals, 
rather than special treatment of large numbers of a species, and with a more 
specific link to the creator-gods they served as heralds, Ptah and Ra. 

Different beings sharing space: pets, people, and the food chain 

Careful excavation of settlements has revealed how animals could share living 
space with humans, breaking down our division between rural farming environ- 
ment and urban life in at least some townscapes (see section “Were All Creatures 

Finding the Sacred in Space and Time 43 

Held Sacred at Abu?”). Yet cemetery patterns show only occasional burials of ani- 
mals among humans, confirming written evidence for a strong distinction between 
remetj, “people,” and other creatures. Rare exceptions to this pattern include the 
sarcophagus of a cat and mummified bodies of dogs. In cemeteries associated with 
kingship, mummified bodies of monkeys and even a gazelle are recorded. The 
practice of assigning personal names to individuals may also help to reveal lines of 
demarcation between some creatures and others. In addition to humans and dei- 
ties (netjeru), personal names are found for dogs and, more rarely, cattle; a few 
instances are found where a cat is named, but the name is always cat. This written 
evidence for naming practice does not map neatly onto the range of pictorial evi- 
dence for pets; anonymous monkeys as well as named dogs are found from third- 
and second-millennium depictions (Figure 2.3). 

For the king, there are also depictions of accompanying lion, with name. 
However, the king seems to be a separate category of being: from 3000 to 1100 Bc, 
burials of kings are out of all proportion to others, and second-millennium BC 
word lists separate nesyu, “kings,’ from netjeru, “deities,’ and remetj, “people” 
(Gardiner 1947). These and other writings divide people into three groups, appar- 
ently on the principle of concentric circles around the king: an innermost circle of 
bodyguard and closest courtiers is called the henmemet, written with sun disk and 
rays, and so often translated sun people; the middle circle, still close to the king, is 
pat, often translated nobility or elite; and the rest of humanity is rekhyt, often 
translated populace. Animals and plants are absent from this section of word lists, 
but the prominence of animals and birds in the iconography of deities warns us 
against assuming the separation of human from animal, just on the basis of that 
one genre of writing. 

From about 1950 Bc, one funerary composition on the divine personification, 
Grain, categorizes living beings according to their sustenance or place of suste- 
nance. The words are set in the mouth of Shu, the divine force of the light and air 
between sun and created world: 

Falcons live on birds, 

Jackals on trails, 

Swine on rocky ground, 

Hippopotami on marshes, 

People on Grain, 

Crocodiles on fish, 

Fish on the waters, that are from the Nile Flood, 
As commanded by Atum. 

I lead them, I cause them to live by this my mouth, 
(being) the Life that is in their nostrils. 

I cause to live the geese and snakes who are on the back of Geb (the earth), 
For I am indeed the Life under Nut (the sky). 
(from Coffin Text 80, Bickel 1994, 132-133) 

Here, people are anchored in agriculture, depending on the grain from which the 
staples bread and beer are produced. A desert nomad woman or a Nile fisherman 

44 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 
SoS SQ OSS Ws < 

\ i 
Cn Os Oe a esa 









OV Non 

Figure 2.3 Limestone sarcophagus for a cat named Tamiyt, inscribed with the same 
words used to obtain eternal life for humans, commissioned by the high priest of 
Ptah Djehutymes, son of King Amenhotep III, about 1375 Bc. Drawing © Wolfram 

might foreground other features. The poem does not set out to categorize all 
being, but rather, it offers analogies between different species and their sources of 
food, all circling around the floodplain at the center of the world of this poet. All 
depend on a divine life principle that supports all beings under the sky and over 
the earth. 

The sanctity of the human: bodily integrity 

Ancient Egyptian treatment of the body suggests a general concern to keep the 
human being whole as a separate unit. Here, the contrast with other periods and 
practices can clarify what is distinctive here. In some earlier burials of 4000- 
3000 BC, sometimes, body parts are absent, replaced with animal body parts or 
pottery vases (Wengrow 2006, 118). In perhaps the most striking example, the 

Finding the Sacred in Space and Time 45 

place of the head is taken by an ostrich egg, finely incised with animal figures. 
Substitution of nonhuman material for body parts in burial was never common, 
and it may not occur after 3000 Bc. For Egypt 3000-525 Bc, although patterns of 
burial do vary greatly (Chapter 7), the body seems mostly an ideal unit to be 
preserved whole. Some slight confirmation comes from the written evidence: in 
one literary composition, known from a single papyrus of about 1550 BC, a wise 
man objects when a king wishes to experiment on a living man, being held in 
captivity, “not to people!” (Papyrus Westcar, Lichtheim 1973, 219). At the other 
end of the time range, in the late first millennium BC, another attitude to the 
human body may be at work, when cremation was introduced into Egypt by set- 
tlers from Greece. As with the predynastic Egyptian evidence, the difference 
with ancient Egyptian practice may be significant, indicating for the periods 
between prehistory and Hellenism an extreme anxiety to preserve the whole 
physical body (Figure 2.4). 

Certain bodily conditions, including contagious diseases, would have brought 
tangible or visible impact on the lives of others and their response. For ancient 
Egypt, there is a range of limited evidence for different social treatment of individu- 
als with such conditions (Fischer-Elfert 2005). From 1500 to 525 Bc survive a great 
number of votive stelae from offering places, small inscribed stones with depictions 
of one or more individuals, offerings, and deities. Out of perhaps over a thousand, 
a single votive stela of 1350 Bc shows a regular offering scene, only that here the 



Figure 2.4 Ostrich egg, incised with drawing of two deer and lain in place of the head, in 
tomb 1480, Naqada: from the 1894-1895 excavations directed by W. Petrie, now 
Ashmolean Museum 1895.990. Drawing © Wolfram Grajetzki. 

46 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

principal figure is a man with one shriveled leg, supporting himself on a walking 
stick. His condition has been identified by modern medics as symptom of polio, 
and his stela seems to imply that his condition was no bar to integration into soci- 
ety (Figure 2.5). 

Conditions such as epilepsy could present other challenges to social order on 
another unpredictable timescale. From written sources, Hans-Werner Fischer-Elfert 
has identified a case where seizures apparently prevent a man from helping to 
carry an image in procession at festivals (at Waset, 1250 BC); he has to be excluded 
from this important communal activity, but seems not to suffer any other negative 
effect in social life. Besides congenital conditions (where physical capability is dif- 
ferent from birth), Fischer-Elfert considers the effect of bodily change during adult 
life, where a person would no longer be able to perform their social tasks, either 


Lo) S670 Ea 
L 1 Sa Wwe VAN Sipe 

Figure 2.5 Limestone stela from Akhetaten, with depiction of aman named Reme, with 
leg shriveled, perhaps by polio, at a table of offerings, together with two companions 
identified in the inscriptions as his wife Timia and “her son” Ptahemheb. About 1350 Bc. 
Now in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen. Drawing © Wolfram Grajetzki. 

Finding the Sacred in Space and Time 47 

temporarily or permanently and either by physical inability, as in ageing or injury, 
or by cultural prohibition. If visible wholeness was required to enter the most 
sacred spaces, someone with symptoms of skin loss or change might be forced 
from office. A literary letter (from Hiba, 900-700 Bc) describes the repeated expul- 
sion of a man who served in a local temple; from his lament, his exile to desert 
oases, and his extreme emphasis on wishing good health for the friend or patron 
receiving the letter, the man might be a temple staff member forced from office 
after developing a contagious skin condition such as leprosy. The literary sources 
help to raise questions for archaeological recording on future excavation of ceme- 
teries, our most direct physical encounter with past lives. 

Separation and inclusion in burial-places 

Individuals with severe skin conditions such as leprosy have not been recorded 
from cemeteries in Egypt 3000-525 Bc, but the absence might merely reflect the 
rarity, even at Saharan desert edges, of ground conditions dry enough to preserve 
skin, compounded by very limited publication of larger populations. However, it 
remains possible that the ancient society excluded from its afterlife space any body 
with visible decay, because it insisted on the integrity of the body to its surface. In 
the most spectacular exception, the body of King Ramses V bears lesions typical of 
smallpox, a disease which would have been contagious enough to have killed his 
embalmers too (Fischer-Elfert 2005). However, the king may have been considered 
a different species: written and rarer pictorial sources emphasize that the king is 
born as a seed of the creator-god, implanted in a woman, and so not physically 
human (Berlev 2000). There is no similar written or visual source with direct com- 
ment on how ancient Egyptian society at different periods and places understood 
the processes of birth and growth for (other) human beings. 

Returning to the primary evidence, the bodies themselves, cemeteries show 
little evidence for different treatment of individuals where the skeleton implies 
visible physical difference. At Rifa in Middle Egypt, one tomb (1900 Bc) included 
burials of two men, called Nakhtankh and Khnumnakht; the spine of Khnumnakht 
was irregular (from kyphoscoliosis according to medical analysis in 1908 and the 
1970s), but there was no difference in external appearance after wrapping or in 
other features of burial equipment, including the three small statuettes inscribed 
for the men (David 2007). 

Difference in childbirth and early infancy may have been considered divinely 
marked, as documented from two examples at different periods in the first millen- 
nium BC. At Beni Hasan, about 900 Bc, an infant died of extreme brittle bone 
disease, where the bones would have broken at any move, and was buried in a 
unique small coffin adorned with the double plume and sun disk associated at that 
time with the god of the afterlife, Osiris (Dawson and Gray 1968, 13-14). In the sec- 
ond instance, in baboon catacombs at Tuna, somewhere within the time range 
600-100 Bc, one human infant burial showed anencephaly, a condition where part 
of the brain is not developed, causing death before or at birth (Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire 
1822, 1826). At the neck was found an amulet in the form of a small baboon figu- 
rine, a form regularly used to depict Thoth, god of wisdom and of the region of 

48 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Tuna. The infant may have been buried among the mummified baboons, echoing 
their appearance and evoking Thoth himself, and therefore to be placed with them 
in terrain sacred to Thoth. The present location of body and figurine is unknown, 
and the early report on the find is vague, but the account is still a precious indica- 
tion of one ancient treatment of a physical difference that would have been lethal 
at birth. 

Ideal and divinity in depicting human bodies 

Rare written and pictorial sources mark some bodily differences against a general 
background of depicting all individuals regardless of age as youthful. That general 
mode of depiction perhaps corresponds to the Egyptian word nefer, “beautiful,” 
specifically the extending of the body to a taut physical ideal of youth after puberty 
(cf. Berlev 2000). On this principle, even prepubescent children appear as adults: 
the difference in age is marked, not by the different bodily proportions of children 
in growth, but instead by smaller scale, nudity, and a sidelock of hair. For later 
stages in life, the marks of prosperous maturity (belly folds) and of old age (wrin- 
Kes, white hair) are rare in formal depictions (cf. Sweeney 2006). 

Perhaps the most numerous exceptions are depictions of adults with shorter 
body, flatter skull, and bandy legs, for whom the written sources give the Egyptian 
word nemitranslated as dwarf(Dasen 1993). Archaeological evidence for inclusion 
of dwarves in royal court life goes back to the turn of the fourth to third millennia 
BC. Beside the tombs of two First Dynasty kings at Abdju, Semerkhet and Qa‘a 
(about 2900 Bc), skeletal remains were identified as of dwarves among the courti- 
ers buried there. In the double row of courtier tombs around the burial chambers 
for King Semerkhet, two contained bones identified as of dwarves, and one of these 
was marked with name-stones inscribed with an image of a dwarf and the name 
Neferit in hieroglyphs (Figure 2.6). Written and pictorial sources suggest integra- 
tion into social and economic life, as well as reverence for the dwarf as powerful 
liminal force among humans. The form and name nemi is used in some later 
sources for Ptah, god of metalwork and craft creation at Mennefer/Memphis. 
Several depictions show dwarves as goldsmiths or in the treasury, and there are 
votive dwarf figurines of both sexes around 3000 and 1800 Bc. The features empha- 
sized on figures suggest that sometimes the dwarf may have been revered specifi- 
cally for the combination of child-stature body with a face lined with marks as in 
old age. The same body proportions and bandy legs are a regular feature of images 
of a divine force with leonine face, named Aha in second-millennium BC sources 
and Bes in the first millennium BC-AD (see following text, Infant burials in houses). 

Reverence for physical difference is a theme in Chapter 25 of the Teaching of Amen- 
emipet, a literary composition known from early to mid-first-millennium BC copies: 

Do not mock the blind, or torment the dwarf, 

Do not inflict hardship on the lame. 

Do not torment one who is in the hand of the god, 
Or become angry with him for his slips. 

People are clay and straw—god is the builder. 

Finding the Sacred in Space and Time 49 

Figure 2.6 Limestone stela inscribed with depiction and name of the dwarf Neferit, 
from subsidiary burial M at the tomb of the First Dynasty king Semerkhet, Abdju, about 
3000 Bc. W. Petrie, Royal Tombs of the First Dynasty, Egypt Exploration Fund, London, 
1900, p1.60. 

The need for such teaching can be seen in other sources. Around 2400 BC, several 
chapels of officials have depictions of a puberty game or ritual where boys shackle 
and vilify a traveler or nomad, depicted in one example as a hunchbacked man 
(Fischer-Elfert 2005). In this moment, the visibly different body becomes an object 
of othering to mark the passage from boyhood to manhood. However, the scene 
does not show how the shackled man was treated outside the ostensibly cruel 
game; the rite could imply criticism of the cruelty of the children, as something 
they have to grow out of, rather than approval (Figure 2.7). 

Off and on the body 

In Egypt 3000-525 Bc, according to the preserved depictions and excavated burials, 
the human body as a unit served as a core for ornamentation, by adding jewelry 
and, particularly around the eyes, paint; among the richer, this would apply to all 
regardless of gender or age. More rarely, the bodily surface was permanently 
altered by practices such as tattoo or scarification. At some periods, again breach- 
ing any ideal of absolute bodily wholeness, items of jewelry involved incision into 
the body: earrings and piercings for them are found after 1800 Bc, for men and 
women (figurine Bourriau 1988, 124). More substantial reel-like ear studs are 
found 1300-1000 Bc, progressively expanded to fill the lobes. By contrast, and 
unlike neighboring regions and other periods (such as Neolithic Gebel Moya, 
Upper Nubia), nose rings, nose plugs, and lip studs are not attested in Egypt. 
Preserved remains and depictions in some tombs of court officials (about 2400 Bc) 
indicate a widespread, though not universal, practice of circumcision for men, but 
not for women (Feucht 2003). Written sources do not comment on the ritual sig- 
nificance or hygienic intention of the practice, and it is not known whether it was 
confined to the richer in society. There is also no social history yet for the methods 
for controlling natural growth of body hair and toe/fingernails: elaborate versions 
of tweezers and scissorlike utensils occur in some of the richest burials in 1400- 
1300 BC, but it is not clear how widespread such attention to the body may have 
been across the society and over other periods. Grooming at all periods might 

50 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Figure 2.7 Scene of ritual insult of a shackled hunchbacked man, on limestone wall 
blocks of the tomb chapel of the high official Khentika Ikhekhi, cemetery of Inebhedj 
(Saqqara), about 2300 Bc. Drawing © Wolfram Grajetzki. 

focus on hairdressing, both the cutting of hair and the addition of headgear 
including wigs. Preserved from richer burials in the period 1450-1000 Bc, wigs for 
both men and women are highly elaborate, with some examples of special mounts 
and boxes to maintain them. For the rich, the arranging of hair would itself become 
a ceremony, again for both genders, though most famously celebrated in scenes of 
hairstyling with hairpins for the women closest to the king, from 2000 Bc. Different 
utensils appear to highlight this in different periods: where we might think of hair 
scissors, equipment of 2000-1700 Bc focussed on hairpins, and that of 1500-1300 
BC on adding combs, often with figured handpieces, recalling fourth-millennium 
BC grooming arts (Ashton 2013). Razors of different forms are prominent in cos- 
metic equipment for the richer, both men and women (flint in the third and early 
second millennium BC and copper alloy later); a literary composition of about 
1850 Bc includes the barber among occupations for life. Ancient depictions tend to 
align grooming and cosmetic equipment with women (Robins 1993). Yet both men 
and women are depicted with eye paint, ornate wigs, and jewelry, and in the 
archaeology of cemeteries, items such as mirrors are found in the burials of men, 
and children, as well as of women (Lilyquist 1979, 83-93, Figure 2.8a-c). 
Haircutting could also be the primary device for marking specific times and 
spaces as sacred: many images of men show them shaven, not because they hold a 
full-time occupation as priest, but because the shaven head is appropriate to 

Finding the Sacred in Space and Time 51 

sacred space. Not all markers of distinction were visible: grooming also required 
scented oil and fat, which were preserved in distinctive small containers, varying in 
form and material over time, and found across a wider social range. Nor were all 
these markers derived from human intervention in bodily appearance. On a small 
number of statues of men, the sculptor has indicated the effects of age in balding, 
and accompanying inscriptions identify these individuals as the balding/aged men 
(Egyptian isy) of Hathor, goddess of beauty and sensuality (Clére 1995). This exam- 
ple shows that grooming or the lack of grooming might be related to a divine name 
or being—that human physical change might be seen as divine in some way. The 
special status isy seems to denote the transitional state, balding, not the condition 
of being bald; as with the Nile flood Ha'py, the divine is visible not in permanence 
or stability, but in the process of change. 

The beginnings and ends of human life 

The balding men of Hathor introduce the dimension of human lifespan into the 
social concept of the sacred. In the archaeological record of ancient Egyptian cem- 
eteries, the bodies of men, women, and children all seem to be treated as integral 
units to be preserved whole, even when the items placed with them might vary 
according to status, gender, and age. Yet, in this generalized 3000-525 Bc picture, 
where does this shared treatment begin and end in each human life? Was it consid- 
ered as necessary to keep whole the fetus, infant, child, as well as the most elderly? 
Again, anthropology and sociology warn against assuming that all societies treat 
their youngest and oldest as core members of a society. Today, acute legal ethical 
debates arise over the point at which human life may begin and end. In urban cent- 
ers across several industrialized nations, the most elderly often leave their homes 
to receive full-time care in special buildings. For ancient Egypt in its many periods 
and regions, general answers on life attitudes are hazardous. The archaeology of 
settlements in Egypt has been too limited to identify any separate spaces that might 
have been assigned to very young or very old. Too few larger cemeteries have been 
sufficiently carefully excavated and published to reach conclusions over the 
absence of infants and most elderly. The limited cemetery statistics have been 
used to establish average life expectancy, from twenties to forties, but any results 
need to allow for the possibility that these cemeteries may not include the youngest 
or oldest in a society. Cemeteries specially for the more elderly are not known to 
me, but there are examples of separate burial for the very young. One cemetery at 
Deir al-Madina (Waset, 1500-1400 Bc) housed mainly child burials, with some 
distinctive offerings (Meskell 1999, 161-168). Moreover, throughout the second 
millennium BC, infant burials occur in houses at settlement sites (Pilgrim 1996, see 
following section); this could explain why only one child less than a year old was 
among the 93 individuals in one better-documented cemetery at Saqqara (late sec- 
ond millennium BC, Bentley 1999). This may be a distinctive feature of ancient 
Egypt, as later sites offer different results; in the cemetery at Kellis in Dakhla Oasis, 
almost 100 of 700 burials from the early first millennium AD are fetal or infant 
burials (Tocheri 2005). 

52 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Figure 2.8 (a) Scene depicting a woman using hairpins to arrange the hair of the king’s 
wife Kawit, carved on the limestone sarcophagus of Kawit, Waset, about 2000 Bc, now 

Finding the Sacred in Space and Time 53 

Infant burials in houses 

At settlement sites of the period 2000-1700 Bc, burials of infants of less than two 
years old have been found in houses, the bodies placed in regular boxes rather than 
specially made coffins and accompanied by small items such as beads, amulets 
(including seal-amulets), or pottery, sometimes a small vessel with spout for feed- 
ing a baby. No ancient writing provides comment on the reasons for burying infants 
within a house; from archaeological finds in other ancient societies, the practice 
may reflect a need either to keep family members within the house, for their pro- 
tection, or to keep them content, for the peace of the family (Scott 1999; for atti- 
tudes to the dead, see further Chapter 7). The burials do not reveal whether the 
society drew the line around human life at conception or birth. In one house on 
Abu island, at the border of Egypt with Nubia, at levels dated 1950-1900 Bc, the 
body of a baby six to twelve months old was found buried beside the platform for 
grinding flour (Pilgrim 1996, 34-36, House 25a, see section Houses at Abu 1800 Bc). 
In depictions, grinding is shown done by women, and the burial place for the child 
may have been chosen for the link between the women, their work, and the child, 
for protection for the living or dead, or mutual. This speculation may provide ques- 
tions for future researchers into infant burial practice and location. Any link may 
have been indirect or general, as the burial seems to have taken place when that 
house was already abandoned. Infant burial within houses seems a recurrent fea- 
ture in second-millennium BC settlements in Egypt. According to carefully docu- 
mented excavations, sometimes these house burials occurred while the house was 
in use, sometimes an abandoned house became burial places for infants, as in the 
case of the Abu house (Pilgrim 1996, 36 n.84). 

Attitudes to the period between conception and birth are also difficult to identify 
from other parts of the archaeological, including the written, record. Burials of 
fetuses in the tomb of King Tutankhamun indicate reverence, but as with the body 
of King Saptah, bodies physically connected with kingship may have been given 
different treatment. The Egyptologist Dimitri Meeks has identified the ancient 
Egyptian word bes as a term for the infant from before to just after birth. In the first 
millennium BC, the word became the regular name for a particular divine force, 
with leonine face, identified in earlier depictions as Aha, “fighter.” Depictions of 
Aha/Bes in two and three dimensions present a body either lionlike or human and, 
where human, with long limbs or with dwarf proportions. The form/force may be 
female but is most often male, with lion tail, sometimes disproportionately long. 
From depictions over amulets, seals, and furniture, at least some sectors of society 

Figure 2.8 (Contd) Egyptian Museum Cairo, E. Naville, Deir el-BahriI, Egypt 
Exploration Fund, London, 1895; (b) group of ivory hairpins among other items of 
cosmetic equipment placed in the burial of the lady of the house Seneb, about 1850 Bc, 
cemeteries near modern Beni Hasan, Garstang 1907, 113-114; (c) scene depicting a 
woman arranging the hair of a woman, painted on the wooden coffin, from cemeteries 
of Inerty (at modern Gebelein), about 2000 Bc, now Egyptian Museum Berlin, 

G. Steindorff, Grabfunde II. Das Grab des Sebek-o, ein Grabfund aus Gebelein, 

W. Spemann, Berlin 1902, pl.5. 

54 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Figure 2.9 The hippopotamus-lion image variously named Reret, Ipy or Taweret, here 
in northern sky constellations, painted on the ceiling of the burial chamber of King Sety 
I, Valley of the Kings, Waset, about 1285 Bc. © Gianluca Miniaci. 

would have been permeated by this motif of the infant and perhaps particularly the 
infant dead at or shortly after birth—perhaps the majority of births in any land of 
high infant mortality. Alongside, a second figure is equally prominent: a hippo- 
potamus standing on hind legs, belly protruding as in pregnancy, often with lion- 
like legs and ears and crocodile-like back ridge. Earlier inscriptions name the figure 
Ipet or Ipy, sometimes Reret, “the Sow,’ while later she can be named Weret or 
Taweret, “the great one.” Her image dominates part of the northern sky constella- 
tions, in depictions from the fifteenth-century BC onward, as if protection of the 
infant shared the same struggle as all material existence. Together, Aha/Bes and 
Ipy/Taweret dominate the iconography of birth and bodily protection in second- 
and first-millennium BC Egypt (Figure 2.9). 

Ancient views of conception and the substance of the human 

At present, it remains difficult to assess materially the way or ways in which ancient 
Egyptian society conceived of human life, starting from conception itself. Histories 
of medicine now tend to start later, from views among ancient Greek writing 
(Glenister 1964), including the view that a fetus was entirely developed from the 
semen deposited in a female body (Empedocles of Agrigentum, fifth century BC; 
Galen in Alexandria), as well as the view that both man and woman contributed to 
the substance of a fetus (Aristotle, fourth century BC). Manuals for healing from 
the previous fifteen hundred years do not provide direct ancient Egyptian com- 
ment on conception, though several shed light on treatment of mother and child at 

Finding the Sacred in Space and Time 55 

birth. The earliest is a three-page series of pregnancy treatments and birth 
prognoses from about 1800 Bc, found at Lahun (see following text); rather than the 
word khered, “child,” a prognosis refers to “the one she will give birth to” (UC32057, 
col.3, 2). Other sources refer to the child in the womb, though it is still not clear 
from precisely which point of pregnancy a child is thought to be present. A papyrus 
roll from about 1400 BC preserves a series of protective incantations including one 
“to be spoken over the two bricks” supporting the mother at birth (Roth and 
Roehrig 2002). The speaker asks the personification Meskhenet, “birth brick,” to 
“make the ka of this child who is in the womb of this woman” and asserts “I have 
made a divine decree of Geb that he make the ka” (Berlin 3027, col.5, 1.10-col.6, 1.1). 
Another in the same series aims to repel any negative force “from the head, from 
the brow, from any limb formed by Khnum for this child born of his mother” (col.1, 
1.8-9). The earth god Geb and the clay-molding god Khnum appear more often in 
written sources relating to the birth and protection of the king but seem to be 
invoked in these passages as forces fashioning all human body and life. These sec- 
ond-millennium BC manuals may reflect the richest circles, where the view of 
humanity may have been modeled on still earlier views of the king as a seed of the 
sun-god present from conception, with a physical body fashioned by Khnum as a 
potter fashions clay into a vase (Bickel 1994, 202-203 comparing Pyramid Text 324, 
for King Teti, about 2300 Bc). 

Social and historical context may also separate off the single instance where 
richer humans are given a different origin to other people, a desert quarry inscrip- 
tion dated about 2000 Bc, when the kingship of Egypt was disputed between Waset 
in the south and Hutnennesut in the north. According to that inscription, the lead- 
ing social group of governors and their kin come from the tears of the creator, while 
less wealthy groups are from his urine. This startling division in human origins is 
without parallel in Egyptian sources; it might be a rare glimpse of elite views, or it 
might reflect the harsher worldview of that social group, or a part of it, only at a 
moment of conflict and extreme stress, with competition over selection for rule. 

Human being: components or aspects? 

In addition to their information on ancient technical understanding of anatomy, 
healing manuals can be usefully analyzed for ancient general vocabularies of 
human bodily existence, as explored also from the funerary literature by Rune 
Nyord (2009). From the written sources, special words are known for aspects or 
elements of the individual, as often emphasized in modern summaries on ancient 
Egyptian afterlife: words translated body (khat), limbs (haw and awt), name (ren), 
shadow (shut), and heart (more awkwardly for us the two words ib and haty), as 
well as three terms often translated as spirit or soul (akh, ba, ka). Rather than com- 
bining these into an ahistorical ancient individual, all of these need to be set in 
context, including date and immediate compositional context. Ancient religious 
writings sometimes provide their own combinations; these might be taken as proof 
that each must be different in essence, but most human languages allow for syno- 
nyms and overlaps—consider the wide range of uses of English soul and spirit. 
Moreover, some sources reflect rituals of embalming, where the body might be 

56 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

more likely to be listed as a series of separate parts. On a block from the tomb 
chapel for the overseer of fields Amenemhat (Waset, about 1250 Bc), each of the 
four children of Horus, guardians of the internal organs, brings one part or aspect of 
the person—heart, ba-soul, ka-energy, and image or body. Although the scene 
helps to identify four primary features of the human in this period, the number four 
is the number of Horus children, not a catalogue of the human (Taylor 2001, 14-16). 

Depiction of separate items does not necessarily imply a claim that these are dis- 
sected autonomous parts of the person. Another type of religious composition 
aligns each in a series of anatomical parts with a named deity, to ensure the divinity 
of the combined body; the same approach is found in literary compositions (and 
outside Egypt in the Biblical Song of Solomon). These list only physical body parts, 
omitting three types of term often found in Egyptological descriptions of the 
ancient Egyptian concept of the human, the intangible or invisible forces such as 
ba or ka; summarizing terms such as image or body; and generalizing terms such 
as limbs (ha‘w, ‘awt) or the wekhedu. The lists of parts show how the physical body 
could be catalogued and then each part expressed as a divine dimension (Quack 
1995). Assmann has documented how the same body part could be aligned with 
different deities: the nose could be Wepwawet (jackal) or Thoth (ibis). Clearly, 
then, the literal association of a body part with a deity was not the important point; 
rather, the lists establish a general principle that the human body is divine, or made 
divine, through the rituals of healing, including the ultimate healing process, 
embalming for eternal life. 

Concepts of ageing 

Beyond the social and thematic limits of the written record, the broader totality of 
material culture and context could deliver more findings in the future. For such 
broader understanding, anthropology offers examples in comparison, where one 
human society might give standard views on the development of the body over its 
lifespan. Maurice Bloch has summarized how the Zafimaniry in Madagascar con- 
sider the body to calcify over time until it becomes coral-like, to be incorporated 
into the houses of wisdom as an ancestral bodily presence (Bloch 1998). Within the 
world of ancient Egyptian writings, such texture of life is captured for youth in the 
recurrence of the term wadj, “verdant,” “fresh” in writings; in hieroglyphic script, 
this is written with a flowering papyrus stem and is also the regular scepter held by 
goddesses in formal depictions of offerings. For the latest stages of the ageing pro- 
cess, another vegetal metaphor is used, isy, “brittle,” written with a triple-leaf 
branch, as if the person dries out over life like a plant, rather than becoming stone 
or mineral. This shift from fresh to dry may be the metaphor applied in script, but 
it is not clear whether it was the dominant concept of human living or how far it 
reached across different social groups and times. Future research might develop 
means of testing this plant metaphor across the rest of the material cultural evi- 
dence. In one pattern of burial during the period 1850-1700 Bc (Chapter 7), the 
deceased was equipped with faience figurines, in forms also found deposited at 
temples, apparently as votive offerings. The best known of these faience figures 
include animals from the desert-to-marsh margins of settled life: wild cat, gerbil, 

Finding the Sacred in Space and Time 57 

lion, and hippopotamus. However, this burial equipment as often included plant 
forms, particularly gourds such as cucumbers. Possibly, this attention to the plant 
world might relate to an underlying conception of life force. The importance of the 
lotus flower and bud in visual arts, including architecture throughout the three 
millennia, might also be considered in this light. However, depictions and descrip- 
tions of the lotus emphasize a human animal quality, the sense of smell. Other 
written evidence also points away from the fresh-dry plant analogy. The literary 
Teaching of Ptahhotep (perhaps 1950 Bc, copies known as late as 600 BC) opens 
with a lament over physical decay with more focus on the human body, more ani- 
mal than plant in our terms. The lament is then countered by praise of the wisdom 
and experience offered by the elderly: “no-one is born wise” (Chapter 5). 

Shared naming practices, distinct names 

Social recognition of the human individual can take form at specific moments or 
rites of naming. Here, it is easier to find evidence for kingship than for humanity. 
The main written source for naming practices is a literary narrative on the birth of 
kings to the creator-god (Papyrus Westcar, perhaps 1550 Bc). The main visual 
source is, again, on the divine birth of the king, a narrative cycle of scenes, first 
found in the temple for Hatshepsut as king (1475 Bc, Robins 1993, 46-47, 82-83). 
There may be echoes of practice beyond kingship, in the content of names of other 
people, as most of these names have direct expressive meaning in the ancient 
Egyptian language: many invoke the blessings of the gods or family, and some 
seem to capture the cries of relief and joy at a safe birth (Vernus 1986, 125-126): 
“Abundance of the Nile flood!,” “May the Gold (Hathor) protect her!,” “May she/he 
live!,” “May she/he be well!,” “She/he is for me!,” “A son for me!,” “Health to me!,” 
“What peace!,” “My heart is cleansed (joyful),” “As my name lives!,” and “May she/ 
he be well for me!” Although perhaps not universal, the giving of a second name is 
found across the three millennia and is the dominant naming pattern in some peri- 
ods. As with the single name, it is not certain when a person received the second 
name. In the century around 1800 BC, official documents list individuals by two 
columns of names, with the mark it is his name (i.e., no second name) for the minor- 
ity with only one name; the double column demonstrates that two names would 
have been the norm at this period. The second column tends to give shorter names, 
as if the first gave the fuller, more formal one. One list of workers from Lahun in this 
period has only the second column of short names filled in, with a mark perhaps 
for child quickly scrawled on each line of the first column (Collier and Quirke 2006, 
55-56, UC32130). Evidently, these children were old enough to be working, but had 
not yet received their second name: perhaps, then, the child received the first name 
at or near the moment of birth and the second at puberty. 

Rites of passage at body-changes 

That solitary work list shows how slight our evidence is still, for such crucial life 
passages as naming and puberty rituals. Anthropologist Arnold van Gennep used 
the term rites of passage for special rituals and by which different societies may 
mark transition from one phase of life to the next. As moments of risk and 

58 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

instability, depictions of these are rare in the world of ancient Egyptian depictions, 
where a perfect harmony is projected into eternity for each owner of a menu, 
“enduring monument.” Birth, puberty, and marriage are strikingly absent from 
most offering-chapel scenes; only the funerals appear, as part of the mission to 
overcome death and be born into a perfect afterlife. We cannot be sure, on this 
visual and written evidence, how prominent puberty and marriage rites might have 
been—an unexpected gap for such a widely known ancient society. The wider 
archaeological record is essential especially on these life questions. 

Female body cycles 
For the social framing of changes in the female body, archaeology provides a 
pattern of material evidence from the period 2200 to 2000 BC, in the better-recorded 
excavation of cemeteries north of Qau. Distinctive leg and hand amulets are found 
at the ankle and wrist particularly in burials of younger women, around teenage 
years: most are of red carnelian (Dubiel 2008). The material and the age and gen- 
der of the wearers together suggest that these amulets offered protection through 
menarchy, when the disruptive and powerful force of menstrual blood first 
announced the change of the girl into a woman able to give birth. In the burials, the 
amulets perhaps promised the possibility of becoming a mother in the afterlife, for 
a girl who had not yet reached puberty when she died. We cannot be sure that such 
amulets were made for and worn by the living as well as the dead, until there are 
finds of the same kind of amulets at places other than burials—at sites such as 
settlements or more secret places in the landscape—or until new research investi- 
gates traces of wear on the amulets before they were placed in the tomb. 
Nevertheless, the forms and material demonstrate ancient attention to individuals 
who needed support through a bodily change in their lives (Figure 2.10a and b). 
Another, more opaque red stone is associated with menstrual blood in a short 
formula copied on funerary papyri from 1400 Bc to the Roman Period: 

Formula for a tiyet-amulet of red jasper placed at the neck of this transfigured one: 
You have your blood, Isis, 

You have your changing powers (akhu), Isis! 

The healing amulet (wedjat) is the protection of this great one, 

Guarding against his injurer. 

Again, the phrasing may have been adapted for the special context of embalming, 
burial, and eternal cult of the dead. Nevertheless, the first lines marrying blood and 
power may capture an ancient recital of words by and for a woman in her adult 
monthly cycle. From 1350 BC on, examples of the tiyet are known in material form, 
as amulets in red jasper or carnelian or the artificial paste faience, again often in 
red. The motif itself is found already at the end of the fourth millennium BC. The 
tiyet has a form similar to the ankh, “life,” but with side loops downward rather than 
short horizontal arms; plausibly, both were originally lengths of cloth which were 
looped and loosely tied. Where the ankh became the general symbol of life, the 
tiyet had a closer connection with women and notably with the great healing 

Figure 2.10 Protective material: (a) hands of red carnelian among strings of amulets 
(nos. 4, 10, 13), as found on a burial near modern Dishasha, late Old Kingdom, about 
2200 Bc. W. Petrie, Deshasheh, London: Exploration Fund, 1898; (b) tiyet or Isis knot 
amulet, unusually in bronze, from burial of a pure-priest of Isis, Saiset, at Abdju, 
Eighteenth Dynasty. © Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UCL. 

60 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

goddess Isis. It may, as Westendorf argued, evoke general use of cloth at menstrua- 
tion, or specific bandaging in extremes, above all at birth (Westendorf 1965). 

Similar uncertainty surrounds the age frame for other gendered items to be 
worn, as found in the archaeological record both as separate material items 
and in depictions. Cowrie-shell girdles are found in burials of wealthier women 
in 1900-1750 Bc and again in 900-600 BC; they are depicted on faience fertility 
figurines of the earlier period, always worn by young women, who are often tat- 
tooed (cf. Morris 2011). The shell may, then, have evoked, and perhaps pro- 
tected, the young woman, perhaps specifically her ability to give birth. The 
questions then arise whether the girdle was worn as part of a puberty ritual, just 
once or cyclically (monthly or annually?), or until a first childbirth, and whether 
girdles would be found only in wealthier households or more widely through- 
out the society. 

Hints of male puberty rituals 

In comparison with the special amulet forms attested for some periods in burials 
of young women, the puberty of young men seems less visible in the cemetery 
and settlement record, either of artifact form or of marked spaces or times of 
practice. If practiced, male rites seem less material. Clues may be found instead 
in some unusual depictions and suggestive phrases in writings. An offering- 
chapel block from about 2400 Bc shows among athletic wrestling and acrobatic 
dances by boys and girls a man wearing a lion mask and holding a unique staff 
with hand-shaped end uppermost. The lion mask evokes the Aha/Bes images 
associated with childbirth. Perhaps the core concern of that motif is not, after all, 
specifically birth, but the points of transition in life: at birth, from inside to out- 
side the body of the mother, and at puberty, from boy to man. An Egyptian term 
equivalent to life phase is kheper, “transformation”; in Nile-Sahara context, an 
immediate example or model would be the snake shedding its skin, a motif found 
in other writings (Figure 2.11). 

For the boy, both birth and puberty involve a cut, and ritualized cutting may also 
be central to Aha/Bes and other figures otherwise associated with birth. Passages 
in life descriptions, healing manuscripts, and mortuary rituals refer to tying the 
headband in relation to youth; possibly, this alludes to rites of circumcision or to a 
band worn to mark the young man at or immediately after circumcision. The 
sidelock of hair that marked childhood is directly linked to knotting and tying in a 
composition known from two coffins of about 1850 Bc and then numerous later 
papyri (Coffin Text 640 = Book of the Dead chapter 50, Quirke 2013): 

A knot is tied behind me, in the sky, of the earth, by Ra, 
On the day of fastening the knot against the inert forces at the feet, 
On that day of cutting the side-lock (of hair). 

In the following lines, Ra is followed by the embodiment of disorder, Seth, and the 
sky goddess, Nut, in tying the knot. The passage was to be recited to enable the 
deceased to win eternal life, and the wording may have been adapted to that 

Finding the Sacred in Space and Time 61 

Figure 2.11 Depiction of man wearing a lion mask, tomb-chapel wall block, 2400 Bc, 
probably from cemetery of Inebhedj (Saqqara), now British Museum. Drawing 
© Wolfram Grajetzki. 

context, the funeral and then the cult of the dead. However, it may still preserve a 
kernel or echo from otherwise lost rites marking life changes in the male body. 

Throughout the questions of gendered life difference, in the bodily distinction of 
times, the written and visual record may give more clues than answers. Yet these 
can help to focus research attention on the wider material and archaeological 
record of distribution of materials, as evidence for their social use. 

Living human geography: case-studies 

Sacredness around the human—visible and invisible 

Religious landscapes are not immediately transparent surfaces. Sacredness of 
space might be private or, in some circumstances, deliberately concealed. The 
invisible sacred space is well documented from more recent histories. In seven- 
teenth to eighteenth-century Ireland and Scotland, British law permitted only 
Anglican Christianity, and Catholic services had to be held in secret at rural Mass 
stones or Mass rocks. Some would be identifiable archaeologically, but in many 
cases, oral tradition becomes the only guide to past treatment of a location as 
sacred, as at Derrynagalliagh: 

fragments of a small cross, now placed against a ditch, traditionally indicate 
the location. Local people say the residents of Bethlehem and Doonis, etc., in 
Co Westmeath crossed the Inny estuary of Lough Ree by boat to attend Mass at this 
site. ( consulted 3.12.2011, 
cf. Te Brake 2011, 236-237) 

62 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Ethnographic accounts of ritual have similarly served as warnings of how much in 
a human performance cannot survive in an archaeological record (Insoll 2004). 
Such descriptions indicate the need for caution in reading any past landscape as 
sacred or not. 

Few Egyptian landscapes have been explored archaeologically to an extent that 
would allow us to reconstruct a life pattern in a particular place. How did people in 
their place experience the hours from waking to sleep on any particular day? Three 
archaeological case-studies show the range of evidence available for answering 
these questions. 

Case Study 1. A desert-edge shrine near Badari One rural shrine is located on 
the desert edge of fields near Badari, below the high desert cliffs. Here, 1920s 
teams uncovered remains of a temple dated around 1600-1500 BC, over traces of 
an earlier temple on a different alignment, perhaps 2200-1800 Bc, in turn built 
on top of fourth- to third-millennium settlement debris (Brunton 1927, 18-21, 
pl.7 spur 3, pl.22-23). Farther south, the expedition documented dozens of 
2200-1500 Bc burials (Brunton 1930). There is no record of any contemporary 
houses of valley dwellers who might have built and used the temple; future 
archaeological work might help to fill this gap. In the meantime, the burials and 
temple remains at least allow a material glimpse of life in this particular land- 
scape at specific times (Figure 2.12). 

Around 1550 sc, kings from Waset were fighting to expel their rivals from 
Hutwaret/Tell el-Daba in the north. The temple built in that century had an enclo- 
sure wall 30 meters east to west and 17 meters north to south and some 1.7 meters 
thick. Like its predecessor, the temple had walls of mud mixed with sand and some 
white stones and floors of mud-plastered brick; there was no sign that stone blocks 
had been used at any point. The entrance may have been from the west side, and a 
corridor ran around the shrine area, where the main focus of cult seems to have 
changed; the earlier temple had a single shrine, whereas later there was a double 
shrine. The excavation director Guy Brunton speculated that a local cult for a force 
of disorder—the regional ferryman god Nemty or the more famous Seth—had been 
twinned after 1600 Bc with a balancing cult of Horus, god of order. This is certainly 
one possible interpretation, as twinning for balance in temple architecture is found 
for the voracious god Sobek, depicted as a crocodile (Nubyt/Kom Ombo and 
Shedyt/Madinat al-Fayoum). Modern perennial irrigation and canal extensions 
have transformed farming life, including the exact location of the edge of the fields 
and the extent of any marsh pools. When the temple stood, it may have overlooked 
pools teeming with bird and fish life, in landscapes long since drained for agricul- 
ture. There would still have been larger, more dangerous animals in the river and 
its marshy desert-edge backwaters. In the nineteenth century AD, crocodiles were 
still being hunted in Egypt, but the more powerful and violent creature would have 
been the hippopotamus, still a bigger killer in Africa than either lion or crocodile. A 
votive stela from the main town of the province, just to the south, shows the mayor 
of Tjebu Hatiay adoring Seth in the form of a hippopotamus in the marshes 
(Figure 2.13). 

Figure 2.12 Plan of the desert-edge temple near the modern village Badari, north of ancient Tjebu (Qau); a 

structure with thicker walls was built perhaps by 1500 Bc over an earlier shrine of different alignment (Brunton 
1930). © Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UCL. 

64 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Figure 2.13 Limestone stela depicting the regional governor Hatiay in adoration of Seth, 
depicted as a hippopotamus, found in the cemeteries at the regional town Tjebu (Qau), 
now Egyptian Museum Cairo JE47637 (Brunton 1930). © Petrie Museum of Egyptian 
Archaeology, UCL. 

The main second temple finds were small glazed objects of varying forms: faience 
tubes and disks, a rounded shell type perhaps derived from the earlier cowry girdles, 
blue glass disk bead, and a glazed steatite scarab with stylized motif, possibly floral 
(Brunton 1930, pl.11, pl.19 no.54). Beside these, Brunton recorded two amulet types: 
(1) a crowned standing goddess or queen, with one arm to breast, and (2) the mixed 
form of the childbirth protectress variously called Ipy, Reret, and Taweret, a hippopota- 
mus body standing upright on slender lion hind legs, with crocodile-like tail along the 
back. The presence of blue- and green-glazed goddess and childbirth amulets and the 
absence of other colors among the beads seem significant. Blue- and green-glazed 
materials predominate at shrines to Hathor, goddess of fertility and sensuality (Pinch 
1993). The Badari temple material is too scant to identify the shrine as to a goddess, 
though the dual shrine layout would not exclude the possibility: at Qift, the main temple 
has a double axis, with one sanctuary for Min, god of male potency, complemented bya 
second for Isis, the healing goddess. If this was a shrine to another divine force, it might 
still have attracted those who needed to invoke protective powers for pregnancy or birth. 

The women closest to the Badari temple 

The person or persons who deposited, or perhaps dropped, the amulets at the 
Badari desert-edge temple may have lived alongside or may have come up from the 
fields toward the desert. They may have come at a time when the land as a whole 

Finding the Sacred in Space and Time 65 

awaited the new flood or new sowing season, or at a time of more individual per- 
sonal need. A few burials nearby date to the century when the rebuilt temple would 
have been in use. One young woman was found untouched under the robbed bod- 
ies of an adult woman and girl of about twelve, originally placed all together in a 
single wood coffin (burial 3712): 

On the head were many thick plaits. On the fingers were shell rings, the gold mounted 
scarab, and the uninscribed amethyst scarab. The body was covered with a profusion 
of beads, some of them certainly of Predynastic and Old Kingdom date. Strung with 
them were eighteen other scarabs and scaraboids. ... Strips of bone veneer or inlay 
with concentric circles showed that there had been a trinket box; and with them was a 
little kohl-pot ... of some very decayed material, with a lid of bright blue glaze. 
(Brunton 1930, 8) 

The burial populates the temple landscape with these three women of different 
ages. They may be the closest we can come at present to considering how much of 
the space and time felt distinctive, sacred, to them and others approaching or pass- 
ing the place. The pottery and jewelry in that burial are all types known within 
Egypt and of Egyptian materials. Finds at sites a little farther south provide a useful 
reminder that ancient populations could be diverse. Pottery typical of Nubian east 
desert nomadic groups was found at a campsite and in single or grouped circular 
huts (Brunton 1930, 3). One burial in this area belongs to the same Nubian desert 
tradition, with gazelle skull and horns (3918). More than one language may have 
been heard around the shrine at Badari, with more than one social expression of 
human life and afterlife. 

Case Study 2. Identifying sacredness on Abu: from house to landscape At its southern 
boundary, Egypt meets Lower Nubia across the granite rock outcrops that interrupt 
the flow of the Nile, its First Cataract. The earliest main town known in the area 
stood at the southern end of an island named Abu in Egyptian and Elephantine in 
Greek, facing east across the river to the ancient mainland town Sunet, “trade,” 
under modern Aswan. The distinctive regional landscape includes quarries for hard 
stone on both sides of the river, with narrow tracts of fields hemmed in by sandstone 
cliffs and deserts. Grander tombs were cut in the western mainland cliffs for local 
governors, but there were also cemeteries of the third and second millennia on the 
West Bank and on Abu island itself. However, for once in Egyptian archaeology, the 
tombs are less well known than the island houses of the living, carefully recorded by 
German and Swiss expeditions since the 1950s. This town on Abu includes the only 
Egyptian temple site excavated from prehistoric to Roman Period. By 3000 BC, walls 
had been built to mark off a group of three massive rocks, perhaps at a pool where 
the first gurgling of the coming flood would echo each July. Around 2300 Bc, the rock 
outcrop was fronted on the east by massive mudbrick walls forming a forecourt 
roughly 5x8 meters. At its center stood a 1 meter square structure of solid brick; 
from adjacent postholes, this could have formed a sheltered podium for an image 
on carrying chair, a type known from the third to first millennium and connected 

66 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

with festivals of kingship (Figure 2.14, Bussmann 2006). By 2000 Bc, the features of 
the shrine within the enclosure walls had been transformed, with a stone-clad sanc- 
tuary to the local goddess Satet installed between the rocks, facing east across the 
forecourt to two chapels for the reigning king, also stone clad. Over the second mil- 
lennium BC, the shrine shifted in scale and monumentality to the rectangular tem- 
ple structure, entirely of stone, dedicated by Thutmes III to Satet. 

In each of these periods, this and any other shrine on the island would have 
formed one presence within a landscape that included the town and fortress on the 
island, the river traffic and fishing activity, the links with the adjacent town of Sunet 
on the mainland, the farming life on islands and mainland, and the sporadic quar- 
rying and building activity around. For around 1800 Bc, there is enough archaeo- 
logical data to set sacred enclosure and less obviously marked space into a single 
human time and space frame, though the archaeological map is fragmentary, leav- 
ing many parts of the town and its specific surrounding landscape unknown. West 
of the Satet temple, in its early rectangular, partly stone-build form, stood a group 
of chapels for offerings to local governors going back to Heqaib, in office around 
2200 Bc, some 500 years earlier (Pilgrim 1996, 17 plan Figure 1). The entrance to 
the chapel precinct is through a porch at the junction of a broad and a narrow 
street; the narrower cuts through and connects densely packed houses (cf. Kemp 
2006, 199) out to the cemetery to the west. The area to the south was covered later 
by the temple to Khnum, considered the main god of the First Cataract region after 
2000 Bc: the temple structure here might have been the largest of the time, though 
it is also possible that, in 1800 Bc, Satet held equal status and equally monumental 



Figure 2.14 Plan of the temple at the rock hollow on the island of Abu, Early Dynastic 
level. Drawing © Wolfram Grajetzki. 

Finding the Sacred in Space and Time 67 


Figure 2.15 House converted into a three-chamber chapel, with inscription of the 
officer Sobekemsaf, in Abu town. Drawing © Wolfram Grajetzki, after Pilgrim 1996. 

A century later, one house across the street from the Heqaib precinct was 
rebuilt as a large shrine of its own, with open court before three vaulted halls 
(Figure 2.15). The entrance to the middle vaulted hall had limestone doorjambs 
inscribed in hieroglyphs “god’s servant Sobekemsaf, repeating life, formed as a 
child, who modelled himself, whose god made his portion” (left) and “god’s 
servant of Khnum Sobekemsaf, repeating life, says: [I have] gone out as the 
modeller has gone out, to the chapel of the saviour” (Pilgrim 1996, 150-153). 
This unusual inscription insists on the motif of modeling as a pattern for action, 
including the action of forming new sacred space; the Egyptian word qed, 
“modeling,” is written with the sign of a potter forming a vase of clay, just as the 
god Khnum is said in other writings to form the body of the king and of mortals. 
The short passages do not reveal who received offerings in this sacred space: 
Khnum, another deity, or Sobekemsaf or other mortals. They do, though, con- 
firm the evidence of the triple vaulted hall, already unusual in domestic setting, 
that the area of more explicitly sacred space could expand over previously less 
clearly distinctive architecture. Sacred areas could also contract, for within a 
century the vaults had fallen, and the site made sacred by Sobekemsaf was 
being quarried for bricks and used for other purposes, with no apparent trace 
of its short-lived sanctity. 

Houses at Abu 1800 BC 

The central town streets ending in the precincts of Heqaib, Satet, and probably 
Khnum were filled with relatively rich houses (Kemp 2006, 199, Figure 70). Here, 
elegant pillars in papyrus-bundle motifs might have evoked specific divine forces 
such as Hathor, as well as the idyll of leisurely boating and hunting in papyrus 
marshes. The walls of the pillared central halls were painted in bright-colored 
bands (Pilgrim 1996, 123). From this period, there are both large and small 

68 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

houses in the quarter on the other side of the later Knnum temple, to the south. 
Here stood the house mentioned with the baby burials (see preceding text, Infant 
burials in houses); by 1800 Bc, it had been divided into two separate structures 
(Pilgrim 1996, 40-43, Figure 7 Houses 23 and 24, and at the next phase p.45, 
Figure 9 Houses 12 and 22). In the smaller structure, less than 10x 5 meters, the 
rear room was found still with its wooden threshold and traces of a single-leaf 
door; the larger central space, either a hall or an open court, had been a place of 
work, leaving flint chippings and fragments of wood tools. During the earlier 
phase in the life of this structure (House 23), a baby less than four months was 
buried in the entrance room, perhaps after the house had been abandoned; the 
body had been wrapped in linen, covered with reeds, and then protected by a 
sandstone block and two polishing stones, perhaps set here as grave markers 
(Figure 2.16). In the house of the neighbors (House 24), there were too few finds 
to identify the functions of each room or area within it, but one corner contained 
two seal impressions from one seal, along with a calcite vase shard and a frag- 
ment of a harp, perhaps indicating a certain leisure in the quarter, unless depos- 
ited here from use elsewhere (Pilgrim 1996, 43 with n.102). 

Some decades later, a larger house again occupied the site, with rooms 
arranged around a courtyard 6x5 meters, with brick granary beside a shallow 
(20cm) hollow for standing a round-bottomed jar (Pilgrim 1996, 49, Figure 10, 
House 10). Each of these architectural changes testifies to the intervention of 
people with different resources and needs, who would have formed groups of 


Figure 2.16 House 23, excavation of the early to mid-second-millennium BC levels of 
Abu town. Drawing © Wolfram Grajetzki, after Pilgrim 1996. 

Finding the Sacred in Space and Time 69 

different sizes, in ever-changing combinations of ages, genders, and classes. 
Always multiple, these are the social dimensions of the human space. The cov- 
ered rooms and open courts of the buildings tended to have varying functions, 
rather than be fixed in each house as bedroom or reception room, as we might 
expect. However, secondary architectural features such as granaries, hearths, 
and water jar installations would establish longer horizons of use in their yards or 
chambers. In House 10 of this site, a woman or a man waking in the north room 
might walk into the court, across the yard to work at the granary, out through a 
front room into the dead-end alley on the east, turning south to leave the houses 
beside the temples and head for fields, riverbank, or fishing boats. The sacred- 
ness of each step might be a sustained experience or vary according to the sea- 
son, the time of day or night, and the memory of each space—including, but not 
restricted to, the memories built into places of burial (in one case on Abu an adult 
burial, perhaps not so rare within settlements; cf. Pilgrim 1996, 82-83 n.226 for 
evidence across Egypt 2000-1600 Bc). Materially, each person and group would 
follow a path of varying distinctness or sacredness, only visible archaeologically 
where distinct material form is used or celebrated in ancient writing or depiction. 
Acentury or more after the construction of House 10, a grander building was laid 
out over this patch of town, with five column placements in an expanded central 
court (Pilgrim 1996, 55, Figure 12, House 5). Curiously, none of the usual, more 
obvious traces of living appeared: no hearth, granary, or animal refuse, as if this 
building was ceremonial or very seldom used, whether sacred or not. 

Excursus: a liturgy on the sacredness of material offerings 1500 BC 

By the time the five-columned house at Abu had fallen into ruin, written sources 
across Egypt record a new rite of offering to the dead, celebrating the divine 
dimension in every material offering. The words in this liturgy prompt us to 
consider possible wider ancient awareness of sacredness at every material trace 
excavated in the houses of the living, as well as materials that evaporate from the 
archaeological record: 

May Nile Flood give you water, 

May Grain give you bread, 

May Hathor give you beer, 

May the Hesat cow give you milk, 

May you wash your feet on blocks of silver, 

With lips from turquoise, 

May you don pure cloth from the gift of Ptah, 
(Engelbach 1923, 30, written on two cups from 

Haraga tomb 290, about 1550 Bc, UC16128-9) 

Here, a divine dimension is found in all the matter of daily living—liquids, food, 
and cloth. Outside the place of offerings, the same sanctity might have been felt 
with other material presence, from the mud of floor and field to the domestic and 
wild animals of towns and countryside. 

70 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Were all creatures held sacred at Abu? 

On the archaeological evidence carefully recorded at Abu, the streets and rooms of 
houses at Abu teemed with animal as well as human life, in a way that would abol- 
ish our difference between rural and urban living. It remains an open question how 
the town dwellers regarded the lives of the goats or sheep in their houses, espe- 
cially in this region. In the hieroglyphic script, the Egyptian word for dignity or 
perhaps aura (shefyt) was written with the image of a ram. It is not clear precisely 
how this quality of dignity came to be associated with the ram. Within the overall 
mainly agricultural economy, the pastoral lifestyle of shepherds was always a sig- 
nificant complement to floodplain farming. Whatever the reasoning, the ram was 
used in formal art from the third to first millennia BC to depict several prominent 
gods. Most frequent in the surviving sources, from 1500 BC onward, a ram with 
horns curled to cheek appears as a form of the god Amun, whose cult center was at 
Waset, later also at major centers in Lower Egypt (for this form of ram head adorn- 
ing the boat of Amun, see Figure 4.7). More anciently, a ram with horns extended 
horizontally is used to depict the gods Heryshef, with cult centered on Hutnennesut 
(Figure 3.10), and Khnum, with cult centers across Upper Egypt at Shenakhen, 
Shas-hotep, and Abu. 

At later times, under Achaemenid domination (525-404 Bc), local reverence for 
sacred qualities in the ram led to conflict between Egyptians and a Jewish commu- 
nity at Abu, over the sacrifice of lambs for the Jewish Passover festival (Joisten- 
Pruschke 2008). Abu was home at this time to a Jewish community connected with 
the Achaemenid Iranian garrison stationed at the frontier town. Such communities 
and conflicts may not have arisen in this form earlier, as the Achaemenid conquest 
of Egypt placed the country and its people in entirely new conditions; for the first 
time, the ancient Egyptian view of the world was only one of many, even at the 
official level. Unprecedented combinations of peoples and approaches may have 
generated tensions not experienced in earlier times. Moreover, on the ancient 
Egyptian side, the specific cause of tension stemmed from the reverence for ani- 
mals by species, a phenomenon not attested before 700 Bc. Modern eyes may too 
quickly misread the objection to animal sacrifice as a desire to protect animals. In 
fact, meat continued to be included in ancient Egyptian offerings alongside plant- 
based offerings and hymns. As noted in the preceding section (The separateness of 
the human in Egypt 3000-525 Bc), X-rays of (undated) mummified cat bodies have 
revealed that many had been killed; evidently, some rites or offerings required the 
animal body in a form made immortal, not the present living but transient. Yet the 
later communal conflicts around rituals of sacrifice remind us to question the ways 
humans related to the presence of animals in the earlier periods too. These rela- 
tions involve the animals in the wild, often hunted, and those at home—as source 
of food, protectors, or, in the case of dogs, monkeys, and cats, as luxury pets. 

Case Study 3. Sacredness in more urban landscapes: Lahun 1800 sc_ A third 
archaeological fragment set from a total human geography can be assembled at the 
early second-millennium BC site of Lahun, farther north, at the edge of Fayoum. 
Here, in just ten weeks of AD 1889, a digging team cleared a planned rectilinear 

Finding the Sacred in Space and Time 71 

town that flourished in 1875-1750 Bc. The southwest enclosure wall of the town is 
close to the Valley Temple of the cult complex, including the pyramid for King 
Senusret II. The ancient names for these places seem to have been Sekhem- 
Senusret, “Senusret is Mighty!,’ for the pyramid complex and Hetep-Senusret, 
“Senusret is at Peace!,’ for the town alongside (Horvath 2009). There is no inscrip- 
tional evidence for the precise date of the town foundation, but plausibly, it dates to 
the short reign of Senusret II or just after, between 1900 and 1875 BC. In the immedi- 
ate vicinity, and across the fields on the outcrop of desert and rock at Haraga, stretch 
the cemeteries of the period. Little of the original temple reliefs survive, for the pic- 
torial record, but the excavaters harvested papyrus fragments from across the town 
site, providing an unparalleled written record of more varied activities in life, includ- 
ing scraps of temple ritual, several larger fragments of literary papyri, the earliest 
mathematical and healing treatises, dozens of personal or official letters, and a great 
quantity of accountancy fragments. In contrast to the more meticulous excavation 
of Abu, the relatively rapid clearance of Lahun did not give time for recording much 
of the detail in finds across the site, and there are only a dozen photographs; nearly 
all the bricks of the buildings were recycled in the next few decades, but new ground 
survey and ceramic analysis would help to fill gaps in our knowledge of the site. At 
present, the combination of finds, 1889 town plan, and the landscape itself can pro- 
vide some idea of sacredness as experienced and expressed anciently in this more 
urbanized landscape at the meeting of fields and desert. 

The main town is built as a roughly 250 x 250 meter square, or 500 x 500 ancient 
Egyptian cubits, with an adjacent series of streets forming a veritable second town 
on the west. A thick, so probably originally high, mudbrick wall separated the main 
from the west town. Overall population has been estimated between 3,000 and 
10,000, depending on unknown factors: the size of households in the larger houses, 
the number of houses with a second story of living quarters, and the number of 
houses lost in the eroded area nearest the fields. By far the largest houses are nine 
palatial mansions, some 60 x 40 meters, located along the north side of the town. 
Farthest from water supply, this sector would also have been upwind of the rest of 
society, including the highest area, thanks to the dominant north wind of the Nile 
Valley. Within the town perimeter walls, the ground slopes dramatically from the 
north desert edge toward the fields on the south side. A steep escarpment runs 
west to east near the northwest corner; this was cut back beneath the westernmost 
and highest of the nine mansions, around a low-lying square, the only more open 
ground within the town. At the center of one side of this square stood a structure 
with double-column porch, corridor, and chambers, on a plan of unidentified 
function—interpreted by some archaeologists as a temple for the town but possibly 
an administrative point of control or issue of resources. The large house overlook- 
ing the square occupies the most favorable position in the town; in a planned town 
of the same period at Abydos South, the northwest large house is identified on seal- 
ings as the House of the Mayor, and this seems a plausible function for the Lahun 
mansion in the same position (Wegner 2010, Figure 2.17). 

Over the uneven terrain of the town, the physical access to the outside and the 
visual horizon of each town quarter would have made for rather different living 

72 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 




Figure 2.17 The late Middle Kingdom town near modern al-Lahun, as recorded by 
W. Petrie in 1889. W. Petrie, Illahun, Kahun, Gurob, David Nutt, London, 1891, pl.14. 

experiences. From the time of its construction, the pyramid over the burial place of 
Senusret II would have been the visual focus, but in fact, it would have been out of 
sight for anyone standing at ground level (and perhaps even from the roof level) 
within the western town and west side of the main town. Walking the space 
today, the pyramid is invisible from the houses on the slope from the westernmost 
wall; this may have been true, even allowing for higher ancient ground levels. From 
the northern mansions, the view of the pyramid would have been blocked by the 
House of the Mayor on the escarpment. There might have been only two points 
from which the whole townscape could have been seen, as well as the pyramid 
complex: the roof of the Valley Temple south of the main town and the roof of the 
House of the Mayor. 

Equipment to protect birth and infancy 

Within these physical horizons, we can consider the sight lines and access to sacred 
spaces for some of the few places where Petrie recorded specific finds in 1889, 
starting with the western town, in the street of houses nearest to the monumental 
Valley Temple for King Senusret II. The ground immediately south of this street had 
been too heavily eroded to preserve any traces of building, so we do not know 

Finding the Sacred in Space and Time 73 

whether the preserved doors faced other houses or backed onto an open space 
looking down to the Valley Temple moorings. When the cult flourished, unevenly 
over the century following the death of Senusret II, this corner of the site could 
have been one of its busiest points, with arrivals and departures of senior officials 
on state barges as well as cargo boats laden with material for the economy of the 
cult. Atsome point in 1850-1750 Bc, a shallow hole was cut in the floor of one room, 
and someone deposited a remarkable set of ritual items: a pair of beautifully carved 
ivory hand clappers, made to accompany a chant, along with an extraordinary 
wooden figurine with a naked female human body, thick-maned lion head, and 
lion tail, the human arms to the sides, palms inward, and the human feet turned 
outward, on short pegs for fixing to a base or other object. Lion heads are found for 
male and female images of those protecting mother and child, notably the male 
and female forms of Aha/Bes (Figure 2.18a). Another extraordinary find was made 
in the adjacent room, which might have been in either the same or the next house 
at the time of the deposits: a starched linen mask painted with the features ofa lion, 
the only mask for the living that has survived from ancient Egypt (Figure 2.18b). 
Petrie recorded a doorway between the two houses at this point, as if the original 
plan had been adapted to join one house (7 x 15m) to another (9x 15 meters), to 
form one unit of relatively large size within the range of housing at Lahun (smallest 
7x7 meter, largest the palatial mansions 40 x 60 meters). An adult man or woman 
living here might have worn the mask and struck the clappers in rituals of birth 
performed here and/or elsewhere across the town. Someone in the house(s) would 
inhabit a structure already imbued with the sacredness that is felt in the protection 
of birth and infancy. It might be more than an accident of survival that these four 
items were found in the street nearest the Valley Temple: more than half the town 
inhabitants were named after King Senusret II, perhaps implying widespread per- 
sonal resonance for the power of his presence and cult. Perhaps, then, the place of 
the largest quantities of offerings to him might have been the magnet for other 
senses of the sacred. The street might have been most appropriate for the practi- 
tioners of rituals of the human life cycle as well as those on the temple staff rota (for 
the wide spread of the rota, see Chapter 3, section “Staff in Offering-Spaces” 

A central painting in a small house 

Few wall paintings were recorded from Lahun, but the 1889 clearance photo- 
graphs confirm a published line drawing, showing a framed double register of 
scenes with, below, doorways and plainer rectangular outlines and, above, a 
man bringing a jar to a seated man, the two figures placed between table laden 
with vessels, and an indistinct form, perhaps an outline of a canopy or porch 
building. On his town plan, Petrie pinpointed the location of this painting as the 
central chamber of one in a series of six- to nine-room houses in the main town. 
Another painting, depicting columns, he located in the central chamber of a 
similar house across the street. It is not known whether this part of the houses 
was a closed room or an open court, with other rooms arranged around the cen- 
tral open space. Nor is it certain that the paintings were added while the build- 
ing was being used as a living space; possibly, disused house rooms had been 
turned into offering spaces. Nevertheless, the ambiguity itself shows how 

‘8 Yellow brown 
Lead colour 

Figure 2.18 Finds from the Petrie 1889 clearance of Lahun: (a) figurine of a lion-faced 
naked woman and two clappers found buried with it and (b) painted-plastered cloth 
leonine mask from the adjoining house. From W. Petrie, Kahun, Gurob, and Hawara, 
Kegan Paul, Trench, Triibner and Co, London, 1890, pl.8. 

Finding the Sacred in Space and Time 75 


Figure 2.19 Painting in a house in the late Middle Kingdom town near modern 
al-Lahun, as recorded by W. Petrie in 1889. From W. Petrie, Illahun, Kahun, Gurob, David 
Nutt, London, 1891, pl.16. 

difficult it can be to maintain our division of religious, even funerary, from 
domestic. The paintings may be an indication of offering practices more fre- 
quent than we have imagined, connecting the inhabitants with divine forces— 
whether deities or ancestors or other. Petrie also received from the clearance 
teams, though without noting find-place, a series of faience and limestone fig- 
ures of childbirth protectors: dwarves, lion-faced or lion-masked male and 
female forms (Aha/Bes), and the standing lion-hippopotamus (Ipy/Reret/ 
Taweret). Some limestone figures supported truncated cones, perhaps lamps or 
incense burners—Petrie interpreted them as bread altars. We cannot yet locate 
the figures in a social context, within small, medium, or palatial houses, and 
though portable, the figures may or may not have been moved around the site. 
Nevertheless, their presence tends to confirm the evidence of the paintings— 
that offering practices formed a more widespread part of life than might be 
assumed from the relative lack of distinctive, figurative finds across the third and 
early second millennia BC (Figure 2.19 and Figure 2.21). 

An enigmatic slab 

Another Petrie 1889 photograph of Lahun shows a rectangular limestone slab set in 
the corner of a room with plastered mudbrick walls. The slab has raised border and 
short feet to raise it off the ground at the corners and midway along the long side 
and at its center is a circular hollow. Petrie captioned the image “stone tray for 
water jar and dishes.” The jar emplacement itself implies only that liquid was 

76 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Jee FI 
“Ete ea 
. . 

Figure 2.20 Stone ablution (?) table at the corner of a house in the late Middle Kingdom 
town near modern al-Lahun, as it was in 1890, Petrie photograph no.957. © of the Petrie 
Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UCL. 

present, we cannot in fact be sure whether the jars contained water, milk, or wine, 
or whether the slab was for special or for regular use. The square pools in other 
parts of the house might be for washing hands before eating or feet before proceed- 
ing into rooms which were kept cleaner. Possibly, the jar on the limestone slab 
served a similar purpose, and the long table space on either side was for smaller 
basins for water poured from a central jar. Perhaps, though, the water or other liq- 
uid was for drinking, and the long table was for food, offerings for or from guests, or 
even for forces protecting the house—deities or ancestors. From the period of the 
houses 1850-1750 BC, there is little other evidence, and we need comparison with 
other times and places to suggest possible functions. However, the town plan does 
provide us with a spatial context, and that gives us some idea of the role for the 
space. Carla Gallorini notes the only stone rectangle marked in the corner of a 
room on the Petrie plans, at the north end of a double-columned hall, in one of the 
nine palatial mansions on the site (in Quirke 2011, 782). This takes us to the wealth- 
iest end of living at Lahun 1850-1750 Bc, a social context where the word elite has 
some meaning. The mansion floor plans follow a recurring pattern, where func- 
tions can be assigned to each space—in contrast to the unpredictable multifunc- 
tional use of rooms in the more modest houses on Abu island (see section “Houses 
at Abu 1800 Bc”). Only that one slab is recorded, but a number of other rooms, all 
in the palatial mansions, had square pools made up of separate limestone slabs at 
the center of halls with three to ten columns. According to the interpretation of the 
mansions by Manfred Bietak, the rectangular slab lies within the sphere of the 
main person in the house, rather than within the subsidiary suites for other family 
or staff members, or within the economic production or storage quarters of the 
house (Figure 2.20). 

Finding the Sacred in Space and Time 77 

Figure 2.21 Offering stands sculpted as figurines, found in 1889 at the late Middle 
Kingdom townsite near modern al-Lahun, during the clearance supervised by W. Petrie. 
From W. Petrie, Illahun, Kahun, Gurob, David Nutt, London, 1891, p1.6. 

We can, then, use the slab to set in motion a point of meeting between different 
lives, elite and subaltern, within more formal context outside the temple. The slab 
house is in the quarter farthest from the Valley Temple, but on this side of the site, 
there is a clear view across the desert to the pyramid of the king a kilometer to the 
west. The nearest formal place of offerings might be the building in the square 
below the House of the Mayor, but its identity as a temple is not certain. If not, to 
join rituals of offering or festival at the Valley Temple, someone in this house would 
need to proceed along the main east-west town street, which has a 55 cm drainage 
gulley to take some of the winter rain or the liquid refuse, and either down a north- 
south street to a canal waterfront (area not preserved) or through the only pre- 
served gateway of the town, with brick-paved road down onto the desert to the east 
of the site. 

Serving at the ceremonial inside a mansion 

If we woke as domestic servant, we might live, not inside the mansion (though this 
is possible), but in an adjacent street of the smallest among the preserved houses 
(7x7 meter). There, we would sleep and wake with our own sense of sacred, or not, 
of the materials within the four rooms (or three rooms and one yard) of our ground 
floor and in or on the roof space and of the right-angled planned streets from front 
door to the main east-west town street as wide as our own house and west along to 
the front door of the mansion. The mansions have an entrance hall made grand by 
a single column, with a small side room for doorkeeper and supplies. The way into 
the main part of the house is through either a broad corridor or a narrow corridor, 
in the first of a series of disorienting side turns, to a second chamber with 

78 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

one column: the great reception hall where a grander visitor might meet the main 
person in the house is not approached along a single line, like the axis of many 
formal stone temples (see Chapter Three), but twisting and turning according to a 
different psychology of the nested, perhaps intended to emphasize the separation 
of world inside from world outside, so in a sense sacred from the inside. If we are 
providing our manual labor, we probably take the narrower corridor, past four 
rooms where possibly we receive orders, clean clothing, or other materials. 

From this point on, we stand in the same spaces as the wealthy, but not neces- 
sarily same corners or same times: the columned chamber brings us all into the 
great open garden court, at its northeast corner. Along its southern side, concealed 
from view when we first enter, an eight-columned portico provides shade for a 
select few. On this south side of the garden, one door at the east leads to a second 
suite of rooms, with its own columned halls and pools, while a second door at the 
west takes us into the transverse hall behind the portico, with three south doors in 
turn into three different ceremonial spaces of the inner house: the main bedroom, 
with raised bed bench along the far wall; the main reception hall, with four 
columns; and the two-columned hall with the limestone slab immediately on our 
left as we enter. The three rooms are interconnected by doorways, and a door at the 
rear of the main reception hall leads to the single-columned hall giving access to a 
final suite of rooms. If food and drink were prepared or stored in that innermost 
space, we might need to enter here to collect material; it is also possible that exter- 
nal servants had to collect, earlier, anything they needed at rooms closer to the 
entrance and that only select house staff enjoyed access to the innermost rooms. At 
the hall with the limestone slab, we might have been needed to lift the heavy jar to 
pour liquid or to carry heavy trays of food or other equipment. However, these 
heavier tasks of table setting could have been carried out before ceremonies began, 
and we might never have been in the room at the time the owner of the house and/ 
or guests performed those ceremonies. Whoever brought the portable items to the 
slab, and whenever, the position of the feature within the great house suggests its 
function: as location for guests to wash and/or receive sustenance, just before 
entering the main reception hall where they could be received by the owner of the 
house. No remains of offerings are recorded on the site, and no writings survive to 
reveal how sacred the participants might have considered the ceremonial in pre- 
paring a reception. 

Limestone platforms for house ceremonies after 1350 BC 

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, comparable stone features were 
discovered in houses at Akhetaten, the short-lived city constructed by King 
Akhenaten as his residence about 1350 Bc (Spence 2007). Shallow slabs have 
rounded raised edges, with narrow entrance ramps, and are found in reception 
spaces rather than bathrooms where washing installations appear in slightly differ- 
ent form. Evidently, water or another liquid was being poured here in a ceremony 
with its own space, but the object of the performance is not recorded from depic- 
tions or written evidence. In a walled village in the low desert east of the main city 
at Akhetaten, the painted walls of some rooms include motifs of mother-and-child 

Finding the Sacred in Space and Time 79 

protectors (Aha/Bes and Ipy/Taweret), as also found in a near-contemporary royal 
context, the palace complex for King Amenhotep III at Malqata on the low desert west 
of Waset. More evidence comes from the village built near there, for artists working on 
the painted corridor tombs of kings in 1300-1100 Bc (Deir al-Madina). Here, perhaps 
reflecting the painting and inscriptional skills of the artists, raised pillared platforms in 
the front rooms of several houses are decorated with scenes including the nursing of 
infants and, again, Aha/Bes and Ipy/Taweret figures. The platforms are sometimes 
large enough to accommodate one or perhaps two persons, with steps for access; they 
have been interpreted as birthing pavilions, but may have had wider scope, for invok- 
ing other protective forces including the reigning king or the past rulers associated 
with the village, King Amenhotep I and his mother Ahmes Nefertari. 

Another focus of offering, or perhaps an aspect of all domestic practice, might be 
the immediate predecessors as links to a longer line of ancestors. Ancestor worship 
is not considered a major feature of ancient Egyptian practice, including depiction 
or writing, in comparison with other parts of the world. However, the period 1300- 
1100 Bc also saw the production, across Egypt, of small sculptures in the form ofa 
head and schematic upper body, known in Egyptology as ancestor busts. These are 
not specific to one social group; the finest to survive are perhaps the pair inscribed 
with the names of Pendjerty and Muteminet, the parents ofa high official of Ramses 
II, Amenmes, perhaps from his Theban tomb chapel, the offering space above his 
burial place (Habachi 1979). Intriguingly, the inscription for his mother, Muteminet, 
begins with the words “my mother—Tefnut,” as if she embodied the latest in a 
female line back to the first division of creation, where Atum, “All,” produced Tefnut 
and Shu. His father, Pendjerty, similarly linked him back to Shu. Here, perhaps we 
find a statement on human identity that each of us bears through our parents a line 
to Tefnut and a line to Shu. The reverence for immediate parents may then have 
taken the place, in ancient Egypt, of what appears as a more collective ancestor 
worship in other times and places. Kate Spence has connected the Akhetaten lus- 
tration slabs with the literary Teaching of Any, where the good man is reminded to 
offer to his deceased father and mother. The immediate bonds of parent-child may 
have framed acts of reverence and invocations for help, involving past generations, 
even where a collective past family or people might have been recognized. 


Creating Sacred Space and Time: 
Temple Architecture and Festival 


Formalizing Sacred Space: For Offerings 

Ancient sacred monumental architecture survives extraordinarily well at a handful of 
sites in the Egyptian Nile Valley and Saharan oases. From the period 1500-1100 Bc, 
large temple structures entirely in stone still stand floor to ceiling at Waset/Thebes 
East (Karnak, Luxor) and West (Madinat Habu, Ramesseum, Qurna) or have been 
reconstructed (Deir al-Bahari) or rebuilt up to roof level (Abdju kingship temples). 
From earlier periods, smaller temples are to be found in Fayoum at Qasr Qarun (2500 or 
1800 Bc) and Madinat Madi (1800 Bc), and dismantled sanctuaries of the Middle 
Kingdom have been reconstructed at Waset (Karnak, 1950 Bc). Besides the pyramids 
at their core, complexes for kingship cult (2600-1800 Bc) include well-preserved or 
reconstructed temple structures at Saqqara, Giza, Medum; museum collections now 
house the more substantial sections of relief-decorated temple walls from these com- 
plexes, from Saqqara and Abusir, and, in part anciently recycled, Lisht. The sum of this 
remarkable conservation story is curiously limited in range, almost as if we could write 
a history of religious architecture on just two types, the royal pyramid complex (2600- 
1800 BC) and the axial procession temple fronted by massive gateways (1500-1100 Bc). 
The archaeological record for less well-preserved structures can reveal a more 
diverse and intriguing history. The construction of separate sacred space on larger 
scale falls along a spectrum of informal to formal, where the built environment 
interweaves with spaces cut from the rock and with sands and floodwaters. 

Range of different architectural types/engagements with ground 

From the late fourth millennium BC, large ceremonial buildings were set up in 
organic materials, as shown by alignments of substantial postholes at Nekhen, an 
early kingship center (Kemp 2006). The architectural history of ancient Egypt 
relies, though, on evidence of stone structures, and new excavations may alter the 

Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt, First Edition. Stephen Quirke. 
© 2015 Stephen Quirke. Published 2015 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. 

Creating Sacred Space and Time: Temple Architecture and Festival 81 

picture substantially where more mud-brick and organic structures are also 
recorded. The following examples are not exhaustive, but demonstrate at least the 
remarkable variety found even for the stone structures: 

Type 1 Mounds as platforms: The largest example of this type is arguably the site at 
the epicenter of ancient Egyptian religious practice, the High Mound for the cult 
of the sun-god at Iunu (Heliopolis) (Figure 1.5). Early twentieth-century AD 
excavations found evidence for a rounded stone revetment wall, for a mound 
supporting the now lost temple or temples of the sun cult. The date of the 
mound is disputed: the revetment wall includes elements from late third millen- 
nium BC, so the structure as found cannot be earlier. Later monuments found 
within it have been used to date it to the mid-first millennium BC, but the 
circumstances of their deposition are not clear; they may be from later ditches 
dug into the mound, perhaps for structures built on top of the mound long after 
its construction. A fifteenth-century BC manuscript records the decision of 
King Senusret I (reigned about 1950 Bc) to create a new precinct for the sun-god 
(Lichtheim 1973, 115-118); the first colossal obelisk on the site, the main monu- 
ment still there, is inscribed for him, supporting the date implied by the manu- 
script for the temple. A first-millennium BC plaque is inscribed with a plan of 
the temple, indicating a complex of structures around open courts, their 
entranceways flanked by massive double towers (Egyptologists use the term 
pylons), as in other temple types of the second and first millennia BC (Ricke 1935). 
At other sites, the open court is a recurrent feature of sun worship: examples are 
found at late second-millennium BC temples for kings in Egypt (e.g., Deir 
al-Bahari) and Egyptian-occupied Nubia (e.g., Abu Simbel). Inscriptions in 
these sun courts indicate that worship here centered on a sequence of hymns, 
sung by the king to keep the sun moving through the sky and so the world in 
orderly motion. For about a century, 2500-2400 Bc, pyramid complexes for 
kings were paired with separate structures, called Sun Temples in Egyptology, 
but intended to support the cult of the king. In one of these, the Sun Temple for 
King Niuserra, chambers of approach were decorated in relief with scenes cel- 
ebrating the full panoply of the creation (Verner 2002, 78-82). At Akhetaten, the 
city of King Akhenaten, sun worship focussed on the visible solar sphere, in 
Egyptian Aten; the Great Aten Temple contains a series of vast open courts, filled 
with offering tables for food and drink offerings. In the courts, stepped plat- 
forms with balustrade screening walls would raise the king up for the singing of 
the Aten Hymn (Shaw 1994). The same feature occurs at the other second-mil- 
lennium open sun courts in temples for kings (Figure 3.1). 

Type 2 Rounded mounds enclosing chambers: The nonformal type identified by 
Barry Kemp at several fourth- to third-millennium BC sites, where, in each 
case, a later rectilinear structure replaced the mound (Kemp 2006, 113-135). 
At Madu (Medamud), an angular enclosure wall surrounded two central 
mounds, each with sanded corridor to its center. The main recipient of cult 
may have been a local deity, or perhaps sometimes the reigning king, as at 
the Early Dynastic kingship center Nekhen (McNamara 2006) (Figure 3.2). 

82 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Figure 3.1 Great stela inscribed with hymn to be sung to the Aten, on a raised platform 
with stepped approach and balustrade, in the court of the Great Aten Temple at Akhetaten, 
as depicted in the tomb of Meryra, high priest of the Aten at Akhetaten, about 1350 BC. 
Drawing © Wolfram Grajetzki, after Shaw 1994. 


Figure 3.2 Rounded mounds in enclosure at Madu (Medamud), about 2000 Bc, under 
the later temple of Mont. Drawing © Wolfram Grajetzki. 

Creating Sacred Space and Time: Temple Architecture and Festival 83 


— eee 

Figure 3.3 Plan of offering chambers within trapezoidal mass cased in limestone blocks, 
over burial place of a palace official, south cemeteries of Inebhedj, near modern 
Dahshur, about 2400 Bc. J. De Morgan, Fouilles a Dahchour 1894-1895, Adolphe 
Holzhausen, Vienna, 1903, fig. 14. 

Type 3 Squared mounds enclosing chambers: The squared mound is a feature 
over burial places of richer individuals from the third millennium BC onward, 
and from mid-third millennium, there are offering spaces first at the edge, 
then leading into the mound (Egyptologists use the Arabic term mastaba, 
“plock-bench”); the most elaborate examples have extensive series of 
chambers, decorated with scenes of offering, and of producing materials for 
offering, as well as of leisured life. The pyramid with temple at front, burial 
chambers within, is in a sense a regal transformation of the trend that also 
generates this type of nonroyal offering place (Figure 3.3). 

Type 4 Free-standing rectangular or square structures with principal chamber at 
rear, facade not always markedly higher, central structure closed to outside: 

Single axis to single principal chamber 
Multiple axis: dual, triple, unparalleled 7-chamber 

The most developed form of architecture with focus on axis from entrance 
to sanctuary is the festival procession temple (Assmann 2001, 27-35). The 
dominant feature from the outside is the massive double tower at the front of 
courtyards: the earliest surviving example fronts the pyramid complex for 
Amenemhat II at Dahshur (about 1900 Bc). As noted under type 1 above, this 
feature may also be found with other temple types, as for structures atop the 
High Mound at Iunu, and occurs as much in temples for kings and blessed 
dead (Saqqara temple-tombs post-Amarna, Waset temple-tombs D25-26) 
as in those for deities. In the developed axial temple, the double tower 
provided a dramatic point of appearance for the boat-shrine bearing the 

Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

sacred image as it left the temple on procession at festivals. The spatial 
logic of the temple as a whole evoked the unfurling of creation: as you move 
into the temple toward the sanctuary, it becomes darker, the ceiling lower, 
and the ground higher, transforming the sanctuary ground itself into the 
primeval mound on which the creator-god emerged out of the expanse of 
the inert. Outer courts are more open, inner are filled with columns, and 
the innermost is a solitary dark chamber containing the shrine with the 
image inhabitable by the divine force. Columns in inner halls have closed 
buds and those in outer halls open; in the kingship temples in front of 
the Amun temple at Karnak, the images of the king in inner chambers 
are wrapped chrysalis-like, and those in outer courts are in ceremonial 
garments of rule. The long axis creates a channel to radiate a divine force out 
toward the massive double tower at the entry, while the walls and darkness 
also help to enclose a force, protecting it from hostile outside worlds but 
also protecting the outside world from a sacredness that might overwhelm 
the living (Figure 3.4). 

Type 5 Rectilinear, as 4, but without the extended axis, and all or front part sur- 
rounded by columns (peripteral): This type survives most often on a smaller 
scale, in structures of second and first millennia BC. As relatively small sets of 
hewn blocks, these have often been recycled in both ancient and more mod- 
ern times. Examples recycled as building material for other temple blocks 
have been reconstructed more recently, providing an opportunity to appreci- 
ate an otherwise lost feature of the landscape. Other examples, such as the 
Badari temple (Figure 2.11), can be reconstructed at least in plan and then by 
analogy with the reconstructions or earlier records of other sites (Figure 3.5). 

Type 6 With principal chamber cut from rock: Rock-cut chambers have rarely 
been excavated carefully enough to reveal less substantial features over the 
approach to them, and so it is not often possible to be certain how they 
would have appeared anciently; most of the recorded examples are those 
with depictions carved or painted over interior walls, which received most 
attention. The best-known examples are primary sources for ancient Egyptian 
painting, rock-cut tombs of governors, and local ruling class of several peri- 
ods: 2400-2100 Bc at modern Dishasha, Tihna, and Sheikh Said (Middle 
Egypt); 2000-1875 Bc at modern Beni Hasan, Deir al-Bersha, and Meir 
(Middle Egypt) and at Tjebu/Qau, Waset/Thebes, and Abu (Upper Egypt); 
1475-1200 Bc at Akhetaten (Middle Egypt) and Waset/Thebes (Upper Egypt); 
and 700-600 Bc again at Waset. The ground in front of the rock-cut feature 
often included stone structures, such as terraces (as 7) or extensions in struc- 
ture (as 4), and these have been more fully recorded. Surviving inscribed 
examples where the rock-cut part dominates tend to be smaller, as at Speos 
Artemidos near Beni Hasan in Middle Egypt, and at the Gebel el-Silsila 
sandstone quarries in southern Upper Egypt; the outstanding examples are 
at Abu Simbel in Nubia, two rock-cut temples for the cult of Ramses II and his 
wife Nefertari (about 1275 Bc) (Figure 3.6). 

Creating Sacred Space and Time: Temple Architecture and Festival 85 

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Figure 3.4 Rectilinear temple on linear axis, temple for the cult of King Ramses II, Waset, 
about 1275 Bc. J. Quibell, R. Paget, A. Pirie, The Ramesseum and The Tomb of Ptah-hetep, 
Quaritch, London, 1898, pl. 1. 

Figure 3.5 Peripteral temple with columns around the front, temple of Amenhotep III, 
Abu. From W. Petrie, Egyptian Architecture, London 1938, pl. 28. 

Figure 3.6 Rectilinear rock-cut offering place on linear axis: right, chapel over burial 
place of Governor Wahka, near Tjebu (Qau), about 1850 Bc; left, temple to the cult of 
Ramses II formerly in Wadi es-Seboua, Lower Nubia, about 1275 Bc. From W. Petrie, 
Egyptian Architecture, London 1938, pl. 34. 

Creating Sacred Space and Time: Temple Architecture and Festival 87 

Figure 3.7 Terraced cliff-front temples to the cult of sovereigns at Waset (covered after 
AD 300 by a monastery, Deir al-Bahari, now removed): to the left (south) is the temple at 
the burial place of King Nebhepetra Mentuhotep, in the foreground the temple for 
Hatshepsut as sovereign. Photograph after unearthing of the sites, E. Naville, Deir 
al-Bahri. Part 3, Egypt Exploration Fund, London 1898. 

Type 7 Terraced: Temples built up against an escarpment include one or more 
platforms connected by central ramps. The best-known example is the recon- 
structed temple for the cult of Hatshepsut as king, at Deir al-Bahri on the West 
Bank at Thebes (about 1475 Bc); the inspiration for this multiple terrace with 
pillared tiers seems to have been the adjacent monuments for King Nebhepetra 
Mentuhotep, reunifier of Egypt (2000 Bc), and for his highest officials and pre- 
decessors (rock-cut tombs with pillared facades). Large Late Period temples 
for animal cults at Saqqara stood on terraces that might have required similar 
but steeper approaches (Jeffreys and Smith 1988, precise form and founda- 
tion date uncertain) (Figure 3.7). 

Type 8 Within crescent lake: The crescent lake is a natural feature of the Nile 
floodplain, with high ground within a moatlike outer crescent of water, 
named isheru in Egyptian. The best-known example is at the temple of the 
goddess Mut at Luxor (Waraksa 2009), and there may be a particular asso- 
ciation with the sailing of goddesses. However, the main god at Hutnennesut 
is called Heryshef “He who is over his lake,” and this might refer to a similar 
feature (Figure 3.8). 

88 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Figure 3.8 Plan of the crescent-shaped lake around temple of the goddess Mut, Luxor. From 
K. Baedeker, Egypt and the Sidan. Handbook for travellers, Karl Baedeker, Leipzig, 1914. 

Recipients of offerings 

The pictorial and inscriptional evidence identifies the primary function for all these 
types as offering places. Prayer and assembly are secondary in the explicit self-image 
of the ancient Egyptian temple, although they may have been primary in lived 
experience for many people anciently in their grounds. The evidence also identifies 
possible recipients of offerings as three categories, each usually with their own sepa- 
rate offering spaces, though they might also receive offerings jointly in one space: 

King (Egyptian nesut), structures built for the reigning king, rarely for a 

Gods/goddesses (Egyptian netjeru/netjeryt). 

Blessed dead (Egyptian akhu), structures built for an individual during their 
lifetime; outside kingship complexes, the inscribed examples are nearly 
always his, but rare exceptions for a woman include the Akhmim tombs of 
about 2200 Bc, the Theban tomb of Senet mother of vizier Intefiqer about 
1950 Bc (Gardiner and de Garis Davies 1920), and the Saqqara tomb of Maya, 
nurse of Tutankhamun about 1350 Bc (Zivie 2009). 

Creating Sacred Space and Time: Temple Architecture and Festival 89 

In temples for the first two, the only person who is depicted offering or performing 
other rituals is the reigning king. In the offering spaces for the blessed dead, the 
person receives offerings most often from immediate family but may also after 
1500 Bc appear offering to, or in worship of, a deity or king. 

Where the recipient of offering was the embalmed body of king or wealthy 
nonroyal individual, the focus of offering was in many periods an offering slab in 
front of a solid stone doorway, known in Egyptology as door stela or false door 
(JJanosi 1999). The stone doorway regularly marks the main ground for laying offer- 
ings in wealthy nonroyal offering places over the tomb (2500-1800 Bc), less com- 
monly in later periods, and in temples built for the cult of the reigning king 
(2400-2200 Bc). Another principal focus, at this and other periods, is the stone 
image, most often in three dimensions. Although any image might offer a focus for 
offerings, few surviving images of a deity are likely to have ever served as the prin- 
cipal focus of offerings in a temple. The large stone sculptures that attract atten- 
tion in museum galleries and art history books tend to be from exceptional ritual 
settings. Several hundred granodiorite lioness-headed statues of Sekhmet and 
hundreds more, perhaps the majority of surviving, larger hard-stone images of 
other deities come from the singular program to ensure the passage of Amenhotep 
III through his sed festivals to enhanced divine status (Bryan 1997). Large stone 
images of kings also served not as focus of cult at the innermost sanctuary, but, 
quite the opposite, as guardian forces along the approach to that sanctuary 
(Figures 3.9). Some of these images are known to have had names and received 
offerings; these practices demonstrate the divine force felt in the sculpture but 
seem secondary to their role as active divine guardians of sacred space. The main 
image in a temple may well have been much smaller, perhaps with precious metal, 
lapis lazuli, and elephant ivory rather than all in the soft and hard stones of large- 
scale sculpture: written sources refer to the flesh and bones of deities as being of 
gold, silver, and lapis lazuli. Any of the rare surviving small-scale images in such 
precious metals might have been the original images housed in the main sanctuary 
of a temple, but none is certainly a principal cult image (Figure 3.10). On the writ- 
ten evidence, images were not themselves the object of worship, but provided a 
material core which could be inhabited by the divine force, to receive offerings, 
including the word offerings that are hymns, within daily, seasonal, or other rituals 
(Assmann 2001, 40-47). Similarly, and perhaps the model for the image of king or 
deity in temples, a nonroyal individual might continue to receive offerings through 
a statue at any place of offering, either the chapel over the burial place or, from at 
least 1950 Bc onward, at the temple of a king or deity. 

Unlike the images of the deities, statues for the eternal offering cult of the indi- 
vidual were more often of soft or hard stone. The main evidence for the consecra- 
tion of divine images is the composition with the ancient title Opening of the Mouth 
and Eyes. This ritual is primarily for the stone statues of nonroyal individuals, as 
found from the mid-third millennium BC in chapels over burial places, and 
perhaps also for stone statues of kings. In the main group of sources, captioned 
depictions in tomb chapels at Waset (1450-1200 Bc), the object of the ritual may 
be the mummified body, the wrapped and wearing human-form mask, or the 

Figure 3.9 Protective statue depicting King Ramses II between two goddesses, from the 
temple to Min and Isis at Gebtyu (Qift), now Egyptian Museum Cairo CG555. W. Petrie, 
Koptos, Quaritch, London, 1895, pl. 17. 

Figure 3.10 Gold statuette of the god Heryshef found at Henennesut temple; cult images are 
thought to have been similarly small and of precious metal, but this example has a ring at the 
back as if to wear for protection. W. Petrie, Ehnasya, Egypt Exploration Fund, 1905, frontispiece. 

Creating Sacred Space and Time: Temple Architecture and Festival 91 

human-form inner coffin. The focus of this all-important ritual is overcoming 
death, and, accordingly, the ritual is outlined in Chapter 7 (see there, Table 2). 

Daily offering rituals 

The direct evidence for offerings deposited at a site would be physical remains at 
shrines, but not all offerings were necessarily left with the recipient. An Egyptian 
phrase wedjeb khet, “reversion of offerings,’ implies removal for consumption by 
others, whether kings/deities/blessed dead, or other living communities. Temple 
inscriptions of around 1450 Bc record the daily offerings to a statue of Amun-Ra, 
main deity at Karnak (Barta 1968, offering list Type E), with similar lists for the god 
Min and, a century later, for the goddess Mut at Luxor. The offerings begin with liba- 
tion and incense, to purify the space, or intensify its purity, followed by a heading, 
offering list of Nun, the primeval waters, presumably here as source of all life and so 
of all material to be offered. Three different types of jar with water are presented 
with natron, another purifying natural material, and, the first food on the table, a 
large loaf and twenty cakes. Another libation of two different jars of water then intro- 
duces the main meal: two different jars of wine; five cuts of meat, including liver, 
along with the knife to cut them; and a jug of milk with one final wine offering. 
A ritual note interrupts the flow of material, and the proceedings end with a jug of 
water and some honey. Although there is no cooking manual, the gist of the ritual 
evokes a rich formal banquet, as if king/deity/blessed dead take the role of owner in 
a large estate. On this model, the sacred space is a crucible for a special kind of 
alchemy, enabling earthly energy to pass to these invisible forces. Any sculpted 
image in these offering spaces may need to be consecrated, but it seems never to be 
the object of worship; instead, it provides a material focus to provide orientation 
for the offerer and perhaps a physical object space where the invisible force could 
collect the energies being offered in form of food, drink, or incense. 

The other inscriptional and pictorial evidence for activity in the innermost part 
of sacred space confirms that the inhabitant of offering space (king/deity/blessed 
dead) is treated as the estate owner in a large estate. The principal sources for 
repeated daily ritual are manuscripts from Karnak temples of Amun and Mut and 
depictions with hieroglyphic inscriptions in the Karnak Amun temple, on obelisks 
from the temple, and in the Abdju temple for King Sety I. The main manuscript 
source (ninth century BC) starts with the words “Beginning of the pronounce- 
ments of the god’s offerings that are made at the House of Amun-Ra king of the 
gods, in the course of every day, by the main pure-one who is on his day (of duty)” 
(for the following series of actions, see Assmann 2001, 47-50). First, the main pure 
one has to light a torch and incense at the approach to the sacred place (Egyptian bu 
djeser). He then opens the sanctuary that houses a small shrine containing the little 
image of Amun-Ra, by breaking a seal on a cord, followed by the opening of the face 
(to light) and the sight of the god, where the officiant has to prostrate himself, 
kissing the ground, before making morning-meal offerings. Crucially, now, comes 
the hymn to Amun. Words are another material to be offered. With another offering 
of incense, the main pure one says the words for entering the temple and entering 

92 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

the sanctuary of the god, before opening the small shrine itself, prostrating himself, 
and repeating the words to be recited at the opening of the face and sight of the god. 
By this stage, repetition of phrases would be creating chant-like rhythms within 
the incense and dim torchlight, a powerful psychological combination. A further 
offering of incense ushers in a whole series of hymns to Amun, culminating in the 
core rite of “offering What is Right,” the primary act of kingship, cementing order in 
the created world. Incense can then be offered to the nine deities, a collective 
expression for all the named forces accompanying the focal deity in this particular 
place. The practical task of the morning follows: washing (purifying) the image, 
clothing it with four sacred cloths of different colors or perhaps more importantly 
different textures, and anointing the image and applying eye paint, green (copper 
ore) and black (the lead ore galena, in a preparation like Arabic kohl). To return the 
image to the small shrine, the main pure one strews sand and performs final rites of 
purification and censing. 

Staff in offering spaces 

In both popular and scientific imagination, a recurrent orientalist prejudice casts 
ancient Egypt as a theocracy, a state ruled by priests. In direct contradiction of this, 
ancient writings provide explicit evidence of a rota system where temple staff 
served a month at a time (Roth 1991). In the third millennium, staff were divided 
into five watches (Egyptian sau); after 2000 Bc, the number was reduced to four, 
each then providing staff for three of the twelve months in the year. On one papyrus 
from Lahun, names and titles are recorded for all men in each watch; each month, 
one watch would have to deliver enough staff for the temple to function—not 
everyone in the watch would have to serve duty every time its month came. In this 
way, the system could allow flexibly for the busy lives of men generally engaged in 
other activities, either service for other institutions or managing or manually 
working on their own fields or other means of procuring food or income. The rota 
system itself shows that the idea of a priestly caste is foreign to ancient Egypt. Most 
temple staff were not priests in the sense of individuals trained in a special body of 
knowledge; at Lahun, the only full-time staff member seems to have been the temple 
accountant. By the rota of watches, far more people would have been included 
within the circle of temple staff at all levels, undermining any separation of secular 
from religious spheres that we might expect. There is not even a single word corre- 
sponding to the English priest: the two titles most often translated priest are wa‘b, 
literally “pure (for entering a sanctuary),’ encountered previously in the daily offer- 
ing liturgy, and hem-netjer, “agent/servant of the god.” The word hem denoted a 
force, including a human being, that enabled physical intervention on behalf of 
another: manual workers were called hem of the king in the period 2000-1700 Bc, 
and when Horus fights Seth in a narrative copied in 1250 BC, the aggressive actions 
are said to be carried out by the hem of Horus or hem of Seth (summarizing Berlev 
1972, 33-41). The term was appropriate for those who had to move material to and 
from the netjer; the same term was used for staff serving the cult of the blessed 
dead, where the hem ka, “servant of the ka-spirit,’ is the main title in written sources 

Creating Sacred Space and Time: Temple Architecture and Festival 93 

from third to first millennia BC. In centers of cult for kings, the term wa‘b nesut, 
“pure one of the king,’ was most often used. A third term is often found, it-netjer, 
“father of the god,” also used for father-in-law ofa king in many periods (Blumenthal 
1987). No written sources explain how this term came to be used for temple staff or 
which tasks distinguished the it-netjer from the other titleholders; perhaps care for 
the image was considered analogous to the care of a father for a child. 

In the name lists at Lahun and other sources, the temple staff comprises men. 
Women appear in formal positions within sacred space most often in the role of 
music provider, as the revivifying force of Hathor, goddess of the sensuous. In the 
singular, the third-millennium BC sources use the term “god’s servant of Hathor,’ 
while the second-millennium sources have chantress, replaced from 800 Bc by 
sistrum-player (Quirke 1999). Since depictions of chantresses often show them 
shaking the sistrum, the metal rhythm marker strongly associated with Hathor, it 
seems that all three terms denote the providers of music in sacred service at each 
period (Figure 3.11). The corresponding male term chanter is less often found, 
perhaps because chantress and sistrum-player are designations for almost all wealth- 
ier women, specifically those whose husbands held official positions in temple, 
palace, or regional administration. In the collective, the Egyptian word khener 
denotes the musicians, particularly women who sang and provided music at rituals 
and festivals. It is not known how often khener groups were called to serve; a Lahun 
papyrus of 1800 Bc shows that the rota system also applied to singers and dancers 
enlisted for festivals at a temple there (Collier and Quirke 2006, 101-104, UC32191). 
Staff of larger temples might have included a permanent group of musicians. 
Around 1800 Bc, some women were designated member of the khener, beside their 
name, their main identity for eternity (Nord 1981). However, the term does not 
necessarily indicate a full-time indication. 

There are also examples of women with the title god’s servant for goddesses 
other than Hathor, though these are relatively a small proportion across the surviv- 
ing written sources. In the third millennium BC, the most prominent is the god’s 
servant of Neit, Neit being the main goddess at Sau (Sais) in the western Delta, with 
a major cult center at Mennefer and later at Esna in southern Upper Egypt. After 
1550 BC, in the process of reunification of Egypt under the Theban king Ahmes, a 
new position is created for his wife Ahmes Nefertari at the Amun temple at Karnak. 
According to a remarkable inscription immortalizing the legal act, her (inherited?) 
title second god's servant of Amun was transferred to a new position, with supporting 
agricultural estates, the god’s wife of Amun. In the following centuries, this is 
sometimes associated with another leading temple title for women at Karnak, the 
worshipper of the god (often translated god’s adoratrice of Amun), perhaps specifi- 
cally lead singer in the chanting of hymns. After 700 Bc, the women in this position 
played a major role in cult and, apparently, in stability and legitimacy of the king- 
ship, as the holder was daughter of the reigning king, and adopted as successor a 
daughter of the following ruler (Robins 1993). After Assyrian invasions in 671 and 
661 BC, the kings of Napata (Twenty-fifth Dynasty of Egypt) lost control of Egypt; 
their god’s wife Amenirdis then adopted as successor Nitiqret, daughter of Psamtek 
ruler of Sau (Sais), then emerging under Assyrian protection as the new king of all 

94 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Figure 3.11 Awoman in the family of Sennefer, mayor of Waset, shakes sistrum and beads 
with counterpoise, in the role of the goddess Hathor, bringing life to the sacred space of the 
family underground burial chamber. Waset, about 1400 Bc. © Gianluca Miniaci. 

Egypt. Again, an inscription that immortalizes the adoption has survived, record- 
ing the ceremonial progress from Sau to Waset. The roles of these individuals in 
political history might be read as exceptions in the surviving record. Yet they keep 
our attention focussed on the prominence of women throughout sacred space in 
practice. As much as any other social domain, the gendering of temple ground may 
be variable, in ways negotiated by a wider population than may appear on the 
written and pictorial record we select for analysis. 

Kingship, temple offerings, and temple staff: in practice 

According to the writings and depictions summarized previously, at least one 
person would enter the sanctuary located at the back of the temple, open the doors 

Creating Sacred Space and Time: Temple Architecture and Festival 95 

of the shrine concealing the image that enabled the deity to be present, and present 
offerings. Temple depictions regularly show the king alone in this role, but the geo- 
graphical spread of contemporary temples with these depictions means that a sin- 
gle person could not make offerings at all temples every day. Therefore, the 
initiation of the king into the lethally pure space of the divine must have been 
shared, to enable others to substitute for him at each temple where offerings from 
king to deity were being depicted. The question, how many, remains to be 
researched for each period. Few of the highest staff held distinctive titles in earlier 
periods, and the rare examples occur first at the palace and then at the temple 
centers most closely connected with kingship: the Greatest of Seers at Iunu, 
Greatest of Directors of Craftsmen at Mennefer, and Greatest of the Five at Khemenu 
(Grajetzki 2000, 110-111). In later periods, similarly specific titles appear for the 
highest positions in a series of other regional temples, but, unexpectedly, never at 
Waset. The temple of the creator as Amun-Ra at Karnak in Waset is the largest of 
the well-preserved temples and accordingly the place most regularly identified as 
a center of priestly as opposed to royal power in popular histories of Egypt. Yet 
here, the most important official held no special or ancient designation, being 
known simply as First God’s Servant of Amun. 

In other respects, too, the evidence for relations between kingship and the 
Amun-Ra temple contradicts general assumptions about priesthood in practice. 
The Karnak temples expanded under the most powerful kings of Egypt, and there 
is no evidence that the temple staff became a separate political force. After the 
New Kingdom, the kingship of Egypt was taken up by a military family of west 
Saharan (Libyan) nomadic origins, ruling from a new royal center in the east Delta, 
Djanet (Tanis); relatives of the Djanet kings took the title First God’s Servant of 
Amun, some adding kingly titles and some moving on to become kings at Djanet. 
Modern historians often portrayed this change as a takeover of the Egyptian state 
by the Amun priesthood. However, it seems more accurate to see it as almost 
the reverse: a military takeover using the prestige of the Amun temple to legitimate 
the unprecedented new separation of powers between northern and southern 
branches of the new ruling family (Jansen-Winkeln 2006). Despite struggles 
involving military men at Waset, and despite the evident prestige of the city and its 
great concentration of temple architecture, the northern kingship seems always to 
have remained primary. 

For occasions when the highest officeholder at the temple was absent or where 
a temple complex contained numerous shrines to service, additional substitutes 
would be required. However, for these daily offering tasks, the personnel needed 
to be physically and ethically clean during temple service, not to have sacred 
knowledge. None of the regularly attested temple positions previously men- 
tioned—god'’s servant, god’s father, and pure one—can readily be identified as a 
group of priestly initiates with special knowledge. The ancient Egyptian economy 
of sacred knowledge does not seem to match the expectations of modern cate- 
gories and needs to be approached now within its dominant setting, the world 
of kingship. 

96 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Kingship, initiation, and holders of sacred knowledge 

Another widespread title, not always so closely linked with the temple, was Bearer 
of the Festival Book. Rare Middle Kingdom copies of festival book-rolls are written 
in hieroglyphs, on one example combined with scenes comprising depictions of 
schematic figures performing rituals. The Bearer of the Festival Book would have 
had to know how to read hieroglyphic script, as well as the cursive handwriting 
script in daily use for letters and accountancy. Possibly, then, the Bearer of the 
Festival Book stands at the center of the history of sacred knowledge. If there were 
knowledge brokers in ancient Egypt, closer to concepts of clergy in world religions 
today, the most important would have served not at the regional temples of deities, 
but at the centers of kingship, perhaps above all at the court of the king. From the 
Old Kingdom to the Late Period, the royal court included one or more holders of 
the title Chief Bearer of the Festival Book; the tombs of two of these contained an 
exceptional range of afterlife literature (Sesenebnef late Middle Kingdom; 
Padiamenipet, period of Napatan rule to early Twenty-sixth Dynasty). Distribution 
of sacred writings provides clues for the ways in which sacred knowledge of sacred 
space might have circulated and how far across the ancient society. 

The principal visual and written sources cluster around the ruler, particularly at 
periods when the tomb of the ruler is decorated. From these, Jan Assmann and 
Joachim Quack have outlined how the ruler was distinct in having special knowl- 
edge of the workings of the solar circuit, in the manner of an initiate into secrets of 
life (Quack 2002). The key Egyptian word is bes, “to initiate”; although it may have 
sounded similar, this verb is not linked by ancient writings to the slightly differently 
spelled word bes, “fetus/neonate,’ discussed in Chapter 2. The act of bes (initiating) 
revolves around the person of the nesut, “king,” between temple of the creator and 
palace of the king, as if these constitute magnetic poles in the force field of life 
tensions. In formal terms, within the written and visual record of tomb and temple, 
there is only one priest in Egypt, the ruler as priest of the sun-god, the creator. Oleg 
Berlev drew from written and visual sources a picture of ancient Egyptian concep- 
tions of rule as two suns, both rulers, the netjer ‘aa, “elder god,’ in the heaven and 
the netjer nefer, “younger god,’ on earth (Berlev 2000). With this difference in his 
very being, the ruler remained throughout ancient Egyptian history the primary 
holder of a sacred knowledge, disseminated across all regions by practical substi- 
tution of ruler by the main “readers” of the localized temples. The life of the coun- 
try was maintained in offering by a double movement of (i) generation of sacred 
books and (ii) preservation of rituals. Both tasks would be appropriate to a Chief 
Bearer of the Festival Book and might have been carried out at an institution 
attached to the palace of the ruler, the House of Life. In Egyptology, the House of 
Life has come to be seen as a knowledge center equivalent to a European-style 
university. Such an equation encourages appreciation of its centrality, though at 
the risk of misreading the specific cultural and social context, and in particular the 
specific relation to temple of the creator and palace of the king. In the Ptolemaic 
Period, every temple may have had its own House of Life, but this is not clearly 
attested earlier, and the later versions may have been primarily for annual Osiris 

Creating Sacred Space and Time: Temple Architecture and Festival 97 

rituals of rebirth, as part of the Osirification of temple ritual throughout Egypt. The 
only example of a House of Life attested in architectural remains in the archaeo- 
logical record is at Akhetaten, where a mudbrick structure with bricks stamped in 
hieroglyphs “House of Life” stands equidistant from the Aten temple and the 
official House of the King (Pendlebury 1951, pl. 19). The palace of the ruler may 
also have been the original home of the principal generator of material production 
in the sustenance of deities through offerings: the House of Gold, where the sacred 
images were produced in precious metals. Again, later each temple had its own 
House of Gold, and the precise history of the spread of the institution remains to be 
charted. For earlier periods, the constellation palace—House of Life—House of 
Gold perhaps provided a sacred institutional kernel that generated the hegemonic 
core and its models across the country. All of this landscape seems far from the way 
in which we have become used to writing about kingship, priesthood, and temples 
of ancient Egypt. 

Formalizing Sacred Time: Festival, Feast, and Foundation 

Festival: not necessarily carnival 

The English word festival implies a certain scale of celebration, public as well as 
private, with a larger audience as part of the special occasion. Such gatherings are 
recorded for ancient Egypt, but did not necessarily always occur at every festival. 
There are two Egyptian words for markedly sacred days: heb usually translated 
festival, for select days occurring on a cyclical basis, for example, every month, 
season, or year, and kha‘ literally appearance, a special time at which a divine force 
usually concealed would appear outside the usual space, as in divine procession 
(Redford 1967). The best-preserved monumental temple architecture follows the 
line of such an appearance of a portable shrine containing the image of the deity, 
as it was taken from sanctuary to another location. Any longer distance in the Nile 
Valley or Delta would have required sailing. Accordingly, some festivals are called 
khenet, “sailings,” and the main cults had their own festival ships with images evoking 
the garlanded head of the deity at prow and stern. From 1500 Bc onward, depictions 
indicate that the portable shrine to carry the image of a deity regularly took the 
form of one of these special boats. The model for the procession and indeed for the 
concept of appearance may have been the journeys of the king; appearance could 
in fact have marked any movement that brought the king into view, even within 
the palace, and the same word kha‘ was used for the headgear worn on these 
occasions—as much the plainer headbands or diadems as the more substantial 
crowns. The distinctive feature of kingship—of both sun-god in the sky and mortal 
king on earth—was the protective force depicted as cobra rearing with swollen 
neck, ready to spit fire against any potential enemy. This cobra motif had the name 
ia‘et, “rearing (goddess),’ and several different goddesses were said to have played 
this protective role, the feminine complement to the creator sun-god and to his 
kingship (Roberts 1995) (Figure 3.12). 

98 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Figure 3.12 Limestone stela with depiction of a portable shrine in the form of a sacred 
boat, being carried by temple staff on procession at a festival. From Gebtyu (Koptos), 
about 1300 Bc. F Petrie, Koptos, Quaritch, London 1895. 

At festivals involving processions, inspired in part by kingship ritual at the 
palace, larger numbers of people may have participated, or had greater opportunity 
to participate, in the wider spaces in the broad open courts of a temple or outside 
its enclosure walls. One of the grandest images of a festival is the series of scenes 
adorning the great colonnade that extended the temple of Amun at Luxor in front 
of the courtyard and sanctuary constructed under King Amenhotep III, about 1375 
BC (Bell 1997). The scenes, carved under his successors, show the collective cele- 
bration accompanying the procession of boats of Amun, Mut, and Khons from the 
main temple at Karnak along the Nile to Luxor, at the Ipet Festival, in the second 
month of each year. Here, the public dimension of festival that we expect is fore- 
grounded, while the core rituals and meaning of the festival are not covered; most 
often, the surviving writings and depictions for festivals give the reverse picture, 
with details of rituals, but no explicit comment on the scale of participation. 

Festivals at the lahun kingship temple (1800 Bc) 

Indirect information can be gleaned from a fragmented papyrus document from 
Lahun listing the absence and presence of dancers and singers at festivals for one 
year around 1800 Bc (Collier and Quirke 2006, 101-104). Few monuments with 

Creating Sacred Space and Time: Temple Architecture and Festival 99 

festival lists or scenes survive from 2000 to 1500 Bc, making this papyrus one of the 
most important single surviving sources for festivals in the period. The singers and 
dancers are grouped, like other temple staff, by membership of four watches. On 
the rota system (see section “Staff in Offering-Spaces”), the watch usually provided 
new personnel each month, but these staff serve in consecutive months; the exist- 
ence of the document itself may reflect the need for separate accounts to cover this 
specialized staff group. Although the list is heavily damaged, it seems that each 
watch provided two or three dancers and two singers. The singers have Egyptian 
names, and their ethnicity is not noted, whereas the dancers are either Asiatic 
(watches 1 and 2) or Medjay, that is, nomads from the eastern deserts of southern 
Upper Egypt and Nubia (watch 3; watch 4 data lost). In itself, the small number of 
dancers and singers does not mean there could not have been a large public. Yet 
when a New Year festival has only two singers, we should consider the real possibil- 
ity that heb festival might be a more closed and intimate occasion. The ancient 
Egyptian term may focus more on mechanisms of accompanying, and ensuring 
success for, a cycle in its repeating moments, than on the audience numbers we 
associate with our words for festival and celebration. 
The Lahun list records the following festivals throughout the year: 

Flood Month 1 Opening of the Year; beginning [...]; jubilation 

Flood Month 2 Strewing sand; Cloth of Khakheperra (= King 
Senusret IT) 

Flood Month 3 Night offerings of receiving the river; receiving the 
river; half-moon; raising the sky 

Flood Month 4 Sailing of Hathor; heb festival of Sokar 

Emergence Month1 Nehebkau; bearing the field 

Emergence Month 2 heb festival of Sokar; hauling Sokar; full moon; 

Emergence Month3 Sailing of the land 

Emergence Month4 Full moon; rejuvenation of the year 

Summer Month 1 Full moon 

Summer Month 2 heb festival of the ruler (reading uncertain?) 
Summer Month 3 No entries preserved 

Summer Month 4 No entries preserved 

Between Flood Month 1 and Emergence Month 2, a day of butchery for the god and 
day of anointing the gods were also celebrated. Another fragmentary papyrus from 
Lahun preserves other festival headings for a name list, but perhaps not for singers 
and dancers (Luft 1992, 115-117, Berlin 10282). Among festivals in Flood Month 1, 
it records three known from many other sources, Wag (day 18), Tekh (day 20), and 
the Great Procession (day 22), and Flood Month 3, day 20 has a festival called 
“heden-plant of Hathor” (heden may denote an item made from plants, perhaps a 
fan or broom; the significance is unknown). The difference between the two docu- 
ments is typical of the scattered written record across the three millennia, warning 
us against merging them into a national festival calendar. Each source has its own 

100 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

context and reason for existence, not always as clear as in the Lahun attendance 
lists. Moreover, many festivals in the lists might have been celebrated only in one 
locality and for a short period; the Cloth of Khakheperra could well have been 
anchored in renewal of the embalming rituals on an anniversary specific to that 
one king, Senusret II, buried at Lahun. As long as source context is kept in mind, 
the written record can still help us chart seasonal patterns and shed light on the 
dominant concerns raised in the ancient Egyptian festival year. Other written 
sources give Cloth as the name of the second month, when the Cloth of Khakheperra 
was celebrated at Lahun; accordingly, we can revisit the Lahun evidence and 
interpret the Cloth festival as local version of a recurrent ritual performance at 
other places, perhaps across the whole country. 

Clearly, a dominant local concern for the Lahun lists is the cult of King Senusret 
II. Yet other major days would also have connected the entire country, the Opening 
of the Year, and perhaps all the lunar festivals may have affected everyone. The 
festival of the earth god Sokar is also found at other times and places across Egypt; 
its occurrence in month 4 of Flood links it to the moment in the agricultural cycle 
when the floodwaters would have almost resided, revealing the silt cover of the 
fields for the new season of sowing. This crucial moment for growing grain to feed 
the population attracted a series of rites later called ka-her-ka (in Coptic Egyptian 
Khoiak), “abundance on abundance,’ or perhaps “ka-soul upon ka-soul” as a festival 
for all ka-souls (Eaton 2006). The rites culminated in the emergence of a new order 
on the first day of the second season, called Nehebkau, “yoking the ka-souls,’ when 
Horus god of kingship took up rule over a new period of life. Finally, the festival 
names refer to sailings and to goddesses: these are two features common to most 
later festival sources and demonstrate the central role of the female divine and of 
the river and its channels in the sacred timescape over the whole floodplain. 

Festival lists in monumental inscriptions 

The main sources for festivals celebrated throughout the year are as follows (sum- 
marizing from Schott 1950): (i) 2500-2200 Bc inscriptions in temples at places for 
kingship cult, echoed in offering chapels over tombs of courtiers—these sources 
are concentrated in the Mennefer cemeteries (Giza, Abu Ghurab, Abusir, Saqqara) 
and so may have special connections with the court of the king and the deities of 
the Mennefer region—and (ii) 1500-1150 Bc inscriptions of kings in temples for 
deities, echoed in offering chapels over tombs of temple staff and officials at Waset 
(Thebes), again with local coloring. Among the fullest lists are those from the reigns 
of Thutmes III (1450 Bc) for Amun and local deities at Abu, and for Amun in Waset 
at Ipetsut (Karnak), and of Ramses III (1175 Bc) in Waset at the temple to his own 
cult Khnemetneheh (Madinat Habu). 

The most exceptional nonroyal festival calendar, echoing the kingship inscrip- 
tions, survives in the offering chapel of a temple staff member called Neferhotep, 
about 1300 Bc (Table 3.1). The main sources for 1500-1150 Bc can be summarized 
as a calendar, keeping the separate monuments in view to avoid the impression 
that the tabulation itself is ancient. Names for the months survive in other sources, 

Creating Sacred Space and Time: Temple Architecture and Festival 101 

Table 3.1 The festival calendar in the principal New Kingdom sources 


Month name 

Day, festival name, source 

Flood 1 

Flood 2 

Flood 3 
Flood 4 

Emergence 1 

Emergence 2 

Emergence 3 







1 Opening the year (Thutmes III Abu) 

17 Eve of Wag (Neferhotep) 

18-19 Wag (Neferhotep, Ramses III) 

22 Great Procession of Osiris (Ramses III) 

15/18 start-day of the festival of Ipet, lasting 11 
to 15 days (TIII Abu, RIII) 

1 Hathor (Ramses III) 

18-30 Osiris rites: 22 plowing earth, 25 
goddesses, 26 Sokar, 30 raising djed-pillar 
(Thutmes III Ipetsut, Neferhotep, Ramses III) 

1 Nehebkau (TIII Ipetsut, Neferhotep, Ramses III) 

22 Rearing cobra/Heryt (Neferhotep, Ramses III) 

29-30 sailings of Bast/Shesmetet (TIII Ipetsut) 

29 Raising the willow (Ramses III) 

1 Anubis (Ramses III) 

30 Raising of Heaven day 2 (Ramses III) 

30 Entering Heaven day 2 (Ramses III) 

Emergence 4 Renenutet 4 Bast (Neferhotep, Ramses III) 
Summer 1 Khons 1 Renenutet (Neferhotep, Ramses III) 
11 Procession of Min (Ramses III) 
Summer 2 Pa-n-inet New moon Valley Festival 
Summer 3 Ipip 28 Emergence of Sopdet (Thutmes III Abu) 
Summer 4 Birth of Ra’ 30 Eve of Opening of the Year (Neferhotep) 
“5 days over 1 Birth of Osiris 
the year” 2 Birth of Horus 

3 Birth of Seth 

4 Birth of Isis 

5 Birth of Nebthut 

and are also given here, as they derive from principal festivals, showing how important 
they could be, in at least formal time frames for life. The eve of a festival day might 
play a critical part in the rites, and so sometimes a month name relates to a festival 
on the first day of the following month. Month names also focus on festivals that 
would center on Waset/Thebes. Amenhotep (Emergence Month 3) refers to the 
cult of Amenhotep I, known from images, depictions, and ritual manuscripts to 
have received offerings at Waset centuries after his death, as an enduring localized 
force of divine kingship. Ipet and inet “Valley” (Flood Month 2 and Summer Month 
2) are festivals around processions of the main image of Amun at Ipetsut (Karnak). 
The use of these localized events for month names across the country indicates the 
national impact of Waset. Major surviving monumental architecture must always 
be set in proportion to its time, and there is a danger in overestimating the impor- 
tance of Waset, simply because its temples, of sandstone, have been less heavily 

102 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

quarried than temples at Mennefer, or Delta sites such as Iunu. Nevertheless, it is 
equally crucial not to underestimate the impact of the city; Ipetsut is still one of the 
largest temple sites anywhere in the world, it would have been on the same monu- 
mental level as Mennefer and Iunu, and in the eleventh to tenth centuries BC it 
served explicitly as a model for the new royal Residence at Djanet (Tanis) at the 
northeastern Delta fringes. The month names confirm the extensive role of Waset 
and its main deity Amun across Egypt from the late second millennium BC onward. 

Major new festivals include Ipet and Valley, but several features in the earlier 
Lahun papyri recur even in this summary of inscriptions. Dominant rites include 
the Opening of the Year, Wag, and ka-her-ka in the Flood season. Goddesses are 
prominent in their sailings at the start of the sowing season. Perhaps the most 
important item to note, though, is the place of the Emergence of Sopdet so far from 
the New Year. For the season, names and many of the major festivals seem firmly 
linked in the agricultural cycle, anchored in the path of the earth around the sun. 
Yet, the New Year day in that solar year is the summer rising of Sopdet, the star 
Sirius, now visible for the first time again ahead of the sun, and heralding the 
annual rising of the Nile floodwaters. The gap between Opening of the Year and 
Emergence of Sopdet is a reminder that all these festivals in the official calendar, 
even when agricultural, were tied not to the solar year, but to the moving year. This 
poses a basic problem for interpreting even some of the most familiar inscribed 
objects. In the sixth century BC, faience water flasks are inscribed with invocations 
of deities to Open a Good Year. Presumably, the major deities were being asked to 
ensure a perfect flood, not too high, not too low, at the late summer rising of the 
Nile. Yet, at the time these flasks were made, the official calendar of kingship would 
celebrate New Year, the Opening of the Year, several months apart from the actual 
Nile flood rise, when divine help might most be needed to guarantee plenty and 
avoid famine. Was the water in the flask scooped from the Nile at the New Year 
of the official calendar, under the magnetic force of kingship? Or was the water 
taken at the moment of the annual flood itself, Hapy (Figure 1.3) during the 
physical experience of inundation, when Sopdet rose again as the star Sirius in 
advance of the sun, for the first time since the summer drought began several 
months earlier? (Figure 3.13). 

In general, it is said that there is no absolute dating system in ancient Egypt 
beyond the reign of the king: as each king came to the throne, the counting of years 
started again with his Regnal Year 1—there is no AH or BC/AD point to count all 
time. Yet in practice, there is a longer cycle, set by the official calendar. For effi- 
ciency, the year calendar was rounded down to 365 days from the 365 % days that 
the earth actually takes to circle the sun. A year of twelve thirty-day months, with 
five end days over the year, gave a perfect tool for calculating time. Over a slow cycle 
of 1460 years, the official year in which reigns were counted would slip back against 
the solar year by one day every four years, ten days every forty years, and a thirty- 
day month every 120 years, until 1460 years later the two calendars would appear 
synchronized again for a few years, while the cycle moved relentlessly on back- 
ward. In the written record, the regnal year took precedence, as if a divine creation 
that could still serve as anchor for order, and still generate the desired impact on 

Creating Sacred Space and Time: Temple Architecture and Festival 103 

Figure 3.13 Faience water flasks with inscriptions invoking Horus and Thoth (above) 
and Ptah, Sekhmet, and Amun (below), for the Opening of the Year. From the town site at 
Natahut (modern Tell el Yahidiya), about 550 Bc. After W. Petrie, Hyksos and Israelite 
Cities, British School of Egyptian Archaeology, London, 1906, pl. 21. 

flood, sowing, and harvest, even when the regnal year Flood was moving through 
the harvest months and drought of summer. This observance of festivals out of 
time is one of the most remarkable features of ancient Egyptian practice. The 
agricultural rites may have continued domestically as more immediately relevant 
practices. At the time of the Neferhotep festival calendar, the solar and regnal years 
would be more closely in harmony—the wandering regnal year cycle rejoined the 
solar cycle around 1320 Bc. At most other periods, for at least two-thirds of this 
history, the king would have performed, for example, crucial rites against plague 
through the terminal five days over the year not when needed against high summer 
flood, but during the seasons of flood or sowing. This is an astonishing exercise of 
power over time. 

Offerings at festivals: written evidence 

Inscriptions and depictions give the most detailed evidence for festival offerings at 
least at a formal level. From 2500 to 2200 BC, great lists appear in spaces for offering 
to kings (Barta 1968). The earliest example of a great list excavated in its original 

104 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

location is inscribed on the south and north walls of the sanctuary in the pyramid 
temple of King Pepy II (2200 Bc), like a mirror projecting into eternity the acts of 
offering intended to be performed in the space between those walls. In later peri- 
ods, this long offering list (Barta Type A) is found in nonroyal offering places, and 
in both royal and nonroyal, it is sometimes accompanied by a second list (Type B). 
Other combinations of the two lists are found throughout the second and into the 
first millennium BC, indicating a continually used frame for the performance of 
offering rituals. One papyrus, written for a man named Sedekh perhaps after 2000 
BC, refers to the long offering list as “this festival-book of fixed offerings” (Egyptian 
hebyt ten net imenyt). This implies that the offerings are not the items presented to 
king/deity/blessed dead every day, but the special accumulations of material to be 
given on marked days (see following section “Feasting and Offering in the 
Archaeological Record”). From about 2000 Bc, a shorter list in temples for kings 
(Type C) introduces a range of new entries (8 out of 22 in the earliest example, for 
King Nebhepetra Mentuhotep). Inscriptions in the temple for King Sety I at Abdju 
preserve the words that would have been recited with each offering. Under King 
Amenhotep III, this list appears in nonroyal offering chapels, sometimes lengthen- 
ing again (Khamhat has some 60 items). There are also special series of offerings 
(Type D) for the processions of Amun at Karnak (boat-shrine of Amenhotep I) and 
in the Valley Festival from Karnak to Deir al-Bahari on the West Bank (Amun sanc- 
tuary in temple for Hatshepsut). Within this intricate interlocking network of festi- 
val offering traditions, we are fortunate to have many of the words to be recited for 
each item in the great lists at the start of their written tradition, inscribed within 
pyramids of kings (2400-2100 Bc) (Pyramid Texts). Many of these compositions for 
recital are also found on later monuments and items of burial equipment, not by 
empty repetition or aesthetic archaism, but in the continual renewal of the ritual 
performances in which they were used (cf. Assmann 1990). 

Feasting and offering in the archaeological record 

Festivals are prominent in the inscriptional record, and some festivals are also 
depicted. The Valley Festival reunited not only Amun and Hathor but the people of 
Waset with their deceased; in chapels over burial places, wall paintings show offer- 
ings of great quantities of flowers from the gardens of Amun and accompanying 
banquets with images of joy and feasting, sometimes to excess. It is rather harder to 
trace this banqueting in the archaeological record. Vast heaps of first-millennium 
BC miniature offering vessels mark the destination of processions to the tomb of 
King Djer (about 3000 Bc) at Abdju, identified after 2000 Bc as the tomb of the god 
Osiris, king of the underworld. From the period of Djer himself, large enclosures 
for the funeral rites may have witnessed massive feasts, on the evidence of beer jars 
found at the sites. For other sites at other times, the evidence has either not been 
found or not been recorded. At the offering chapels of Waset, family gatherings 
might not have left enough traces, although future more careful excavation might 
reveal more. Among temple sites, only large deposits of pottery vessels at Hutwaret 
(Tell el-Daba) help capture the moment at which people joined in feasting 

Creating Sacred Space and Time: Temple Architecture and Festival 105 

anciently. There, though, the practice may be imported from the north; the city of 
Hutwaret is at the northeastern Delta frontier, the deposits date to the period 
1650-1550 Bc when foreign kings ruled there, and the best published parallels 
for such deposits in sacred precincts are from west Asia, not Upper Egypt (Miiller 
2006) (Figure 3.14). 

In sum, there is still little evidence on the ground for large-scale participation in 
festivals, in the form of debris left over after eating and drinking. This may be con- 
trasted with the more substantial deposits of votive offerings, a variety of items 
offered in sacred places as material prayers or thanks to divine forces. Many items, 
though always doubtless a minority, were inscribed, identifying the deity and 
sometimes a general wish such as life or long age. Sacred material of metal was 
often cached, presumably too sacred to be melted down for recycling. Earlier 
deposits preserve sets of temple equipment such as copper alloy vases used in 
offering rituals (e.g., Akhetaten, 1350 Bc). After 700 BC, votive offerings of inscribed 
metal figures of deities became more common, and these dominate the later 
deposits on sacred sites, into the late first millennium BC. Far the greatest known is 
the cachette at Ipetsut (Karnak), famous in Egyptology for its large number of 
stone sculptures of kings, officials, and deities. The deposit also contained literally 

Figure 3.14 Deposits of pottery vessels from festival processions to the tomb of King 
Djer of the First Dynasty, identified in second to first millennium BC as tomb of Osiris. 
The sacred space is oriented toward the great western desert valley, visible as a gap in the 
background cliffs. © Ute Effland. 

106 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

thousands of images of deities in faience and bronze, as well as wood, less well 
preserved in the waterlogged annually flooded ground (Coulon and Jambon n.d.). 

Places dedicated to the goddess Hathor attracted a wide range of inscribed and 
uninscribed objects connected with fertility: wooden phalli, bright blue-glazed 
vessels and beads, figurines of naked women (fertility figurines), and textiles woven 
with beads or, in select examples, painted with images of the dedicator(s), often 
women, before the goddess (Pinch 1993). Images and inscriptions suggest that 
many, if not all, express prayers for, or in thanks for, safe birth. The hue and texture 
of blue-glazed faience of many of these offerings may be part of this focus on well- 
being in the specific context of birth, perhaps seeking to draw on the generative 
powers of water, creating and supporting plant life. 

Founding a temple 

In the archaeological record, the primary evidence for the initial conception of a 
temple-building project is the foundation deposit, comprised of varying types of 
material according to period and location (Figure 3.15 and Table 3.2, summarizing 
Weinstein 2001). The contents of later deposits focus on materials and processes of 
construction, echoing the depictions on temple walls, where the king receives 
assistance from the divine embodiment of writing (Egyptian Seshat) to mark out 
the ground with measuring rod and cord, before laying the first brick. Earlier exam- 
ples contain food and dishes for meals, whether for the initial celebration rituals or 
as eternal motor of sustenance or both. Certainly, the construction and mainte- 
nance of monumental sacred architecture would have required vast resources, and 
the daily offerings of food and drink at any temple needed great farming estates as 
the foundation of offering cult. From 2400 Bc, the fragmented accounts papyri sur- 
vive for kingship temples on the desert edge at Abusir. These record an intricate 
web of interlocking estates, requiring elaborate calculations for the theoretical and 
practical route taken by the grain, flax, and other produce of the estate fields. The 
complexity arises from the number of different institutions, and the practice of wed- 
jeb khet—literally, turning round the material things to be offered. Every example 
of sacred architecture implies offerings, which in turn imply a supporting estate. 

Table 3.2 Main features of foundation deposits, summarized for six periods 

Old Kingdom Food offerings, pottery or stone vessels, sometimes grindstones 
Middle Kingdom Food offerings, pottery or stone vessels, sometimes grindstones, 
model tools, inscribed plaques inside mudbricks 

Dynasty 18 Pottery vessels, tools, ointment jars, beads, food offerings, model 
tools, miniature pottery, inscribed plaques (not within mudbricks) 
Dynasties 19-20 Standardized mass-produced faience miniature models of offerings 
and plaques with name of king; longer inscriptions on stone/faience 
Dynasties 21-22 Small plaques of copper/bronze, faience, and model pottery vessels 
Late Period Miniature inscribed stone and metal plaques, model mudbricks, 

pottery, rectangular green faience plaques, resin and ore samples 

Creating Sacred Space and Time: Temple Architecture and Festival 107 

Figure 3.15 (a) Two of the series of foundation deposits securing the ground of the 
temple to Min and Isis, constructed by King Thutmes III (about 1450 Bc) at Gebtyu (Qift); 
(b) besides the regular provision of pottery for food and drink, one vessel has an 
unparalleled form, with central motif of cow and scorpions to the side, indicating 
variations in foundation rituals; (a) and (b) from W. Petrie, Koptos, London 1895. 

If anyone wished to construct a new, larger sanctuary or, more decisively, to 
increase the offerings made at a sacred place, then, within the finite resources of 
the Nile Valley, there were two choices: either land reclamation or redistribution 
of produce. The wedjeb khet is the pragmatic second response. When Akhenaten 

108 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

created an entire new city for the sun-god creator, Ra in the form of the solar sphere 
Aten, he would have had to redirect the resource web of the country. Since his 
reform was reversed after his death, and his city dismantled, he appears in the later 
Egyptian record as a criminal, or is removed. Yet his crime was to exclude all deities 
and offering cults other than his own, in his kingship and its expenditure—the act 
of redistribution of lands in itself was regular kingship practice. 

Large-scale diversion of revenue in each reign can be seen in action in a unique 
record of the offerings during the reign of Ramses III, copied onto a magnificent 
papyrus book-roll, the longest surviving, at the start of the reign of his successor 
Ramses IV (Grandet 1994, Papyrus Harris). The document has often been used to 
show the resources of the king being lost to the temples, but in fact, nearly all the 
donations by the king are for his own temple, Khnemetneheh (Madinat Habu), 
and his cult around Egypt and Nubia, not for the temples of gods in themselves. 
The great temple of Amun at Karnak receives only a tiny proportion of the new 
staff and offerings assigned to Khnemetneheh. There, a whole new kingship cult 
comes into existence on a majestic scale that can still be seen at the site in the 
sandstone architecture, one of the best-preserved temples in Egypt. Exceptionally, 
for Ramses III, we can see the process of diversion in action, thanks to the inscrip- 
tions of his commissioner, the Head Keeper of Documents Penpata, sent in Year 
15 of the reign to swa‘b, “purify,” temples of any flaw and sedjeser, “hallow,” them 
by reorganizing staff and, by implication, staffing resources including estates. 
The inscriptions identify the process as sipty wer, “the great review” (Spalinger 
1991). Ironically, it included a standard clause to khu meki, “exempt and protect,” 
the temples under review. From 2650 to 2000 Bc, inscribed copies of decrees 
by kings survive at temples from Gebtyu (Qift) in Upper Egypt to the Mennefer 
pyramid fields. Evidently, an eternal stone version of an exemption decree was 
needed against the continual reviews and accompanying redistributions for new 
royal initiatives. Probably, like a city wall, the exemption decrees in stone did 
help deflect minor infringements by the perennial stream of royal officials moving 
up and down the country and perhaps in regional disputes between neighboring 
estates, including temple estates. However, they probably could not withstand 
periodic initiatives that involved decree by the king affecting all temples of Upper 
and Lower Egypt, as in the recorded examples of a “great review” under Merenptah 
and Ramses III and the equally major transformations under Amenhotep III, 
Akhenaten, and Tutankhamun. Any new king would require a place of offering for 
his own cult, as the latest in the series of cult places for the reigning king. Larger 
structures and greater offerings, as for Ramses II and III, imply more massive 
reform affecting the whole country. In a broad sense, the architectural history of 
ancient Egypt is also its economic and social history. 

For every major temple construction project, then, a still more massive eco- 
nomic enterprise had first to be installed, diverting resources from other offering 
places. Probably, for kingship temples, the majority of the resources came from 
the temples of previous kings: archaeology has shown how each king focused 
construction work on his own temple, while temples for kings of the previous 
generations fell steadily farther out of sight. The Abusir papyri effectively chart the 

Creating Sacred Space and Time: Temple Architecture and Festival 109 

same history: the temple equipment is carefully inspected by each incoming 
month of staff, and sometimes repaired, but maintenance also needs resources. 
The most dramatic example of decline is at the greatest architectural site of all, the 
Giza pyramids. Here, the third, smaller pyramid complex for king Menkaura (about 
2550 BC) was maintained as a place of offerings for well over a century after the 
death of the king, but evidently with diminishing external support, for they turned 
the temple into a production site ofits own. Out of the sculpture originally intended 
a focus of offerings, they cut small stone vases, of a type found in contemporary 
burials of varying wealth in the area (Kemp 2006, 208-209). Perhaps it was enough, 
in extreme need, to keep a reduced offering cult for at least one image of the king, 
sufficient to feed both the image and, after one more reversion, the temple staff. In 
their daily sustenance, the individuals on rota service at temples would be locked 
into rhythms of intervention and indifference from the top, on a long-wave history 
with impact across the country, interwoven with regional and local agendas of 
overlapping and conflicting interests and resistance. 


Chaos and Life: Forces of Creation 
and Destruction 

Pele tele 


Chaos and life: identifying and assessing evidence 

This chapter turns to the way in which people across Egypt (3000-525 Bc) expressed 
contending forces at play in their lives. Where previous chapters considered 
individual motifs, here, the focus is on ancient perception and expression of 
relations and movements between features. Historian Igor Diakonoff argued that 
language takes precedence: “archaeological data can never let you or me recapture 
the emotional attitude of these ancient people towards the objects of their culture. 
We shall not hear what the girl making the pot said to it, what sense its form and 
ornament made for her” (Diakonoff 1995, 21). Despite the strength of his image, 
problems arise with a predominantly philological approach to understanding 
ancient Egypt. 

Some ancient writings seem to offer direct accounts of ancient worldviews: 
myths understood as narratives that are set in the world of the divine. Tales of 
creation and conflict between deities are the stock of mythology in European study 
of religion. Yet for ancient Egypt, such myths turn out to be a problem, because 
so few longer narratives of deities are written down or depicted. As a result, 
Egyptologists debate whether people in earlier periods produced any such myth/ 
extended tale of the divine. Even after 1350 Bc, when tales of the gods do survive as 
connected series of episodes, the contexts for each of these writings reveal culturally 
specific grounds for each narration. These contexts take us far from direct answers 
in the ethnographic style to questions such as “how was the world created” or 
“what characters do the main deities have.” 

Even without this obstacle, major problems remain for studies starting from 
written evidence (Chapter 1). Fieldwork-centered archaeologists emphasize 

Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt, First Edition. Stephen Quirke. 
© 2015 Stephen Quirke. Published 2015 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. 

Chaos and Life: Forces of Creation and Destruction 111 

how a focus on writing excludes most people and practices. Similarly, literary 
analyst Vladimir Propp commented on Egyptian mythology, “For the most part 
we know only the official religion ... The popular strata could have had other 
ideas, other, so to speak, story-lines, to those of the official cult, and of these 
popular conceptions very little is known to us” (Propp 1946, 125, cf. Spalinger 
2007). Another objection is broader: both speech and writing involve all the 
potential for misunderstanding in any human communication. The words of 
others are precious, especially in other languages, because they can lift us out 
of our own linguistic and conceptual worlds. However, they do not free us from 
the need to observe context, interests, or values. This is a self-critical observa- 
tion: present or past, there are no context-free interlocutors, including our- 
selves. Finally, against assumptions that we acquire knowledge through explicit 
words of instruction, anthropologist Maurice Bloch argues that nonlinguistic 
models predominate in daily life learning (Bloch 1998, 3-21). Each medium of 
communication creates the condition of knowledge, its logic: “If the anthro- 
pologist is often attempting to give an account of chunked and non-sentential 
knowledge in a linguistic medium (writing), and she has no alternative, she 
must be aware that in so doing she is not reproducing the organisation of 
knowledge of the people she studies but is transmuting it into an entirely differ- 
ent logical form” (Bloch 1998, 15). I return to his arguments later in this chapter 
(Learning from schemata). 

A quest for myth may take words out of context, and methodical philologists 
or historians would object to this as much as field archaeologists. One example 
is modern construction of ancient conceptions of the world on the basis of 
recitations for embalming and burial. Egyptologists have used names such as 
Book of Shu or Book of Ha‘py for certain compositions intended to obtain an 
afterlife for an individual. Harco Willems has shown how close reading reveals 
an ancient focus very different from that of a modern reader seeking ancient 
equivalents to European philosophy. In compositions concerning Shu, “air/ 
light,’ or Ha’‘py, “Nile flood,” Willems notes how these two names evoke specific 
intangible and tangible elements of embalming ritual and practice. Passages on 
Shu express not an ancient endeavor to describe the world, but the need to 
make air available to the deceased for immortality (Willems 1996, 270-324). 
The Egyptological Book of Ha‘py comprises five separate recitations at offerings 
of fresh water in the course of mummification (Coffin Texts 317-321, see Bickel 
1994, 146). 

These writings speak indirectly of ancient Egyptian concepts of life and 
afterlife, but they belong with embalming and burial as techniques for 
obtaining an eternal life and only became theological/philosophical treatises 
in the hands of Egyptologists. Recognizing the different intention of these 
ancient writings does not mean assigning them to some more mundane level 
of thinking, as if below European philosophy. If it helps to overcome the per- 
sistent Eurocentric racism that denies Africa any intellectual life, we might 
call ancient patterns of thinking philosophy. Equally, we might be more 
strongly grounded in those different patterns of thought, if we accepted that 

112 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

human wisdom need not be called philosophy and that such dominant 
European words may sometimes block appreciation. 

Myth as Speech in Religion 

Mythic thinking 

Against the logical drives of seventeenth-century European philosophers, the 
historian Giambattista Vico asserted the value of poetic, mythical expression as 
crucial for humanity (Horkheimer 1930). This defense came at the risk of confining 
mythical thinking to a lower rung on a succession of historical phases from 
supposedly primitive human to supposedly modern European. Myth might be 
misread as narratives by people assumed unable to articulate scientific, abstract 
or logical, thought. In nineteenth-century Europe, such misreading became 
dominant; history was written as a line from inferior to superior, reinforced by 
concepts of evolution of species in natural history, developed by Lamarck, Darwin, 
and Mendel. Twentieth-century philosopher Ernst Cassirer attempted to dislodge 
any automatic inferiority of myth to science, by exploring mythic and other patterns 
of thought as parallel rather than in historical succession—alternative symbolic 
forms to formulate life (Cassirer 1923-1929). There remains the danger of 
presuming a split between mind, body, and spirit and projecting from these the 
separate modern categories of logical/rational, sensual/anatomical, and poetic/ 
spiritual. Myth then becomes an echo of poetic, the aesthetic as a fourth dimension 
or a lost space between the other three. Terry Eagleton has charted the intricate 
history of European thinking on these fissions and fusions from a self around the 
concept of aesthetic and so reminds us how specific to Europe the entire set of 
categories and their assumptions may be (Eagleton 1990). 

Within that Eurocentric history, romantics tended to extol myth, especially 
ethnic national myth, not only as antidote to the lethal logic of a desensitized 
science, but also as pure expression of the soul of a people. Extreme dangers in 
idolizing myth as uncontaminated, indigenous thought of a nation were clear by 
the time that Cassirer was rewriting his ideas on mythical thinking. Twentieth- 
century Egyptological writers on myth stood within (Brunner), or barely a step 
away from (Schott), the lethal excesses of Nazism and nationalisms, where myth is 
taken literally as timeless, transferred from human context into some overarching, 
eternal dimension (Arvidsson and Wichmann 2006). Archaeological objections to 
overreliance on written sources are particularly valuable here, as reminders that 
attention to context can also save us from negative consequences. Continuing 
political use of national mythologies demonstrates how much is at stake in the 
words we choose for describing human thought and action. 

For our approach to the people of Egypt (3000-525 Bc), debates over the 
relative value of mythic and logical thinking are directly relevant, to help us avoid 
thoughtlessly assigning mythic expression to more primitive levels than 

Chaos and Life: Forces of Creation and Destruction 113 

presumed higher levels of scientific thought in later societies. The sheer need to 
survive makes it unlikely that humans at any time or place could escape calcula- 
tions of risk and danger (Shennan 1999, 876-877, on delayed-return subsistence 
systems as primary among hunter-gatherer societies). Technical advances in 
knowledge have probably not altered the propensity of humans either to calcu- 
late or to dream. Instead, we might ask more generally how people across Egypt 
in those twenty-five centuries conceived of danger and purity and how they 
expressed these perceptions materially in word, image, and act. For this enquiry, 
a favorite source of answers—longer narrations to explain lives or worlds—is not 
available: ancient Egypt produced no equivalent to the Greek myths in Hesiod or 
Norse sagas in Icelandic medieval manuscripts. 

The myth debate in Egyptology 

Ina 1977 article, Jan Assmann exposed many assumptions on myth, observing that 
myths in the sense of longer tales of deities are not known from Egyptian writing 
before 1350 Bc. He concluded that, far from being a primeval human expression, in 
Egypt, myth arrived only at that relatively late date, 1800 years after development of 
the hieroglyphic script. In his interpretation, earlier periods knew only short state- 
ments around the relations between deities, expressions which he terms icons or 
constellations of deities (Assmann 1977a). In response, Jiirgen Zeidler examined 
the earliest shorter statements, from Pyramid Texts, the religious compositions first 
inscribed in royal pyramid chambers, 2400-2200 Bc (Zeidler 1993). Applying meth- 
ods used by Propp to analyze tales of wonder or fairy tales, Zeidler concluded that 
these examples went beyond a constellation of direct relations between deities and 
implied underlying connected narrative. 

In another constructive response, Katja Goebs observes the distinction 
between phenotext, the specific and material form of a composition in the sur- 
viving written record, and genotext, underlying compositional pool out of which 
phenotexts are generated. Pyramid Texts may only allude to a longer myth of 
Osiris, but they could be the tangible phenotexts from that preexisting genotext. 
As Goebs notes, the location and function of the phenotext might have favored 
shorter over fuller writings. In contexts such as the burial chamber, inscriptions 
may excerpt from, rather than recount in full, a genotext, not because no longer 
myth existed yet, but because these words were to be uttered over offerings, when 
allusions were enough to evoke a mythic dimension in ritual practice. Goebs 
calls attention to the immediate setting of surviving words: “the form a myth or 
mytheme takes is dependent on the function of the context in which it is used” 
(Goebs 2002, 27). 

As with other deep structures, the case for a genotext beneath phenotexts 
remains difficult to decide; ancient Egyptian mythmaking might, but need not 
have been so. Given the efficiency of short early inscriptions, it remains possible 
that ancient practice and thought operated as phenotext only, as Assmann implied. 
No underlying genotext necessarily existed even on the analysis by Zeidler, whose 

114 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

connected motifs still amount only to short versions of the Propp fable plots. 
Propp identified the core theme of tales of wonder as initiation through rites of 
passage, at life changes such as puberty (Gilet 1998). The use of extended narra- 
tion for rites of passage may be one among several imports from western Asia into 
Egyptian court life after mid-fifteenth century BC (others include loan words dis- 
tinctively written in syllabic orthography and diplomatic royal marriages on a 
larger scale). The clearest example in Egyptian literature, among the stories used 
by Propp for his analyses, is the Tale of Two Brothers, the gods Anubis and Bata 
(Assmann 1977b). 

The debate may be an argument over definition, or over qualities of different 
lengths of narration. The term myth might be applied only to longer passages, con- 
stellation/icon for shorter expressions, and a different term such as mytheme for 
individual motifs as the atoms of mythic expression. Susanne Bickel resolves the 
problem by extending the concept of mythmaking to broader fields of creative 
expression, including visual and material alongside verbal (Bickel 1994, following 
Detienne 1981). This more open approach reduces the importance of the date of 
the first longer tales of deities. The important point would be not to change the 
words we use, but to lose automatic equations such as “myth = narrative (of 
divine).’ However, if we continue defining mythic against logical, certain evolu- 
tionary assumptions may remain intact, around the core Eurocentric notion that 
humans developed from nonthinking primitives to fuzzy-thinking myth tellers to a 
modern age of scientists. 

Learning from storytelling: the only option? 

Much reaction against the Assmann view seems to stem from a feeling that humans 
learn primarily from direct verbal instruction, spoken or written, and that, there- 
fore, religion too is taught by narrating myths (as Willems 1996, 8-14). How could 
people learn about the Osiris myth unless someone recited the tale? Its episodes 
are connected only outside Egypt, by the Greek writer Plutarch (about AD 46-120) 
in his On Isis and Osiris; this remains the basis for accepting the episodes as one 
myth (Gwyn Griffiths 1970, comparing with scattered Egyptian sources). From our 
book learning, we imagine ancient Egyptian children reading or hearing how Osiris 
ruled as king and was murdered by jealous younger brother Seth and revived by his 
loyal sister-wife Isis to conceive the child Horus and how Horus was protected by 
Isis until he could challenge Seth and emerge triumphant as king of the living, with 
Osiris ruling the dead. An alternative to narrating-to-child seems, to the academic 
us, unthinkable, so powerfully is it set in contemporary education, as in the home 
or school national histories studied by Marc Ferro in his How we teach history to 
children around the world, translated as The Use and Abuse of History (Ferro 1981, 
1984). Bedtime stories have been powerful formative elements in middle-class 
European self-consciousness since the mid-nineteenth century, when the brothers 
Grimm gathered fairy tales, and Hans Christian Andersen invented his own, for 
that class on its way to political dominance (Dollerup 1995). That is the cultural 
historical context for the belief that learning must involve storytelling. The belief 

Chaos and Life: Forces of Creation and Destruction 115 

may not hold true for ourselves and certainly need not dictate our reactions to 
people in Egypt (3000-525 Bc). Anthropologist Maurice Bloch provides a usefully 
opposed approach. 

Learning from schemata information blocks? 

Bloch contests two views comparing culture with language: “culture is thought and 
transmitted as a text through language,” and “culture is ultimately ‘language like; 
consisting of linked linear propositions” (Bloch 1998, 4). Instead, life learning 
works through mental models, “small networks of typical understandings and 
practices concerning the world.” The models may be acquired first as concepts, not 
words, in “a continual back and forth movement between aspects of classification 
which are introduced through language and mental concepts, as the child learns 
to express these concepts through words” (Bloch 1998, 6). Applying the theory of 
connectionism from cognitive psychology, Bloch sees learning as the recognition 
of structures operating as explanatory models for perception/action. Whatever the 
skill to be acquired, learners need to draw on information automatically; the most 
efficient means of storage and retrieval is not verbal instruction, but more tightly 
packed and flexible mental models. Therefore, learning involves “constructing 
apparatuses for the efficient handling and packing of specific domains of knowl- 
edge and practice” (Bloch 1998, 10-11). 

The schemata of Bloch recall Assmann on the constellation as relations between 
netjeru, “deities.” Plato (fifth-century BC Greece) and his follower Plotinus (third- 
century AD Egypt) wrote that Egyptians learned the world through images, using 
the Greek word schemata for these images (Assmann 1992). The starting point in 
this symbolic instruction is the concept or mental model behind both image and 
word. Ancient Egyptian sacred imagery matches the nonlinguistic models which 
Bloch considers the foundation of all human learning. The particular visual-verbal 
articulation of each learning object in each time and place then becomes the object 
for comparative archaeological and anthropological study. 

Rather than omitting the evidence of words, Bloch aims to place words in con- 
text and to analyze their presence: 

To claim that much of culture is neither linguistic nor “language like” does not imply 
that language is unimportant. Nevertheless, contrary to what anthropologists tend to 
assume, we should see linguistic phenomena as a part of culture, most of which is 
non-linguistic. Instead of taking language for granted, we should see its presence as 
requiring explanation. 

Methodical philologists also focus on context and are well placed to pursue the 
phenomenon of explicit verbal instruction. Bloch relates how, in learning com- 
plex skills such as weaving, linked-sentence instructions in words are the excep- 
tion; most learning is by practice, inculcating models or networks of action and 
thought in apprentices. It then takes time and effort to translate these efficiently 
packed networks into the linear sequences of sentences, and the resulting words 

116 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

may be far from the knowledge they convey. Therefore, translation into words, 
whether instructing or narrating, is a secondary and laborious exercise, presum- 
ably only undertaken where some gain offsets the effort. Bloch identifies this 
gain as transformation of fuzzy prototype concepts into rigorous concepts with 
checklists of features. Though no longer efficiently embedded in practice, the 
concept becomes available for another area of action: “such extension may well 
be linked with the process of innovation” (Bloch 1998, 14-15). In the myth debate, 
Egyptologists could research what gains might have encouraged translation of 
small networks or constellations of concepts of the divine, into longer verbal 
narratives after 1350 Bc. In the meantime, Bloch and Assmann warn us that our 
own storytelling of ancient Egyptian religion may distort into a different form/ 
content, the organization of ideas, knowledge, and practice in operation among 
past people. 

The weight of kingship in ancient Egyptian compositions 

Study of ancient Egyptian myths and mythemes may be complicated by their focus 
on kingship (Diakonoff 1995, 124; Spalinger 2007). Rather than just a distortion, the 
prominence of kingship can also be read as a story of reception, with the gradual 
adoption across the society of certain models first developed for kingship. Antonio 
Gramsci applied from linguistics the concept of Prestige as a decisive factor in 
attracting people toward particular practices, such as speaking in a certain accent 
or language (Ives 2004). Prestige might promote models or motifs from the rich and 
powerful, so establishing hegemony in culture. This adoption of models can also 
be appreciated from the side of the adopter. Acceptance of an outside idea need 
not be a sign of weakness or insincerity. Instead, despite all the risks of losing your 
own earlier way of doing/living/thinking, incorporation of that external motif 
might still be part of a wider social experience of, and strategy for dealing with, life 
trauma (Chapter 7). Yet Diakonoff raises the question, whether it is possible for us 
to see an ancient Egypt outside kingship. 

Constellations Outside Writing 

Evidence beyond words and images? 

Writings tend, then, to obscure any parts of ancient Egypt prior to or, more neutrally, 
outside kingship. In order to overcome this silence, I would start looking for broader 
categories in material from the archaeology of Egypt (3000-525 Bc). Rather than 
excluding written evidence, I aim, first, at a broader archaeological record and, 
then, at written communication in context within that record. Yet here, in studies of 
myth/mythology, primacy of the written might be replaced by an equally unbal- 
anced primacy of the visual motif, particularly figurative form. In an image- 
centered approach, all past visual expression can be reduced to a flat compromise 
between documentary and materialist histories of thought. 

Chaos and Life: Forces of Creation and Destruction 117 

Dangers in relying on visual record can be seen most clearly whenever any motif 
is avoided or forbidden altogether, because considered too sacred or dangerous. 
Acts of iconoclasm reveal when previously accepted motifs became forbidden. 
In ancient Egypt, the most extreme example is from the reign of Akhenaten and the 
subsequent reaction. Under Akhenaten, new imagery of kingship shed all netjeru 
except the single motif of sun disk with rays, denoting the creator sun-god. Royal 
sculptors produced no new images of other netjeru, and certain motifs were physi- 
cally erased out of the eternal record in formal script and image. Prime targets were 
the image and name of the creator as Amun, “hidden”; others were his goddess- 
wife Mut and the plural word netjeru, “gods.” Outside monuments of kingship, 
images of birth deities and some other national deities may have continued in pro- 
duction as amulets or for small shrines, even in the city of the king at Akhetaten. 
However, these smaller images may date to the restoration of the netjeru cults in 
the decade after Akhenaten, when his city continued to be inhabited (Figure 4.1). 

Figure 4.1 Limestone wall blocks sculpted with depiction of singers beside the words 
of a hymn to King Amenhotep III, in which the words Amun and all gods have been 
erased during the reign of his successor Akhenaten and restored in the following reigns. 
Tomb chapel of the high official Rames, Waset, about 1375 Bc. © Schott Archive, 
University of Trier. 

118 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Extreme aversion to images during this short period draws attention to the 
recurrent but variable avoidance of images across time and space. The name for 
this avoidance in the Egyptian language is buwt, prescribed avoidance of a feature 
ina place, for example, the pig as buwt of followers of Horus, god of order (Frandsen 
1986). The assistance of language in defining this phenomenon illustrates the dif- 
ficulty in removing the ancient writing from assessments of the archaeological 
record. A focus on the visual at the expense of the written would also be hard to 
achieve for ancient Egypt, where visual and written are so intertwined, that it does 
violence to extricate one from the other. In formal depictions, script accompanies 
images, often playing between the hieroglyphs of the script as small images and the 
images as large hieroglyphs (Fischer 1986). 

For visual motifs, tools of geographical analysis may produce guides to time- 
space distribution or reach of motifs. Future study could include, in one direction, 
the nonfigurative and, in another, material with writing in context. Survey and 
excavation provide direct evidence in the form of space-time distributions of 
practices and object categories. Following a model set by Michael Rowlands for 
researching connections between ancient Egypt and other African societies, ana- 
lysts of material distributions could explore shared underlying conceptions of life, 
in chains of overlapping circles of practice (Rowlands 2003). Assmann encourages 
this material turn, by a focus on constellation as the immediate close relations 
between features and forces. Longer chains might be found in comparison of the 
medicinal properties of specific materials between the archaeological and ethno- 
graphic record of beads and amulets (see Chapter 6). The archaeological record 
offers the fragment, where the level of resolution might be precisely that of the 
constellation. We may be able, after all, to hear the girl talking to, and listening to, 
the pot. 

Principles, forces, and materials 

Allowing for differences in social class and the impact of rule (prestige), the archae- 
ological record may indicate how past people formed material and moved between 
action and resting. We might look for patterns of gender, age, and class among 
groups and individuals in such social practices as: 

Walking, clothing, and applying cosmetics: How does it feel to wrap a handwoven 
linen of different textures and to move in tighter or looser, cooler or warmer 
garments; how does the oil feel on the skin or the amulet or beads on skin or 
garment or hair—all these variously combine matter at once in contact with 
individual body and social world. 

Wielding and beating: Authority and violence are materialized not only in 
hieroglyphs for man with staff and man beating with stick but in third- and 
second-millennium burials of adult men with sticks and staves (Hassan 
1976); with a different tone, the fearsome adult may also become a figure of 
fun (as in the Judgement of Horus and Seth, summarised at the end of this 

Chaos and Life: Forces of Creation and Destruction 119 

Moving to contain/close/tie: bodily contact with sacks, bags, baskets, and 
vessels of wood/pottery/metal/stone. In ancient Egypt, the pottery vessels 
most often have a rounded base for laying to rest on ground (contact with 
earth) or on pottery ring stands or carrying on pad on head and grain and 
liquid in vessels with wide or constricted mouths/necks. For special contents, 
the bag or box needs to be sealed with string or rope, secured with mud, in 
wealthier contexts marked with a seal or signet ring; these actions of contain- 
ment may deploy the strategy of nesting, as also in architecture and funerary 
contexts (Roth 1998). 

To help us see life forces in these movements and to read the world in a basket or 
textile, makers in nonindustrial societies offer other views: “Life grows out of the 
land, woman grows out of the earth, the Beautyway ... Women change the world 
rear sheep, shear sheep, and weave all the movements into a rug” (unnamed 
Navajo weaver cited M'Closkey 2002, 214). 

Small-scale carving as a widespread source of imagery 

Some motifs can be traced across the country and in different levels of society, 
suggesting a shared relation to life forces. Many images are carved in two and three 
dimensions on small scale, as amulets protecting the wearer (see Chapter 6). One 
of the most widespread object types in this history of images is the seal-amulet: 
first, the cylinder seal and then the stamp-seal, including the scarab-shaped seal. 
These provide a continuous widely distributed historical index of imagery. There 
are two constraints on using this as universal atlas of images: forms and motifs may 
be articulated mainly within richer social circles, and arrangement of motifs may 
be fostered by the shape of the seal (e.g., symmetrical compositions on disk-shaped 
seals, processions of figures on cylinder seals). 

The cylinder seal is known in western Asia before the first instance known in the 
Nile Valley (e.g., from Naqada tomb (1863), UC5374), where the earliest examples 
are imports (Podzorski 1988; Hill 2004). Examples made in Egypt soon follow and 
are among the main sources for the earliest hieroglyphs, after 3200 Bc. During the 
late third millennium BC, stamp-seal shapes came to replace cylinder seals. Most 
early stamp-seals are from Upper Egypt, as if the form developed in that region, not 
at kingship centers (Kemp 2006, 142-143). Yet the concentration of finds may 
reflect not the epicenter of production, but regional and chronological differences 
in burial customs. Rare earlier jewelry at royal court cemeteries includes metal 
headbands with central disks decorated with symmetrical compositions, similar in 
conception to those found on later Upper Egyptian stamp-seals. Jewelry produc- 
tion at the royal center may be the prestigious model for the later regional imagery 
(Figure 4.2). 

In general, motifs of kingship dominate the entire three millennia in this 
history. There may be technical factors in the relative centralization of the 
process. Even where materials for seals are widely available (limestone, stea- 
tite) or easy to produce (faience), specific skills in draughting and glazing 

120 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Figure 4.2 (a) Hieroglyph ‘ankh, “life,” flanked by facing falcons, on an early type of 
stamp-seal, perhaps from Upper Egypt (2300 Bc). W. Petrie, Buttons and Design Scarabs, 
British School of Archaeology in Egypt, London, 1927, pl.1. (b) Hieroglyph ‘ankh, “life,” 
flanked by facing crested ibis, on an example of residence cemetery jewelry, a gilt copper 
headband, from the burial of a woman in the cemeteries at modern Giza, tomb G7143B, 
about 2400 Bc. Drawing © Wolfram Grajetzki after C. Aldred, Jewels of the Pharaohs, 
Thames and Hudson, London 1971, Fig. 16. 

might have helped confine production to a few centers. As a result, amulet 
iconography may be generated from the center, as Diakonoff warns of myth- 
making in Egypt in general. Nevertheless, the very distribution of seal-amulets 
across the country writes a history of the regional reception of kingship, as a 
social and personal strategy to use prestigious motifs also for individual health 
(see Chapter 6). 

Relations of fertility: movements of seasons, flood, and the return 
of the distant goddess 

One prominent motif is the cow-eared face of a woman, often with broad waving 
hairstyle, named in earlier inscriptions Bat (perhaps the name of the image type), 
later as the goddess Hathor (Fischer 1962). The image frequently adorns musical 
instruments such as wood or bronze rhythm markers known by their Latin name 
sistra and ivory arm-shaped clappers, as well as the handles of mirrors. The hair- 
style and the association with rhythmic music and cosmetic equipment identify 
the theme of the goddess as the sensuous. From the late second millennium BC, 
numerous votive offerings at shrines throughout the Nile Valley in Egypt and 
Nubia, and in the desert develop images of Hathor as cow, providing milk and 
maternal love, or as cat, aggressively protecting against rats (Pinch 1994). Amulets 
with Hathor motifs are widely distributed, indicating use beyond court circles 
where they may have first been formed (Figure 4.3). 

Other images associated with the goddess appear outside the royal court. By a 
desert road near Nekhen, ostrich plumes were deposited with a small piece of 
sandstone inscribed in hieroglyphs nub-kha’-s, “the Gold appears,” perhaps a per- 
sonal name Nubkhas (Darnell 1999, 21, 27-29; Meeks 2008, nn.935-938). In other 

Chaos and Life: Forces of Creation and Destruction 121 

Figure 4.3 (a) Underside of steatite scarab, with a visual motif to bring blessing on the 
wearer; the motif centers on a scepter-like sistrum with the cow-eared head of a woman, 
associated with the goddess Hathor and in earlier periods named Bat. Find-place not 
known, about 1750 Bc, now Petrie Museum UC61099. W. Petrie, Buttons and Design 
Scarabs, British School of Archaeology in Egypt, London, 1927; (b) Ivory clapper from a 
pair, carved with hand terminal and head of a woman with elaborate hair and necklace, 
associated with the goddess Hathor (Egyptian Museum, Cairo CG 69234-35): photograph 
© Gianluca Miniaci. 

inscriptions, Gold is a name for Hathor; this deposit would connect her with desert 
roads, specifically to the southern Savannah where ostriches are found. Ostrich 
plume fans are known from royal circles, but without explicit connection to Hathor, 
and elsewhere, the double ostrich plume is associated with solar gods rather than 
the goddess. Nevertheless, the singular plume denotes Ma'at, “what is right,’ and 
this find may indicate Nekhen rites celebrating the return of female powers out of 
the desert, perhaps at the New Year when the Nile Flood rose from the south. In 
support of this interpretation, John Darnell cites a hymn from an early first-millen- 
nium BC ritual for the return of the distant goddess: 

Let us take for her feathers of the backs of ostriches, 

slain for you by the Tjemehu-Libyans with their throwsticks, 
their bindings made of animal-hides. 

Let us make acclamation to you! 

Let the Tjemehu-Libyans dance for you! 

Tjemehu is an Egyptian name for peoples living in the Saharan deserts to the west 
and southwest of Egypt. Different groups may at all times have practiced different 
or overlapping rites. It is not clear whether ostrich feathers were laid in the ground 

122 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

at Nekhen by people from desert or valley, shepherds or farmers, Egyptians or 
Nubians. At least one of the people involved knew enough Egyptian hieroglyphs to 
inscribe the sandstone flake in the deposit. 

At most centralized level, the construction of a new kingship city, the same 
motif of return at the desert edge may be at play. Barry Kemp reads the distribu- 
tion of outlying shrines and temples at Akhetaten, city of Akhenaten, as a circle 
fertilizing the central temples of king and creator sun-god (Kemp 1995). These 
cult places are dedicated to the women around the king: principal wife Nefertiti 
and daughters Meretaten and Meketaten. All are located in the intermediate 
space where the desert meets fields, where the goddess would return from afar. 
The royal city thus maps out a perennial feature of kingship, the cosmic fertility 
role for the mother, wife, or daughter of the king. Lana Troy has shown how 
ancient Egyptian queenship operated, not as a royal family in the dynastic 
European sense, but as a gendered machine for prosperity on the model of 
sovereign sun Ra/King and feminine complements Hathor/Nut (Troy 1986) 
(Figure 4.4). 

Relations of physical regeneration from immobility: 
masculine desert, Min and Amun 

The desert is site of another fundamental relation recurrent through architec- 
tural, visual, and written sources: the mystery of movement emerging out of 
complete stillness. The earliest freestanding colossal statues in the world, from 
Gebtyu (modern Qift), include two in form of a standing man, with erect phallus 
carved as a separate stone. The main ithyphallic deity in later periods is Min, 
principal netjer at the main temples of Gebtyu and, farther north, Khentmin 
(modern Akhmim). Depictions of Min show a rigidly wrapped body, dramatically 
breached by erect phallus, left arm extended to support a flail-like scepter of 
sovereignty, and double falcon-plume crown. Combined, the features convey a 
stillness about how to impregnate the world with life. Writings associate the Min 
festival with the harvest season, so directly with fertility. The anchor in static 
desert aridity remains strong: in visual sources for the festival, a great tent is set 
up, requiring a broad open area, evoking desert space and nomadic lifestyle. 
After 2000 Bc, Min imagery becomes associated with the cult of Amun, 
“Hidden,” at the newly dominant southern city Waset/Thebes. Amun expresses 
on one side the concept of power as invisible authority over unbounded space. 
Fused with the idea of the sun as creator, Amun-Ra becomes principal deity of 
Egypt from 1550 Bc, when local kings waged war against northern rivals, inau- 
gurating the New Kingdom. In this role, Amun appears as a ruler in human 
form, with a scepter and double falcon-plume crown of Min. The main cult 
center at Waset was the temple Ipetsut, “Select of Places” (modern Karnak). 
Alongside the idea of intangible sovereign power, Amun also continues to 
express a physical potency, depicted in the same form as Min: wrapped body, 
phallus, arm extended to flail-like scepter, and double-plume crown. Often 
named Amun-Kamutef, “Hidden, the Bull of his Mother,” this form receives 

Chaos and Life: Forces of Creation and Destruction 123 

Desert Altars shrine 

‘Small Aten Temple’ 


Kom el-Nana 
«> Ankhesenpaaten? 
e Maru-Aten 
: Tiy 
‘Lepsius Building’ 
_—— YX | 

Figure 4.4 Sanctuaries of Akhetaten: the city in the floodplain has central temples to the 
creator as the sun disk Aten and to King Akhenaten, with major shrines in the low desert 
around to his mother (Tiy), wife (Nefertiti), and three eldest daughters (Meretaten, 
Meketaten, Ankhesenpaaten). Drawing © Wolfram Grajetzki. 

124 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

separate offerings, notably at the temple Ipetreset, “the Southern Private 
Chamber.” Across the river, a temple on the West Bank desert edge (modern 
Madinat Habu) was dedicated to the primeval form of Amun (Figures 4.5, 
and 4.6 and Map 4.1). 

The fourth corner of this vast landscape of festival was the temple of Hathor 
(modern Deir al-Bahari), integrating the male potency and female fertility into the 
monumental architectural map of Waset (Figure 3.7). The kingship monuments 
project a union of male and female principles that resonated across the social 
scale, as seen in the votive offerings at these sites. At Karnak, a vast late first- 
millennium BC cache, the largest ever found in Egypt, included hundreds of stone 
statues of kings and officials from the temple halls but also thousands of Osiris 
figures. Excavation of Madinat Habu produced larger numbers of votives, now 
being published from the archives of the excavations. The offerings to Amun are 
less well known than those to Hathor, recorded from Deir al-Bahari and other sites 
(Pinch 1994). Significantly, the Deir al-Bahari deposits include wood models of 

Figure 4.5 Depiction of Amun-Ra as sovereign creator, embracing Hatshepsut as 
sovereign, on her monolithic red granite obelisk at Karnak, 1475 Bc. Photograph 
© Gianluca Miniaci. 

Chaos and Life: Forces of Creation and Destruction 125 

Figure 4.6 Depiction of King Senusret I offering to Amun in Min form, reassembled 
limestone blocks from the White Chapel, Karnak, about 1950 Bc. Photograph © Gianluca 

phalli; individuals requesting or thanking there included male potency as part of 
their gift or prayer, either directly to the goddess Hathor or perhaps to the Min 
aspect of Amun on the festival visits to the temple. 

Sailings of the Sun 

Formal depictions include imagery of the creator as sun-god traveling over the sky 
as if by boat on the river. The ever-sailing creator may take the form of a falcon, as 
in the single most famous early example, incised on a comb (3000 Bc), or a disk, or 
a falcon-headed man wearing a disk. During the reign of Akhenaten, the sailing is 
rejected in favor of the more static vision of Aten, “disk,’ with sun rays extending life 
hieroglyphs to the nose of the king or his wife. Immediately after his reign, the boat 
image returns. Sailing by boat is the dominant feature of festival processions 
(Chapter 3), to the point that shrines for transporting sacred images regularly take 
the shape of a small-scale boat, with carrying poles for a group of men to move it on 
foot in shorter distances over land. Nile boat travel is the main metaphor for divine 
movement (Figure 4.7). 

126 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Djeserdjeseru - Deir el-Bahri 


= Amun temple 

a7 Mut temple 


Map 4.1 Plan of festival routes and principal cult centers in Waset. © Wolfram 

Images of a sacred boat in procession are found roughly carved on slabs of the 
roof over the temple of Khons at Karnak, 1200-1000 Bc (Jacquet-Gordon 2003). To 
judge from names and titles in roof inscriptions, these were drawn by temple 
guards or timekeepers, watching the processions below. The Egyptian landscape 
(3000-525 Bc) remains otherwise relatively empty of the boat motif, by comparison 
with rock art in other times and places. Boats are not a dominant feature among the 
hundreds of inscriptions either on the granite rocks at the First Cataract or in the 
sandstone quarries at Gebel al-Silsila in southern Upper Egypt (3 out of 551 inscrip- 
tions Gasse and Rondot 2007). The Aten image from the reign of Akhenaten shows 
how a journey might be evoked from a single static instant, such as the high point 
of midday (Figure 4.8). 

Among votive offerings at sanctuaries, too, boats and boat equipment rarely 
predominate. The main exception is among faience votive deposits at the tem- 
ple of Satet on Abu (Elephantine Island). After inscribed tiles, the most common 
type of offering there was a model boat with a hedgehog-head prow, facing back 
across the boat; over forty examples were found (Dreyer 1986, 76-79). The form 
is restricted to the late third millennium BC and rare on other sites (one or two 
only at Abdju and the Delta site Tell Ibrahim Awad, Haarlem, 1997, 168). With 
pellets in hollow interior, these boat models are small rattles, perhaps appro- 
priate to rites at the first sound of the rising Nile in Egypt. Clay figurines in 

Chaos and Life: Forces of Creation and Destruction 127 

Figure 4.7 Falcon on boat over the name of King Djer, incised on ivory comb, from burial 
ofa palace official, Abdju, 3000 Bc, (a) photograph, (b) drawing. W. Petrie, Tombs of the 
Courtiers and Oxyrhynchus, British School of Archaeology in Egypt, London, 1925, pl.12. 

Figure 4.8 Roughly incised depiction of the boat of Amun, distinguished by the 
ram-head terminals, carved on the sandstone roofing slabs of the Khons temple, Karnak. 
Drawing © Wolfram Grajetzki, after Jacquet-Gordon, Temple of Khonsu, Volume 3. The 
Graffiti on the Khonsu Temple Roof at Karnak: A Manifestation of Personal Piety, 
University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2003. 

128 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

domestic contexts include fewer boats, than animal, human, and plant imagery. 
In large-scale deposits of bronze figures after 700 Bc, the focus is on the deity 
figure, with boats a rarer secondary feature. Evidently, those votive offerings 
belong away from the sphere of movement and contained within the stillness of 
the sacred space, where a supplicant kneels or bows before a divine presence 
(Figure 4.9). 

Boats for kings and boat models for officials are a recurrent feature of burial 
equipment (Chapter 7) but most often with reference to the life of the deceased, 
whether king or landowner, or to funeral rites. Only rarely does the form of a model 
boat explicitly evoke the solar boat and the sky sailing of the sun. Around 1900 BC, 
some of the wealthiest burials at the royal court cemeteries and around the gover- 
nors of Middle Egypt contained special solar boats, as if recasting on a divine level 
the regular fleet for large estates, known from models of 2100-1850 Bc (Grajetzki 
2003, 49). The short-lived practice, apparently never repeated, is restricted to 
wealthier burials at the court cemetery of king and regional governors; it remains 
difficult to track the wider diffusion of the solar imagery across society. After 1300 
BC, votive stelae include the motif of the sun Ra in his boat, but these come from 
centers of production closest to the royal court (Ramesside Deir al Madina). 
Possibly, the motif may have been avoided as too sacred; on funerary stelae (1500- 
1300 Bc), the motif of cup, water, and ring between two eyes has been interpreted 
as evoking the circuit (ring) of the sun (eyes) by boat (water sign) over the earth 
(Westendorf 1966). 

Figure 4.9 (a) Faience hedgehog-boat rattle, provenance unknown, perhaps late Old 
Kingdom, UC45081. © Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UCL. (b) Limestone 
wall relief with depiction of a river boat with a hedgehog-head prow. From the chapel 
over the burial place of Seneb, whose dwarf stature is integrated into the task of raising 
the sail of his eternal journey. Cemeteries near modern Giza, about 2500 Bc. Drawing 
© Wolfram Grajetzki. 

Chaos and Life: Forces of Creation and Destruction 129 

Figure 4.10 Small-scale votive stela with depiction of a baboon with a crescent, 
identified in the hieroglyphic caption as Thoth lord of Khemenu, limestone, provenance 
unknown, UC35815. Drawing © Wolfram Grajetzki. 

Among other movements in the skies, the evidence for ancient ways of charting 
and interpreting the circuits of moon and stars belongs mainly within the elite 
sphere (see Section The Nut Image, on the great image of Nut in two Ramesside 
royal contexts). Crescent moon and star shapes are rare in Egyptian jewelry and 
amulet forms, in contrast to earlier and later periods. This suggests either a lack of 
relevance or again an avoidance of a motif, where formal writing and imagery 
attest freely to star goddess Sopdet (Sirius) and the god Osiris as Sahu (Orion) and 
to the lunar quality of the gods Thoth, Khons (especially after 1800 Bc at Waset), 
and Osiris (as Osiris-Moon). At centers where written sources show a formal 
image of local deities as moon gods, there are roughly carved votive images on the 
same model. Small limestone stelae depict a baboon wearing a crescent moon, in 
some examples identified in hieroglyphs as Thoth lord of Khemenu. Simpler 
products may indicate a broader social acceptance and use of the form developed 
in the royal center (Figure 4.10). 

Trusting the ferryman? Aggression and defense: fauna of 
danger and disorder 

Disorder and aggression are other forms of movement, which at some places and 
times were evidently considered to require separate nurturing and to restore or 
maintain peace. Near Tjebu (modern Qau), the steep cliffs of Gebel Haridi abruptly 
meet the Nile, before the river turns sharply at the strategic next regional town, 
Asyut. In Tjebu town cemeteries, massive deposits of fossil hippopotamus bones 
were placed in disused earlier tombs, intermingled with broken objects made 
from tusks or materials of similar color or texture and motif, such as limestone 

130 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

hippopotamus figure and calcite cosmetic vase. The artifacts date the deposits 
(1350-1250 Bc). In one find, the excavation director Guy Brunton recorded “two 
or three tons of bones” (Brunton 1930, 18). The male hippopotamus is the most 
aggressive Nile animal, no longer found wild in Egypt, but still today feared across 
other parts of Africa as a bigger killer than crocodile or lion. Given this ferocity, the 
bone deposits might be collective acts to pacify this force. 

On a finely sculpted votive stela from Tjebu, about 1400 Bc, local governor 
Hatiay is depicted in adoration before a hippopotamus in a papyrus marsh, 
identified in the inscription as “Seth the strong ... lord of Tjebu, overlord of 
Wadjyt province” (Figure 2.10). In writings and images, Seth regularly stands 
opposite Horus, as disorder twinned with or balancing order. Other written 
sources name instead Nemty as local deity of Wadjyt province and Iatfet, adjoin- 
ing to the north on the east bank. Rare depictions and scattered references 
confirm his connection with the anarchic Seth; on a stela from Sinai, a deity with 
a human body and Seth animal head is named Nemty lord of the East. In the 
literary Judgement of Horus and Seth from Deir al-Madina (see the end of the 
chapter), Nemty has the role of ferryman. According to formal images and 
written sources, access to a ferryboat was an enduring preoccupation, under- 
standably in the broad Nile Valley of Upper and Middle Egypt: no bridges 
spanned the river until the construction of barrages in modern times (Tvedt 
2003). Within the world of the divine, as a dimension of this landscape, the terrain 
of Nemty would be the limbo of transit across the river. His disturbing liminal 
presence would need appeasing in order to maintain the orderly progression of 
the sun and of life moving forward. 

Seth: animal fusion 

Imagery of Seth is prominent, though only a small number of votive offerings sur- 
vived from one principal center of his cult, Nubt/Naqada in Upper Egypt, from 
1500 to 1400 Bc. Depictions show Seth as an animal of unidentified species, per- 
haps a formalized rendering of a known species or perhaps intended as a compila- 
tion of features that never existed, the ultimate portrayal of anarchic disorder: 
squared instead of rounded ears, extended curved snout, and tufted tail like an 
arrow tip. Individually, each feature could find a basis in ancient north-east African 
fauna, but the combination may intentionally evoke an antiorder (cf. Te Velde 
1967). It remains uncertain whether the Seth animal was considered a species liv- 
ing in the desert alongside other animals. In tomb chapels for regional governors 
(2000-1900 Bc), hunting scenes include Seth figures and griffins beside zoologi- 
cally attested animals. However, these images may not claim to record the desert in 
the way we might describe fauna in natural science. They belong within a monu- 
ment for eternity, offering multiple levels of reading, as where a recently published 
fragment from one chapel adds the leonine-dwarf figure of Aha/Bes, divine protec- 
tor of childbirth (Figure 4.11). 

After 1300 Bc, dedications to Seth are found not at Naqada itself, but at Waset 
and the new royal city of Ramses II Per-Ramses (moved after 1000 Bc to Djanet/ 

Chaos and Life: Forces of Creation and Destruction 131 

Figure 4.11 Limestone votive stela with depiction of Seth of Nubet, inscribed as made by 
the “pure one of Amun, head of sculptors Nedjem,” from Nubet, about 1400 Bc. W. Petrie, 
Naqada and Ballas, Quaritch, London, 1896, pl.78. 

Tanis, modern San al-Hagar). Like the names of thirteenth-twelfth-century BC 
Kings Sety and Setnakht, the inscriptions and formal images show how anarchic 
force could be included in the world of devotion. Any tension in the idea of offering 
to disorder first emerges violently after 700 Bc, when Egyptian temple ritual devel- 
ops an emphatic focus on Osiris and both name and image of Seth might be erased 
out of the monumental record for eternity. 

Predator as guardian: jackal deities 

One prominent relationship in imagery as well as writing is between guardian and 
guarded. Sacred space received protection from destructive forces—above all, in 
surviving sources, the jackal prowling at desert edge, where burials were also 
located and might be vulnerable to scavengers. In funerary context, the most 
frequent name for the jackal guardian is Inpu, better known in Egyptology in the 

132 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Greek form Anubis. In kingship monuments, a jackal on a standard led the proces- 
sion from the palace; inscriptions name him as Opener of the Ways (in Egyptian 
Wepwawet). Written sources record Inpu and Wepwawet as the main deities at 
Asyut, though their temples have not been located on the ground. 

In the return to plural imagery after the reign of Akhenaten, animal motifs 
became a more emphatic focus of attention and production. The image of the 
individual species is often multiplied for emphasis and perhaps also to assert 
wider or universal dominion. The principle of multiplication is best known 
from repetitions of the hearing ear of the deity, as in votive stelae from the Ptah 
temple at Memphis. At Asyut, in 1922, an Antiquities Service expedition uncov- 
ered an extraordinary Ramesside deposit in the great tomb chapel of an earlier 
governor Djefaha’py (DuQuesne 2009). The main contents comprised some 
600 stelae, in fired clay as well as limestone, and some three-dimensional clay 
images of single and quadruple jackals (DuQuesne 2009, 28: 357 stone stelae, 
137 clay stelae, 46 figurines). Some stelae combine deities and species or show 
different forms. On one, Wepwawet is depicted as a jackal on standard platform 
with rearing protective cobra, and Amun is shown in different animal forms 
(DuQuesne 2009, pl.12): the upper register shows as a bull “Amun-Ra bull of his 
mother”; the middle register has an eel without name, perhaps Amun again; on 
the lower register, a goose with outstretched wings and erect phallus is named 
“Amun who comes into being of himself,” and behind are two goats. At other 
sites, Amun is depicted in the form of a goat, and so the double goat here is 
probably Amun again. The stela deploys both singular and plural approaches to 
divine forces in the world: strictly separated and singular in the jackal on plat- 
form, Wepwawet, and multiple and more open to other identifications (bull as 
motif also used for Osiris or Ra, eel also for Atum), all as means of visualizing 
the Hidden (Figure 4.12). 

The workmanship of the stelae is generally fine, if not the highest quality of king- 
ship sculpture. Even the few depictions of kings offering to deities are not 
outstanding products. The deposit seems to lie outside the royal court horizon, 
belonging instead to a world of military officialdom stationed at this strategic bend 
of the Nile. In sculpture and inscription, these officers and, independently, the 
women with them expressed their devotions on the model set by kingship in the 
lost temples of the Asyut floodplain. 

Multiple fauna: images and bodies 

The multiple animal imagery of the Ramesside period seems to anticipate the 
development of mass mummification of particular species five centuries later. 
Despite the gap and differences, it is tempting to draw a line between the two phe- 
nomena, as expressions of an underlying sense of connection with the fauna of the 
valley and desert. There seems a similar tension between features confined to one 
place and those attested across the country: catacombs of wrapped, often 
embalmed, cat, dog, falcon, and ibis appear at numerous sites, whereas crocodile, 
eel, ichneumon, Schilbe fish, and shrewmouse may be more strongly linked to 

Chaos and Life: Forces of Creation and Destruction 133 

Figure 4.12 Limestone votive stelae with depictions of supplicants in prayer, the name 
and image of the god Ptah, and the hearing ears of the god, from the area of the later 
palace of Merenptah, Mennefer. W. Petrie, Memphis I, Quaritch, London, 1909, p19. 

specific places. The main catacomb species seem to relate to solar kingship: falcon 
may evoke Horus and Ra directly; the ibis brings the role of Thoth, administrator to 
the executive sun Ra; the cat evokes leonine qualities of goddesses who are Eye of 
the Sun as his fury; while the dog, as at Asyut, may be a guardian preserver. 


Each dominant constellation provides a template for generating variations 
around one theme, with localized details, as explored from other societies in 
structuralist anthropology (Leach 1969). Within the web of kingship features, a 
prime example is the vulnerable child who emerges to triumph over an enemy. In 
different periods, the future ruler can take different names, in different places, 
and merge with other features, all under the triple function child-god-king. At the 
court of the king, he may be called Horus, while beside Amun and Mut at New 
Kingdom Thebes, he is Khons. On one small limestone votive stela from a palace 
city of about 1350 Bc, he is depicted facing the hippopotamus-lion protectress at 

134 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 


Figure 4.13 Limestone votive stela with an unnamed child-god-king figure facing 
hippopotamus-lion protectress of infant and mother at birth. Drawing © Wolfram 

birth, sometimes named Ipy or, later, Taweret; here, the relation to infancy seems 
to be primary in conception of the small monument (Figure 4.13). Different 
aspects or episodes of the development to triumphant hero can be foregrounded 
in invoking, and offering to, this force: Horus the Child may be approached as a 
divine presence separate from Horus Protector of his Father. After 800 Bc, there 
is anew emphasis on Horus the Child, with increasing use of names on the pat- 
tern May (Horus/the king) live! (for the god, Ankh-Hor, Ankh-Horpakhered; for 
kings, Ankh-Osorkon, Ankh-Sheshonq) as well as special temples for rites and 
festivals of his birth added to the largest regional and national temples (Mammisi). 

Images of order as single and as balance 

From the late fourth millennium BC on, kingship imagery moves between balanc- 
ing motifs and single dominant figure, as two strategies for expressing the triumph 
of order/good over chaos/evil (Kemp 2006, 92-99). Paired motifs include falcon 
and composite animal later identified in inscriptions as the god of order Horus and 
the god of disorder Seth. Single dominant motifs are the falcon, winged sun disk 

Chaos and Life: Forces of Creation and Destruction 135 

and, more rarely, the lion. Whether paired or single, the imagery of order appears 
first at the royal court. Balance of motifs continues prominently in late third-mil- 
lennium BC seal-amulets, with facing or inverted pairs of Seth animals and falcons 
(Figure 4.2, and examples in Wiese 1996, pl.10-12). Early second-millennium BC 
pendants of precious metal continue the symmetrical tradition or, at several sites, 
take instead the form of a single falcon wearing the double crown, as in images of 
Horus (e.g., Garstang 1902, pl.1). These amulets from different periods testify 
materially to use of kingship motifs outside kingship circles, as part of broader 
strategies to defend life and order. 

Kingship is disseminated widely as a name and as a royal name ring (cartou- 
che). In the second millennium BC, cosmetic equipment includes cartouche- 
shaped grindstones for eye paint and perhaps body paint and cartouche-shaped 
cosmetic boxes. However, the name of the king is the most widely distributed 
presence of kingship. From 1850 BC, glazed steatite seal-amulets inscribed with 
the name of the king were produced on a large scale. Similarly, the Residence 
city of Akhenaten, Akhetaten, was littered with faience rings molded with the 
names of the king, the women nearest him, and the sun as creator (Quirke and 
Tajeddin 2010). Faience rings are fragile and break easily, and the psychology of 
the distribution is ambiguous: did the discarded names fertilize the earth with 
royal power, or does the ephemeral material indicate a more pragmatic, even 
less reverent, attitude to kingship across the city? For this question, there is no 
direct answer in writing. 

Speaking and Narrating the Divine 

A motif throughout temple ritual: offerings as the eye 

The motif of fertility returning after low Nile seems to permeate the entire writ- 
ten record for offerings to deities, kings, and the dead. For ritual performed by 
or for the king, written sources from 2400 Bc onward cast each offering as the 
return of the healthy eye. Inscriptions and manuscripts of festival and daily 
temple ritual follow the same model, in periods when they survive (1800 Bc 
onward). Every movement of material for a meal, for sound, for burning 
incense, and for washing evokes the restoration of wholeness after loss. The 
pattern may be seen in a purification formula first found for the burial of King 
Unas, about 2400 Bc, and then repeated in different wealthy contexts over the 
next 2000 years (Pyramid Text 32): 

This is your libation, Osiris. 

This is your libation, O Unas, 

coming -Libation (and) two pellets of natron- from your son, 
coming from Horus. 

I have come, I bring you the Eye of Horus, 

so that your heart may be refreshed by it. 

I bring it to you to carry you, under your soles. 

136 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

The sound of the Egyptian word for each offering becomes material for identify- 
ing with the Eye, as seen most clearly in the short assertions accompanying offer- 
ings (Pyramid Text 51): 

Unas! Take the Eye of Horus that you may taste (dep) it! 
One depet-loaf 

The English term wordplay may obscure the insight of the composers and reciters 
of these formulae, who are in effect proposing a materialist interpretation of speech 
several thousand years before Voloshinov wrote his philosophy of language. The 
sound of a word may be accidental, but it is also specific, with conscious and 
subconscious links to other words, in a live force field of social practice. In daily 
conversation and writing, we avoid using words which might give the wrong 
impression, unless we are actively rebelling against a dominant social practice. In 
this way, we acknowledge the potential impact of words and sounds: the ancient 
composers worked more explicitly with this appreciation of the word as a material 
entity created from physical, bodily moves. Every sound could help to recognize 
the offering in its divine dimension. For the ancient Egyptian context, Assmann 
proposed the term sacramental explanation, to keep to the sacredness at stake 
(Assmann 2005, 349-352). These equations of the daily with the divine are the 
ubiquitous and standard ancient Egyptian use of words, in stark contrast to the 
elusive narrative myth. 

Myth in practice 

Joachim Quack has reassessed the question of longer narrative myth from both the 
written content and the individual source contexts (Quack 2009). Most examples of 
longer narrative belong within hymns or rituals in which a deity receives adoration, 
or where a feature in the world receives explanation in the terms of the divine. The 
two main functions would then be explanation and praise, perhaps always 
entwined, with explanation also as a form of praise. For the explanatory composi- 
tions, historians of religion have used the term etiology (from Greek aetios, “cause,” 
and logos, “study”) and spoken of charter myths, writings that explain, and so per- 
haps justify, the existence of a feature in the world. One of the most often cited 
myths from ancient Egypt, the Sky Cow, is full of explanatory passages (see follow- 
ing text). 

Quack also notes from the study by James Allen of ancient Egyptian writings on 
creation that only one of the 16 selected would match the dominant definition of 
myth as longer narrative composition: the words of the creator in a ritual composi- 
tion with the title The Book for Knowing the Becoming of the Sun and for 
Overthrowing Aapep (Allen 1988, 28-30, third century BC, so later than the period 
covered in this volume). Even that declaration is rather distinct from most mythol- 
ogy by its use of the first person. In history of religion, a ritual declamation in the 
first person of divine characteristics and deeds is often called an aretalogy (from 
Greek arete, “virtue,” in the sense of good deed or character). The psychological 

Chaos and Life: Forces of Creation and Destruction 137 

impact of reciting such words may have been overpowering, as the speaker started 
from such a direct assertion as “I am Isis”—a formula extensively deployed in writ- 
ings for good health (see Chapter 5). Similar statements recur in writings for eter- 
nal life (Chapter 6), where one of the most widely attested compositions identifies 
the speaker as the creator (Coffin Text 335 = Book of the Dead chapter 17, Allen 
1988, 31): 

The word comes to be, all is mine (or I am the all), 
in my existence alone. 

Iam the sun in his first appearances, 

Iam the great god who comes to be out of himself. 

Total identification with the divine (aretalogy) and seeing the world through 
the eyes of the divine (etiology) may take us out of myth in our familiar storytell- 
ing patterns and into a more surprising and revealing world of imagery and 

Local, central, or all-Egyptian? 

Early Egyptologists constructed myths out of writings from different periods taken 
together and then concluded that apparently contradictory myths represented the 
separate traditions of each local area. For example, on creation, there would be (i) 
a Hermopolitan myth, focussing on primeval forces and the emergence of the pri- 
meval mound; (ii) a Heliopolitan myth, on the unfurling of the world through nine 
deities, from sun-god Ra to Shu and Tefnut, Geb and Nut, and the pairs Osiris-Isis 
and Seth-Nephthys, on to the kingship of Horus; and (iii) a Memphite myth, 
around the creative power of Ptah. From her study of the Pyramid and Coffin Texts, 
Susanne Bickel argues against this idea of early local creation myths. She considers 
writings after 1500 BC radically different, with earlier writing focussed exclusively 
on solar creation at Iunu, the later more diverse. Only Atum is attested as creator 
until the Middle Kingdom; from the New Kingdom, creator epithets are found for 
Amun, Sobek, Thoth, Ptah, and Ha'py (Bickel 1994, 296). This difference may 
belong partly to the field of expression, as the New Kingdom is the period when 
local centers receive monumental architecture (Chapter 3). The new more local 
creator deities might express in words the claim to solar sovereignty made tangible 
in the architectural expression which Kemp calls the Formal temple. At this same 
stage, the local deities may more often be associated with the solar creator in the 
fusions such as Sobek-Ra and Amun-Ra. However, some combinations were not 
produced: there is no Ptah-Ra, but instead the intricate phrasing in the Shabako 
inscription from Mennefer (see section “Ptah, Horus and Seth”). 

Despite such major changes in the expression of divinity, even later sources 
seem remarkably bound to the centrality of the sun as the primary model of king- 
ship and creation. If a dominant change occurs, it is perhaps less the elevation of 
the Hidden (Amun), than the increasing focus on the underworld sun-king, Osiris. 

138 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

How far such change reflects, or draws from, other social classes, remains the ques- 
tion to challenge future archaeology. 

Narrative and image as accompaniments 

In recent Egyptological studies on myth, a functional approach places the focus 
on ritual practice as the context for understanding writings (Willems 1996; Goebs 
2002). Some monumental writings with no evident place in a performance 
occupy the space alongside a more clearly liturgical composition, such as a rite to 
be recited for an offering. From their location beside performative compositions, 
these writings may be called accompaniments (as Assmann 1970). In these juxta- 
positions, a performative content or practice is reinforced by a separate descrip- 
tion or expression in words and/or images. Joachim Quack notes two external 
parallels that remind us how ritual and liturgy may be interspersed with recita- 
tions: from another age, same place, Coptic Martyrdoms are read on feast days of 
Christian saints; from another place, same age, a creation epic was recited at the 
Babylonian New Year festival (Quack 2009, 291). These examples from other cul- 
tural settings may alert us to other ancient Egyptian patterns of organizing and 
conveying knowledge and wisdom. Where we may see a myth of creation, there 
may be a liturgical composition intended to reinforce a highly specific moment 
such as the burial of a king, or the ceremonies for a new ruler. 

The Nut image: world description as accompaniment to burial space 

The most monumental ancient depiction of the created world is the image of the 
sky goddess Nut annotated with hieroglyphic inscriptions, sculpted in relief on the 
ceiling of the Osiris embalming-chamber temple behind the temple for King Sety I 
at Abdju; another version is painted on a ceiling in the tomb of Ramses IV at Waset 
(Lieven 2007). The date of composition is uncertain: its astronomical data suggest 
early nineteenth century BC, 500 years before Sety I. However, its image-word 
combination could have been compiled in the reign of Sety I from earlier sources, 
as part of the repeating of births or renewal, a generation after Akhenaten ruptured 
kingship patterns. The rarity of the Nut image and associated inscriptions may sim- 
ply be caused by their designated location, on ceiling blocks, first part of any mon- 
ument to disappear (Lieven 2007). In second-century AD Tebtunis, manuscript 
copies included an explanatory commentary, exceptional among ancient Egyptian 
religious writings. The same hoard of papyri contained copies of Asyut inscriptions 
from 2000 BC, and so it is not clear whether the ancient compositions circulated 
continuously as treasured writings or whether they had been rediscovered at some 
point, potentially even as late as the Roman Period. The Nut images and inscrip- 
tions might have been fundamental to all the learned, a “foundation for the course 
of the stars” as prescribed in the inscriptions themselves, or a composition 
restricted to the innermost circle of kingly knowledge, inscribed only exceptionally 
even for the eternal life of the king himself (Figure 4.14). 

Figure 4.14 Image of Nut on the ceiling of Sety I Osiris tomb, Abdju. Drawing from expedition directed by Henri 
Frankfort, © Egypt Exploration Society. 

140 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

In the Sety I monument, the annotated image of Nut is carved at the right end of 
the western half of the ceiling, followed by four inscriptions: on Shadow Clock, star 
groups (by decans = ten-day periods), moon, and planets (Lieven 2007, 15). The 
sky goddess Nut is arched, head to right, feet to left, over a smaller figure of an uni- 
dentified god (Shu?), hands supporting her body, standing on a wavy line that runs 
slightly above the level of her fingertips and toes (Allen 1988, 1-7, pl.1). At the toes 
of the goddess is a disk, with a smaller disk beside a line to the right, by the start of 
the wavy line. At her knees is a winged scarab to the inside; here, above the legs and 
facing out stands a vulture named as the goddess Nekhbet. The crutch of the god- 
dess is labeled eastern horizon. Below and touching the mouth of the goddess, 
labeled western horizon, is a disk with one large wing. The image may seem to us a 
fixed cosmos, but that static word from Greek and our perception of ancient 
Egyptian formal art fail to convey the dynamism in this expression of created life. In 
an eternal motion of celestial bodies, the Nut sky body is held in tension by Shu air 
as the life bubble of our existing worlds. 

The second-century AD papyrus copies and commentaries start from the verti- 
cal line at foot end, moving along the annotations below and over the body of Nut, 
to inscriptions at the winged disk below her mouth, and end at far right. The far- 
thest left line declares, presumably referring to the sun-god: “this god exists on her 
south-eastern side beyond Punt.’ As the main source of incense, Punt is generally 
located at the south-eastern end of the Red Sea, African and/or Arabian side 
(Harvey 2003; Meeks 2003). On the leg, the position of the sun at her toes is 
explained: “The power of this god goes out from her lower part, and then moves 
towards earth, appeared and born! Then he rises, rises on the back, then he parts 
the legs of his mother Nut, then he moves away to the upper sky!” The winged 
scarab and lower body inscriptions evoke the red of dawn and union of Ra and 
Osiris in the zone bordering the horizons of east and west (Egyptian mesqet). The 
series of star groups are inscribed across her body and in the expanse either side of 
the standing god supporting her. Above her body is written “The upper part of this 
sky is the total darkness, of unknown limit—south, [north], west, east—fixed in the 
waters as the inert ones ... its land, south, north, west, east, is unknown to the gods 
and the transfigured, there is no light there. Any place void of sky, any place void of 
earth, that is the whole underworld.” 

In inscriptions at the mouth of Nut, the sun-god enters the underworld “to issue 
commands to those in the west” (i.e., the dead), followed by the stars until he is 
born from her again at dawn. To the right of her head are two horizontal ovals, one 
containing three fattened birds; the second-century AD papyri identify the ovals as 
“the nests of the Cool Waters.” Above is written: “these birds, their faces are of peo- 
ple, their forms birds; they speak to one another in the speech of people; when they 
arrive, to eat the plants, to fatten up in the Black Land, they touch earth beneath the 
light of the sky, and take the form of birds.” This passage seems to convey the mys- 
tery of mass bird migration, as vast flocks fly into the Nile Valley from remote north- 
ern regions (for the scale, cf. sightings of 100-150,000 stork and sand martin 
Goodman and Meininger 1989, 145, 366 150,000). The impenetrable commotion is 
given human qualities of face and speech, masked by the forms taken as birds once 

Chaos and Life: Forces of Creation and Destruction 141 

they have alighted on earth. The composition ends with an orientation in darkness, 
at the upper right corner: “The total darkness, Cool Waters of the gods, the place 
from which the birds come; this is on her northwestern side from her northeastern 
side; an opening to the underworld which is on her northern side, her back on the 
east, her head on the west.” 

After a passage on the Shadow Clock, the composition continues with accounts 
of star groups, moon, and planets, in dialogue style, rather than annotated image. 
Positions and movements in the heavens can be anchored in disputes between 
divine forces: the earth Geb objects to sky Nut swallowing the stars, as in pig farm- 
ing the farmer fears that a sow might devour her piglets (te Velde 1967). Throughout 
the images and words, attentive to time calculation, these sources remain anchored 
in kingship and its ritual institutions. These concerns may not have been expressed 
in the same way, or even shared at all, across different life settings and economies. 
They must be measured in context from palace threshold to farm door and field, 
where much of the imagery gains its original power (for socially variable articula- 
tion of ritual knowledge, especially in relation to time, see Bloch 1998, 131-151). 

Ptah, Horus, and Seth: creation at Mennefer, the Shabako inscription 

Equally famous in Egyptology is an account of the gods Ptah, Horus, and Seth, 
inscribed on a block of basalt in the reign of King Shabako (find-place unknown). 
The heading to this Shabako Stone, also known as the Memphite Theology, records 
that it is a copy from a damaged ancient manuscript. The main content concerns 
the annual kingship ritual of unification of the two lands, expressed in the terms of 
actions among gods. The original architectural cult setting and the purpose of the 
block remain to be established. Crucially, we do not know whether it accompanied 
another composition, a ritual to be performed, or a hymn to be sung. We can only 
speculate that the contents might have been recited at rites for confirming the 
kingship on Shabako at Mennefer. One part of the inscription seems to seek a reso- 
lution in struggles between Horus and Seth. The other describes the Memphite god 
Ptah as a creative force in ambiguous terms, exploring his relation to the solar crea- 
tor Atum (Allen 1988, 43-44 with differing translation): 

It came to be as heart, 

it came to be as tongue, 

in the image of Ptah. 

Great and mighty is Ptah, 

who causes all gods to live, 

and all their ka-souls, 

as this heart in which Horus came to be, 

as this tongue in which Thoth came to be 

It came to be that heart and tongue have power over all limbs, 
[...] that he exists as Foremost of the body (of gods), 
as Foremost of every mouth of all gods and all people, 
of all flocks, of all serpents that live, 

in planning, in commanding all that he wishes. 

142 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

His Nine Gods are before him as the teeth, the lips, 
the seed and hands of Atum. 

Such condensed, perhaps deliberately ambiguous writing may become clearer 
from shorter declarations in the writings for the afterlife. One coffin from Inerty 
(Gebelein), about 2000 Bc, preserves a declaration by Ptah, “There is none of 
them (the gods) that speaks to me, except the [maker] of my name, him alone, for 
Iam Command on his mouth, and Perception that is in his body” (Coffin Text 647, 
after Bickel 1994, 108). Although a force for creation, Ptah acts as the vital word 
and sight of a prior creator, as on the basalt block inscribed for Shabako thirteen 
centuries later. 

Creation: centered on the Sun 

No readings of these religious compositions can be reduced to the simple or literal, 
given the special aim of their contexts, as Harco Willems in particular has empha- 
sized. Their social reach is extremely limited in earlier periods, as previously noted. 
Nevertheless, the compositions first found in the late third millennium (Pyramid 
Texts) and extended in the early second millennium BC (Coffin Texts) offer a start- 
ing point for understanding more specifically the links between named forces and 
features in the world of kingship, with its hegemonic impact on at least some, per- 
haps mainly the wealthier, social groups. The principal themes of creation in these 
sources have been clearly grouped by Bickel, to offer an outline for one part of soci- 
ety 2400-1850 Bc (Bickel 1994). 

Compositions on creation may be read more effectively as poetic evocations, 
than as statements from results of scientific research. Variations are to be expected. 
Some accounts speak of the creator as All (Egyptian Atum) within primeval waters 
(Egyptian Nun) either masturbating, sometimes then swallowing his seed to give 
birth to creation, or exhaling, sneezing or spitting out bodily content. One passage 
advocates one version against another, as words of Shu to refute the idea of his 
birth from semen (Coffin Text 75): 

Iam one sneezed of form, 

he (Atum) did not give birth to me from his mouth, 
he did not conceive me by his fist! 

From his nose he sneezed me out, 

from the middle of his throat he made me! 

Bickel notes that the exclusive emphasis on birth in the element of air may be 
explained by the context, as this passage comes from a series ensuring the power of 
Shu, and so the ability to breathe, for the deceased. Modern readers may feel dis- 
comfort at these intrusions of body fluids into ethereal questions of eternity. Yet any 
focus on the physicality of bodily decay stems less from an earthy grounding in reali- 
ties of life, than from the context of the writings: in the messy business of embalm- 
ing, the paramount need was to retain the body with all its functions, to eternity. 

Chaos and Life: Forces of Creation and Destruction 143 

Place and process of creation 

Funerary writings (2400-1850 Bc) locate the place of creation, if at all, at Iunu, center 
of the sun cult. Later compositions take instead male and female versions of the four 
primeval forces (for four cardinal points addressed in ritual?) as the meaning of the 
city Khemenu, “Eight,” the cult center of Thoth in Middle Egypt. According to the 
later compositions, Khemenu is a (one?) site of the primeval mound or at least a 
place with focus on the primeval nothingness out of which dry ground for the sun- 
god emerged. Since most of the finest coffins with Coffin Texts are from Khemenu, 
the lack of earlier references is not just a gap in the surviving record. Instead, it 
seems that writers in earlier periods did not share our need to identify the place for 
creation in the world. In one of the rare early references, we read (Pyramid Text 600): 

Atum the Becoming One (Egyptian Kheprer) 

You have risen on the Tall Mound 

You have risen from the benben-stone in the Domain of the benben in Iunu. 
You have spat out Shu, you have sneezed out Tefnet, 

You have extended your arms around them 

in the gesture of ka so that your ka-spirit may be in them. 

The male Shu seems to denote the dry air and light between sun and earth, and the 
female Tefnet perhaps the complementary force of corrosion, as tefen is a word for 
the corroding of metal. One composition comments on whether there are now 
three or one, evidently not incorporating Nun the primeval waters in the equation: 
“Atum made the eldest by his powers, when he gave birth to Shu and Tefnet in Iunu, 
when was single and came to be three” (Coffin Text 80). In the next phase of crea- 
tion, Shu and Tefnet engender the earth Geb and sky Nut, who in turn produce 
Osiris, Isis, Nephthys, and Seth. Some writings look for the principle by which these 
and other gods came into being and four divine names in particular feature as the 
creator-sons in these writings: Shu, Ptah, the Nile Flood (Egyptian Ha'py), and the 
force Heka (creative word: against the translation Magic, see Chapter 1). 

In perhaps the most remarkable of these compositions (Coffin Text 1130), the 
sun-god creator himself declares “I created the gods from my sweat,’ and “people 
are from the tears of my eyes.’ However, no special attention is given to the timing 
of the creation of humankind, or of gods and goddesses, or even of the order in 
which humans and deities appeared. They seem to be jointly present from early 
within the series of unfurlings of the world into its present form. 

Overcoming violence after creation: Horus against Seth 

Writings for the afterlife cast death as an act of violence against the body. In the con- 
text of mummification, rather than the natural violence of age and death, the enemy 
here is perhaps more specifically the knife cut needed to remove faster-rotting inter- 
nal organs (see Chapter 7). The cut seemed so heinous that it receives only indirect 
mention, implicating Seth as the murderer. In one passage, the deceased as Horus 
speaks of the killer of his father Osiris (e.g., Bickel 1994, 226 no.199). Hymns to Osiris 

144 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

give more information. A great stela from the cult center of Osiris at Abdju describes 
festivals there, exceptionally celebrated for the king by his treasurer Iykhernefret 
(1850 Bc). At this date, as also attested for the next thousand years, a procession 
moved from the temple of Osiris at the desert edge over a kilometer to the low desert 
tomb of King Djer (3000 Bc), identified then as the burial place of Osiris. Osiris is 
felled on the bank of the Nedyt canal, but his enemies are repelled, and his son Horus 
is declared triumphant. According to other sources, the focus of action immediately 
after the killing moved to his sister-wife Isis. The longest account is part of a hymn to 
Osiris on the Abdju stela of the overseer of cattle of Amun Amenmes and his wife 
Nefertiry (1400 Bc, Louvre C286, Lichtheim 1976, 81-85). Within the acclamations of 
Osiris, one passage describes him as protected by Isis and tells how she sought for his 
body, implying that it was dispersed, and how she revived his inert body to conceive 
the child Horus and nursed him to manhood when he could claim the inheritance of 
Osiris in the judgment hall of Geb, earth god father of Osiris: 

Isis the effective one, protector of her brother, 

she who sought him untiringly, who circled this land in mourning, 

she who would not come to rest until she found him, 

she who makes daylight with her feathers, who causes air with her wings, 
she who performs the dance of joy at the mooring (i.e. burial) of her brother, 
she who raises up the inertness of the weary-hearted, 

who catches his semen, who makes the heir, 

who nurses the child in isolation, his whereabouts unknown, 

who introduces him, once his arm is strong, inside the broad court of Geb, 
the Nine Gods rejoicing "Welcome Son of Osiris, Horus stout-hearted, 

son of Isis, heir of Osiris!" ... 

Horus has been found true of voice (i.e. in his case against Seth), 

and the office of his father is given to him 

The end of the world 

Twice only, afterlife writings refer to an ending in the present cycle of creation, 
where they aim beyond even the life of the world and of the gods, to an eternity 
nestled with the creator. In the great declaration in the Middle Kingdom literature, 
the sun-god creator declares (coffins from Bersha, 1875 Bc, Coffin Text 1130 = 
Bickel 1994, 229, no.201): 

I have made millions of years between me and that weary-hearted, the son of Geb, 
but I intend (in the future) to dwell with him in one place, 

the mounds will become towns, and the towns mounds, 

domain laying waste to domain. 

Six hundred years later, several papyri for the afterlife include a dialogue between 
Osiris and the creator, here named Atum, the All (Book of the Dead chapter 175, 
Allen 1974). When Osiris asks, “what is a span of life?,’ Atum replies: 

Chaos and Life: Forces of Creation and Destruction 145 

Figure 4.15 Silhouette depicting a figurine of a falcon-headed deity, over which a 
person should recite the dialogue of Atum and Osiris, in the papyrus for Going Out by 
Day (Book of the Dead), made for the head architect Kha, Waset. Drawing © Wolfram 

You are to have millions of millions, 

a lifespan of millions. 

when I have had him send out the elders, 

I shall indeed destroy all I made, 

and this land shall turn into Nun, 

as a floodwater, as its original condition. 

Ialone am to remain, with Osiris, 

when I have transformed myself into other snakes, 
which men do not know, which gods do not see. 

By becoming Osiris, the embalmed dead can escape the end of this world, surviv- 
ing in the chrysalis of the creator Atum, perhaps for another cycle of creation 
emerging out of the primeval waters Nun (Figure 4.15). 

A longer narrative, 1150 sc: the judgement of Horus and Seth 

In the mid-twelfth century BC, a high-placed reader in the community of royal 
craftsmen at Waset owned what is now one of the finest surviving book rolls 
from Egypt. The principal composition on the front of the papyrus is entitled 
The Judgement of Horus and Seth by the sun-god Ra/Atum. The opening lines, 
assuming the equality of the two, present the younger, Horus, as plaintiff to for 
the office of his father Osiris against his uncle Seth. Over 15 pages of narrative 
follow, in a seesaw of inconclusive episodes (summary from Lichtheim 1976, 

The Gods Favour Horus: Shu and Thoth favor Horus, Isis tells the north wind to tell 
Osiris, Shu says all gods agree, and Ra is angered by others making a decision. 
Resistance of Ra: Seth requests a duel, and Thoth says he is in the wrong; anger 
of Ra who favors Seth; Inheret asks “what are we to do?” so Atum summons 
Banebdjed (elder god at Djedet in the Delta), and he recommends writing 

to Neit. 

146 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Neit Favours Horus: Thoth writes a letter from King Ra-Atum to Neit (primeval 
mother of the god at Sau in the Delta), for a decision after this eighty years of 
trial, and Neit recommends giving the office of Osiris to his son, doubling the 
possessions of Seth. 

Resistance of Ra: The gods acclaim the decision; Ra calls Horus a bad-smell- 
ing child; anger of Inheret and gods; Baba (violent god) tells Ra his shrine 
is empty; Ra withdraws offended, and the gods are angry with Baba; 
Hathor exposes herself to Ra to make him laugh and coax him back to his 

Blocked Judgement: Ra invites statements, Seth says they need his force to smite 
the enemies of Ra, and the gods agree; Inheret and Thoth say the son should 
inherit, and Banebdjed says the elder should inherit; the gods and Horus 
complain; anger of Isis but the gods say they support her; anger of Seth, 
refusing to continue trial before Isis. 

Hearing the Case in Isolation: The gods move to an island but Isis bribes Nemty 
(ferryman god); disguised, Isis tricks Seth into saying the son should inherit; 
Seth complains to Ra, and Nemty is punished by having his claws removed; 
the gods move to the west shore mountain. 

Ra-Atum Favours Horus: Ra-Atum tells the gods to end the case, giving Horus 
the office of Osiris; anger of Seth; Horus is crowned, and Seth swears he will 
remove the crown from Horus. 

Resistance of Seth: Horus and Seth duel as hippopotami; Isis makes harpoon, 
hits Horus, tells the barb to let go, then hits Seth, but lets go when he cries 
out; Horus, angry at Isis for sparing Seth, cuts off her head; anger of Ra against 

Loss and Renewal of Eyes of Horus: Seth removes the eyes of Horus, which grow 
into lotus buds, and he pretends not to have found him, but Hathor finds him 
and restores his sight with gazelle milk, telling Ra what happened. 

False Pause: The gods tell Horus and Seth to stop fighting; Seth seduces Horus, 
who catches the semen of Seth and tells Isis; Isis cuts off the hand of Horus, 
throws it into the marshes, and replaces it, then puts the semen of Horus ona 
lettuce in the garden of Seth; when Seth tells the gods he has done “the work 
of a male” against Horus, the semen of Seth comes out of the marsh, and the 
semen of Horus comes out of the head of Seth as a disk, taken by Thoth as a 
crown; the gods acclaim Horus. 

Resistance of Seth: Seth demands a stone boat duel, making a stone boat, while 
Horus makes a plastered cargo boat; the Seth boat sinks, Seth takes hippo- 
potamus form, and Horus attacks as harpooner, but the gods tell him not to 

Complaint of Horus: Horus goes to Neit to complain of the eighty years of trial. 

Correspondence of Ra and Osiris: Thoth tells Ra to write to Osiris; anger of 
Osiris at the news that Horus has not been given his office and replies remind- 
ing Ra that he is the origin of plant life; Ra replies, “If you had not been born, 
barley and emmer would still exist”; Osiris replies with threat to unleash the 
disease carriers of the underworld; the gods side with Osiris, and Seth 

Chaos and Life: Forces of Creation and Destruction 147 

demands a new judgment in the Island in the Midst, “but Horus was declared 
in the right against him.” 

Judgement: Atum orders Seth to be brought in chains, which Isis does; he asks 
Seth why he resists judgment; Seth accepts Horus should be summoned and 
given the office; Horus is acclaimed as king of Egypt; Ptah asks, what of Seth? 
Ra says that Seth should be given to him (Ra) as a son, to thunder in the sky; 
announcement of Horus as king, Ra rejoices and declares celebration; final 
hymn of celebration by Isis. 

The bewildering to-and-fro seems cumulatively comical, apparently intentionally 
so. The legalistic case pits son against uncle (elder), the first half at court, ending in 
a first crowning, and the second half in physical duel, ending in the unproductive 
complaint of Horus and sharp exchange of letters between Ra and Osiris. Finally, 
more majestically as Atum, the solar creator presides over the chaining of Seth and 
acclaim at the kingship of Horus. 

This long series could offer the myth researcher the longer narrative desired. Yet 
the episodes seem literarily sewn together, not so much the elusive genotext as a 
new string of schemata. Alan Gardiner interpreted the rather irreverent tone as a 
mark of a satirical village tale, but formal religious writing might readily use carni- 
val motifs of fun, shock, and temper. In a striking reinterpretation combining the 
Tale with other writings on the same papyrus roll, Ursula Verhoeven noted connec- 
tions with feast days for acclamation of Horus as king, in the formal festival calen- 
dars, and concluded that the Tale might have been recited at festivals of kingship 
(Verhoeven 1996), recalling with Quack the recital of martyrdoms on later Egyptian 
Christian feast days. Festival acclamation would also return us to the context of 
hymns, where we find the longer ancient descriptions of the felling of Osiris (stela 
of Iykhernefret) and the quest of Isis (stela of Amenmes). 

Two narratives 

Sometimes, anthologists, exasperated by the lack of examples, have included other 
longer compositions involving deities, of widely varying contexts, and not always 
narratives from start to finish (James 1971). The prime example of ambiguous 
function is the composition known today as the Tale of Two Brothers, preserved on 
a single papyrus, dated 1250 Bc, recounting the tribulations of Bata, younger 
brother of Inpu (Anubis), both gods with cult centers in Middle Egypt (Assmann 
1977b). The first part of the tale is set in a farm, on human level, though with super- 
human elements (Bata can converse with the cattle he herds); after false accusa- 
tion by his wife, Inpu tries to kill Bata, who leaves home. The second part moves to 
exotic locations, Vale of the Cedar (presumably Lebanon) and the royal court, 
where Bata undergoes a series of transformations. Propp used the story in his analy- 
sis of tales of wonder, and it does seem to belong with these rather than serving as 
an introduction to the two deities, despite points of contact with motifs later attested 
for Middle Egypt. If the genre serves initiation rites of passage, the composition 
aptly hovers on the line between literary entertainment and religious experience. 

148 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

The second composition accounts for the withdrawal of the creator sun-god into 
the sky, after rebellion by humankind. It is known from five tombs of kings at Waset, 
1325-1125 Bc. Anthologists tend to extract the first part of the composition, as 
closer to our expectations of myth as narrative. As this part concerns the punish- 
ment of rebels, it is often known in Egyptology as the Destruction of Mankind; the 
sun-god in fact changes heart, and these lines might also be called the Saving of 
Humankind. The sun-god sends out his eye as Sekhmet Fury, to slaughter the 
rebels; when he relents, she is tricked into drinking blood-red beer, and reverts to 
the loving Hathor. Most of the content concerns explanation of features in the pre- 
sent world, with instructions for use, but the overall focus is the withdrawal of the 
sun-god to the sky, depicted as a heavenly cow supported by the forces of the air. 
Before assuming that the composition tells us how the ancient Egyptians in general 
thought that the world assumed its present form, we should consider the physical 
architectural context for all its surviving copies: the outer gold shrine around the 
body of Tutankhamun, a special niche off the burial chamber in the tombs of Sety 
I, Ramses II and III, and a separate niche in the tomb of Ramses VI. In other words, 
the composition accompanies the body of the king as laid to rest, in one period. 
The explanations add up to a particular urgent question, the death of the king and, 
in ancient Egyptian terms, his departure to fuse with the sun-god. In these terms, 
the part-narrative composition provides not a myth of creation of the world, but an 
accompaniment to the burial of the body of the king (Figure 4.16). 

Conclusion: icon, constellation, and tale 

From the written evidence, it is unclear whether any underlying myth existed, in 
the sense of a longer series of connected episodes. Instead, most writings remain, 
with visual depictions and material practices, within a more tightly drawn focus, the 

Figure 4.16 Depiction of the heavenly cow, accompanying the narrative which gives 
explanations for the distance between the creator and people, including the near 
destruction of humankind. Side chamber in the tomb of King Sety I, Waset, about 
1285 Bc. Photograph © Gianluca Miniaci. 

Chaos and Life: Forces of Creation and Destruction 149 

constellation of Assmann. Over time, this may change, with increasing use of nar- 
rative, in longer series. However, there may always be a close connection to specific 
processes. Rather than the farming cycle, or other seasonal activity, the most 
prominent ritualized process in our sources is embalming. Funerary literature 
provides the source for most episodes of deities, and its function may not match 
our need to know ancient myth; its ethereal features secure air and light for the 
deceased, and its creation stories of sneezing and spitting may relate to the clean- 
ing of the body as it exudes fluid during embalming processes. Ra and Osiris are 
indeed the deceased. The better preservation on dry cemetery ground doubtless 
distorts the picture, although the floodplain sources for later periods seem to 
confirm that Osiris becomes the dominant model for local religious expression. 
Perhaps, finally, the Assmann constellation is implicit within each divine name/ 
figure: an ancient Egyptian deity/netjer is a relationship internalized already within 
one name. 

For different identifications of daily materials as divine, we may read again the 
liturgy of offerings for the dead from 1500 Bc (Chapter 1). In the temple and offer- 
ing chapel, the offerings are the Eye of Horus, where there may be connections out 
to broader material sources with focus on the returning fertile flood and mud after 
the low Nile. In these equations, there is no need to assume that the words or 
mythic explanation is later or earlier than the rites. Modern prejudice that ritual is 
empty may precondition us to expect that the ancient ritualist experienced the 
same emptiness and that sacramental explanation (offering loaf = Eye of Horus) is 
intended to fill the gap. For ancient Egypt, I see no evidence for a historical progres- 
sion from a stage where rituals had direct meaning, to a stage where they were 
being performed but had lost their meaning, to a stage where mythic or divine 
associations were added to a ritual in order to give them some reason for being 
performed—an invention of tradition. Instead, with Vico and Cassirer, the evi- 
dence can be read synchronously, as two ways of talking about and performing the 
world: a loaf is offered (tangible this world) and it is the Eye returned to make the 
world whole (reexpressing the same physical world as interaction between divine 
forces). The same, as well as different individuals, might see the act in different 
ways, as an ornithologist and painter and theologian (perhaps all the same person) 
might see and describe the flight of the heron. Any historical change comes not in 
a contrast between earlier real and added mythic, but in the impact of the verbal, 
visual, and material expressions by and on individuals and groups in their varying 
social historical contexts. 


Being Good: Doing, Saying, 
and Making Good Possible 

Pele tele 

Translating Ma‘at 

On a broad definition, with Gramsci (Chapter 1), we might consider religion the 
interface between a collective understanding of the world and a pattern of social 
behavior (see Chapter 1). From ways of expressing what or how the world is 
(Chapter 4), here, we move to how people behaved and gave expression to correct 
behavior. Social norms are often institutionalized in favor of the powerful, and, his- 
torically, groups and individuals support or resist normative power; variance may 
also, then, be part of our historical study. In the Egyptian language, the word for 
correct behavior is ma‘at, “what is right,’ also translated as truth or justice. Ancient 
writings oppose ma ‘at to isfet, translated “falsehood,” “evil,” and “what is wrong.” In 
both verbal and visual imageries, ma‘at may be a daughter of the creator sun-god Ra 
and personified as awoman wearing the ostrich plume hieroglyph used to write the 
word ma‘at. From 1450 Bc onward, tomb and temple wall scenes include depictions 
of the king presenting to the gods a small image of ma‘at in this form (Teeter 1997). 
Egyptologists have tended to work from this visual expression of ma‘at, “what is 
right,” as an icon culturally specific to Egypt and leave the term untranslated. One 
effect may be a tendency to idealize the past, whereas, as anthropologist Janet 
Hendricks argues, “few, if any societies, are without some form of domination, 
whether it is based on age, gender, kinship, or some more institutionalized form of 
domination” (Hendricks 1988, 217) (Figure 5.1). 

Avoiding translation conforms to the idea that the local “what is right” defines 
every society; any distinctive human group develops a separate identity around 
notions of correct appearance, behavior, and language. By leaving ma‘at untrans- 
lated, the emphasis falls on the specifically ancient Egyptian, enabling a project of 
comparative anthropology, to explore differences between languages—between 
mat, haqq, right, and Pravda. Yet that comparative project is not emerging. Instead, 

Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt, First Edition. Stephen Quirke. 
© 2015 Stephen Quirke. Published 2015 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. 

Being Good: Doing, Saying, and Making Good Possible 151 

Figure 5.1 Depiction of the king offering ma‘at, wall-relief in the tomb of King Ramses III, 
Waset, about 1285 Bc. Photograph © Gianluca Miniaci. 

Egyptologists seem to assert with mat, not a universal variation in local expres- 
sions of what is right, but some essential quality unique to ancient Egypt. In place of 
a universal human quest for right, they install without comparison one local answer. 
However, if every group or culture is defined by having its own sense of what is right 
and wrong, then ‘what is right’ would be a universal property of human social being. 
Ma‘at should then be translated, “(what is) right,’ and studied alongside every other 
social linguistic expression of the concept. 

In sum, Egyptological use of ma‘at is antihistorical, separating Egypt from all 
other humans. I prefer to translate ma‘at as Right, to allow readers to appreciate the 
ancient Egyptian sources as part of a general human search. The specific expres- 
sion of Right implicit and explicit in ancient writings can still be used to define the 
local within that global history. Here, the studies by Jan Assmann have contributed 
most to defining the particular ancient Egyptian sense of what is Right, including 
comparison with other ancient writings. 

152 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Sources for Ethics 

As ever, still insufficiently explored in Egyptology, the question remains whether 
surviving written sources apply to all, most, or some people in Egypt (3000-525 Bc). 
Feminist writing helps to overturn assumptions in this area, and archaeological 
theory and methods provide possible broader approaches. How we prioritize 
sources may depend on whether we are interested in how people treat one another 
or how they say they should. Writings could be considered the most direct evidence 
for ethics as statements by (at least some) people in a society on good behavior. For 
ethics as good or bad behavior in practice, other archaeological material may be the 
primary sources. The historian of ethics would then look at differences in sizes of 
houses and quality of clothing, food, and furnishings across the society studied. 
Condition of bodies and their treatment and arrangement in cemeteries might offer 
most direct contact with past patterns of social and individual behavior. 

In this chapter, I address both approaches to ethics, drawing on three broad sets 
of sources: (1) the archaeological record across cemeteries and dwellings, as reflec- 
tion of how people may have treated one another (continuing the discussion of 
human identity in Chapter 2); (2) direct written evidence on how people treated one 
another (legal documents); and (3) the indirect written evidence, that is, on how 
people said people should be treated (autobiographical inscriptions and literary 
manuscripts with teachings and laments). 

Damage as mirror of (In)justice 

Violence and peace: bodily evidence 

For past generations, preserved bodies offer the most direct evidence for the way 
people treat one another, though they reveal the results, not the context of action. 
Recurrent injuries might derive from activity by institution or state, between groups 
at war, or social custom. As the recorders of human remains were particularly inter- 
ested in unusual cases, in pathologies, we might expect reasonable prospects for a 
paleopathology of social life, including such issues as the presence or absence of 
conflict or domestic violence. Unfortunately, as noted in Chapter 2, too few ceme- 
teries have been excavated and recorded in sufficient detail to write a social history 
for Egypt at any period down to the twentieth century. Unwrappings or CAT scans 
of mummified individuals record the presence or absence of a particular condition 
in single bodies, but only study of larger groups can show whether the condition 
occurred often or rarely and so begin to show social impact and reaction in those 
individual lives. Several hundred bodies were selectively recorded and preserved 
from fourth-millennium Bc Upper Egypt (Naqada, 266 at Nag ed-Deir) and 
Fayoum-Memphis cemeteries of around 3000 Bc (Tarkhan) and 600-300 Bc (Giza, 
dating and range highly uncertain). In 1907, ahead of constructing the first Aswan 
Dam, rescue excavations in the Nubian-Egyptian border zone south of Aswan 
yielded 6000 burials dated 4000 Bc to AD 500 (Jones 1908; summary in Nunn 1996, 
177). More recent published reports on larger numbers of individuals also come 
from the borders of the time-space block “ancient Egypt,’ where we might expect 

Being Good: Doing, Saying, and Making Good Possible 153 

particularly strong mixture of peoples and social practice: the First Cataract region 
on its southern border (900, multiperiod, Résing 1990) and its northeastern fringe, 
Tell el-Daba‘ on the east bank of the east Nile Delta branch (257, mid-second 
millennium Bc, Winkler and Wilfing 1991). 

Despite valuable detail, these excavations exclude patterns of living across most of 
the regions of Egypt (3000-525 Bc). Marginal time-space scope may be compounded 
by modern cultural bias. Studies of human remains by specialists outside Egypt may 
introduce unconsciously external standards; the farther a study from date and place 
of excavation, the less a researcher may have access to limiting factors in sample 
preserved and methods used. Research is needed into different patterns of ageing 
according to ancient climate and diet but also the impact of our own cultures of 
knowledge production. As yet, published accounts on individual and social violence 
lie ina vacuum, unable to provide any regional or national picture within the “ancient 
Egypt” frame. 

Continuing excavation with full publication and critical review promises to 
improve our understanding. Recent excavations at Akhetaten include recovery of 
over 200 bodies, offering new pictures of life at the city in the fourteenth century 
BC. Initial reports suggest, as elsewhere, an average lifespan of thirty to forty 
years, with challenging life conditions, compared by the researchers with Arctic 
living (Kemp 2010, 2011). Healed wounds on many bodies indicated severe 
impact of heavy manual labor, in part interpreted, cautiously, as possible result 
of beating to punish but not disable. Among dietary problems, one-third of 
adults suffered severe tooth decay. In the current production of archaeological 
knowledge in Egypt, many interpretations arise out of encounters between past 
material and a scientific research culture embedded in north European and 
Euro-American expectations. Like the evidence of ancient writing (particularly 
the Teaching of Khety, see section “Literary Teachings”), the results could be read 
productively from different modern environments, including more than one 
social background. 

Architectural and other material equalities and inequalities 

A society may declare its own understanding of itself explicitly or implicitly in the 
way villages and towns are built and grow. New towns express a single moment of 
planning, as at Middle Kingdom Lahun or New Kingdom Akhetaten. Other settle- 
ments grow over time, best documented for Abu (Elephantine), charting social 
ethics more implicitly. Whatever inhabitants of a society may write, the sizes and 
arrangement of housing tell the direct story of living conditions and ranges of 
wealth and health which that society supports. At Lahun and Akhetaten, water- 
front buildings are not preserved, removing from our view the densest trading and 
industrial zones, where the poorest housing might be expected. The Lahun new 
town, founded in 1900-1850 Bc (Figure 4.17), is zoned into three general house 
sizes on repeating plans and so plausibly from the original town plan (Doyen 2010): 
(1) a dozen palatial 40 x 60m units, (2) separate zones of middle-sized units, and 
(3) zones of smaller housing units, generally closer to the palatial mansions. Small 
houses are bigger than smallest houses elsewhere; either these townspeople had 

154 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

larger houses or a lost canal side with wharfs included a fourth category of poorest 
dwellings. At Akhetaten, the palatial houses may have been planned first, with 
medium- and small-sized housing following. English 1920s-1930s excavation 
reports refer to hovels, but the smallest houses on the site are again larger than 
those known at other sites, and so the poorest level may be missing alongside the 
docks and wharfs outside archaeological view. 

In ethical terms, the range of house sizes indicates a society that tolerates major 
differences in living standards. Preserved palaces of kings (1550-1200 Bc) are on an 
altogether vaster scale, as are the funerary monuments of kings from 3000 to 1070 
BC, as if confirming the separate nature of the king, distinct from humankind. If 
cemeteries reflect social life at least indirectly, funerary archaeology charts material 
inequality back to the fourth millennium Bc. Those tombs relate that, not why, a 
few are wealthier, nor how individuals enter or leave the wealthy set. The earliest 
groups of rich tombs with enough written evidence to identify links between the 
deceased are from the courts of king and regional governors. The two main links 
are kinship (members of same family buried close or together) and administration 
or estate management (e.g., officials of regional governor buried with governor, not 
with family; cf. Seidlmayer 1987, 210-214). These two general patterns in social 
group formation create a platform for exclusion and inclusion, in preferential 
treatment of some against others. Groupings formed on other grounds, such as 
ethnicity, are rarely visible, as in distinctive burials of Nubian desert nomads in 
Egyptian cemeteries (1900-1700 Bc) (Pan Grave; for groupings by age, within one 
social/wealth level, in the funerary record, see Chapter 2). 

Material culture confirms patterns of social distinction throughout these millen- 
nia. Commissioning and production would start at palaces of kingship, although 
production sites have rarely been identified archaeologically on the ground; the 
two main examples are the Akhetaten house ascribed to a head sculptor Thutmes 
and the walled stone village at Deir al-Madina, base for the project of decorating 
the tomb of the king. In history of use, it would be wrong to assume that only 
wealthier Egyptians had exclusive access to highest quality. The finest ancient 
glassfish vase was found in a small house at Akhetaten. The 1930s excavation report 
concluded it had probably been stolen—such a prize had no right to live in poverty. 
Regularly, wealthier classes assume their own monopoly of finery, even, bizarrely, 
beauty and goodness; the English reporters imposed this view on the Akhetaten 
inhabitants, without considering in their own society the potential for a working- 
class woman, for example, to save enough for an object of beauty (cf. on apprecia- 
tion of modern English literature, Rose 2001). Reassessment of associated finds has 
raised ethnicity as an explanatory factor: the glassfish may have been in the house 
of its maker, perhaps Syrian (Shortland 2009). Excavation recorders also assumed 
theft in the case of a hoard at a well in Akhetaten—a pot containing silver and gold 
bars and objects. Barry Kemp has compared, instead, a Ramesside letter with 
instructions on where to find buried bronze and a pot of silver and gold, as if a 
regular strategy for safeguarding metal (Kemp 2006, 315-317). Small hoards need 
not automatically be identified as cases of theft; they might more generally docu- 
ment periodic cracks in walls between social groups with different living standards. 

Being Good: Doing, Saying, and Making Good Possible 155 

Hoards testify to concerns over securing possessions against others in a society. As 
a negative material record of social ethics, hoards contest ideals of harmony and 
contentedness. Here, the written legal record provides more explicit material. 

Legal cases in archaeological context 

Legal documents speak directly about ideals and flaws in social practice, as men 
and women deliver their protests and appeals, where cases were urgent enough to 
bring into writing (Lorton 1977; Théodoridés 1971). Mostly, a single document 
survives from an original mass of paperwork. Moreover, documents tend to give 
one side of an argument; a judging official would have to assess each plaintiff or 
accusation. Regardless of the truth in each case, legal writings invoke accepted 
standards, a powerful guide in reconstructing an ancient shared sphere of ethics, at 
least in official public view. Disputants may work with implicit rules, or explicitly 
cite authoritative writings, where kingship is supreme authority. The term decree of 
the king denotes any kingly pronouncement: administrative, judicial, or in letters. 
A decree can include a specific regulation (Egyptian hep), which, in turn, might be 
cited in the way we cite a Jaw (Lorton 1977, 60). Examples for regulating estates to 
support offerings, from 2450 to 2200 Bc and 1300 to 1200 Bc, provide much of our 
source material on corporal and capital punishment. Offenders against offering 
estates may be labeled rebel (Egyptian sebi), enemy of kingship and Right; in its 
ruler or ruling class, the formal society defines with this word a boundary across 
which human can be inhumanly treated (Figure 5.2). 

Punishments range in severity to extreme cruelty and apply to officials as often 
as others. One decree inscribed for perpetuity states that intruders building into 
a sacred procession path, “craftsman or priest,’ “shall be branded” (Abdju stela, 
1800 Bc, Lorton 1977, 18). Later, a decree of Sety I prescribes grimmer sentences: 
for encroaching on offering-estate fields, cutting off ears and nose and assigning 
to permanent labor and, for officials failing to prosecute offenders, one hundred 
lashes, permanent farming labor, and prohibition on burial of the man, his wife, 
and children (inscription at Nauri, Nubia, 1290 Bc, Lorton 1977, 25). In an extraor- 
dinary dossier on robberies from royal tombs (1150 Bc), witnesses refer to sen- 
tences of being mutilated or impaled, and false witness carries the same sentence 
as committing the crime (Lorton 1977, 34-35). In writings from the village of artists 
working on the royal tomb (1300-1100 Bc), oaths repeat threats of a hundred 
blows and cutting off ears (Lorton 1977, 38-44). Such repetition might read as a 
rhetorical motif, as if the most severe possible act by kingship against individual 
became an accepted device for heightening the urgency ofa case, and so the pros- 
pect of action. This rhetorical interpretation does not mean that the punishments 
were never inflicted (Lorton 1977, 45, for one instance), but it reminds us not to 
take written evidence always at face value. Comparative study of legal rhetoric 
might provide parallels and methods for assessing the ancient Egyptian writing in 
practice. Depictions in monuments for eternity need to be read in the same spirit, 
avoiding both the urge to idealize the society under study and the orientalist 
impulse to brand the barbarism of the other without measuring against our own 
(Figure 5.3). 

156 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

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Figure 5.2 Authorizing “what is Right” and prescribing punishment for transgressors: 
limestone stela inscribed with decree of King Neferirkare, addressed to the overseer of 
god’s servants and to the chief local authority, exempting local temple staff from certain 
obligations of the central administration and specifying penalties against transgressors. 
From the main temple precinct at Abdju, about 2400 Bc. W. Petrie. 1903, Abydos II, Egypt 
Exploration Fund, London, pl.18. 

An earlier decree specifies three drastic consequences for rebels: (1) all acquired 
and inherited property confiscated, (2) not allowed embalming and _ burial 
with blessed dead in the cemetery, and (3) not allowed to be among the living 
(Lorton 1977, 11, decree of a king with Horus name Demedjibtawy, otherwise 

5 FAME Sa 

Figure 5.3 (a) Limestone stela inscribed with decree of a king, whose name has been 
erased and replaced by that of King Khasekhemra Neferhotep, about 1750 Bc. Found at 
Abdju at edge of town northern cemeteries, on processional route to the tombs of the 
earliest kings; now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. (b) Detail from the decree, where a 
clause stipulates that any person infringing the sacred space demarcated by the stelae “is 
to be branded” (the vertical sign at left is the hieroglyph for a torch, used for words 
involving fire). (a) and (b) Randall-Maciver and A. Mace, El Amrah and Abydos, Egypt 
Exploration Fund, London, 1902. 

158 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Figure 5.4 Depiction of King Ramses II poised to smite an enemy from the northeast, in 
the presence of the creator Atum, presenting him with a curved sword. From Per-Atum 
(Tell el-Retaba), about 1275 Bc. W. Petrie, Hyksos and Israelite Cities, British School of 
Archaeology in Egypt, London, 1907. 

unidentified, about 2100 Bc). Removal from the living might be read literally, as 
execution, or might denote a symbolic death, ending membership of human soci- 
ety. Among evidence for a symbolic reading, kingship inscriptions apply to war 
captives a term seger-ankh, “struck-(but)-alive,” evoking two inscribed visual 
motifs of kingship, the frozen scene of execution and the curse figurine (Berlev 
1989). In the frozen execution scene, a king stands poised to smite a defeated 
enemy (Figure 5.4); the most famous early example is the ceremonial palette for 
eye/body paint, inscribed for King Narmer, from the great kingship temple deposit 
at Nekhen around the time of the first recorded unification (3000 Bc) (Davis 1992). 
Although the most finely sculpted examples preserved are monuments of kings, 
the motif also occurs outside the immediate circle of kingship, as on votive stelae 
deposited at temples of deities (Figure 5.5). Curse figurines are schematic clay or 
stone images of bound men, inscribed with recitations against potential enemies 
of kingship, under direct rule and abroad. In two series, inscriptions are on bowls 
rather than figurines, but in each case, the objects are broken and deposited in 
groups at points requiring defense, for example, a cemetery as sacred ground 
(Figure 5.6). In Nubia, one deposit of about 1850 Bc was excavated close to Mirgissa 
fortress, border town of Egyptian-controlled territory; nearby, a human skull lay 
on a pottery bowl, beside flint blade, as if one person had been offered up in 

Being Good: Doing, Saying, and Making Good Possible 159 

Figure 5.5 Depiction of the king poised to smite an enemy, on a votive stela, 
Ramesside reign of Thutmes IV, about 1400 Bc, W. Petrie, Memphis I, 
British School of Archaeology in London, London 1908. 

defense of the realm (Vercoutter 1963). Whether the person died in the rite or in 
fighting beforehand is an unknown and crucial detail for our understanding of 
ancient Egyptian state ethics. Berlev concluded that struck alive denotes the 
spared captives, while their leader would be killed; there may have been varying 
responses over time. 

Treatment of prisoners may expose and define the ethics of society and 
state. A remarkable group of legal documents shows kingship reacting to the 
extreme case of court conspiracy. Various devices, including language, protect 
the king from being implicated in spilling blood, even, remarkably, of those 
who would kill him. To remove the accused from humanity, their names are 
changed, as from “Ra is the one who creates (mes) him” to “Ra is the one who 

160 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 


Figure 5.6 Rounded limestone flake inscribed on one side with figure of a bound man, a 
stream of blood emerging from his forehead. Pyramid field cemeteries, at modern Giza. 
Drawing © Wolfram Grajetzki. 

hates (mesdjed) him.” Those found guilty of leading the plot are forced to take 
their own lives, and the king is said to be unaware, so innocent: “All that has 
been done, it is they who have done it; may all they did fall upon their heads, 
while I am anointed and protected forever” (Juridical Papyrus of Turin, after 
Lorton 1977, 30). 

Ethical fractures: claims on material possessions 
and on the labor of others 
Surviving legal documents most often record disputes between relatives over 
inheritance, revolving around two obsessions of propertied classes: material 
possessions, including land, and rights to labor. Already attested in the earliest 
copies of documents (mid-third millennium Bc), inheritance removes any 
chance of material equality for all individuals at birth. Continually, the same 
property relations that bind relatives, and make family a central concept, under- 
mine family in the bitterness of litigation. Legal cases show where but not how 
often harmony breaks down and they are neutral on the question as to whether 
the property system itself was judged iniquitous; a broader social history of 
resistance is yet to be written from all the archaeological evidence. Fugitives from 
labor obligations are a recurrent problem for the authorities at different periods. 
A register from 1800 Bc records a legal review, releasing households held in 
forced labor for an unknown number of years, after the family head had aban- 
doned his national service work obligations; only one case was upheld, a boat 
captain who lost his name and position because someone escaped on his boat 
(Hayes 1955; Lorton 1977, 16-17). 

The fugitives register papyrus was reused a generation later, to write on the back 
a separate set of legal documents: two gifts of staff, mainly weavers, listing a total 
of 95 names, including at least 45 from Syria-Palestine, and the response of an 

Being Good: Doing, Saying, and Making Good Possible 161 

unnamed man, contesting a claim from “my daughter Tihenut” that “my father 
died, while he had property belonging to me, that my husband had given me; he 
gave things from it to his wife Senebtysy. Let it be restored to me!” (Hayes 1955). 
As the man is still alive, either died is a statement of rejection or the plain kinship 
terms father and daughter refer here, as often, to extended relations such as step- 
father/daughter and grandfather/daughter. Despite its fragmentary condition, the 
document demonstrates the self-confidence of the propertied woman and her 
freedom to sue her father. 

The staff lists on this papyrus reveal how disputes among the wealthy assume 
rights to labor of others as a norm in social organization. Any such rights clearly 
remove equality between individuals as forcefully as inheritance of material pos- 
sessions and land rights. It remains difficult to specify the rights in practice, over 
different periods. Some Egyptologists speak of slavery and slaves in cases where 
one person holds or transfers rights to labor of others. However, it is not clear 
where the rights end, even whether they cover the whole year or just a season, as in 
a national service system of obligations. No legal documents indicate anything as 
inhuman as ancient Greek or Roman, or more recent European/Euro-American 
slavery, with torture and killing of the enslaved. Different Egyptian words 
may denote varying grades of dependency or labor obligation: in documents 
(1850-1750 Bc), hem, “power/agency,” seems less constrained than bak, “worked/ 
worker.” In the fugitives register, people in the hem category are punished by 
having to work until released in review; therefore, that category is not equivalent 
to permanent servitude. Nor does punishment involve being reduced to bak, 
which also, therefore, is not equivalent to slave, at least in this period. From the 
written sources in context, Berlev concluded that rights to labor of hem came from 
the position a person held in state or temple administration, while rights to labor 
of bak came from a personal contract, registered by state officials (Berlev 1972). In 
one such contract, a man gives his brother four foreigners: a woman with Semitic 
and an Egyptian name, a woman with two Egyptian names, and two children, 
possibly with Semitic names. The four might be a family of immigrants, with first- 
generation grandmother renamed, second-generation mother Egyptian named, 
and her two children recently born inside Egypt. Ethnicity might, like rebellion, 
form one factor in allowing a society to normalize unequal relations such as the 
condition of bak. 

Teachings and their limits 


Kingship is the political frame for ancient Egyptian ethical writings, most clearly in 
the remarkable composition which Assmann has called King as Priest of the Sun, 
first inscribed in kingship monuments for Hatshepsut (1475 Bc), Amenhotep III 
(1375 Bc), and Ramses III (1175 Bc). The words accompany morning rebirth of the 
sun, when the king raises his arms to “adore Ra in the dawn light.” Here (as cited in 

162 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Chapter 1), the creator sun-god places the king on earth to make it possible for 
people to do what is right: 

to judge between people and to satisfy the gods, 
to create what is Right, to annihilate what is Evil 

The Egyptian word here rendered fo create is sekheper, “to cause to come into 
being”; only the king can create the possibility for Right to exist. Once the king has 
performed his task of sekheper ma‘at, humans can then ir/djed ma‘at, “do/say what 
is right.’ Before describing his function on earth, the composition defines the dis- 
tinctive quality of kingship as knowledge, of the speech, forms and hometowns of 
“the eastern ba-souls,” depicted as the baboons noisily acclaiming the creator at 
dawn. Unwritten knowledge separates kingship from humankind and underwrites 
the function of the king as provider of justice and peace. Kingly knowledge is 
marked off even from the social stratum of the wealthiest and the highest officials. 
Judging from surviving copies, the composition was accessible not to the whole 
circle of highest officials (such as viziers, generals, high priests of Amun), but only 
those with special access to sacred writing: selective versions for a head keeper of 
writings at court (Khay, about 1275 Bc) and a Third God’s Servant of Amun at 
Karnak (Tjanefer, about 1150 Bc) and a more complete version for a chief lector at 
court (Padiamenipet, about 675 Bc). This knowledge seems a function not of all 
power, nor even of all deities, but of a sacred force uniting creator-god with his 
form on earth, the king. 

Two literary teachings for kings 

Two extended literary reflections on kingship practice survive on manuscripts copied 
after 1500 Bc but thought to have been composed earlier. Hieroglyphic inscriptions 
confirm the idea that a king should teach; the first minister Rekhmira invokes the 
Teaching of Thutmes III (1450 Bc), and officials of Akhenaten (1350 Bc) claim to place 
the teaching of the king in their bodies. 

Teaching for King Merykara Set in the period of disunity (2150-2050 Bc), most 
Egyptologists date this composition under the reunified Middle Kingdom, perhaps 
after 1900 Bc. A king of the north (name lost) addresses a treatise on the practice of 
kingship to his successor King Merykara, “giving all the rules for a king.” The advice 
operates on three levels (Vernus 2001, 137). The first is about how to rule within 
and from the court: control of factions and of speech, favor of the elite and others 
close to the king, and care in exacting punishments. The second level concerns 
relations with the world outside the kingdom, whether nomads on the eastern 
frontier or the rival southern kingdom of that time. Finally, the king is destined to 
rule alone in his time, in a chain of unique incarnations of the sun-god across 
history, and is held accountable for his reign: Merykara is told of the looting of 
Abdju—“it happened even as something I did, though I learned of it after the deed.” 
The teaching culminates in a hymn to the creator, with a moving description 

Being Good: Doing, Saying, and Making Good Possible 163 

of peaceful intentions (translation by the author, here and for other extended cita- 
tions in this and following sections): 

Well-tended are people, the herd of the god, 

he has made heaven and earth for their hearts, 

he has driven off the crocodile of the waters. 

He has made the breath of the heart, that their nostrils might live. 
They are his images who came from his body. 

He shines in the sky for their hearts. 

He has made for them plants and herds, 

birds and fish, to nourish them. 

Immediately following lines address the conflict in life, in violent terms aimed at 
legitimating sovereign power: 

He kills his enemies, 

and he has damaged his children 

at their plotting to carry out rebellion. 

He repeats daybreak for their hearts, 

and sails by to see them. 

He has raised a chapel behind them; 

when they weep he can heart. 

He has made for them rulers in the egg, 
commanders to command at the back of the vulnerable. 
He has made words of power for them, 

as weapons to repel the blow of events, 

watchful over them night and day. 

He has killed the disaffected among them, 

as a man strikes his son for the sake of this brother. 
The god is aware of every name. 

Teaching of King AmenemhatI A literary papyrus from about 1250 Bc records that 
the Teaching of King Amenemhat I was written for his son King Senusret I bya man 
named Khety (Vernus 2001, 161-162, on Deir al-Madina Papyrus Chester Beatty 4); 
there is no corroboration for this date from their reigns, and it remains possible 
that it was written later—the earliest surviving copies are from around 1500 Bc. 
Where the Teaching for Merykara seems weary, the tone here is aggressively bitter. 
Merykara was advised to favor those close to him; the dead King Amenemhat 
I warns Senusret I, “Trust none as brother, make no friend, foster no intimates—it 
is worthless,’ and describes an attack on his life by court conspirators: 

It was after the meal, night had fallen, I took an hour of rest. 
I lay on my bed, for I had grown weary. 

My heart began to follow sleep. 

Suddenly weapons of counsel were turned against me. 

I was like a snake of the desert 

I awoke to my bodyguard. 

I found it was a body blow by a soldier. 

164 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

If I had swiftly taken weapons in my hand, 

I would have turned the wretch back in confusion, 

But there is no night champion, no-one who can fight alone. 
There can be no success without a protector. 

After lamenting treason, Amenemhat I describes his good deeds, in giving Egypt 
peace and prosperity, and closes in endorsing his son on the throne. 

These two compositions give rules not for human, but for kingly conduct. 
Nevertheless, they are preserved on manuscripts copied and circulated outside the 
court and form part of the same reading world as more directly didactic literature. 
Within the critique of kingly frailty in both works, we learn of how their writers, and 
at least some of their readers, perceived human life within the relations between 
creator, ruler, and society. 

Literary teachings: father to son 

A version of what is right, still restricted to sources from wealthier men, is spelled out 
in literary teachings and, in more nuanced manner, in the genre of laments over wrong 
(Vernus 2001 is the most comprehensive collection for the period 2000-525 Bc). Some 
teachings and some laments open with the word sebayt, “teaching,” like the two king- 
ship teachings in the preceding section, while others are embedded in narrative tales 
or literary letters. The earliest surviving literary manuscripts date to around 1900 BC, 
but dates of composition remain disputed. Unlike other writings, many teachings and 
laments are ascribed to named individuals, but this seems a literary setting rather than 
historical record, because, in some, the language is later than the date at which the 
speaker is supposed to have lived. Hordedef and Ptahhotep live under mid-third-mil- 
lennium BC kings who ruled about 2600-2400 Bc, but the language of their teachings is 
centuries later, around 2200-1900 Bc (Vernus 2001, 21, 48, 71). 

Vernus identifies the readership of this wisdom literature as the “dominated of 
the dominant class,’ administrators below the level of the highest court officials 
(Vernus 2001, 29-33). However, it is not clear that they exclude the wealthiest. In 
practice, our lack of knowledge over the social profile of ancient Egypt complicates 
any attempt to assess whether the highest officials stood outside the main admin- 
istrative circle or whether all middle- to lower-ranking officials are addressed in the 
teachings. The historical readership may, too, have been wider or narrower than 
that intended at the time of composition. Broader circles might, over unspecified 
time spans, gain access to a teaching composed for the royal court or even initially 
for the king alone (cf. on Teaching of King Amenemhat I, in preceding section). 

In rough chronological order, allowing for the continuing uncertainties over dat- 
ing, the better preserved longer compositions may be summarized for their general 
ethical guidelines. 

Composed in middle kingdom (2000-1800 sc) or earlier 

TEACHING OF PTaHHOTEP An opening passage sets the scene, in which the first min- 
ister Ptahhotep asks the king for permission to retire, replaced by his son, and the 
king accepts provided that Ptahhotep instructs him first, “for no-one is born expe- 
rienced”; in a remarkable spirit of equality, Ptahhotep first warns his son not to be 

Being Good: Doing, Saying, and Making Good Possible 165 

proud of his knowledge, as “Fine words are more hidden than greenstone, but can 
be found with the women at the grindstone.’ There follow 36 maxims of varying 
length, without any strictly imposed overall framework, and so realistically evoking 
the more random pattern of advice that a father might give a son. The initial trio of 
maxims advise different ways for reacting to an opponent in argument, depending 
on their level of skill or experience. Advice on leadership follows, including “Do not 
cause fear among people, as the god punishes with like.’ Rules of etiquette at table, 
on envoy missions, and at court again depend on the relation to the host. For 
speaking at court, self-control and clarity are required. Home life is central to the 
teaching. A house should be founded, and autonomy given to the wife. Good 
fatherhood means staying close to your son. Friendship receives recurrent atten- 
tion and requires you “to stay away from the wife” of your host, whether “master, 
brother, or colleague.’ If doubts disrupt friendship, “do not make your own enquir- 
ies, go direct to him, make the case with him alone, to avoid suffering in his matter.” 
Similarly, “do not repeat slander and do not hear it.” Perhaps the greatest evil is 
greed, with the warning “there is no tomb for the greedy hearted.’ Conversely, 
generosity is a blessing with immediate benefit: “Let your face be bright as long as 
you live ... a man with an empty stomach is a plaintiff” Wealth after lack is a gift 
from the god, nota reason to lord it over others. The teaching ends with an extended 
encomium of the obedient son and the blessings of learning. The contents are set 
within the wealthiest part of society, taking for granted the presence of servants 
and the opportunity to serve on missions and speak at court. 

TEACHING OF A MAN TO HIS SON Unusually for teachings, the poet chose anonymity for 
this composition, which opens simply “Beginning of the teaching made by a man 
for his son.’ Like the Teaching of Kaires, the first part is a hymn to the king, shorter 
here, followed by a meditation on destiny: “Can you add a day to a lifespan? Can 
you subtract from it either?” The birth brick Meskhenet is set by the god, but offers 
no guarantees, for the god can as easily change course: 

He can transform the ignorant into the wise, 
the hater become the loving, 

he enables the least to be like the great, 

the one in last place to become first, 

the man without property to be a lord of riches 
the miserable to be a lord of jubilation. 

In sum, “All this is within a lifetime, beyond the day of Renenet, and Meskhenet 
can guarantee nothing for it.” Change can come from nowhere at any moment 
from the day of Renenet, “nurture.” The same spirit permeates laments of disor- 
der, from the same period (as nos. 5-8 in this section). A second, longer kingship 
hymn follows, before the main body of the teaching, on similar themes to those 
in the Teaching of Ptahhotep: correct conduct in official sittings, accuracy in 
disputes, and avoiding excess speech. However, where Ptahhotep urged taking 
advice from expert and ignorant alike, here, we read “answer the wise man—avoid 
the ignorant.” 

166 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Figure 5.7 The earliest manuscript source for the Teaching of Kaires, with the injunction 
to care for estate workers as the foundation of well-being. Writing board deposited in a 
tomb at Waset, early Eighteenth Dynasty, about 1550 Bc. H. Carter and Earl of Carnarvon, 
Five Years Exploration at Thebes, Henry Frowde, London, 1912, pl.29, completed by a 
fragment purchased by Flinders Petrie; now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. 

TEACHING OF Karres (LOYALIST TEACHING) Without setting, this shorter composi- 
tion is addressed “to his children” rather than just one son. Opening “worship the 
king’, its kingship hymn ends with the warning: “there is no tomb for one who 
rebels against His Power.” The hymn is also inscribed on an offering-chapel stela 
for the deputy treasurer Sehetepibra, under King Amenemhat III (1850-1800 Bc). 
The version on manuscripts continues with a second address to the children, 
warning first against laziness, whereas Ptahhotep had warned more against greed. 
The next piece of advice is to build up estate staff, with this exceptional appreciation 
of workers (Figure 5.7): 

It is people who bring what there is into being. 
We live as men who have by their labour. 
If there is a lack of it, poverty takes power. 

People here have the same capability as creator-god and king, sekheper, “to bring 
into being.’ Where labor or workers are missing, there can be no wealth. “No 
ploughed field comes into being of itself.” “A herdsman of evil—his cattle are few.’ 
In literary conception, the teaching juxtaposes the cult of kingship with revolution- 
ary recognition of a working class. 

TEACHING OF KHETy (SATIRE OF TRADES) The opening sets the scene: “Beginning 
of the teaching made by man of Tjaru (?), the Hymn-singer (?) called Khety for his 
son called Pepy, on the way south to the Residence, to place him in the writing 

Being Good: Doing, Saying, and Making Good Possible 167 

school, among the children of officials, of the foremost of the Residence.’ 
Egyptologists have used this one line to conjure up an entire education system on 
modern lines for ancient Egypt, with promotion by merit, but it remains an iso- 
lated instance in the ancient literature. How often anyone from outside could join 
“the children of officials” remains as unknown as every other stage in the acquisi- 
tion of writing and reading skills in the ancient society. The scene could as easily 
be a startling disruption of norms, for literary effect, as an image from regular 
practice. Encouraging his son to learn how to write, Khety wields stick and carrot: 
“I have seen violent beatings, so direct your heart to writing ... Read for yourself 
the end of the Compilation, and you can find this phrase in it saying, The writer, 
whatever his place at the Residence, cannot be poor in it.’ The core of the teaching 
reinforces his message by emphasizing hardships endured by every trade other 
than that of writing. From coppersmith to fisherman, bleak social portraits gave 
rise to the Egyptological title for the teaching, Satire of Trades, although every 
detail is grimly plausible. Where the Teaching of Kaires recognized the value of 
labor, the Teaching of Khety warns against idealizing labor in this society. If 
humorous, this is open class war by rich against poor. Yet that modern reading 
may be too complacent. If realistic, the Teaching would introduce to a dominant 
class the hardship imposed on the manual professions, with greater awareness 
than most modern consumers may have in a globalized economy. Judging how to 
read this teaching is, then, a difficult task. Like the Teaching of Kaires, a new sec- 
tion is marked explicitly, here with the line “Let me tell you in another manner, to 
teach you so that you may know.’ The following part turns to themes found in the 
Teaching of Ptahhotep, on behavior in different social contexts, with some new 
points of emphasis, as at “Do not tell lies against a mother—that is the extreme for 
the officials.” 

Laments oF IpuWER (OPENING LOST, ORIGINALLY ALSO A TALE?) Preserved on one frag- 
mented manuscript from about 1250 Bc, this composition includes the words of a 
man called Ipuwer (name typical of 1850-1450 Bc) alongside shorter passages 
ascribed to the Lord of All—a term used for both king and creator sun-god (Enmarch 
2006). Ipuwer bewails the reversal of order, in an overwhelming mass of paired 
descriptions, as “the woman without her own box is now owner of furniture, the one 
who looked at her face in the water is now owner of a mirror.” From translation, 
these passages have had great literary impact: in his Caucasian Chalk Circle, mid- 
twentieth-century playwright Bertolt Brecht took a selection of these snapshots of 
an upside-down world, to celebrate the destruction of an old and evil order 
(Enmarch 2011). In the ancient manuscript, the laments culminate in a passage 
headed “Let Lower Egypt weep then!,” before turning to demands on the Lord of All, 
one series with the aggressive refrain to “destroy the enemies of the Residence,’ 
another to “remember” a series of cult duties: “Remember the fattened geese, the 
ganders and ducks, offering god’s offerings to the gods ... Remember setting up flag- 
poles, carving offering-stones.” The role of kingship in maintaining offerings recalls 
the composition “King as Priest of the Sun.’ A description of violent disorder fol- 
lows, then an idyllic portrait of good times, before the Lord of All apparently replies, 

168 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

that Egypt can defend itself, and Ipuwer apparently refutes this in terse statements— 
“ignoring it is what pleases the heart.” It is not clear how much is lost from the end 
of the composition. 

Tate OF NererTy A narrative introduction sets the work in the court of King Sneferu 
(about 2650 Bc), when the morning hearing has ended, but officials are recalled to 
advise Sneferu on entertainment for the day. At their recommendation, the great 
lector Neferty of Bast is summoned, and the king commands him: “Tell me some 
fine words, choice phrases, to entertain My Power at hearing them.” Neferty asks, 
“what has happened, or what is to happen?” Sneferu opts for “what is to happen, 
for today is already happened and gone,’ and sets to write down the precious 
words. Neferty conjures up a nightmare of destruction, foreign invasion, and loss of 
sunlight to the point when selfishness merges with civil strife: 

No mourning will be observed today - the heart is turned entirely to itself. 
Aman rests on his side—at his back one man kills another. 
I can show you the son as attacker, brother as enemy, man murdering his father. 

Similarly to Ipuwer, Neferty says, “I can show you the lower made the upper.’ 
However, this composition ends in rejoicing, with appearance of a King Ameny 
from the Land of the Bow (Nubia and the southernmost province of Upper 
Egypt). Order is restored, foreign enemies are destroyed, and fortresses are built 
to guard the eastern border: “Right is returned to its place, Wrong is pushed 
back out.” 

TALE OF KHUNINPU (ELOQUENT OASIS MAN) This composition frames nine poems on 
justice and injustice as petitions within a tale of theft and deception, at a time 
when northern Egypt was ruled by kings based at, or from, Hutnennesut. “There 
was a man named Khuninpu,” trader in Wadi Natrun, arid territory west of the 
Nile Delta. Running short of food, he takes his goods to market in Hutnennesut, 
leaving just enough for his wife to feed the family during his absence. On the way, 
a servant of the high steward robs him. Khuninpu petitions the high steward so 
beautifully that he tells the king, who, instead of upholding Right, commands 
that the trader be kept waiting, to wring more beautiful words from him. The king 
commands the Wadi Natrun governor to feed the family, without letting 
Khuninpu know, to keep him fearful for their lives as well as his own. Increasingly 
desperate, the trader pours out his laments over injustice and his hymns to order, 
until, at three times three petitions (three being the plural, nine a totality), he 
declares he will go to petition Inpu, god of the cemetery (in some interpretations 
a threat of suicide). The tale is brought to an abrupt happy ending: without any 
legal enquiry, Khuninpu is declared in the right, the servant being sentenced 
to corporal punishment and confiscation of all his goods in favor of Khuninpu. 
Such vicious distortion of Right could perhaps only be set in the reign of a king 
who did not rule all Egypt and perhaps therefore not recognized in full 
(cf. Merykara in preceding section). 

Being Good: Doing, Saying, and Making Good Possible 169 

At the end of the ninth petition, Khuninpu thundered or gasped his final cry 
against those detaining him: 

There is no yesterday for the sluggard, 
There is no friend for one deaf to Right, 
There is no celebration for the grasping. 

Jan Assmann expounds this triple declaration as a core definition of ma‘at Right in 
ancient Egypt: a sluggard, someone too lazy to act, has no connection to previous 
action and loses any connection with a human society where good deeds are 
remembered and repaid; someone deaf to Right has lost powers of communication 
with their fellow human beings; finally, and fatally, the selfish exclude themselves 
from the feasting and friendship that are basic to social well-being. 

DIALOGUE OF A MAN AND BA_- Preserved on one papyrus, from about 1900 to 1850 Bc, 
the Dialogue is among the most remarkable reflections on life in world literature 
(Figure 5.8). The start is heavily fragmented, but the main content comprises a 
debate between the man, tired of life, and his ba-soul, anxious to postpone death. 
The man ends with a poem on the refrain “To whom can I speak today!,” lamenting 
the strife and isolation in life. Then he compares the end of life paradoxically with 
the pleasures it should bring: 

Death is in my sight today 

like the scent of myrrh, 

like sitting under the sails on a windy day 

Death is in my sight today 

like the scent of lotus flowers, 

like sitting on the shore of drunkenness 

Death is in my sight today 

like the path of rain, 

like the return of a man from the army to their home 

His ba-soul avoids continuing the argument, and asks him to make offerings, 
accepting his desire for death, “whenever your body may touch the earth, and I may 
alight after you rest weary, then may we make a dwelling together.” 

Composed in new kingdom (1550-1070 sc) or later 

TEACHING OF ANY The first line ascribes the teaching to Any, writer (accountant?) of 
the temple of Nefertari (name of queens of Eighteenth and Nineteenth Dynasties). 
We learn that it is addressed to his son Khonsuhotep at the end, in an original 
epilogue of debate, where son despairs of learning, and father insists testily that 
learning is possible. The advice of Any retraces many themes of earlier teachings, 
adding charming touches, as in the long command to look after your mother, start- 
ing “double the food your mother gave you” with the earthy reminder “as you grew 
and your excrement disgusted, she was not disgusted.” The description of a garden 
feels like literal refreshment in midflow of the injunctions: “grow yourself a garden, 

170 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Figure 5.8 Part of a papyrus roll with the only surviving copy of the dialogue between a 
man and his ba, followed by a marsh tale. R. Lepsius (ed.), Denkmédler aus Aegypten und 
Aethiopien. Nicolaische Buchhandlung, Berlin 1849-1859, vol.6, pl.112. 

plant a gourd row around where you plough, set some trees inside, as the surround 
of your house, and fill your hands with all manner of flowers, for your eyes to see.’ 
Observance of religious duty is more prominent or at least given more detail and 
phrased more explicitly for a modern reader: “observe the feast of your god,” “do 
not jostle him in order to carry him, do not disturb the oracles.” 

TEACHING OF AMENEMIPET The half dozen surviving copies were written down 
between 1000 and 500 BC, the earliest being a papyrus fragment rather difficult to 
date within the period 1000-850 Bc; the date of composition might be within the 
range 1200-850 Bc. Rather than just stating the title of the teaching father, an over- 
seer of fields Amenemipet, the long opening section gives almost a full description 
of his official duties, like an autobiographical inscription for eternity, followed by 
an unusually extended titulary for his son, “the youngest of his children, most jun- 
ior of his family” Horemmaakheru, ending with the name of his mother, the wife of 
Amenemipet, a head chantress of Horus Taweret. This long prologue effectively 
portrays the core of a family, perhaps intentionally evoking Osiris, Isis, and Horus 
and identifying their home as Ipu, modern Akhmim, to the north of Abdju in Upper 

Being Good: Doing, Saying, and Making Good Possible 171 

Egypt. There follow 30 chapters, explicitly numbered, the first encouraging the son 
to hear and learn and the last closing the frame with the exhortation “look, then, 
over these 30 chapters, they delight, they teach!” The core 28 chapters return to 
themes in earlier teachings, from Ptahhotep (1, 8, 23, 26) to Any (3, 5), but intro- 
duce more recent vocabulary in a changing Egyptian language and a new structure 
for advice. The Teaching of Ptahhotep would first specify a context, “If you are ...,” 
and then advise positive or negative action, “you should do/avoid X” or sometimes 
“do not do X.” The Teaching of Amenemipet adopts a more rhythmic tone of 
warning, almost every chapter beginning “Do not....’ Good conduct is discovered 
in the avoidance of wrongdoing, persistently reinforced by vivid descriptions of 
good and evil in life. As in the declarations of innocence, for entry into a blessed 
afterlife (Chapter 6), the evils may be (i) broad-ranging instincts of envy, greed, and 
selfishness; (ii) specific instances of theft, corruption, or cheating in management 
of estates and justice; or (iii) the social failings in keeping bad company. In general, 
the good man is still the silent, self-controlled man, with the emphatic devotion 
that is now explicit, but could be read just as strongly in the Middle Kingdom teach- 
ings with their continual orientation to the god. 

From the first modern editions, Egyptology and Biblical studies accepted a 
direct link between the thirty chapters of Amenemipet and another first-millen- 
nium BC source, the Hebrew Proverbs of King Solomon, “Have I not written for you 
30 sayings, of admonition and knowledge, to show you what is right and true?” 
(Proverbs 22, 22). Other similar phrasings include the warning not to work always 
on becoming rich, as riches may fly away to the skies like birds (Chapter 7 and 
Proverbs 23, 4-5). Diplomatic and trading relations between the court of Solomon 
and contemporary rulers in neighboring Egypt seem plausible on historical and 
geographical grounds, even if archaeologically vague. However, each link between 
the ancient Egyptian and Hebrew wisdom literatures may be more or less direct, 
potentially involving many other peoples and different zones or sites of contact. 
The numerous diverse scripts of the first millennium Bc should warn us against 
drawing too few lines on the map of ancient networks. The worlds of Egypt and 
Palestine might have overlapped with 20-30 written traditions and another 100- 
200 traditions of peoples without writing; the surviving record leaves us with just a 
handful even of the written traditions. Accessible literature includes copies from 
earlier times, as in Iraq, of third-millennium Bc Sumer, or, from Syria and Turkey, 
second-millennium Bc Ugarit, and the Hittite kingdom. The history of religion 
ensures not only that the Hebrew Bible is preserved but also that it occupies a priv- 
ileged position in research in European languages. Comparative study of any one 
literature needs to assess not two but all preserved literatures of a period against 
the general absence of writing across our time maps. Reflections on life may be 
widely shared, particular to one region, or narrowly local, on a map continually 
changing as peoples move and meet. Conveyors of wisdom might most easily be 
less literate nomadic peoples, regularly traveling the farthest—Nubian, Berber, 
and Arab nomads. How do we assess their impact between literatures? The 
Teaching of Ptahhotep warned us not to assume where fine words are found. 

172 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Autobiographical inscriptions 

As Pascal Vernus emphasizes, the same ethical norms permeate autobiographical 
inscriptions, attested for a longer time span, from mid-third millennium to the 
Roman Period (Vernus 2001, 22-23). Inscribed in offering chapels and on temple 
monuments, the ancient Egyptian autobiography projects an idealized image of the 
person, written in the first person (Lichtheim 1988). As there are no direct sources 
for circumstances of composition and commissioning, many Egyptologists prefer to 
call these biographies, or to use other terms such as ego-history, to avoid the issue of 
unknowable authorship. The contents provide either events in a life history, often 
slanted toward contact with kingship and the divine, or assertions of conformity to 
ethical social ideals. Early examples emphasize a core series of good deeds, as in an 
offering-chapel inscription for one first minister, highest official in the administra- 
tion, Neferseshemra Sheshi (about 2300 Bc, Saqqara; cf. Lichtheim 1988, 6): 

Ihave gone out from my city, [have come down from my district. 

Ihave done Right in respect of myself, for her lord, 

I have made him content with what he does love. 

Ihave spoken Right, I have done Right, I have spoken well, I have done well. 
Ihave seized the good moment; love of me is there among people. 

I judged two companions so that both were content. 

I rescued the weak from the more powerful when I had authority in the case. 
I gave bread to the hungry, clothing to the naked, 

ferrying to the boatless, burial to the man without a son. 

lacted as the ferry for the man without a ferry. 

Irespected my father, pleased my mother, and nurtured their children. 

In an inscription on an offering-chapel stela from the reign of Senusret I (about 
1925 Bc), the self-history of Mentuhotep, governor of Armant, mingles assertions 
of appropriate character and obedience to the king, with record of his own decisive 
actions as governor, in general adherence to the same principles found in the 
teachings (Beylage 2003): 

I am steadfast and obedient, one to whom his lord gives his love. 
Iam a great one of the privy chamber, attentive, 
free from trembling, not disrespectful towards a powerful man. 

Iam one who rears the child, who buries the old and any pauper. 

I give bread to the hungry and clothing to the naked. 

Iam ason of Nepri (grain-god), a husband of Tayt (cloth goddess), 

one for whom Sekhat-Hor (milk goddess) creates cattle, 

a possessor of riches, with all manner of precious stones, 

birthing-brick of Khnum, the maker of people, 

When a low flood occurred during the twenty-fifth year, 

I did not let my district starve, I gave it Upper Egyptian grain and emmer. 
I did not let misery come to pass in it, until high floods came. 

I nourished the children with my donations, I anointed the widows. 

Being Good: Doing, Saying, and Making Good Possible 173 

There was not a commoner miserable in my time. 

I strove to cause that I was beloved, so that my name might be good 
and that I might be vindicated in the necropolis. 

I taught my children, to speak in contentment, kindness, 

not to fight with a youth - no superior who is arrogant is beloved. 
Iam one well-disposed to him who would tell his troubles, 

and to him who would pour out his heart. 

I hear his case, I remove his misery, 

(for) aman should be placed according to what is right for him. 
Furthermore, I am silent when (my) wish is thwarted. 

I bowed to everyone, without hiding my face from the starving; 

the helping hand is what is beloved, for people are one stock. 

I had no conflict with agent or sealer of my estate, 

saying, on the contrary: let your heart agree, 

do not block a petitioner until he has said what he has come for. 
Report is made to me of the condition of commoners, 

and of widows and orphans likewise. 

I acted for them all, to give breath to one fallen into misery. 

The good character of a man is more to him than a thousand arms in action. 
The saying of men is heard as that phrase which is on the mouths of the great: 
The monument of a man is his goodness; 

forgotten is who is evil of character. 

If it comes to pass as has been said, 

my name will be good and endure in my town, 

and my monument will never perish. 

Limits to the written evidence 

Writings convey mainly the interests of the writer, and in a part-literate society, 
this introduces a clear social bias. For their own conscience or for public image, 
the powerful may say they (would like to) protect vulnerable, without necessarily 
taking action. Conscience, public or private, can also be too easily satisfied by 
single or limited actions, with no impact on the overall social problem. Indeed, 
limited action may operate precisely as a strategy to avoid the issue of change. 
Historically, paternalism does not enforce good governance, but instead high- 
lights the gaps between what people say and what they do; for example, the shift 
from taxation to voluntary charity brings a collapse in support of public works in 
the late Roman Empire. The literary and religious writing can be tested against 
those other areas of written evidence, such as the legal, where past people them- 
selves protested against injustices. All writings, though, remain within relatively 
narrow social horizons. Therefore, archaeological survey and excavation are 
needed to provide a broader socioeconomic history, within which to set the claims 
in ancient writing. 

The teachings are particularly useful in exposing limits in writing, because they 
take the model of father teaching son, an extreme gender bias. One test for our own 
imagination of the past, and use of past writings, would be to construct a teaching 
of a mother for her daughter. Gender bias is not the only restriction on visibility of 
the ancient society. Kinship by blood or marriage, particularly the nuclear family, is 

174 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

not necessarily the primary, certainly not the only, association between individu- 
als in a society: the orphan and the work colleague are both well attested in ancient 
writings, and neither would neatly fit the family model. Just taking the most com- 
mon Egyptian family terms—father, mother, sister, brother, husband, and wife— 
the teachings remain extraordinarily restrictive, even allowing for normative 
associations of age and gender in literary writing. The six terms allow a range of 14 
speech relations, each open to its own learning and teaching: 

es Husband/father 

et Te 

Sister <M» Brother 

Brother ek Sister 

The gaps can only partly be filled from the written record, from ancient letters, 
where we can find sisters advising one another or sons writing to their mothers 
(Wente 1990). There are also the legal cases previously considered , where daugh- 
ter can contest father, adding in effect a negative instruction to the family picture. 
A father-son model is, evidently, a literary fiction, allowing a past or completed 
world of experience to inform a present and future, or incomplete, open world of 
human choice. In those terms, the major omission in the literary model is gender. 
Too many other social relations may be too easily overlooked, by both the ancient 
and the modern readers of teachings. Sociologists might ask whether that is not 
one implicit function of the literary teaching, intended or not. 

Echoes in history: eternal Egypt 

For the Teaching of Amenemipet, links between Egypt and the Bible were found easy 
to read out of proportion, given the limited preservation of other literatures among 
their numerous neighbors. The same warning applies to attempts to find connec- 
tions over time. First-millennium AD religious teachings in circulation in Egypt 
draw on varied sources across vast geographic scope, not least from long periods of 
Nubian, Iranian, Macedonian Greek, and Arab rule. Similarities in spirit or literal 
content must be treated with great caution, when they span millennia. Yet relatively 
few places preserve religious writings over these millennia, and the comparative 
project should include methods for testing connections. North European and 
American academic and general public may tend to polarize world religions into 
dogmatic institutions (bad) and groups of freer, purer thinkers (good). For Egypt, 
that approach would separate the Coptic Church and Sunni Islam from, respectively, 
early gnostic and sufi movements. These easy distinctions contradict the content 
of gnostic and sufi writings, which propose views that have as much potential for 
dogmatic reading as any other orthodox or unorthodox view. Orthodoxy is a histori- 
cal development rather than a property of one or other religious content. Modern 

Being Good: Doing, Saying, and Making Good Possible 175 

external preferences for gnostic or sufi may belong within the same Eurocentric 
reflex as orientalism. This reception complicates comparisons with these writings, 
on top of the problem of their varied geographical historical sources. Yet the writings 
remain to be read, both for possible historical echoes and for asking again some of 
the questions put to more ancient teachings in the same landscape. 

Where we found no ancient Egyptian teaching from mother to daughter, one 
famous gnostic composition gives a Gospel of Mariam, perhaps Mary Magdalene, 
the woman who gave up prostitution to follow Jesus, in the Christian New 
Testament (Ehrman and PleSe 2011, 587-599). In the second part, at the request of 
the disciples of Jesus, Mariam says, “what is hidden from you, I will tell you,’ and 
relates the safe passage of the soul past the seven forms of Wrath: darkness, desire, 
ignorance, envy of death, kingdom of flesh, folly of flesh, and wrathful knowledge. 
The disciples first refuse to accept her difficult teaching, wondering “did He really 
speak with a woman secretly from us?,’ but Levi rebukes them and urges them to 
go out and teach. Here, elements from Christian evangelism combine with a 
recurrent theme of gnostic writing, the primacy of spirit over material. For the 
gnostic emphasis on knowledge and light (Ehrman and PleSe 2011, 306-307), 
similar motifs might be found in ancient Egyptian writings. Yet the focus of com- 
parison may fall instead on what is absent in the ancient teachings but present in 
other writings: the teaching woman (see Chapters 4 and 6 for goddesses as instruc- 
tors and healers). 

Equally, comparison with sufi writings might start from the discovery of some- 
thing previously invisible in writing. The Andalusian writer Ibn Arabi (AD 1165-1240) 
wrote an account of the life of Dhu al-Nun the Egyptian, a ninth-century mystic 
at home in the temple of Akhmim, then still standing, said to understand 
hieroglyphic script (Deladriére 1980); his quest for knowledge looked beyond 
intellectual knowledge (Arabic ‘ilm) to an intuitive sacred knowledge (Arabic 
ma'rifa). Dhu al-Nun inhabits the same city as the Amenemipet of the first-millen- 
nium BC Teaching and where Gnostic writings were also found. An intellectual 
history of that or another city might be one more productive approach to reading 
writings from whichever their traditions. If it would be an error to ignore all this 
later evidence, there remains the danger of constructing an idealized history by 
lifting similar features out of context. Future reading will require multiple authors 
in concerted interdisciplinary research programs. 

Conclusion: combining the evidence types 

Contexts of domination and equality 

If modern readers find ancient writings hard to follow, particularly in issues of 
social organization and justice, part of the problem may stem from evolutionary 
thinking. Crudely, European history writing may have primed us to expect suc- 
cessive phases of human society, each with its own characteristic manner of 
treating human beings: a simple or primitive society, where all are equal; the early 
civilization or class society, where one set of people can be ruled or exploited by 
another, with the extreme example of enslaving societies; and then the modern 

176 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

industrial society, with an aspiration of individual freedom. In such concise 
terms, some flaws of this scheme are obvious, such as the relocation of enslaving 
societies from the democracies of Athens, Britain, or the United States to other 
past tyrannies. However, there may be still more fundamental failures in the 
vocabulary of primitive and egalitarian. Anthropologists such as James Flanagan 
have analyzed how misleading the categories may be, because they omit to state 
what precisely is simple or primitive about the human groups so labeled (Flanagan 
1989). Where technology may be simple, other features such as technique, think- 
ing, and indeed language may be extremely intricate. At the same time, the idea 
of a harmonious egalitarian community in the earliest times fails to account for 
different treatment of men and women, or adults and children, or differently 
abled individuals. 

In order to understand human groups more clearly, Flanagan proposes that we dis- 
tinguish between social stratification and hierarchy, with the following definitions: 

e Social stratification: one group dominates another such that all members of 
the group are treated the same way, whatever their age or sex. 

e Hierarchy: here, domination is at individual level, one person dominating 

He also advises against confusing ideal and practice, by separating out: 

e Egalitarian ideologies: here, the society or part of it claims to work for equal 
opportunity, with, for example, the ideal of a fair start in life for all. 

e Egalitarian practices: here, the society aims at equal outcome, with methods 
for removing differences in opportunities. 

Historically, so far, as noted from Janet Hendrickx at the beginning of this chapter, 
there are no egalitarian societies. Yet all societies may offer greater or lesser scope 
for localized contexts where individuals are treated on equal terms. For more accu- 
rate social descriptions, including for ancient Egypt, we can avoid labels such as 
primitive and civilized altogether and apply labels such as egalitarian to particular 
aspects of a society rather than to a society as a whole. 


Being Well 


Health and Well-Being: Starting from Comparative Ethnography 

Health and happiness may overlap, but are not identical; a society may include also 
the serene sufferer and discontented healthy. Definitions of both health and hap- 
piness vary under geographical and historical factors such as climate change and 
population movement, and according to the immediate aspirations of the individ- 
ual, group, or society. Chapter 5 presented sources for ancient Egyptian senses of 
Right; for understanding any past strategy for health and well-being, the traces 
must be approached within the context of particular senses of how individuals and 
society should work. The modern reader needs to be sensitive to changes over time 
and disparate opportunities and views according to position within the society. 
From a study in the 1970s rural Delta, anthropologist Soheir Morsy emphasizes the 
impact of differences between powerful rich and vulnerable poor, both within the 
local village level and as part of a larger state: 

The peasants of FatiHa do not live an isolated, independent existence; they are part of 
a stratified socio-political entity ... Power asymmetry is reflected in villagers’ body 
concepts, their beliefs regarding conception, and their birth practices. (Morsy 1980, 

Morsy finds gender, class, and age to be useful categories for exploring patterns of 
variation in the senses of well-being, and of physical and mental health, in this 
society. For the Delta villagers, she noted how “the body and the mind are regarded 
as interdependent components of an integrated system ... the proper functioning 
of the body is not independent of its surroundings, nor is it determined simply by 
an individual's attempt to maintain his/her body parts in working order” (Morsy 
[1980], 154). The ethnography of farming villages may help to correct urban foreign 
misunderstandings in the archaeological study of more distant pasts, particularly 

Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt, First Edition. Stephen Quirke. 
© 2015 Stephen Quirke. Published 2015 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. 

178 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

in countries such as Egypt where there is so little archaeology of the countryside 
(farms, canal systems, villages, rich country houses). 

Material health 

Rural and urban health 

In the countryside, archaeology cannot yet fill in the picture of fauna and flora for 
each period. The idyll depicted for the afterlife in offering chapels is the result of 
careful selection, which either conjures threats only in order to overcome them or 
omits unpleasant features altogether. The presence of biting insects and flies is 
missing in these chapel scenes, along with common Saharan river enemies such as 
scorpions and venomous snakes; these have to be sought in the writings for health, 
in jewelry, or in the iconography of deities. Many chapel scenes show a crocodile 
lurking near herdsmen and animals as they ford a waterway. Here, the scene of 
threat becomes a guarantee of life, through a protective gesture against the croco- 
dile, and hieroglyphic inscriptions spelling out terms of protection (Dominicus 
1994) (Figure 6.1). 

In ancient town life, questions of health become visible in material strategies 
to promote hygiene. In the nineteenth-century BC new town at Lahun, main 
streets had central drainage channels, but no other clear system for removing 
waste. For domestic hygiene at fourteenth-century BC Akhetaten, richer houses 
had latrines with seat rims of wood or stone (Crocker 1985, 61-62). Bathrooms 
had no visible sign of special protection in the form of images, as might have 
been appropriate at purity-dirt boundaries; if daily hygiene was accompanied by 
ritual words or gestures of protection, these do not materialize in the sites. Both 
sites include prominent facilities for washing, in part perhaps ensured for ritual 
cleanliness (Chapter 3). 

= ana 

eae SCANS 

Figure 6.1 Menina boat make a protective gesture against the crocodile at the ford, as a 
calf turns back to the cow at the front of their herd. Limestone wall relief in a chapel over 
the tomb of the high official Ankhmahor, cemeteries of Mennefer, about 2350 Bc. 
Drawing © Wolfram Grajetzki after J. Capart, Une rue de tombeaux a Saqqarah 2. 
Vromant, Brussels, pl.28. 

Being Well 179 

Urbanization creates particular and continual, uphill struggles to sustain 
health. At Lahun, the schematic excavation report refers to rat holes blocked in 
every room, and heaps of discarded pottery outside the house of the mayor 
yielded perhaps the only rattrap so far identified from Egypt (Drummond, 
Janssen, and Janssen 1990). Rats are often held responsible for spreading dis- 
ease in human settlements, and from the mid-second millennium, writings 
refer to a disease called that of the Asiatics, sometimes identified as plague 
(Goedicke 1984). Perhaps not coincidentally, then, by the mid-second millen- 
nium BC, the cat was introduced into domestic life. At the divine level, the cat 
provided an image of triumph over evil in the name of the creator sun-god as 
the great tomcat, depicted knifing the chaos-serpent ‘Aapep (Leitz 1994, 
99-101). Other domesticated animals might have brought more problems into 
the town: pigs at Akhetaten, sheep and goats at Abu, and possibly cattle and 
donkeys would all add to the waste, if not on a modern scale, still enough to 
threaten human health. 

Medicinal matter and the question of shamanism 

Sporadically, archaeologists have found assemblages of mixed plant, animal mate- 
rial, and stones, in ways that stand out from the regular pattern of town finds or 
burial equipment. The interpretation of unparalleled or rare deposits is always 
hazardous, but one option would be to consider these as materials used in healing 
practice. One unusual assortment of material was found at a tomb entrance in 
Waset (Winlock 1942, 206-209, on excavations for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 
New York, Asasif Tomb 839). With two baskets, one nested inside the other, and 
coils of hard plant fiber, there were five pieces of aromatic wood and fragments of 
copper ore wrapped in cloth, as well as fruits and nuts. The perplexing mixture at 
least raises the possibility of use in strategies for health and well-being. The items 
might be burial equipment, cleared out at reuse of the tomb, or they might have 
been stored beside a tomb because they were being used there, perhaps for the liv- 
ing as much as for the dead. Any modern exclusion of death from life, and rigid line 
between living and dead, may not apply. This deposit may involve protection with 
matter to heal individuals in this world and for eternity (see also the following sec- 
tions and in Chapter 7). 

If these items could have been combined for healing rituals or medicinal 
effect, the next question would be, how many individuals in the society of that 
time had the skills and access to using them? Modern city dwellers may polarize 
the possible types of practitioner into two opposite figures: the doctor as a uni- 
versity-trained medic (primary example being the physician) and the folk healer 
outside modern medicine (in the European literature sometimes as medicine 
woman/man). For the second figure, general and archaeological writers have 
often used the term shaman - a social healer in contact with spirits, in north 
Asian nomad societies. As the word shaman comes from a particular cultural 
and linguistic background, anthropologists debate how far it can be used for 
other societies (Hutton 2001). The extreme polarization in general modern con- 
cepts of healers may not be useful for understanding the Bronze Age societies of 

180 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

the third to first millennia BC, historically and organizationally distinct from 
most societies studied in social anthropology and sociology. On the other hand, 
some of the most productive and insightful new readings of ancient Egyptian 
evidence have emerged from a conscious shift out of European medical thinking 
and into the worlds of spirit healers (DuQuesne 1991; Naydler 2004). Rather 
than applying the category of shaman healer directly to past Egyptian sources, I 
would keep the shaman in view as part of the attempt to understand how healers 
and healing operated within these distanced time-places. Written evidence for 
specialization in healing is considered in the second part of this chapter (section 
“Healer Titles and Roles”), but may relate mainly to the royal court and related 
wealthier social groups. The mixed material finds offer a less confined starting 
point for considering the healer in society. 

Medicinal matter? The burial of an elderly man and woman 

Among burials provided with an unusual range of plant and animal material, the 
most extraordinary collection accompanied an elderly man and woman laid to 
rest in a southwestern cemetery of Waset, modern Deir al-Madina (Bruyére 1937, 
150-157). The man laid in an undecorated coffin. He wore six scarab rings 
inscribed in hieroglyphs, one of them with the title and name First God’s Servant 
of Amun Hapuseneb; this inscription dates the group to no earlier than 1500 Bc, 
because this official is known to have served Hatshepsut. As Hapuseneb had his 
own burial monument and as the man was buried in a relatively modest, undeco- 
rated coffin, the name on the ring does not identify the wearer in this instance or 
even reveal what relation he might have had to Hapuseneb - a reminder of the 
limitations to written evidence. A lyre had been placed over the legs of the man, 
possibly for the reviving force of music into eternity. Alongside, the woman rested 
in a brightly painted and decorated coffin, inscribed in hieroglyphs, from which 
we know her name, Madja. The hieroglyphic-inscribed rings and the fine coffin of 
Madja place these individuals broadly among the middling wealthier in society 
(Figure 6.2). 

Around the two coffins, the excavators found filled baskets and pottery vessels, 
most closer to Madja; one basket with fine balance set for measuring was beside 
the coffin of the man. Fruits, bread, and fat are within the range of food supplies 
known from many other tombs of the period. Yet some items were in tiny packets, 
not regularly reported for burials of the period, and some materials are treated 
differently, or rare finds in themselves. A circular basket contained round fruits, 
one painted blue, with needles and a wood hone; a cattle horn containing fat; 
and a small ivory-inlaid wood box in which laid little green and pink stones. 
Three packets were inside a sealed vase, nested inside another sealed vase; one 
packet contained five smaller packets of grains, the others had miniature clay 
coffins with winged insects (the excavation diary is not more specific) and one 
with a double-string necklace of white and blue beads. The small packets and 
unusual materials have given rise to suggestions that the two individuals, and 
Madja, in particular, might have been involved in healing (see especially Meskell 
1999, 180-181, 193-195). 

Being Well 181 

Figure 6.2 The burials of awoman named Madja and an unnamed man. Drawing © 
Wolfram Grajetzki after the online archives of Bernard Bruyére at http://www. ifao.egnet. 

Madja as healing/knowing woman? 

Two hundred years later, in the same corner of Waset, we read of a knowing or wise 
woman (Egyptian rekhet) from a handful of writings (Toivari-Viitala 2001, 228-231). 
In the most poignant, a man called Qenherkhepshef asks a woman Inherwau why 
she did not “go to the rekhet about the two babies who died in your charge? Enquire 
of the rekhet about the deaths of the two babies, whether it was their fate, their des- 
tiny—and you must enquire about them for me and obtain a picture of my own life 
and the life of their mother.” Despite the 200-year gap, could Madja be a rekhet, spe- 
cialized in birth trauma and equipped with an array of special items with medicinal 
properties? Or is this an imposition from European concepts of white witch, or witch- 
craft in general, onto the African setting? Anthropologists might provide a range of 
possible parallels for healers of both sexes. The gender associations are highly uncer- 
tain in the burial of Madja; either one or the other or both the man and Madja might 
have been the receiver/user of these baskets and jars of more and less edible items. 
Nevertheless, the later references to a wise woman loosely support that interpreta- 
tion for the find. Contemporary images of a woman with child include some with an 
animal horn on her lap, and the fat might be oils for birth or infant health. A set of 
miniature bed, stool, and headrest lay on the coffin of the elderly man; again, they 
recall images of a woman and child on beds, the dominant form of imagery for safe 
maternity at this period. An elderly pair might bring experience of the substances 

182 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

and unwritten strategies for easing birth against the high risk of death for the infant 
and mother, the greatest concern of society. Yet Deborah Sweeney recalls the lack of 
any ancient written evidence for the age of the rekhet, inviting caution over assuming 
that this must necessarily be an elderly woman (Sweeney 2006, 146-147). 

Material form: overriding the border of nature/artifice 

South of the desert-edge temple at Badari (Chapter 2), in a cluster of half a dozen 
tombs from about 2300-2150 Bc, one simple small pit burial contained an excep- 
tional version of the cosmetic equipment typically included in burials of young 
women at this period (Brunton 1927, 30, pl.49, burial 3217). A later tomb had cut 
away more than half the burial, leaving only the items placed at the feet: two cop- 
per fasteners from a wooden box, a few beads, blue-glazed cowry-shaped amulet, 
and two sliced shells, recalling later cowrie girdles. There were also three cosmetic 
vases, one inscribed for the king’s mother Ankhnespepy (one of the only three royal 
name inscriptions out of hundreds of stone vases of this age in these cemeteries), 
and then a more exceptional find: “an elaborate natural shell (Strombus tricornis?) 
was with these, carved with dog’s head and monkey, and having a ram’s head 
added in clay and limestone. The spout is of thin bone.” Inside the adapted shell 
was found a seal-amulet in the typical disk form of the period, with symmetrical 
four-legged motif (Brunton 1927, pl.32.60). The cosmetic set also included a bone 
spatula and “bone spoon, handle ending in hand with bent fingers” (Figure 6.3). 

Figure 6.3 Shell with animal depictions and extensions, from Badari burial 3217, about 
2200 Bc. Brunton, G. 1927. Qau and Badari I. British School of Archaeology in Egypt, 
London., pl.32. © of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UCL. 

Being Well 183 

The inscribed vase and shell pourer belong broadly to ritual and healing 
associations of adornment. Inscribed cosmetic vases may only be indirectly con- 
nected with the kings and mothers of kings named on them. Perhaps either the 
vessels or their contents came from kingship rituals, from which they were distrib- 
uted to select participants and in this way reached regions far from kingship centers. 
Some vessels of the period, with king name inscriptions, take the form of a monkey 
mother nestling her young, (Arnold 1999), recalling the monkey carved from the 
edge of the shell in the Badari burial. It may be misleading to call the animal figures 
on the shell additions to the natural surface, in our modern division of nature and 
culture. In formal sculpture for eternity, at the start of the Opening of the Mouth 
rites, an artist/ritual performer conceives the form in the stone block; here too, 
perhaps an artist reveals the forms already present within the material. The feature 
called dog’s head by Brunton is less easy to identify. The limestone ram face with 
clay horns curving back might, in this region, evoke Khnum, main deity at Shas- 
hotep across the river from Badari, most often depicted with ram head, but perhaps 
the artist intended no link to any one divine force by name. 

Reinterpreting owners: patients or healers? 

Perhaps, too quickly, we identify the person buried with cosmetic equipment as 
the receiver of adornment, like the patient in healing treatment, whereas with 
Madja and the old man perhaps we first think of them as users of the material, the 
healers active in treatment. With each of these exceptional material deposits, it is 
worth exploring all three possibilities for the individual closest in view: (1) passive 
patient, treated or healed, in this life and/or for eternity; (2) active healer, using the 
materials; and (3) the active patient, using materials and more widely shared skills, 
to treat her- or himself. Cosmetic equipment raises similar possibilities, as indi- 
viduals may adorn themselves and others, or be adorned. In any particular society, 
all, two, or just one might have been the regular social practice; archaeology will 
not always provide evidence for determining which. As our own social and indi- 
vidual practice may lead us to prefer one without considering the others, contrary 
options should be considered in assessing finds: Madja as patient and the Badari 
shell as implement of a (self-)healer. 

Meanings in materials and forms 

As well as using material and enhancing it with motifs, past makers created forms 
from material, working the entire surface, on every scale from colossal sculpture to 
small items worn as jewelry for aesthetic effect and for protection. It may not be 
clear where the past maker and wearer placed emphasis between aesthetic and 
protective, though today different terms are used for these as two primary func- 
tions: when archaeologists, art historians, or curators consider the protective 
aspect dominant, the item may be a pendant; when they see more a protective 
aspect, the terms amulet and talisman are used. When jewelry is found on excava- 
tion, archaeologists may distinguish between beads (no precise motif identifiable) 
and amulets (identifiable motif) and then introduce labels for types and subtypes, 
to sort larger masses of material for further study. However, any item strung to be 

184 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

worn might have held intense significance for the maker and wearer, whether or 
not we can now interpret its material and form. In mass production and emula- 
tions of motifs, a figurative design may become so schematic that it is no longer 
clear even at production, further blurring the boundary between these categories. 
In the archaeology of Egypt, the first attempt at a detailed numerical typology of 
strung items would combine in one sequence what would later be separated into 
beads and amulets in one numerical sequence (Engelbach 1923, pl.49-54). 

Both ancient writings (see Writings for good health) and twentieth-century 
ethnography confirm the parallel potential significance of beads as amulets. The 
Birzeit Museum at Ramallah in Palestine preserves an ethnographic collection of 
all material means for supporting health, acquired by Dr Tawfik Canaan from 
rural patients (Ju'beh 2005). In an archaeological museum, many of these items 
would be called beads rather than amulets, but hand-written labels by Canaan 
record specific medicinal properties sought by their wearers, such as that two 
yellow- and white-banded glass barrel shapes were to be worn against vomiting 
bile/children up to 4 (Birzeit n.d.). In rural Egypt under British military occupa- 
tion, the English anthropologist Winifred Blackman also collected items of jew- 
elry, recording age and gender associations and local significance for health 
(Blackman 1927). 

Among ancient finds, recurrent associations of gender or age offer clues to 
meaning. Leg- and hand-shaped amulets typical for burials of young women 
(2200-2000 Bc) are generally of red carnelian, as if evoking menstrual blood at 
entry into puberty. However, the same material might carry multiple associa- 
tions. At a New Kingdom palace by the entrance to Fayoum province, one indi- 
vidual was buried with 16 strings of beads, predominantly blood-red carnelian; 
one scorpion pendant of carnelian; another of gilt faience; and seal-amulets 
inscribed with the image of a scorpion (Petrie 1931). The repetition of the scor- 
pion motif might evoke the title controller of Serqget (see section Healer Titles and 
Roles). However, as with the Madja burial, it is not clear whether material with 
the deceased relates to the role in life or to motifs of eternal protection within the 
general pattern of burial customs, even, conceivably, a unique strategy thought 
necessary for someone at the palace who had been struck down by scorpion bite 
or snakebite. 

A papyrus from 1500 Bc contains incantations for health of mother and child, in 
some instances to be spoken over sets of beads of particular materials or strung 
with specific numbers of knots. Evidently, particular combinations or sequences of 
material could be as powerful as the individual components, but this is hard to cor- 
roborate from excavated examples. Excavations only rarely yield bead strings that 
are sufficiently well preserved and recorded to confirm their ancient arrangement. 
In the largest collection, some 2000 strings, fewer than 50, are in original order, 
despite this being a special interest of the collector and archaeologist Flinders 
Petrie (Nai 1945). Two examples from the cemeteries at Sidmant indicate the 
potential for future research into material meanings. From the burial of a young 
girl, 2100 BC, on a string of green and black faience beads, disk rings alternate with 

Being Well 185 

rosettes, punctuated by a cylinder, a crumb-coated bead, and a disk on which the 
wedjat, “health,” eye is incised. A burial of about 1500 Bc had a string of carnelian, 
blue faience, and ostrich eggshell disk beads, none of which would be classified as 
an amulet from their form. 

Achronology of amulet forms 

Most amulets have survived in burials; only more analysis of use-wear and 
more settlement archaeology can reveal which types were worn in life. The 
range changes over time with local focus or within a body grammar of the full 
set of material formed, and sometimes inscribed, in each period. Around 3000 
BC, figured amulets are rare. In the large cemeteries near Semenuhor (Kafr 
Turki), only a few richer burials had small figurines, some for wearing as pen- 
dants (Petrie 1914, pl.1). Also from the Semenuhor cemeteries, one extraordi- 
nary portable form is a small, hollow, beetle-shaped case in calcite, with 
detachable plug. The excavation director Flinders Petrie identified this as the 
earliest secure example of reverence for the scarab beetle, but it may be another 
type; its ancient contents remain unknown. Whichever species served as proto- 
type, the stone case indicates active lines of connection with fauna and geol- 
ogy, comparable in direction with the different deployment of every scale of 
animal and bird in later periods of Egyptian material production. The burial 
customs of the mid-third millennium BC did not include the practice of placing 
jewelry with the deceased, other than ceremonial broad collars made for the 
burial (Chapter 7), and few town areas of this date have been excavated. As a 
result, little is known of protective jewelry or amulets for that period, the main 
pyramid age (Figure 6.4). 

The customs change after 2200 Bc, and among a wide variety of amulet forms 
that may continue earlier traditions, some types appear now for the first time in 
the archaeological record. Flat-based seals for stamping impressions on mud 
sealings begin to replace the older Mesopotamian cylinder seal, rolling over mud 
sealings (Wiese 1996). Sealing is a strategy of protection, and seals seem always 

Figure 6.4 Calcite beetle vase, with stopper; the excavation director W. Petrie thought it 
would have contained a desiccated example of the beetle portrayed. W. Petrie, Tarkhan I, 
1914, pl.1. 

186 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

to have been considered imbued with wider protective powers; the term seal- 
amulet is often used in archaeology to indicate this broad significance, beyond 
the function of securing contents. Both cylinder seal and stamp-seal continue in 
use into the second millennium, often on the same strings with beads and amu- 
lets. Motifs on the seals, and the forms of the backs, coincide with the pendant 
amulets, in a unified image world. By 2000 Bc, young women of high status in 
varying contexts, from village to palace, wear buried with girdles of cowry shells, 
back sliced off to evoke the vulva; examples include actual shells or their form in 
faience or gold. Fly amulets of glazed steatite are also found, and in the mid- 
second millennium, larger flies in bone and gold appear; inscriptions after 1500 
BC refer to gifts of honor, in military style, perhaps from flies swarming as if ona 
battlefield (Gestoso Singer 2009). The same form in different materials and scales 
at different periods seems in this case to vary in meaning. 

From the nineteenth century BC, a spectacular series of royal treasures survive 
from burials of mothers, wives, and daughters of the king, with two sets of jewelry: 
one placed on or beside the body, made for the tomb, as part of embalming and 
burial ritual and the other deposited in separate boxes, apparently the items that 
might have been worn in a ceremony or festival during life (Grajetzki 2014). Items 
of life jewelry include elaborate openwork pectorals with motifs of victorious 
king; girdles of gold cowries with amethyst ball beads; and, in place of the earlier 
leg amulets, anklets with gold claws. Outside the court at this time, richer burials 
include disk rings and sometimes extremely realistic fish amulets of precious 
metal. From the same period, on depictions of girls and young women, some- 
times wearing cowry girdles, the fish amulet is worn at the end of the hair, tied in 
a single plait. In dancing scenes, the plait terminals are large blue- and black- 
glazed ball beads, practical counterweights for rotating in dance, but perhaps 
also with some of the same power to evoke protection, specifically on the water. 
From the Lahun town or tombs come faience star and dragonfly amulets; these 
recall the gold five-pronged stars and butterfly pendants from the burial of the 
king’s daughter Khnumet, found at Dahshur. The royal pendants are decorated in 
granulation, that is, with minute spheres, a technique imported into Egypt at this 
time from west Asia, and the forms have been associated with Aegean and 
Anatolian jewelry (Aldred 1971). The Lahun faience examples seem to the local 
impact of prestigious or sacred motif styles that would have radiated out from 
kingship centers. The choice of forms might begin with a foreign technique and 
even a design but also links into earlier Egyptian worlds of significance: the stars 
are prominent in the literature for the afterlife (Chapter 7), and offering chapel 
scenes include images of butterflies and dragonflies as part of the rural idyll for 
eternal good life. 

After 1500 Bc, the seal-amulets present a twin focus on the name of the king and 
his father Amun-Ra, fusion of the concepts of hiddenness (Amun of Thebes) and 
sun-power (Ra). The clearest single series of amulets is the catalogue of forms from 
Akhetaten, mainly in faience, giving the image world at and immediately after the 
Akhenaten revolution, about 1350 Bc (Petrie 1894). Many amulets and ring bezels 
give name of the king and sun-god, Aten, in the radical reformulation of kingship 

Being Well 187 

as, exclusively, cult of the visible sun. Others create a world of plant and bird forms 
in praise of the creation, as already found in kingship temple reliefs of 2450 Bc. 
Alongside Egyptian flora and birds appear animals in the style imported from the 
Aegean and west Asia: dogs racing after deer, or facing goats on their hind legs, nib- 
bling plants. Also, unexpectedly in a city dedicated to Aten, a high proportion of 
amulets are in the form of protective deities Aha/Bes and Ipy/Taweret; these finds 
may date after the death of Akhenaten, when the city continued to function under 

In the early first millennium BC, birth themes continued to dominate produc- 
tion of faience amulets, with Aha/Bes and dwarf motifs. However, new amulet 
forms refocus on the cults of dangerous goddesses, Bast and Sekhmet, appeased 
on behalf of the child, and their reverse, Hathor at peace, providing sensuous, 
including musical, regeneration. Bronze and openwork faience counterpoises 
for heavy collars evoke Hathor rituals, and the dangerous goddesses are present 
as faience lioness-headed figurines, found on townsites and in tombs. As in 
incantations for health (see Writing for good health), the child-patient is mod- 
eled on the divine child, simultaneously king and sun-god; though future king, 
the child is shown as Horus vulnerable in the marshes, needing the protection of 
the mother Isis. 

After 700 Bc, there are also amulets evoking the pastoral world along and over- 
looking the floodplain: goats, ibex, and the branches they feed from are among 
motifs that had also been prominent in the period of mixed Asian-Egyptian rule 
east of the Delta, 1700-1550 Bc. These forms disappear after reunification of Egypt 
under rulers from Sais in the west Delta, but it is not clear which images take their 
place: the period 600-300 Bc produced the finest faience figurines for motifs such 
as dwarf and Ipy/Taweret, but they survive from funerary sets. New finds and anal- 
yses of used wear may help clarify whether these circulated outside the specialized 
environment of temple ritual and burial. 

Material defense for safe birth 

Among the figurines made not for wearing, but as separate material form, those 
depicting the young woman are prominent across the three millennia, though still 
with its own specific history, and always within a changing array of other figures 
that would affect, if not determine, meaning. In the third millennium BC, the naked 
female figurine is one of a series of animal and human forms, generally made of 
faience and found in temple deposits. In the late Middle Kingdom (1850-1700 Bc), 
now mainly preserved in burials, the range continues, though small male figures 
now tend to be of dwarves and boys (hand to mouth), and the female figurine 
seems more prominent. In this period, the figurines are often depicted tattooed, 
and with the arousing and protective jewelry known from depictions and burials, 
such as the cowry girdles. A wider range of sculptors were involved in production, 
with different materials: faience, pottery, wood, limestone, and ivory. These vary 
from schematic painted wood with masses of hair as linen threads with Nile-silt 
pellets (Morris 2011) to a realistic and expertly sculpted ivory figurine wearing 
metal earrings - the earliest examples of earrings in Egypt (Bourriau 1988). On 

188 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

many, the genitalia are emphasized, and small versions in mud may reduce the 
form to a trapezoidal block marked only as reproduction. A spectacular version 
with leonine mask, evoking childbirth-protector deities, had held copper serpents; 
in the same tomb find were wood and faience female figurines, faience animals 
and plants, and papyri for good health (see section “Who Owned Healing Papyri?’, 
with Figure 6.8). 

After 1450 BC, clay or stone figurines of the naked female wear jewelry and ornate 
heavy wig, lying on a bed, often with child alongside. The motif also moves to eye 
paint containers and dominates a new version of the spoon for ladling or sprin- 
Kling, in the wider variety of materials: most often, the bowl of the spoon, some- 
times as duck or fish, is held by a naked swimming girl, and sometimes, the handle 
becomes a new artwork, as in openwork motifs of girl playing music. This form is 
popular across the eastern Mediterranean (1400-1200 Bc), particularly in ivory, 
and is revived in dark soft stones in first-millennium production, with the distinc- 
tive shorter round hairstyles of 750-525 Bc. 

The lyrical imagery of these works evokes the imagery in love songs preserved on 
Egyptian papyri 1300-1100 Bc. However, in the longer history of the form, safe birth 
seems the main focus for the figurine, including in palace production of the finest 
images. Infant and maternal mortality affected every class: the bedroom of the pal- 
ace of Amenhotep III preserved images of childbirth protectors, and chairs from 
palace furniture in royal and court burials of 1400-1350 Bc include Bes and Ipy/ 
Taweret. Much of the ancient material we classify as art belongs to the battle for 
safe birth at the highest level (Allen 2005). There is no high/low division in these 
sources, no religion/superstition divide as some modern writing assumes. Here, 
the social setting must be considered, from modern parallels that reveal the practi- 
cality of caring for mother and child. The art of healing implies wealth; birth pro- 
tection might always involve the luxury of time, not available to everyone in a 
farming and pastoral economy. For late twentieth-century Nile Delta villagers, 
Morsy comments on the social class of birth defense and notes how confinement 
rituals after birth protection in two directions, for mother and child and for the 
society around (Morsy 1980, 156): 

In the village of FatiHa, the ideal of confinement of women after birth (practiced only 
in families whose economic resources permit the temporary release of women from 
their work obligations) is exercised, not simply as a way of protecting others from their 
contaminating power, but primarily as protection for women themselves and their 
newborn infants, all of whom are believed to be particularly susceptible to harm, 
including death, during the post-partum period 

In the ancient Egyptian record, in its different variants, the imagery of fertility and 
birth protection recurs intermittently throughout the record of votive offerings and 
burial equipment, including burials of men and women and children and adults, 
though with a tendency to the female and infant worlds (Figure 6.5). 

In one period, 1850-1750 Bc, more burials contain more birth equipment, which 
also appears most varied at this time, with carved hippopotamus tusks and special 

Being Well 189 


St SS 0S 
TA iss 
ISA X ol erm 

Figure6.5 Aha/Bes and Ipy/Taweret on a chair inscribed for the king’s daughter 
Satamun, from the burial of Yuya and Tjuyu, parents of queen Tiy, about 1375 Bc. Davies, 
T. 1907. The Tomb of Iouiya and Touiyou. Constable, London. 

190 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

rods decorated with forces of protection, redeployed as additional strategy for 
securing eternal life (Chapter 7). Finds from second-millennium BC settlement 
sites indicate that these strategies belong also, or primarily, within at least 
wealthier town life. The only surviving mask for the living, with lionlike features of 
childbirth-protector Aha/Bes, was buried in a pit in one of the medium-sized 
houses at Lahun (1800 Bc; see Chapter 2). Recent finds of the same date at 
Mennefer/Memphis include a fragment of a limestone lamp or incense altar 
sculpted as a dwarf, in a substantial house where an infant had also been buried 
(UJeffresy 2012). The modern line between funerary and domestic and living and 
dead becomes difficult to maintain in this world of protection. 

Protection of the body, awake and asleep 

After 1550 Bc, images of childbirth protectors Aha/Bes and Ipy/Taweret are found 
on cosmetic equipment, particularly luxurious versions of eye paint containers, 
eye paint offering medicinal protection as well as adornment (see section “Healer 
Titles and Roles,’ for physicians producing eye paint). The imagery is also found on 
headrests from 1800 Bc onward, invoking the same protective powers for the body 
lying vulnerable in sleep. Other protectors of the vulnerable at home, including 
adults at sleep, include the female cobra, poised to strike, as clay figurines 
(Szpakowska 2003b). Serpents might be the enemy as much as defense; from 1350 
BC, small wood round-topped plaques are known, incised with images of a young 
king or falcon overcoming serpents and inscribed with the name Horus or the 
Egyptian word shed, “Savior.” After 900 Bc, the child-ruler-deity motif is found in 
the more three-dimensional form of Horus stelae, on varying scales, from small 
portable amulets to larger-scale temple sculptures (Sternberg-el-Hotabi, 1999). On 
the front, the Horus child stands on two crocodiles, controlling in his hands the 
hostile forces of the desert - snakes, scorpions, oryx; sides, back and, on small ver- 
sions, underside are inscribed with incantations against bites (Figure 6.6). 

As an aggressive defense of order, the rearing cobra receives early expression in 
the defense of ruler and divine order (cf. Chapter 2.4). From 2400 Bc and later, 
depictions of rituals set these serpent powers at the forehead, when the king, or 
later some deities, appears to a wider audience, marking a moment of risk (Roberts 

Figure 6.6 Lion-headed and hippopotamus-lion protectors, earliest example ona 
headrest, inscribed for the accountant of the main recruitment enclosure, Neferhotep, 
from his burial in Waset, about 1750 Bc. Photograph © Gianluca Miniaci. 

Being Well 191 

1995). The protective imagery moves from kingship ritual not only toward the 
domestic sphere of different social classes but also into temple ritual and furniture 
in specific locations. After 700 Bc, the image of Osiris at Abdju is defended against 
attack from all cardinal points by four lioness-headed rising cobras with special 
names. The four faces evoke earlier quadruple Hathor-face pillar capitals, a 
Complete Hathor, each side identified as a protective goddess - Bast, Shesmetet, 
Wadjyt, and Sekhmet (Coulon 2011). Here, in the domain of protection against ills, 
the imagery returns to the double aspect of Love (Hathor) and Fury (Sekhmet), 
prominent in the written sources (Chapter 4). For more information on the history 
of health strategies, with specific naming of the forces arrayed against well-being, 
the full surviving written record may be addressed next (Figure 6.7). 

Health, healers, and healed: written evidence 

Healer titles and roles 

In written sources, the main titles in the area of healing are physician (Egyptian 
sunu), pure one of Sekhmet (Egyptian wa’b Sekhmet), and controller of Serqet 
(Egyptian kherep Serqet). By rationalist prejudice, some histories of medicine 
excluded the titles referring to goddesses, as too priestly for scientific treatment. 
However, the ancient writings suggest instead that the difference was in types of 
ailment treated, rather than any underlying separation of medicine from religion 
(Kanel, 1984). The sunu, “physician,” seems to specialize in treatment of external 
wounds, but the term may also be used as a generalized term for healer. In the cor- 
respondence of King Ramses IX with the high priest of Amun, Ramsesnakht, about 
a delivery of galena, the lead ore used for eye paint, the sunu presides over this field 
of protective adornment; “when given to the physicians of the Bureau of Physicians 
of Pharaoh at the Residence, to be processed, it was found to be such weak galena 
that it contained nothing useable for the eye-paint of Pharaoh!” (Wente 1990, 37). 
Men with the other healing titles might also have provided general advice for heal- 
ing; in one letter (Waset 1250 Bc), controller of Serqet Amenmes advises temple 
accountant Piay on directions for preparing a medicine (Wente 1990, 142). 

The hundred and fifty known sunu, “physicians,” include only one woman, 
Peseshet, serving in the household of the king’s mother about 2250 Bc (list in Nunn 
1996). However, writing makes visible only some parts of life. Titles define what is 
considered, in that source, at that time, the primary activity of a person, but they do 
not seek to describe a social life as the modern job title might. This is clear from 
instances where physicians hold other titles: on a coffin from Bersha in Middle 
Egypt, 1900 Bc, a man named Gua holds on one side the title physician, on the 
other estate overseer. Other holders of the common title estate overseer might also 
have served as healers, and other titles may conceal healing practice - including 
the nonspecific titles of women, such as lady of the house. Equally, individuals 
without titles in written records might have been involved in healing. Our lists of 
healers are important guides to the social profile in the official record and locate 
points of social recognition, with all the accompanying prestige, but they must be 
read in context. 

192 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 


) = 
“i IKE) fs 

pu S 
a {Oak w 
of, A @QI20 
so |_| 
§) |G 
? AW. 

Figure 6.7 Sharp face, flame face, awake face, and alive face: protectors of the image of 
Osiris at Abdju. On limestone stela from Abdju, now British Museum EA808. Drawing © 
Wolfram Grajetzki, after Coulon 2011. 

Being Well 193 

Before the name of a man, the term pure one most often denotes someone puri- 
fied for performing rituals and offerings for a named deity at a cult place (Chapter 3). 
However, men with the title pure one of Sekhmet are not associated with temples of 
the goddess Sekhmet. Instead, the term appears among titles of healers. Sekhmet, 
the Fury, is associated in writings with the threat of disease and plague at the end of 
the Egyptian agricultural year, when midsummer heat at the lowest levels of the Nile 
raised real risks, precisely at the point that food and water were in shortest supply, 
and anxiety for the height of the next Nile flood at its most intense (Kanel 1984). We 
might expect, then, that the pure one of Sekhmet was involved with what we might 
call public hygiene, specifically precautions against spread of plague, and checks on 
any food particularly vulnerable to heat - such as meat in banquets or special offer- 
ings (cf. a later manual, first-second century AD, Osing and Rosati 1998). 

The controller of Serget similarly has no known links to any temples of that 
goddess, and again, no woman is recorded as having the title, whether or not any 
performed the roles. Serqet, “she who causes/allows to breathe,’ is depicted in the 
third millennium as a water scorpion, a small pool insect unrelated to the land 
scorpion but with a breathing tube that recalls the scorpion’s stinging tail. Later 
depictions show her as a scorpion, particularly as one of the forces enabling the life- 
less to regain breath (Chapter 7). A unique late treatise preserves a collection of remedies 
in the hands of a controller of Serqet, which describes each type of snake, the effect 
of its bite, and instructions for treatment where possible (sixth-fourth centuries BC, 
Sauneron 1989). In addition to scorpions, the Saharan Nile Valley is home to a far 
greater variety of snakes, many venomous, like the cobra, and some lethal, like the 
asp or viper. This geographical context explains the need for a specialist in this area. 

Areas of treatment by titled and untitled healers 

The three specialist roles of physician, plague expert, and bite expert chart the 
terrain of healing at formal level, but do not necessarily cover all the types of 
treatment needed in the ancient Nile. Written records allow us to check the formal 
picture to at least some extent. From the village of artists working on the project to 
decorate the tomb of the king at Thebes (1300-1100 Bc), documents record reasons 
for absence for work, including ill health, and offer a means of identifying the most 
needed treatments (Janssen 1980). One work record cites “sickness” a hundred 
times but only twice with a specific ailment, “suffering in his eye”; there is also one 
entry “the scorpion stung him,’ as known from several other sources from this vil- 
lage. The records of absence thus confirm one specialist area, treatment of snake- 
bites, and draw attention to eye problems, another affliction prominent in the 
Saharan Nile but one for which there is no specialist title in second-millennium BC 
sources. One late twentieth-century study notes: 

Even today, Egypt has an inordinate share of blind and otherwise visually impaired 
citizens—most of them the rural poor and the victims of a chronic and sometimes 
blinding eye infection called trachoma, which is hyperendemic in rural Egypt. (Millar 
and Lane 1988, 654) 

194 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Other vast areas of challenges to health, above all pregnancy and birth, are also 
missing from the titles of male healers: for some of these, we turn to the manu- 
scripts which they, and maybe others, were using. 

Writings for good health 

Surviving manuscripts indicate a recurrent triple strategy for all healers, each with 
its own Egyptian term: shesau, observation-based treatment (diagnosis and prog- 
nosis); pekheret, medicines, composed of specific ingredients in specific quantities 
or proportions; and ru, incantations, the words to reintegrate the individual back 
into the society of the healthy. In most manuscripts, one term dominates, so that 
a papyrus can be identified as predominantly treatments, prescriptions, and incan- 
tations already from the headings, before even reading the contents. The division 
may obscure the likely reality that this triple strategy is deployed by all three cate- 
gories of healer. Modern prejudice might lead us to disassociate physician from 
chants and draw comfort from the dominance of shesau instructions for treatment 
of external wounds in the one surviving surgical treatise (Breasted 1930). However, 
the ancient writings are explicit that chants also accompanied their work; for “a 
wound in front of his face, shattering the skull shell,’ requiring particularly risky 
treatment, the surgical treatise adds a passage of incantation (Allen 2005, 29-80, 
Papyrus Edwin Smith case 9). In general, modern medical historians excise magic 
from their view of past healing, sometimes allowing for a contaminated interface of 
medicomagical. However, these categories are alien to the unitary or holistic 
ancient practice of attending to the sick with hands-on treatment, medicaments 
from the material world around, and the healing power of words. 

Who owned healing papyri? 

We know the title held by the ancient owner of any other healing papyri in only one 
case, and it has nothing to do with healing: Accountant of the Project, on the project 
for cutting and decorating the tomb of the king (Pestman 1982). Perhaps that 
accountant was a cultured reader, in a society where writings for health might have 
formed part of the core figure of a knowledgeable person. Although he might have 
been consulted either for his reading knowledge or for his real experience, the writ- 
ten records for his life at the village do not portray him as a healer. The earliest surviv- 
ing group of health papyri is from a reused tomb under the Ramesseum: the box of 
papyri was found in 1896 at the bottom of the tomb shaft, with a range of items, but 
the body and any coffin had long since gone. The items include figurines associated 
with birthing rituals, and the combination of imagery and manuscript content has 
led Egyptologists to identify the original owner of the tomb as a healer (Quack 2006). 
However, there are three obstacles to this interpretation: (1) the combination of later 
literary and healing manuscripts recalls the mixed contents of papyri known to 
belong to the accountant; (2) there may have been more than one person buried in 
the tomb, and the original association of the objects with the papyri is uncertain; and 
(3) the presence of birthing objects is typical for burials of the time of these papyri. 
More serious still, rich burial equipment of the third to first millennia BC tends to 

Being Well 195 

mark not profession, but status and gender: therefore, it would be extraordinary to 
find a healer buried with healing equipment. Here, the later burial of Madja could be 
cited as a possible counterexample of healing material with a possible healer; per- 
haps, then, exceptions were occasionally made with burials of women, supporting 
the idea that the owner of the papyri was a midwife (Gnirs 2009). However, this 
remains speculation: there is no body and no secure parallel for special midwife bur- 
ial equipment, and all other female burials of the period lack such items. In general, 
the lack of parallel may support a different interpretation for Madja after all, as some- 
one given special healing protection for eternity rather than an owner of medicines. 
Among the earliest manuscripts (1800 BC) are two papyri with shesau treatments, 
from the townsite at Lahun. One covers the treatments for women, perhaps specifi- 
cally once pregnancy is visible but stopping before the birth. Possibly the medic 
handed over to the midwife at this point. However, on one of the papyri found under 
the Ramesseum, an incantation series extend beyond birth to (immediate?) postna- 
tal care, as does a later papyrus of incantations for mother and child (Yamazaki 2003). 
The concerns in these birth papyri include forecasting the sex of the child to be born 
(on forecasting, see section III). The second Lahun healing manuscript preserves the 
only second-millennium BC example of veterinary care, perhaps mainly for hygiene 
of cattle herds used in offerings. A treatise in a Roman Period hieratic papyrus, pos- 
sibly composed earlier, includes among the tasks of the pure of Sekhmet monitoring 
outbreaks of contagious diseases and checking cattle meat (Osing and Rosati 1998). 

Coping with life crises through the year 

A few papyri preserve series of days marked as good or bad, the earliest being a 
single series of thirty days, as if for each of the twelve months of the year, without its 
five end days, or perhaps intended for one particular month (from Lahun, 1800 Bc, 
Griffith 1898, pl.25). Two more expansive versions survived from 1300 to 1200 Bc, 
and another from perhaps the seventh century BC. Extending across the year, the 
entries divide a day into three parts, each of which may be marked good or bad. 
These more elaborate versions provide reasons from lives of the gods for the good 
or bad quality of particular days. Equally rare manuscripts survived with incanta- 
tions to be recited in the dangerous heat of the midsummer days at the end of the 
ancient Egyptian year. One thirteenth-century BC papyrus preserves a Book of the 
last day of the year, first hailing 12 deities, followed by this invocation (Raven 1997): 

Hail these gods, disease-forces on the arms of Sekhmet, 

going out from the Eye of Ra, envoys throughout the regions, 
inflicters of slaughter, creators of turmoil, racing through the land, 
shooting arrows from their mouths, spying afar! 

Following the rest of the incantation, securing the speaker from falling prey to 
these hostile summer forces, instructions are given for recital: “words to be spoken 
on a bandage of fine linen, on which these deities are drawn, made into 12 knots.” 
After other incantations for the last five days of the year, the 12 deities are duly 
drawn as a guide. From the same age, and perhaps source, as the papyrus, five 
linen bandages are indeed preserved with the images prescribed (Raven 1997). 

196 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 


Recourse to the divine: oracles in writing 

Both health incantations and shesau treatments aim to affect the course of devel- 
opments for the good, something many people today may accept in medical 
prognosis but reject as superstition under any other circumstances. The power of 
telling the future does not give rise to the role of prophetic seer, found in other 
cultures. In literary writing, the ability to see the future may be presented as 
a remarkable virtue but without superhuman associations; in the Tale of a 
Shipwrecked Courtier, a crew is said able to forecast a storm, but this does not 
save it from perishing at sea. However, an inscription of 1900 Bc does seem to 
ascribe divine ability to King Amenemhat II for forecasting a miraculous catch 
of fish (Altenmiiller and Moussa 1991). Such marvels (Egyptian biayt, “wonder”) 
indicated the intervention of divine powers into earthly events; quarry inscrip- 
tions for King Mentuhotep IV (2000 Bc) record a flash flood that revealed a desert 
well and a gazelle giving birth on a block, taken by the quarrying expedition as 
marking the stone for the sarcophagus of the king, on which the gazelle was then 
sacrificed in thanks (Vernus 1995). 

Procedures for foretelling the future begin to legitimate official action in 
writings after 1500 Bc, when select kingship inscriptions refer to movements 
of an image of the creator-god being carried in procession, as endorsement of a 
future king (Hatshepsut, Thutmes III). After 1300 Bc, festival processions became 
more regular opportunities for any person to put a yes-or-no question to a deity, 
through the image being carried, most often in a boat-shrine on carrying poles 
(Cerny 1962). In these consultations (Egyptian nedjut-re), a movement of the 
bearers of the image in one direction or another would give the answer, received 
as declaration (Egyptian kher-tu) or wonder (biayt). The procedure seems to 
have complemented the regular judicial tribunals, with no structural opposi- 
tion; high officials of state appear on oracle witness lists. Only later, and perhaps 
briefly, out at the oases did oracles become decisive even in local land judg- 
ments (Gardiner 1933). Nor were oracles automatically accepted; in one dispute 
between two men, Amenemwia brought an accusation of theft a total of five 
times before three different forms of Amun, but Patjaumdiamun felt able to reject 
the verdict against him before finally declaring his guilt (papyrus document, 1250 
BC, Blackman 1925). 

From 950 to 850 BC, at Waset, over 20 examples are known of oracle pronounce- 
ments in favor of the health of a named individual, of high status, including one 
king’s son; these are written on long thin strips of papyrus, to be rolled and worn as 
amulets, sometimes in cylindrical cases of wood or gold. The following clauses are 
from the oracle of Mut, Khons, and Amun for a girl or woman named Tashereteniah 
(Edwards 1960, 51-67) (Figure 6.8): 

We shall make our servant and our children healthy in her flesh and in her bones 
We shall make good every dream she has seen 
We shall make good every dream she will see 

Being Well 197 

Figure 6.8 Container for a decree of protection issued by an oracle. After the accessions 
register of the Bibliotheque Nationale, as reproduced by Edwards, I. Hieratic Papyri in 
the British Museum. Fourth series. British Museum, London, 1960, xix. 

We shall rescue her from Khons-enduring-child and Khons-maker-of-condition, 
the two baboons whose seat is in Pernefer, who rest at right and left of Khons, 
who issue the books for putting to death and for causing to live. 

We shall rescue her from the fierce lion of Bast ... from the bite of crocodile, snake, 

scorpion, ... from every evil eye and every evil look, 

... from all heka-power of every heka-maker, man or woman, 

... from the collapse of a wall and the fall of a thunderbolt 

We shall rescue her from any action of a Great (goddess) of a canal 

a well 
a pool 
a cleft 
a marsh 

of khaytu-disease-demons and of shemayu-plague-demons, 

... from the books of the beginning of the year, books of the end of the year, 
books of the five days over the end of the year. 

Other clauses seek to protect the physical body from head down, starting with 
hair loss, headache, and problems of the eye, throat, and teeth. Functioning as 
religious insurance contracts, these documents assemble details on daily matters 

198 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

not always prominent in other sources; the female great powers (Egyptian weret) 
appear localized to specific features in the landscape and might also be attached 
to the family on side of both mother and father. The world seems a dangerous 
and fragile structure, against which powers of good must be invoked, at least at 
this period, at every step. 

The god Khons plays a prominent part here, as bringer of divine retribution, a 
role found in funerary writing a thousand years earlier, before he is attested as son 
of Amun at Waset. He is shown with lunar crescent, the moon changing as fate 
may change. Lunar deities Khons and Thoth may be depicted in baboon form, 
perhaps as baboons noisily acclaim sunrise, complementing the sun as the moon 
does. The moon offers the ambivalent model and influence of celestial bodies for 
human life; in its rhythms of change, it provides a basis for calculation, a basis for 
knowledge, and the domain of Thoth, but at the same time, its continual fading 
threatens the stability of order. One fifteenth-century BC papyrus preserves a 
series of incantations against corrosive diseases particularly difficult to treat, 
ascribed to the power of Khons and his emissaries: “swellings, eruptions, gnaw- 
ings, affliction from a deity, a male or female dead” (Bardinet 2010). The healer 
invokes the figure of the baboon, recalling the two associated with Khons in the 
oracle amulet papyri but identified also as the one from abroad and from the 
mountain Laban, interpreted by Bardinet as referring to desert-mountain terri- 
tory east of the Jordan. An uncontrollable power is seen here as emerging out of 
foreign lands, threatening sickness and death. Incantations were urgently needed 
against such forces. 

Rarer or less visible traces of divination 

In addition to consulting deities on festival procession days, other forms of divina- 
tion may have been practiced. A unique papyrus of 1250 Bc, from the village of 
artists at Waset (Deir al-Madina), contains evidence for a variety of techniques 
(Demichelis 2002). The warnings come from the creator sun-god Ra himself, while 
the person conducting the good process (shemu nefer) is identified with Thoth, lord 
of knowledge and script. This person is appropriately identified as the knower of 
things and is to be purified with incense, natron, and an unidentified substance 
called dja‘a. One technique involves pebbles, perhaps drawn in lots, as attested for 
the procession oracles, but there is also divination from liquid in bowls, not other- 
wise found in Egyptian writings (3000-525 Bc). Remarkable schematic images 
accompany interpretations of patterns formed by moringa oil when dropped in 
water, with such warnings as “if you see this image on a day of conflict, it is bad for 
you, do not go beyond words!” 

Before 1500 BC, there are no certain written records of consulting divine forces 
for help in, or information on, the future. However, Sylvie Donnat has proposed to 
interpret as divination the 15 surviving letters to the dead, the majority from 2200 
to 2000 Bc, with particular attention to the five written on pottery bowls (Donnat 
2002). Pouring water is a ritual act at the core of offering to the dead; at Waset 
(1300-1100 Bc), when artists are absent from work on the tomb of the king to 
“pour water for the transfigured dead (akh),” and first-millennium BC offerers to 

Being Well 199 

the dead are called water pourers. In scenes of offering for a good afterlife, pre- 
cisely the same type of wide, fairly shallow bowl appears for use in libations. At 
Waset (1300-1100 Bc), a particular type of stela shows the recipient seated on a 
formal chair and identified in hieroglyphic inscription as “excellent transfigured 
one of Ra” (Demaree 1983). Here, communication might happen within the home, 
as the architecture of houses shows, with closed-platform altars and false-door 
motifs in the village of artists; the Teaching of Any also urges offerings to be made 
to parents in the home (Weiss 2009). Evidently, the location of contact with the 
dead might vary. From 1300 to 1100 Bc, there are the sculptures known in 
Egyptology as ancestor busts, small rounded blocks of stone, faience, or wood, 
with tops carved or formed as a head of a man or woman, more rarely a couple, 
addressing deceased parents and, through them, the line of ancestors to Shu and 
Tefnet at the beginning of creation (Chapter 2). The combination of parents and 
ancestors may be a particularly ancient Egyptian form to more widely attested 
phenomena of ancestor cults; to call it ancestor cult may be to overlook the imme- 
diate tie to the biological parents. Within the same frame, the early letters to the 
dead address the very recently deceased; they appeal for help in daily problems of 
well-being (domestic conflict) and health (Wente 1990). Comparing the oil-in- 
water bowls of the papyrus from Deir al-Madina, first-millennium BC divination 
bowls in west Asia, and recent west African examples, Donnat raises the possibil- 
ity that the bowls were used to communicate with the dead, perhaps on the very 
day of the funeral. 

Other communication techniques: dreams, nightmares, 
and the question of games 
Communicating with other worlds might extend to the imagery of sleep. The papyri 
of the accountant in the village of artists (see earlier section “Who Owned Healing 
Papyri?”) include the only known book of dream interpretations. In this manual, 
interpretations may work by analogy, similar sounds in words, or associations of 
ideas. Rare second-millennium BC incantations against bad dreams are known, 
sometimes with instruction for recital over clay figurines of rearing cobras, as 
known from late second-millennium BC sites (Szpakowska 2003a). The dream 
might be spontaneous, but there is limited evidence for the practice of incubation 
or sleeping in a sacred place in order to obtain a dream that might then need to be 
interpreted. From the family of the book-owning accountant, one man declares on 
a votive stela to Mut “I have spent the night in your forecourt.” Induced dreams may 
also have been part of the process involving the letters to the dead; Merirtyfy states 
that he slept in order to see his dead wife (Vernus 1986). According to one intrigu- 
ing written record from the village of artists, the draftsman Merysekhmet may have 
spent time in his chapel there, before his deity, as part of a healing process after he 
fell sick; centuries later, as in ancient Greek practice, patients would rest or sleep in 
sacred precincts to obtain dreams (Fischer-Elfert 2011). 

Practices of communicating with divine forces may also leave material traces 
other than writing. Earlier archaeologists sometimes confidently identified obscure 
items in burial equipment as toys or material for games. Fourth-millennium BC 

200 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Figure 6.9 Divination equipment, game set, or both? Ivory rods and ball, from a burial 
in the cemeteries of Semenuhor, (Kafr Turki), about 3000 Bc, now Petrie Museum 
UC15485. F Petrie, Tarkhan I and Memphis V. British School of Archaeology in Egypt, 
London, pl.12. 

balls and square-section rods might be reconstructed as miniature croquet sets, in 
keeping with the social and cultural background of early twentieth-century excava- 
tion directors (Petrie 1896). While they might well have served as pieces for some 
less European-looking game, they might also be considered instead as divining 
materials. Around 3000 BC, one burial at Semenuhor/Kafr Turki was provided with 
two sets of bone rods, one with a square section and one with a circular section 
(Petrie 1913, pl.12); these could be good materials for a game, as well as for divin- 
ing. Perhaps it is unrealistic to try disentangling the two spheres of intricate games 
and divination practices (Flanagan 2009, 67-69). All games of chance automati- 
cally invoke destiny and may lead to, or emerge out of, techniques for consulting 
materially the powers that may reveal or control aspects of life. In an illustration for 
one of the most widely copied compositions for obtaining eternal life, from 1300 BC 
onward, the deceased man and woman are at a table playing the board game 
named in Egyptian senet (Piccione 1994). As in Persian, Arab world, and European 
imagery of chess, games both of skill and chance may simultaneously evoke idylls 
of leisure and the forces of destiny, where life and afterlife are indivisible (Figure 6.9) 


Attaining Eternal Life: Sustenance 
and Transformation 


Ancient Egyptian Afterlives: Sources and their Limits 

In common with other Egyptological accounts of relations to the dead in Egypt 
(3000-525 Bc), this chapter will struggle, and fail, to escape the straightjacket of a 
singular unilinear history, emanating largely from written and visual evidence. At the 
end of the chapter, I return to this problem, reconsidering its causes and the potential 
for future studies to expand to a wider archaeological base (cf. Grajetzki 2003) and 
comparative anthropological dimensions (cf. Wengrow 2006). Among the surviving 
sources, the images, inscriptions, manuscripts, and monumental architecture inter- 
weave two dominant themes in concepts of an afterlife: sustenance and transforma- 
tion (Taylor 2001). In the first, the body is a physical anchor for human life, sustained 
with material or spoken provisions of food, drink, clothing, and items of status. In the 
second, the body is transformed into an eternal being, becoming nefjer-like in immor- 
tality. This second goal was secured by techniques of embalming, including rituals for 
the deceased to share in the identity of Osiris, king of duat - the land of those living 
forever: the practice of mummification with the goal of Osirification. The two themes, 
sustenance and transformation, are complementary strands, each implying the other: 
a preserved body is already an achievement of human intervention, and, conversely, 
immortal being implies some need for sustaining energies. Published excavations help 
to write the history of the interplay and changes of focus between the two. The top- 
down, palace-centered history of embalming practice and care for the dead echoes the 
story of writing. As techniques of precision, both Osirification and writing seem to 
creep outward from the center, to achieve hegemonic or normative status across a 
wider part of society. Even when they achieved their maximum extent, Osirification 
and writing would still have been accessible only to a minority of the population, in 
a varying proportion that requires much further research. This chapter charts the 
chronology of the relationship between the strategies of sustenance and of 

Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt, First Edition. Stephen Quirke. 
© 2015 Stephen Quirke. Published 2015 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. 

202 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

transformation, through the architecture of immortality, in different social and 
geographical locations, and through the words, materials, and images of embalming, 
funeral, and burial rites. At the heart of these is the relation between living and 
eternal dead, not only at the moment of burying the dead. 

The binary model sustenance + transformation is deduced mainly from inscribed 
and decorated monumental architecture, best preserved at Waset, Mennefer, and 
Abdju. All three cities at their height may have set models emulated at other centers 
across Egypt, and their impact must be read from the archaeological record in each 
region across the country. The ancient Egyptians of our books about the afterlife 
too may be only richer inhabitants of the larger Valley cities at the times of their 
greatest wealth. Any unified picture from such select material is unlikely to reflect 
ancient society, as archaeologist Peter Ucko warned: “in the vast majority of cases 
known ethnographically, a culture or society is not characterised by one type of 
burial only” (Ucko 1969, 270). In order to balance the picture, consider any Delta 
site or any Valley town or village away from those monumental sites, and ask how 
our standard image of ancient Egypt would apply to the inhabitants there, at differ- 
ent periods. Most regions and periods lack localized archaeological investigation 
and publication on which a series of histories could be written, a precondition for 
a future overall history. Before reviewing the evidence for the afterlife, reread the 
map of all Egypt (Chapter 1) to restore some sense of proportion to the modern 
imagination. As for all topics, we also need to consider dominant modern views on 
ancient Egyptian afterlife, not least because no area of ancient Egypt has received 
such heavy modern literary attention and rewriting. Historically, abroad, the 
ancient akhet net neheh, “horizon of eternity,’ became the primary source of the 
triple staple of Egyptomania: mummy, pyramid, and hieroglyph. The challenge for 
archaeology remains to track material evidence for practice on the ground. 

Reconsidering Modern Perceptions of Ancient 
Egyptian Afterlives 

A widespread external view accuses the ancient Egyptians of being obsessed with 
death, perhaps under the impact of the largest pyramids and of the intense modern 
focus on ancient embalming techniques. Egyptological and nationalist responses 
emphasize how care for an afterlife reflects a deep love of this life and discuss 
how grand building projects might have unified the country. Against these rather 
abstract debates, medieval and early modern Arabic and European travelogues can 
be useful in reconsidering how central such monuments were in life. Most early 
second-millennium AD visitors to Cairo either never visited the pyramids or encoun- 
tered them only at the margin of their stay. The same travelers spend varying, but 
rarely dominant, amounts of time at the equally extraordinary medieval cemeteries. 
Death is a part, but not a frame, of this Egypt. We might use our imagination to recon- 
struct, then, not only the original splendors of tomb architecture but first and foremost 
life in the city, town, and village - not excluding the burials or funerals that take place 
in all lives. Egyptian archaeology began with urgent tasks of clearing, recording, and 

Attaining Eternal Life: Sustenance and Transformation 203 

maintaining monumental architecture, without ever finding all the resources needed 
for the scale of either the ancient or the medieval city, or less spectacular graveyards. 
As a result, we tend to reproduce a picture of this past as monumental tomb and tem- 
ple (Wendrich 2010, 1-14). In other countries, the reverse general focus may apply; 
our religious and funerary Egypt contrasts with our economic and urban Iraq or Syria, 
despite excavation of spectacular tombs and temples there. 

The past twenty-five years have brought more publications from settlement 
excavations in Egypt, allowing new approaches. This shift in fieldwork helps to 
redress the balance between settlement archaeology and monument preservation. 
Both branches of fieldwork are needed, but their practitioners have to compete for 
resources, and as a result, they can become polarized. In the process, the funerary 
may be lost from the immediate horizon of settlement archaeology, where excavators 
prioritize knowledge of domestic and working life. Few well-documented excavations 
publish both a town and its adjacent or internal cemetery, the main examples being 
at the margins or outside the valley (Abu, Hutwaret, Balat). The resulting tombless 
town corresponds to a blind spotin the society of the excavator: modern consumerism 
seems the anthropological and historical oddity, in insisting relentlessly on removing 
death from sight. Life includes burial of the dead by the living. 

In sum, the record remains very partial, not only through survival but also through 
fieldwork strategy, leaving us far from answers to questions, such as: where were most 
people buried? If most larger cities stood on high ground within the floodplain fields, 
all but the richest burials might be expected on available high ground nearby. In the 
few such cemeteries to survive, as at Hutnennesut (Ihnasya), the bodies have rotted 
away, and the architecture too has decayed in the damp of the river valley. Numerically 
overshadowing the low desert monumental tomb complexes of Waset and Mennefer, 
the floodplain island cemetery evokes a very different landscape of eternity, where 
bodies are closer to the Nile (cf. Figure 1.4). The contrast desert valley gives a sharper 
edge here to the struggles for an afterlife. Even the burials of kings include unexpected 
choices. Certainly, the most famous kingship cemeteries of third and second millen- 
nia are safely in the nearest high desert (Giza pyramid plateau, the Valley of the Kings 
at Thebes). However, 1900-1800 Bc pyramid burial chambers are very deep cut, 
and after 1000 Bc, tombs of kings are in lower-lying temple precincts. Instead of an 
overfamiliar tale of Osiris, this history of human life may bring a series of surprises. 

Burying the Dead: Conceptions of the Tomb 

Modern interpretations of ancient Egyptian burial goods seem prone to identifying an 
ancient individual as a modern census might, by profession. A musical instrument in 
a burial becomes evidence that the deceased was a musician, a weapon indicates the 
military (Garstang 1907). Persistently, modern interpreters convert late third-millen- 
nium BC sets of miniature metal blades into evidence for ancient medicine - 2000 
years earlier than the emergence of special tools for surgery (against this misconcep- 
tion, see already Messiha and Messiha (1964)). Peter Ucko observed instead how “one 
society will undertake several different forms of burial, and ... these forms will often be 

204 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

correlated with the status of the deceased” (Ucko 1969, 370). In Egypt, most ancient 
tomb equipment seems to concern social status, in its dimensions of age, class, and 
gender, with fewer examples of ethnicity and dominant work activity (Seidlmayer 
2007). The burial space itself receives a variety of prominent interpretations, outlined 
in the following section, but all consistent with this frame of social status. 

Even in the rare instances where the burial space survived intact under the 
surface, the ground-level area may not be preserved, or recorded, well enough for 
us to see whether, and for how long, the living cared for, or communicated with, the 
dead there. Accordingly, the relations of past peoples to their dead must be assessed 
from fragments, always asking whether the recorded evidence is a regular or unique 
pattern from that place and time. A history of burial can give the impression that 
individuals buried themselves. In practice, even if someone might prepare for their 
own future burial and afterlife existence, their preparations took shape in the setting 
of customs across their society and inside the social group to which they belonged 
within that society. Rather than considering this the story of the individual(s) being 
buried, we might instead set out to record the practices of those burying their dead. 
By foregrounding the people burying, alongside the life of the person buried, it may 
be easier to distinguish the different input of a person thinking of their afterlife and 
of those involved in burial and offering to the person once dead. Separable histories 
need to be written for architecture of burial space below ground, for burial-place 
architecture above ground, for other spaces for offerings to the dead away from 
the burial place, and for the equipment placed in any of these spaces. The various 
uniform histories rarely if ever apply to all regions or to all social classes. Different 
quantities of available evidence can be expected for each history: only richer indi- 
viduals would have resources for the more substantial architecture and equipment. 
To this extent, afterlife history can provide a mirror of general social complexity. 

Burying, Caring for, and Relating to the 
Dead: Four Questions 

In tracing ancient practice over the centuries, four issues may be used as guides to 
questioning the published archaeological record: 

1. Burial demography: How sociable are the dead expected to be? The living 
may place in one and the same underground space a single individual, or 
two or more persons. Burials before 1500 Bc tend to be, on these terms, 
more individual than later burials (Grajetzki 2007). With individual burial 
spaces, organizers may group burials according to priority in social relations. 
For example, members of one family or extended kinship group might be 
placed together, as often assumed, or as around regional governor tombs 
(2000-1850 Bc), officials who worked together may all be buried next to the 
tomb of their lifetime master (O’Connor 1974; Seidlmayer 2007). At ground 
level, a large superstructure or enclosure around individual burials may 
gather together the members of a group, whether kin or colleagues. In the 
construction of shared space for an afterlife, specific space and timing are 

Attaining Eternal Life: Sustenance and Transformation 205 

crucial. Therefore, as well as documenting the presence of single/pair/mul- 
tiple burials, a second key consideration is whether the burials observed 
took place at a single moment or sequentially over a shorter or longer period 
of time. Three sets of practices might be kept in mind: (1) burying together 
people who died at one time (single time of burial, single space), (2) burying 
people in one tomb but in separate chambers (different times of burial, 
shared entrance or shaft, but still individual burial spaces). and (3) burying 
people together in an undivided space over a period of time (sequential 
burials in single space, opening the burial space for each new burial). 

2. Body position: How do the living lay the dead in the ground? Body position 
offers the best evidence for the geographical spread of embalming tech- 
niques. The embalming techniques developed at the royal court in the third 
millennium BC are reflected in the position of bodies stretched out, lying on 
their sides, rather than contracted in fetal position, as in fourth-millennium 
BC burials even of higher status. In the second millennium BC, embalming 
continues to improve, with less emphasis on padding the body with linen to 
absorb moisture; perhaps as a result, the body position changes again, as 
the deceased is lain out flat, face up (Bourriau 2001). 

3. Links between the worlds of the dead and of the living: At each burial place, 
has evidence been found for the uses of the space above ground? This 
history also requires any well-documented negative evidence, where the 
surface has been carefully recorded, and found not to yield any evidence of 
use. Examples of such reporting may be rare in the published record. 

4. Material placed with the dead: Why did the living place material with the 
deceased? Burial equipment varies according to time period and social level, 
and anthropology warns against assuming the motivation behind each practice 
(Ucko 1969). Where we might assume that items were the personal property of 
the deceased, anthropologists can cite examples where mourners gave an item 
of their own for the burial, making the burial equipment a celebratory posthu- 
mous gift. Items might be given not to adorn, celebrate, or protect the deceased, 
but instead to protect the living from the dead. Modern readers have to 
approach the evidence on its own terms, asking how we can identify among a 
range of options: not only gift or property but - more broadly in intent - 
adomment, healing, protection, regeneration, sustenance, and tradition. 

Burying the Dead: Chronological Survey 

The preceding general considerations serve as an introduction to the following 
whistle-blow summary of the dominant practices observable on present evidence 
of excavated cemeteries. In order to cover the two and a half millennia, the account 
reduces each period to far too homogeneous a picture and omits the range of 
variations at any one moment. Without a quick picture of the main visible practices, 
significant variations cannot easily be identified. Yet the danger remains that 
unexpected practices are eclipsed by the standard history, even when they may be 
quantitatively the dominant story. I return to the problem of the normative at the end. 

206 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

3100-2700 sc Underground provisions store, 
overground offering space 

At the end of the fourth millennium BC, as Egypt became a unified kingdom 
apparently for the first time, a large cemetery expanded along desert foothills on 
the west bank between Fayoum and Mennefer (Petrie 1913; naming the site 
Tarkhan; summary Grajetzki 2004). Excavators in 1912-1913 recorded 2000 buri- 
als from just one century, 3100-3000 BC, implying a relatively urbanized center in 
the vicinity (=Semenuhor of later sources?), just before development of a new 
national center at White Walls, the future Mennefer. Deposited materials are well 
preserved and range across different social levels, so reflecting patterns of burial 
in at least the urban centers of the time. Overwhelmingly, the living sought to pro- 
vide all their dead - regardless of age or gender - with individual burial, stocked 
with a pot for grain and a cylindrical jar for fat, their bread and butter for eternity 
(Grajetzki 2004). Sometimes (<1 burial in 10), they placed on the deceased an 
item of jewelry, and occasionally, there were items of weaponry or leisure, very 
rarely a figurine (Chapter 6). For most burials, the excavators recorded no trace of 
ground-level chapels or simpler offering installations. However, where tightly 
packed, no later generation dug into existing burials, as if some marker existed 
at ground level, and there even seems to be a path through the densest concentra- 
tion. For some burials, surface structures did survive: single chambers immedi- 
ately over the burial space, with a small entrance enclosure on any one side 
(Grajetzki 2008; no preference between north, south, east, and west). Pottery 
vessels were found stacked alongside, as if for a recurrent ritual of offering to the 
dead. Three or four tombs stand out as far the richest and grandest, as they had 
a palatial superstructure with facade of niched brickwork and underground 
additional stocks of clothing and food (Figure 7.1). 

Excavations in the cemeteries of Inebhedj confirm that, at this period, the tomb 
of the richest was stocked like a warehouse for the deceased (Emery 1961). Above, 
a solid block of brick - like more recent benches, in Arabic mastaba - marked the 
burial and provided backing for offering chapels now placed along the east side. 
After 3000 BC, the living begin instead to deposit with the dead not the material 
food, drink, ointment, and cloth, but rather their eternal presence in the form of 
empty containers or, increasingly, depictions that would never grow stale or per- 
ish. At the central cities and in the regions, great tombs were provided with new 
means of access for the day of burial, great stairways from outside the mastaba 
block to the chamber beneath, blocked with massive stones after the burial 
(Reisner 1936). These centuries see transition to a new concept of burial space, 
where the focus of ornament shifts to the offering space above ground, while the 
living lay their dead to rest with very little underground equipment. Increasingly, 
instead of the earlier fetal position, with knees to chin, the richer dead were 
stretched out and buried on their sides, wrapped in masses of linen, within long 
narrow coffins. The long coffins and extended position imply either the direct 
practice or the emulation of the effect of desiccating the body in natron, stretched 
out for removal of soft inner organs. 

Attaining Eternal Life: Sustenance and Transformation 207 

Figure 7.1 Chapels over burials, with stacks of pottery storage jars from the care for the 
dead, Semenuhor (Kafr Turki), tombs 740 and 1231, about 3000 Bc. W. Petrie, Tarkhan II, 
British School of Archaeology in Egypt, London, 1914, pl.14. 

2600-2300 Bc Underground blank, overground 
provisioning/leisure machines for the rich 

During the mid-third millennium BC, while pyramids and their temples were built 
for kings along the Memphite cemeteries, most burials became so empty, rich and 
poor, that they are difficult to date without the evidence of the chapels above. 
Poorer graves of all periods are hard to date, because the body received no datable 
objects, and archaeologists must rely on other contextual dating criteria such as 
treatment and position of the body. The same difficulty applies to the wealthy too, 
during this period. In regions such as the area of Tjebu (Qau) in northern Upper 
Egypt, in towns and villages, the living chose to bury their dead in the largest 
pottery vessels available for protection and/or containment. In richer burials, more 
closely connected with the power centers of kingship, adult men might receive a 
staff, or set of staves, and a set of miniature tools, and costly linen might pack the 
coffin around the body. There is also sometimes jewelry, mainly ceremonial items 
such as broad collars, perhaps made for the tomb. However, in general, the intact 

208 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

burials of the period show how little the living placed with their dead at this time. 
Instead, over their future burial chamber, the richest at court provided for their 
own afterlife with lavish chapels, housing an increasing number of offering rooms 
(Figure 3.3). At first, a smaller offering space opens from the facade of the mastaba 
block; in the cemetery of the Great Pyramid of Khufu (about 2550 Bc), the only 
decorated and inscribed surface here may be a single offering slab of the finest 
carving and painting (Manuelian 2003). Around the same time, a sculpted portrait 
head might be deposited at the foot of the shaft to the burial chamber (reserve 
heads). At their most elaborate, 2450-2300 Bc, mastaba chapel walls teem with 
scenes of production and leisure in a selective, idealized projection of life into 
eternity (Harpur 1987). Increasingly over time, governor courts across the regions 
emulate the royal court ideal tomb type of visual-verbal provisioning and leisure 
machine, either with mastaba block chapels (as at Dandara, Waset) or with chapels 
cut into the rock (Dishasha, Tihna, Hamamia). With their actively regenerating wall 
scenes, the chapels are provisioning machines for the sleeping dead, futuristically 
securing sustenance, and the leisure of music, games, dance, and, though never 
quite explicitly, physical love (Figures 7.2 and 7.3). 

Alongside these two-dimensional projections, eternal life for the wealthy is 
secured in three dimensions, in the limestone or, more rarely, granite statues of 
the richest tombs, placed in a chapel or burial space of its own. The status of the 




® — 



z ae 







Figure 7.2 Burial equipment about 2400 Bc, in the cemeteries at modern Giza: 

(a) underground chamber of tomb 585, Selim Hassan excavations, showing small box 

of cosmetic equipment to side and predominantly pottery outside and inside the coffin, 
with second layer (right) with animal bones, food offerings, and/or remains of funeral 
meal; (b) shaft and burial chamber under mastaba G2220B, George Reisner excavations, 
found intact and sparsely equipped. Drawings © Wolfram Grajetzki. 


Attaining Eternal Life: Sustenance and Transformation 209 


\ Ws I eee ee) re — i } 

Figure 7.3 Motifs selected from provision of offerings for an estate, overseen by the 
beneficiary, and from fauna and flora of Nile and low desert. Raised relief scene on 
limestone blocks of wall in chapel over the burial of the high official Ptahhotep, northern 
cemeteries of Inebhedj (Saqqara). From J. Quibell, R. Paget, A. Pirie, The Ramesseum and 
The Tomb of Ptah-hetep, Quaritch, London, 1898. 

three-dimensional image is highlighted by evidence for its own special consecra- 
tion ritual, named “Opening the Mouth and Eyes” (see Table 7.2). Some burials 
were reinforced by the provision of more statues, adding to the images of the tomb- 
owner statuettes of servants at work (Tooley 1995). 

2300-1850 Bc Markers of age, gender, and status in 
the regions: underground and overground provisioning 
and leisure machines for the richest 

After 2300 Bc, above ground, for the wealthy, the decorated surface contracts, 
though grand offering chapels in regional centers project the life of the tomb owner 
in words: Weni at Abdju and Harkhuf at Abu eternally recite their expeditions 

210 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

for successive kings (Richards 2002). At the royal court cemeteries, the detailed 
mastaba chapels yield to a new focus on the burial space, now inscribed with 
images of the essential offerings. Prominent among these are oils and cloth, 
perhaps reflecting a slightly wider social spread of embalming techniques at least 
in the Memphite zone. After 2300 BC, increasingly, the long coffin is decorated on 
the outside with two eyes with falcon marks that identify them as the wedjat, 
“health,” eye and enable the deceased, lying with head to north, on his or her side 
looking east to the rising sun. Statues, now of wood, were placed in the same space 
with the coffin or in the tomb shaft outside, and wooden models of boats and 
production scenes begin to be placed with the wealthy, mainly, if not always, men. 

Under political division of Egypt (2200-2050 Bc), regional ruling groups pros- 
pered, with local workshops at all known Upper Egyptian centers, most producing 
their own images and inscriptions for eternity for the first time (Grajetzki 2003). 
Reunification around 2050 Bc again brought substantial impact in the spread ofa 
widely shared style of burial equipment for the regional ruling courts. Their coffins 
now have painted friezes of objects, developed from the painted burial chambers, 
and extensive inscriptions (see Centres of writing or drawing the afterlife for these 
Coffin Texts). Otherwise, workshops continued to produce the same range of burial 
equipment for the wealthy, ranging from rustic carpentry work (as at Beni Hasan; 
Garstang 1907) to palace sculpture quality (treasurer Meketra at Waset; Winlock 
1955). This new type of burial equipment may have been made specifically for men 
who were landowners of great estates. Despite their often rustic appearance, per- 
haps often produced by carpenters rather than trained sculptors, within their time, 
these models were marks of social distinction. Most individuals received simpler 
burials, though also often markedly different from other periods; in particular, pro- 
tective amulets now more regularly accompanied women and children into after- 
life existence, apparently at all social levels. Across the regions and the centers of 
kingship alike, the period witnesses shared burial customs for the less wealthy too: 
the simplest equipment for adult men, particularly staff, sandals, and headrest for 
the eternal journey, and jewelry and cosmetic sets particularly for younger women, 
perhaps as dowry for afterlife wedding or birth (Dubiel 2008) (Figure 7.4). 

From this period, kingship focus and regional town intersect in a new pattern at 
Abdju. Here, around 1950 Bc, a new monumental temple to Osiris Foremost of the 
Westerners was built in the name of king Senusret I (Hirsch 2004). Accompanying 
this, the temple and adjacent low desert cemetery fields became places for 
construction of chapels for offerings to high- and middle-ranking officials, from 
both palace and local governor circles, who were involved in the temple-building 
kingship project. The chapels fronted a processional route out to the tombs of the 
First and Second Dynasty kings, a kilometer into the desert, and inscriptions on 
statues, jambs, and offering stones and tables specify that the named officials and 
associates - colleagues or family - should receive offerings forever especially at the 
festivals of Osiris (Simpson 1974; O’Connor 1985). For the next fifteen centuries, 
local and kingship officials working at, or passing by, Abdju would continue the 
practice of installing chapels to join, and benefit from, the festivals. The result is a 
complex archaeological site, with extensive reuse of ground, making it hard to 

Attaining Eternal Life: Sustenance and Transformation 211 

Figure 7.4 Wooden models as found in the burial chamber of the estate overseer 
Karenen, cemeteries of Mennefer near modern Saqqara, about 1950 Bc. From J. Quibell, 
Excavations at Saqqara, 1906-1907, Institut francais d’archéologie orientale, Cairo, 
1908, pl.12. 

assess which chapels were associated with tomb shafts (as one might expect for the 
local officials) and which had no associated burials. 

In other places, inscribed monuments refer to journeying to Abdju, among 
other sacred cities, and this has given rise to the modern notion of ancient 
pilgrimage to Abdju. However, the sources concern rites of the day of burial and 
were evidently celebrated at any place in Egypt. Instead of literally involving a 
journey to a sacred place, these rites translate the physical motion of the final 
stages of embalming and the funeral procession into a sacred geography in 
which a water offering may become a sailing and the coffin a boat (Willems 1996). 
The concept of space behind these expressions is far removed from the physical 
journeys undertaken in other cultures to visit sacred places. Among the thou- 
sands of inscriptions at Abdju itself, not one asserts that any ancient individual 
traveled to Abdju exclusively for a festival, in the manner of pilgrimages in other 
societies (one only uncertain example in Lichtheim (1988)). Instead, the chapels 
seem to operate like another all-important Middle Kingdom innovation, the tem- 
ple statue, inscribed to enable the named individual to participate in festivals 
(Verbovsek 2004). At least in their inscriptions, the focus of temple statues and 

212 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Figure 7.5 Depiction of the sailing to Abdju, painted on the tomb chapel (?) of aman 
named Sehetepibra, at Waset, about 1750 Bc. From J. Quibell, The Ramesseum, Quaritch, 
London, 1898, pl.7. 

Abdju chapels is on securing presence at sacred space/time for the sustenance of 
the deceased. Centuries later, as the focus of burial shifts toward transformation in 
this normative afterlife history, the need for sustenance may have been met pri- 
marily instead in these chapels and sculpture away from the tomb. The social 
breadth of inclusion or exclusion in each period requires further research, both 
for the local residents, as variably reflected in the surviving recorded burial equip- 
ment, and for the retinue of officials and sometimes kings, where serving staff 
might be recruited either at Abdju or at the distant residence of king or official 
(Figure 7.5). 

1850-1700 sc Underground solar kingship or birth or 
leisure, overground provisioning? 

The patterns of richest burials become more diverse during the nineteenth cen- 
tury BC, with major change in contents of burials. By 1850 Bc, the main features 
of the previous afterlife world had disappeared: there are few, if any, large 
governor tombs or coffins with extensive inscriptions and no models of estate 
production. At royal court cemeteries, the mastaba chapel seems generally to 
return to the earlier form of solid block, without internal suites of rooms deco- 
rated with life scenes; this renewed dominant type might have only limited exter- 
nal inscription, tightly focussed on offering to the transfigured dead (Arnold 
2008). Images of fishing and hunting birds, harvest, or musicians do not disap- 
pear entirely, including some smaller-scale examples on inscribed elements of 

Attaining Eternal Life: Sustenance and Transformation 213 

chapels at Abdju. However, the general indication is of a radical restructure of 
machinery for the afterlife. 

Surviving tomb equipment points to three separate conceptions of the burial 
chamber. In the wealthiest burials closest to the Residence, the deceased is trans- 
formed into Osiris, with wrapped body lain in anthropoid coffin, equipped with the 
regalia of his kingship over eternity and supported by the tableware and storage jars 
for the final meal and eternal sustenance (the best published example is the burial 
of Senebtysy at the cemeteries of Itjtawy, near modern Lisht; Mace and Winlock 
1916). A second, still restricted pattern is the protection of the individual with new 
types of object, apparently made for use in rituals at birth. Faience, wood, and ivory 
models of protective and liminal forces were deposited beside or in the coffin 
(Bourriau 1991). The largest figures are the faience hippopotami, glazed with deco- 
rative designs of marsh plant and insect life; the feet are often broken, perhaps ritu- 
ally, and some were found in the body wrappings at the back. Smaller faience 
models include other fauna of desert and marsh margins, plant forms such as 
gourds, small sealed vases, and children or dwarves, sometimes with vases or young 
animals. One of the largest groups of parallels is from the Baalat/Hathor temple at 
Jebeil (Byblos) in Lebanon, anchoring the figures in a divine world of female gender 
(Pinch 2003). With the figurines are sometimes elements from cuboid rods and 
planed hippopotamus tusks, incised or sculpted with images of birth protectors, 
especially Aha/Bes and Ipy. A third pattern of burial continues the earlier practices 
of depositing used domestic items, of cosmetic or leisure, for the adornment and 
entertainment of wealthy man or woman. To this group belong the burials of women 
related to kings, preserving remarkable sets of jewelry, some made for burial and 
some from court ceremonial. In contrast to some other periods, in burials of this 
time, the domestic equipment includes no furniture other than the headrest. These 
are all portable materials, as if to accompany the individual on their one last journey 
and/or the eternal cycle of sailing with the sun (Figure 7.6). 

A single burial may combine elements from these varying conceptions of the tomb 
as Osiris bed, birthing chamber, and cabin. At Waset, an official in labor organization, 
Neferhotep, was buried resting on his back, looking up, in a new style of anthropoid 
coffin with feather motif (Arabic rishi) and a mace, as if Osiris with his regalia was 
equipped for eternity (Miniaci and Quirke 2009). However, he was also equipped 
with a writing tool and two accountancy papyri from managing a visit by the king and 
the estate of the first minister, and the burial party had also deposited a staff, a gam- 
ing set, and a mirror board, as if seeing him off on a standard Nile journey for an 
official. They also provided a faience hippopotamus figurine and hippopotamus 
canine section carved with figures, as found in the birthing zone, and a double- 
scarab seal-amulet inscribed with a protective motif, as well as a headrest inscribed 
with some of the same images found on the hippopotamus tusk (Figure 6.6). 

The body rests here as a vulnerable core, requiring all available strategies for 
protection and survival. However, already the change in position indicates a new 
identity: stretched out, as required in fuller embalming, Neferhotep claims the posi- 
tion of ruler of eternity, and this change is found in cemeteries along the Nile Valley 
(Bourriau 2001). The spread of embalming technique from kingship centers led first 
to the introduction of the narrow box coffin, body lying on side, and then to its 

214 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Figure 7.6 Burial of the lady of the house Senebtysy, with regalia and anthropoid coffin 
including the headcloth of kingship, securing her afterlife through identification as Osiris 
king of the dead and Horus king of the living. Lisht. A. Mace and H. Winlock, The Tomb of 
Senebtisi at Lisht. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1916. 

replacement with the broad coffin, now often in the form of the human body, with 
limbs wrapped chrysalis-like and head covered by mask with kingship cloth (nemes), 
protectively encasing the embalmed body, lying flat, facing skyward. The position 
and its claim to kingship become standard across social classes over the entire 
following millennium. Accompanying material signs of this divine status include 
two innovations of the late Middle Kingdom: the shabti, an Egyptian term for a fig- 
ure invoked to substitute for the individual when called for any heavy manual labor 
in life after death, and the heart scarab, a scarab-shaped amulet placed over the 
heart during wrapping after the embalming of the body. For the next fifteen centu- 
ries, both object types regularly accompany Osirified individuals into their afterlife. 

1600-1350 sc Underground provisions store and leisure, 
overground provisioning/leisure 

At some point between 1750 and 1650 BC, gradually or suddenly, the kings at Itjtawy 
no longer controlled all Egypt, and evidence becomes scarce for richer burials at 
both the Memphis-Fayoum region and Abdju. Even at Waset, no intact burial 
group is known, although some must have been found, as complete vaulted box 
coffins were purchased for some museums in the early twentieth century in Upper 

Attaining Eternal Life: Sustenance and Transformation 215 

Egypt. Some of these coffins introduce a different range of ritual writings, so 
far attested at Hu, Abdju, and Waset (Grajetzki 1998). Burials after 1600 Bc indicate 
that coffins maintain the theme of becoming Osiris, while much of the burial 
equipment picks up on the portable cosmetic and domestic equipment, just 
beginning to expand from light baggage toward more of a complete household 
inventory. From 1500 BC, the kings of reunified Egypt were buried at Waset, which 
became, for the first time since the beginning of the Twelfth Dynasty (1950 Bc), the 
cemetery for the highest officials, receiving unprecedented inflows of wealth. In 
the richer intact burials, for the century 1450-1350 Bc, the idea of packing the tomb 
like a house store dominates the funerary record (Smith 1992). The wrapped body, 
with its head cover, lies in a coffin designed to maintain eternal regeneration from 
the day of embalming, with four protectively inscribed bricks of mud, each with its 
separate figure, as may have demarcated the embalming space during the weeks 
between death and burial. Regularly, a papyrus book-roll with the deceased pro- 
jects around the body the rituals and amulets needed for bodily survival and trans- 
formation into a netjer (see Centres of writing or drawing the afterlife, Book of the 
Dead). Around, the body is most often accompanied by others, and this smaller or 
larger community of dead is supplied with the stockpile of food, drink, clothing, 
cosmetic equipment, and leisure equipment for the rich household (Figure 7.7). 
From this point in this normative history of burial, the dead are less often placed 
into the ground alone. Initially, the more usual combination may still be restricted 
to acouple, but now, the underground chamber rather than just the wider cemetery 
becomes a communal unit, creating different social relations in the ground. As 
with earlier governor tomb chapels, the male head of household may seem visual 
first point of reference in richer and more monumental examples, but the dominant 
underlying conception seems to be of gender complementarity. In chapels or in 
the illustrated papyri for the afterlife, a man is often shown first, and a woman 
follows in accompaniment. This complementary gendering of the burial space 
needs more careful reading and decoding, in the manner proposed by Ann Roth 
for earlier monuments (Roth 2006). Further research is also needed into the rela- 
tion between the primary figures, whether singular or paired, and all the other per- 
sons present in the images and inscriptions of offering chapels and perhaps bodily 
in the burial chambers beneath them. After 1350 Bc, the numbers of burials within 
one chamber can rise far higher, but already in this period, there are some striking 
examples. Around 1400 Bc, in the Middle Kingdom town at Lahun, apparently 
depopulated by then, one house cellar was expanded to receive the burial of over 
40 men, women, and children of unknown relation to one another, perhaps within 
a generation. The exact number of bodies is uncertain, as the damp of the ground 
reduced the contents of the coffins and boxes to dust. Two boxes were used for the 
burials of children, and the only anthropoid coffin contained a single individual. 
For the 11 box coffins, the excavator reported that each “contained several bodies, 
some holding five or six, piled one on the other” (Petrie 1891, 21). The coffins bear 
no names, but the burial included some gold jewelry and fine amulets, as well as 
an imported Minoan vase, as well as Cypriot and Levantine pottery, and a chair 
(front legs removed to prevent reuse). The overall effect is not of a particularly poor 

216 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Pottery 1:6 







(’) ) 
G 6 7 
Flint iD 

y 9 
' 10 
S\_ iy 4 > 13 
' ’ 




BL.Marble Bronze 

Figure 7.7 Burial of a wealthy woman in a gilt wood anthropoid coffin and two children 
in wood boxes, pottery, and baskets around the coffins. W. Petrie, Qurneh, British School 
of Archaeology in Egypt, London 1909. 

burial, and therefore, there may be other factors behind the use of a coffin for more 
than one burial. Presumably, the people conducting the funeral felt it was crucial 
to protect the body by housing it within a secure eternal container. No other period 
seems to betray quite the same panic at exposure (Figure 7.8). 

Attaining Eternal Life: Sustenance and Transformation 217 

Figure 7.8 Female-male complementarity as a visual ordering principle: a man raises 
his hands in adoration, accompanied by his wife in the role of chantress, shaking sistrum, 
in the tomb chapel of the estate overseer Rey and his wife chantress of Amun Nebettawy, 
Waset (Theban Tomb 255). Photograph © Gianluca Miniaci. 

We do not know how the living maintained offerings to, or any links to, their dead 
buried in the Lahun cellar. There are no record of any preparation of offering 
ground at the surface and no formal visible trace such as a stela or offering table 
from a chapel there. Perhaps, they were invoked at home (see Chapter 6). By 
contrast, in the city where the kings of this period were buried, at Waset, the super- 
structure above the burial spaces of the richest became an architectural spectacle, 
integrating into major festivals the tombs of the officials of kingship, including of 
the Amun temple, after 1450 Bc. Like the mastabas and rock-cut governor tomb 
chapels, these richly inscribed spaces are for offerings to statues of a named indi- 
vidual man, couple, or sometimes three to four individuals. The statues at the 
center of rituals in the chapel were located conceptually or sometimes literally 
above the body in the burial chamber beneath. In place of the brick chapels of 
previous centuries at Waset, the new monument type is part rock-cut, part more 
open space in front (the open parts have been less often investigated in modern 
excavations). In the grandest examples, the image of the official and closest family 
might be sculpted from the living rock; more modest chapels might have a free- 
standing statue of limestone or sandstone. The image is most often at the back ofa 
long chamber; in some exceptional examples for highest officials, its place is taken 
by a stone door to be passed only by the spirit receiving the offerings on the Old 
Kingdom model. In front of the long offering chamber, a transverse chamber 
allowed shaded space for collecting those who would offer at festivals. Owing to the 

218 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

poor quality of limestone at Waset, the walls were not directly carved, but coated 
with two qualities of plaster, as a ground for painting inscriptions and scenes of 
estate life and leisure. Today, the variety and vivacity of these paintings are 
acclaimed in the terms of modern art history as one of the finest outpourings of 
Egyptian genius (Figure 7.9). 



Figure 7.9 Painted plastered wall of chapel of Nakht, accountant of temple staff, Waset, 
about 1375 Bc: (a) detail from the scenes of production on an estate. Photograph © 
Gianluca Miniaci. (b) plan of the chapel and shaft (crossed rectangle) leading to 
underground chambers for burials (dotted). Drawing © Wolfram Grajetzki. 

Attaining Eternal Life: Sustenance and Transformation 219 

At the entrance to the rock-cut offering chambers, the principal man of the 
monument is depicted facing out to the rising sun, arms raised in prayer. Over 
the entrance, a row of clay cones inserted into the facade incorporated rows of 
fired clay cones, stamped with the titles and names of the man, embedding his 
identity into the structure, bound into the rock face. Above, a small steep pyra- 
mid with inscribed pyramidion (capstone) reinforced this solar message with a 
new type of image, the stelophorous statue (from Greek stele,” standing stone, 
and phorein, “to bear, present”): this depicts the man with arms raised, kneel- 
ing, and the words of his sun hymn inscribed on the space framed by his arms 
and legs. The hymns in the offering chapels and on the statues are related to the 
daily liturgies of hymns sung to the rising, midday, and setting sun in the tem- 
ples of the sun at Iunu and, in fused form Amun-Ra, at Karnak on the east bank 
at Waset. In their prominence and profusion, the New Kingdom sun hymns 
mark an extraordinary moment in the religious literature of Egypt. From the 
decision, in the reign of Amenhotep I, to bury the king at Waset, the presence of 
the kingly body in the ground would have solarized the city terrain, as marked by 
the obelisks and pylons at Karnak. The strength of the sunlight permeating the 
tombs of officials at the site comes from that solar source. This makes Theban 
tomb chapels a highly localized phenomenon. No other site has preserved the 
same concentration of hymns to the creator sun-god; some aspects of the chap- 
els are found across Egypt, as the pyramid form and pyramidia, while others are 
extremely rare elsewhere, as the stelophorous statue (one example from 
Sidmant). Nevertheless, the theme of sustenance remains a strong component 
in these monuments, from the range of subjects in the paintings (harvest and 
food are major themes) to the stocks of food and drink in the sealed under- 
ground chambers. A more decisive turn away from sustenance in the area of the 
tomb would come only in the next period. 

1350-1100 sc Underground protected space, overground 
devotion, provisions secondary? 

Under Akhenaten, the royal court moved to the new city Akhetaten, where 
rock-cut tomb chapels were cut for the dozen highest officials, in the rock face 
along north and south ends of the great desert bay of the city. The scenes of 
estate production gave way to scenes of production in the Aten temple and of 
the king and his wife and daughters in chariot procession to the city. Other 
themes continued earlier traditions, notably the sun hymns at the entrance, now 
facing toward the Aten temple instead of the rising sun, and the depictions of the 
king bestowing favor. Inscriptions indicate a continuity also in the wish to sus- 
tain the body and its ba-soul by participating in offerings at the city temples. 
However, at Akhetaten, this is now a daily cycle, like the circuit of the sun, with 
no special note of festivals. Moreover, despite the prominence of the Aten 
temple and kingship palaces on the offering-chapel walls, the inscriptions no 
longer refer to offerings coming from the altars of the deity; instead, the food 
and drink should come from the house and garden of the official himself 
(Assmann 2005, 407-408). Finally, there is the crucial missing element of 

220 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

transformation: Akhetaten discards the sustenance + transformation model, in 
place of a plainer rhythm of eternal day-night continuities. 

When the court of Tutankhamun moved from Akhetaten to Mennefer, the resting 
place for high officials became a grand new style of temple tomb, where under- 
ground burial chambers were marked at ground level by a monumental super- 
structure (Martin 1992). Here, an open court surrounded by columns led to a 
chamber for the offerings before an image of the deceased and, usually, his wife. 
This may have been one focal point in the monument, but, in contrast to the layout 
at Waset, the statue did not mark the end, for behind it a doorway led to a second 
columned court. The floor of the second court concealed the mouth of the shaft 
leading down to the burial chamber. At the far side of the court, against western- 
most wall of the whole complex, there were three chambers, the central one with 
an inscribed framed stone: this stone, rather than the statue, seems to have served 
as the innermost focus for offerings to the couple. Also unlike Waset, where painted 
plaster was the main medium for wall decoration, and Akhetaten, with its rock-cut 
offering chapels over the tombs of the wealthiest, the chosen part of the high desert 
plateau nearest Mennefer, at modern Saqqara, favored freestanding stone-built 
structures. The wall blocks are of fine northern limestone, allowing highest-quality 
relief sculpting. In theme, the scenes develop from Amarna a double focus: devo- 
tion to a deity and court life of the high official. However, the deities are now plural, 
with, alongside Ra, figures of Osiris, Isis, Thoth, Anubis, and others (Figure 7.10). 

At the same period, and later, under Kings Sety I and Ramses II, monumental 
tombs are found now away from the kingship centers: General Sety and Vizier 
Parahotep at Sidmant and High Steward Nefersekheru at Zawyet el-Sultan. High 
officials of southern administration, including Nubia and the Amun temple, returned 
to the tradition of painted offering chapels at Waset, with a number of significant 
innovations. The themes of sustenance gave way to the same dual focus as at 
Mennefer: court life and devotion to deities, especially at festivals. Images and 
writings from the corpus of Going Out by Day become more frequent (see Centres of 
writing or drawing the afterlife, Book of the Dead). Above ground, the open court in 
front of the offering chapel acquires new features (Kampp-Seyfried 2003): a massive 
brick-built gateway; higher walls, sometimes with roofed colonnade at the sides; and 
a bed of earth for watering seeds in the ritual of Khoiak, “Ka-on-Ka,’ in the fourth 
flood month to usher in the sowing season. In this court, the body would have been 
consecrated on its last journey, in the ritual of Opening the Mouth (Assmann 2003). 
The brick-built pyramid with its pyramidion capstone is now more massive, still with 
niche for stelophorous hymn-singing statue, now on a more substantial platform. 
The underground burial chambers are now approached not by a steep shaft, but by a 
sloping passageway, sometimes winding round from mouth to burial chamber door- 
way, allowing annual performance of Ka-on-Ka rituals to be brought to the door of 
the deceased for their regeneration (Assmann 1984, 2003). 

Robbers usually targeted richer burials early and often, leaving only traces of 
original burial equipment. Enough survives to confirm a general impression from 
other social levels that the theme of sustenance was no longer important in burial 
space. Instead, the embalmed body was wrapped with a limited set of amulets, 

Attaining Eternal Life: Sustenance and Transformation 


Figure 7.10 (a) The open court of a tomb chapel, as depicted on a limestone block from 
a chapel at Mennefer, now Petrie Museum UC408; (b) plan of the temple-sized chapel 

over burial place of Maya, treasurer in the court of King Tutankhamun, about 1325 Bc, 
cemeteries of Mennefer (Saqqara). Drawing © Wolfram Grajetzki. 

with focus on the heart. The large scarab over the heart is now joined by amulets in 
the form of the hieroglyph for the heart, sometimes with the human head, and 
shrine-shaped rectangular pectorals, generally in faience, with images of the 
deceased in adoration before funerary deities Osiris or Anubis. Three forms of 
amulets become particularly prominent, and inscribed examples are known for 
the richest individuals: the hieroglyphs djed, “stability,” and tiyet, “tie” (the knot of 
Isis), and a snake head, the latter two often of red jasper or carnelian. In wealthier 
burials, the coffin is generally in form of wrapped body, with idealized mask face, 
and a number of shabti figures may be present, loose or in special boxes. Outside 
this scene of protective wrapping, the whole stock of household goods, as found in 
rich burials before 1300 Bc, has disappeared. Even the pottery vessels for food and 
drink are gone; as a result, whoever could not afford the special amulets - the vast 
majority of the country - had no burial goods. Grajetzki remarks of this material 
revolution, “New religious beliefs seem to have affected all social levels, and many 


222 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

parts of the country” (2003, 90). If the poorer or middle social classes had been 
burying daily pottery with their dead, these pots would have been recorded by 
excavation directors anxious to build up typologies of material culture, such as Guy 
Brunton in his sweep through the region of Tjebu (Qau-Badari). Instead, the period 
1350-1100 is almost absent from his reports. At Per-Bast in the Delta, excavations 
directed by Ahmed El Sawi also found no burial goods other than the coffins them- 
selves, a few shabtis (9 of 210 burials), a limited range of amulets, and bead armlets 
and necklaces (El Sawi 1979). After Akhenaten, whether people could afford 
embalming or not and whether the trend was led from the top or not, across all of 
Egypt, people stopped supplying their dead with food, at least in the physical- 
symbolic form of food containers and tableware. 

Sustenance did not disappear completely from the armory for the afterlife. In 
the corpus of Going Out by Day, sustenance remains a central theme alongside 
transformation (Table 5), and the corpus is present in wealthier burials as papyrus 
book-roll and as offering-chapel wall decoration. The theme is also relocated to 
the temple, as inscription on statues placed there by at least higher officials; on 
these, the prayers continue to include food and drink offerings at the fore of wishes 
for the afterlife. Nevertheless, above and below ground, afterlife space seems fun- 
damentally restructured, with a remarkable nationwide simplification of burial 
space as a protected sacrosanct ground. This nationally homogenized and simpli- 
fied, perhaps purified afterlife population is also more often collective on a larger 
scale. Far larger numbers of embalmed or partly embalmed bodies, with or with- 
out coffins and almost impossible to date in the absence of objects, are an increas- 
ingly frequent feature of cemeteries over the following thousand years, where a 
single tomb shaft may contain the same number of bodies as an entire graveyard 
of earlier periods (Grajetzki 2007). 

1100-700 sc Underground protected space, sometimes leisure, 
overground devotion 

After 1070 Bc, kings of western nomadic origin (Libyan) settled at the new port city 
of Djanet (Tanis), in an agreed division with their relatives at Waset, generals who 
took the title First God’s Servant of Amun (Taylor 2000). From other Delta cities, 
above all Per-Ramses, the Residence of Ramses II, monuments were relocated in 
Djanet to create a temple complex as vast as Karnak and dedicated to the same 
deities: Amun, Mut, and Khons. Much of our knowledge of burial practice in this 
period is based on the discovery of intact tombs here of three kings, a king’s son, 
and a general of the tenth century BC (Yoyotte 1987). Otherwise, the great majority 
of evidence for the period comes from Waset and, less well preserved, Abdju, where 
many of the largest offering chapels date to this time. Probably, many burials exca- 
vated at other sites belong to the period, but without objects such as pottery, 
amulets, or other changing forms of burial equipment, they would not have been 
datable, leaving the period a substantial blank in the sources - except at Waset. 
There, singly, in pairs or in large groups, the wealthy were lain to rest by their 
survivors in a brilliantly colorful array of objects made for burial. Structures above 

Attaining Eternal Life: Sustenance and Transformation 223 

Figure 7.11 Plan ofa large offering chapel with shaft in rear court leading to underground 
complex of burial chambers. Abdju, tomb D38, about 1200-900 Bc. D. Randall-Maciver, 
and A. Mace, 1902. El Amrah and Abydos. Egypt Exploration Fund, London, 1902. 

ground are less well preserved, perhaps simple brick chapels, but many groups 
survived intact into modern times below ground (Figure 7.11). 

In the regular pattern of the richer burials at Waset, the embalmed body was 
equipped with heart scarab and lain in a coffin, sometimes nested within one or 
more outer coffins, all brightly painted with motifs from the corpus of Going Out by 
Day and from the Underworld Books (see Centres of writing or drawing the after- 
life) which had been restricted mainly to kings in the preceding period. Embalming 
arts had advanced to the point where the soft internal organs could be returned to 
the body, each protected by the figure of a deity, often of wax. The jars previously 
used to hold the organs removed during embalming were still produced to guaran- 
tee survival, but these could now be solid dummy vases. At the foot of the coffin 
stood a painted round-topped wooden board, painted with image of the individual 
praying or offering to one of the principal deities, most often Ra-Horakhty or Osiris. 
Nearby stood a painted hollow wood figure of Osiris on a plinth; it contained one of 
two papyri written to secure the afterlife of the individual, the other being with the 
wrapped body in the coffin. One papyrus was from Going out by Day, and the other 
from Underworld Books; earlier in the period, the main source is the Litany of Ra, 
later the last four hours of the night journey of the sun, as depicted in the Amduat. 
Bright blue-glazed faience shabti figures with black inscriptions multiply to a kingly 

224 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 



WW / 

aR HepB PH 

SEERA Esha eR? 




S. Soe Se 
Evins! See) A es ‘| i 31 

é ~~ 



aor ae 
sf Ea, bl 


ie ee ae Ss ae <8 Rt a) Ved | 




ses TH 



Figure 7.12 Burial equipment of Nakhtefmut, at Waset: (a) cartonnage casing for the 
embalmed and wrapped body. (b) amulets, winged scarab, shabtis, flowers, fastening 
straps and protective figures of deities placed in the tomb. J. Quibell, R. Paget, A. Pirie, 
The Ramesseum and The Tomb of Ptah-hetep, Quaritch, London, 1898. 




Attaining Eternal Life: Sustenance and Transformation 225 

(b) a? a . 
gsiod> Bos apg, 

a8 % 

Figure 7.12 (Contd) 

scale, giving a standard set of 401: one for every day of the of the year and one to 
order each group of 10, as found in accountancy documents for organizing work- 
forces in this life. The foremen shabti figures are distinguished by their short kilt 
and whip (Figure 7.12). 

Around 850 Bc, as the kingdom increasingly fragmented, coffin decoration at 
Waset underwent radical simplification, perhaps under the influence of northern 
Egyptian production (Taylor 2009). At the same time, the quality of glazed faience 

226 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

shabti production drops, and the body is no longer supplied with papyri or Osiris 
figure. This more austere new afterlife is harder to detect in excavations and their 
published reports. 

700-525 sc Underground regeneration machine, overground devotion 

During the late eighth century BC, fragmentation among Libyan kings was overlain 
by more powerful neighbors, Kush to south and Assyria to north. After about 715 
BC, Kushite rulers controlled Egypt, opposing the main west Delta Libyan power, 
the governors of Sau (Sais). After fifty years, they were expelled by invading Assyrian 
armies; the Sau ruler Psamtek became governor for Assyria and then, gradually, 
independent king. In this fluid century, it is difficult to identify the source of 
changes between Kushite/Nubian, Egyptian, and Libyan. Much of the best- 
preserved evidence continues to be from Waset, now both above and below 
ground. As at Akhetaten and Mennefer in the fourteenth century BC, the largest 
seventh-sixth-century BC offering chapels over tombs at Waset give a tangible 
architectural index of power, showing the wealthiest core of national administra- 
tion, far above the resources of the next social level (Eigner 1984). In the early 
seventh century BC, Harwa, high steward of the god’s wife of Amun, received for 
his afterlife a new scale and order of architecture, a veritable temple over the 
underground corridors and chambers of his tomb (Aston 2003; Tiradritti 2009). 
Holders of two high positions, mayor and high steward, followed this example over 
the next century and a half, down to the abrupt end of the sequence at the 
Achaemenid Iranian invasion (525 Bc). This temple-tomb type starts from the out- 
side with a high mudbrick wall, modeled according to the palace fagade motif from 
Early Dynastic times. A mudbrick entrance pylon gave access beneath rows of 
stamped title-and-name fired clay cones, as in Eighteenth Dynasty offering chapels 
at Waset. Beyond, a broad open court led to a second court, with the opening to the 
underground chambers; here in succession were a columned hall and side cham- 
bers; a second, smaller columned hall; and the burial chambers. The complex was 
extensively decorated in relief. Antecedents to the Harwa complex may be found 
nearby in the chapels over tombs of Mayor Karabasken, first pure priest 
Karakhamun, and the overseer of the treasuries of King Taharqo, Rames. These lie 
at the base ofa long hill on the approach to the Deir el-Bahri cliff face, where Hathor 
and Amun merged in the annual Festival of the Valley, focus and setting for the 
grandiose architecture of Harwa as for earlier and later monuments. On its way to 
the Hathor sanctuary, the image of Amun in its portable boat-shrine would stop at 
a small way station on the line of the earlier causeway built for the temple of Queen 
Hatshepsut: the great tombs of Mayor Montemhat and its neighbors face toward 
this shrine, with imposing connecting stairways. 

Where and how were families of officials working for the mayors and high 
stewards buried? Smaller chapels are found, but the evidence is more plentiful pre- 
sumably beneath the ground. One woman at Waset, Tjesraperet with the title nurse 
of the daughter of King Taharqpo, received, beside her coffin set, painted wood stela; 
Osiris figure and shabtis; and several items of cosmetic equipment (Guidotti 2008). 

Attaining Eternal Life: Sustenance and Transformation 227 

Figure 7.13 Amulets from early first-millennium BC burials at Lahun. Excavation 
archive negative PMAN 1951. © Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UCL. 

Across Egypt, there are signs of a small-scale return to the practice of burying the 
dead with items from life. Near Lahun, at some time between the tenth and sixth 
centuries BC, storage pottery is again found in tombs, along with jewelry and amu- 
lets of types worn in life (Figure 7.13). In the new range of imagery, the most promi- 
nent motifs are the eye amulet named wedjat, “health,” and the image of nursing 
mother Isis with her child Horus, a still vulnerable but future divine ruler. Two 
other frequent amulet images are aggressive-protective forces, the lioness-headed 
goddess, most often named as Sekhmet and the sow sky goddess Nut, capable of 
devouring her own children, the stars. Some imagery may be rooted in a particular 
place: one rare form recorded for Lahun is the faience amulet in the form of a lyre 
with inward-facing gazelle heads (Petrie and Brunton 1923, 37), an instrument 
known from New Kingdom examples and depictions. Blue- or blue-green-glazed 
faience is the favorite material, often now in intricate openwork. Cowries appear in 
many burials, perhaps as in the Middle Kingdom mainly for young girls. At Abusir 
al-Malaq, across the fields from Lahun, the burial of a woman named Tadja 

228 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

included figurines of a standing naked woman, along with faience cosmetic 
vessels, openwork faience rings, and a lyre. 

Starting in the mid-seventh century BC, in place of the Sekhmet figurines and 
jewelry worn in life, select richer burials receive only material made for the tomb, 
including, after almost two centuries of absence, mass-produced faience shabti fig- 
ures, some exceptionally fine, and a Going Out by Day papyrus. Besides models of 
equipment for the Opening the Mouth ritual (below Table 7.2), there are sets of 
funerary amulets, gold in some burials of higher-ranking officials at Mennefer, and 
hard stone or faience in other contexts (Bresciani 1977). Some of these take forms 
known from second-millennium BC burials, but the dominant impression is of a 
miniature world of deities, standing or enthroned as eternal company to the 
deceased. The history of this new world is hard to trace, as few burials are found 
after 600 BC in Waset, the main source for well-preserved groups, and the dating of 
groups in the north remains difficult. In 525 Bc, the Achaemenid Iranian conquest 
of Egypt seems to interrupt all production for the afterlife. However, the seventh- 
sixth-century BC burial equipment template is resumed after removal of 
Achaemenid power (404-343 Bc). Despite major fourth-century BC innovations, 
such as the hard-stone sarcophagi inscribed with Underworld Books (see Centres 
of writing or drawing the afterlife), in general, the restoration is so thorough that 
the individual amulet, heart scarab, papyrus, shabti, painted wood stela, or coffin 
could belong as easily to the fourth as the sixth century BC. Time borders from 
political history do not easily transfer over to the afterlife. 

Kingship in the technical and verbal elaboration of embalming 

The historical single line traced earlier is largely the story of the most visible, and in 
a sense, it represents merely one of the so many possible strands from the past. 
However, by the factor of prestige, the magnetic attraction of power in a stratified 
society, this artery of wealth is significant also for at least a proportion of those 
different other strands, increasingly bound into its hegemonic weave. A major 
motivating factor in the success of this particular tale of increasing normative 
standards from the palace center is technical: at the court of the king, embalmers 
developed techniques for preserving the human body after death, reinforced by 
intricate rituals. The technical history is not unilinear and evenly progressive, and 
the line is frequently broken, as the richest burials most swiftly attracted robbers. 
Yet it is possible to write a chronology of the afterlife treatment of kings and some 
of those closest to them, out of the monumental architecture together with a series 
of finds ranging from fragments to some substantially intact burials. At Abdju, 
3000-2700 BC, a series of kings were buried in large mudbrick, later stone-clad, 
chambers, a kilometer into the desert; closer to the fields, mudbrick enclosures 
were set up for the burial, perhaps also for the embalming rites, and then disman- 
tled after the funeral (O’Connor 2011). Around the tomb and the enclosure, the 
courtiers were buried in small rectangular pits, with pottery and sometimes equip- 
ment from their courtly life. From 2700 to 1800 BC, in the area from Giza to Fayoum, 
kingship cult is at the center of far the largest building projects in the land (Lehner 
2008). Massive stone pyramid structures were constructed over the place for the 

Attaining Eternal Life: Sustenance and Transformation 229 

final, and sometimes a second, resting place for the divine mortal body. Less well 
preserved in most instances, temples for the offerings to the king stood east of the 
pyramid reliquary. 

From 1475 to 1075 Bc, the body of the king was laid to rest in a chamber beyond 
series of corridors and halls, cut from the rock in the desert valley west of Waset 
(Hornung 1990). The almost intact burial of king Tutankhamun indicates how 
kingship followed regular practice of the day, treating the underground chambers 
partly as a protective cocoon to project the successful embalming into eternity and 
partly as a storeroom for the food, clothing, jewelry, hunting and fighting equip- 
ment, and furniture of life. At this period, the temples for each ruler were separated 
from the tomb, along the side of the fields; longer-reigning rulers might receive 
more than one temple constructed along the Nile Valley in Nubia and Egypt. After 
1100 Bc, the pattern changes, as kings were buried in temple precincts, and their 
cults maintained perhaps mainly through offerings to their statues (or earlier stat- 
ues reinscribed for them) in the temple forecourts. Again, in keeping with evidence 
for burial customs of the period, intact burials of three kings in the Amun temple 
complex at Djanet show a far greater focus on protection and transformation 
(Yoyotte 1987). Even the coffin face might take the form of a falcon, evoking the 
deities Ra and Horus, rather than the human face usual on coffins of both kings and 
others at most periods. However, the Djanet treasures also contain the silver and 
gold vessels of palace ceremonial and ritual life. 

Amid the treasure of each period, we might expect the body of the king to be 
object of embalming techniques as they developed over time. Advances in bur- 
ial technology would start at the palace and spread out to other centers. In a 
general way, this may have happened: the earliest canopic chest and jars are 
from the immediate circle of kingship and give the first secure evidence that soft 
organs were removed from the body as part of embalming. However, surviving 
remains do not entirely match this picture. The earliest human body part from a 
royal tomb is an arm of uncertain origin, concealed after removal in a crevice in 
the tomb of King Djer, of the First Dynasty, at Abdju (Petrie 1901, 16-17). Armlets 
were still around the bones, but no signs of embalming were reported. Around 
1800 BC, in the cemeteries of Mennefer, the body of King Auibra Hor was buried 
in a fine coffin, with accompanying statue topped by outstretched arms - the 
hieroglyph ka - and a canopic chest. Unfortunately, the excavation report did 
not discuss embalming technique. From about 1325 Bc, the body of King 
Tutankhamun is poorly preserved, perhaps because the embalming oils reacted 
badly with the atmosphere of the burial chamber or were simply applied in too 
great quantity. The best evidence is from the reburial of New Kingdom kings and 
relatives in a cache to sanctify the Libyan family of generals ruling from Waset 
after 1070 Bc. Some faces are so beautifully embalmed that they seem asleep, 
but the success is variable and not confined to the kings. As the living would 
never see the face after wrapping and masking, let alone burial, perhaps these 
variations are not surprising; the rites of embalming may have taken precedence 
over the details of perfect preservation. After 1070 Bc, when all kings may have 
been buried in low Delta sites, literal preservation may have been even less of a 

230 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

focus, with attention instead permanently on the transformation of the divine 
mortal body into an immortal. 

Centers of Writing or Drawing the Afterlife: Rituals 
and Eternal Regeneration 

From 2500 to 525 Bc, images and words relating to embalming and burial are pre- 
served on stone or painted plaster walls of offering chapels and, less often, burial 
chambers and on manuscripts made for the tomb or, rarely, used in rituals and 
then, in unknown circumstances, deposited as part of burial equipment (Assmann 
2005). The earliest evidence comes from late third-millennium BC chapels of offi- 
cials (Table 7.1 Burial scenes) and includes the ritual for consecrating statues, later 
applied to embalmed body (Opening the Mouth; see Table 7.2) A little later are 
inscriptions first found in underground chambers in pyramids of kings and their 
wives and so known in Egyptology as Pyramid Texts (Table 7.3). These are inscribed 
without any explicit overall order, and Egyptologists have debated how far they 
combine into longer sequences as liturgies (Hays 2012). From the end of the Old 
Kingdom, the compositions are attested outside the royal court (shroud of 
Medunefer, oasis governor, about 2200 Bc; burial chambers of two high officials at 
Hutnennesut, perhaps a century later). During the following period, they appear 
alongside a developing branch of similar writing in the newer phase of the lan- 
guage, Middle Egyptian, and named in Egyptology Coffin Texts, because the most 
common medium is now the coffin. These are inscribed on the walls, lid, and floor 
of wood coffins or painted limestone burial chambers for regional governors and 
their entourages. The line between (inscribed) Pyramid Text and (handwritten) 

Table 7.1 Burial scenes: The principal phases in depictions (2500-525 Bc) 
(Altenmiiller 1975) 

1. Lament over the dead and procession of coffin from the house 
2. Procession of coffin by boat to place of embalming 
3. Offerings in the place of purification (of the body in embalming), installed as Sais 
4. Procession of coffin to a place of meat offerings, ritually named Sau (Sais) 
5. Procession of coffin on ox-drawn sled from Sau to Pe and Dep (Buto) 
6. Ritual dancers (muu) receive the coffin in Pe and Dep 
7. Procession of coffin to sunlit space, ritually named Junu (Heliopolis) 
8. Lament and purification; Opening the Mouth ritual; censing 
9. Dragging the coffin into place 
10. Procession of ritual crouching figure, named tekenu; censing 
11. Procession of the canopic chest, bearing papyrus stems 
12. Offering ritual 
13. Delivery of burial equipment, meat offerings 
14. Placing the coffin in the burial chamber 
15. Circuit of the statue 
16. Concluding rites 

Attaining Eternal Life: Sustenance and Transformation 231 

Table 7.2 Opening the Mouth and Eyes: The consecration ritual of images and 
bodies (Otto 1960) 

Sources with longest series of episodes, all from Waset 

1. Offering chapel of Vizier Rekhmira at Thebes (Theban Tomb 100, 1400 Bc) 

2. Tomb of King Sety I at Thebes (Valley of the Kings, 1300 Bc) 

3. Tomb of Queen Tausret (Valley of the Kings, 1225 Bc) 

4. Coffin of aman named Butehamun, secretary of the king’s draughtsmen (Waset, now 
in Turin: no depictions, 1050 Bc) 

. Tomb chapel of the god’s wife of Amun Amenirdis at Thebes (Madinat Habu) 

6. Tomb ofa chief lector Padiamenipet (Theban Tomb 33) 
Those fullest versions, with eighty additional shorter sources, record seventy-five ritual 
episodes, around the core of rites to animate the statue, including the crucial meat offering 
e Episodes 1-9: preliminary rites 
e Episodes 10-22: sculpting and animation of the statue, including “sleep of the sem” 
e Episodes 23-42: meat offerings aligned with Upper Egypt 
e Episodes 43-46: meat offerings aligned with Lower Egypt 
e Episodes 47-71: funerary meal 
e Episodes 72-75: closing rites 

Table 7.3. Principal Pyramid Text themes (for the corpus, see Allen (2005)) 

1. Meals, cleansing, clothing, and especially the great offering list (23-171) and the 
accompanying rituals (204-212) 

2. Protection against enemies and against harmful creatures 

3. Bodily integrity and revival, especially around reassembling limbs, parts of body (heart, 
head, and bones, opening the mouth); release from wrapping; refrain Wake!; and 
address to children of Horus as they lift deceased and carry 
Divine forms: star, swallow, falcon, Nut, Satet, ka of all gods, son of Atum/great one; 
kingship and rule, inheriting the throne 

4. Ascension: opening door of sky, rising to sky, decree of Nun to Atum to admit deceased 
to sky; ferrying (with purification and ascension); knowing name of Ra and reaching 
him; sun hymn 

Coffin Text is not always easy to draw, but in later periods, the Old Egyptian gram- 
mar and spelling of Pyramid Texts seem to be consciously maintained as important 
points of distinction, with different proportions of each copied on coffins at differ- 
ent periods within 2000-1800 Bc (Allen 1996). Certain sequences (liturgies?) in 
both branches also have separate histories. Otherwise, the thematic content seems 
broadly similar (Tables 7.3 and 7.4). 

Coffins of a dozen wealthy individuals buried at the desert cemetery east of 
Khemenu, 1950-1850 Bc, include on the coffin floor a composition designed as a 
graphic journey through the afterlife (Lesko 1972). Egyptologists have named this 
the Book of Two Ways, from one section with a black (earth) and blue (watery) path 
divided by a band of red (fire). Much of the accompanying wording reappears in 
later periods as compositions “to make the akh excellent.” In this period, too, the 
phrase “Going Out by Day” begins to emerge as technical term for the overall aims 

232 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Table 7.4 Principal Coffin Text themes (cf. Barguet 1986) 

1. Food and clothing; not eating filth or walking upside down 
Protection against enemies, driving off Rerek-snake, Aapep, serpent, bird; escaping the net 

3. Bodily integrity and revival: power over the head, mouth, legs, limbs, heart, sexual 
potency, heka; reassembly of limbs, burial; not rotting; preventing theft of heka, head, 
heart; having property/inheritance, having family, constructing tomb; power over 
water, air, the four winds, breathing; not working in afterlife 
Divine forms: Ra, Atum, Ruty, Horus, Osiris, Thoth, Imsety, Isis, Nun, Shu, Reret, 
Nehebkau, Nile Flood, Hathor, Khentykhem, Grain, Hu, Anubis, Baba, falcon, swallow, 
morning star, secretary of Atum/Ra/Hathor; be beside gods 

4. Free entry into next world, free movement there; opening door to heaven/underworld/ 
west; sailing to Iunu, landing, uniting the riverbanks, ferrying across winding water, 
river, sky; knowing paths to sky; knowing names of underworld places, knowing 
ba-souls of sacred places (Iunu, Djedu, Khemenu, Pe, Nekhen, eastern, western) 
ascension, tying together ladder in/to sky; going out by day 

of this literature. After 1600 BC, compositions begin to be copied on shrouds for 
burials of women and officials at the court at Waset. Then, after 1450 Bc, comes a 
major change in medium and formal presentation; the compositions begin to be 
written regularly on papyrus book-rolls and combined with polychrome illustra- 
tions that echo coffin and temple wall decoration. From these papyri, Egyptologists 
name the Going Out by Day corpus the Book of the Dead (Allen 1974). Each papyrus 
contains its own selection of content from a repertoire of about 150 compositions 
in circulation at any one time (Table 7.5). 

Despite the flexibility, writers express the separateness of the corpus, when 
they comment that some passages are “added from another papyrus in addition 
to the Going out by Day” or, at Waset in the period 1000-850 Bc, when they 
deposit with most individuals two papyri: one marked Going Out by Day and 
the other What Is in the Underworld (Niwiriski 1989). The second papyrus 
draws from great compositions in the tombs of kings in the Valley of the Kings, 
1450-1100 Bc, dominated by images, projecting the night journey of the sun 
(Hornung 1990). The earliest version bears the ancient title Book of the Hidden 
Chamber Which is The Underworld, abbreviated as imy-duat, “What Is in the 
Underworld”; the night is described in a sequence of twelve hours, with indi- 
vidual names to the figures depicted. Accompanying this, the Book of Adoration 
of Ra celebrated in a litany the sun-god unfurled into 75 forms (in Egyptology 
named Litany of Ra), with passages on the mystery of the night union of Ra with 
Osiris as the Joined Ba-soul. During the reign of Akhenaten, the tomb of the 
king at Akhetaten was decorated instead with scenes of palace life and mourn- 
ing and designed to include the burials of the women closest to him. After 
Akhenaten, new compositions proliferate in the tombs of kings at Waset, start- 
ing with a version of the imy-duat teeming still with images, but without the 
continuous naming of each feature; the first of these is the Book of Gates 
(ancient tithe unknown). The different versions cover similar themes, but 

Attaining Eternal Life: Sustenance and Transformation 233 

Table 7.5 Principal Going Out by Day (Book of the Dead) themes (cf. Barguet 1979) 

1. Food and clothing; not eating filth or walking upside down; depiction of Marsh of Reeds 
with eternal miraculous harvest (tableau and accompanying writings chapter 110); 
receiving offerings as ka-spirit 

2. Protection against enemies, driving off Rerek-snake, Aapep, crocodiles, serpents, 
worms, bugs, the two chant-goddesses 

3. Bodily integrity and revival: power over (or preventing theft of) the head, mouth, heart, 
movement, name, heka; reassembly of limbs; not rotting; not being butchered; power 
over water, air, the four winds, breathing; not working in afterlife; eternally active 
embalming rituals (tableau chapter 151) 

Protection by material form of head cover (mask), headrest, broad collar, tiyet-amulet, 
djed-pillar (stability) 

4. Declarations of divine identity as Ra, Atum, Ruty, Osiris, Thoth, son of Hathor; be 
beside gods/Thoth/Hathor 
Divine forms: netjer, greatest of the tribunal, living ba-soul, Ptah, falcon (of gold), 
heron, benu-heron, swallow, snake, lotus 

5. Free movement into/in next world; opening door to heaven/underworld/imehet- 
chamber; ferrying across sky; knowing underworld place-names/ba-souls of sacred 
places (Iunu, Djedu, Khemenu, Pe, Nekhen, eastern, western); going out by day 

6. Passing the judgment of the dead, with scene of weighing the heart against Right 
(tableau chapter 125) 

7. Hymns to Ra and Osiris 

without exact correspondence of contents for each segment of the night; the 
tenth hour of imy-duat depicts those marked as blessed by drowning, whereas 
the Book of Gates places this in the ninth (Table 7.6). Evidently, these descrip- 
tions of night cycle deploy motifs more with poetic than with literal force, even 
if the numerical measurements and precision of names produce an exact geo- 
graphical effect. Dominant themes include the law-giving role of the sun-god 
(Hours 1-9), the punishment of enemies (Hours 10-12), and the life-giving light 
of the sun, even for the embalmed dead (Book of Gates, Hour 8). 

Besides the Underworld Books, the ancient writers also kept other compositions 
separate from the core Going Out by Day, either never copied onto the papyrus 
books for the afterlife or included so rarely that they remain at the margins. This 
seems more a question of tradition, perhaps history of restricted use, than of 
theme. For example, the motif of eternal revival through the scent of the lotus 
flower appears in the Going Out by Day corpus as a short passage alongside the tall 
image of lotus flower on stem, found on dozens of papyri (1450-50 Bc). On the 
same theme, but never included in Going Out by Day manuscripts, a longer poem 
is preserved on a restricted range of sources, including temples for king and gods. 
In the earliest version, on the miniature chapel monument of a palace keeper of 
baboons, Amenyseneb (1800 Bc), the poem begins (Vandier 1963): 

Formula for the floral garland of every day, brought to the mound-chapel. 
This is the great one, going out from the land, crossing the sky, 


Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

Table 7.6 Twelve hours of the night journey of the sun (from Hornung (1999)) 

Nighthour Imy-duat Book of Gates 
1 Sailing 120 iteru to 300-iteru region of 
Wernes, sun-god as ram issues decrees 
2 Wernes, 309 x 120 iteru; sun-god assigns 
fields to underworld dwellers 
3 309-iteru Water of Osiris, sun-god issues Deities in shrines, image of 
decrees to the akhu who are with Osiris the Boat of the Earth 
4 Secret Cavern of West, rocky ground; Embalmed dead in shrines; 
sun-god as serpent time-serpents 
5 Secret Cavern of Sokar, rocky ground Deities with field-measure 
cord, ba-souls and people 
6 Waters of Underworld dwellers, sun-god Judgement Hall 
assigns fields/water for offerings to deities 
7 Cavern of Osiris: felling enemies Enemies tied to jackal-head 
stakes, harvesters 
8 Caverns of secret deities (10 sets, most with Embalmed dead rise at 
three deities) approach of sun-god 
9 Another secret cavern of the West, sun-god The blessed drowned 
issues decrees to deities 
10 Another secret cavern of the West, the Netters, felling Aapep 
blessed drowned 
11 Another secret cavern of the West, enemies Destruction of Aapep 
beheaded and burnt in pits 
12 Cavern End of Darkness; rebirth of the Destruction of Aapep and 

sun-god, towed through the snake Life 
of the Gods 

going out from heaven, great power, born of Geb, 
who drives away Seth in his raging, 

who pushes back against the desert-people as they journey, 
the Nine Gods shrink back at the knowledge of his name, 
the one who grows from the body of that noble Marshland, 
the one who brings the body of the East, that assists Nemty. 

rebirth of the sun-god 

In its references to deities and its poetic vocabulary, the composition that never 
entered the Going Out by Day corpus does not differ from the compositions that 
did. Thus, content alone does not explain why one composition and not another 
should have been included in the corpus. The reasons may lie in the place and tim- 
ing of recitation, where some passages may have been confined to kingship, while 
others were considered more appropriate for the book for obtaining an afterlife. 
The manuscripts from each period set different boundaries of practice; for exam- 
ple, after 650 BC, papyri often include hymns to the sun-god and Osiris, previously 
found only in temple settings or in inscriptions more closely connected with the 
king. The focus and borders of sanctity are social constructs, changing over time. 

Attaining Eternal Life: Sustenance and Transformation 235 

Transforming into akh-Being 

Among manuscripts for eternity, the title sakhu, “making akh,’ is found repeatedly 
but in specific contexts across the period preserving writing (Assmann 1990). 
After 2500 Bc, depictions of embalming, funeral, and burial include the caption 
“reading sakhu,’ and the word is used as a heading for series of compositions on 
papyri later than the period discussed here (fourth-second century BC) but with 
contents already found in pyramids (2200 Bc) and in the same order as found on 
some coffins from 2000 to 1850 Bc. The word sakh means “to make (someone) into 
an akh” and is sometimes translated rather vaguely as “glorification.” The core 
term akh in healing and afterlife papyri seems to evoke a power of impact where 
the cause is not immediately evident; evidently, it could refer to the successfully 
embalmed and securely buried body, keeping its life source beyond mortality. 
The sakhu writings envelop both the period of embalming and the offerings for 
the deceased into eternity. 

Although they form a tradition of their own within afterlife literature, they sur- 
face within the main stream from Pyramid Texts onward. In the Going Out by Day 
corpus, they relate directly to the series of formulae for “making the akh excellent,’ 
found on most manuscripts and taken largely from the earlier Book of Two Ways. 
The “excellent akh’ is the precise title given to relatives or friends on small offering 
stones from the village of royal artists at Waset, 1300-1100 Bc. A thousand years 
earlier, it is found on the several Letters to the Dead, where the living invoked 
recently deceased relatives or friends for help with problems in daily life. Possibly, 
in this part of the writings for eternity, we find a shared ground for the living not 
only in the literate sectors of society but across different social classes. The rites 
and techniques of embalming to palace standards may have become the overarch- 
ing goal and theme for all who could afford it, in increasing numbers over the mil- 
lennia, and may have set the mold for burial practices particularly after the Amarna 
period. Yet a wider sense of the survival of life, anchored in a physical body, may be 
at the heart of the culture, expressed not in the mummified body, but in the con- 
cept of immortalized akh. From the written record, this would be the term and 
concept to test back against the record of both funerary and settlement archaeol- 
ogy, across the two and a half millennia considered in this book. 

Hegemony and Variety: Chronological Considerations 

A time line of the evidence is necessary to identify the ways one group of past peo- 
ple might have differed from another to avoid homogenizing the past, as in the 
static, dull perception of an unchanging ancient Egypt. However, this necessary 
introductory filter can offer only a simplified narrative, where regional geography 
and social mapping add more strands to the story. However many strands, the 
single line fails to capture the complexity and variety of any period, for which a 
more archaeological presentation of greater length would be required (as in 
Grajetzki 2003). According to the standard Egyptological history, between 3000 

236 Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt 

and 525 BC, increasing numbers of people at more and more places adopted prac- 
tices, writings, and imagery originally developed for the body of the king as son of 
Ra. The strength of this narrative and its frequent repetition, as in the preceding 
text, recalls the linguistic dominance which Bakhtin called monoglossia - a single 
epic story (Chapter 1). Such force can be resisted by displacing the minority prac- 
tice of the specific preservation techniques, which we call mummification, and 
searching instead for the majority practice at any time. Predynastic and Nubian 
studies lead in this area, and the principle is being extended more often now to 
Bronze Age and early Iron Age Egypt (e.g., Goulding 2013). Nevertheless, the tra- 
jectory of increasing Osirification extends beyond the theme of burial across the 
second and first millennia BC, entering the wider concept of the sacred; by the 
late first millennium BC, mainly after the period studied here, each temple pre- 
cinct has separate cemeteries for Osiris figures, with prominent Osiris festivals 
(Raven 1978-1979). As a major phenomenon affecting a range of social settings 
and institutions, the attraction of mummification deserves analysis, rather than 
rejection, in order to understand not only its ancient significance but also its 
power of attraction today (Day 2006, Pringle). Besides monoglossia from Bakhtin, 
we might deploy the Gramscian concepts of hegemony and prestige to analyze 
how a particular technology of embalming practice, including the rites and 
materials surrounding it, achieved such overwhelming dominance that it becomes 
difficult to see ancient Egypt without it. 

Future study may turn from the embalmed body, burial equipment, tomb cham- 
ber and chapel, and their images and words to seek explanatory contexts in the full 
archaeological record of all social classes of each period. The preservation of the 
body as an integer with sun, stars, earth, and Nile resonated with particular social 
groups in each period, in ways that will require careful definition and description, 
particularly at moments of change - the decreases in use, as well as the tide of 
increase. The most detailed archaeological recording across multiple types of site 
can provide our access to the variable patterns of attraction to, and resistance 
against, that persuasive millennial offer to preserve an individual body for eternity. 

From Theme to Integration: Futures of Study 

The focus of this and each of the preceding these chapters has been on a particu- 
lar theme, and the evidence has been selected to illustrate or discuss just that 
thematic segment of life. The social practices for sustaining and/or transforming 
human life beyond the horizon of mortality can be treated as such a theme. When 
the same material reappears in different chapters as evidence for different topics, 
the recurrence may simply reflect the multifaceted character of all material 
objects. An item associated with healing may be defined as sacred during life, 
recurrent in daily offerings or activated only at an annual festival, and it may retain 
that value into the project to secure an eternal afterlife. Health, offering, festival, 
and eternity belong together but can still be studied separately. Yet the thematic 
divisions seem so porous and fragile that they deserve renewed scrutiny, nowhere 

Attaining Eternal Life: Sustenance and Transformation 237 

more so than in the modern separation of funerary from nonfunerary. Particularly 
after separate treatment, topics need to be integrated into renewed holistic study, 
adequate to the complex and fuzzy practices of life in society. Returning to the 
house on Abu (Figure 2.16), an outline of brickwork and stones and a scatter of 
finds bear witness to all the range of human lived experience; the presence of the 
infant burial under the stones at the entrance room wall asks for our appreciation 
of fully rounded lives. 

Comparative archaeology and anthropology build from the principle of differ- 
ence, whereby the dividing lines applied in Kemet at the various periods 3000-525 
BC are unlikely to coincide with those in other times and places, including the ones 
we would apply today. Perhaps for Kemet, the most productive aspect of the 
archaeological record is the degree of difference, not only between then and now 
but also between types of evidence within each period. In the construction of 
sacred space, the same architectural plan might be identified in ancient writings as 
hut-netjer, “domain of a netjer,’ or hut-ka, “domain for the ka,” to sustain an indi- 
vidual for eternity (Figure 3.6). Nothing in the plan prepares you for the written 
evidence that the larger structure may be for an individual, not a deity, challenging 
the English vocabulary of temple, chapel, and tomb. The written evidence draws 
clear dividing lines, but at the same time, it elides the underlying similarities which 
the topographical plan reveals. For a wider archaeology and anthropology, each 
set of dividing lines is drawn in usefully different ways. Alongside the self-critique 
of our categories, the study of these differences may be the most important area to 
develop in future study. 



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Aapep, 136, 179, 232-234 

Abd al-Latif of Bagjhdad, 5 

Abdju (Abydos), 18, 20-22, 24, 30, 35, 48-49, 
59, 80, 91, 104-105, 126-127, 138, 144, 
155-158, 162, 170, 190-191, 202, 
209-212, 214-215, 222-223, 228-229 

ablution slabs, 75-79, 178 

Abu (Elephantine), 20, 24, 53, 65-71, 76, 
84, 86, 100-101, 126, 153, 179, 203, 
209, 237 

Abu Ghalib, 24 

Abu Simbel, 81, 84 

Abusir, 24, 80, 100 

Abusir al-Malaq, 227 

Abusir papyri, 106, 108 

Abydos see Abdju 

Abydos South see Wahsut 

accompaniments (descriptive writings 
beside liturgies), 138 

Achaemenid Iranian rule (Persian Period), 
2,11, 70, 174, 226-228 

Adaima, 24 

afterlife, writings for, 55, 58, 111, 142-145, 
149, 230-235 see also Book of the Dead; 
Coffin Texts; Pyramid Texts; 
Underworld Books 

age differences, 15, 25, 48, 68-69, 180-182, 

ageing, concepts of, 56-57, 153 

agricultural year, 13-14, 64, 100, 102-103, 
193, 195, 220 see also wandering year 

agriculture, 14, 43-44, 62, 106-108, 177 

Aha, deity (also named Bes), 48, 53-54, 
60-61, 73-75, 78-79, 130, 187-190 

Aha, king, 30 

Ahmes I., 93 

Ahmes Nefertari, 79, 93 

akh (blessed dead, transfigured), 23, 55, 83, 
88-89, 91, 199, 231, 235 see also sakhu 
(transfiguration writings) 

Akhenaten, 2-3, 9, 78, 81, 97, 107, 117, 
122-123, 126, 132, 135, 138, 162, 186, 
219, 222, 232 

Akhetaten (Amarna), 2, 14, 18, 24, 46, 78, 
81-82, 84, 105, 117, 122, 135, 153-154, 
178-179, 186-187, 219-220, 226, 232 

Akhmim see Ipu/Khentmin 

Amarna see Akhetaten 

Amduat (Imyduat), 223, 232-234 

Amenemhat, overseer of fields, 56 

Amenemhat I, 163-164 see also Teaching of 
King Amenemhat I 

Amenemhat II, 196 

Amenemhat III, 166 

Amenemipet, Teaching of see Teaching of 

Amenemwia, 196 

Amenhotep I, 79, 101, 104 

Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt, First Edition. Stephen Quirke. 
© 2015 Stephen Quirke. Published 2015 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. 


Amenhotep III, 42, 44, 78-79, 86, 89, 104, 
108, 117, 188 

Amenirdis, god’s wife of Amun, 93, 231 

Amenmes, high official, 79 

Amenmes, controller of Serget, 191 

Amenmes, stela of, 35, 143-145, 147 

Amenyseneb, 233 

amulets, 26, 53, 58-59, 64, 119-120, 
183-187, 190, 195, 210, 215, 220-222, 
225, 227-228 see also djed; heart 
amulets; scarabs; seal-amulets; tiyet 

Amun, 2, 20-21, 28, 34, 70, 84, 91, 93, 98, 
100-102, 117, 122, 124-127, 131-133, 
137-138, 196, 198, 222, 226, 229 see also 
First God’s Servant of Amun; god’s 
adoratrice of Amun; god’s wife of 

Amun-Kamutef, 122, 124, 132 

Amun-Ra, 34, 91, 95, 122, 137, 186, 219 

analogism, 39-40 

ancestor busts, 79 

ancestors, offerings to, 9, 26, 79 see also 
dead, relation of living to 

anencephaly, 47-48 

animal burials, 39-41, 43, 47-48, 70, 132 

animal cults, modern study of, 9, 29 see also 
bulls, sacred 

animal forms in depictions of deities, 3, 9, 
29-34, 87, 130, 132-133 

animal-human forms in depictions of 
deities, 3, 28-30, 33 

animal-human relations, 39-43, 70, 163, 195 
see also animal burials; animal forms 
in depictions of deities 

animal husbandry see pastoralism 

animism, 39-40 

ankh hieroglyph(life), 2, 19, 43, 58, 120 

Ankhesenpaaten, later Ankhesenamun, 
queen, 123 

Ankhmahor, 178 

Ankhnespepy, king’s mother, 182 

anthropology, 3-4, 6, 8, 25, 38-40, 51, 56-58, 
61, 111, 115-116, 118-119, 150, 
175-181, 184, 188, 202, 205, 237 

Anubis(Inpu), 20, 28, 33, 101, 114, 132, 147, 
168, 220-221, 232 

Any, Teaching of see Teaching of Any 

Apis bull see Hep 

Arabic, 4-5, 12 


Aramaic, 11 

archaeology, 3-6, 9, 23-24, 110, 173, 203, 

architecture, 6-7, 203 see also temple 
architecture; tombs, superstructure 

aretalogy, 136-137 

Aristotle, 40, 54 

Armant, 32, 172 

art, ancient Egyptian, 7, 11 

art history, 3, 6, 218 

Ashmunein see Khemenu 

Ashur, 18 

Asians, west, in Egypt, 99, 161 

Assmann, Jan, 7-8, 35, 56, 96, 113, 115-116, 
118, 136, 151, 169 

Assyrians in Egypt, 93, 226 

Aswan, 6, 16, 19, 65, 152 

Asyut see Saut 

Aten (solar orb), 2, 81-82, 108, 117, 126, 186, 

Atum, 21, 28, 43, 132, 137, 142-143, 144-147, 

Aubira Hor, 229 

autobiographical inscriptions, 172-173, 

Avaris see Hutwaret 

ba, 55-56, 162, 219, 232-233 see also 
Dialogue of aman and ba 

Baalat, 213 

Baba, 146, 232 

baboons, 28, 41, 47-48, 129, 162, 197, 198 

Badari, 24, 62-65, 84, 182-183 

Bahriya oasis, 16 

Bakhtin, Mikhail, 10-11, 236 

Balamun see lunamun 

balanced motifs (visual images), 120-121, 

Balat, 24, 203 

baldness, 51 

Banebdjedet, 21 

Bardinet, Thierry, 198 

Bast (goddess), 21, 28, 32, 101, 187, 191, 197 

Bast (town) see Per-Bast 

Bat, 20, 28, 120-121 

Bata, 20, 114, 147 

Bearer of the Festival Roll, lector, 36, 96, 162, 

beauty, concept of, 48 


beetles, 185 see also scarabs 

Bekhu (Bukhis bull), 32 

belly folds, depictions of, 48 

benben, 143 

Beni Hasan, 52-53, 84, 210 

Beni Suef, 16 

benu, 233 

Benjamin, Walter, 6 

Berlev, Oleg, 161 

Bes see Aha, deity 

Bickel, Susanne, 35, 114, 142-143 

Bietak, Manfred, 76 

birth, protection at, 26, 53-55, 64, 73-75, 
106, 117, 187-190, 194-195, 210, 213 see 
also Aha/Bes; Ipy 

birth brick (Meskhenet), 55, 165, 172 

Black Land see Kemet 

Blackman, Winifred, 184 

blessed dead see akh 

Bloch, Maurice, 56, 111, 115-116 

board games, 200 

boat, coffin conceived as, 211 

boat-shaped shrines, portable, 83, 97-98, 
125, 196, 226 

boat shrines (procession way-stations), 104, 

boats, models, 126, 128, 210-211 

boats of deities, 70, 97, 126-127 see also 
festivals; sailings; solar circuit 

bodily difference, attitudes to, 45-49 

body, ancient words for, 55-56 

body, grooming of, 49-52 see also cosmetic 

body, integrity of, 44-45, 198, 229, 231-233, 
236 see also sustenance of body after 

body parts, identified with deities, 56 

body position in burials, 205-207 

Book of Gates, 232-234 

Book of the Adoration of Ra see Litany of Ra 

Book of the Dead (Going Out by Day), 60, 
137, 144-147, 215, 220, 222-223, 228, 
231-233, 235 

Book of the Hidden Chamber which is in the 
Underworld see Amduat 

Book of Two Ways, 231 

branding with fire, as punishment, 157 

Brecht, Bertolt, 167 

brittle bone disease, 47 


Brunton, Guy, 62, 130, 183, 222 

Budge, Wallis, 29 

Bull of his Mother see Amun-Kamutef 

bulls, sacred, 30, 32, 40-42, 132 see also 
Bekhu; Amun-Kamutef; cattle; Hep, 

burial customs, 24-25, 44, 51, 56, 68-69, 
156, 185, 187-188, 194-195, 202 see also 
animal burials; body position in 
burials; burials, multiple; infant 
burials; tombs 

burial equipment, 19, 24, 128, 203-208, 
210-216, 220-228, 230 

burials, multiple, 204-205, 215-216, 222 

Butehamun, 231 

Buto see Per-Wadjyt 

butterflies, 186 

Byblos see Jebeil 

Cairo, 16, 202 

calendar, festival, 99-103 

calendars of good and bad days, 195 

Canaan, Tawfik, 184 

canopic chest/ jars, 223, 229-230 

captives, treatment of, 158-159 

carpenters, 210 

cartouche, 135 

Cassirer, Ernst, 29, 112, 149 

cats, 28, 32, 41, 43-44, 56, 70, 120, 132-133, 

cattle, cow forms, 28, 31, 33-34, 41, 69, 107, 
120, 172, 178, 195 

Champollion, Jean-Fran¢ois, 5, 7 

chant (as divine force, Meret), 233 

chantress of a deity, 93, 217 

Chiftigi, Hanna, 5 

child-god-king motif, 33, 133-134, 187 see 
also Horus the Child 

children, formal depictions of, 48 

Christianity, 1-2, 4, 8-9, 22, 25, 35, 61, 175 

circumcision, 49, 60 

cities see towns, ancient 

clappers (musical instruments), 73, 120-121 

cobra, rearing (uraeus), 28, 91, 101, 132, 
190-191, 193, 199 

Coffin Texts, 60, 111, 137, 142-144, 210, 
230-232, 235 

coffins, 206, 210, 214-215, 225, 228, 


coffins, anthropoid, 89, 91, 213-216, 221, 

color symbolism, 58, 64, 92, 106, 129-130, 
184, 221 see also material symbolism 

combs, 125, 127 

cones, inscribed, in tomb superstructures, 
219, 226 

consecration ritual see Opening of the 
Mouth and Eyes 

constellations of deities, 113-114, 116, 118, 

for star constellations see decans; stars 

contex, archaeological, 8-9, 26 

controller of Serget, 184, 191, 193 

Coptic, 4-5, 9, 138, 148 

corruption, 171 

cosmetic equipment, 50-53, 65, 92, 118, 
135, 182-183, 190-191, 208, 210, 213, 
215, 226-228 

cosmos, 36, 140 see also depictions of world; 
end of the world 

counterpoises for collars, 187 

cowries, 60, 182, 186, 227 

creation, ancient writings on, 137-143 

cremation, absence of, 45 

crescent lake (isheru), 87 

crocodiles, 28, 43, 62, 130, 132, 163, 178, 
190, 197, 233 

crowns, 28, 97 

cubit measures, votive, 19 

curse figurines, 158, 160 

cylinder seals, 119, 185 

Dahshur, 24, 83, 186 

Dakhla oasis, 16, 51 

dancers in rituals (mu), 98-99, 230 

Dandara see Iunet 

Darnell, John, 121 

dead, relation of living to, 8, 198-199, 203, 
205, 235 see also ancestors, offerings to; 
Letters to the Dead 

death, literary praise of, 169 

de Certeau, Michel, 7 

decans (star groups), 140 

decrees of kings, 155-159 

Deir al-Bahari, 34, 52-53, 80-81, 87, 104, 
124, 226 

Deir al-Ballas, 24 

Deir al-Bersha, 84, 191, 231 


Deir al-Madina, 24, 51, 79, 128, 130, 163, 
179-182, 193-194, 198-199, 235 
deities (netjeru), 8-9, 23, 27-36, 43, 88, 91, 
96, 117, 143, 233, 236 

deities of main towns, 17, 19-21, 27-28 

Delta, Nile, 12, 16, 19, 22, 102, 126, 222, 229 

Demedjibtawy, 156 

Dep see Per-Wadjyt (Buto, Pe, Dep) 

depictions of world, 35-36 

Derrida, Jacques, 1 

Derrynagalliagh, 61 

Description of Egypt, 4 

Descola, Philippe, 39-40 

Destruction of Mankind see Sky Cow 

deserts, Egyptian, 6 see also Deshret; low 

Deshret (Red Land), 12-13, 16 

destiny, 165, 200 see also divination 

devotion, 171 see also votive offerings; 
votive stelae 

Dhu al-Nun, 5, 175 

diagnosis, medical see treatment, medical 

Diakonoff, Igor, 110, 116, 120 

Dialogue of a man and ba, 169-170 

disciplines, university, 3, 6 

disease carriers (as divine force), 146, 193, 
195, 197-198 

diseases, contagious, 45-46, 195 

Dishasha, 59, 84, 208 

disorder, motifs of, 129-131 see also Nemty; 

distant goddess see eye of Ra 

divination, 26, 198-200 

Djanet (Tanis), 18, 21, 95, 102, 130, 222, 229 

djed-pillar, hieroglyph, 101, 221, 233 

Djedet (Mendes), 18, 21, 24, 145 

Djedu (Busiris), 18, 21, 232-233 

Djefaha‘py, governor, 132 

Djehutymes, high priest of Ptah, 44 

Djeqa’‘per, 20 

Djer, 104-105, 127, 144, 229 

dogs, 41, 43, 70, 132-133, 182-183, 187 see 
also jackals 

Donnat, Sylvie, 198 

double crown, 28, 135 

dragonflies, 186 

dream interpretations, 199 

dreams, 199 see also sleep in sacred places 


dwarf (nemi), 48, 75, 187, 190, 213 
dynasty, concept of, 16-17, 36 

Eagleton, Terry, 112 

ear of deities, 31, 132-133 

ecology, 15-16, 43-44 

Edfu, 20, 22 

eels, 132 

Egypt, ancient, definition of, 11, 235 

Egypt, modern, 4-6, 202 

Egypt, origin of name, 22 

Egyptology, university discipline, 4-5 

Egyptomania, 202 

El Saadawi, Nawal, 5 

elephant, 41 

Elephantine see Abu 

embalming chamber 

embalming-chamber temple of Osiris, 

embalming place (named Sau/Sais), 

embalming rituals, 33, 55-56, 211, 233, 235 

embalming techniques see mummification 

Empedocles, 54 

end of the world, 144-147 

envy, 171 

epagomenal days see five days over the 

epilepsy, 46 

ethics, archaeological sources for ancient, 

Ethiopia, 13 

ethnicity, 7, 99, 122, 154, 161, 204 

etiology, 136-137 

etiquette at table, 165 

Eurocentrism, 1, 4-5, 9, 12, 25-26, 111-112, 
114, 155, 175-176, 180 

European Enlightenment, 26 

evil (isfet), 162, 197 

evolutionary histories of religion, 29-31, 112 

exemption decrees, 108, 156 

eye ailments, 193, 198 

eye of Horus (wedjat), 135-136, 146, 149, 
184-185, 210, 227-228 

eye of Ra, 32, 133, 149 see also Bast; 
Nile flood; Sekhmet 

fallahin, 15 see also farmers 
fairy tales, European, 114 


falcons, 28, 30-31, 43, 120, 133, 134-135, 
190, 229-233 

false door see stone door, solid 

family relations, 17, 57, 79, 89, 154, 160, 165, 
167-169, 170-173, 198-199 

famine, 13, 173 

Farafra oasis, 16 

farmers, 13, 15 see also agriculture; 
agricultural year 

Fayoum, 16, 20-21, 24, 70, 80, 206, 214, 228 
see also Lahun, Shedyt 

feasts, 104-105 

feathers, 28, 144 see also ostrich feathers 

Ferro, Marc, 114 

ferrying, 130, 172, 231-233 

festivals, 46, 83-84, 93, 97-105, 125-126, 
134, 144, 147, 170, 196, 210-211, 217, 
219-220, 226, 236 see also calendar, 
festival; ka-her-ka; sed festivals; Valley 

fetish, modern category, 29 see also object 

figures of deities, 31, 132, 187, 227, 236 see 
also statues of deities 

figurines, in burials, 47, 56, 187-188, 213, 
227 see also shabtis 

figurines of women, 73 (lion face), 106, 181, 
187-188, 227 

First Cataract, 11, 13, 65-66, 126, 153 

First God’s Servant of Amun, 95, 222 

Fischer-Elfert, Hans-Werner, 46-47 

fish (Schilbe), 43, 132 

fish-shaped amulets, 186 

fish vase, glass, 154 

fissioning of names, 33 see also wall 

Fitzenreiter, Martin, 4, 7-9 

five days over the year, 101-103, 195, 197 

flail, 28, 122 

Flanagan, James, 176 

flood, rain, 196 see also Nile flood 

flowers, 104, 169-170, 233-234 see also lotus 

folklore, Gramsci definition of, 10 

forms of deities in depictions, 27-33 

foundation deposits, 106, 107 

Foundation for the Course of the Stars, 

foundation rituals, temples, 106 

friezes of objects, on coffins, 210 

Index 261 

fugitives, 27, 160-161 

funerals, 202, 204-205, 208, 211, 230 see also 
burial customs; embalming rites 

funerary cones see cones, inscribed 

funerary literature see afterlife, writings for 

furniture, 188-189, 215 

fusing of names, 33 

Galen, 54 

Gallorini, Carla, 76 

game equipment, 199-200, 213 

games, depictions of see leisure, depictions 

Gardiner, Alan, 147 

gateways, massive see pylons 

gazelles, 43, 65, 196, 227 

Geb, 38, 43, 55, 137, 141, 143-144, 234 

Gebel al-Silsila, 84, 126 

Gebel Haridi, 129 

Gebelein see Inerty (Gebelein) 

Gebtyu see Qift 

geese, 43, 132 

gender differences, 15, 24, 68-69, 94, 
120-125, 161, 174-175, 181, 191, 195, 
204, 213, 215, 217 

generosity, 165, 172-173 

Gennep, Arnold van, 57 

genotext, 113, 147 

geology and preservation, 19-23 

geography, sacred, 35, 211 

gerbils, 56 

Germany, post-World War II, 6 

gestures, protective, 178 

girdles, 60, 186 

Giza, 21-22, 24, 80, 100, 109, 120, 152, 160, 
203, 208, 228 

gnosticism, 174 

goats, 41, 132, 179, 187 

god’s adoratrice of Amun, 93 

god’s father, 36, 93, 95 

god’s servant, 36, 67, 92, 95 see also First 
God’s Servant of Amun 

god’s wife of Amun, 93, 226, 231 

gods (netjeru) see deities (netjeru) 

Goebs, Katja, 113 

Goelet, Ogden, 32 

Going Out by Day see Book of the Dead 

Gold (as name of Hathor), 57, 121 

Gospel of Mariam, gnostic, 175 

grain (as divine force), 43, 69, 172, 232 

Grajetzki, Wolfram, 221 

Gramsci, Antonio, 10-11, 15-16, 23, 35, 116, 
150, 236 

great goddess (weret), 197-198 

great review (sipty wr), 108 

Greatest of Directors of Craftsmen, highest 
temple official at Mennefer, 95 

Greatest of Seers, highest temple official at 
Tunu, 95 

Greatest of the Five, highest temple official 
at Khemenu, 95 

greed, 165, 169, 171 

Greimas, Algirdas, 40 

griffins, 130 

Gua, physician and official, 191 

Gurob see Madinat al-Ghurab 

hairstyling, 50-52, 65, 188 

Hamamia, 208 

Ha ‘py see Nile flood 

Harkhuf, 209 

harps, 68 

Harwa, 226 

Hassan, Selim, 208 

Hathor, 20-21, 28, 31, 33-34, 51, 57, 64, 69, 
93, 99, 106, 120-122, 124-125, 146, 187, 
191, 226, 232-233 

Hatiay, 62, 64, 130 

Hatshepsut, 33-34, 104 

headcloth of king (nemes), 214 

headrests, 190, 210, 213, 233 

healers, 179-180, 183, 191, 193-195, 198 see 
also controller of Serget; physician; 
pure one of Sekhmet; shaman 

healing, materials for, 179-181, 191, 195 

healing practices, 26, 193-195 

health, ancient writings for, 54-55, 184, 191, 
193-198, 235 

health, concepts of, 177, 236 

heart, 55-56 (ancient words for), 
232-234 see also judgement of the 

heart amulets, 221 

heart scarabs, 214, 221, 223, 228 

Hebenu, 20 

hedgehogs, 126, 128 

Heka, heka see word power 

Heliopolis see Tunu 


Heliopolitan creation myth, in Egyptology, 
Hellenisation, 2, 45, 175, 199 
hem, term for staff, meaning of, 92, 161 
Hendrickx, Janet, 150, 176 
henmemet (people closest to king), 43 
Hep (Apis bull), 32, 42 
Heqaib, governor, 66-67 
Heracleopolis see Henennesut 
herald, sacred bull as, 32, 42 
Hermopolitan creation myth, in Egyptology, 
Heryshef, 20, 28, 70, 87, 90 
Hesat, 69 
Hetep-Senusret, 71 see also Lahun 
heteroglossia, 10 
Hiba, 47 
hieroglyphs, ancient Egyptian, 5-6, 11 
Hierakonpolis see Nekhen 
High Mound at Iunu, 22-23, 81, 83, 144 
high priestess of Amun see god’s wife of 
hippopotami, 31, 43, 54, 57, 62, 64, 129-130, 
146, 213 see also Ipy 
history, university discipline, 3-4 
Hittites, 171 
hoards, metal, 154-155 
Hordedef, 164 
horizon of eternity (akhet net neheh), 202 
horn for fat or oil, 180-181 
Horus, 20, 28, 30, 33, 62, 92, 100, 103, 114, 
118, 130, 133-135, 137, 140-141, 
143-147, 170, 214, 229, 232 
Horus of the horizon, 2 
Horus the Child, 33, 133-134, 144, 187, 
190, 227 see also child-god-king motif 
see also eye of Horus; Horus stelae 
Horus, children of, 56 see also Imsety 
Horus stelae, 190 
House of Gold, 36, 97 
House of Life, 36, 96-97 
House of the Mayor (Lahun), 71-72, 77 
House of the Mayor (Wahsut), 71 
Hu (command as divine force), 141, 232 
Hu (town) see Hutsekhem 
Hubert, Jane, 38 
human form in depiction of deities, 28 
human remains, 152 
humankind, ancient Egyptian concept of, 
43, 55, 143 


creation of, 163, 173 

hunchbacked man, 49-50 

hunter-gatherers, 113 

Hutherib (Athribis of Lower Egypt), 21 

Hutihyt (Kom al-Hisn), 21, 24 

Hutkaptah, 22 

Hutnennesut (Heracleopolis, Ihnasya), 18, 
20, 55, 70, 87, 90, 168, 230 

Hutnesut, 20 

Hutwaret (Avaris, Tell el-Daba), 18, 24, 62, 
104, 153, 203 

Hutsekhem, 20, 215 

hygiene, 49, 178, 195 

hymns, 35, 91, 136, 143, 233 

hymns to king, 165-166 

hymns to sun, 81-82, 219, 231, 233 see also 
Litany of Ra; Ra 

Iatefet (province), 20, 130 

ibex, 187 

ibis, 28, 56, 120, 132-133 

Ibn Arabi, 175 

ichneumon, 132 

iconoclasm, 117 

idolatry, absence of evidence for, 89 

Igay, 20, 28 

ignorance (jahaliya), concept in Islam, 12 

Ihnasya see Henennesut 

Imet, 21 

Imsety, 232 

incantations (ru), 190, 194-196, 198 

incubation see sleep in sacred places 

Inebhedj see Mennefer (Memphis, 

inequality, social, 161, 175 see also age 
differences; ethnicity; gender differ- 
ences; social class 

Inerty (Gebelein), 52-53, 142 

infant burials, 25, 47-48, 51, 53-54, 68, 188, 
216, 237 

infant mortality, 181-182 

Inheret (Onuris) 

Inheret-Shu, 21 

Inherwau, 181 

initiation (bes), 36, 95 

Inpu see Anubis 

Intefiqer, high official, 88 

inverted world, 29 

Ipet festival, 98, 101-102 

Ipetreset see Luxor temple 


Ipetsut see Karnak 

Ipu/ Khentmin (Akhmim), 20, 122, 170 

Ipuwer see Laments of Ipuwer 

Ipy/ Reret/ Taweret, 20 (in late form Ipet), 
54, 64, 75, 78-79, 133-134, 187-190, 232 

Iraq, 203 

irrigation, 13-14 see also agriculture 

isheru see crescent lake 

Isis, 20, 28, 34, 58-60, 64, 90, 114, 137, 
144-147, 170, 187, 220-221, 227, 232 

Islam, 1, 12, 25, 35, 174 

islands in Nile floodplain during flood, 13-15 

isolation of Egyptian Nile Valley, 12-13, 151 

isy “bald’, denoting closeness to Hathor, 51 

Itjtawy (at/near Lisht), 18, 80, 213-214 

Tunamun (Balamun), 21 

Tunet (Dandara), 20, 22, 208 

Tunu (Heliopolis), 21-22, 32, 41-42, 81, 83, 
95, 102, 219, 230, 232-233 

Tunyt (Esna), 22, 33, 93 

Iykhernefret, 144, 147 

jackals, 28, 43, 56, 132 

Jebeil (Byblos), 213 

jewelry, 49, 183, 188, 206-207, 227, 233 

Jordan, 198 

Judaism, 1-2, 25, 35, 70, 172 see also 
Proverbs of Solomon; Song of Solomon 

judgement, 8, 172-173, 196 

Judgement of Horus and Seth, 92, 118, 130, 

judgement of the dead, 233-234 

ka, 22, 55-56, 229, 231, 236 see also 
Nehebkau; sustenance of body after 

ka-her-ka, 100, 102, 220 

Kamutef see Amun-Kamutef 

Karabasken, 226 

Karakhamun, 226 

Karnak (Ipetsut), 28, 80, 84, 91, 93, 95, 98, 
100-101, 104-106, 122, 124-127, 219 

Kawit, 52-53 

Kellis, 51 

Kemet (Black Land), 12-13, 16, 140 see also 

Kemp, Barry, 81, 122, 137 

Kha, 145 

Khamhat, 104 


Kharga oasis, 16 

Khasekhemra Neferhotep, 157 

Khay, head keeper of writings, 162 

Khem (Letopolis), 21 

Khemenu (Ashmunein), 20, 24, 95, 129, 143, 

khener see musicians in rituals 

Khentika Ikhekhi, high official, 50 

Khentmin see Ipu/Khentmin 

Khentkhety, 21, 28 

Khentykhem, 21, 28, 232 

Kheprer, 143 

Khety, as writer of Teaching of King 
Amenemhat I, 163 

Khnum, 20, 28, 55, 66-68, 172, 183 

Khnumet, 186 

Khnumnakht, 47 

Khoiak see ka-her-ka 

Khons, 20, 98, 126-127, 129, 133, 196, 198, 

Khufu, 208 

Khuninpu see Tale of Khuninpu 

King as Priest of the Sun, 8, 161-162, 167 

kingship, 8, 23, 36-37, 40-43, 66, 81, 83-84, 
88, 91, 94-98, 101-103, 108, 116, 
119-120, 122, 132-135, 137, 142, 
147, 150-151, 155-164, 182-183, 
186-187, 190-191, 203, 207, 210, 213, 
228-234 see also decrees of kings; 
headcloth of king (nemes); pyramid 
complexes; sed festival; smiting 
scenes; statues of kings; Valley of the 

kinship see family relations 

knots, 60, 184, 195 

Kom al-Hisn see Hutihyt 

Kom Ombo see Nubyt 

Koptos see Qift 

kyphoscliosis, 47 

labour, appreciation of, 166 

labour, rights to, 160-161 see also slavery, 
question of 

Lahun, 14, 24, 27, 57, 70-78, 92-93, 98-100, 
153, 178-179, 186, 190, 215, 217, 

laments, literary genre, 164, 167-168 

Laments of Ipuwer, 167-168 

landowners, 210 

language, Egyptian, 11, 16 


language, philosophy of, 10-11 

language, unified, 10 see also monoglossia 

laws, 155 

laziness, 166, 169 

leadership qualities, 165 

learning, patterns of, 114-116 

Lebanon, 147 see also Jebeil (Byblos) 

lector see Bearer of the Festival Roll 

legal documents, 152, 155, 159-160, 173 

leprosy, 47 

leisure, depictions of, in offering-chapels, 
208-209, 212 

letters, ancient, 174, 191 

Letters to the Dead, 198-199, 235 see also 
dead, relation of living to 

libation, water, 198-199 

libation, words at, 135 

Libyans, ancient (inhabitants of deserts 
west of Nile Valley), 18, 95, 121, 172, 
222, 226, 229 

life, unpredictability of, 165 

life expectancy, 51 

Life of the Gods (rebirth snake), 234 

limestone, preservation of, 21-22, 218 

linguistics, university discipline, 6 

lions, 28, 53-54, 57, 60-62, 73-74, 130, 135, 197 

Lisht see Itjtawy 

Litany of Ra, 223, 232 

Literary Letter, from Hiba, 47 

liturgies, 69, 219, 230-231, 235 

logical thinking, concept of, 112 

Lord of All (term for king, creator), 167 

lotus, 57, 169, 233-234 

love songs, 188 

low desert (beside Nile floodplain), 14-15, 

Lower Egypt, 16, 21-22, 70, 231 

lunar cycle, 99, 101, 128 

Luxor, modern city, 16 

Luxor temple (Ipetreset), 80, 98, 122, 124 see 
also Waset (Thebes) 

lyre, 180, 228 

Maadi, 24 

Maat, mat see right, what is right (ma‘at) 
Madagascar, 56 

Madinat al-Ghurab, 24 

Madinat Habu, 24, 80, 100, 108, 124, 231 
Madinat Madi, 80 


Madja, 179-184, 195 

Madu (Medamud), 81-82 

magic, modern concept of, 25-26, 37, 191 
see also word power (Heka) 

magical papyri see health, ancient writings 

Maket, 215 

Makrizi, 5 

Malkata, 24, 78-79, 188 see also palace 

Mammisi, 134 

Manetho, 16-18 

marriage, absence of ritual at, 58 

Marsh of Reeds, 233 

marshes, desert edge, 56-57, 62, 213 

martyrdoms, Coptic, 138, 147 

masks, 60-61, 73-74, 188, 190, 233 

mastaba, 83, 206-210, 212 

material symbolism, 58, 69, 89, 106, 
129-130, 183-184, 221 see also color 

maternity, 26 see also birth, pregnancy 

Maya, nurse of Tutankhamun, 88 

Maya, treasurer, 221 

meat offerings, 230-231 

medical instruments, misidentification 
as, 203 

medical papyri see health, ancient writings for 

medicines see healing, materials for 

Mediterranean, 6, 13, 22 

Medjay (Pan Grave burials), 99, 154 

Medum, 80 

Medunefer, 230 

Medvedev, Pavel, 10 

Meeks, Dimitri, 53 

Meir, 84 

Meketaten, 122-123 

Meketra, 210 

Memphis see Mennefer (Memphis, 

Memphite creation myth, in Egyptology, 

Mendes see Djedet 

Menkaura, 109 

Mennefer (Memphis, Inebhedj), 14, 18, 
21-22, 24, 31-32, 35, 42, 48, 50, 83, 93, 
95, 100, 102, 132-133, 137, 141-142, 
159, 178, 190, 202-203, 206, 209, 214, 
220-221, 226-228, 229 see also Giza, 


menstrual cycle, 58-60, 184 

mental models, in learning, 115-116, 146 

Mentuhotep, governor, 172-173 

Mentuhotep II see Nebhepetra 

Mentuhotep IV, 196 

Menwer (Mnevis bull), 32, 42 

Merenptah, 14, 108 

Meret see chant (as divine force) 

Meretaten, 122-123 

Merimda, 24 

Merirtyfy, 199 

Merykara see Teaching for King Merykara 

Meryra, Greatest of Seers, 82 

Merysekhmet, 199 

Meskhenet see birth brick 

mesget (twilight zone), 140 

Middle Egypt, 16, 19, 22, 24, 84, 130, 143 

midwifery, 195 see also birth protection 

Min, 20, 28, 64, 90-91, 101, 122, 125 

miracles see wonders (biayt) 

Mirgissa, 158 

mirrors, 50, 120 

Mitchell, Timothy, 7 

Mnevis bull see Menwer 

monkeys, 43, 70, 182-183 

monoglossia, 10, 236 

monotheism, 1, 3, 7,9 

Montemhat, 226 

monument (menu), 58 

Mont, 28, 32 

months, names of, 100-102 

moon, 99, 129, 198 see also Khons; lunar 
cycle; Thoth 

Morsy, Soheir, 177, 188 

mourning, 144, 230 

mummification, 111, 143, 156, 201-202, 205, 
213, 228-229, 236 see also embalming 

musical instruments, 120, 180, 203 see also 
clappers; harp; lyre; rattles; sistrum 

musicians in rituals (khener), 93 see also 
dancers in rituals; leisure, depictions 
of; singers in rituals 

Mut, 20, 28, 87, 91, 98, 117, 133, 196, 199, 

Muteminet, 79 

mytheme, 114 

mythical thinking, concept of, 112 


myths, absence of, 35-37, 110, 113-116, 136, 

myths, ancient Greek, 113 

myths, image-centred approach, 116 

myths, national, 112 

Nag ed-Deir, 152 

Nakht, tomb of, 218 

Nakhtankh, 47 

Nakhtefmut, 224-225 

name (ren) as aspect of individual, 55, 

names of domestic animals, 43 

names of deities, 27-28, 33-34 

names of humans, 27, 57, 134, 159-160 

Napata, 18 

Napatan rule of Egypt (Twenty-fifth 
Dynasty), 35, 93, 96, 175, 226 

Naqada see Nubet 

Narmer, 158 

narratives of deities, 35, 136 see also myths, 
absence of 

Nasser, Gamal Abdel, 12 

Natahut (Tell el-Yahudiya), 18, 103 

natron, 135, 206 

naturalism, 39 

nature and culture, definitions, 39-40, 183 

Naukratis, 24 

Nauri, 155 

Nebhepetra Mentuhotep, 87, 104 

Nedjem, 131 

Nedyt, 144 

eferhotep, 100-101 

eferhotep I see Knhasekhemra Neferhotep 

Neferirkara, 156 

Nefersekheru, 220 

Neferseshemra Sheshi, 172 

Nefertari, 84 

Nefertiti, 122-123 

Neferty see Tale of Neferty 

Nehebkau, 99-101, 232 

Neit (goddess), 21, 28, 93 

Neit (Delta provinces), 19, 21, 145-146 

Nekhbet, 20, 28, 140 

ekheb (Elkab), 16, 20 

ekhen (Hierakonpolis), 15-16, 20, 24, 

40-41, 80-81, 120-122, 158, 232-233 
Nemty, 20, 28, 62, 130, 146, 234 
Nemtywy, 20 



266 Index 

Nephthys (Nebthut), 137, 143 

New Year, 41, 99-103, 121, 195 

New Year, Babylonian, 138 

New Year flasks, 102-103 

Netherlands, 6 

niches, mudbrick (palace facade), 206 

Nile, 12, 15, 236 

Nile flood (Egyptian Ha‘py), 13-14, 19, 
43, 57, 65, 69, 102-103, 111, 121, 
143, 149, 193, 232 see also New Year 

Nile floodplain, 13-16, 44, 100 see also 
Delta, Nile 

Nitiqret, god’s wife of Amun, 93-94 

nomads, 13, 49, 65, 99, 154, 171 

nomes see sepat 

north wind, 71 

Nubet (Naqada), 15, 119, 130-131, 152 

Nubia, 22, 24, 81, 84, 108, 152, 158, 171, 220, 

226, 229 

Nubians in Egypt, 65, 122, 154 see also 

Medjay; Napatan rule of Egypt 

Nubkhas, 120 

Nubyt (Kom Ombo), 22, 62 

Nun (primeval waters), 91, 142-143, 145, 


Nut, 38, 43, 60, 122, 129, 137-140, 143, 227, 


Nyord, Rune, 55 

oases, 13, 16, 24, 47, 80, 230 
oaths, 155 
obelisks, 81, 91, 219 
object emblems, 29-30 
offering chapels, 33, 66-67, 166, 178, 
210-211, 230 see also tombs, 
offering lists, 91, 103-104, 231 
offering slabs, in tomb-chapels, 208 
offering stands, 75-76, 190 
offerings, 88, 91-92 (daily), 149, 167, 169, 
206-208, 210, 219, 236 
reversion of (wedjeb khet), 91, 106-108 
see also great review 
sacramental explanation, 136, 149 
see also King as Priest of Sun; meat 
offerings; tombs, superstructures of 
old age, formal depictions of, 48 see also 
ageing, concepts of; baldness 

On Isis and Osiris, by Plutarch, 114 

Onuris see Inheret 

Opening of the Mouth and Eyes (consecra- 
tion ritual), 89, 91, 183, 209, 220, 228, 

Opening of the Year see New Year 

oracle decrees, 196 

oracles, 26, 170, 196-198 see also divination; 
wonders (biayt) 

Orion (Sahu), 129 

Osireion see embalming-chamber temple of 

Osirification, 201 

Osiris, 20-21, 28, 35, 96, 101, 104-105, 
113-114, 124, 129, 131-132, 135, 
137-140, 143-149, 170, 191-192, 210, 
213-214, 220-221, 223, 226, 232-234, 
236 see also embalming-chamber 
temple of Osiris 

ostrich egg, 45 

ostrich feathers, 28, 120-122 

Oxyrhynchus see Sepermeru 

Padiamenipet, 96, 162 

paintings, wall, 73, 75, 78-79, 94, 188, 

palace, 14, 96, 154, 201, 228, 235 see also 
Malkata; niches, mudbrick (palace 

Palestine, 184 

pan-Africanism, 12 

pan-Arabism, 12 

pantheistic figures of creator, 33 

Papyrus Chester Beatty, 4, 163 

papyrus container figures, 223 

Papyrus Westcar, 45, 57 

Parahotep, 220 

pastoralism, 13-14, 70, 122 see also nomads 

paternalism, 173 

patients, 183 

Patjauemdiamun, 196 

pa‘t (term for richer people), 43 

Pe see Per-Wadjyt (Buto, Pe, Dep) 

pectorals, shrine-shaped, 221 

Pendjerty, 79 

Penpata, 108 

Pepy II, 104 

Per-Atum, 21, 158 

Per-Bast (Bast, Bubastis), 18, 21, 168, 222 


Per-Nemty, 20 

Per-Ramses (Qantir), 18, 24, 130, 222 

Per-Sopdu, 21 

Per-Wadjyt (Buto, Pe, Dep), 21, 230, 

periodization, 16-18 

peripteral temple, 84, 86 

Persepolis, 18 

personal religion, defined against official 
religion, 25-27 

perspectivism, 39 

Peseshet, woman physician, 191 

Petrie, Flinders, 72, 184-185 

Perunefer, 18 

phallic motifs, 28, 106, 122, 124-125 

phenotext, 113 

philology, 5-7, 9-10, 110, 174 

physician (sunu), 191, 193 

piety see devotion 

pigs, 43, 118, 140, 179, 227 

plague, 179, 193, 197 

platform altars, 79 

domestic, 81-82, 199 
sun cult, 199 

Plato, 115 

Plotinus, 115 

Plutarch, 35-36, 114 

polio, 46 

polytheism, 7,9 

potter, as metaphor for deity creating 
human bodies, 48, 55, 67, 173 

poverty (religion of the poor), 26 see also 
social class 

popular religion, Egyptological concept of, 26 

practical religion, Egyptological concept of, 

predynastic Egypt, 24, 29, 40-41, 65, 236 

pregnancy, 64, 194-195 see also maternity 

prescriptions (pekheret), 194 

prestige (linguistic concept), 10, 116, 118, 
142, 228, 236 

priesthood, modern concept of, 36-37, 92, 
95 see also god’s father, god’s servant, 
pure one, temple staff, watch (sa) 

primeval mound, 137 

processions, 46, 83-84, 97-99, 101, 125-126, 
144, 211, 230 see also festivals; funerals 

production, images of, in tombs/chapels, 
208-210, 218-219 


prognosis for birth, 55, 196 

property disputes, 160 

prophecy, 168, 196 

Propp, Vladimir, 110, 113-114, 147 

Proverbs of Solomon, Hebrew, 171 

provinces see sepat 

Psamtek I., 93-94, 226 

Ptah, 21-22, 28, 30, 32, 42, 44, 48, 69, 103, 
132-133, 137, 141-142, 143, 147 

Ptahemheb, 46 

Ptahhotep, tomb-chapel of, 209 

Ptahhotep, Teaching of see Teaching of 

puberty, 57-61 

punishments, 155-160, 166-168 

Punt, 140 

pure one (title), 36, 59, 91-92, 95, 131, 226 

pure one of Sekhmet, 191, 193, 195 

pylons (massive gateways), 80-81, 83, 
219-220, 226 

pyramid complexes, 21-22, 71-73, 77, 80, 
104, 106, 109, 202-203, 207-208, 

Pyramid Texts, 55, 104, 113, 135-137, 
142-143, 230-231, 235 see also afterlife, 
writings for 

pyramidion, 219-220 

Qa‘a, 48 

Qantir see Per-Ramses 

Qasr al-Sagha, 24 

Qasr Qarun, 80 

Qau, Qau al-Kabir see Tjebu (Qau) 

Qena, 16 

Qenherkhepshef, 181 

Qesy, 20 

Qift (Gebtyu, Koptos), 16, 20, 64, 90, 98, 107, 

Quack, Joachim, 35, 96, 136, 138 

queenship, 122 

Qurna temple, 80 

Ra, sun-god, 2, 21-22, 32, 34, 41-42, 55, 60, 
97, 108, 122, 128, 132, 137, 140, 
142-149, 159, 162, 179, 186, 199, 
219-220, 223, 232-234, 236 see also 
Aten; Atum; eye of Ra; hymns to sun; 
Tunu (Heliopolis); Litany of Ra; solar 


Ra-Atum, 146 

Ra-Horakhty, 223 

Ramallah, 184 

Rames, high official, 117 

Rames, treasury overseer, 226 

Ramesseum, 80, 85, 194 

rams, 28, 70, 127, 183 

Ramses II, 84-85, 90, 108, 130, 148, 158, 
220, 222 

Ramses III, 100-101, 108, 148, 151 

Ramses IV, 108, 138 

Ramses V, 47 

Ramses VI, 148 

Ramses IX, 191 

Ramsesnakht, 191 

rats, 120, 179 

rattles, 126, 128 

rebels, in kingship terminology, 155-160, 

recycling, 22 

red crown, 28 

Reeds, Field of see Marsh of Reeds 

regicide, 159-160, 163-164 

regions of Egypt, 15-17, 19-20 

regnal year see wandering year 

Reisner, George, 208 

rekhet (knowing woman), 181-182 

rekhyt (term for people), 43 

Rekhmira, high official, 162, 231 

religion, definition of, 1-2, 4, 7, 15-16, 150 

Reme, 46 

remetj (people, humankind), 43 

remetj-en-Kemet (people of Kemet), 16 

Renaissance, European, 6 

Renenutet, 101, 165 (variant Renenet 

repeating of births (period), 138 

Rerek, 232-233 

Reret see Ipy 

reserve heads, 208 

Rifa, 47 

right, what is right (ma‘at), 8, 121, 150-151, 
156, 162, 169, 172, 233 

offering of, 92, 150-151 

rites of passage, 57-58, 114 

river (iteru), 13 see also Nile; Nile flood 

rock-cut offering-spaces, 84, 86 see also 
tombs, superstructures 

Roman rule of Egypt, 2, 22, 65, 138, 174 


Roth, Ann, 215 

Rowlands, Michael, 118 
rural society, stratified, 15 
Ruty, 232-233 

sacramental explanation see offerings, 
sacramental explanation 

sagas, Icelandic, 113 

Sahara desert, 6, 12, 15, 121 

sailings of deities, 97, 99-101, 125-128 see 
also boat shrines; solar circuit 

sailings to sacred places, in burial rites, 
211-212, 230, 232 

Sais see Sau 

Saiset, 59 

Saka, 20 

sakhu (transfiguration writings), 235 see 
also akh (blessed dead, transfigured) 

sandstone, preservation of, 21 

Saptah, 53 

Saqqara cemeteries, 22, 42, 50, 80, 83, 87, 
100, 172, 209, 220-221 

sarcophagi, 42-44 

Satamun, king’s daughter, 189 

Satet, 20, 28, 66-67, 126 

Satire of Trades see Teaching of Khety 

Satirical Papyrus, 29 

Sau (Sais), 18, 21, 93-94, 146, 187, 226, 230 

Saut (Asyut), 16, 20, 129, 132-133, 138 

scarabs, 65, 119-120, 185, 213 see also heart 
scarabs, seal-amulets 

scepters, 56 

schemata see mental models 

scorpions, 107, 178, 184, 190, 193, 197 

sculptors, 210 

seal-amulets, 53, 65, 119, 134-135, 185-187, 
213 see also scarabs 

Sebennytos see Tjebnetjer 

sed festival, 89 

Sedekh, 104 

Sehetepibra, stela of, 166 

Sehetepibra, tomb of, 212 

Sekhat-Hor, 172 

Sekhem-Senusret, 71 see also Lahun 

Sekhmet, 21, 28, 32, 89, 103, 187, 191, 
193, 195, 227 see also pure one of 

self-control, 165, 171 

selfishness, 169, 171 

Index 269 

sem (role in ritual), 231 

Semenuhor/Shenakhen (Kafr Turki, 
Tarkhan), 20, 30, 70, 152, 185, 206-207 

Semerkhet, 48-49 

Seneb, lady of the house, 53 

Senebtysy, daughter of vizier, 161 

Senebtysy, lady of the house, 213-214 

senet game, 200 

Senet, mother of vizier Intefiqer, 88 

Sennefer, mayor of Waset, 94 

Senusret I, 81, 163, 172, 210 

Senusert II, 27, 71-73, 99-100 

sepat (province, nome), 19-21, 27-28 

seger-ankh (struck-but-alive), 158-159 

Sepermeru, 20 

Serget, 193 see also controller of Serqet 

Sesenebnef, 96 

Seshat (writing as divine force), 106 

Seth (deity), 28, 30, 60, 62, 64, 92, 114, 
130-131, 134, 137, 141-147, 234 

Seth (province, uncertain), 20 

Setnakht, 131 

Sety, general, 220 

Sety I, 3, 35, 91, 104, 131, 138-140, 148, 220, 

Shabako Stone, 35, 137, 141-142 

shabti, 214, 222-223, 225-228 

shadow (shut), 55 

shadow clocks, 140-141 

shaman, 179-180 

Shas-hotep, 20, 70, 183 

shaven head, significance of, 50-51 

shed (Saviour), 190 

Shedyt, 20, 62 

Sheikh Said, 84 

Shenakhen see Semenuhor 

shepherds see pastoralists 

Shesmetet, 101, 191 

shrewmouse, 132 

shrouds, 231-232 

Shu, 43, 79, 111, 137, 140, 142, 145, 232 see 
also Inheret-Shu 

Sia (perception as divine force), 142 

Sidmant, 184-185, 220 

Sinai, 6, 130 

singers in rituals, 98-99 see also chantress 

Sirius see Sopdet 

sistrum, 93-94, 120 

Siwa oasis, 16 

skin conditions, 47 

Sky Cow narrative (Destruction of 
Mankind), 136, 148 

slavery, question of, 161, 176 

sleep in sacred contexts 

incubation, 199 
ritual, 231 

sleep, protection during, 190 

sloping passage, tombs with, 220 

smallpox, 47 

smiting scenes, 158-159 

snakes, 43, 60, 178, 190, 193, 197, 233-234 
see also cobra 

Sneferu, 168 

Sobek, 20-21, 28, 62, 137 

Sobekemsaf, officer, 67 

social class, 15, 68-69, 78, 154, 161, 164-167, 
173, 177, 188, 191, 204, 235 

sociology, 3-4, 51 

Sokar, 99-100, 234 

solar circuit, 35, 125, 127-128, 138-140, 213, 
219, 232-234 

Solomon, 171 

Song of Solomon, 56 

Sopdet, 101-102, 129 

Sopdu, 21, 28 

soul, ancient expressions for, 55 

Spence, Kate, 79 

spirit, ancient expressions for, 55 

staff with hand-shaped end, 60-61 

stairway tombs, 206 

stars, 128-129, 138-140, 186, 227, 231-232, 

statues, 89, 105, 124, 208-209, 211, 222, 230 
see also Opening of the Mouth and 
Eyes; reserve heads 

statues of deities, 89, 105-106, 124 

statues of kings, 84, 89, 105, 124 

statues, stelophorous, 219-220 

stelae see offering chapels; votive stelae 

stone door, solid (offering place), 89, 199, 
217, 220 

sufism, 175 

suicide, forced, as punishment, 160 

sun disk (in crowns of deities), 28 

sun disk, winged, 121, 134, 140 

sun-god see Ra 

Sun Temples, Egyptological name for a type 
of kingship temple, 81 


superstition, modern concept of, 2, 25, 36 

Susa, 18 

sustenance of body after death, 201-202, 
215, 219, 221 

swallow, 231-233 

Sweeney, Deborah, 182 

sycamore, 31 

syncretism see fusing of names 

Syria, 203 

tabu (buwt), 118 

Tadja, 227 

Taharqo, 226 

Tale of a Shipwrecked Sailor, 196 

Tale of Khuninpu, 168-169 

Tale of Neferty, 168 

Tale of Two Brothers, 114 

Tale of Woe see Literary Letter, from Hiba 

Tamiyt, 44 

Tanis see Djanet 

Tarkhan see Semenuhor 

Tasenetnefret, 34 

Tashereteniah, 196 

tattooing, 49 

Tausret, 231 

Taweret see Ipy 

Teaching for King Merykara, 162-163 

Teaching of a man to his son, 165 

Teaching of Amenemipet, 48, 170-171, 

Teaching of Any, 79, 169-170 

Teaching of Kaires, 165-166 

Teaching of Khety (Satire of Trades), 153, 

Teaching of King Amenemhat, 163-164 

Teaching of Ptahhotep, 57, 164-165 

Teachings (literary genre), 8, 153, 161-171, 

Tebtunis, 138 

Tefnut, 79, 137, 143 

Tekh (drunkenness) festival, 99 

Tell el-Daba see Hutwaret 

Tell el-Yahudiya see Natahut 

Tell Ibrahim Awad, 126 

temple architecture, 5-6, 11, 19-23, 36-37, 
62-67, 80-88, 95, 106-108, 134, 137, 
210, 236-237 see also foundation rituals 

temple offerings see daily cult; votive 


temple staff, 36, 126 see also watch (sa) of 
temple staff rota 

Tepihu, 20 

terraced temple, 87 

Teti, 55 

textiles, beaded, 106 

Thebes see Waset 

theft, 154, 171 

theology, university discipline, 6 

theory, role in study, 7-8 

Thoth (Djehuty), 20-21, 28, 32, 47-48, 56, 
101, 103, 129, 133, 137, 143, 145-146, 
198, 220, 232-233 

thunder (role of Seth), 147 

Thutmes, sculptor, 154 

Thutmes III, 34, 100-101, 162 

Thutmes IV, 159 

Tihna, 84, 208 

Timia, 46 

Tiy, queen, 123 

tiyet amulet, 58-59, 221, 233 

Tjanefer, third god’s servant of Amun, 162 

Tjaru, 21 

Tjebnetjer (Sebennytos), 18, 21 

Tjebu (Qau), 13, 20, 58, 62-64, 86, 129-130, 
207, 222 

Tjemehu see Libyans, ancient 

tomb robbery papyri, 155 

tombs, 37, 84, 204, 206, 211, 216-218, 220, 
223, 230, 237 see also sloping passage, 
tombs with; stairway tombs 

tombs, superstructure (offering chapels), 
49-50, 56, 60-61, 79, 82-83, 88-89, 
100-101, 117, 130, 178, 204, 206-212, 
217-223, 226, 230, 233, 237 see also 
funerary cones, inscribed; mastaba; 
stone door, solid 

tools, miniature, in burials, 207 

total history, concept of, 12 

totemism, 39 

towns, ancient, 14-15, 153-154, 178-179, 
203 see also Abu; Akhetaten; Hutwaret; 

transfigured dead see akh 

transformation of person after death, 
201-202, 219-220, 230 see also akh 

transformations (forms, kheperu), 60, 

Traunecker, Claude, 33-34 


treatises, 34 

treatment, medical (shesau), 194-196 

Troy, Lana, 122 

Tuna al-Gabal, 47 

Tutankhamun, 53, 88, 108, 148, 220-221, 

Two Riverbanks, 16 

Ucko, Peter, 202-204 

Ugarit, 171 

Unas, 135 

underworld (duat), 140, 201 

Underworld Books, 223, 228, 232-234 
see also Amduat; Book of Gates; 
Litany of Ra 

unfurling of world, creation as, 137 

Upper Egypt, 16, 21-22, 24, 84, 120, 130, 207, 
210, 231 

uraeus see cobra, rearing 

Valley Festival, 101-102, 226 

Valley of the Kings, 203, 229, 231-234 

Verhoeven, Ursula, 147 

Vernus, Pascal, 172 

veterinary papyrus, 195 

Vico, Giambattista, 112, 149, 223 

Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo, 39-40 

Voloshinov, Valentin, 10, 136 

votive offerings, 19, 25, 31, 56, 105-106, 124, 
126, 128-130, 187-188, 213 

votive stelae, 31, 45-46, 129-134, 158-159, 

vultures, 28 

wa'b see pure one (title) 

Wadi es-Seboua, 86 

Wadi Hammamat, 16 

Wadi Natrun, 16 

Wadi Tumilat, 16 

Wadjyt, (goddess), 21, 28, 32, 191 
Wadjyt, (province), 20, 130 

Wag festival, 99, 101-102 

Wahka, 86 


Wahsut (Abydos South), 24, 71 

wall theology (adapting deities to architec- 
tural spaces), 33-34 

wandering year (regnal year), 102-103 see 
also agricultural year 

was hieroglyph (power), 2, 19 

Waset (Thebes), 3, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 27, 29, 
33-34, 52, 62, 70, 79-80, 83-85, 87-89, 
94-95, 100-102, 104, 117, 122, 124-126, 
130, 133, 138, 145, 148, 166, 179- 
181, 193-194, 196, 198-199, 202- 
203, 208, 210, 212-220, 222-228, 
229, 231-232, 235 see also Deir 
al-Bahari; Deir al-Madina; Karnak; 
Luxor; Medinet Habu; Valley of 
the Kings 

watch (sa) of temple staff rota, 36, 73, 92, 99 

water scorpion, 193 

wax figures of deities 

weaving, 119, 172 (as divine force, Tayt) 

wedjat see eye of Horus 

Weni, 209 

Wepwawet, 20, 28, 56, 132 

Wernes, 234 

Westendorf, Wolfhart, 60 

White Walls (Inebhedj) see Mennefer 
(Memphis, Inebhedj) 

Willems, Harco, 111 

willow, 101 

Winckelmann, Johann, 11 

wonders (biayt), 196 

word power (Egyptian heka), 136, 143, 198, 

wordplay, 136 

words, power of, 9-10, 159-160, 163 see also 
names of humans 

writings, ancient, 9-10, 22 

overemphasis on, 5-7, 23, 173-174, 201 

Zafimaniry, 56 

Zawiyet el-Sultan, 220 
Zeidler, Jiirgen, 113-114 
Zoroastrianism, 1, 11 


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