Studies in Egyptian Mythology
by E. A. Wallis Budge | 1904 | 170,388 words
Volume 1-16 chapters including The Gods of Egypt, Primitive Gods and Nome-Gods, Hell and the Damned, Ra the Sun-God and His Forms, Hathor and the Hathor-Goddesses, The Horus Gods, and more. Includes 49 plates, 38 illustrations....
During the predynastic period in Egypt every village and town or settlement possessed its god, whose worship and the glory of whose shrine increased or declined according to the increase or decrease of the prosperity of the community in which he lived. When the country was divided into sections which the Egyptians called ḥespu, , or “nomes,” a certain god, or group of allied gods, became the representative, or representatives, of each nome, and so obtained the pre-eminence over all the other gods of the nome ; and sometimes one god would represent two nomes. In this way the whole country of Egypt, from the Mediterranean Sea to Elephantine, was divided among the gods, and it became customary in each nome to regard the god of that nome as the “Great God,” or “God,” and to endow him with all the powers and attributes possible.
We have, unfortunately, no means of knowing when the country was first split up into nomes, but the division must have taken place at a very early period, and the gods who were chosen to represent the nomes were undoubtedly those who had been worshipped in the large towns or settlements during the predynastic period.
Thus in the earliest dynastic times of which we have inscriptions of any length we find that
- Neith was the chief deity of Saïs,
- Osiris of Busiris,
- Thoth of Hermopolis,
- Uatchet of Per-Uatchet,
- Ptah of Memphis,
- Sebek of Crocodilopolis,
- Ȧmen of Thebes,
- Nekhebet of Nekheb,
- and Khnemu of Elephantine.
The number of the nomes seems to have been different in different periods, so it is not possible to say with certainty how many the early nome-gods were in number. The Egyptian lists give the number of nomes as forty-two or forty-four, but the classical writers, Strabo, Diodorus, and Pliny, do not agree in their statements on the subject. Strabo says that the Labyrinth contained twenty-seven chambers, and if each one represented a nome the nomes must have been twenty-seven in number, i.e., ten in Upper Egypt, ten in Lower Egypt, and seven in the Heptanomis.
On the other hand, Herodotus says that the Labyrinth contained twelve halls. Pliny (Bk. v., chap. 9) enumerates the nomes as follows:—
- the Arabian nome,
- the Hammonian nome,
- and the two nomes of Oasites.
Diodorus Siculus (i. 54) gives the number of the nomes as thirty-six; Herodotus (ii. 164) tells us that the country of Egypt was divided into districts or nomes, but he does not say how many of them there were. These facts serve to show that the number of nomes when the country was first divided was smaller than in later times, and we may assume that it was the nomes of the Delta which increased in number rather than those of Upper Egypt.
The following is a list of the nomes of Egypt according to inscriptions at Edfû and elsewhere, together with their capitals and the gods who were worshipped in them:—
|2.||Thes-Ḥertu||Ṭeb (Apollinopolis Magna)||Ḥeru-Beḥuṭet|
|5.||Ḥeru||Qebti (Coptos)||Amsu, Min or Khem|
|6.||Ȧa-ṭā||Ta-en-tarert (Denderah)||Ḥet-Ḥeru (i.e.,Hathor)|
|7.||Seshesh||Het (Diospolis Parva)||Ḥet-Ḥeru|
Ȧbṭu (Abydos) 
|9.||Ȧmsu, Min or Khem||Ȧpu (Panopolis)||Ȧmsu, Min or Khem|
|10i||3. NeTERUI||Ṭu-qat (Antaeopolis)||Ḥeru (Horus)|
|15.||Un||Khemennu (Hermopolis)||Teḥuti (Thoth)|
|20.||Ȧtef-khent||Henensu (Herakleopolis Magna)||Ḥer-shefi|
|21b.||Ta-she||Sheṭ (Crocodilopolis)||Sebek (PLAATJE NOG DOEN)|
|2.||Khensu ||Sekhemt (Letopolis)||Ḥeru-ur|
|o Ũ.||Ament||Nut-ent-Hāp (Apis)||Ḥet-Ḥeru|
|4.||Sȧpi-res||Tcheqā||Sebek, Isis, Amen|
|5.||Sāp-meḥ||Saut (Saïs)||Net (Neith)|
|9.||Ȧti||Per-Ȧsȧr (Busiris) ||Osiris|
|13.||Ḥeq-āṭ||Ȧnnu (Heliopolis, On)||Rā|
|15.||Teḥut||Per-Teḥuti (Hermopolis)||Teḥuti (Thoth)|
|16.||Kha (?)||Per-ba-neb-Ṭeṭṭu (Mendes)||Ba-neb-Tattu,or Ṭeṭṭeṭet|
|20.||Sepṭ||Qesem (Goshen ?)||Sepṭ |
Thus every nome of Egypt possessed a representative god whose temple was situated in the capital city of the nome, and attached to the service of each nome-god was a body of priests who divided among themselves the various duties connected with the service of the gods, the maintenance of the buildings of the temple, the multiplying of copies of religious works, and the religious education of the community.
In Upper Egypt, where the care of the dead seems to have been the principal duty of the living, the lower orders of the priesthood probably carried on a lucrative business in mummifying the dead, and in funeral papyri and amulets, and in conducting funerals. The high-priest of each great city, and sometimes even the high-priestess, bore a special title.
In Thebes the high-priest was called
“first servant of the god Rā in Thebes”;
in Heliopolis the title of the high-priest was
“Great one of visions of Rā-Ȧtem”;
“Great chief of the hammer in the temple of him of the Southern Wall, and Setem of the god of the Beautiful Face (i.e., Ptali)”;
“governor of the double temple”;
and similarly the high-priestess of Memphis bore the title of
in Sekhem the title of the high-priestess was
“ưrt,” i.e., “great one”;
and so on.
The priests of every great god were divided into classes, among which may be mentioned
- “those who ministered at certain hours,” ;
- “the servants of the gods,”;
- the “holy fathers,”;
- the “libationers,”.
The accounts of the temple were kept by the “scribe of the temple,” , and, in large temples, one or more scribes kept a register of gifts to the temple and of the property of the god. It is impossible to say how many priests of all classes ministered to any given nome-god ; it seems that the highest permanent priestly officials were at all times and in all cities very few in number, and that the “servants of the god” were very many. The priests of each nome-god were subject to no external authority, and the high-priest of a great nome possessed a power which was hardly inferior to that of the nomarch himself.
The worship of each nome-god contained elements peculiar to itself, and the beliefs which centred in him represented all the ancient and indigenous views of the inhabitants of the nome, and these were carefully observed and cultivated from the earliest to the latest times.
We may see from the list of nome-gods given above that many nomes worshipped the same god, e.g.,
Horus was worshipped in three nomes of Upper Egypt and two nomes of Lower Egypt,
whilst one nome worshipped him under the special form of Horus of Beḥuṭet;
three nomes of Upper Egypt worshipped Khnemu,
two worshipped Ȧmsu (or Min or Khem ?),
two worshipped Ȧnpu, and Hathor was worshipped in five nomes in Upper Egypt and one in Lower Egypt.
The cults of the ram-headed god Khnemu at Elephantine,
of the vulture goddess Nekhebet at Eileithyia,
of the crocodile god Sebek in the district of Ta-she (Fayyûm),
of the dogheaded god Ȧnpu at Cynopolis and Alabastronpolis,
of the ibis-god Thoth at Hermopolis,
of Horus the elder (Ḥeru-ur) at Letopolis,
and of Uatchet at Buto (Per-Uatchet),
were extremely ancient, and with them are probably to be grouped in point of antiquity the cults of the wolf(?)-headed god Ap-uat, the lioness goddess Sekhet, the cat-headed goddess Bast, and the god Set.
The animal which was the type and symbol of this last god has not as yet been identified ; it cannot have been the ass as was once thought, and it is hardly likely to have been the camel; at present, therefore, we can only tentatively assume that it belonged to some class of animal which became extinct at a very early period. The cults of the various forms of the sky-god Horus, and of the Sun-god, and of the goddess Hathor, are tlie oldest of all. The goddess Neith, whose symbols were two arrows and a shield, appears to have been of Libyan origin, but, as has already been shown, the attributes of some of the oldest indigenous gods of Egypt were ascribed to her in early dynastic times.
The origin of the god Osiris is obscure, but it is difficult, when all the statements made concerning him in the religious texts are taken into consideration, not to think that the original seat of his worship was in the Delta. Early in the dynastic period his most important shrine was at Abydos, which became the centre of his cult and the sacred city to which his worshippers flocked for countless generations. In spite of this, however, the nome-lists show that the nome-god was Ȧn-Ḥer, or Ȧnhur, and notwithstanding the special honour in which Osiris was held throughout Egypt, Ȧn-Ḥer was always regarded as the official god of the nome Ȧbṭ and of its capital of the same name.
The Elysian Fields, i.e., the Sekhet-ḥetepet, were situated in the Delta where the country was fertile, and where the land was traversed by canals and streams of water running in all directions; moreover, the “House of Osiris” par excellence ( Per-Ȧsȧr =Busiris) was in the Delta, and the shrine of the god who was worshipped in the form of a ram which was said to contain the soul of Osiris, was also in the Delta.
Everywhere in the texts Osiris is called the “lord of Abydos,” and generally this title is followed by another, i.e., “lord of Ṭaṭṭu.” Now Ṭaṭṭu is the city, and “The Ram, lord of Ṭaṭṭu,” Ba-neb-Ṭaṭṭu, was its god. The name Ṭaṭṭu was corrupted into “Mendes” by the Greeks, and in this city the great local god was worshipped under the form of a ram, which is now commonly known as the “Mendesian Ram.” The frequent use of the title “lord of Ṭaṭṭu” suggests that the worship of Osiris was grafted on to or was made to absorb that of the local ram-god, and that in consequence Osiris became the lord of the city in his stead.
It may be urged that Ṭaṭṭu was merely the seat of the shrine of the god Osiris in the northern kingdom, just as Abydos was his sanctuary in the southern kingdom, but this explanation of the use of the title is insufficient.
It may further be urged that, inasmuch as the titles “lord of Abydos,” “lord of Ṭaṭṭu,” occur in connection with others which have reference to Osiris in his capacity as governor of the Underworld, the Abydos and Ṭaṭṭu here mentioned are mythological cities and not cities upon earth. But even if this be so it matters little, for we know that the Egyptians fashioned their mythological or heavenly cities after the manner of their earthly cities, and that their conceptions of things spiritual were based upon things material.
Ȧmen and Ȧten
Returning for a moment to the adoption of gods, we may note that from first to last the people of one nome were generally ready to offer hospitality to the gods of another, and also to the gods of strangers who had come to settle among them. At times, however, a new god, or a new group of gods, was forced upon the inhabitants of one or more nomes, and even upon a whole province, as the result of conquest, or by the wish of the king, or by the supremacy of the priesthood of a given city.
Thus the priesthood of Rā or Rā-Tem at Heliopolis succeeded in making their theological system paramount in the country, and the whole of the religious philosophy of the Theban Books of the Dead is based upon their teaching. Until the conquest of the Hyksos by the Theban princes the god Ȧmen was a nome-god of no great importance, but when they became kings of the south and north, he immediately became the king of all the gods of the south and the north, and the titles and powers and attributes of the great gods of the country were ascribed to him by his priests. As the prince of Thebes was greater than any and every prince in the other nomes of Egypt, so the Theban nome-god was greater than any and every other god of Egypt.
The extraordinary dislike which Ȧmen-ḥetep IV. exhibited towards this god, and the foolish attempt which he made to substitute for his worship that of Ȧten, or the Disk, furnishes us with an example of the imposition of a god upon a priesthood and province ; the attempt was successful for a time over a limited area, but it had no chance of permanent success because the fundamental ideas of the worship of the god as Ȧmen-ḥetep interpreted them were foreign to the religious conceptions of the Egyptians generally.
Rā and Ȧmen
From what lias been said above it will be easy to imagine the remarkable spectacle which Egypt must have presented to a foreigner who went there and found the country split up into a series of nomes, each possessing its great god, who was ministered to by a body of priests and servants who were amenable to no general authority outside the nome, and who performed his worship when and as they pleased, and who claimed for him powers, and rights, and privileges without fear of opposition.
The stranger would find that each college of priests in each nome asserted that its god was the father of all the other gods, and the creator of the heavens and the earth, and that, generally speaking, the priests of one nome-god and his divine companions were content to allow their neighbours in other nomes to declare anything they pleased about their nome-gods and their divine companions. As far as can be gathered from the religious texts, it seems that the priests of one company of gods never attempted to suppress the gods of another company if the fortune of war gave them paramount power in the nome wherein they were worshipped.
Thus when the priests of Rā attained to the great power which they enjoyed at Heliopolis under the Vth and VIth Dynasties they did not suppress the local god Tem, but they associated their god with him, and produced the compound god Rā-Tem. Similarly, at a later period, when Ȧmen, as the nome-god of the victorious princes and kings of Thebes, was declared to be the greatest of the gods of Egypt, his priests did not declare that the other gods of Egypt were not gods and try to suppress them, but they asserted that all the powers of the other gods were assimilated in him, and that he was in consequence the greatest of the gods.
In the texts of Unȧs and the kings who were his immediate successors we read of the Great and Little companies of the gods, but we also find mention of the company of gods of Horus and of the double company of gods of Tem; the priests of Heliopolis claimed supremacy among the gods for Rā, but they took care to include as far as possible the name of every god and goddess to whom worship had been paid in past generations.
The same characteristic is observable in the texts of the Theban priesthood, and we find that their god Ȧmen was even introduced into the Book of the Dead where, manifestly, he had little claim to be. The hymns in the chapters of that work are addressed either to Rā, in one form or another, or to Osiris, but in Chapter clxxi. we find the following address :—
O Seb, O Nut,
O Ḥeru-khuti (Hannachis),
O Hathor of the Great House,
O Menthu, the lord of Thebes,
O Ȧmen, the lord of the thrones of the two lands,
O Great company of the gods,
O Little company of the gods,
O gods and goddesses who dwell in Nu,
O Sebek of the two Meḥt,
O Sebek in all thy manifold names in thine every place wherein thy Ka (i.e., double) hath delight,
O gods of the south,
O gods of the north,
O ye who are in heaven,
O ye who are upon the earth,
grant ye the garment of purity unto the perfect spirit of Ȧmen-ḥetep.”
The greater number of the gods whose names are given in the Pyramid Texts are also mentioned in the religious literature, especially in the Book of the Dead of later periods, and if we possessed copies of all the religious works of the New Empire we should probably discover that the names of all the gods, with perhaps the exception of Set, worshipped under the Early Empire were preserved in them. The Egyptians, certainly in dynastic times, rarely abandoned a god, and, speaking generally, it is remarkable how little the character and attributes of the gods vary in the period between the IVth and the XXVIth Dynasties. The obstinate conservatism of the Egyptians, which seems to have been inherited in an almost unaltered state by their descendants the Copts, induced the writers of religious texts to introduce into their works as many of the gods as possible, and they were moved to do this as much by motives of priestly policy and by self-interest as by feelings of reverence for the gods of Egypt.
Gods of Heliopolis
In the Pyramid Texts the predominant gods are those of the company of Heliopolis, but we nevertheless find that the gods of remote towns and cities had duties assigned to them, and that one and all of them were supposed to minister to the deceased king's in the Underworld. The reason of this is not far to seek. The heaven which the Egyptian conceived in his mind closely resembled Egypt in respect of its sub-divisions, and its various cities and districts were ruled by gods whom it was necessary to propitiate, and whose friendship must be gained at any cost.
A man hoped that in the next life he would be able to wander about at will through the length and breadth of heaven, and the only way to obtain this privilege was to secure the goodwill of the gods of the four quarters of the sky by the recital of prayers of various kinds, and by the performance of certain ceremonies, which were always of a more or less magical character. To be able to pass at pleasure along the eastern Delta of heaven and without opposition presupposed the favour of Sepṭ and Temu; and to have power to drink of the waters of the celestial Nile presupposed the favour of the god Khnemu, the lord of the Island of Elephantine, close to which were situated, according to Egyptian belief, the sources of the Nile.
Subdivisions Of Heaven
The texts of all periods exhibit an almost childish anxiety to prove that every god of Egypt is interested in the welfare of the beings in the Underworld who were once mortal men, and it was a common belief also in all periods that the mere asserting in writing that the gods would minister to the deceased would produce the assistance desired. To enjoy the power to enter into certain cities in heaven the deceased was obliged to know the various gods or “Souls” who were worshipped in them.
Thus the Souls of the West were Tem, and Sebek, the lord of the Mountain of Sunrise, and Hathor, the lady of the Evening; 
the Souls of the East were Ḥeru-khuti (Harmachis), the Calf of the goddess Kherȧ, and the Morning Star;
the Souls of the city of Pe were Horus, Mesthȧ, and Ḥāpi;
the Souls of the city of Nekhen were Horus, Ṭuamutef, and Qebḥsennuf;
the Souls of Heliopolis were Rā, Shu, and Tefnet;
and the Souls of the city of Hermopolis were Thoth, Sa, and Tem.
Similarly every great heavenly city was held to contain a company of gods, and the beatified soul was thought to enjoy the duty of paying visits to their shrines just as, when in the body, it made offerings to their earthly counterparts.
In the observations already made concerning the difficulty of assigning an exact meaning to the word for God and “god,” neter, , we have seen that in dynastic times the chief attribute which was assigned to a god was the power to renew his life indefinitely, and to live for ever, and the text of Unȧs has shown us that in very early times the Egyptian thought he could obtain this power by eating his god or gods. Closely connected with this belief is another which finds expression in the Pyramid Texts, and also in the later Recensions of the Book of the Dead which are based upon them.
In many passages scattered throughout the religious texts of all periods we find it stated that the deceased has acquired the powers of such and such a god, and that as a result he has become the counterpart or fellow of several gods, and that he takes his place among the company of gods in the proper persons of several of their number. A still further development of the idea makes every member of the body of the deceased to be, first, under the protection of a god, and secondly, to become that same member of the god its protector; hence his whole body becomes the “double company of the gods,” and the
“two great gods watch, each in his place, and they find him in the form of the double company of the gods weighing the words of every chief like a chief, and they bow down before him, and they make offerings to him as to the double company of the gods.” 
Moreover, the deceased is made in the texts to stand up at the head of the company of the gods as Seb, the “erpa,” or hereditary chief, of the gods, and as Osiris, the governor of the divine powers, and as Horus, the lord of men and of gods.
His bones are the gods and goddesses of heaven ;
his right side belongs to Horus, and his left side to Set;
he becomes the actual son of Tem, or Tem-Rā, and Shu, Tefnet, Seb, and Nut,
and he is the brother of Isis, Nephthys, Set, and Thoth, and the father of Horus.
The god Horus taketh his own Eye and giveth it to him, and he bestoweth upon him his own ka or double, and never leaveth him, and the Bull of the Nine maketh wide his dominions among the gods.
Deification of the Dead
The oldest copy of the prayer for the deification of the members of the body is found in the text of Pepi I. (line 565 ff.), and as it is very important from several points of view a version of it is here given : —
“The head of this Rā-meri is in the form of [that of] the hawk ; he cometh forth and raiseth himself up in heaven.
The skull, , of this Pepi is that of the divine Goose ; he cometh forth and raiseth himself up in heaven.
The [hair] of this Pepi is the . . . . o f Nu ; he cometh forth and raiseth himself up in heaven.
The face of this Pepi is the face of Ap-uat, ; he cometh forth and raiseth himself up in heaven.
The two eyes of Rā-meri are the great goddess (Hathor ?) at the head of the Souls of Ȧnnu ; he cometh forth and raiseth himself up in heaven.
The mouth of this Pepi is Khens-ur, ; he cometh forth and raiseth himself up in heaven.
The tongue of this Pepi is the steering-pole (?) of the boat of Maāt; he cometh forth and raiseth himself up in heaven.
The teeth of this Pepi are the Souls [of Ȧnnu] ; he cometh forth and raiseth himself up in heaven.
The lips of this Pepi are the . . . . ; he cometh forth and raiseth himself up in heaven.
The chin of this Pepi is Khert-Khent-Sekhem, ; he cometh forth and raiseth himself up in heaven.
The backbone of this Pepi is [the Bull] Sma, ; he cometh forth and raiseth himself up in heaven.
The shoulders and arms of this Pepi are Set; he cometh forth and raiseth himself up in heaven.
The [breast] of this Pepi is Baȧbu, ; he cometh forth and raiseth himself up in heaven.
The heart of this Rā-meri is Bastet; he cometh forth and raiseth himself up in heaven.
The belly of this Rā-meri is Nut; he cometh forth and raiseth himself up in heaven.
The [loins of this Pepi are] the Great and Little companies of the gods; he cometh forth and raiseth himself up in heaven.
The back of this Pepi is Ḥeqet; he cometh forth and raiseth himself up in heaven.
The buttocks, , of this Rā-meri are the Semket and Māt boats ; he cometh forth and raiseth himself up in heaven.
The phallus of this Pepi is Ḥāp ; he cometh forth and raiseth himself up in heaven.
The two thighs of Rā-meri are Nit and Serqet; he cometh forth and raiseth himself up in heaven.
The two legs of this Rā-meri are the twin soul-gods at the head of Sekhet-tcher; he cometh forth and raiseth himself up in heaven.
The soles of the two feet of this Rā-meri are the double Maāti boat; he cometh forth and raiseth himself up in heaven.
The heels (?), , of this Pepi are the Souls of Ȧnnu; he cometh forth and raiseth himself up in heaven.”
In the XVIIIth Dynasty versions of this interesting text were written in papyri containing the Book of the Dead, and of these the following exhibit variant readings which appear to indicate changes of belief.
|From the Papyrus of Nu.||From the Papyrus of Ani.|
|(Brit. Mus., No. 10,477, sheet 6.)||(Brit. Mus., No. 10,470, sheet 32.)|
|My ħair is the hair of Nu.||The hair of Osiris Ani is the hair of Nu.|
|My face is the face of the Disk.||The face of Osiris Ani is the face of Rā.|
|My eyes are the eyes of Hathor.||The eyes of Osiris Ani are the eyes of Hathor.|
|My ears are the ears of Ȧp-uat.||The ears of Osiris Ani are the ears of Ȧp-uat.|
|My nose is the nose of Khenti-khas||The lips of Osiris Ani are the lips of Ȧnpu|
|My lips are the lips of Ȧnpu.||The teeth of Osiris Ani are the teeth of Serqet.|
|My teeth are the teeth of Serqet.||The neck of Osiris Ani is the neck of Isis.|
|My neck is the neck of the divine goddess Isis.||The hands of Osiris Ani are the handsof Ba-neb-Ṭaṭṭu.|
|My hands are the hands of Ba-neb-Ṭaṭṭu.||The shoulder of Osiris Ani is|
|My fore-arms are the fore-arms of Neith, the Lady of Saïs.||the shoulder of Uatchet.|
|My backbone is the backbone of Suti.||The throat of Osiris Ani is the throat of Mert.|
|My phallus is the phallus of Osiris.||The fore-arms of Osiris Ani are the fore-arms of the Lady of Saïs.|
|My reins are the reins of the Lords of Kher-āha.||The backbone of Osiris Ani is “the backbone of Set.|
|My chest is the chest of Āa-shefit.||The chest of Osiris Ani is the chest of the Lords of Kher-Āḥa.|
|My belly and back are the belly and back of Sekhet.||The flesh of Osiris Ani is the flesh of Āa-shefit.|
|My buttocks are the buttocks of the Eye of Horus.||The reins and back of Osiris Ani are the reins and back of Sekhet.|
|My hips and legs are the hips and legs of Nut.||The buttocks of Osiris Ani are the buttocks of the Eye of Horus.|
|My feet are the feet of Ptaḥ,||The phallus of Osiris Ani is the phallus of Osiris.|
|[My fingers] and my leg-bones are the fingers and leg-bones of the Living Gods.||The legs of Osiris Ani are the legs of Nut.|
|There is no member of my body which is not the member of a god. The god Thoth shieldeth my body wholly, and I am Rā day by day.||The feet of Osiris Ani are the feet of Ptali.|
|The fingers of Osiris Ani are the fingers of Orion.|
|The leg-bones of Osiris Ani are the leg-bones of the Living Uraei.”|
The text which follows that describing the deification of the members in the inscription of Pepi I. is perhaps of even greater interest, for it declares that :—
“This Pepi is god, the son of god ; he cometh forth and raiseth himself up to heaven.
This Rā-meri is the son of Rā, who loveth him ; he cometh forth and raiseth himself up to heaven.
Rā hath sent forth this Rā-meri, who cometh forth and raiseth himself up to heaven.
Rā hath conceived this Pepi, who cometh forth and raiseth himself up to heaven.
Rā hath given birth to this Pepi, who cometh forth and raiseth himself up to heaven.
This [is] the word of power which is in the body of Rā-meri, and he cometh forth and raiseth himself up to heaven.
This Rā-meri is the Great Power among the great company of sovereign chiefs who are in Ȧnnu, and he cometh forth and raiseth himself up to heaven.”
In the previous pages it has been shown that the Great company of the Gods of Heliopolis contained nine or more gods, and that whenever these were adopted by other cities and towns the attributes of the chief of the Heliopolitan gods were transferred to the local nome-god, and the identities of both gods were merged in each other. It will, however, be evident at a glance that there were very few localities which could afford to maintain in a proper state the worship of nine or more great gods in addition to that of the nome-god, and as a matter of fact we find that very few even of the great towns and cities adopted all the gods of the companies of Heliopolis, and that very few possessed companies of gods which contained as many members as nine.
The Gods of Hermopolis
The city of Khemennu (Hermopolis) was famous as the sanctuary of the company of Eight Gods, indeed the name “Khemennu,” , means “the city of the Eight Gods.”
The names of these gods were :—
- Nu, .
- Nut, .
- Ḥeḥu, .
- Ḥeḥut, .
- Kekui, .
- Kekuit, .
- Ḳereḥ, .
- Ḳereḥet, ,
and with their leader Teḥuti, or Thoth, they formed one of the oldest of the companies of gods in all Egypt. The names of the members of the paut, or company, of Hermopolis as here given are taken from the texts inscribed on the walls of the temple which Darius II. built at Ḥebet in the Oasis of Khârga, and which is a comparatively late building, but there is reason for believing that they are copied from very ancient documents, and that taken together this group of gods represents the oldest form of the Hermopolitan paut.
In some lists of the gods Ȧmen and Ȧment are made to take the places of Nu and Nut, and those of Ḳereḥ and Ḳereḥet are filled by Nenu and Nenut; in others Ȧmen and Ȧment are substituted for Ḳereḥ and Ḳereḥet.
Throughout Egypt generally the company of gods of a town or city were three in number, and they were formed by the local deity and two gods who were associated with him, and who shared with him, but in a very much less degree, the honour and reverence which were paid to him. Speaking generally, two members of such a triad were gods, one old and one young, and the third was a goddess, who was, naturally, the wife, or female counterpart, of the older god.
The younger god was the son of the older god and goddess, and he was supposed to possess all the attributes and powers which belonged to his father. The head of the triad was sometimes Rā, and sometimes a god of comparatively limited reputation, to whom were ascribed the power and might of the great Sun-god, which his devotees assumed that he had absorbed.
The feminine counterpart or wife of the chief god was usually a local goddess of little or no importance ; on the other hand, her son by the chief god was nearly as important as his father, because it was assumed that he would succeed to his rank and throne when the older god had passed away.
The Conception of the Triad
The conception of the triad or trinity is, in Egypt, probably as old as the belief in the gods, and it seems to be based upon the anthropomorphic views which were current in the earliest times about them. The Egyptian provided the god with a wife, just as he took care to provide himself with one, in order that he might have a son to succeed him, and he assumed that the god would have as issue a son, even as he himself wished and expected to have a son.
In later times, the group of nine gods took the place of the triad, but we are not justified in assuming that the ennead was a simple development of the triad. The triad contains two gods and one goddess, but the ennead contains five gods and four goddesses, being made up of four pairs of deities, and one supreme god. The ennead is, however, often regarded as a triad of triads, and the three enneads of Heliopolis, , as a triad of a triad of triads. The conception of the ennead is probably very much later than that of the triad.
Examples of triads are:—
- Ba-neb-Ṭaṭṭu ,
- Ḥāt-meḥit ,
- and Ḥeru-pa-kliarṭ ;
- Sebek ,
- Isis ,
- and Ȧmen ;
- Ptaḥ ,
- Sekhet ,
- and I-em-ḥetep ;
- Ȧmen-Rā ,
- Mut ,
- and Khensu ;
and triads like
- Osiris, Isis, and Horus ,
- and Set, Nephthys, and Anubis
were worshipped in several places in Egypt. The members of many triads in Egypt varied at different times and in different places, but variations were caused chiefly by assimilating local gods and goddesses with the well-known members of the companies of the gods of Heliopolis.
Polytheism and Monotheism
The facts recorded in the preceding pages show that the great gods of the dynastic period in Egypt were selected from a large number of local gods, who were in turn chosen from among the representatives of the gods of the desert, and mountain, and earth, and water, and air, and sky, who had been worshipped in predynastic times.
Thus in the great companyof the gods of Heliopolis we have
Shu, a form of Ȧn-her , the local god of Sebennytus ;
Osiris, the local god both of Busiris and Mendes ;
Isis, a form of the still more ancient goddess “Uatchit, lady of Pe,” , i.e., Buto ;
Tefnet, the goddess of a district in the fifteenth nome of Lower Egypt;
The gods of the later predynastic period were, of course, developed out of the multitude of spirits, good and bad, in whom the most primitive Egyptians believed, and it is clear that in general characteristics the gods of the dynastic period were identical with those of the predynastic period, and that the Egyptians rarely abandoned any god whose priests in the earliest times had succeeded in establishing for him a recognized position.
The form of the worship of the gods must have changed greatly, but this was due rather to the increase in the general prosperity of the country than to any fundamental change in the views and beliefs of the Egyptians as to their gods ; the houses of the gods, or temples, became larger and larger and more magnificent as increased wealth flowed into the country as the result of foreign conquest, but the gods remained the same, and the processions and ceremonies, though more magnificent under the New Empire, preserved the essentials of the early period. But if we examine the religious texts carefully it will be seen that the Egyptians were always trying to reduce the number of their gods, or, in other words, were always advancing from polytheism to monotheism.
The priesthood and the educated classes must have held religious views which were not absolutely identical with those of the peasant who cultivated the fields, but such, I believe, were concerned chiefly with the popular forms of worship of the gods and with conceptions as to their nature.
The uneducated people of the country clung with great tenacity to the ordinary methods of celebrating their worship, principally because the frequent festivals and the imposing ceremonies, which formed a large and important part of it, were regarded as essential for their general well-being; the priests and the educated, on the other hand, clung to them because their influence was not sufficiently powerful to establish a popular form of religion and worship which would be consistent with their own private views.
Absorption of Ancient Gods
Every change which can be traced in the religion of the country proves that the priesthoods of the various great religious centres absorbed into the new systems whenever possible the ancient gods and the ancient beliefs in them ; hence during the period of the highest culture in Egypt we find ideas of the grossest kind jostling ideas which were the product of great intellectuality and much thinking.
Expressions which are the result of a series of beliefs in tree gods, desert gods, water gods, earth gods, and gods with human passions, abound, and it is these which have drawn down upon the Egyptians the contempt of the Hebrews, the Greeks, and the Romans, and even of modern skilled investigators of Egyptian religion and mythology. It has not been sufficiently realized that the polytheism of the Egyptians had aspects which were peculiar to itself, and the same may be said of one phase of the beliefs of this people which appears to be, and which, the writer thinks, undoubtedly is, monotheistic.
When the priests of Heliopolis formulated their system of theogony they asserted that the god Tem produced the two gods that issued from himself, i.e., Shu and Tefnut, by masturbation, and there is little doubt that in making this declaration they were repeating what the half savage and primitive Egyptians may really have believed; but it would be utterly wrong to declare that the priests themselves believed these things, or that such a statement represented the views of any educated person in Egypt on the subject of the origin of the gods.
In Chapter xvii. of the Book of the Dead  is an allusion to the fight which took place between Horus and Set, but no Egyptian who accepted the refined beliefs which are found even in the same chapter could have regarded this allusion as anything more than the record of an act of savagery which had crept into religious texts at a time when acts of the kind were common.
Notion of Divine Unity
The same might be said of dozens of expressions and allusions which are scattered throughout the texts of all periods, and no just investigator will judge the Egyptians, and their religion, and their beliefs by the phases of thought and expressions which reflect the manners and customs and ideas of the primitive dwellers in the Valley of the Nile. But yet it is precisely by such things that the Egyptian religion is judged by many modern writers.
The eminent Egyptologist, M. Maspero, says that before he began to decipher Egyptian texts for himself, and so long as he was content to reproduce the teaching of the great masters of the science of Egyptology, he believed that the Egyptians had in the earliest times arrived at the notion of divine unity, and that they had fashioned an entire system of religion and of symbolic mythology with an incomparable surety of hand.
When, however, he began to study the religious texts he found that they did not breathe out the profound wisdom which others had found.
“Certainly,” he says,
“no one will accuse me of wishing to belittle the Egyptians; the more I familiarize myself with them, the more I am persuaded that they were one of the great nations of the human race, and one of the most original and most creative, but at the same time that they always remained half savage.”
In other words, the Egyptians, according to M. Maspero, never attained to the idea of the unity of God, and were at the best of times nothing but a half savage nation. It is easy to bring a charge of being half savage against a great nation, but in this case the charge is ill-founded, and is, in the writer’s opinion, contradicted by every discovery which is made in Egypt; for the more we learn of the ancient Egyptians the more complete and far-reaching we find their civilization to have been.
The evidence of the monuments of the Egyptians will, however, be sufficient to exhibit the character of this civilization in its true light, and, as the expression “half savage” is at best very vague, and must vary in meaning according to the standpoint of him who uses it, we pass on to consider the question whether the Egyptians attained to a conception of the unity of God or whether they did not.
We have seen that M. Maspero believes that they did not, but on the other hand some of the greatest Egytologists that have ever lived thought that they did. He thinks that the Egyptians possessed the greater number of their myths in common with the most savage of the tribes of the Old and New Worlds, that their practices preserved the stamp of primitive barbarism, that their religion exhibits the same mixture of grossness and refinement which is found in their arts and crafts, that it was cast in a mould by barbarians, and that from them it received an impression so deep that a hundred generations have not been able to efface it, nor even to smooth its roughnesses or to soften its outlines.
No one will attempt to deny that traces of half savage ideas and customs are to be found in Egyptian religious literature, but the real question is whether such traces render it impossible for the Egyptians ever to have attained to the conception of monotheism, whether the existence of such half savage ideas and customs is incompatible with it or not. Every one who is familiar with the literatures of oriental religions knows that the sublime and the ridiculous, spiritual ideas and material views, intellectuality and grossness, and belief and superstition, occur frequently in close juxtaposition, and illustrations of these statements may be found in the writings of the Arabs, and even in certain parts of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Yet no one will deny that the Arabs as a people have been monotheists since the time of Muhammad the Prophet, and no one will refuse to admit that the Hebrews, after a certain date in their history, became monotheists and have remained so. The literatures of both the Hebrews and the Arabs are full of extravagances of every kind, but no competent person has denied to these nations the right to be called monotheistic, and no one in the light of modern research will attempt to judge them by the coarsest expressions and materialistic thoughts which are found in their Scriptures.
On the other hand, no one expects to find either in Hebrew or in Arabic literature the lofty spiritual and philosophical conceptions which modern highly educated thinkers associate with the idea of monotheism, and the same isr of course, to be said for the literature of the Egyptians ; but it is not difficult to show that the idea of monotheism which existed in Egypt at a very early period is at least of the same character as that which grew up among both Hebrews and Arabs many centuries later.
To prove this statement recourse must be had to a number of extracts from religious texts, and among such may be quoted the following:—
To the dead king Unȧs it is said,
of Tetȧ it is said,
“He weigheth words, and behold, God hearkeneth unto the words,”
of the same king it is said,
“God hath called Tetȧ (in his name, etc.),”
to Pepi I. it is said,
“Thou hast received the attribute (or, form) of God, thou hast become great therewith before the gods,”
“Thy mother Nut hath set thee to be as God to thine enemy in thy name of God,”
and of the same king it is said,
“This Pepi is, therefore, God, the son of God,”
It may be argued that we should render neter, , in these passages by “a god” or “the god,” but this would make nonsense of the passages in most cases. There is no point in telling a dead king that he will live “by the side of a god,” or that “a god” will listen to his Words when he is weighing words, i.e., giving judgment upon matters in the next world ; what the writer said and what he meant his readers to understand was that Unas will live with the God, or God, and that lie will have such an exalted position there that he will be appointed by God to act as judge, an office which belonged to God himself, and that God will listen to, i.e., obey his rulings.
The above passages are taken from texts of the Vth and VIth Dynasties, but they are only copies of older documents, for there are good reasons for thinking that even so far back as the time when they were made, about B.C. 3300, the texts had already been revised two or three times, and changes and additions made in them as the result of modified beliefs and ideas.
The value of such passages, however, consists in the fact that they prove conclusively that so far back as B.C. 3300 some one god had become so great in the mindof the Egyptians that he stood out from among the “gods,”, and was different from the First, Second, and Third companies of the gods, .
Osiris as God
Another view which may be urged is that the neter,, here referred to is either the god Osiris or the god Rā, but even so it must be admitted that Osiris or Rā occupied a position in the mind of the Egyptian theologian which was far superior to that of any of the “gods.”
On the other hand, it must be pointed out that the Pyramid Texts are full of passages in which we are told what great things Rā will do for the deceased in the next world, and the honour which he will pay to him, and we must therefore conclude that the God referred to in the passages which we have quoted is not Rā, although he may be Osiris. But if we arrive at this conclusion we must admit that in the relatively remote period about B.C. 3300 Osiris was considered to be such a great god, and to occupy such an exalted position at the head of the “gods,” that he could be spoken of and referred to simply as “God.”
We have already seen it implied that Osiris was the judge of those who were in the Underworld, and we know from the text of Unȧs (line 494) that he sat on a throne in heaven ; as the king is said to have become
“god, and the messenger (or, angel) of God”
“enter into the place which was more holy than any other place” 
it is perfectly clear that the God of the Pyramid Texts was an entirely different being from the “gods” and the “companies of the gods.”
The deceased is actually called “Osiris Pepi,” and as he is said to have become an angel of God, if Osiris be that God and judge, he must have held a similar position to that of the God of the Hebrews, who is said to “judge among the gods,”  and must have been ministered to by “gods” of a rank inferior to his own. We may assume, then, that the God of the Pyramid Texts was Osiris, the god and judge of the dead, but it is clear that the only aspects of the God which are referred to are those which he bears as the god and judge of the dead.
We have, unfortunately, no means of knowing how lie was described by his earliest worshippers, for the priests of Heliopolis, when they absorbed him into their theological system, took care to give him only such characteristics as suited their own views; they have, however, shown us that he was the judge of the dead, and that he occupied a unique position among the gods, and enjoyed some of the powers possessed by the God of the nations which are on all hands admitted to be monotheistic.
Conception of God
But we may obtain further information about the conception of God among the Egyptians by an examination of certain passages in the famous Precepts of Kaqemna and the Precepts of Ptaḥ-ḥetep. The first of these works was composed in the reign of Seneferu, a king of the IVth Dynasty, and the second in the reign of Ȧssȧ, a king of the Vth Dynasty, but we only know them from the copies contained in the papyrus which was given to the Bibliothèque Royale in Paris by E. Prisse d’Avennes in 1847.
This document was probably written about the period of the XVIIth Dynasty, and may, of course, contain readings and additions reflecting the opinions of the Egyptians on religion and morals which were then current; but the foundations of both works belong to an earlier time, though whether that time fell under the XIIth Dynasty, as some think, or under the IVth and Vth Dynasties as the works themselves declare, matters little for our present purpose.
In both sets of Precepts we have a series of moral aphorisms similar to those with which we are familiar in the Book of Wisdom, and Ecclesiasticus, and the Book of Proverbs, and they are given as the outcome of the experience of men of the world ; neither the work of Kaqemna nor that of Ptaḥ-ḥetep can be said to have been drawn up from a religious point of view, and neither author supports his advice by appeals to religious authority.
In these works we find the following admonitions and reflections : —
i.e., the things which will come to pass by God’s agency cannot be known, that is to say, God’s ways are inscrutable.
is according to
the plan of
i.e., a man’s food comes to him through the providence of God.
ȧm - k
Thou shalt not
men and women ;
is opposed [thereto]
ȧr seka - nek
If thou hast land for ploughing
(which) hath given
ȧr un - neh
If thou wouldst be
a man perfect
ȧri - h
to be pleasing unto
āqu - k
thy actions ;
it should be done
by him that is favoured by
What is loved
neter of God
And finally from the Prisse Papyrus may be quoted the exhortatation,
“If having been of no account, thou hast become great, and if, having been poor, thou hast become rich, when thou art governor of the city be not hard-hearted on account of thy advancement, because thou hast [only] become
of the provisions
Idea of Divine Providence
From this group of extracts we learn that the ways of the god referred to in the “Precepts” were inscrutable,
that it was he who was supposed to give a man children, and property, and food,
that he was opposed to any man tyrannizing over his fellow creatures ;
that he loved to be obeyed and hated disobedience, i.e., those who would not hearken unto him; that the perfect man was he who brought up his son in ways pleasing to God ;
that God expected the man who had been favoured by him to do good to those who were dependent upon him ;
and the writer of the “Precepts” urged the governor of a city to remember that he was only the guardian of goods and provisions which belonged to God.
In all these extracts it is clear that the allusion is to some great and powerful being who rules and governs the world and provides according to his will for those who are in it. In the second extract we have the words sekher neter, i.e., the sekher of God.
The word sekher , has many meanings, among them being “thought, plan, intention, scheme, design,” and the like, and when Ptaḥ-ḥetep said that “the eating of bread is according to the sekher of God,” there is no doubt that he intended his readers to understand that a man obtained bread, or food, to eat according to the plan or design which God had made, or decreed beforehand. A rendering which would very well represent the words sekher neter is “Divine providence;” but they do not justify the translation “fate” which has been proposed for them.
Now we know that both the writers Kaqemna and Ptaḥ-ḥetep lived in the neighbourhood of Memphis, because their tombs are at Ṣaḳḳâra, and if they lived at Memphis their great local god would be Ptaḥ of the Beautiful Face, or Ptaḥ of the White Wall, whose feminine counterpart was Sekhet and whose son was I-em-hetep. But in the group of extracts just given there is no mention of any of these gods, and the God referred to cannot be Osiris, first, because the texts are not funereal, and secondly, because the attributes ascribed to this God are not of those which we know from later texts belonged to the god of the dead.
Who then is the God whose power, and providence, and government of the world are here proclaimed? The answer to this question is that the God referred to is God, Whose power men of the stamp of Ptaḥ-ḥetep discerned even at the remote period in which he lived, and Whose attributes they clearly distinguished ; He was in their opinion too great to be called anything else but God, and though, no doubt, they offered sacrifices to the gods in the temple at Memphis, after the manner of their countrymen, they knew that God was an entirely different Being from those “gods.”
Precepts of Khensu-ḥetep
Passing now to the period of the New Empire we have to consider a few extracts from the famous work commonly known as the “Maxims of Ani,” or the “Precepts of Khensu-ḥetep,” which was first described by E. de Rouge in 1861, and was published in full fifteen years later by Chabas.
The text is written upon a papyrus which was found in a box lying upon the floor of the tomb of a Christian monk at Dêr al-Medînet, and from considerations of palaeography it must probably be assigned to the period of the XXIInd Dynasty, but the original composition must be a great deal older, and it may well date from the XVIIIth Dynasty.
The following extracts will illustrate the conception of God in the mind of the author of the “Maxims —
ren - ƒ
God [is] the judge of
or, the God is the judge, the righteous one, i.e., the judge who passes sentence according to what is straight, maā, i.e., the law, the canon.
the means of subsistence.
4. “I have given thee thy mother,” the writer says to his son, “and she carried thee even as she carried thee, and took upon herself a heavy burden for thy sake, and did not lean upon me. When at length thou wast born after having been carried by her for months, she laid herself under thy yoke, and she nourished thee for three years, and was never weary of thee. . . .
When thou wast sent to school to be taught, she came every day without fail to thy master [bringing] bread and beer [for thee] from her house. Now thou hast become a man and hast married a wife and hast a house, set thine eye upon thy child, and bring him up as thy mother brought thee up.
Wrong not thy mother lest she lift up
God [and] he
“Let [a man]
sauu - k su
“keep thou thyself
is much speaking.
“Make thou thy prayers
mert of love
ȧu meṭet - f
all the petitions
are in secret.
He will perform
“he will hear
he will accept
“In making offerings
to thy God
guard thou thyself
things which he abominateth.
to the adoration
ren - f
It is he who giveth
and [he] magnifìeth
sāauȧ - f
of this earth
“the god Shu, he
who is over
ȧu naif mȧtui
are given [to them]
offerings of incense
“their food offerings
The group of passages given above supplies a new set of attributes ascribed by the Egyptians to God, and they show that they believed this Being to be one who judged according to right, who was jealous for the honour of his name, who received prayers and offerings, and who granted to the suppliant all his petitions, and performed all his desires, when such petitions were made to him in secret and with a “loving heart.”
The seventh extract is peculiarly instructive, for in it we have a sharp distinction drawn between this God and the solar god Shu, who is here, clearly, identified with the Sun-god. The worshipper of God is exhorted to consider His plans, or designs,, which are manifest upon earth, to pay good heed to the manner in which he makes offerings to Him, and to dedicate himself to the adoration of His name, for it is He who giveth souls, i.e., life, to millions of beings, and those who exalt Him He will exalt.
On the other hand, the similitudes of the god Shu, the lord of the horizons, i.e., the skies of the South and the North, the East and the West, and the god of this earth, are upon the earth, and to them offerings of incense and meat are made daily. There is no need here to dwell upon the lofty conception of what is meet for the worship of God; nor upon the fact that many of the phrases in the extract are identical in meaning, and almost in words, with passages in the Hebrew Scriptures, for they will be familiar to all, and extracts like the following will occur to every reader:—
“Consider the wondrous works of God”
(Job xxxvii. 14);
“them that honour me I will honour”
(1 Samuel ii. 30),
The word rendered “similitudes,” , is difficult to explain in detail though its general meaning is clear enough, and we must understand by it “things which are in the likeness [of Shu]” ; these can, apparently, only refer to the gods to whom incense and offerings were brought daily.
Conception of God and the Gods
The great importance of ,the second group of extracts consists in the fact that they emphasize and develop the difference between the Egyptian conception of God and the gods. The author of the “Maxims,” like Kaqemna and Ptaḥ-ḥetep, set out to write a book of moral precepts by which he intended his son to mould his course of life and to be guided. This work is not of a funereal character, therefore the God who is referred to throughout cannot be Osiris, and the context proves beyond all doubt that the writer is alluding to the same Being as were the earlier writers of moral aphorisms already mentioned.
Oneness of the Gods
But in all the passages quoted above there is no distinct statement that the God alluded to therein is God alone, and that there is no other God besides Him, although this is clearly implied ; we must therefore turn to another class of texts in which the attribute of oneness or unity is ascribed to one or more “great gods,” and see how it is applied.
The god Ta-tunen is called,
“One, maker of mortals, and of the company of the gods”;
the god Rā-Tem is called,
“lord of heaven, lord of earth, maker of beings celestial and of beings terrestrial, God One, who came into being in primeval time, maker of the world, creator of rational beings, maker of Nu (the sky), creator of the Nile, maker of whatsoever is in the waters, and giver of life to the same, knitter together of the mountains, making to come into being men and women, and beasts and cattle, and creator of the heavens and the earth”;
the great Ivhu (Spirit) whom Tem created is described as the
“only One in Nu”;
Osiris is said to be
“lord of the gods, god One”;
and in a remarkable passage, in which the whole of the attributes of the Sun-god Rā have been transferred to Amen-Rā, we have the following statement wherein this god is said to be
[which] gave birth to
the two companies of gods,
“came into being
ȧm - f
ȧri - ƒ
when the earth began
not is known
bes - f
“his growth.” 
The text goes on to say that Ȧmen-Rā is the
“holy Sekhem (i.e., Power), the god who is beloved, and is terrible and mighty in his risings, lord of space, the Power, Kheperȧ, the creator of every evolution (or, thing) which belongeth to his existence, except whom at the beginning none other existed.”
Here then we have Ta-tunen, Rā-Tem, and the god Osiris all called “God One,” neter uā,, and in the last extract we have the remarkable expression “God One alone,”, applied to Amen-Rā. If we consider for a moment we shall see that the gods Tem and Kheperȧ are only forms of the Sun-god Rā, and as Tatunen was concerned in the production of the Sun-god he also is a solar god ; at the time when the above extracts were written, i.e., under the XVIIIth Dynasty, we have abundant proof that the Egyptians were continually adding to the attributes which they ascribed to Osiris, and that such attributes were those which belonged to some form of Rā or to Rā himself.
The word “One” then is applied in these cases to Rā, and to the forms of Rā, and to a god who had come to be regarded in one aspect at least as a solar god, and it will be found on examination of the texts that whenever a god or goddess is described as “One” it is because that deity has been endowed by the writer, whether rightly or wrongly is another matter, with some of the attributes of Rā.
Oneness of the Gods
It is easy to see from the hieroglyphic extract given above that to the god there described are attributed many of the creative qualities which we assign to God Almighty. Thus he is said to be the primeval Paut or divine substance who gave birth to the two companies of the gods (in this case we must understand the company of the gods of heaven and the company of the gods of earth, and not the Great and Little Companies of the gods of Heliopolis), and every god came into being by him or through him.
Here it is quite clear that “every god” means only every inferior being who possessed something of the quality of a neter or “god,” and every being who ministered to the great Paut, and who in the Hebrew Scriptures would be grouped under the name “Elôhîm,” , or among the “angels,” and in Arabic literature among the good Jinn.
The text goes on to say not only in primeval times, i.e., “in the beginning,” he created whatever exists upon the earth, but also that in primeval time no other being existed with him. This is a definite statement of the unity or oneness of God which cannot be gainsaid, and it was this attribute of unity or oneness which the priests of various cities ascribed to their local god whenever they could.
We have no means of saying whether this idea of oneness or unity was first applied to Rā or to some more ancient god such as Horus, but it is, in the writer’s opinion, quite certain that it existed in the minds of the educated classes of Egypt in the earliest times, and that in all periods it was the central point of their conceptions of God.
But the text goes on to say that the great Paut who created the companies of the gods is “hidden of births and manifold of forms,” and that “his growth (or development) is unknown.” This is only another way of saying that the manner in which the beings and things produced by the Paut came into being is unknown, and that he appears under many forms.
We may here refer to the passage in the XVIIth Chapter of the Book of the Dead (line 9), wherein it is said :—
the great god
that is to say,
qemam renu - ƒ
“who made his names
of the gods
Concerning this being the question is asked, “Who then is this?” and the following answer is given :—
“It is Rā
āt - ƒ
kheper enen pu
“and these came into being
in the form of
ȧmi - khet
“who are in the following
The Great Self-created God
On the creative power of the great Paut special emphasis is laid in the extract on p. 132, for, after declaring that he created in the beginning whatsoever exists, the text adds that he created everything that had to do with his own coming into being ; and in the passages from the Book of the Dead it is taught, according to one dogma, that the names of the great, self-produced god Nu became the company of gods under the form of God, and according to another that the gods who were in the train of Rā were the members or limbs of Rā, and that these limbs were, in turn, the names of Rā.
The last text quoted is of considerable importance, for it gives us a direct proof that the attributes of the god Nu were transferred to Rā, and that Rā was identified absolutely with Nu, and the last text but one quoted shows how the attributes of Rā were transferred to ȧmen, who was originally only the local god of Thebes, by means of the fusion of the two gods into Ȧmen-Rā. We know that to many gods were ascribed the attributes of Rā, and that all solar gods were, in the dynastic period at least, held to be forms of him ; if we could identify them all we should be able to reduce the number of Egyptian gods considerably.
The attribute or quality of oneness or unity, which is ascribed first to the great God who was the creator of the heavens and the earth and all therein, and secondly to the Sun-god who was regarded as the visible type and symbol of God and his various forms, and thirdly, at a later period to the god Osiris, has been termed “henotheism” by many writers who asserted that it was a “phase of religious thought”  which was different from monotheism.
According to the late Right Honourable Prof. Max Müller we have become acquainted with this phase of religious thought
“for the first time through the Veda,”
and he goes on to say that
“when these individual gods are invoked they are not conceived as limited by the power of others, as superior or inferior in rank. Each god is to the mind of the suppliant as good as all the gods. He is felt at the time as a real divinity, as supreme and absolute, in spite of the necessary limitations which, to our mind, a plurality of gods must entail on every single god. All the rest disappear from the vision of the poet, and he only who is to fulfil their desires stands in full light before the eyes of the worshippers.”
It is quite true that the Egyptian religion passed through a phase which has been identified as henotheism, but, assuming for a moment that we should be correct in calling that phase henotheism, the Egyptian religious texts prove that it was
“not the henotheism of Max Miller or of Hartmann, or of Asmus, but a practical henotheism, i.e., the adoration of one God above all others as the specific tribal god or as the lord over a particular people, a national or relative monotheism, like that of the ancient Israelites, the worship of an absolute sovereign who exacts passive obedience. This practical monotheism is totally different from the theoretical monotheism, to which the Aryans, with their monistic speculative idea of the godhead, are much nearer.” 
These words by the late Professor Tiele here quoted were not applied by him to the Egyptian religion, but they so well express the present writer’s views about the monotheism of the Egyptians that they are adopted for that purpose. Professor Tiele was, undoubtedly, the greatest authority on comparative religion of his day, and although he was not an Egyptologist at first hand, he had discussed Egyptian religious texts with great experts like Chabas, Birch, de Rouge, and others, to such good purpose that his opinion on the subject is of peculiar value.
According to him the Egyptian religion presents two apparently contradictory and irreconcilable phenomena: —
- A lively sentiment of the spirituality of God united to the coarsest materialistic representations of different divinities ; and
- A sentiment, not less lively, of the unity of God, united to an extremely great multiplicity of divine persons.
The best educated priests, he thinks, who were the most vigorous promoters of religious progress, were as much attached to forms and traditional symbols as the people themselves, and they were most unwilling to give up any part of them.
The symbolism, being misunderstood by the ignorant folk, produced serious errors, and the forms under which the Egyptians represented their gods, and which are repellent to our refined taste, answered in their minds to the idea of divinity which was purer and more spiritual than the noble and beautiful forms of the gods of Hellas.
The ignorant felt no repugnance to monstrous representations because they appeared as representations having a profound and mysterious meaning ; the learned understood the meanings of the symbols, and paid their adoration through them to the truth of which they were the coverings. In other words, the uneducated loved a plurality of gods, while the priests and educated classes who could read and understand books adopted the idea of One God, the creator of all the beings in heaven and on earth who, for want of a better word, were called “gods.”
Polytheism and Monotheism
The priests and theologians saw nothing incompatible in believing that God was One, and that he existed under innumerable forms. We may note the existence of the same view in the Hebrew Scriptures where, in spite of the commandments,
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness [of anything] that [is] in heaven above, . . . .
Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them . . . .”
(Exodus xx. 3-5),
the Israelites felt no scruple in representing God in the midst of His sons, and for a very long time they continued to adore a number of divine beings side by side with Yahweh.
Thus in Joshua xxii. 22, we read,
“The Lord God of gods, the Lord God of gods, he knoweth and Israel shall know;”
in Exodus xxii. 28 is given the commandment,
“Thou shalt not revile the gods nor curse the ruler of thy people;”
in Psalm cxxxvi. 2, Israel is exhorted to
“give thanks unto the God of gods;”
the “sons of God” we know from Genesis vi. 2; Job ii. 1; xxxviii. 7; and that “gods” in some passages mean nothing but beings possessing some characteristic of God is clear from 1 Samuel xxviii. 13, wherein we read that the witch of Endor told Saul that she “saw gods ascending out of the earth.”
The allusion in this last passage is clearly to some kind of supernatural being or beings. Returning for a moment to the views of Professor Tiele, we admit that, judging from certain texts of the Dynastic Period, he is justified in asserting that in Egypt monotheism is anterior to polytheism; but judging from the evidence of the recently discovered monuments of the predynastic and archaïc periods, we must admit that polytheism appears to be older than monotheism.
On the other hand, the monotheistic ideas which appear in the works of Kaqemna and Ptaḥ-ḥetep were certainly not invented during the period in which they lived, and there is every reason for believing that they originated at a much earlier date. If literary compositions belonging to the first three dynasties are ever brought to light from the tombs of Egypt, we shall probably find that the idea of the oneness of God is expressed with just as much force and certainty as it is under the following dynasties, and in the same works we shall also find mention of the various gods who were created by the great God who was proclaimed to be One, and expected to be worshipped with obedience.
The final opinion of Professor Tiele on the Egyptian religion was that from the beginning it was polytheistic, but that it developed in two opposite directions; in the one direction gods were multiplied by the addition of local gods, and in the other the Egyptian drew nearer and nearer to monotheism.
We may now consider the opinions of some of the greatest Egyptologists on the monotheism of the Egyptians. Writing in the Revue Archéologique (1860, p. 73) E. de Rouge says,
“The unity of a supreme and self-existent being, his eternity, his almightiness, and eternal reproduction thereby as God; the attributing of the creation of the world and of all living beings to the supreme God; the immortality of the soul, completed by the dogma of punishments and rewards; such is the sublime and persistent base which, notwithstanding all deviations and all mythological embellishments, must secure for the beliefs of the ancient Egyptians a most honourable place among the religions of antiquity.”
In an article on the “Religion of the Ancient Egyptians,” written nine years later as a result of a close study of many of the great religious texts, he asserted that more than five thousand years before there existed in the Valley of the Nile the hymn to the unity of God, and the belief in the unity of a supreme God with the attributes of Creator of men, and Legislator of man, whom he has endowed with an immortal soul.
In his description of the principal monuments at the Egyptian Museum at Bûlâk in Cairo, Mariette Bey said,
“At the head of the Egyptian pantheon soars a God who is one, immortal, uncreated, invisible and hidden in the inaccessible depths of his essence ; he is the creator of the heavens and of the earth ; he has made everything which exists and nothing has been made without him; such is the God who is reserved for the initiated of the sanctuary.”
A similar view was held by Chabas, who said,
“The One God, who existed before all things, who represents the pure and abstract idea of divinity, is not clearly specialized by [any] one single personage of the vast Egyptian pantheon. Neither Ptaḥ, nor Seb, nor Thoth, nor Rā, nor Osiris, nor any other god is a personification of him at all times; but of these sometimes one and at other times another is invoked in terms which assimilate these intimately with the supreme type; the innumerable gods of Egypt are only attributes and different aspects of this unique type.”
M. Pierret, in discussing the matter, holds the view that the texts prove that the Egyptians believed in a God who was One, and was without a second, and was infinite and eternal. At the very time, however, when the scribes were writing upon papyrus or cutting upon stone the inscriptions which affirmed this belief, the artists were making sculptures of the gods with heads of hawks, or rams, or crocodiles, or goddesses with the heads of lionesses, cats, or cows.
Nevertheless the One God, who is without a second, is One even among the company of the gods, for he has numerous names and forms, and he appears under sacred and mysterious forms in the temples, that is to say under the figures which were painted on the walls, and in the statues of the gods which were set up in the temples. The greatest supporter of the doctrine of ancient Egyptian monotheism was the late Dr. Brugsch, who assigned to the word for God, neter, the highly philosophical meaning which has been quoted above.
Accepting the view, which the Egyptians themselves held, that the gods were only names of the various attributes of the One God, he searched through the religious literature and collected from the hymns, prayers, etc., which were addressed to the various gods and goddesses in various periods, a number of epithets and attributes which were bestowed upon them by their worshippers. These extracts he classified, and when they were grouped and arranged they formed a description of God such as it would be difficult to find a parallel for outside the Holy Scriptures.
It has been contended that as these scattered epithets are never found together the ancient Egyptians had no conception of a God who was One, and was self-produced, and had existed, and would exist, always, and was hidden and unknown of form and name, and was the Creator of heaven and the gods, and earth, and man, and all tilings, and was at the same time merciful, and compassionate, and loving, and the protector of the weak against the strong, and the rewarder and protector of those who served him.
But this contention is not well founded, because, although these attributes were ascribed to a miscellaneous number of deities, we must remember that they would not have been thus associated unless the writers recognized such gods as phases or aspects of the Great God.
The fact remains that such attributes were ascribed to gods who were created by God, and that the Egyptians arrived at such ideas as those described above is a lasting proof of the exalted character of their religion and of their conception of monotheism. The main point to keep in view is that the gods of Egypt were regarded by the Egyptians generally as inferior beings to the great God who made them, and that they were not held to be equal to him in all respects.
Further, we must repeat that the God referred to in the moral precepts of the Early Empire holds a position similar to that held by Yahweh among the Hebrews and Allah among the Arabs, and that the gods and goddesses who were ministers of his will and pleasure find their counterparts in the angels, and archangels, and spirits of all kinds, both good and bad, of whom the Hebrew and Arabic literatures are full.
No surer proof of this can be given than the well-known passage in Deuteronomy vi. 4, where it is said,
“Hear, O Israel, Yahweh our God (literally, gods), is Yahweh One,”
and the Egyptian neter uȧ , “One God,” as far as the application and meaning of uȧ is concerned, is identical with that of the Hebrew word in the text quoted. We may note, too, the words, “Yahweh our gods,” which show that Yahweh was identified with the gods, , of the polytheistic period of the ancient Hebrew religion ; it is, however, possible that when the verse in Deuteronomy was written the word Elôhîm had come to mean the great God of the Hebrews, although originally it had meant a collection of sacred or divine beings.
In the Ḳur‘ân, Sura cxii., the God of the Arabs is declared to be One, and from the commentaries on the Sura we know that this declaration was revealed to Muḥammad in answer to the people of the Kurêsh, who asked him concerning the distinguishing attributes of the God he invited them to worship.
If we had all the literature of the early Hebrews, and of the Arabs at the period of the propaganda of Muhammad we should probably find that many local gods in Palestine and Arabia were called One, but that only the God who had the moral aspects which were attributed to the great God of the Egyptians by the philosophers of the Early Empire succeeded in retaining it permanently.
The religion of the Egyptians has, however, always been regarded from two distinct and opposite points of view ; a number of scholars, among whom may be mentioned Champollion-Figeac, de Rouge, Chabas, Mariette, Dévéria, Birch, and Brugsch, have considered it to have been monotheistic, but others have declared unhesitatingly that it was polytheistic ; this result is due probably to the way in which it is regarded. Speaking of the difference of opinion which existed on the subject between the late Dr. Brugsch and himself, M. Maspero says that he and Brugsch considered the Egyptian religion in two different ways.
Time, he says, which has done so much harm to other nations, has shown itself favourable to the Egyptians. It has spared their tombs, their temples, their statues, and the thousand small objects which were the pride of their domestic life, and it has led us in such a way that we judge them by the most beautiful and the prettiest of the things which they made, and has at length caused us to place their civilization on the same footing as that of the Romans or the Greeks.
But if it be looked at more nearly the point of view changes ; to speak quite shortly, Thothmes III. and Rameses II. resemble Mtesa of Central Africa more closely than they do Alexander or Caesar. It is not their fault, but they arrived too soon in a period which was too early, and they must bear the penalty of their precociousness.
In art, in science, in trade, they have invented much and produced much, and have, above all, promised much ; their religion presents the same mixture of coarseness and refinement which is found in all else. Most of its myths it holds in common with the most savage tribes of the Old and the New Worlds. The Egyptian possessed the spirit of the metaphysician, a fact which he proved when Christianity furnished him with a subject worthy of his subtle powers.
But, M. Maspero asks, what kind of metaphysics could proceed from so naïve a conception of the universe and of things which he has revealed? He thinks it must be true, at least in the main, because Brugsch depicted the Egyptian world in a manner very similar to his own, and deeming it true he cannot any longer admit the notion of the Egyptian Deity and his unity which several scholars have adopted.
He takes the Egyptian religion for what it shows that it is, viz., a polytheism with its contradictions, and its repetitions, with its dogmas indecent sometimes, cruel sometimes, and ridiculous sometimes, according to modern ideas, and with its families of half-human gods which the worshipper cherished the more or understood the better the more closely they resembled himself.
The opinion thus expressed, though unfavourable to the character of the Egyptian, and directly opposed to the views of some of the greatest Egyptologists of the last century, is evidently honest, and coming from such a quarter is entitled to the greatest respect; but it seems that M. Maspero has judged the Egyptians of all periods according to the standard of religion which was in vogue in Egypt in predynastic times, when the primitive Egyptians were, no doubt, half savage.
The Egyptians, being fundamentally an African people, possessed all the virtues and vices which characterized the North African races generally, and it is not to be held for a moment that any African people could ever become metaphysicians in the modern sense of the word.
In the first place, no African language is suitable for giving expression to theological and philosophical speculations, and even an Egyptian priest of the highest intellectual attainments would have been unable to render a treatise of Aristotle into language which his brother priests without teaching could understand. The mere construction of the language would make such a thing an impossibility, to say nothing of the ideas of the great Greek philosopher, which belong to a domain of thought and culture wholly foreign to the Egyptian.
The allusion to the Christian metaphysics of the Egyptian is understandable, as everyone knows who has taken the trouble to read the literature of the Copts, who transferred much of the base and degraded Egyptian mythology which was current during the first few centuries of the Christian era into their newly acquired belief in Jesus Christ. The lives of the Coptic martyrs show the use winch the Egyptian made of his metaphysical spirit, and the history of the early Church in Egypt illustrates what happened when he tried to apply it to the consideration of the common theological terms in Greek and in Latin.
Incidentally we may note that in order to express the various ideas connected with the Christian Deity and the Persons of the Trinity he was obliged to take over the actual Greek words into his language, which was poor in abstract ideas. In the picture which M. Maspero has given of the Egyptian’s conception of the universe and of the origin of gods and things he has only dwelt upon the mythological side of the question, and has not set forth all the passages upon which other Egyptologists have based their views about Egyptian monotheism; moreover, no allowance appears to have been made for the peculiar religious and mental characteristics of the race.
But when all is said against the Egyptian religion which can be said, the fact remains that it is not the religion itself which has cruel, ridiculous, and indecent dogmas, but the myths wherewith generations of foolish priests obscured the pure beliefs in monotheism and immortality which seem to have existed in Egypt from the earliest times. If modern oriental religions were judged in the adverse manner in which the religion of ancient Egypt has been judged, none would escape similar condemnation ; the same thing may be said of some of the religions of the Western nations.
The superstitions which exist among many Eastern nations professing monotheism and even Christianity are as gross as those found among so-called Pagan nations ; as examples may be quoted the Christians of St. John in Southern Mesopotamia, and many of the Arabic-speaking peoples of the Eastern Sûdân, yet among the former no one attempts to deny the existence of a sort of Christianity, though he would indeed be bold who would dare to compare it with the Christianity of such men as Canon Liddon or Cardinal Newman ; similarly, the monotheism of the peoples of the Eastern Sudan is universally admitted, but it does not prevent their indulging in the coarsest and most fantastic beliefs and practices, many of which, however, it must be admitted have descended to them from their pagan ancestors.
Fortunately, however, the monotheistic character of the Egyptian religion rests on too firm a foundation to be easily overthrown, and notwithstanding the elaborate system of symbolic ceremonials which was so prominent a feature of Egyptian worship, Egyptian monotheism always maintained its place in the minds of those who were sufficiently educated to understand the ideas which the symbols thereof represented.
The Egyptian never confounded God with the gods, and it would seem that he even discriminated between God and “the god of the city,” for in the Negative Confession (No. 38) the deceased says,
“O Utu-rekhit, who comest forth from thy house, I have not cursed God” ;
and in No. 42 he says,
“Hail, Ȧn-ā-f, who comest forth from Ȧukert (the Underworld), I have not thought scorn of (or, belittled) the god who is in my city.”
Whence came the Egyptian conception of monotheism, or when it first sprang up, cannot be said, but in its oldest form it is coeval with the dynastic civilization of Egypt at least, and it may well date from far earlier times. The monotheistic idea is not the peculiar attribute of any one people or period. It may seem unnecessary to discuss Egyptian monotheism at such length, but the matter is one of great interest and importance because the literature of Egypt proves it to have been in existence in that country for more than three thousand five hundred years before Christ; in fact, Egyptian monotheism is the oldest form of monotheism known to us.
It is easy enough to understand how anxious the priesthoods of the various cities would be to persuade the people who worshipped the local gods that this or that god was the being who united in himself the attributes of the original god of the city with those of the great cosmic god with physical aspects who created the heavens and the earth, and with those of the ethical god who was proclaimed by Kaqemna, Ptaḥ-ḥetep, Ani, and other writers of moral precepts.
In the earliest times it was the god Horus who was chosen in this manner, for under the form of a hawk he appears to have been the first god who was worshipped throughout the country generally, and the numerous forms of this god, and the fact that his attributes were at a later period ascribed to Horus the son of Isis, attest the antiquity and importance of his cult.
Horus and Rā
The next god chosen to represent the great ethical God of the Egyptians was not a personification of the sky as was Horus, but the Sun-god Rā, on whom was bestowed every epithet of power and might which was known to the Egyptians, as well as the epithets and forms of the god Horus. But although his worship was common throughout Egypt, and his sanctuaries were for many centuries the most important in the land, there is abundant proof that the Egyptians never merged their conceptions of their great ethical God in their conceptions of Rā.
There seem to be traces of a belief that Rā as the spirit or god of the sun may have been a form or representative of him, but they are not very definite, and the worship of Ra’s visible symbol, the sun, as the source of heat and light, and therefore of life—as the Egyptians recognized at an early period—was commoner than any abstract conception of his nature or existence. In a hymn to Ḥāpi, the Nile-god, we find a remarkable passage in which some of the chief attributes of God are ascribed to the power which causes the Inundation and who is addressed under the names of the gods Ptaḥ and Khnemu.
To this Being it is said by the author of the hymn,
“If thou wert overcome in heaven the gods,, would fall upon their faces and mankind would perish.”
The context shows that the author first pays a tribute of reverence to the local god of Memphis, Ptaḥ, whom he styles the “lord of fish,” and the “creator of wheat and barley,” and of whom he says with reference to the well-known attribute of Ptaḥ as the great artificer, “inactivity is the abomination of his fingers,” i.e., the fingers of the god hate idleness.
He then goes on to mention Khnemu, the local god of the First Cataract, wherein the sources of the Nile were at one time believed to be situated, and styles him
“the bringer of food and provisions, the creator of all good things, the lord of all choice and pleasant meats, who maketh the herb to grow for the use of the cattle, who filleth the storehouses and heapeth up high [corn] in the granaries, who payeth heed to the poor and needy, who maketh to grow crops which are sufficient for the desires of all men and yet is not diminished thereby, and whose strength is a shield.”
The Attributes of Ḥāpi
“cannot be figured in stone, he is not to be seen in the images on which are set the crowns of the south and the north with their uraei, offerings cannot be made to him, he cannot be brought forth from his secret places, his dwelling-place is not to be found out, he is not to be found in the shrines which are inscribed with texts, there is no habitation which is sufficiently large for him to dwell in, and the heart [of man] is unable to depict him.” 
The being here referred to is a physical and not an ethical god, and the simplest and, from this point of view, most natural explanation of these remarkable statements is that they are intended to describe the inaccessibility both of the Nile-god and of his shrine. The fact, however, remains that the declaration of the almighty strength and inscrutability, and invisibility, and the impossibility of a description of the power which moves the Nile-god beiug made by man in writing, or in drawing, or in sculpture, proves the existence in the minds of the Egyptian writers of a lofty conception of the attributes of God.
But side by side with the fundamental ideas of Horus and Rā and the conceptions which were at the root of the worship of these gods, there existed in the minds of the Egyptians a firm and continuous belief in the god Osiris, who held a position in the Egyptian religion which was quite distinct from that held by any other god. About his origin nothing can be said, but there is no reason for doubting that he was a god of the indigenous inhabitants of Egypt, and that his worship was firmly established in the country before the dynastic period.
He was from the earliest times associated with the doctrine of immortality, and was, the writer believes, the symbol of monotheism in Egypt. It is impossible to say, or even to suggest, what was the original form of his worship, but we know that in the archaic period one great centre of his cult was at Abydos, and from the fact that he was included in the paut, or company of gods of Heliopolis, we may conclude that he was a very important god of Ṭaṭṭu, or of Busiris, in the Delta, and that his sanctuary was much visited by the peoples thereof.
Osiris, Lord of Ṭaṭṭu
Under the Vth Dynasty, as we have already seen, he was regarded as the judge of the dead, and it is clear that he was also the god of the dead par excellence ; but it must be noted that the priests of Rā formed at that time the predominant priesthood of Egypt, and therefore care was taken to assign to Osiris a position inferior to that of Rā in heaven. When the Vlth Dynasty of kings came to an end the power of the priesthood of Rā was greatly diminished, and the worship of Osiris grew and prospered.
It is unnecessary to trace here step by step the growth of the cult of the god until the period of the XVIIIth Dynasty, and it will be sufficient to say that between the VIth and the end of the XVIIIth Dynasty nearly all the attributes of the Sun-god Rā were transferred to Osiris, and the name of Rā is joined to that of Osiris, just as in much earlier times it was joined to Tem and Ḥeru-khuti to indicate the compound gods Rā-Tem and Rā-Ḥeru-khuti.
Thus in Chapter cxxx. of the Book of the Dead  the deceased says,
“I shall not be turned back in the horizon, for I am Rā-Osiris,”
and this passage is a proof that quite early in the XVIIIth Dynasty Osiris was considered to be a solar god. In Chapter xvii. (1. 110 ff.) the deceased is made to say,
“I am the God-Soul which dwelleth in the Twin-gods, .”
On this the question follows, “What does this mean?” to which we have the answer,
“It hath reference to Osiris when he goeth into Ṭaṭṭu and findeth there the soul of Rā ; there one god embraceth the other, and the divine Souls spring into being within the Twin-gods.”
These lines of text are illustrated by a very interesting vignette in the Papyrus of Ani (see sheets 7-10), wherein we see a pylon-shaped building between the double, which represents Ṭaṭṭu, and upon it stand the god Rā, in the form of a hawk with a solar disk upon his head, and Osiris in the form of a human-headed hawk, wearing the White Crown. The two gods face each other in Ṭaṭṭu, and, according to the text, were absorbed or merged each in the other; thus Osiris obtained the attributes and characteristics of the Sun-god Rā, but was supposed at the same time to retain all his own peculiar attributes.
Identity of Osiris and Rā
The view here given is that which was favoured by the priests of Thebes who, however, only reproduced that which they had borrowed from the priests of Heliopolis, and having gained currency in the theological colleges of the South, it spread among the people to such an extent that almost every great city possessed a sanctuary dedicated to Osiris. A very important hymn to Osiris, which is certainly as old as the period of the XVIIIth Dynasty, shows us how this god assimilated to himself the old solar gods, and how he became Rā.
His holy double (ka) was said to live in Mendes, he was the god who dwelt in Sekhem (i.e., Horus), the lord of Qerert (i.e., the Underworld), the holy one in Memphis, the lord of the temple of Hermopolis, the local gods of which were Thoth and his paut, or company, and he was declared to be the “soul of Rā” and the very body of this god, .
His essence was that of the primeval god Nu, and he was the great spirit and divine body in heaven. He was supposed to fight and to vanquish the traditional fiend Sebȧ, who dared to wage war against Rā, and he was the stablisher of right and truth, maāt, throughout the world.
He made the earth with his own hands, and its winds, and its vegetation, and feathered fowl, and fish, and cattle and other quadrupeds, and to him belonged by right the mountains and the desert land throughout the world. The lands of Egypt rejoiced to crown him upon his throne like his father Rā. The Great and the Little Companies of the gods loved him, he was the leader of every god, and the brother of the stars.
Finally, as a proof of the absolute identity of Rā and Osiris may be quoted the opening lines of Chapter clxxxi. of the Book of the Dead, which read :—
“Homage to thee, O governor of Ȧmentet,
Un-nefer, the lord of Ta-tchesert,
O thou who risest like Rā !
Verily I come to see thee and to rejoice at thy beauties.
His disk is thy disk ;
his rays are thy rays ;
his crown is thy crown ;
his majesty is thy majesty ;
his risings are thy risings ;
his beauty is thy beauty ;
the awe which is his is the awe which is thine ;
his odour is thy odour ;
his hall is thy hall;
his seat is thy seat; his throne is thy throne ;
his heir is thy heir ;
his ornaments are thy ornaments ;
his command is thy command; his mystery is thy mystery;
his things are thy things;
his knowledge is thy knowledge ;
his attributes of majesty are thy attributes of majesty;
his magical powers are thy magical powers ;
he died not and thou shalt not die ;
he was not vanquished by his enemies and thou shalt not be vanquished by thine enemies;
no evil thing befell him, and no evil thing shall befall thee for ever and for ever.”
Osiris and Immortality
In such terms did the Egyptians extol the greatness and power of Osiris, but they make no mention of the aspect of the god which endeared him to countless generations of Egyptians. From hundreds of funeral and other texts we learn that Osiris was held to be partly divine and partly human, that is to say, unlike any other Egyptian god he possessed two natures, and two bodies, the one divine and the other human, and two doubles, the one divine and the other human, and two souls, the one divine and the other human, and two spirits, the one divine and the other human.
The human body, according to the Egyptian tradition recorded by Plutarch, once lived upon earth and was put to death in a cruel manner, and was mutilated by his brother; but his feminine counterpart, Isis, succeeded in obtaining from Thoth the knowledge of certain words and ceremonies, and having learnt from him the proper manner of reciting these words, and how to perform these ceremonies, by means of them she raised up to life the dead body of Osiris.
The god Thoth was the personification of the intelligence of the whole company of the gods, and thus the words which he taught Isis were divine, and they were, presumably, names by the utterance of which the gods themselves maintained their existence.
Now when Osiris had been raised from the dead he did not continue his life upon earth, but passed into the region of the Underworld, where he became the judge and god of the dead and, as we have seen, was made the possessor of all the attributes of the Sun-god Rā and of the great One God. But, the Egyptians in the early ages thought, Since Osiris was raised to life by the words and ceremonies which Thoth taught Isis, and since Osiris has gained immortality by means of them, these same words and ceremonies will raise us to life and give us immortality also.
Their priests therefore invented a number of magical ceremonies, which they led the people to believe were identical with those which Isis had performed at the bidding of Thoth, and they strung together magical words which they declared to be those which had raised Osiris to life, and the words were recited and the ceremonies performed by priests who appear to have dressed themselves in. such a way as to resemble the divine beings who were concerned with the resurrection of Osiris.
At a later period, however, the Egyptians put their trust in Osiris himself, and addressed their prayers directly to him as the Being, partly divine and partly human, who had raised himself from the dead without having seen corruption, and who had bestowed upon his own earthly body, by means of his divine nature, the gift of an everlasting life which it enjoyed in an incorruptible and glorified form in heaven. The Egyptians “loved life and hated death,” and they worshipped Osiris as the Great God who not only possessed the power of maintaining his own life indefinitely—which was supposed to be the chief distinguishing characteristic of a god—but also of giving mortals the power to live after death in this world.
What Osiris had effected for himself he could effect for man ; hence Thothmes III. is made to address the god in these words,
“Homage to thee, O my divine father Osiris, thou hast thy being with thy members.
Thou didst not decay, thou didst not turn into worms,
thou didst not rot away,
thou didst not become corruption,
thou didst not putrefy. . . .
I shall not decay,
I shall not rot,
I shall not putrefy. . . .
I shall have my being,
I shall live,
I shall germinate,
I shall wake up in peace. . . .
My body shall be stablished, and it shall neither fall into ruin nor be destroyed off this earth.” 
Because the human body of Osiris rose from the dead, the body of every man could rise from the dead also, but man lacked what Osiris possessed, i.e., the divine body, soul, spirit, and nature, which had brought about the resurrection of his human body, soul, spirit, and nature.
In the earliest times of the worship of the god the Egyptians, as we have seen, invented magical words and ceremonies with the object of supplying the human body with the power necessary to raise itself from the dead, but as time went on they realized that both words and ceremonies were incapable of giving eternal life to the dead, and that only Osiris himself could give them that which they so earnestly desired, i.e., everlasting life, by supplying to their dead earthly bodies the power to rise again, a power which he himself possessed. Beyond all doubt the Egyptians realized that Osiris was the only God who could make them to inherit life everlasting, and that he alone had the power of making “men and women to be born again.”
We have already seen how the attributes of the great God who created all things were ascribed to him, and we now see that he was regarded as the god who had the power to vanquish death by raising up the bodies of the dead in glorified forms, and to reunite to them their souls and their spirits, and to give them eternal life in his dominions. These things were declared of no other god, and no other god united in his person the attributes of an ethical god, and an almighty, creative god, and a god who was the vivifier of the dead.
The conception of Osiris included the conceptions of every other god, but the conception of no other god included that of Osiris during the period of the highest thought and civilization of Egypt.
The Sun-god Rā was called “One,” a few other gods who were made to usurp his attributes were also each called “One;” this in the earliest times was natural enough, because the Egyptians were only acquainted with one Sun, and whether the physical body of the sun as a symbol of the power which moved it or that power itself is referred to in the hymns matters little, for “One” was a suitable epithet both for the sun and its god.
In connexion with this matter it is important to remember the unique position which Osiris occupies in the Book of the Dead and in funeral texts generally. In the texts of the Vth Dynasty we find that Osiris was believed “to weigh words,” i.e., to inquire into the various words and deeds of the lives of men when their souls left their bodies, in order that he might reward them according to their merits.
In later times this idea was illustrated by the vignette in which the heart of the deceased was seen being weighed in the Great Scales against the symbol of Maāt, or the Law and right and truth ; at a still later period, when the heart was the symbol of the conscience, this scene became associated with the examination of the words and deeds of the dead which took place in the Hall of Maāti.
In the large scenes of the weighing of the heart which were prefixed to the finest papyri of the Book of the Dead of the XVIIIth and XlXth Dynasties, and which were accompanied by suitable hymns and texts, the ceremony takes place in the presence of the gods of the Great and Little companies, but in the Hall of Maāti the Forty-Two Assessors are substituted for the gods. In both cases, however, the great judge of all is Osiris, and it was to him that all Egyptians returned after death.
Why the Assessors were forty-two in number cannot be said, but it is very probable, as has been before suggested, that each of them represented a district in Egypt in the earliest dynastic times, and that the Hall of Maāti thus became a meeting place for the Assessors of the whole country when Osiris sat to judge the dead. It is, moreover, impossible to say why certain assessors were supposed to hear confessions about the non-committal of certain sins, and we have no knowledge of the circumstances which gave rise to their selection and to their admission into the Hall of Judgment.
Some of them appear to have been originally the gods of cities, and others gods of nomes, but, on the other hand, a few of them are deities who, in the earliest times, were apparently hostile to the dead. Failing full information on the subject, the chief interest which attaches to the Assessors and the Hall of Maāti, in which they sit, consists in the fact that the vignette proves how completely Osiris had gained the ascendancy over all the gods of Egypt.
Development of Monotheism
In the preceding pages an attempt has been made to trace the development of the conception of a supreme being in Egypt, from the earliest times to the period when Osiris became endowed with many of the attributes now ascribed to God Almighty. There is no doubt that in predynastic times the Egyptians worshipped stocks, and stones, and animals, and plants, and trees, and that they only arrived at the idea of gods which were partly animal and partly man at the end of a long period of what is called in modern times “gross idolatry.”
From the idea of animal-man gods they advanced to the idea of a man-god, and finally their minds developed the conception of monotheism. When we first gain any definite knowledge of them we find that as a people they had put away the worship of stocks and stones, and most of the things which that worship implies, but that certain animals were held to be sacred in certain cities, and that the literature contained allusions to savage habits and practices, as we have already seen.
As time went on, many changes took place in the minds of the Egyptians concerning their gods, but little variation was made in their worship and ceremonial in the temples ; in other words, the spirit of the religion changed whilst the observance of the letter remained unchanged. Thus the forms of worship and the literature preserved a great deal which no one believed in except the commonest folk, and in this way traces of the lowest forms of religion were preserved and handed down to posterity.
The Egyptians, after the period of the IVth Dynasty, were the victims of conservatism and conventionality, and, we might almost add, of the priesthoods of Heliopolis and Thebes; but for these powerful and wealthy confraternities the history of the religion of Egypt would have been very different. The conception of monotheism, which is so clearly expressed in the moral precepts of the Early Empire, would have developed rapidly, and in its growth it would have obliterated the remains of the old and obsolete faiths which had crystallized, and which existed in layers side by side with the higher doctrine.
But the decay which set in after the IVth Dynasty, and which stifled the development of painting and sculpture, also attacked the religion of the country, and the noble conception of monotheism, with its cult of the unseen, was unable to compete with the worship of symbols, which could be seen and handled, until the time when Osiris was recognized as the One God, who was also the giver of eternal life.
The Egyptians were unlike other nations, and similarly their religion and their gods were unlike the religion and the gods of other nations ; and as they must not be judged by the standard of any one foreign nation belonging to any one period, so their religion and their gods must not be judged by the standard of the religion and gods of any later civilized nation.
We can only know what the Egyptians thought and believed by reading and studying the texts which they wrote, and a final opinion on their beliefs cannot be obtained until all their religious literature has been published ; the general outline, however, of their religion is clear enough, and it shows us that they possessed a good, practical form of monotheism and a belief in immortality which were already extremely ancient even in the days when the Pyramids were built.
Footnotes and references:
xvii. 1. § 37.
ii. § 148.
Τὴν δὲ χώραν ἅπασαν εἰς ἓξ καὶ τρίακοντα μέρη διελών, ὓ καλοῦσιν Αἰγύπτιοι νομούς.
κατὺ γὰρ δὴ νομούς Αἴγυπτος ὕπασα διαραίρηται.
Var.Ȧb-ṭut, i.e., “the city of the mountain of the heart’s desire”; see Ɗümichen, Geschichte, p. 143.
Perhaps a variant is; see Pleyte, Aey. Zeit., 1868, p. 17 ; and Dünichen, Kalendarinschriften, 118b, 106d.
The authorities to be consulted on the nomes of Egypt are Brugsch, Dict. Géog.(see the list at the end of vol. iii.); Dümichen, Geographic des alten Aegyptens (in Meyer, Geschichte des alten Aegyptens), Berlin, 1887 ; and J. de Rouge, Géographic Ancienne de la Basse-Égypte, Paris, 1891.
For other temple officials see Brugsch, Aegyptologie, p. 218.
The words Ba-neb-Ṭaṭṭu usually follow here, therefore the full name of the city is, “House of Osiris, the Ram, lord of Ṭaṭṭu.”
. Unȧs, 11. 443, 444.
See my chapters of Coming Forth by Day (Transition), p. 315.
Book of the Dead, Chap. cviii.
Ibid., Chap. cix.
Ibid., Chap. cxii.
Ibid., Chap. cxiii.
Ibid., Chap. cxv.
Ibid., Chap. cxvi.
See Pepi I., 11. 317, 318.
. Pepi I., 1. 166.
See Tetȧ, 1. 209.
See Unȧs (Recueil), tom. iii, pp. 209-211.
. Pepi I., 1. 457.
Tetȧ, 1. 265.
See my Chapters of Coming Forth by Day (Translation), p. 94.
See Brugsch, Reise nach der grossen Oase el-Khargeh, Leipzig, 1878, pl. 14.
For the lists of the paut of Thoth at Edfû, Dendera, Karnak, Philae, etc., see Brugsch, Religion und Mythologie, p. 127.
An exactly opposite view is taken by M. Maspero (La Mythologie Égyptienne, p. 270).
. Pepi I., ll. 465, 466.
(ll. 67, 68).
“J’ai cru, au debout de ma carrière, il y a bientôt vingt-cinq ans de cela, et j’ai soutenu pendant longtemps, comme M. Brugsch, que les Egyptiens étaient parvenus, dès leur enfance, à la notion de l’unité divine et qu’ils en avaient tiré un système entier de religion et de mythologie symbolique, agencé d’un bout à l’autre avec une sûreté de main incomparable. C’était le temps où je n’avais pas essayé par moi-même le déchiffrement des textes religieux et où je me bornais à reproduire l’enseignement de nos grands maîtres. Quand j’ai été contraint de les aborder, j’ai dû m’avouer à moi-môme qu’ils ne respiraient point cette sagesse profonde que d’autres y avaient sentie. Certes on ne m’accusera pas de vouloir déprécier les Egyptiens : plus je me familiarise avec eux, et plus je me persuade qu’ils ont été un des grands peuples de l’humanité, l’un des plus originaux et des plus créateurs, mais aussi qu’ils sont toujours demeurés des demi-barbares.”
La Mythologie, p. 277.
“En art, en science, en industrie, ils ont beaucoup inventé, beaucoup produit, beaucoup promis surtout; leur religion présente le même mélange de grossièreté et de raffinement qu’on retrouve dans tout le reste. La plupart de ses mythes lui sont communs avec les tribus les plus sauvages de l’Ancien et du Nouveau-Monde ; ses pratiques gardent le cachet de la barbarie primitive, et je crois que les sacrifices humains n’en avaient pas disparu dans certaines circonstances, même sous les grands Pharaons thébains. Elle a été jetée au moule par des Barbares, et elle a reçu d’eux une empreinte si forte que cent générations n’ont pu, je ne dirai pas l’effacer, mais en amollir les aspérités et en adoucir les; contours.”
La Mythologie, p. 277.
See the group given in my Papyrus of Ani, London, 1895, p. lxxsiii. ff.
. Pepi I., 1. 60.
Psalm lxxxii. 1, .
See Fac-simile d’un papyrus Égyptien en caractérs hièratiques, Paris, 1847, folio.
The author of this observation was Kaqemna; the other ones are by Ptaḥ-ḥetep.
See Moniteur, 15 Août, 1861; and Comptes Rendus, Paris, 1871, pp. 340-350.
See L’Égyptologie, Chalons-sur-Saône and Paris, 4to, 1876-1878.
A facsimile was published by Mariette in Papyrus Égyiptiens du Musée de Boulaq.
Literally, “her breasts were in thy mouth for three years.”
. Papyrus of Ani, sheet 1, line 6.
. Papyrus of Hunefer, sheet 1, line 5 ff.
Book of the Dead, Chap. lxxviii. 16.
Ibid., Chap. clxxiii,
See Maspero, Mém. Miss. Arch., tom i., p. 594.
Max Müller, Hibbert Lectures, p. 285.
C. P. Tiele, in Encyclopaedia Britannica, vol. xx., p. 367.
Histoire Comparée des Anciennes Religions, Paris, 1882.
Tiele, Hist. Comparée, p. 13S.
Cf. also Deut. x. 17; Psalms xiv. 3; lxxxii. 1, 6; Job i. 6.
“Een voorhistorisch monotheïsme onderstelt een graad van ontwikkeling en een vordering in het wijsgeerig nadenken, die bij een nog barbaarsch volk niet denkbaar zijn. Ook de egyptische godsdienst is van animisme en magisch polydaemonisme uitgegaan en zoo eerst tot polytheïsme opgeklommen. Dit polytheïsme ontwikkelt zich dan in twee geheel tegen o vergestelde richtingen. Aan den eenen kant wordt de godenwereld, door bijeenvoeging van plaatselijke godsdiensten, een gevolg van de onderwerping der verschillende gewesten met hun godsdienstige middelpunten aan het gezag van éen koning, en door overneming van vreemde godheden, steeds rijker. Aan den anderen kant nadert men het monotheïsme meer en meer, zonder het ooithelder en ondubbelzinnig uit te spreken. De geleerden trachtten beide mit elkander overeen te brengen, onder anderen door de vele goden voor te stellen als de openbaringen van den éenen, ongeschapen, verborgen God, zijn leben, door hem zelnengeschapen.”
See Geschiedenis van den Godsdienst in de Oudheid, Amsterdam, 1893, p. 25.
“L’unité d’un être suprême existant par lui-même, son éternité, sa toute-puissance et la génération éternelle en Dieu ; la création du monde et de tous les êtres vivants attribuée à ce Dieu suprême ; l’immortalité de l’âme, complétée par le dogme des peines et des récompenses ; tel est le fond sublime et persistant qui, malgré toutes les déviations et toutes les broderies mythologiques, doit assurer aux croyances des anciens Egyptiens un rang très honorable parmi lesreligions de l’antiquité.” . . . . .
“Il y a plus de 5000 ans qu’a commencé, dans la vallée du Nil, Vhymne à l’Unité de Dieu et à VImmortalité de l’âme; et nous voyons dans les derniers temps l’Egypte arrivée au Polythéisme le plus effréné. La croyance à V Unité du Lieu suprême, à ses attributs de Créateur et de Législateur de l’homme, qu’il a doué dme dme immortelle ; voilà les notions primitives enchâssées comme des diamants indestructibles au milieu des superfétations mythologiques accumulées par les siècles qui ont passé sur cette vieille civilisation.”
Annales de Philosophie Chrétienne, Paris, 1869, p. 336.
“Au sommet du panthéon Égyptien plane un Dieu unique, immortel, incréé, invisible et caché dans les profondeurs inaccessibles de son essence; il est le creatéur du ciel et de la terre ; il a fait tout ce qui existe, et rien n’a été fait sans lui; c’est le Dieu réservé à l’initié du sanctuaire.”
Mariette, Notice, Cairo, 1876, p. 17.
Calendrier des jours fastes et néfastes, p. 107.
Pierret, Le Panthéon Égyptien, Paris, 1881.
They will be found in Brugsch, Religion und Mythologie, p. 96 ff.
Compare St. Mark xii. 29.
La Mythologie Égyptienne, p. 278.
A transcript of this text will be found in ray First Steps in Egyptian, p. 208.
Papyrus of Nu, Chap. cxxx., 1. 18.
Either Mendes in the Delta, or the heavenly Mendes.
See the text, with a transliteration and translation, in my First Steps in Egyptian, p. 179 ff.
De Iside et Osiride, ed. Didot (Scripta Moralia, t. iii., pp. 429-469), § xii. ff.
Book of the Dead, Chap. cliv.
; see Book of the Dead, Chap. clxxxii., 1. 15.