"God is One God"
(Origins of Biblical Jehovah in the Egyptian Religion of Amen)
Principalities and Powers
During the Old Kingdom, the "monotheism" of Re had become complete in Egypt. This god was referred to as the "Universal God," the "All-Lord," or simply as God, as if there were no other.a Re was certainly known in Mesopotamia (by the name of Marduk), but was not a leading god there during the Old Kingdom. As discussed in the previous chapter, a single family ruled over both Egypt and Mesopotamia, and evidently did not consider this to be a contradiction. The traditional deities of Anu, Enlil, Enki and Ninhursag remained supreme in Mesopotamia throughout this period.b However, toward the end of the Old Kingdom, Mesopotamia began to experience the same dry conditions that had long plagued Egypt. As Mesopotamia was increasingly stricken with disease from famine and overcrowding, Ninurta, the god of pestilence and decimation gained in importance. Ninurta was the namesake of Sargon at Lagash where he was called Ningirsu-kiag, "Beloved of Lord Girsu (Ninurta)."
Reverence of Ninurta did not bring relief to drought-ridden Akkad and Sumer, therefore Sargon resorted to an even more extreme measure. After Sargon founded the new city of Agade, he decided to reestablish the cult of Marduk-Re. This was later perceived as a sin and sacrilege. It was said that the mistake of Sargon was not in honoring Marduk, but in neglecting his traditional city of Babylon. In other words, it was not the idea of re-introducing Marduk that was wrong, but how it was implemented. Rather than rebuilding the temple (the Esagil) and ziggurat (the Etemenanki) of Marduk, Sargon removed soil from Babylon and built a "new Babylon" in the precinct of Agade. In retrospect, this became the explanation for the troubles of Sargon late in his reign, and was also used to justify the ultimate destruction, abandonment and curse of glorious Agade. It would not be until the time of Hammurabi in the 1st Dynasty of Babylon that the Ante-Diluvial temple and ziggurat ("Tower of Babel") of Marduk-Re were finally rebuilt.c This was undertaken by the exiled Egyptian prince Wah-ibre (Patriarch Eber), who took up residence at Babylon in identification with the god Marduk-Re, and assumed the name of Hammurabi (see Chapter 8).
The pharaohs of the early Egyptian Middle Kingdom lived in "topsy-turvy" times, not only in terms of politics but weather. The traditionally moderate climate of Mesopotamia was drying out. However, in Egypt, beneficial floods were returning after 150 years of poor harvests. In response, the Dynasty of Sargon began to restore worship of the full pantheon in Egypt. The assumed Egyptian names of the 11th Dynasty pharaohs clearly indicate a change in patron deity. They did not honor the sun god Re, but the god of the waters, Ptah (Ea/Yo). They also honored Montu (Seth), which reflected the prevailing political winds of chaos and conflict. The initiative of Sargon (Inyotef A) to renew the cult of Marduk-Re in water-starved Mesopotamia was judged to be ill advised. It was aborted by the fourth king of the dynasty, Gudea (Inyotef II), along with the new city of Agade. On the other hand, the return of all the gods to Egypt was crowned with both immediate and lasting success. This took form not only in the revival of individual cults, but especially in a new cult called Amen. Amen became the namesake of four prominent 12th Dynasty pharaohs.
For Thinking of Every God
A hymn to Amen dating to the Egyptian 18th Dynasty reads: The Eight gods were thy first form, until thou didst complete them, being One ..." d During the 18th Dynasty, the eight gods of Egypt were:
- Atum-Re (Marduk), the self-created and solar god.
- Ptah (Ea/Enki), the artful fashioner and savior of mankind.
- Shu (Enlil), lord of the air, authority figure and disciplinarian.
- Geb (Ninurta), earth and vegetation god, known as "the heir."
- Montu (Set/Baal), the bellicose god, and night sky astronomer.
- Osiris (Dumuzi), god of wine, the slain and resurrected god.
- Horus the Elder (Ishkur/Adad), the god of mountains and the thunderbolt.
- Thoth (Utu/Nabu/Ningishzidda), the god of writing, wisdom, mediation, healing, mummification, and final caretaker of the Pyramids.
The theology of Amen was clarified in another text of the Egyptian 18th Dynasty. Pharaoh Hatshepsut wrote: "I have done this because ofmy loving heart for Father Amen ... My heart urged me to make for him two obelisks with tcham coverings, the pyramidions of which should pierce the sky ... I made them for him in rectitude of heart, forhe is thinking of every God."e It is not clear whether it was Amun who was thinking of every god, or if Hatshepsut, by thinking of Amun, was herself thinking of every god. However, the effect is much the same. Amun embodied every god, and allowed the reverence of every god. Like the Biblical Jehovah (YHWH), the hidden aspect of Amun was associated with his name. "The priests of Amen claimed that there was no other god like Amen, who was the 'one one' and had 'no second.' This concept resembles that of the Hebrews, who said, 'Yahweh our God is one Lord' (Deuteronomy 6:4)"f
The obelisk was primarily a solar symbol and used to make solar measurements. Amun was a solar god after Atum-Re. Hatshepsut and other rulers proudly erected obelisks at the main Temple of Amun in Karnak. As Re (Marduk), Amun was god of the "pure mountain,"g that is the pyramid. Also in the manner of Atum-Re, Amun was considered to be self-created. He was his own father and mother. This androgynous, self-created quality of Atum had earlier been made an attribute of Ptah. The newly formed cult of Amun was not exclusive, but all-inclusive. Amun originally possessed both masculine and feminine (Amunet) natures. The cult embodied all of the major gods and goddesses. In Chapters 1-3, it was demonstrated that Jehovah (Amun) included the primeval mother goddess Iusaas (Greek Gaia/Iahu). Two Biblical passages in the Book of Exodus reveal that Jehovah could on occasion be a goddess, especially Isis. In Exodus 33:17-23, the Lord who passes in review before Moses is clearly styled as a goddess.h The Lord who appears to Moses in the account of the burning bush (Exodus 3) is also a goddess, and is specifically identified as Isis, the "I am (that) I am." In both passages, the role of the goddess is played by the dominant woman in the life of Moses, that of his mother. She ruled as Queen of Egypt and was considered the living representation of the goddess Isis/Maat (See Chapter 16).
Sargon and his successors were especially devoted to the goddess Isis (called Inanna in Mesopotamia). After "the four corners of the world" were once again subdued, Montu ceased to be a namesake of kings in Egypt. The popular name of Montu-hotep, "Montu is expatiated" was replaced by that of Senu-sret, "man of (the goddess) Sret." Sret was a form of Isis as an "Earth Goddess," or more specifically, goddess of the mines where precious metals and jewels were found. A new breed of king preferred to be thought of not as marauders, but as builders, craftsmen, shepherds and lovers. In the 12th Dynasty, the king name Senusret was the second most popular after that of Amen.
The masculine aspect of the Amun league derived from a synthesis of eight gods. In the earlier "monotheism" of Ptah, the all-supreme deity was also conceived of as having eight forms. The Ogdoad ("group of eight") of Ptah at Memphis incorporated Ptah-Nun ("watery chaos"), Ptah-Ta-tanen ("primeval mound") and Ptah-Nefertem ("Beautiful Tem", i.e., a variant of Atum, the self-created one). Unfortunately, the names of the other five manifestations are now lost to us, so it isn't possible to know whether it included only androgynous, abstract deities, or distinctly male and female elements. There was a different Ogdoad of Ptah at the city of Khmenu in Middle Egypt. This group of eight deities also included the god Nun, however in that formulation each male deity was paired with a female counterpart. For example, the feminine aspect of Nun was called Nunet or Naunet. The female complement of Amun was called Amunet. These deities were or became abstract, and emphasized the creative power of Ptah. Together, Nun and Naunet symbolized the "watery abyss," which corresponds to the Biblical "face of the deep." Amun and Amaunet, represented the invisible or "hidden" aspect of the creative process, the genetic/microscopic or "unseen hand of God." Huh and Hauhet symbolized "shapelessness," or the Biblical concept of a primeval world that was "void and without form." Kuk and Kauket stood for "darkness," which was said in the Bible to have prevailed before the speaking forth of light by God.
Over time, a relatively obscure aspect of Ptah and of divine creation, namely the invisible or "hidden" aspect, became the most salient. At this juncture in history, the gods had for all practical purposes disappeared. It was necessary to derive a concept of divinity that was appropriate for the day. Surely the gods were not truly dead or gone forever. If so, then by what authority could the royal line descending from Noah continue to justify their dominion over the Earth and their enslaved brothers? Barbara Watterson writes: "The soul of Amun was supposed to be enshrined in a serpent-shaped sceptre known as Kem-at-ef (He-who-has-finished-his-moment) which was perhaps his original fetish."i The serpent scepter was one of the accouterments of Ptah, but was also adopted by most of the other gods and goddesses. When the pantheon was refashioned and transformed into a super cult, they were collectively given the name of Amun, "The Hidden/Invisible God."
Toward the end of the Age of the Gods, Thoth assumed the role of retiring Ptah as the self-created god. The Ogdoad of Khmenu became associated with Thoth rather than Ptah. As fertility gods, both Ptah and Thoth were worshipped in the form of Min-Kamutef, i.e., "Min, the Bull of his Mother." Incest between mother and son was practiced by the gods, and remained a venerated aspect of the divine in the cult of Amun. In Mesopotamia, Ptah was called Enki, the Bull of Eridu. In Egypt, the sacred bull of Ptah was called the Apis. This fertility attribute of Min was assimilated into the cult of Amun, who was likewise called Amun-Kamutef.j Amun himself was depicted as a virile young man, and sometimes with erect penis in the manner of Min.
Amun was also considered to be the ba (soul) of Osiris. In the likeness of Osiris, Amun could be painted with black skin,k and was noted for his youthful vigor and beauty. In death, Amun was associated with the lotus,l a symbol of rebirth. Amun was a god of the air like Shu. The bird of Amun was the goose of Geb, known for its protective instincts. Psalms 91:4 (NIV) reads, "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge." However, there was a more sinister side of Amun. The animal of Amun, the ram, was borrowed from the cult of Montu (Seth), a god of war.
With the Cross of Amun Going on Before
The prominence of Seth in the rainbow coalition of Amun is somewhat of a surprise, but still consistent with the militant nature of that era. Amun, like Seth/Montu, was first and foremost a god of aggression and war. His banner waved boldly in the forefront of the armies of the king. And like the Biblical Jehovah, the origins of Amun were in the military camp. The founders of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom were "wandering Aramaeans." The name Aram came to be associated with a mountainous region of NW Mesopotamia and Syria. After his eviction from Egypt, Seth/Montu became lord of Aram. The name Aram is itself synonymous with Seth/Montu. The epithet, "wandering Aramaean," then takes on the fuller meaning, "marauders of (the god) Montu." These Babylonian devotees of Aram roamed not merely in search of pasture but of conquest. They carried Aram, the god of conquest with them, and all of the other gods for good measure.
The "barque of Amun" would have originally remained with the military. However, when Amun became a bureaucratic state religion, the image of the god and his shrine "dwelled" within the temple. These icons were taken on parade only twice a year during the Opet and Valley Festivals of Amun. Like the Biblical Ark of the Covenant, the barque of Amun was a holy boat. There were two versions of the barque, both of which were typically refurbished or replaced year by year. One version was smaller and could be carried by priests using long poles like the Biblical Ark. A second, larger version could actually float and transport the image of Amun over the Nile. The statue of Amen was placed amidships and within a cabin shrine. This decorative cabin shrine was a variant of the funeral chest placed in the middle of the holy boat of the god Ptah-Sokar. During observances, Ptah-Sokar was transported by his priests around the walls of the temple. The Ark of Ptah had once saved Noah. A symbolic replica now served to rescue the memory of the gods. The favor had been returned. Although the practice of parading the chest of Ptah and the image of Amun was later discontinued in Judaism, the notion that the presence of Jehovah remained within the Holy of Holies (Egyptian djeser djeseru) was not.
The military chapel is shared by the major faiths even today. In the American military, Protestant, Catholic and Jewish chaplains all conduct their services under the same roof. The austerity of military life demands this kind of tolerance. Likewise, in the ancient military camp, a means was provided for each soldier to reverence and petition the god of his own choosing, and no one prays like the soldier on the eve of a battle. The concept was so popular that it was eventually decided to build permanent temples to house this inter-denominational god of the armed forces. Like Ptah, Amun was a god who listened to prayers. "It was believed that certain high-ranking gods such as Amun, who was a supreme power, and Ptah, who was a force in creation, could hear the prayers of individual persons. Special sections of the temple were reserved for persons making appeal to Amun, and we find ears carved on the surfaces of stelae dedicated to Ptah." m Amun was quickly elevated in Egypt to the status of state god.
Church Serving State
Although an abstract deity, Amun began to be worshipped as a personal or patron god by kings and commoners. Unfortunately, these developments caused the cult to lose its power as a unifying principal. Amun became a means of discriminating between Egypt and other nations, between rival princes of Egypt, and even between one worshipper and another. Like so many revolutionary ideas, the new cult of Amen was at first liberating, but inevitably served only the needs of corrupt power. Temples became places of terror and yearning rather than science and learning. The priesthood was less about piety than politics, less about truth than triumph. The cults of the individual gods, as well as those of the goddesses, continued to exist. However, there was increasing pressure to control all religious expression for the purposes of revenue and centralization of the state.
According to one tradition, the god Amun swam up the Nile from the city of Khmenu in order to found the new cult center. Amun was the name of one of the abstract deities of the Khmenu Ogdoad. Amun means "hiddenness" and symbolized the secret or invisible aspect of life and creation. The name of Amun likely did derive from the Ogdoad of Khmenu in Middle Egypt. Amun was at first "one of eight" abstract deities comprising the Khmenu Ogdoad of Ptah. However, Amun was later reformulated as the god who was "eight in one." Moreover, this new and separate cult of Amun was said to have been "born in Nubia," not at Khmenu. It was evidently in Nubia that the militant Middle Kingdom founders seized upon the new religious concept. Although the first stone chapel dedicated to Amun was probably built in Thebes, the birth of the cult within the army tent was remembered. An important temple of Amun at Napata of Nubia (in modern day Sudan) was eventually constructed. In Napata, Amun was called Amun-the-Bull, Lord of Nubia.
At the beginning of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom, what would become the Temple of Amun at Karnak was then only a small and probably neglected shrine of Ptah. The Temple of Montu was the dominant one of the region, as Upper Egypt was traditionally the domain of Seth/Montu. This temple of Montu was located less than 15 km upstream from Karnak on the opposite side of the Nile. The rapid growth of the new temple of Amun at Karnak did not create a conflict. Ptah and Seth were the two most prominent gods in the Amun godhead. At this time, there would have been no opposition between Amun and Montu. In the temple of Amen, Seth was at peace with Osiris and all of the other deities.
Divide and Conquer, Conquer and Divide
In the 18th Dynasty, pharaoh Amenhotep II recorded on his Sphinx stela: "The strength of Mont is in hisAmun's limbs." n Earlier, Thutmose III wrote at Karnak that this strength was extended to him as king in battle.o However, later in that same dynasty, political infighting led to a bloody and bitter war between royal family members who were divided in their allegiance to these cults. Proximity of the two temples ultimately did breed contempt. The pharaohs of the 19th Dynasty who ruled from the Delta attempted to reconcile Amun and Seth, and also the god Re. However, there remained an undercurrent of hatred in Thebes. The Karnak temple of Amun remained a ready and willing vessel for those princes who desired a return to the dominance of Upper Egypt.
During the Egyptian New Kingdom, Amun was provided with a consort Mut, and a divine heir named Khonsu. Mut and Khonsu were also rather abstract in nature, and were probably also composite deities, as was Amun. Mut would have assimilated Amunet, the feminine side of Amun. Mut, which meant "mother," also represented the generic mother goddess, and logically embodied Tefnut, the great "Mother of the Gods." Compatible with Amun, Mut was a goddess of war, as were the goddesses Hathor, Neith, Isis and Nephthys. Mut was symbolized by the vulture of Nekhbet-Hathor, known for its large wing span and nurturing qualities. Mut was a sky goddess like Nut. Mut was also characterized variously as a cow like Hathor, a cat like Bastet, or a lion like Sekhmet. Mut was adorned with the feather of truth and the ankh ("life") symbol, which were also associated with the goddess Maat (a form of Isis). Mut was sometimes shown with male genitalia, and suggests that many of the royal women, such as Hatshepsut, may have been hermaphrodites (See Chapter 14).
In the birth temple (mammisi) at Philae in Nubia, Amun-Re represents the king, probably Ptolemy III, which is typical. However, the queen is characterized by Isis rather than the expected Mut. In this temple, Isis is also called by Mut's own title, "Mother of the Gods." p Khonsu son of Amun was "adopted" by Mut, as Isis had adopted Horus. The divine child Khonsu was depicted with the side-lock of a youth. He is primarily associated with Thoth-Min as a god of the moon, fertility and conception, and especially healing. However, as the "heir" of composite Amun, he may have separated out the functions of all the junior male deities, including Geb, Horus, Seth and Osiris. The triad formed with Mut and Khonsu allowed Amun to be addressed more purely as "Father," as did Hatshepsut in the inscription cited above.
One World, One King, One God
This cavalier and artificial mixing and matching of deities is a clear indicator that these beings were no longer considered to be living or active. Gods who under their own power had roamed widely and freely throughout the world were now content to live in solitary confinement and to be carried about by priests. Their moment was finished, their day in the sun was done. However, designer cults were perpetuated as a matter of tradition and superstition. Fear of the gods continued to fill an important need and hold a powerful grip over both rulers and subjects. Approval of the gods was necessary in all things. Actions had to be justified, or at least rationalized. All effects had to have a cause. Misfortune was the result of sin, therefore a guilty party had to be identified and punished.
The gods were no longer manifest without. But they could still speak from within the temple, from within the hidden elements of nature, and from within the recesses of the mind. Priests and parishioners used a variety of methods, including musical incantation, ecstatic dance and drug-induced hallucinations to elicit "dreams and visions" of the gods. Many of these rites had been practiced by the gods themselves and were cultivated again after their departure. In the ignorance of later times, little if anything would have been accomplished, but it temporarily freed the soul and cleared the conscience.
As the royal court grew in sophistication, the immature and barbaric exploits of their divine predecessors would have become increasingly repugnant and embarrassing, especially when comparable results could no longer be achieved. Although possessing great knowledge and physical prowess, gods and goddesses often carried on in the most uncouth manner. They accepted the worship of "mortals," but they themselves seem to have had no other role model than rude nature itself. The hallowed members of the pantheon (Biblical Elohim) often did not behave as an old and sagacious race, but exhibited extreme human emotions - often to their disgrace. They are characterized in Mythology less as patient parents and more as child prodigies playing a new game, running amuck and making up the rules as they go along. They were on a wild ride of discovery -experimenting with wine one day and fire on the next. Rivalry on occasion led to cruelty and even murder. The more senior deities rarely intervened until the damage was done, and were just as often the instigators.
The pattern of recurring rivalry among the gods was later played out with each successive generation of mortal kings. Because of their far shorter life cycles, emulation of the gods was an extremely destructive model for men. It brought continual intrigue, warfare and suffering. It was inevitable that they would emulate their divine ancestors, whether prohibited from doing so by the departing gods or not. How could they be expected to do as the gods had said and not as they had done? Tragically, even the best efforts of kings and queens were a poor and pathetic imitation of what had been done in the age of the gods. It was gradually and painfully realized that it behooved men to seek a higher standard than the one set by their derelict gods.
Individually, the gods and goddesses were self-centered and capable of vicious aggression. However, they also exhibited a childlike capacity for mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation. Taken collectively, the pantheon could still achieve a sense of balance and sound judgment. Through redeeming his wayward gods, man was attempting to elevate himself. The time had come for a god of man's creation, and one made in his own idealized image. Euphemism and abstraction in theology began immediately after the Deluge with respect to the god Ptah. It was declared that the gods and goddesses had not been conceived by masturbation of Atum, but in the mind of Ptah. Creation was visualized as something more than a crude physical act. It was the result of intelligent determination. From the perspective of the Creator, it did not require sperm or even spittle but only the spoken word to issue living things into the material world.
There is no indication that the individual members of the ancient pantheon recognized any omniscient power or presence. Yet, Amun was ultimately transformed into the Biblical Yahweh, who was not only "above all gods," but also an eternal and universal spirit without character faults or corporal needs. In Amun, the gods had been made perfect, without flaw or faux pas. Amun was not typically shown in animal form, if ever.q His image was that of a man. However, in time, even a human representation was considered inappropriate. But why should the great gods need to be completed, somehow made something more than what they originally were? This transformation of flesh and blood beings into a Supreme Spirit appears to have been inspired by the need to find meaning and security - a resting place in the chaos of every generation. It was also a predictable process of generalization and simplification. In a more practical sense, the cult of Amun was ideally suited for the ancient kingship model, and was fashioned to serve the needs of that era. There could only be one rightful ruler of their world. He was seen as the image and incarnation of the one true God of the Universe. We have outgrown the notion of autocratic government, but the accompanying religious mindset remains.
Judaism is now revealed as a very late form of Amunism, a highly abstract or composite "faith." Judaism only appeared to be "monotheistic" much later when the origins of the cult were lost. It is the remnant of a religion that was shaped over many centuries by both constructive and deconstructive forces. It was not set in stone until long after the Jewish elite had been removed from Egypt. It never became fully homogenized. Within the books of the Old Testament there is a great deal of variation in theology. For example, Osiris, one of the charter members of the Amun godhead, is venerated in the Book of Isaiah and in the Psalms, but denigrated by Ezekiel.
The form of Amenism that was carried to Babylon into exile was highly intolerant of the individual gods and goddesses from which it was originally comprised. In later Jewish and Christian religion, it was forbidden to have a personal patron god other than Yahweh (Amen). However, it was permissible to choose a "guardian angel" from among the members of the pantheon. Rather than suppress the gods completely, they became sanitized as Archangels. Horus became the warring Michael, Geb became Gabriel, Osiris became Raphael, and Thoth became Uriel. Re and Seth were the "fallen angels" Leviathan/Belial and Lucifer/Satan.
- For example, see the 10th Dynasty text, "Instruction for Merikare."
- S.N. Kramer, The Sumerians, p 118.
- H. Saggs, Babylonians, p 166.
- Leiden papyrus, coming from a tomb in the reign of Amenhotep III, translated by Alexandre Piankoff, Mythological Papyri, Bollingen Series XL, 3, Pantheon Books, New York, 1957, Vol I, Texts, p. 12. See commentary in Robert Temple, The Crystal Sun, p 365, and in Jan Assmann, The Mind of Egypt, p 350.
- Wallis Budge, Cleopatra's Needles and Other Egyptian Obelisks, pp 111-124, 1926, 1990 Dover Publishers, NY. See commentary in Robert Temple, The Crystal Sun, p 390.
- Anthony Mercatante, Who's Who in Egyptian Mythology, p 6.
- Nicolas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt, p 339.
- Moses (Akhenaten) is being compared in this passage to the Greek god Actaeon who peeped on a goddess from behind a rock. See, Michael Astour, Hellenosemitca, p 164. See also, commentary by Jonathan Kirsch in Moses: A Life, pp 259-261.
- Barbara Watterson The Gods of Egypt, p 136. For further commentary on Amun-Kematef, see Jan Assmann, The Mind of Egypt, p 363. There is an interesting word play between the two epithets of Amun, Kamutef and Kematef.
- Nigel and Helen Strudwick, Thebes in Egypt, p 45.
- Martin Bernal, Black Athena, Vol. 2, p 172, 262. Amun was also painted with blue skin. (Heike Owusu, Symbols of Egypt, p 49) Osiris is often colored green.
- Margaret Bunson, A Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, p 20.
- Religion in Ancient Egypt, Byron Shafer, ed., pp 53-54.
- Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, p 41.
- Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, p 32.
- Meeks and Favard-Meeks, Daily Life of the Egyptian Gods, pp184-186.
- The god Amen-Re could be depicted as a hawk-headed man.