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McGill University
Religious Studies
RELG 201
Eric Bellavance

Egyptian religion General introduction on Ancient Egypt - Geography and theology - The gods and goddesses of Egypt: the myth of creation (theogony) - Well known in Western world through the Bible o However Biblical authors don’t speak very much about Egyptian religion - Greek authors were the first non-Egyptians to write about Egypt, e.g. o Herodotus (485-430 BCE) wrote his second book all about ancient Egypt – problem w/ his writings is that he didn’t speak Egyptian; spends much time comparing Egypt to Greece and demonstrating Greek superiority; he spent a few weeks in Egypt; was a bit confused by Egyptian gods o Plutarch (46-120 CE) was the first to really write about Egyptian religion and theology; he lived in Egypt for a while and even died there; tried to understand Egyptian theology through its mythology; main problem – didn’t understand hieroglyphs (Egyptians used demotic writing in everyday life and hieroglyphs in religious writing), so he made some mistakes on translating them  Even the Egyptians couldn’t decipher the hieroglyphs at this time (perhaps v. few priests could but in general no one understood this) th - Napoleon, at the end of the 18 century, went w/ several ships and scientists to Egypt to conquer it o The scientists made many drawings of temples, etc that they saw o They also found ancient texts that they couldn’t read, so they made copies of them - The French, when they were fighting the British, found the Rosetta Stone and made a copy of it - Jean-Francois Champollion used the Greek on the Rosetta Stone to translate the hieroglyphs on the stone o This allowed them to begin studying religious texts (e.g. those on obelisks) Geography of the Region - Everywhere near the Nile is v. fertile; the Nile is the source of life for the Egyptians - The Nile is always good (not like some Sumerian myths where the rivers are capricious, sometimes causing floods, etc) – if it floods, the flood was v. small - Hapi – god of the Nile and fertility; good god; half male, half female (head of man, body of woman) – seen giving anhk to people which symbolizes life (?) - Khnum – potter god, head of ram, makes creatures/humans which the other gods then give life to by touching their lips with ankhs - There are deserts on both sides of the Nile – this was the kingdom of the dead, and this was where most cemeteries were built - Eastern desert – good side; Western desert – bad side, sun sets there, land of the dead - Seth – evil, god of chaos, god of the desert (enemy of Horus and Osiris) - Egyptians were v. afraid of the desert Egyptian Mythology - Beginning – there was water everywhere, and in the primeval water there were 4 gods and 4 goddesses o Hok and Hoket (everything that ends w/ “t” is feminine) – represent formlessness o Kuk and Kuket – represent darkness o Amun (Amon) (god of the city of Thebes) and Amunet – represent hiddenness  At first Amun was not v. impt but then when Thebes became the capital he became v. important and became associated w/ Ra the sun god o Nun and Nunet – represent primordial waters - Atum – first to rise from the waters, standing on a hill (benben) o Creates human beings (also created himself and his two kids – in different myths, either through masturbating or spitting) o His two kids: Shu (air god) and Tefnut (moisture) o Geb (the earth) o Nut (the sky) – goddess o Shu, the father of Geb and Nut, separates them - Essentially, it starts with more chaotic gods and moves into more “organized” gods/more important gods - Osiris, Isis, Seth, Horus the elder, Nephtys – children of Geb and Nut - Osiris was originally an agrarian god - Death, resurrection, fertility - Eventually becomes the most impt god of the underworld – protects the dead and helps them to resurrect - Green skin – possibly because he’s dead and that’s the colour the skin turns when embalmed; possibly b/c he’s the fertility god - Isis – wife of Osiris, mother of Horus (not the same as Horus the elder) – v. popular goddess but origins are not well-known (we don’t know where she was first worshipped); stole Ra’s name - Seth – evil god, god of chaos, desert god, represents the night/darkness - Nephtys – wife of Seth; not v. well-known or popular; sometimes is the goddess of sadness (Seth doesn’t much like her) - Horus the elder – sky god; right eye is the sun, left eye is the moon; human body, falcon head; his eye is a v. powerful magical symbol later used by Ra - Thoth – god of wisdom, writing - V. famous myth about Osiris: o Talks about the resurrection of Osiris – v. impt b/c if Osiris was able to resurrect, eventually humans would be able to as well o Osiris and Isis taught humans agriculture – did well, Egypt was flourishing o Osiris became the first pharaoh o While Osiris is away, his evil brother Seth is trying to do terrible things to Egypt o Isis however was still there to take care of Egypt while Osiris was gone o Isis knew the true name of everyone, so she could cast a spell or curse on anyone (some people had secret names) o Seth was angry at Osiris b/c he was the pharaoh and by extension he was mad at his wife Isis too o Seth took the measurements of Osiris and made a coffin for him and threw a big party where he invited Osiris but not Isis o Seth announced that whoever fitted the coffin exactly would get it as a gift o As soon as Osiris lay in the coffin, Seth sealed it and threw it in the Nile o After a few days, Osiris died (first god to die) o The coffin drifted outside of Egypt as far as Byblos o Isis and Nephtys tried to find Osiris’ body, which they did in Byblos o Osiris’ body was buried in Egypt – Seth was angry about this so he found him, cut him into 13 body parts and strew him around o Osiris and Isis found 12 of the pieces but couldn’t find the penis, which had been eaten by fish o Isis had to make an artificial, magical penis, b/c to resurrect, the body had to be complete o Isis was the first to make a mummy, w/ Osiris; then she blew into his nostrils and he was resurrected (first god to be brought back to life) – not back to life on earth, but in the underworld, which is why he became the god of the dead (king of the underworld) o After he was resurrected, he and Isis made love and Isis magically conceived Horus (w/ the magic penis) - Horus and Seth fought for 80 years and was finally declared ruler of the living (new pharaoh), leaving Seth to rule the deserts as the god of chaos and evil - In most cases, the pharaohs were associated w/ Horus during their reign and w/ Osiris after their death - The afterlife was thought to be basically the same as life here except easier and lasted forever - Knum, the potter god w/ a ram head, created humans out of clay – full time job - Ka: when Knum creates you and you go to earth, the ka is waiting for you in the afterlife; when you die your body will reunite w/ the ka and you will resurrect (ka – similar to personality/lifeforce) - Ba: soul; gets you water/food in the afterlife Lecture 17 The First Dynasties The building of the pyramids Religion in the Old Kingdom period - Nagada – main god was Seth; this city often fought w/ the city of Abydos – the main god of which was Osiris o This may have been the reason that these gods fought so often in myths - Dynasty zero – before there were pharaohs that ruled over all of Egypt The “Scorpion King” fought the king of Nagada in Dynasty 0; he was the first to control the south of Egypt o He is called the scorpion king b/c we don’t know his name but he is always shown on inscriptions with a scorpion near him - One of his successors took over the rest of Europe - There were 31 dynasties in Egypt (according to Manetho, 3 c. C. E. - First dynasty: 3150-2925 B. C. - Beginning of monarchy = first pharaoh - Pharaoh = “great house”; in depictions, pharaohs are usually larger than their enemies - Pharaohs are living gods on Earth, believed to be living incarnations of Horus (son of Osiris)(remember Osiris was the first mythological pharaoh) - During 3 and 4 dynasties there weren’t any temples, just pyramids – represents pharaoh’s growing importance, possibly even more impt than the gods - First capital of Egypt was Memphis - First pharaoh = Narmer; came from the south; may have been the first to unite Egypt - No pharaohs existed before the unification of Egypt - The palette (like a tablet) of Narmer commemorates his conquest of northern Egypt; there is no writing on it o Includes gods helping Narmer on the battlefield o He resembles Osiris in this inscription – possibly he was considered closer to Osiris than Horus, but we don’t know o Starts w/ southern crown, ends w/ northern crown – symbolizes taking of Northern land o Intertwined animals w/ lion heads o Probably used to grind makeup powders (used on the statues of the gods) - There are three crowns – the southern crown (upper Egypt), the northern crown (lower Egypt), and a fusion of the two – the crown of united Egypt o We have found no crowns from Egypt (we’re not sure why not) st nd - We don’t know many details about the 1 and 2 dynasties - Most of the pyramids were built during the 3 and 4 dynasties – during the Old rd th Kingdom (2700-2200; 3 – 6 dynasties) first golden age of ancient Egypt; power of pharaohs declines in 5 and 6 centuries – worshipped as sons of gods, not as actual gods - 3 dynasty: 2700-2625 th - 4 dynasty: 2625-2510 - Pyramids: not temples, but had an impt religious role – people didn’t go there to perform rituals or anything; tombs of the kings (and sometimes queens/high officials) - Before pyramids, tombs of the kings were called Mastabas (esp. in ancient Egypt) – pyramids were modelled on these - Pyramids replaced the Mastabas in the 3 dynasties rd - They helped the pharaohs to ascend to heaven - The first and most famous step pyramid was built in Saqqarah for pharaoh Djoser (architect: Imphotep) – Djoser pyramid - This pyramid was built on top of a Mastaba - King Snefrou, founder of the 4 dynasty (new family; we don’t know why though) built 3 st nd rd pyramids – 1 started by his father, not v. nice; 2 is blunted/bent; 3 – Red Pyramid; finally right; the first perfect pyramid (no steps) - There are no inscriptions inside the pyramids - We know it was Snefrou’s tomb b/c of some graffiti found inside, written by a priest - Pyramids of Giza: Khufu (Cheops); Khafra (Chephren) and Mankaure (Mykerinos) - Khufu (2590-2565): son of king Snefru - Khufu’s pyramid was one of the 7 wonders of the world - Pyramids were designed to help the pharaoh ascend to heaven and become a star; meant that if the pharaoh could resurrect, so could all of the people Lecture 18 Documentary Excerpts - Pyramid of Khufu- built according to “a secret code w/ the power to perform a miracle” - Only one of the 7 wonders of the world that is still intact - Royal officials went along all of Egypt selecting able-bodied men for the service of the king o They owed everything to the king, and now had a chance to repay him o Essentially conscripts – no slaves - The annual flood every year meant that Egyptian farmland was unusually rich – the workforce didn’t have to spent all of their time in agriculture, but instead had time for other things, i.e. pyramid building o At that time, Egypt was in a v. good state; no war, drought, etc - The first pyramid was constructed w/ steps – 6 large rectangles of stone, laid on top of each other - The first mountain of dry land that emerged from the chaos of water (in Egyptian myth) was pyramid-shaped o The shape symbolises life - Khufu came out to the area of the pyramids for a ceremony - The Egyptian measured everything by the stars, and did so by realising that the stars all moved – all except one dark, still point; two stars revolve around it - Khufu’s architects spent a lot of time devising a way to build the biggest pyramid - Begin w/ a strong base; over 200 courses of limestone bases, each a little smaller than the other - On the Giza platform, the area was levelled and swept, then the foundation was built - 3 chambers (unique) – one higher up in the pyramid, one dug into the desert rock floor, one in a huge internal gallery - Size of 10 football fields; 25000 workers; moved 1000 pounds of stone every day - Hieroglyphs found in another pyramid tell the story of the kin
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