Egyptian Myth and Legend


Changes in Social and Religious Life

Wealth and Luxury--Gaiety of Town Life--Social Functions--Ancient Temperance Lectures--The Judges--Mercenary Soldiers--Foreign Brides and their Influence--Important Deities worshipped--Sutekh and Baal--The Air God--The Phoenician Thor--Voluptuous Goddesses--Ashtoreth of the Bible--References to Saul and Solomon--The Strange God Bes--Magic and Ethics--New Ideas of the judgment--Use and Significance of Amulets--Jacob's Example--New Burial Customs.

IN less than a century after the expulsion of the Hyksos a great change passed over the social conditions of Egypt. The kingdom was thoroughly organized under the supreme control of the Court. Every inch of land which the Pharaohs reconquered was vested in the Crown; the estates of the old nobility who had disappeared under the regime of Joseph were administered by officials; all the peasants became serfs of the king and paid a proportion of their produce in rent and taxation. The law was firmly administered, and the natural resources of the country were developed to the utmost.

When the arms of the Pharaoh secured settled conditions in Syria, the trade routes were reopened and the merchant class increased and prospered. There was no lack of employment. Temple building nursed the various industries into prosperity, and careers were opened for capable men in the civil service and the army. When the wealth of Asia poured into Egypt not only through the ordinary channels of commerce, but also in

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tribute from the dependencies, the nation assumed that air of comfort and prosperity which we find reflected in the artistic productions of the time. The tomb scenes no longer reveal a plain-living, scantily attired people or dignified and barefooted noblemen and Pharaohs amidst scenes of rural simplicity. Egypt of the Eighteenth Dynasty has a setting of Oriental splendour. Its people are gaily attired and richly bejewelled, and the luxurious homes of the wealthy resound with music and song and the clatter of wine cups.

When the Egyptian nobles of the Old and Middle Kingdoms had carved in their tombs the scenes of everyday life which they desired to be repeated in Paradise, they were content to have ploughmen and builders and domestic servants to provide them with the simple necessaries of life: the leisured classes of the Empire sought more after amusements; they could not be happy without their society functions, their merry feasts and rich attire, their troops of singers and dancers, their luxurious villas with elaborate furnishings, and their horses and chariots and grooms.

Town life was full of gaiety under the Empire. Wealthy people had large and commodious houses and delighted to entertain their friends, who drove up in chariots, attended by servants, and clad in many-coloured and embroidered garments. As the guests gathered and gossiped in these ancient days the hired musicians played harps and lyres, guitars, flutes, and double pipes; the lords and ladies seated themselves on single and double chairs, and wine and fruits were brought in by slaves, who also provided garlands and bouquets of scented flowers, perfumes, and oil for anointment. The drinking cups were of artistic shape, and might be either of glass or porcelain, or of silver or gold, finely engraved,

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and perhaps studded with precious stones. Joseph's cup was of silver (Genesis, xliv, 2).

The dinner consisted of many courses. These Eighteenth-Dynasty guests ate the flesh of the ox, the wild goat, or the gazelle, and certain fish, but never the tabooed eel, and they partook of geese and ducks and other birds in season; pork and mutton were rigidly excluded. [*1] A variety of vegetables, and fruit and pastries., were included in the menu. In fact all classes feasted well. It is not surprising to find that when the Israelites were starving in the deserts of Arabia they sighed for the food of Egypt, and said: "Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick" (Numbers, xi, 4 and 5). They also longed for Egyptian bread (Exodus, xvi, 3).

The society guests of Egypt were served at little tables, or as they sat in rows according to rank, by the nude or scantily attired servants, who handed round the dishes and napkins. All the guests ate with their fingers; they used knives for cutting and spoons for liquids; they washed before and after meals.

Ere wine drinking was resumed, the model of a mummy, or perhaps a real mummy, was drawn round the feasting hall, while the musicians chanted "The Lay of the Harper". (Chapter XVIII.) Then came a round of amusements. Jugglers and acrobats performed feats, nude girls danced, and songs were sung; again and again the drinking cups were replenished with wine. Many drank heavily. It was no uncommon thing in ancient

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[paragraph continues] Egypt to see intoxicated people. Even in the Middle Kingdom tombs at Beni Hassan there are evidences that the priestly exhortations to live temperate lives were necessitated by the habits of the time; servants are depicted carrying home their masters in various stages of intoxication. Nor were the women guiltless in this respect. In the Empire tomb scenes at Thebes tipsy ladies are seen supported by servants or attended with bowls when they turn sick and their embroidered robes slip from their shoulders. [*1]

A temperance advocate in ancient Egypt, who lamented the customs of his age, addressed his friends as follows: "Do not drink beer to excess. . . . When you are intoxicated you say things which you are unable to recall; you may trip and break your limbs, but no one goes to your assistance, and your friends who continue to drink despise you and call out: 'Put this fellow away; he is drunk!' If, perchance, someone desires to ask your advice when you are intoxicated, you are found lying in the dust like a senseless child."

A teacher once wrote to his pupil, saying: "I am told that you are neglecting your studies, and that you are giving yourself up to enjoyment. It is said that you wander about through the streets of an evening smelling of wine. The smell of wine will make men avoid you. Wine will destroy your soul; you will become like a broken oar which cannot steer on either side; like a temple in which there is no god, or like a house without bread. Wine is an abomination."

In sharp contrast to the merrymakers of the Empire period are the stern and just administrators of the law.

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[paragraph continues] Judges were expected to make no distinction between rich and poor, and exemplary punishments were meted out to those who, by showing favour or accepting bribes, were found to be unworthy stewards. Daily courts were held, at which the evidence was taken down by scribes; cases were debated, the forty law rolls were always referred to and consulted, and decisions were enforced by the officers of the court. The king boasted not only of the victories he achieved on foreign campaigns; he desired also to have his memory revered as "the establisher of law"; when ineffectual appeal was made to him as the supreme judge, he "spoke not; the law remained".

But although Egypt was being governed by men of high ideals, influences were at work which were sapping the vitality of the nation. The accumulation of wealth and the increasing love of luxury made men less prone to undertake severe and exacting duties. It was ultimately found impossible to recruit a large army in Egypt. The pleasure-loving gentlemen preferred the excitement of the chase to the perils of the battlefield, and the pleasures of cities to the monotony of the garrison life and the long and arduous marches on foreign campaigns. "Soldiers of fortune" were accordingly enlisted, so that a strong standing army might be maintained. The archers known as the "Nine-bow Barbarians" came from Nubia, and from Europe were obtained the fierce "Shardana", the Mycenaean people who gave their name to Sardinia. Ultimately Libyans, and even Asiatics, were recruited; one of the regiments which followed Rameses II in his Syrian campaign was named after the alien god Sutekh. The foreign section of the Egyptian army was acknowledged to be the best. Its loyalty, however, depended on the condition of the Imperial exchequer, and

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it ultimately became a menace instead of a support to the empire.

Foreign traders were also being attracted to Egypt, while the kings and the noblemen showed such a decided preference for handsome alien wives that a new type of face appeared in society, as may be seen in the pictures and statuary of the times. Instead of the severe and energetic faces of the Old and Middle Kingdoms, we find among the upper classes effeminate-looking noblemen with somewhat languid expressions, and refined ladies with delicately cut features, languorous eyes, and sensitive lips. Occasionally, however, a non-Egyptian face is at once cultured and vigorous.

The foreign elements in society exercised a marked influence on the religious beliefs of the age. Strange gods were imported, and the voluptuous worship of the goddesses of love and war became increasingly popular; the former included Baal, Sutekh, and Reshep, and the latter Astarte, Anath, and Kadesh. Ere we deal with the changes which were effected by foreign influence in the Egyptian religion, we will pass these deities briefly under review.

Baal signifies "the god the lord", or "the owner and was a term applied to the chief or ruler of one of the primitive groups of nameless deities [*1]; his spouse was called "Baalath", "the lady". The Baal of Tyre was Melkarth; the Baal of Harran was Sin, the moon god; the Baal of Tarsus was an atmospheric or wind god; the Baal of Heaven was the sun god. [*2] There were as many Baals in Asia as there were Horuses in Egypt.

Sutekh and Baal were generic terms. As we have indicated, Sutekh was the prototype of the Egyptianized Set, the terminal "kh" signifying "majesty". Indeed

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[paragraph continues] Set and Sutekh were identified in the Nineteenth Dynasty. The "roaring Set" was the atmospheric or storm god Sutekh, the "Baal" or "lord" of all other deities. Possibly the Egyptian "Neter" was similarly a term applied originally to the nameless chief god of primitive conception.

Baal and Sutekh were, like Ptah and Khnumu, the Great Father deities of the tribes who conceived that life and the world were of male origin. Some people identified the Great Father with the earth or water., as others identified him with the sun or the moon. The Baal and Sutekh worshippers, on the other hand, believed that the "air god" was the originator of life; he was the "soul" of the world. Like the Egyptian Shu, he was "the uplifter". According to Wiedemann, the root "shu" signifies "to uplift oneself". As the "Uplifter" of himself and the heavens, Shu was "the Baal". Primitive peoples all over the world have identified "air" and "'breath" with "spirit". As we have shown (Chapter XIV), Khnumu's name "Kneph" signifies "wind" and "spirit"--the "air of life". The Aryan root "an", "to blow" or "breathe", is found in the Latin "anima", "air" and "breath"; the Gaelic "anal"; the Greek "anemos"; and in English words like "animate", &c. The significance of Baal and Sutekh as atmospheric or wind gods is thus quite apparent; they were the sources of "the air of life".

As "the creator god" was the originator of both good and evil, he was worshipped as the giver of food, the nourisher of crops, and the generative principle in nature, and also propitiated as a destroying and blighting and avenging influence. His wrath was made manifest in the storm; he was then "the roaring Set", or the thunder god, like the Norse Thor. In the Bible the

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God of Israel is contrasted with "the Baal" when Elijah, after exposing and slaying Baal's false prophets (1 Kings, xviii), took refuge in a cave.

Behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice (1 Kings, xix, 11-12).

Baal was thus "the lord" of wind, earthquake, and fire. "In Egypt", says Wiedemann, [*1] "Baal was regarded as a god of the sky--a conception which fairly corresponds to his original nature--and as a great but essentially a destructive deity." He was "a personification", says Budge, [*2] "of the burning and destroying sun heat and the blazing desert wind". Similarly Shu, "the uplifter", was identified with the hot desert winds, while his consort Tefnut symbolized the blazing sunlight, and was the bringer of the pestilence; she was also "the spitter" who sent the rain.

Baal was worshipped in Egypt at Tanis (Zoan); a temple was also erected to him at Memphis. Rameses II boasted that he was a warrior lord like Baal, and showed much respect for the imported deity.

Sutekh, "lord of heaven", was the "Sutekh of Kheta" (the Hittites), the god of the North Syrian allies of the Hittites) the god of the Hyksos, and the god of the early invaders who attacked the Osirian people of pre-Dynastic Egypt. As we have seen (Chapter XVIII), Sutekh came into prominence as a great god during the Twelfth Dynasty, in connection with the worship of the crocodile. Seti I, father of

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[paragraph continues] Rameses II, was named after Sutekh, and a temple was erected for his worship by Rameses III at Thebes.

Sutekh is shown on a scarab with wings and a horned cap, standing upon the back of a lion. He was respected by the Egyptians because he represented the Hittite power; he was the giver of victory and territory. [*1] As Set he was despised in Egypt during the period that he represented a repulsed and powerless enemy.

Another Asiatic deity who was honoured in Egypt was Reshep (or Reshpu), the Resef of the Phoenicians. He was another form of Baal, a "heaven lord", "lord of eternity", "governor of the gods", &c. His name signifies "lightning", or "he who shoots out fire". As the thunder god he was the god of battle. The Egyptians depicted him as a bearded man with Semitic profile, carrying a club and spear, or a spear and the symbol of life (ankh). From his helmet projects the head and neck of a gazelle, one of the holy animals associated with Astarte. A triad was formed in Egypt of Min, Reshep, and Kadesh.

Astarte was the most popular of the imported deities. Her worship became widespread during the later dynasties. At Memphis she was adored with the moon god Ah, and when Herodotus visited the city he found a small temple dedicated to "the strange Aphrodite" (Venus). She was the goddess of the eastern part of Tanis (Zoan). Astarte is the goddess of ill repute referred to in the Bible as Ashtaroth and Ashtoreth "of the Zidonians". Solomon "went after Ashtoreth" (1 Kings, xi, 5). The Israelites were condemned when "they forsook the Lord and served Baal and Ashtaroth"

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(Judges, ii, 13). Samuel commanded: "Put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among ye". This goddess was worshipped both by the Phoenicians and the Philistines, and when the latter slew Saul they hung his armour in her temple (i Samuel, xxxi, 10). Temples were erected to her in Cyprus and at Carthage. As Aphrodite she was the spouse of Adonis, and at Apacha in Syria she was identified with the planet Venus as the morning and evening star; she fell as a meteor from Mount Lebanon into the River Adonis. As a goddess of love and maternity she links with Isis, Hathor, Ishtar, "Mother Ida", Mylitta, and Baalath. Among the mountains this Mother Goddess had herds of deer and other animals like the Scottish hag "Cailleach Bheur".

Astarte was worshipped in Egypt early in the Eighteenth Dynasty, and was a lunar deity and goddess of war. She appears to have been introduced into the Nile valley with the horse. Like Tefnut, and other Egyptian feline goddesses, she was depicted with the head of a lioness. As the "Lady of Horses" she stands in a chariot driving four horses over a fallen foe.

There were many local types of this Great Mother deity in Asia. Another who was honoured in Egypt was Anthat (Anta), who was associated in ancient Arabia with the moon god Sin, and in Cappadocia, Asia Minor, with Ashir (Ashur). Several towns in northern and southern Syria bear her name. Thothmes III erected a shrine to her at Thebes, and in a treaty between Rameses II and the Hittites she and Astarte are coupled like Isis and Nepthys. Anthat is also the spouse of Sutekh. She is depicted on the Egyptian monuments as a goddess of battle, holding a spear in one hand and swinging a battleaxe in the other, seated on a throne or armed with shield

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and club riding on a horse in her Aasith form, favoured by Seti I. Rameses III named a favourite daughter Banth-anth, "daughter of Anthat".

Kadesh (Quedesh) "the holy one", was another form of Astarte. As the "mistress of all the gods", and the patroness of the "unmoral" women connected with her temples, she emphasized the licentious phase of the character of Ashtoreth which was so warmly denounced by the Hebrew prophets. The Egyptians depicted her as a moon goddess, standing nude on the back of a lioness, which indicated that she was imported from the Hittites; in one hand she carries lotus flowers and what appears to be a mirror, and in the other two serpents. As "the eye of Ra" she links with Hathor and Sekhet.

The grotesque god Bes also came into prominence during the Eighteenth Dynasty; it is possible that he was introduced as early as the Twelfth. Although his worship spread into Syria he appears to have been of African origin and may have been imported from Somaliland. Like the Deng, he was a dwarf with long arms and crooked legs; his nose was broad and flat, his ears projected like those of a cat, he had bushy hair and eyebrows and a beard, his lips were thick and gross. Over his back he wore the skin of a wild animal, the tail trailing behind. He was always drawn full face, like Kadesh and unlike typical Egyptian deities. He was a war god, a god of music playing a harp, and a love god. The oldest surviving representation of Bes is found in the Der el Bahari temple of Amon, where he attends at the birth of Hatshepsut. As late as Roman times he was known by his oracle at Abydos. Absorbed by the sun worshippers, he became the nurse of Harpokrates (Horus) whom he nourished and amused. He also guarded the child god against the attacks of serpents, which he tore

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to pieces between his teeth. As Sepd he was given a handsome body and a leonine face.

The luxury-loving and voluptuous worshippers of the Empire period found the ethical principles of the Ptah-Osirian creed little to their taste. They appear to have argued that if men and women were to be judged by the King of the Dead, according to the deeds they committed upon earth, there was little hope of the rich ever entering Paradise. Apparently belief in the heaven of the sun worshippers had faded away; it was incomprehensible, especially to the foreign element, that generations of Ra believers could be accommodated in the sun bark, to which entry was obtained by uttering "magic passwords".

The priests of Amon-Ra, who combined the worship and conceptions of the sun and moon cults, solved the problem of securing admission to the happy fields of Osiris, in Nether Egypt, by the use of charms and formulae. It was unnecessary for worshippers who believed the priests either to live moral lives or to commit to memory the "confession of faith" which they must repeat before Osiris; the necessary formulae were inscribed on the rolls of papyri which form the Book of the Dead, and when one of these was purchased, to be laid beside the mummy, the name of the dead was written in the spaces left blank for that purpose. But another difficulty had to be surmounted. When the heart was weighed before Osiris it made confession, according to the conception of the Old Kingdom, of the sins of which it was guilty. The priests effectually silenced the heart by using as a charm the scarabaeus, the symbol of resurrection, on which was inscribed: "Oh, my heart, confess not against me as a witness!" These words were believed to have magical potency, and the, scarabaeus and

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other amulets became increasingly popular during the Empire period. The "tet" amulet was a symbol of the blood of Isis and protected the dead against the demons; the "dad" amulet, a fourfold altar, symbolized the backbone of Osiris and gave strength to the body and secured entrance to Paradise; the "ankh", a symbol of life, renewed vitality; the oval shaped "cartouche", which gave magical protection to the names of monarchs on their monuments, was also used as an amulet-evidently to prevent the demons from devouring the name of the dead.

Among the numerous charms were the "Horus eyes", [*1] which were ever vigilant to detect evil influences. The right eye was the sun and the left the moon, so that protection was secured by day and by night.

Charms were in use from the earliest times, but the elaborate use of them in connection with burials begins with the Eighteenth Dynasty. They are, of course, relics of stone worship. Young and old in primitive times wore "luck stones" to protect themselves against the "evil eye", to prevent and cure diseases, and to secure good fortune. Indeed all personal ornaments appear to have had origin as charms. That they were recognized by the Hebrews as having idolatrous significance is clearly indicated in the Bible. After Jacob had met Esau, and slain the Hivites who desired to marry his daughters and female followers, he commanded his household to "put away the strange gods that are among you"; then we read: "And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hand, and all their ear-rings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem" (Genesis, xxxv, 3, 4). Evidently the ear-rings were connected with pagan worship and were as unworthy of Israel as the idols.

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The changes which passed over the religious beliefs of the Egyptians during the Empire period were accompanied by new burial customs. Instead of constructing pyramids and mastabas, the Pharaohs and his lords had tomb chambers excavated among the hills. The cliffs opposite Thebes are honeycombed with the graves of the nobility; behind them lies the lonely "Valley of the Kings' Tombs". Some of the royal tombs are of elaborate structure, with many chambers and long narrow passages, but none surpass the greatest of the mysterious artificial caves of southern Palestine, on which they may have been modelled.

The splendour and wealth of this age is reflected in the elaborate furnishing of the tombs and the expensive adornment of mummies. Even among the middle and lower classes comparatively large sums were expended in performing the last material services to the departed.


^304:1 Sheep and pigs were "taboo" because they were sacred animals which were eaten sacrificially only. Shepherds appear to have been shunned like swineherds. Joseph informed his brethren that "every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians" (Genesis. xlvi, 34). (See Chapter V.)

^305:1 Hebrew women were also addicted to drinking. "Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she had been drunken." Eli said: "Put away thy wine from thee" (1 Samuel, i, 13-14).

^307:1 Nameless deities are the oldest.

^307:2 Philo of Byblius.

^309:1 Religion of the Ancient Egyptians.

^309:2 Gods of the Egyptians.

^310:1 This belief is emphasized in Judges, xi, 24: "Wilt not thou possess that which Chemosh thy god giveth thee to possess?" Chemosh was the god of the Moabitus.

^314:1 These are still on sale in the East.

Egyptian Myth and Legend

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