An Overview of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses
Most students of the Bible know little of the Egyptian gods and goddesses, but a basic knowledge of will enrich your Old Testament background studies.
The ancient Israelites became entrenched in Egyptian culture, even worshiping the Egyptian gods and goddesses. Challenging this spiritual syncretism was a frequent theme of the Hebrew prophets.
Below: The gods Osiris, Anubis, and Horus
Here is a typical example of Yahweh's admonition of the Israelites through Ezekiel in the early 6th century BCE:
"'I am the LORD your God.' On that day I swore to them that I would bring them out of Egypt into a land I had searched out for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most beautiful of all lands. And I said to them, 'Each of you, get rid of the vile images you have set your eyes on, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.' But they rebelled against me and would not listen to me; they did not get rid of the vile images they had set their eyes on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt. So I said I would pour out my wrath on them and spend my anger against them in Egypt. But for the sake of my name, I brought them out of Egypt." (Ezek. 20:5-9)
Many scholars today are unconvinced that there are solid historical and cultural connections between Egyptian culture and religion with the Old Testament. As a result Egypt is no longer emphasized in biblical studies.
Over the years I have found most of my students know little or nothing of the pantheon of Egyptian gods and goddess referred to by the writers and redactors of the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible).
Over the last two decades there has been renewed interest among some biblical scholars in the study of Egypt and her texts. Dr. John D. Currid, Carl W. McMurray Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina applauds this fresh appreciation for the connections and parallels between the Bible and Egypt. He insists, "there is no question that the Egyptians and the Hebrews borrowed many things from one another.”
A basic knowledge of Egyptian gods and goddesses is an important prerequisite to a greater depth of understanding of the cultural and religious context of the ancient Near East in which the Hebrew scriptures emerged.
A Short Catalog of Principal Egyptian Gods and Goddesses
Left: Amen-Ra the Egyptian sun god and god of regeneration.
Amenet - A female counterpart to Amen and one of the primordial gods of the Hermopolitian Ogdoad, a group of eight gods (four gods and four goddesses) who feature in a cosmology originating from the city of Shmun, called to the Greeks as Hermopolis. The Ogdoad represents a stage of the cosmos prior to the appearance of the land and light. These gods are also known as the Hehu (“chaos-Gods”). Amenet was also worshipped at Thebes along with Amen and Mut.
Amen - Usually associated with the wind, or things hidden, and was also one of the Hermopolitian Ogdoad. At Thebes he became Amen-Ra, king of the gods. He was part of the Theban Triad, along with Mut and Khonsu.
Antaios - He was originally a double god, "the two falcons". During the New Kingdom, they were combined to one deity. Antaios was then equated with Horus.
Anuket - Worshipped at Elephantine, an island in the Nile at the southern border of ancient Egypt. She was associated with the gazelle.
Apis - Seen as the bull with a solar disk between its horns, Apis was associated with Osiris and Ptah.
Above: Pharaoh Akhenaten and his family adoring the Aten.
Aten - Worshipped at Tell 'Amarna. Akhenaten, who ruled Egypt from 1364 to 1347 BCE scandalized the Egyptian priesthood by ordering that only a single deity, the sun god Aten, be universally acknowledged. This is the earliest documented example of monotheism in history.
Atum - A primordial god that was represented in the form of a human and a serpent. He was the supreme god in the Heliopolitan Ennead (group of nine gods) and formed with Re to create Re-Atum.
Hathor - The goddess of love, dance and alcohol was depicted as a cow. At Thebes she was also the goddess of the dead. She was worshipped at Dendera as the consort of Horus and Edfu, and was associated with Isis at Byblos.
Horus - The earliest royal god was the shape of a falcon, with the sun and moon as his eyes. The sky-god was the ruler of the day. The many forms of Horus are; Re-Harakhti, Harsiesis, Haroeris, Harendotes, Khenti-irti, Khentekhtay (the crocodile-god), and Harmakhis, which means “Horus on the horizon.” Harmakhis personifies the rising sun and symbolizes resurrection and eternal life. He is depicted in the Sphinx of Giza.
Below: Sphinx at Giza, Cairo
Isis - The mother of Horus and sister and consort of Osiris was worshipped at Philae. Associated with Astarte, Hathor, Nut and Sothis, she was later worshipped over the entire Roman Empire.
Khnum - Resembling a human with a rams head, he was worshipped in Hypselis, Esna, Antinoe and Elephantine.
Khonsu - the moon god was the son of Amen and Mut. His name means “traveler” and this may relate to the nightly travel of the moon across the sky. Along with Thoth he marked the passage of time. Khonsu was instrumental in the creation of new life in all living creatures. The main temple at Karnak is dedicated to him.
Min - God of fertility coalesced with Amen and Horus. Min was mainly worshipped at Coptos and Akhmim.
Mut - Worshipped at Thebes, she was a consort of Amen and part of the Theban Triad (group of three gods of Amen, Mut and Khonsu).
Above: The Sky Goddess Nut arched protectively over the Earth and all of its inhabitants.
Nut - The Sky Goddess, Mother of the sun, moon and heavenly bodies. Nut protectively covers the Earth and all of its inhabitants. She is part of the Heliopolitan Ennead.
Osiris - He is regarded as the dead king that watches over the nether world and is rejuvenated in his son Horus. As the symbol of eternal life he was worshipped at Abydos and Philae.
Ptah - Worshipped in Memphis, he coalesced with Sokaris and Osiris.
Below: Ra and Amen, from tomb of Ramses IV (12th cent BCE)
Ra - He was the sun god of Heliopolis. From the fifth Dynasty onwards he becomes a national god and is combined with the supreme deity Amen.
Serapis - He was mainly worshipped in Alexandria and was later worshipped by the Greeks as Zeus. He was never fully accepted by the Egyptians in the Ptolemaic period.
Sekhmet - She was part of the Memphite Triad with Ptah and Nefertem. She was the mistress of war and sickness.
Set - The son of Geb and Nut in the Heliopolitan Ennead was in the form of an animal that has no zoological equivalent. This powerful god was regarded as god of the desert, making him a god of foreign lands.
Shu - He was an ancient cosmic power and was regarded as the god of the air and the bearer of heaven. Sobek - He was a crocodile god and was worshipped at the Faiyum and Ombos. During the middle Kingdom he coalesced with Re, Sobek-Re, and was worshipped as primordial deity and creator-god. Thoth - He was worshipped as a baboon in Hermopolis and was one of the Ennead. He was the god of sacred writings and wisdom.
Why a Basic Knowledge of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses is Important
Dr. Richard Wilkinson, Regents Professor of Egyptian Archaeology at the University of Arizona and Director of the University of Arizona Egyptian Expedition writes, "Ancient Egypt was the most theocratic of any ancient culture; religion pervaded daily life for commoners as well as the pharaohs." This underscores the richness of ancient Egyptian beliefs and culture and the importance of a basic knowledge of the principal Egyptian gods and goddesses. Wilkinson points out that for over three-fifths of recorded history ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses have been worshipped.
Old Testament background studies will be enriched by further study of...
* The origins of the Egyptian gods and goddesses, their struggles to control cosmic forces, and their eventual decline.
* The forms, appearances, and manifestations of the deities, as well as the transcendence of preeminent deities such as Amen.
* The rituals and mysteries of formal Egyptian worship, including the importance of temples and festivals.
* The position of the pharaoh, who served as a bridge between the gods and humanity.
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