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Regine C. Schulz:
The Creation of the World.
On the Variety of Ancient Egyptian Creation Myths.

in: Beinlich H, Schulz R, Wie­cz­orek A (eds). Egypt's Mysterious Book of the Faiyum.
125 pages. J.H. Röll Verlag. Dettelbach, Germany.
ISBN 978-3-89654-439-0

Regine C. Schulz:
The Creation of the World.
On the Variety of Ancient Egyptian Creation Myths.

Section 8
What must occur to preserve the world?

The sun god has the ability through his own creative powers (Heka, Hu and Sia), together with the magic performed by Isis and the inherent wildness and strength of Seth, to combat the threat of Apophis (Fig. 5). Still, the sun god has to ward off this threat anew every night, so that the world can be pre­served. In order to ban Apophis in advance, his image is, for instance, often represented in the Books of the Dead of the kings stabbed by knives or spears. In addition to that, there are numerous recitations and rituals that are sup­posed to provide protection from Apophis, such as those that occur in the so- called Book of Apophis [⇒8].

Even though the repulsion of Apophis belongs to the realm of the Nether­world, steps must be taken in this world to protect the Creation. To maintain the balance between civilization and the world of nature, the ongoing con­flict between Horus and Seth concludes and the rule of Horus as King of this world in succession to Osiris is guaranteed. This conflict is related in the Myth of the Judgment of the Ennead (“the Nine”) over Horus and Seth. Through the judgment made there, Seth must be subordinate to Horus, but his supernatural strength continues, so that he can function as escort and protector of the sun god. But since the potential destruction of the civilized world through deserts and storms was still a reality in ancient Egypt, the struggle against these dan­gers was transferred from the mythological realm into actual cult practice. In cult practice, an animal associated with Seth could be sacrificed instead of the god himself – an option which was not possible in the myth.

Since Horus is a celestial god, he needs a representative on earth. This is the actual reigning king, who, as earthly manifestation of Horus, can act as an inter­mediary between gods and men. He is responsible for upholding the prin­ciple of Maat – a principle of truth, lawfulness and balance (Fig. 21). Moreover, it is his duty to carry out the cult and with it, the care of the gods.

The concept of kingship unites the various aspects of the Creation. Although the creator was the first and original king, this job is redirected on occasion of the separation of sky and earth. Horus functions in this world as the ruler in heaven, Osiris as ruler in the Netherworld or the hereafter, and the actual reigning pharaoh as king in this world on earth. Ra or Amun-Ra is understood as combining the various components of kingship; it is he who stands for the cyclically renewable kingship and unites this world with the next.

Figure 21:
King Ramses II guarantees the god Ptah that he will enforce the principle of Maat on earth and tosses gold objects to the owner of the stela, Mose. Stela of the soldier Mose.
Hildesheim, Pelizaeus Museum 374. Limestone. From Qantir (?).
Height 67.5 cm.

Section 9
On the ability to modify the creation myths

Local traditions played a large role in ancient Egypt and had to be respected in the adaptation of concepts of creation. The adaptation could occur in va­rious ways. Thus, for example, the local principal god could be placed at the head of an existing myth (such as Ptah of Memphis at the head of the model of the Ennead of Heliopolis) or he was combined with one of the deities de­scri­bed there (such as Amun-Ra or Khnum-Ra). Such an adaptation could occur in phases (such as Atum – Ra-Harakhte – Chepre as sun god) but also according to function (such as Ptah-Sokar-Osiris as god of the regeneration in the Nether­world). The important thing was that the explanatory models supported and did not supplant the local traditions. Thus, for example, in Thebes, the god Month continued to exist, even after Amun had taken over the role of the main god.

One excellent example for the adaptation of overall models to local traditions and beliefs is the Book of the Faiyum, which can be regarded as the last great ancient Egyptian creation myth. In this book, the Faiyum becomes the starting point for the Creation and the center of the process of regeneration. Not only is the local crocodile-formed god Sobek (Fig. 22) united with the sun god Ra- Harakhte to become Sobek-Ra, but various different creation myths are united and assigned to specific places in the Faiyum.

Figure 22:
Representation of a king before Sobek-Ra of Krokodilopolis on a small box in the form of a shrine.
Baltimore, The Walters Art Museum 61.271. Wood. Late Ptolemaic to early Roman Period. 1st century BC. Ht. – 11 1⁄4 inches.
Height 28.6 cm.

Thus Lake Faiyum becomes the location of the Creation which was established by “the Eight” of Hermopolis to allow the primeval water to surge up. In the course of the cyclic movement of the sun, Sobek becomes the nightly ma­ni­fes­tation of the sun god, who plunges into the Faiyum lake to become re­ju­ve­nated there. But there are also other creation myths that become integrated in this new composition.

Among these are the Book of the Celestial Cow and the myth of the creation goddess Neith as mother of Ra and of Sobek. A decisive role is also played by Osiris, who is equated to the floodwater. Seth is his antipode, who must be conquered by Horus and who can be equated to Seth. Apophis can no longer be mentioned in this book, since, beginning in the Late Period, Seth takes over his role and must be interpreted here as the greatest danger. As god of the desert, he threatens the fertile land of the Faiyum and must be prevented from doing so; this is the task of the god Horus, who has now turned into Sobek.

The Book of the Faiyum shows, for the last time in Egyptian history, the asto­ni­shing flexibility and adaptability of the pharaonic religious system. It was not only capable of fusing different gods with each other, but also of reacting to real circumstances with an open mind. The Egyptians were able to adapt the explanatory models that were created for the Nile Valley so that they could be relevant in the radically different oasis landscape of the Faiyum, with­out having to surrender their core metaphysical concepts.

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1. On this, see also: Assmann J. Schöpfungsmythen und Kreativitätskonzepte in alten Ägypten, in: Hom- Hadulla RM (ed.). Kreativität, Heidelberger Jahrbücher XLIV 2000; 44: 157–188; as well as
2. MacDowell AG. Village life in ancient Egypt: laundry lists and love songs. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press 1999. 118–120, no. 88.
3. Cf. Schulz R. Jenseits und Unsterblichkeit im pharaonischen Ägypten. in: Lang A, Marinković P (eds). Bios – Cultus – (Im)mortalitas. Zu Religion und Kultur – Von den biologischen Grundlagen bis zu Jenseitsvorstellungen. Internationale Archäologie. Arbeitsgemeinschaft, Symposium, Tagung, Kongress, vol. 16, Rhaden/Westfalen. 2012, 109–115.
4. Cf. Schulz R. Wie und warum entstand die Welt und was hält sie in Gang? Gedanken zu altägyptischen Erklärungsmodellen. Papyrus 5/6; Cairo; 1998: 7.
5. Cf. Bickel S. La cosmogonie égyptienne avant la Nouvelle Empire. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis. Fribourg/Göttingen; 1994; 134: 33–34.
6. Thus Tefnut was interpreted as “dampness”’ for an interpretation as “fire,” see Bickel, op.cit.
7. In connection with the theology of Neith, Apophis can also be understood as an emanation of the goddess and is called, for instance, in the Temple of Esna, the “umbilical cord of the sun god.” Cf. Quack JF. Apophis, Nabelschnur des Re. Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur. 2006; 34: 377–379.
8. Papyrus Bremner-Rhind, 305 BC. From Thebes. London, British Museum EA 10188, cols. 22–32; see Faulkner RO. The Papyrus Bremner-Rhind (Brit. Mus. 10188) Bibliotheca Aegyptiaca, III. Brussels. 1933.

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List of Contents


Section 1
Section 2
Section 3
Section 4
Section 5
Section 6
Section 7
Section 8
Section 9


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