Center for Interdisciplinary Study of Monotheistic Religions(CISMOR)Doshisha University

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Public Lectures

Public Lecture with The Society of Near Eastern Studies in Japan

Foreign Deities in Ancient Egypt – Comparison and Translation

Date: 2015/01/11 13:00-15:00
Place: Divinity Hall Chapel, Imadegawa Campus, Doshisha University
Lecture: Keiko Tazawa, Ph.D, Ancient Orient Museum, Tokyo
Dr. Tazawa explained how foreign deities were adopted in ancient Egypt, where there was no systematic myth regarding gods. A creator/god or the story of human creation found in other cultural spheres did not occupy a central mythological position. Based on the dualistic idea that a single entity results from two other things, Egypt was divided into upper and lower portions, the Nile River Basin into East and West, and gods were understood to exist as man–woman pairs. These deities included both omnipresent gods worshiped throughout Egypt (Osiris, Isis, etc.) as well as regional gods connected to a specific area (Bastet, Khnum, etc.) There were also gods closely related to royal authority, and others for regular people. Certain animals were connected to certain gods, and were displayed as having animal faces with human bodies, as animals, or as having a human form.
Six major gods (Baal, Reseph, Hauron, Anat, Astarte, and Qedeshet) likely arrived in Egypt from Canaan (present-day Syria and Palestine) from the Middle Kingdom period to the first half of the New Kingdom period (ca. 1550 BC). The foreign Kyksos Dynasty (1650-1580 BC), established in Egypt’s delta area, and the seventeen expeditions to Canaan of Thutmose III (1479-1425 BC) appear to have been a primary factor in the arrival of foreign gods. When Egypt ruled Syria and Palestine, these regional gods were likely introduced in the country; it was likely recommended that they be courted for stable rule. Some argue that when war chariots and horses were introduced in Egypt, the gods Reseph and Astarte were introduced as well to preside over them. These gods mentioned above were introduced by the ruling class, or people who moved voluntarily, as well as people captured during wars. Gods were depicted as icons (stone monuments, carved statues, etc.), and inscriptions were written on papyrus and carved into reliefs.
In such materials, the male god Baal was adopted as the name for an army and river, and the expression “like Baal” was used to demonstrate the pharaoh's strength and greatness. In Syria and Palestine, Baal was worshiped as a god of harvest and weather. However, this is not an attribute of him in Egypt, where he was depicted as a royal god. Normally presented as menacing, with a weapon in his raised right hand, in Egypt he had lowered arms and held a shaft as a symbol of power. While he was depicted in an Egyptian style, one also finds Western Asian elements, such as a conical crown with a ribbon hanging from its top. “God Seto” is inscribed beside him; Seto and Baal were seen as the same god.
The native Egyptian god “Heavenly Female Master” had a universal epithet and was viewed as the mother god of Ramesses II (thus, she was referred to as “the pharaoh's mother.”) An engraving with her hand on the pharaoh’s shoulders protecting him was discovered. Anat is sometimes depicted as the daughter of Egypt’s great gods. For example, one finds epithets like “(The Sun God) Ra’s Daughter,” as well as “Ptah’s daughter.” Ptah was seen both as an omnipresent and regional god in Egypt. In Western Asia, she was a female god of battle; while in Egypt, her healing nature was emphasized. Furthermore, Astarte, who was a female god, had the epithet “Female Master of Two Lands,” which was that of Egypt’s queen. These “two lands” referred to upper and lower Egypt. Similar to Anat, some of the children of Ramessess II (a pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty) are named after her. Astarte is depicted on horseback with a weapon and shield in her hands. In an Ugarit text unearthed from what is today Western Syria, she is depicted sitting on a chair. While not always depicted on a horse, she is also non-militaristic, holding a weapon instead of a staff. In Egypt, the adjective “sacred” in Syria and Palestine became an independent female god named Qedeshet. She is depicted as one of three major gods (the other two are Anat and Astarte). These three main female gods were then merged into the major Egyptian female god known as Hathor. Regarding this convergence, Tazawa has arrived at the understanding that these three gods were accepted into what could be described as a singular holy maternality, rather than a specific god named Hathor.
In ancient times, the relationship between gods and humans was tributary. In other words, it appears that they had a reciprocal relationship in which benefits were bestowed for tributes. Humans presented gods with offerings and rituals, and it was thought that the gods would provide them with rich grain harvests, domestic safety, and victory in war. Syrian and Palestinian gods were incorporated in this reciprocal relationship in Egypt. However, they were not in their original form and in a process of translative adaptation, they were modified and changed in accordance with local needs.

Kotaro Hiraoka
Postdoctral Fellow, CISMOR
*Admission Free, No Reservation Necessary.
*Lecture in Japanese.