The Pharaoh, the Two Lands, and The Apocalypse: An Analysis of the Breakdown of the Cosmological Order of Existence in Classical Egypt (Part I)

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Pharaoh Egypt Colin

Within the course of his writing of Order & History (itself a more than thirty year affair) Eric Voegelin wrote two sustained studies of Ancient Egypt. In O&H, v.1, Israel and Revelation, he included lengthy analyses of Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilization as an expansive backdrop to his exegesis of the pneumatic breakthroughs of the prophets, priests, patriarchs, and judges of Israel. In our time and context, however, fully understanding and appreciating the uniqueness of that breakthrough requires a certain amount of context – even a foil. In effect, Voegelin needed to insure that his audience fully understand what was normal at the time that the distinctively Israelite experience was first being articulated in the world. And what was normal in the Near East was distinctly different from our current experience: it was a world full of gods and god-kings, in which meaningful personal existence was experienced as hinging upon the proper reflection of divine-immanent cosmic order in the little cosmos or cosmion of society. Reality, to paraphrase Voegelin, was experienced within the cosmological myth in terms of an immanent, quarternarian structure comprising the consubstantial partnership of men, society, gods, and the cosmos.

Egypt, as the grandest, most articulate, most venerable and unique exemplar of such a cosmological society, figured centrally in Voegelin’s study in O&H, v.1, as it would again when he composed O&H, v.4, The Ecumenic Age. At that time, his insight into historiogenetic myth led him to a study of the Egyptian historian Manetho, as well as the Sumerian King List. The upshot of that study was his thorough demonstration  that the idea that “pagan” or non-Abrahamic civilizations had no native concept of linear (or at least non-circular) time was unsustainable. That being said, in spite of his many breakthroughs and discoveries over the timespan of his writing O&H, to say nothing of his sundry other studies, meditations, and activities, Voegelin was not one to exhaustively retread familiar ground. As such, he never fully revised his earlier empirical work in light of later insights, particularly those of which he wrote, e.g., in Anamnesis and O&H, v.4-5.

This essay, excerpted from a longer study, attempts to do so, both by marshalling empirical materials not yet available to Voegelin (such as the metastatic Potter’s Oracle of the late Ptolemaic Era), and by applying aspects of his later discoveries to materials with which he was quite familiar but either did not include in his analyses or else did not revisit. For the sake of scope, I will be focusing upon one central constellation of Egyptian symbols – most notably the King or Pharaoh – and limiting myself to a representative sample of written materials.

The King as Creator and Horizon

4a. To say by Nut-Nekhbet, the great: This is (my) beloved, N., (my) son;

4b. I have given the horizons to him, that he may be powerful over them like Harachte.

4c. All the gods say: “It is a truth that thy beloved among thy children is N.,

4d. to whom one will do service of courtier for ever.” [i]

In the mythology of Ancient Egypt generally, but the Old Kingdom particularly, the figure of the king plays the part of both the center and the periphery of the drama of existence in the Nile Valley. In the self-understanding of the early dynasties, the king as Horus-Seth plays the central bulwark of political order as the manifestation of law and force.[ii]  As Horus-Harakhte, the Great God, he is the limits of the earthly stage of existence.[iii] As Horus-Re, he is the life-giving illumination of the Black Land. As Horus-Osiris, he is the god of all that becomes, and god of all which comes into its eternal completion in death.[iv] He is the lord of the two horizons, of life and death, outside of whose reach lies only meaningless chaos, oblivion, and un-true existence. Conversely, to subsist within the reach of his mediated divinity was to subsist in maat – to truly exist, and to exist truthfully.

In the Memphite Theology, whose first composition is conventionally dated to the 5th Dynasty, this all-encompassing presence of the king is even subtly extended to the creation of the world which is Egypt. The inscription preserved on the Shabaka Stone opens with a pious hymn to the greatness of the king, and proceeds to present the inscribing of the story of Ptah’s creation of the world as an act of filial piety:

This writing was copied out anew by his majesty in the house of his father Ptah-South-of-his-Wall, for his majesty found it to be a work of the ancestors which was worm-eaten, so that it could not be understood from the beginning to end. His majesty copied it anew so that it became better than it had been before, in order that his name might endure and his monument last in the House of his father Ptah-South-of-his-Wall throughout eternity, as a work done by the son of Re [Shabaka] for his father Ptah-Tatenen, so that he might live forever.

The inscription then continues by relating the story of the division of the land between Seth and Horus at the command of the elder earth-god, Geb:

[Geb, lord of the gods, commanded] that the Nine Gods gather to him. He judged between Horus and Seth; he ended their quarrel. He made Seth the king of Upper Egypt in the land of Upper Egypt, up to the place in which he was born, which is Su. And Geb made Horus King of Lower Egypt in the land of Lower Egypt, up to the place in which his father was drowned which is “Division-of-the-Two-Lands.” Thus Horus stood over one region, and Seth stood over one region. They made peace over the Two Lands at Ayan. That was the division of the Two Lands.

Upon reconsideration, though, Geb reverses the decision, and awards the Two Land to Horus, “the jackal of Upper Egypt”, and Horus stands triumphant as the “uniter” of the Land:

Then it seemed wrong to Geb that the portion of Horus was like the portion of Seth. So Geb gave Horus his inheritance, for he is the son of his firstborn son.

Geb’s words to the Nine Gods: “I have appointed Horus, the firstborn.”

Geb’s words to the Nine Gods: “Him alone, Horus, the inheritance.”

Geb’s words to the Nine Gods: “To his heir, Horus, my inheritance.”

Geb’s words to the Nine Gods: “To the son of my son, Horus, the Jackal of Upper Egypt /// Geb’s words to the Nine Gods: “The firstborn, Horus, the Opener-of-the-ways.”

Geb’s words to the Nine Gods: “The son who was born /// Horus, on the Birthday of the Opener-of-the-ways.”

 This odd legal quarrel over the proper ordering of the Land is then tied back to the shaping of the world in Ptah’s heart and on his tongue:

There took shape in the heart, there took shape on the tongue the form of Atum. For the very great one is Ptah, who gave [life] to all the gods and their kas through this heart and through this tongue, in which Horus had taken shape as Ptah, in which Thoth had taken shape as Ptah. . . .

He gave birth to the gods,

He made the towns,

He established the nomes,

He placed the gods in their shrines,

He settled their offerings,

He established their shrines,

He made their bodies according to their wishes.

Thus the gods entered into their bodies,

Of every wood, every stone, every clay,

Every thing that grows upon him

In which they came to be.

Thus were gathered to him all the gods and their kas,

Content, united with the Lord of the Two Lands.[v]

Thus is the meaning of the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt illuminated by the myth. In the beginning, there was none but Ptah, in whose heart and upon whose tongue took shape the gods, their towns, and their “bodies” (cult statues) of every wood, every stone, every clay. A quarrel then breaks out between Horus and Seth, when Osiris is “drowned” in the river. With Osiris “dead” and departed to the throne of the underworld, the entitlement to rule the over-world is claimed by both his son and his brother. Under his dual authority as both father of Osiris, which made him elder to both gods, and his status as earth-god, Geb steps in to conciliate the parties.  He then does something which was never uttered by Ptah – he divides the land upriver from that down-river and assigns each god his part. Geb then quickly overturns his previous decision, however, when it seems to him that the division is “wrong”. Rulership of the united land is transferred to Horus, the first-born son of Osiris, who manifests his status as “uniter of the Two Land” by taking on the double-crown of Upper & Lower Egypt (“the Two Great Magicians”).

Clearly, though, this dense block of symbolism requires further unpacking in order to permit our comprehension. On a first approach, we must recall that the “Horus” referred to by the cosmological myth is not a name signifying some entity of a distant past – though the figure is certainly treated as such in the later, historiogenetic king-list of Manetho. Rather, the Horus of the Theology is a symbol of the living king of the Two Lands, much as Osiris is to be understood as a symbol of the dead king, who has passed-on into the underworld as an effective and vital ka (“vital force” often mistranslated as “soul”). In the cosmological myth of Egypt, any particular living king is a manifestation of the god Horus, whose essence and vitality are neither limited to the spatial extent of a king’s body, nor limited by that particular body’s duration. In effect the death of a king is  insignificant to the king Horus; Horus , the god, causally precedes his divine manifestation in a particular body.[vi]

In this , Horus is not unique, but rather typical of the gods of Egypt. In their plenitude of divine vitality the ba’s (“manifestations”) of a god may find  threefold expression in the form of a cosmic body, a cult body, and an animal body.[vii] Thus, for instance, might one speak of Ptah as cosmically embodied in the Risen Land, while simultaneously manifest in his cult-image in Memphis, and in the animal form of the Apis Bull. In the case of Horus, the animal manifestation simply happens to be the Egyptian king, whose mummified body, in death, then becomes a manifestation of Osiris. The king, by virtue of his status as a divine, consubstantial partner in creation, slides easily into the role of creator in life, and protector in death. In a significant sense, the king is the co-creator of cosmological order, who brings effective spatial and political unity to a “wrongly” divided world. Moreover, he brings effective order to the ranks of the cosmic gods through ritual activity – not the least of which is represented by the ritual submission of and integration of Seth, god of war and force, to Horus’ maat.

The founding king of Egyptian order is thus depicted as the Great God who mediates maat for society, men, the cosmos, and the gods, and thereby brings creation to its proper conclusion in a divine order. In addition, given that each lawful king is recognized as the “Horus” and “Great God” of his own period, it is to be understood that each fresh accession to the throne is a symbolic re-enactment of, and participation in, that final act of creation which is represented by unification. That much is evinced by the coronation rituals inscribed in the Pyramid Texts:

194a. The two doors of the horizon are open; its bolts slide.

I94b. He has come to thee, N.t (Crown of Lower Egypt); he has come to thee, Nsr.t (Uraeus);

194c. he has, come to thee, Great One; he has come to thee, Great-in-magic (Crown of Lower Egypt).

194d. He is pure for thee; he is in awe of thee.

195a. Mayest thou be satisfied with him; mayest thou be satisfied with his purity;

195b. mayest thou be satisfied with his word, which he speaks to thee:

195c. “How beautiful is thy face, when it is peaceful, new, young, for a god, father of the gods, has begotten thee!”

195d. He has come to thee, Great-in-magic (Crown of Lower Egypt).

195e. It is Horus, who has fought in protection of his eye, Great-in-magic.[viii]

When the ascending king approaches the “Great-in-magic” – the crown – he takes upon himself not only political rule in the modern sense, but also takes possession of the horizons, and responsibility for asserting maat both over force (manifested by Seth) and against isfet. His ascent is further ritually reinforced by his seating on the royal throne, which is itself the cult-body of the goddess Isis, herself the mother of Horus by the god Osiris.[ix] The king’s identification as the manifest Horus, together with his divine kinship with the deceased king, is thereby affirmed, even in such cases as when physical parentage cannot be demonstrated.

The status of the king as the ba of the creator-god is further asserted in Utterance 249 of the Egyptian Pyramid Texts, which evokes the symbolic imagery of the Heliopolitan cult of the sun-god Re – Ptah of Memphis’ summodeistic competitor[x] :

264a. To say: O ye two contestants, announce now to the honorable one in this his name:

264b .  N.  is this sasa-plant which springs from the earth.

264c. The hand of N. is cleansed by him who has prepared his throne.

265a. N. it is who is at the nose of the powerful Great One.

265b. N. comes out of the Isle of Flame,

265c. (after) he, N., had set truth therein in the place of error.

265d. N. it is who is the guardian of laundry, who protects the uraeus-serpents,

265e. in the night of the great flood, which proceeds from the Great.

266a. N. appears as Nefertem, as the flower of the lotus at the nose of R;

266b. as he comes froth from the horizon every day, the gods purify themselves, when they see him.[xi]

In a further hymn, on this occasion directed to Atum of Heliopolis, the king, as Horus-Harakhte, is credited with closing and controlling the doors of the horizon:

1593a. The doors stand fast upon thee like Inmutef;

1593b. they open not to the West; they open not to the East;

1593c. they open not to the North; they open not to the South;

1593d. they open not to those who are in the middle of the land;

1594a. (but) they are open to Horus. It was, he who made them; it was he who made them stand fast [xii]

In the compact, yet pregnant symbolism of the cosmological myths of the Old Kingdom, the king, as Horus, stands as the towering  mediator of all things from the Beginning and all things Beyond.[xiii] In his capacity as the legitimate heir of Osiris, he brings change and creation to its meaningful conclusion in maat. As Horus-Harakhte, he simultaneously manifests as the spatial and existential horizon, who secures the kingdom  in punitive expeditions against the “Nine Bows”(the traditional symbol of the foreign enemies of Egypt) and controls access to the underworld through the door to the West.[xiv] In his general capacities as Horus, the king is furthermore responsible for maintaining maat by upholding or performing cultic rituals which order and appease the gods who quiet literally embody the world. Moreover, the effective mediation of maat throughout the Two Lands called for the refraction of the king’s divinity through a vast cosmological bureaucracy, in which each representative was expected to act as  a reflection of the king’s substance in all decisions and activities.[xv] In truth, however, all of these variegated activities and symbolic functions of the king are compactly implied in the very duty to uphold maat – a word which the more differentiated English language can only render sensibly with some difficultly, and much circumlocution. For maat is not a symbol referring to an inner quality of the king, in the manner in which Plato’s Socrates, for instance, suggests that dikaiosyne is a characteristic of the psyche of the philosopher. Rather, maat entails all proper performance of those meaningful activities which mediate and maintain the cosmological order of reality, with its four-fold, consubstantial structure of cosmos, men, society, and gods. Without the king and his orthopraxic activity, maat is simply absent from the world.

The King as Destroyer

Following the breakdown of central order towards the end of the reign of Pepi II, there irrupted forth a series of new symbols, which were intended to convey the meaning of the experience of the First Intermediate Period. Apparently, to a one, the judgment was  negative, and the letters, literature, and new forms of ritualistic materials of the age (like, for instance, the Coffin Texts), reflect varying experiences of loss and disorientation in the absence of an all-encompassing king. At the present, we will direct attention towards the issue of the institution and symbolization of the king as an expression of Egyptian order, in the wake of the disintegration of the cosmion after Dynasty VI.

With the dissolution of all practical authority to the local chiefs, nobles, and notable patrons, the kingdom entered, for the first time, into a period in which the practical matters of existence had profoundly disassociated from the paradigmatic. In practical terms, one could not count on any local authority to act as a reflection of the king’s maat, one could not even find protectors against ravaging barbarians:

. . . Every man fights for his sister, and he protects his own person. Is (it) the Nubians? Then we shall make our (own) protection. Fighting police will hold off the barbarians. Is it the  Libyans? Then we shall turn away. The Madjoi fortunately are with Egypt. How is it that every man kills his brother? The military classes (xv 1) which we marshal for ourselves have become barbarians, beginning to destroy that from which they took their being and to show the Asiatics the state of land. And yet all the foreigners are afraid of them. . . . (10) . . .

The grasping for power and local advantage has instead become the routine of the day, even as the struggle dissipates power among a thousand undeserving hands, and makes a mockery of maat:

Why really, Elephantine, the Thinite nome, and the [shrine] of Upper Egypt do not pay taxes because of [civil] war… What is a treasury without its revenues for? The heart of the king (must) indeed be glad when truth comes to him!” But really, every foreign country [comes]! Such is our welfare! What can we do about it? Going to ruin!

Indeed, the pragmatic situation is so chaotic that the creative energies of the gods are staunched:

Why really, women are dried up, and none can conceive. Khnum cannot fashion (mortals) because of the state of the land.

In spite of the evil conditions, however, the speaker, Ipu-Wer, can only proclaim bewilderment at what the Great God seems to have commanded to be set loose upon the Two Lands:

. . .  Authority, Perception, and Justice are with thee, (but) it is confusion which thou wouldst set throughout the land, together with the noise of contention. Behold, one thrusts against another. Men conform to that which thou hast commanded. If three men go along a road, they are found to be two men; it is the greater number that kills the lesser. Does then the herdsman love death?

The formulation of the problem is clear: hu (“authoritative utterance”), sia (“perception”), and maat lie with the king, who, as the manifest Horus, is the mediator between men, society, cosmos, and the gods. If the mediation of order (maat) is absent, it can only be understood to mean that Horus is absent, or that he has commanded isfet to be set upon Egypt. Within the boundaries of the established cosmological myth, it was inconceivable that men would choose disorder, as such would equate with non-existence. Utterly bewildering, though, was the thought that the king Himself would command that the pyramids and the monuments of the world fall to the depredations of time. Even moreso, that he should wish that force, rather than law, should rule, and that the resulting dis-order should be subjected to the further disintegrating influence of the chaos of the peoples from over the horizon. The experiences and the thoughts are so disturbing that the speaker can only vacillate between laying blame on the heart of the Lord of All, and on the evil hearts of the people. He can only prevaricate  between exhorting the king to reverse his decision to wreck havoc upon creation, and wishing that the evil seed of men had been destroyed in the first generation. The only means of redressing the current calamity of existence which suggests itself to Ipu-Wer is to implore the king to restore the Land to its former glory:

Remember (xi 1) . . . how fumigation is made with incense, how water is offered from a jar in the early morning.

Remember fattened ro-geese, terep-geese, and sat-geese, how the divine offerings are made to the gods,.

Remember how natron is chewed and how white bread is prepared by a man on the day of moistening the head.

Remember how flagstaffs are set up and a stela is carved, while a priest purifies the temples and the house of god is whitewashed like milk; how the fragrance of the horizon is made sweet, and how offering-bread is established.

Remember how (ritual) regulations are adhered to, how (religious) dates are distributed, how (5) one who has been inducted into priestly service may be removed for personal weakness – that is, it was carried out wrongfully. . . .

. . .  It shall come that he brings coolness upon the heart.

(xii 1) Men shall say: “He is the herdsman of all men. Evil is not in his heart. Though his herds may be small, still he has spent the day caring for them.”. . .[xvi]

A similar recourse to words imposes itself in the case of another literary piece, now dubbed The Protests of the Eloquent Peasant. In that piece, one is presented with the tale of the honest peasant, Hunanup, who is unjustly robbed of his goods and his ass by the local official, Dehuti-Necht, while on the way to market. The official schemes to entrap the farmer under a legal pretense and seize his belongings. When Hunanup protests, the official beats him savagely, and Hunanup makes recourse to the court of the official’s superior, chief steward Meruitensi, thereupon to implore for justice and the restoration of his possessions. At first, the aggrieved peasant addresses the chief steward through an intermediary, who cynically reports:

“Lord, it is presumably a case of one of your peasants who has gone against another peasant near him. Behold, it is customary with peasants to so conduct themselves toward others who are near them. Shall we beat Dehuti-Necht for a little natron and a little salt? Command him to restore it and he will restore it.”

The steward makes no reply, and Hunanup finally presents himself in person before Meruitensi, and there entreats him, in a lengthy speech, to remember his station as a mediator of maat:

“Chief steward, my lord, you are greatest of the great, you are guide of all that which is not and which is. When you embark on the sea of truth, that you may go sailing upon it, then shall not the /////////// strip away your sail, then your ship shall not remain fast, then shall no misfortune happen to your mast then shall your spars not be broken, then shall you not be stranded – if you run fast aground, the waves shall not break upon you, then you shall not taste the impurities of the river, then you shall not behold the face of fear, the shy fish shall come to you, and you shall capture the fat birds. For you are the father of the orphan, the husband of the widow, the brother of the desolate, the garment of the motherless. Let me place your name in this land higher than all good laws: you guide without avarice, you great one free from meanness, who destroys deceit, who creates truthfulness. Throw the evil to the ground. I will speak hear me. Do justice, O you praised one, whom the praised ones praise. Remove my oppression: behold, I have a heavy weight to carry; behold, I am troubled of soul; examine me, I am in sorrow.” [xvii]

So impressed is Meruitensi with the supplicant’s eloquence, that he sends word to the king Nebkaure (c. Dynasty IX/X, c.2160-2040), who instructs his representative to keep silent, in order that the peasant will continue to appear at court to plead his case. Meruitensi, in the meantime, is to render no judgment, nor utter a word. Rather, he is to see to the necessities of the peasant, and his far-off family, in secret, and record his subsequent speeches before passing them on the the king. Many days follow, over the course of which Hunanup makes eight more speeches in which he cajoles the steward to remember his duties to set maat in the land and to despise isfet, pleading with him to break his silence. With the ninth speech, and with justice denied, the farmer vows to take matters into his own hands – he will storm out of court, and slay himself on Meruitensi’s doorstep. Thereupon, having traveled into the West under his own power, he will appeal to the gods themselves. Having taken the game far enough, however, the steward orders two of his guards to bring the peasant back, and entreats the aggrieved man to become a guest in his house. He then sends word to the king, along with the recorded speeches. Nebkaure found the speeches “more pleasing to his heart than anything which was in his entire land”, and ordered his representative to render a verdict. At that point, Meruitensi issues orders for all of Dehuti-Necht’s property and possessions to be seized and transferred to the ownership of the much vexed Hunanup.

What, on first inspection, appears as quaint, homespun tale of a peasant’s triumph over his supposed betters reveals itself as something quite different when read from within the semantic web of early Egyptian symbolism. Firstly, one must consider the tacit connivance of King Nebkaure in the local corruption , represented by Dehuti-Necht. Rather than bringing a swift end to an affair which mocks the god’s maat, the god himself extends Hunanup’s problems for his own amusement. This is far from being a “typical” story of corruption and power, which is meant to inspire a knowing audience to cluck their tongues. The king, insofar as he is the manifest god of both power and spirit, is acting in a very a-typical manner for an Egyptian pharaoh; instead of ensuring the proper reflection of maat to every corner of the realm, Nebkaure rather allows isfet to continue for rather dubious reasons. Insofar as every representative of the king, at this stage of Egyptian order, should reflect his majesty as the mediator of the quarternarian cosmic order, the very fact that Dehuti-Necht corruption of that order is not dealt with promptly only suggests that his corruption is actually an accurate reflection of the head which wears the crown.

Secondly, one must be cognizant of the significance which the Egyptian myth placed upon silence, and thus the symbolic significance of the Silent Man in Egyptian culture. As Frankfort demonstrates in his seminal monograph, Ancient Egyptian Religion, a large literature of Egyptian formal, ethical, and religious advice circulated around that paradigmatic figure. Quoting from a selection of such “wisdom literature”, he remarks:

“But it was not only ignorance that threatened to lead man astray [in the Egyptian conception]. His passionate nature presented as great a danger. The Egyptian was well acquainted with the whole range of the seven deadly sins. Hence the “teaching” distinguish two temperaments: the ‘passionate man’ and the self-disciplined, the so-called ‘silent man’. The passionate man is garrulous, quarrelsome, grasping, arbitrary, overweening. The silent man is patient, modest, calm, up to a point self-effacing, but above all master of himself under all circumstances.” [xviii]

Lest, though, the silent man of the Egyptian paradigm be confused with the figure of humility of the Christian experience, Frankfort quotes one passage in particular which compares the silent man to the silent, and much feared Nile crocodile. Silence, for the ancient Egyptian, indicated self-control, education, patience, and an attunement with the divine order (maat). When speech became necessary, the silent man’s words should render maat plain, and not reflect a garrulous busybodiedness. In essence, by reflecting maat, the words of the silent man take on a sacred character. Comparing, then, that paradigmatic figure to the silence of Meruitensi and King Nebkaure is suggestive. This is particularly so when one compares those two figure to the verbose eloquence of the peasant Hunanup, who pleads for maat. Here then, the audience is presented with the odd situation in which the proper roles and expressions of Egyptian order have turned upside down. It is not the king, but the peasant who struggles to “shine forth” (khay) maat, and must do so through a litany of words which is long enough to fill several papyri. In the end, though, it seems as if the rulers are only moved to act in the interests of order, piety, law, and justice (collectively maat) by Hunanup’s dire threat to take the case directly, and immediately, to the gods in the hereafter.

With the breakdown of pharaonic order, matters of maat were symbolically expressed as increasingly being of interest only to those whom felt themselves incapable of insuring it – figures such as Ipu-Wer and Hunanup. The lack of divine guidance and mediation from the king did not result in a radical break with the cosmological form of the myth. The disorientated existence of the First Intermediate Period did not result in a noetic quest for true existence as it did in Hellas, nor find reprise in something like the pneumatic experience of the Thornbush Episode, as it did within Israel. Rather, the Egyptian experience continued to identify the limits and possibilities of existence in accordance with the ground, with the pragmatic circumstances of the cosmological empire. As a result, the peculiar Egyptian response to existential disorder took the form of an appeal to the king to “remember” his former role, which amounted to an appeal for Horus to repeal history, and return Egypt to the myth – to return the divided Two Lands to their Beginning and resume his role as the mediator of the Beyond.



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[i] From Mercer, Samuel A.B; The Pyramid Texts; Longman, Green & Co; New York, London Toronto; 1952; p.20-21, Utterance 6.

[ii] See Frankfort, Henri; Kingship and the Gods, p.21-23; and Assmann, Jan; The Mind of Egypt, p.75-77.

[iii] See Frankfort, Henri; Kingship and the Gods, p.36-40.

[iv] See Frankfort, Henri; Kingship and the Gods, p.40-47; cf. Assmann, Jan; The Mind of Egypt, p.57-61.

[v] From M. Lichtheim; Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol.1, p.51-55.

[vi] See Frankfort, Henri; Ancient Egyptian Religion; p.102-103, Frankfort, Henri; Kingship and the Gods, p.40-47, and Assmann, Jan; The Search for God in Ancient Egypt, p.116-123.

[vii] See Assmann; The Mind of Egypt, p.57, 375. Cf. Frankfort; Ancient Egyptian Religion, p.8-15.

[viii] From Mercer, p.66, Utterance 220

[ix] See, Frankfort, Henri; Kingship and the Gods, p.43-44, 143, 245.

[x] “Summodeism” is a term employed, and presumably coined, by Voegelin to describe the peculiarly relaxed competition in cosmological orders which seek to present a “highest god” whom precedes all other gods as their creator. In the Egyptian instance, rival summodeistic gods included Ptah of Memphis, Amon of Thebes, Re of Heliopolis, and Khnum of Elephantine. In spite of what a modern mind might conceive as the logical inconsistency present in the coexistence of several “first gods”, the mythic experience of reality seems to have permitted for the coexistence of the rivals within the free form of speculative myths. For more on the issue, see Voegelin, Eric, O&H, v.1; p.267-268; cf., Frankfort, Henri; Ancient Egyptian Religion; p.16-19, and Assmann, Jan; The Search for God in Ancient Egypt; p.111-113, 119-123.

[xi]  From Mercer, p.76, Utterance 249

[xii] From Mercer, p.246-247, Utterance 587.

[xiii] The “towering figure” of the king was usually and literally depicted as such in Egyptian art, even at its foundation. In the protodynastic Narmer Palette, the gigantic figure of  the conquering King Narmer already dwarfs that of his enemies, and his army is conspicuously absent. Rather, the king himself is depicted as both the effective and formal agent of the conquest of Lower Egypt. The motif of the king as the manifestation of all political agency carries forward even many centuries later, and is present even in the pictographic records of the conquests of Thutmose III of Dynasty XVIII (c.1504-1450), in which the king assumes supernatural proportions. See Frankfort, Henri; Kingship and the Gods; p.6-12 and Appendix.

[xiv] By all indications, “the West” seems to have been a euphamism for the burial grounds in Abydos, on the western bank of the upper nile. Pharaoh’s ability to mediate grant or bar access to the afterlife is thus a direct function of the ability to bar access to burial.

[xv] See Frankfort, Henri; Kingship and the Gods; p.33-35. For more on the lack of a specific body of doctrine or law, and reliance upon maat as a guide for action, see ibid, p.80-82. Cf. Assmann, Jan; The Mind of Egypt; p.51-52.

[xvi] From Pritchard, James B; Ancient Near Eastern Texts (henceforth: ANET,); p.441.

[xvii] From ANET, p. 407-410.

[xviii] See Frankfort, Henri; Ancient Egyptian Religion; p.65-66.


This is the first of two parts of Dr. Cordner’s book tentatively titled, On The Process of the Disenchantment of Ancient Egypt. Part two can be accessed here.

Colin Cordner

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Colin Cordner completed his Ph.D. at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada in 2016, where he is an instructor, and occasional poet in the Department of Political Science, as well as being an Associate Editor of Voegelin View and owner of Fall's Edge Editing. His recent research focuses upon the works Plato and Michael Polanyi on scientism qua sophism, and the origins and therapies for the attendant spiritual crises and political disorders.