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date: 08 December 2023

Gods in Ancient Egyptfree

Gods in Ancient Egyptfree

  • Oskar KaelinOskar KaelinDepartment of Theology, University of Basel


The ancient Egyptians were surrounded by various manifestations of their many gods. Though their gods usually lived in heaven or in the netherworlds, they were permanently represented on earth by monuments, statues, symbols, animals, and plants, as well as by social concepts. The Egyptians described their gods by various names and images, always aware that in the end their true personalities and characters remained elusive.

The ancient Egyptian universe comprised heaven, earth, and netherworld, all part of creation and surrounded by eternal darkness. Though separate areas, they were permeable for the gods and the dead. The universe ran smoothly as long as there was respect and cooperation between them and the living. This formed an ideological, social, and economic cohesion.

The gods were powerful but benevolent, and approachable in many ways. The divine king was the hub between the world of the gods and the human sphere. He was the main entity responsible for organizing the supply and welfare of the humans, and for keeping order. During official festivals, the living, the gods, and the dead celebrated together, but there were also a number of more personal ways to approach deities. The various sites of interaction between gods and men formed a vast network connecting all the players: the gods were responsible for creation and abundance, the kings and elites were primarily responsible for ensuring that the system ran according to Maat (“Order”), and the people were responsible for living and working throughout the country.

The system of ancient Egyptian gods structured Egyptian ideas, policies, and everyday life from the end of the 4th millennium bce to the rise of Christianity and beyond. The ancient Egyptians’ beliefs were polytheistic, acknowledging the existence of thousands of gods and endless deceased humans. At times, the ancient Egyptians appeared to be henotheistic and would exalt a deity in his or her uniqueness. Moreover, with Akhenaten, they were the first to experiment with monotheism, though that did not last much longer than a decade. The ideas and images created for the Egyptian gods and religion had an impact on many contemporaneous cultures, as well as on later religions.


  • Ancient Religion
  • Myth and Legend

From the Neolithic era and Early Dynastic period, Egypt was part of a network connecting Africa, the Levant, Asia Minor, and Mesopotamia. In Egypt and the Nile Valley, extant written sources begin in the late Predynastic period (c. 3100 bce). The foundation of the Egyptian state in the Early Dynastic period (c. 3100 bce) marks the beginning of more than 500 kings, belonging to around thirty dynasties, and ending with the Ptolemaic kings and Roman emperors. These dynasties are grouped into periods called the Early Dynastic (c. 31st–27th centuries bce), Old Kingdom (c. 27th–22nd centuries bce), Middle Kingdom (c. 21st–17th centuries bce), and New Kingdom (c. 16th–11th centuries bce), as well as three Intermediate periods, and the late Greco-Roman period (4th century bce–4th century ce).1

During these almost 3,500 years, the ancient Egyptians remained polytheistic. Most gods had many identities and aspects, and, therefore, many names and manifestations. About 1,500 deities are known; the Lexikon der ägyptischen Götter und Götterbezeichnungen (LGG), in its more than 5,500 pages, lists about 56,500 names and expressions designating deities from the Old Kingdom to the Greco-Roman period. The same god could have many names, various gods could represent the same entity, and the same designation could be given to many deities.2

The ancient Egyptians felt surrounded by manifestations of their deities. Nature divided the country into a variety of ecological and political subregions,3 some of which were represented by deities. Ancient Egypt was defined by the Nile, though it also included the oases in the western desert and places along the Red Sea.4

From south to north, the Nile connected these regions from Sudan to the Mediterranean. The Nile flowed in an almost straight course through “Upper Egypt”; near Memphis it fanned out, forming the delta of Lower Egypt with its many channels. The delta comprised most of Egypt’s agricultural land, as well as vast areas of marshland. The Egyptians believed that the Nile—which they simply called jtrw, perhaps “the seasonal one”—had its origins in the underworld and emerged at Elephantine. Its annual floods brought and created the fertile (t3) kmt (“black [land]”), in contrast to the flanking deserts, which were called dšrt (“red land”). The Nile was never venerated as a deity in its own right, though it was sometimes referred to as the “great efflux of Osiris,” or the tears of Isis. Yet its inundations provided fecundity, and this aspect was personified as the god Hapy as well as other Nile deities.5

From east to west, the sun god ran his course. He remained the most important divine entity throughout ancient Egyptian history, venerated as Re, Re-Horakhty, or Amun-Re.6 With other gods and deceased kings in his following, the sun god fended off the forces of eternal darkness and enabled life for the living and the dead. The deceased were predominantly buried on the western side of the Nile, close to the setting of the sun, between “black” and “red” lands. Here the sun god entered the Duat (d3t, dw3t), the realm of the deceased and of Osiris, god of the afterlife.7

Egypt was divided into Upper and Lower Egypt, the “Two Lands.” Their unification was a central aspect of kingship ideology, reflected in the royal and divine title nb t3wj (“Lord of the Two Lands”). The red crown and the white crown, which stood for Lower and Upper Egypt, respectively, were also connected to the tutelary deities of kingship Wadjet and Nekhbet, respectively. Though originally separate crowns, since the Early Dynastic period the two crowns were often united in the Double Crown.8 Each of the Two Lands comprised about twenty sep3wt (“provinces, nomes”), each of which had its own provincial capital with an associated main deity, and in many cases further temples for additional gods and cults, as well as a standard with divine symbols.9

Despite the separation between the realms of the gods, the deceased, and the living, the boundaries were always permeable. All three beings essentially shared, interdependently, the same world that had emerged from eternal darkness. To maintain the status quo and avoid descending back into darkness, constant cooperation was necessary. Ancient Egypt was fundamentally a theocracy: the gods had created life and the universe, and a divine king controlled its organization. The gods lived or manifested themselves in many and various places, for instance, in buildings, images, texts, and events, and were thus essentially omnipresent. The Egyptians were one of the most visually oriented people of the ancient world, and their lavish use of images and image-like scripts allows multifaceted insights into their conceptions of the gods.10 But natural factors and human care and destruction, as well as political and personal interests of the Egyptian kings, determined what survives in our archaeological record.11

Many ideas and concepts were central to all periods of Egyptian history; despite the semblance of rigidity, there was also innovation and change. Akhenaten’s experiment in monotheism, for instance, was highly innovative yet unsuccessful. During the decade of his “Amarna revolution,” the divine sun-disc Aten was transformed from being a god among many to being the subject of a henotheistic cult, especially in the capital Akhet-aten (modern Tell el-Amarna), and ultimately was elevated to being an exclusive, unique, and universal deity. The experiment ended with Akhenaten’s death; his successor, Tutankhamun, reversed most of the changes and reestablished the old order.12 Many studies have been dedicated to this phenomenon; the first recorded monotheism in world history has fascinated many scholars and writers even beyond the field of Egyptology, especially in regard to its connections with biblical monotheism.13 But its impact was greater on modern scholarship than on the ancient Egyptians. In the over 3,000 years of Egyptian history, the brief experiment with monotheism had almost no religious consequences, though it may have triggered a polytheistic response. 14

Genesis of the Egyptian Gods

Neolithic burials of animals, mostly bovids, but also gazelles, dogs, jackals, cows, rams (e.g., in Maadi and Heliopolis) are early evidence of the veneration of divine powers in or though animals. The bodies of animals were ritually treated, and their graves, sometimes furnished with matting, lay close to human burial grounds. Animal shapes are found as cosmetic palettes (connecting them to the preservation of the body), on pottery, and on standards, suggesting a special status accorded to these animals.15

With the emergence of writing and the more frequent use of iconography in the Early Dynastic period, we get a better grasp of the Egyptian gods. Their development is closely connected to the formation of the Egyptian state and its kingship, whose power was represented by images of animals founding cities or vanquishing enemies (e.g., lion, bull, scorpion). This practice was accompanied by the phenomenon of some Egyptian kings having animal names. By the First Dynasty, divine powers were also represented in anthropomorphic shape (e.g., Geb, Min with flagellum, ithyphallic forms). By the end of the Second Dynasty, the first deities in hybrid or bimorphic forms had appeared. These deities were usually composed of a human head and an animal body or vice-versa, with the head being the essential element; the coiffure masked any disjointedness between these body parts.16 Contemporaneous regional sanctuaries and shrines, which had probably developed from reed huts set up in sacred spaces, were usually built of mud brick, unless the king decided to invest in a specific deity and to have its temple built in or decorated with stone. A number of Egyptian gods, shrines, and cults are attested as far back as the Early Dynastic period.17

The earliest hieroglyphs designating a deity were a cloth wound on a pole, the falcon on a standard, and an anthropomorphic sitting god (with divine beard). Though there were many variations in execution and detail, these remained the main hieroglyphs for deities throughout history.18

By the end of Old Kingdom, the information we have on Egyptian gods improves drastically, mostly thanks to the Pyramid Texts. Important icons had been created, such as hawk-headed anthropomorphic deities (Third Dynasty) and the Sphinx (showing the divine king with a human head and lion’s body). Many of the ideas created in this period remained essential until the Roman period, such as the divinity of the king, the dominance of the sun god, and Osiris as the god of the deceased.19

Genesis of the Universe and the Gods according to the Ancient Egyptians

Many narratives reveal how the Egyptian gods came into being and how the universe was created. These narratives were usually created as parts of larger compositions for specific use, such as mortuary or temple cults. All-explaining, dogmatic versions of texts did not emerge until the late periods of ancient Egypt. Occasionally these texts share commonalities, or they may differ significantly, depending on their period, their region, or the importance of the deities involved. Even so, they allow us to glimpse ancient Egyptian conceptions of creation and the gods, and they provide philosophic and scientific views of how the universe works, describing its dynamics in terms of divine forces in action. The long tradition of differing cosmogonies testifies to the ancient Egyptians’ openness in approaching ultimately unknowable matters.20

In ancient Egypt, creation was seen as a process of separation and continuing differentiation, often formulated as sequences of generations of gods.21 One fundamental idea was that out of Nun, the personified primeval waters, a mound rose whence creation was set in motion; the idea mirrored the yearly experience of the emergence of land after the Nile flood. The waters of Nun were believed to immerse the world and surrounding the world; they were at the same time life-giving and a threat to creation, for the universe could tumble back into them and end.22

In the Heliopolitan tradition (known since the Old Kingdom), nine gods of the psḏt (“Ennead”), the sun god, and eight of his descendants, were responsible for creation. Atum (or Re-Atum) self-generated and emerged from the primordial waters, and produced out of himself (by spitting, sneezing, or masturbating) the next generation with Shu (“Air”) and Tefnut (“Moisture”), which then produced Geb (“Earth”) and Nut (“Sky”). Out of these first generations of “universal” elements were born the gods of social concepts: Osiris, god of the underworld; Seth, god of chaos, always endangering order; Isis, the throne deity; and Nephtys, a parallel to Isis. Finally, Osiris and Isis produced Horus, the god of kingship, thereby making kingship part of the natural divine order.23

In the Hermopolitan traditions (known since the Old Kingdom), following upon the primordial mound, the “Ogdoad” came into being. This group of deities was formed of four pairs of male and female deities representing sempiternal concepts of the original universe (Nun/Naunet, “Water”; Heh/Hauhet, “Infinity”; Kek/Kauket, “Darkness”; Amun/Amaunet, “Hiddenness”).24

The Memphite Theology (documented on the Shabaka Stone, Twenty-fifth Dynasty; the original age of the text is debated) features the god of crafts, Ptah Tatenen (“Ptah of the Primeval Mound”). He created Atum “through his heart and through his tongue,” by plan and word, and founded Maat and kingship. The gods of the Ennead were his manifestations.25

Further texts describe other gods as being involved in the beginning of the universe: the world emerged from a cosmic egg; the sun god Re emerged (as child or scarab) from a lotus; the sun god or Amun-Re created the world; an All-lord created deities from his sweat and humans from his tears (Middle Kingdom); Aten, the only god, is the sole creator (Amarna period); Khnum fashioned men on the potter’s wheel; a bird, the “great cackler/honker,” alighted on the primeval hill and tore apart the silence, allowing creation to start.26 In the “Myth of the Heavenly Cow,” the sun god Ra, who lives with humans on earth, retired to heaven after man’s rebellion and began his daily journeys.27

There were different conceptions of the cosmos; in one of them, Nut, the goddess of the sky, is depicted as a naked woman with her body arching over Geb, the earth god, with Shu, personification of empty space, separating the two of them. Another conception shows the heavenly cow (a manifestation of Nut) supported by Shu and other deities, while the boats of the sun god traverse her star-spangled belly.

Heaven was the oldest known and the preferred abode of the gods (since the Early Dynastic and Old Kingdom periods). Regions in the frontiers of earth and heaven were called “God’s land.” On earth lived the humans and the manifestations of the gods (e.g., animals, statues, symbols). The Duat, ruled by Osiris, was the realm where the dead ancestor gods and the deceased lived. During the Old Kingdom and Middle Kingdom it was located in heaven, but sometimes also in the earth; from the New Kingdom onward, it was a netherworld. In the Duat, the gods and the dead could regenerate, but they were also surrounded by dangers; the Pyramid, Coffin, or New Kingdom underworld texts give lavish descriptions of the Duat’s features; they also provided information and spells for a safe sojourn of the deceased (Figure 1). Some main gods, such as the sun god and his following, had a transitional stay in the Duat, during which their Ba and body united in order to regenerate before facing another day.28

Figure 1. Netherworld Papyrus of Gautsoshen, Third Intermediate period, Twenty-first Dynasty, c. 1000–945 bce. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Egyptian universe of man and gods was surrounded by endless and unknown darkness; this darkness was a danger to all creation, and always on the verge of repossessing the known world, but it was also filled with creative and regenerative force. It had to be kept at bay by a collective effort of all beings, by preserving Maat (“order”), and by supporting the fight of the gods against the representatives of darkness and jsft (“chaos”). Every night, Apophis, a giant serpent in the primeval ocean, endangered the course of the sun god and had to be fought back into the darkness. Only rarely the “end of days” is mentioned, when Atum, god of all the universe, and in some versions also Osiris, god of all that is in the underworld, remain alone and everything else returns to the primordial ocean. 29

Two further forces and concepts, personified by deities, were pivotal for the existence and smooth running of the universe. The goddess Maat (with a feather on her head) represented the correct order. The gods had created Maat and lived by it. The kings, ideologically responsible to keep order, regularly offered Maat to the gods, or integrated Maat as a constitutive part of their royal names. In the underworld, the heart of the deceased was weighed against the feather of Maat.30

Heka (“Magic”) was created by the creator god and used for further creation. It also kept the universe running. Magic was an integral part of the Egyptian religious system. Heka was a source of power for healing and protection, a weapon to ward off potential dangers and to repel inimical powers that threatened individuals (such as illness, nightmares, snake or scorpion bites, snatching by a crocodile, dangers to children) or the state (fended off, for instance, by execration texts and figurines). The gods used magic and so did humans, even against gods, going so far as to threaten them with the “end of days.”31

General Traits and Features of Egyptian Gods

Information on Egyptian gods must be gathered from numerous texts and images. These materials come from different regions and periods and were sometimes created for very specific contexts.32 Here, some of the more general aspects are presented.

Nṯrw (“gods”) and other entities

The Egyptian word encompassing the concept of „god“ is nṯr (pl. nṯrw, fem. nṯrt/nṯrwt).33 Its etymology and original meaning are debated.34 The singular nṯr is usually used when the deity intended is obvious (at least to the Egyptians), or when the deity is left intentionally unspecified, meaning “any random god,” for instance in teachings for officials, who during their work would have to deal with a variety of deities. When a divine emanation was detected, almost everything, except a living human, could be tagged as nṯr “divine,” though the various nṯrw were approached discriminately.

There were other supernatural entities as well. The ba (pl. baw), usually translated “soul,” was a manifestation of power and part of the personality of gods, kings, and humans, living or deceased. In the case of Amun, this omnipresence was described as his Ba (“Ba-soul”) being in the sky, his corpse in the netherworld, and his image on earth. Whenever a god became manifest, his ba was detected—for example, the sun for Re, the Apis bull for Osiris, or the Old Kingdom pyramids for the king. Sometimes a deity was seen as the ba of another deity. Finally, the baw of the cities of Buto, Hierakonpolis, and Heliopolis were the divinized deceased kings. The baw of the deceased (since the New Kingdom, depicted as a human-headed bird) lived in the following of the gods, and were nourished by offerings. 35

Several other forces were involved in interactions with the various entities. The akh (pl. akhw) was the spirit of the deceased that had managed an ideal and effective transformation into the afterlife. It was a personal life force, activated and manifested after death. It kept the appearance of the individual and lived in the realm of the gods and the deceased. For the living, the akhw liaised with the gods, especially Osiris.36 The ka was part of human individuality, its “life force,” “character,” “nature,” or “double”; it also received offerings. Images of individuals were their ka. Another force was sḫm (“power,” sometimes symbolized by the sḫm-scepter), an expression of the radiation and charisma of deities and the deceased.37

Main Traits of the Gods

The Egyptian gods were powerful but not almighty, nor even all-knowing (for instance, nobody, except at a certain point Isis, knew the “hidden” name of the creator god). No god was able to see beyond the defined universe; even the creator god is merely nb-r-ḏr (“master-to-the-end” of the known world); the eternal darkness remained impenetrable. The gods were not eternal beings; they had a beginning within the genesis of the universe. The first god came into being by himself; the next generations were created, conceived, and born. The gods had a period of youth (e.g., Horus, Chons, sun god), they aged, they died (sun god), and they were even killed (Osiris), though they usually did not remain dead but instead regenerated. Osiris had a tomb on earth that was visited by humans (e.g., the tomb of king Djer, or the Osireion at Abydos). In the Amduat (lit. “that which is in the underworld”), tombs of the gods are depicted, and in Late Period Egypt, some tombs of gods were located on earth, whether inside temples or in a necropolis. In the „Cannibal Hymn“ of Old Kingdom Pyramid texts, eating other gods strengthens the Egyptian king. Osiris is slain but becomes the chief god of the underworld. The sun god (Re in the sky) dies at sunset (as Atum), only to be regenerated in the underworld and rise anew each morning as Khepri, the scarab crawling out of the ground. The deceased human who had lived righteously was regenerated eternally; those who had not were condemned and annihilated. In the New Kingdom, Thoth knows the exact lifespan of humans and gods.38

The gods were imagined as having skin of gold, hair of lapis lazuli, and a body made of other luxurious materials. Their hearing and seeing were amplified. They had a certain fragrance and radiance. Their presence could be sensed through smell, sight, intuition, natural phenomena (e.g., earthquakes), or through illness or misfortune. Their effect on humans was to induce snḏt (“fear”) and šfšft (“respect, awe”). Even so, the Egyptian gods were generally generous and benevolent to humans.

Some gods’ spheres of action concentrated on their cities; as such, city gods were locally close and incorporated many aspects useful to humans.39 A god’s influence could be extended by portable images (e.g., for travel protection). The gods had definite human behaviors—they ate, drank, worked, fought, cried, laughed, became angry or sulky—and their characters were ambivalent. Some deities were usually helpful to humans (e.g., Thoth, Horus, Isis), others potentially threatening (e.g., Sakhmet, Seth). The gods could get angry with the humans and seek to destroy them (e.g., Ra in the Myth of the Heavenly Cow), and they had many needs, which were met by offerings and rituals. 40

Many Names and Many Aspects

The Egyptians characterized their deities as “hidden,” “mysterious” or “unknown,” “rich in names,” having numerous, even secret names (e.g., the sun god) and epithets.41 As each god was unique, Egyptians had no problem addressing them with superlatives such as “the greatest,” though exclusivity was not intended. The gods were rarely reduced to the mere meaning of their names; rather, they had elaborate histories, characters, and competences beyond those. They had primary functions, but were versatile and responsible for many things. Ra, for instance, was a deity of kingship and creation, regenerator of the living and the dead. Osiris was chief of the realm of the dead, but also associated with kingship and fertility; he also became a savior god who helped to overcome death. Hathor is a goddess connected with childbirth and maternity, with festival joy and drunkenness, but she can also be a necropolis goddess and even a ferocious lioness guarding a desert wadi; in Ptolemaic Edfu, she had as many forms as there are days in the year. Sometimes a god was regarded as a manifestation, a ba or an image of another one. The many names and images of a deity were considered to be merely selected aspects of a much vaster personality. They allowed worshipers to distinguish, to characterize, and to make them approachable for cultic purposes (though not every deity had a cult).42

A good example for this multitude of forms and aspects is the sun god. He was imagined to be the scarab Khepri, “The One Who Becomes,” at dawn; virile Ra during the day; old Atum at dusk; and for a brief moment connected to Osiris in the underworld. The “Litany of Ra” (New Kingdom) lists seventy-four forms of the sun god.43 The sun god is sometimes shown as a cat with a knife fighting the serpent Apophis. In the Amarna period, the sun disc Aten was venerated without an anthropomorphic shape, but as a disc with arms.44

The etymologies of some names of the greater gods are debated (e.g., Osiris, Re, Min, Ptah, Seth). Some are identical with the spheres and regions they personify (e.g., Nun “eternal water,” Shu “empty space, air”), while others are not (e.g., “earth” t3 vs. Geb; “moon” j‘ḥ vs. Thoth and Khonsu; „heaven“ pt vs. Nut). The four elements were never personified but still connected to various deities: several deities used fire; crocodile-shaped deities protected waters (e.g., Sobek); various gods were connected to earth (e.g., Geb, Tatenen, Aker); air was represented by Shu “empty space,” Amun as enlivening air and breeze, or Seth as destructive storm. Some divine names were personifications of concepts (e.g., Maat “Order,” Heka “Magic,” Sia „Perception,“ Hu “Authoritative Utterance”) or functions (e.g., the demon Ammut “female devourer”). Some female deities were named as a counterpart to their male partner (e.g., Amun/Amaunet, Ra/Rat, Inpu/Input). And though animals were important manifestations of the gods, deities rarely have animal names.45

Among the heavenly bodies, the sun clearly dominates. Sun and moon were both represented by various deities. Other heavenly bodies were seen as manifestations of deities as well: Sirius, the brightest fixed star, was connected with the Nile inundations, as a manifestation of Isis; the constellation Orion was a manifestation of Osiris, and most planets were thought to be manifestations of Horus. Though the pole star was an important goal in the kings’ ascent to heaven, it was not a deity. Other stars were seen as manifestations of various deities or of deceased kings.46

Syncretisms and Conjunctions of Gods

The character of a deity was regularly expanded by syncretism. Deities were combined, creating a new, extended, more powerful, more complete deity.47 Regional deities were combined with more important, supraregional ones, thereby increasing their power (e.g., Sobek-Re, Chnum-Re). Others were combined to create a more complete manifestation of a concept. These combined deities did not replace their various components, but extended them. By adding several manifestations that represented only smaller aspects, a new and more comprehensive approximation to a concept was created: for example, Re-Atum (day/evening sun), Atum-Khepri (evening/morning sun), Re-Horakhty (two solar deities), and Amun-Re (the invisible/visible powers on earth). More than two deities could be combined as well, as in Ptah-Sokar-Osiris, Amun-Re-Harakhte-Atum, and Harmachis-Khepri-Re-Atum, all major solar deities. Even Egyptian and foreign deities were united, for example, Anat-Hathor (Asiatic/Egyptian), or Ptolemaic Serapis (combining Osiris, Apis, Zeus, and Helios).

Egyptian Gods and Their Animals

Many gods were pictured with the heads or other parts of animals. Many animals were seen as manifestations of a deity or served as intermediaries between humans and the gods. Some species were seen as the baw of the gods (e.g., baboon for Thoth, crocodile for Sobek, cat for Bastet and/or Sekhmet, mongoose for Re, ram for Amun). In other cases, only one living animal at a time was presumed to be the representative of a god (e.g., the Apis bull). Some votive animal figurines—often cats, dogs, snakes, or falcons—are clearly related to certain gods. From the late New Kingdom onward, the idea of animals as intermediaries led to a huge industry of animal mummification. Animals were raised, killed, mummified, and sold to pilgrims and devotees, who had them interred at places connected to their patron deities. The animal mummies were placed in catacombs: the falcon catacomb of North Saqqara contained about 4 million birds, and at Tuna el Gebel the interred ibis mummies are estimated to be in the millions.48

The Egyptian King

The impressive size and number of monuments created for and by the Egyptian king are unparalleled in the ancient or modern world. Constant building activities and fabrication of images and texts created a memorial landscape that was a permanent reminder of the longevity of kingship, gods, and their institutions. It was perpetuated by a state that staged and treated its ruler as a god.

The Egyptian king was subordinate to the gods, but, ex officio (by the New Kingdom, with his coronation) he was a god on earth, universal ruler, and linchpin of earthly order. He controlled all resources, decided where they were directed, provided for the gods and their cults, built their temples, performed the rituals as the main actor, and was principally responsible for keeping Maat. The king was regularly addressed as nṯr (“god”). He was described as having superhuman powers (e.g., smiting groups of enemies at once in battle), or presented—like the gods—as a hybrid, such as sphinx or griffin. All dead and even some living kings had cults and temples.49

In the Predynastic and Early Dynastic periods, Egypt adopted ancient Near Eastern ideas in iconography, writing, and architecture and amalgamated them with its own concepts into a system of representing and staging its king. Using foreign elements certainly consolidated the perception of the king as someone extraordinary and extramundane.50 With the unification of Egypt by the Early Dynastic period, the king became the central authority, obliged to mediate between his people and the gods and responsible for their care. Many essential elements of the representation of Egyptian kingship were created in this period, such as the king as Horus, the dual monarchy of Upper and Lower Egypt, the distinction of the elite from the common people, many of the regalia (e.g., scepters, uraeus, white, red, and double crowns), iconography (e.g., the king smiting his enemies, or being represented as a falcon), titles, rituals and festivals (e.g., Sed festival).51 The kings’ mud-brick tombs with storerooms and mortuary buildings are located in Abydos and Saqqara; further buildings were erected in other regions.52

In the Old Kingdom, the Egyptian king was seen and treated as a deity: in life he was a nṯr, a son of Ra, a Horus (son of Osiris) on earth, thus being the son of the gods responsible for the realms of the living and the deceased. He was image and son of various gods, as well as likened to gods by names and titles. The king was regularly shown in the company of gods, worshiping, offering, but also being nurtured or embraced. In death, the king became an Osiris; he lived his afterlife with many other gods and dead kings in the company of the sun god. Each king was buried in a pyramid that symbolized the primeval hills or the ladder to heaven; each pyramid had its own temples and personnel to supply the mortuary cult of the dead king, theoretically for eternity, and in actual practice at least for generations.53

From the Middle Kingdom on, the king was chosen by the gods and followed their commands, his success depending on their support; still, pyramids were built for him, though of mud brick, not stone. By the New Kingdom, the afterlife had shifted to an underworld sphere, and the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings were built into a hill that was seen as a gigantic pyramid; the kings’ graves were decorated with images of the netherworld and showed the king in constant company with the gods.54 In their mortuary temples, the so-called Mansions of Millions of Years, but also in the regular temples of the gods, images and texts record the king performing his political acts (e.g., campaigns against foreign countries) and his ritual duties to the gods; in such images the king is regularly shown in the company of the gods.55

Though the king was subordinate to the gods, the buildings with the highest labor costs were usually the mortuary installations for his afterlife.56 There seems to have been a decrease of investment in the staging of the king, as its main building became more modest—from the pyramids of the Old and Middle Kingdoms, to the tombs and mortuary temples of the New Kingdom, to smaller tombs in the Late Period. One reason for this development may have been the increasing cultural and political interaction with Near Eastern states and kingdoms, where the kings were usually seen as human and large buildings were built only for the people’s major, actual deities.

The concept of kingship was projected into the realm of the gods by imagining a “king of gods” (e.g., Amun, Amun-Re, Aten), fully endowed with insignia, crowns, thrones; sometimes their names were written in a cartouche, as was usual for the human king. In the New Kingdom, it was imagined that the gods had once ruled on earth (e.g., Ptah, Horus, Osiris). Ra was king of gods and men until he retired from earth and became ruler only of the gods. On earth, Horus succeeded his father Osiris, and was finally embodied and represented by the reigning Egyptian king.57

Organizing the Multitudes of Gods

Through the ages, the status of some deities changed and fluctuated, which sometimes led to new hierarchies, connections, family relations, and cultic approaches. Some deities kept great importance through all periods, especially Re, Osiris, Horus, Isis. Others lost their status, as when Montu was superseded by Amun; the latter rose during the Middle Kingdom from being a regional god to being the central god of the Egyptian pantheon of the New Kingdom and later. In the Amarna period, Aten became the only god, though only for a decade, and most of the time his influence was restricted to the new capital city Akhetaten. The importance of Seth fluctuated through time.58

Some gods were grouped as dyads (e.g., Isis and Nephtys, Horus and Seth, the pairs of male and female principles that again were grouped as the Ogdoad); triads (tripling was the simplest way to express a plural: Amun/Re/Ptah, Amun/Mut/Khonsu, Osiris/Isis/Horus); tetrads (e.g., the sons of Horus); pentads (e.g., gods of the epagomenal days); hebdomads (the sum of three and four, such as the souls of the sun god, or the manifestations of Hathor); ogdoads (e.g., the Ogdoad of Hermopolis, or the eight Heh deities supporting the legs of the cow goddess Nut being the sky), and enneads (as the plural of plural, such as the Enneads of Heliopolis, but sometimes with only seven, or up to fifteen members), dodecads (e.g., goddesses of the night).59

Other groups are defined by regions, such as the cavern deities known from the “Book of Caverns,” the gate deities from the “Book of Gates,” twelve hour deities of the day or the night, the forty-two judgment deities, the nome deities of Upper and Lower Egypt, the numberless Souls of Nekhen and Pe (associated with the king), or the many star deities.60

The Egyptians also differentiated “greater” and “smaller” gods. They also had a “king of gods” (since the Old Kingdom), with other gods in various court functions. There were also many divine mothers (e.g., Isis, Nut, Neith, Mut), as well as divine fathers (e.g., Amun, Ptah); in the Amarna age, Aten was considered to be mother and father of all creation.61

Imaging Egyptian Gods

The ancient Egyptians exploited many creative options to depict their gods, their kings, the dead, spirits, and souls, and they used almost the whole spectrum of visual representations for all their divine entities. These ranged from realistic, fully anthropomorphic or theriomorphic representations to hybrid combinations of body parts from various creatures, and to symbols and objects that sometimes were animated by arms and legs.62 This playfulness made the ancient Egyptians by far the most productive creators of divine images among the ancient Near Eastern cultures. Their openness to hybrid constructions of gods was unique. In the contemporaneous Near East, where the main gods were often associated with certain animals, the gods were, however, never shown as hybrid creatures. Their images were anthropomorphic, whereas hybrid beings were lesser supernaturals that were often labeled “demons,” “genies,” or “monsters.” Showing their gods in fully human form mirrored the fact that the Near Eastern gods were part of the human social order.63

In ancient Egypt, in contrast, the ways of imaging divine entities were as manifold and fluid as their characters. Images did not only represent them but were also considered to manifest their actual presence. In the Early Dynastic period, deities were already represented as theriomorphic (e.g., Anubis), anthropomorphic (Min, Ptah), or hybrid (Bat), and by their symbols; the Second Dynasty, the basic repertoire of representations was completed by bimorphic deities with a human body and animal head.64 After that period, Egyptian deities were imaged in anthropomorphic (male, female, children) and zoomorphic (numerous animals) forms, as well as in composite or hybrid forms. They could be further characterized by rather uniform costumes, varied symbols, emblems, and crowns which could be held and carried by many deities, emphasizing their status in the context represented.65

Egyptian gods were venerated via various animals or symbols, which were seen as their possible manifestations. Not all deities are known in images. Many images and elements were not limited to one specific deity. The many interchangeable attributes were used to create complex visual representations of deities, for example as syncretic fusions. They could also accentuate a deity’s mood in certain contexts (e.g., by switching between representation as a gentle cat or a ferocious lion, in the case of some female deities).

Purely anthropomorphic forms of male deities were used to depict gods who represented the cosmic or geographic spheres, as creator gods (e.g., Amun/Amun-Re, Atum, Ptah), moon (Khonsu), earth (Geb), air (Shu), heaven (Nut), waters (Hapy as the Nile flood, or Nun as the primeval waters), mountains, cities, estates, fertility (Min), deified humans (such as Imhotep), deceased kings and notables, or imported Levantine deities (Baal, Hauron, Reshep). Furthermore, the grotesque-looking Bes has an anthropomorphic but dwarfish appearance. Osiris, as god of the dead, was usually shown with a mummiform body or as the fecundity-bringing “Corn Osiris” with plants sprouting out of his body. There were also various gods venerated as child deities (e.g., Horus).66 Female deities with mainly anthropomorphic forms are Hathor, Isis, Maat, Mut, Neith, Nephtys, Nut, and Seshat, and also imported Levantine goddesses such as Anat, Astarte, Baalat, and Qadesh.67

Theriomorphic forms cover almost the whole fauna known in Egypt—mammalian, avian, reptilian, and amphibian species, fish, invertebrates, and insects. Male deities were associated with bulls (Apis), dogs and jackals (Anubis), rams (Khnum), falcons (Horus, Re, Sokar), ibises (Thoth), lions (the king), crocodiles (Sobek), serpents (Apophis, or Yam, the Levantine god of the sea), scarabs (Khepri), or the unknown animal representing Seth; female deities were associated with cows (Bat), cats (Bastet), vultures (Nekhbet, Mut), serpents (Meretseger, Wadjet), frogs (Heket), lionesses (Sekhmet), or hippopotamuses (Taweret).68

Hybrid or bimorphic deities combine human and (usually) animal parts, the head representing the essence of the entity. Composite deities combine different deities or characteristics. As many as a dozen different gods may be combined. Deities were created in the shape of baboon-hawks and hippopotamus-serpents, some of them multiple-headed and -armed. Hippopotamus, crocodile, and lioness were combined for the goddesses Ammut and Taweret. In an illustration to the Litany of Re, the seventy-four shapes of the sun god vary from purely anthropomorphic to purely animal, with many hybrid combinations (e.g., a human body with a scarab or ropes as a head).69

In rare occasions (at least before the Late Period), some of these creations might look monstrous, though they usually did not behave like that; among them were the gods Bes and Thoeris, helpful in childbirth, and the ambivalent Seth-animal, but also creatures of the netherworld that could end the eternal life of the dead.70

Inanimate objects could also represent deities. Thus, the Amarna-period god Aten was exclusively represented by the sun disc.71

The same deity could have more than one image or representation: Thoth (baboon, ibis, moon), Amun (ram, goose), Re (falcon, human with falcon head), Hathor (human, cow, woman with cow head, woman with bovine features, pillar with female head and cow ears), or Bastet (a cat when placid, a lioness when angry). Moreover, the same image could represent a variety of deities: the sun (Re, Atum, Khepro, Horakhty, and many others), the cow (Hathor, Nut), or lion/cat (Bastet, Hathor, Sakhmet). All the images were understood not as depictions of a deity but rather as one of many manifestations, an “ideogram,” showing only a part of their essence and nature appropriate to the given context. But there were certain limitations to the possible manifestations; thus, Amun never appeared as a moon, tree, or water. The true form of a deity was not representable, not knowable to a living human, and it could only and barely be seen in the beyond, in dreams, or in visions.72

Interactions between Humans and the Gods

The socio-economic system of ancient Egypt was based on an ideology founded on cooperation among the gods, the dead, and the living, all interested in preserving Maat (“order”) and keeping away eternal darkness. The construction and upkeep of temples and tombs was an important economic engine; many resources were invested in maintaining the monuments of the gods, the kings, and the dead. This made Egypt one of the greatest consumers of luxury goods from Africa, the Near East, and the Mediterranean world. The king was the main provider and mediator between gods and humans. In theory, it was he himself who performed all the cultic services; images and texts show him as the main actor in rituals and services all through the country. But in reality—though rarely depicted—priests with various titles and functions did the daily work in his place instead.73

Gods as well as humans could initiate communication. The results tended to be positive when initiated by man (as through ritual or prayer), but negative when initiated by the supernatural entity (in the form of omens, illness, misfortune, dreams, haunting, or guilty conscience). The Egyptian gods were approached through official cults and festivals, but also through personal prayers and requests. Offerings and rituals were conducted to care for the gods, to acknowledge what they had created, and to put them in a positive mood.74


From the Early Dynastic period to the Middle Kingdom, temples of gods were usually small and regional; the predominant religious installations were the mortuary temples of the Egyptian kings. Of some importance was the temple of Osiris in Abydos (from the Early Dynastic period on), and the temple of Ra (mainly Fifth Dynasty). This changed by the New Kingdom. The temple of Amun in Thebes, by then the main god in Egypt, was rebuilt in stone and gradually enlarged by succeeding kings. Temples for many other gods were built all over the land.75

The temples of the Egyptian gods were sacred spaces, “heavens on earth,” intersections between the human and divine spheres, and focal points of the presence of deities on earth. Their architecture, images, and texts embedded them in the world and the cosmos. During the flood season, the temples were inundated, and when the water receded, the building with its columns shaped as lotus and papyrus plants emerged like the hill from the primeval ocean. Thus, the temples were regarded as being built on the primeval hills; their surrounding wavy walls symbolized the primeval waters and kept people and chaos at bay. A “sacred lake” in the temple provided water and was a reminder of various aspects of cosmogony.76

The economic system serving the gods, their temples, priests, employees, and worshippers pervaded many areas of the country. The temples were provisional residences and households of the gods, as well as the administrative centers of the Egyptian state, the main nodes of its economic network. They were the main consumers, administrators, employers, producers, and redistributors of a variety of goods needed by the gods and the people working for them. The temples had various landholdings and employees; for instance, the temple of Amun at Karnak had more than 60,000 employees in its estates in Northern Egypt alone. Bread and beer were basic components of salaries, so granaries were an important feature of a temple; the Ramesseum’s granary could store 226, 328 sacks of grain, enough to feed 3,400 families for one year. Names, titles, and biographies of thousands of persons show that being a priest was not exclusive to a chosen few, but part of the life of many Egyptians, as they did priestly service in rotating shifts, interrupting their usual work for some months. From the New Kingdom on, priestly offices became more professional and even hereditary. 77

Daily Care for the Gods and Their Statues

The Egyptians strived to make the gods’ stay on earth as agreeable as possible. Represented by their main statues, the gods resided and slept in the holy of holies, a chamber with a shrine inside the temple. Most temples had several resident gods. At the core of the rituals were their statues, made of precious materials, which were the most important of the many possible manifestations of the gods. The statues were regarded as transient receptacles, a physical form or double (a ka) for the god or his ba-soul, which seems always to have been present within the statue. This concept allowed for the simultaneous presence of a god at various places.78 After production, the ritual of the “Opening of the Mouth”—also used to enliven the mummy—enlivened the statue.79 Unfortunately, no example of a deity’s main cult statue survives. Some were stolen by foreign invaders (notably by the Persians), and some destroyed by the early Christians, but most of them were smelted at some point to recycle the metals they were made of, often gold. According to descriptions, they were made of various precious materials; their height was about a meter or more, as deduced from the sizes of the shrines.80

In daily rituals, the statues/gods were washed, dressed, adorned, censed, and given offerings of food, drink, and gifts; heaps of beer, bread, vegetables, and more were left before the cult statues and removed later, before setting up the next offerings. This meal service was performed three times a day,81 and involved a variety of priests, porters, and craftsmen, who all received wages that consisted of a portion of the offerings.82

Festivals and Public Appearances of the Gods

The gods and their main images were usually visible and approachable by the common people only during festivals. These festivals often intertwined the realms of the gods, the kings, the dead, and the living, and involved various cultic areas and ritual actions. Hundreds of local and national festivals are known, some well documented from several sites, others known only from brief references. Many festivals included processions, journeys by gods on river barges, and the chance to approach deities with oracular questions on official or private matters (Figure 2). The performances during these festivals made the gods and their deeds tangible and allowed people to draw close to them.83

Figure 2. Unfinished stela to Amun-Re, New Kingdom, Ramesside, Twentieth Dynasty, c. 1184–1070 bce. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The festivals during the month of Khoiak were dedicated to Osiris and celebrated throughout the country from the Middle Kingdom to Roman times. The tomb of king Djer (First Dynasty) in Abydos was considered to be the burial site of Osiris. The fight of Osiris against Seth, his murder and resurrection, and the defeat of his foes were reenacted in public, with the king, or a surrogate, playing the role of Horus. Images of Osiris and other deities, boats, sledges, and shrines were made in advance, carried in a procession, and then interred, first and foremost at Abydos, and at other places in Egypt (e.g., in the temple of Karnak, or at Medinet Habu, where hundreds of bronze figurines of Osiris were found).84

The yearly “Beautiful Feast of the Valley” commemorated the dead and was celebrated only in Thebes; it lasted two days. The living visited the dead. Statues of gods and dead kings were paraded. In a procession led by the king, the statue of Amun left his temple in a portable shrine, and crossed the Nile from east to west, from the sphere of the living to the area of the dead. Amun visited the temples of the deceased kings and revived their souls. He spent the night with Hathor in the temple of Deir el Bahari, which became a place for seeking cures and fertility. The procession, with all its smells and noises, enlivened and attracted the dead as well. In order to be close to the festival for eternity, some tomb owners had their tombs and chapels built close to the processional route.85

The festival of Amunhotep I commemorated this king. As “Amunhotep of the Village” he was important to the people of Deir el-Medina, the village of the builders working on the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. During the four days of the festival, the statue of the king left his shrine, a feast was celebrated in the necropolis, the people reflected on and mourned the king’s death, and he visited the Valley of the Kings. As this was an official holiday, the workers received extra rations. The deceased king was consulted by the people for oracles on local disputes, issues of administration such as ownership of land and tombs, appointments of officials, and other matters.86

Other festivals focused on kingship, such as accession and coronation festivals. The most important was the Sed festival (known since Early Dynastic period), which was celebrated after thirty years of regency, then repeated at intervals of about three years. The festival renewed the king’s life energy and power. Part of the festival involved the king meeting some deities (e.g., Upuaut, Min) for a procession, followed by a procession with divine standards, and the king visiting various sanctuaries. Gods could also celebrate a Sed-festival.87 Another very important festival was the Opet festival, when Amun together with Mut and Khonsu left his temple at Karnak, toured the Theban sacred region, and visited to the Luxor temple.88

Personal Piety: Temples, Statues, Stelae, Amulets

During the festivals, individuals had the opportunity to offer food, drink, flowers, or other kinds of gifts to the gods. In addition to such events, there were other places and more personal ways to approach a deity.89 Shrines and chapels were built close to the sites of festivals, pilgrimage routes, and the ways leading to them (such as along the processional routes to the “tomb of Osiris” in Abydos). Some temple courtyards were open to the people, as at Karnak. “Chapels of the Hearing Ear,” usually on the exterior back wall of a temple, allowed approaching images of gods who listened to a worshipper’s petitions. In villages, shrines were dedicated to deities, as in Deir el-Medina to the goddess Meretseger.90

Countless votive figurines of all periods are known from houses, temples, and tombs. They are of various shapes and address almost the whole range of Egyptian deities. Figurines offered to Hathor, the cow-shaped goddess of fertility and health, were women, plaques with cows, model ears, eyes, phalluses, beds (sometimes with papyrus-gathering scenes), and more. Amulets represented deities or their symbols and had various, mostly protective, functions: for afterlife (funerary deities), or for fertility and childbirth (frog/Heqet, hippopotamus/Taweret, Bes). Amuletic decrees inscribed on papyrus protected against displeased gods, lurking demons, the stings and bites of animals, traffic accidents, thunderbolts, and collapsing walls. A lifelong protection was an individual’s name, which often included the name of a god.91

A variety of images were produced to ensure the proximity of the gods (Figure 3). Private stelae and statues were set up in temples, but also in houses, where they allowed private access to the gods at any time.92 Votive stelae show the pious person standing and/or offering before the gods. Ear-stelae simply show ears used to contact them. Statues and stelae representing gods, kings, or private individuals were either specially commissioned or bought from stock and personalized by engraving the owner’s name. Their shape (e.g., cube-shaped statues forming a flat serving platform; statues holding vessels) and inscriptions could remind a passerby that the statues expected offerings, that they expected to be kept clean, and that the owner’s name should be spoken in order for him to live and be remembered forever. The statues were provided for within the temple’s donation cycles. Some statues became, or were intentionally set up to act as intermediaries between worshipers and deities, as in the case of the deified architects Imhotep (serving king Djoser, Third Dynasty), and Amenhotep, son of Hapu (serving Amenhotep III, Eighteenth Dynasty), both of whom were venerated until the Roman period. Hoards of statues were found under the temple floors, illustrating the importance of this statue cult: the “cachette” of Karnak comprised 17,000 votive objects from the Middle Kingdom to the Late Period, among them 750 statues of officials, royals, and deities.93

Figure 3. Offering table with statuette of Sehetepib, Middle Kingdom, late Twelfth Dynasty–early Thirteenth, c. 1850–1775 bce. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Beyond and the Dead

Human life is limited, but afterlife is eternal. With this in mind, the Egyptians invested much effort and resources in preparing for death and afterlife. In the Naqada I and II periods, connections to and claims on places were made by burials of the dead rather than by houses of the living; as David Wengrow writes, “The density of social memory was more vital than the massing of permanent dwellings.” This process was called “the Urbanisation of the Dead.”94 This longstanding preoccupation with death made ancient Egypt uniquely rich in monuments. Also vivid were the varying descriptions of the beyond, a realm imagined as being populated by many deities and other entities.

Afterlife mirrored daily life, with the difference that the righteous dead were now in the same realm as the gods. In the Old Kingdom, existence in the beyond was being with the sun god in the sky, after the dead had become an Osiris. By the New Kingdom, the beyond was defined by the course of the sun god, rising in the east out of the netherworld in the morning, crossing the sky by day, in the west entering the netherworld, and passing through it by night. The night in the netherworld, like the day, was subdivided into twelve hours, each hour having its specific dangers, and reflecting a stage in the regeneration of the sun god (fighting the eternal danger Apophis, uniting with Osiris, etc.). In each hour, many different deities were active. In the netherworld, the god Osiris was responsible for granting eternal life to the dead. Those who had led a righteous life were allowed to live for eternity in the company of the gods; a monster called the Devourer annihilated others. One was righteous when one had led a life according to Maat. This was proven and tested by weighing the heart of the dead against the feather or the statue of Maat (Figure 4).95 Autobiographical accounts, negative confessions, or images in the tombs or associated buildings bear witness of this righteousness, showing, for instance, the king performing his religious and political duties, or non-royals in their daily work environment.96

Figure 4. The Singer of Amun Nany’s funerary papyrus, Third Intermediate Period, Twenty-first Dynasty, c. 1050 bce. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Many gods and the akhs of the dead lived in the beyond. Here, everybody’s duty was to secure the course of the sun god, to make him rise every morning. The kings joined the entourage of the sun god in order to protect him from danger, especially from the great serpent Apophis. Non-royal persons participated, according to their position during their lifetime, in caring for the fields in the beyond.

To ensure eternal participation in this afterlife, the Egyptians made many investments. The main investment was the tomb itself, with its decoration, furnishing, and real and symbolic provisions. Next to that came the arrangements made with priests and caretakers for regular offerings. Just as the temples were nodes to represent and care for deities, the tombs were an individual’s node to be represented, remembered, and cared for. It was the eternal home for the dead and for close family members. The tomb and its decoration were customized according to the social status of the owner: for non-royals the decoration showed an ideal everyday life, while for the kings, life in the beyond was close to the gods. The preferred site for a tomb was usually on the western side of the Nile, outside the fertile land toward the desert, close to the setting of the sun god, his entering the netherworld.97

The body was needed in the afterlife as a vessel for the ba, so special care was taken with it. In the Naqada and Early Dynastic periods, natural mummification was attained by burying the dead in the hot desert sand; grave goods such as cosmetic palettes further supported the body’s preservation; artificial mummification was practiced beginning in the Old Kingdom.98 Various deities were associated with the embalming and mummification process, especially the jackal-headed god Anubis, Nephthys, Selket, Neith, and the four sons of Horus (Imsety, Hapy, Duamutef, and Kebehsenuef, whose heads served as stoppers for the canopic jars storing the organs of the dead).99 The body’s capability to be enlivened was attained by the ritual of the Opening of the Mouth, which was also applied to statues. Several protective layers encased the body—sarcophagi, coffins, or masks, which were often covered by texts and images of deities.100 In addition to stelae (Figure 5), statues of the dead were placed in tombs and temples as “reserve” bodies.101

Figure 5. Stela of Saiah, Third Intermediate period, Twenty-second Dynasty, c. 825–712 bce. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Egypt, the Ancient Near East, Africa, and the Mediterranean

Interactions and mutual influences among Egypt and the various cultures of the Near East and the Mediterranean can be seen beginning in the 4th millennium bce and intensify during the Bronze Age.102 The openness of the Egyptian polytheistic system allowed for the import of foreign deities.103 Already in Early Dynastic times, various features for staging the divine king were adopted from the Near East.104 Some deities mentioned in the Pyramid Texts were probably imported from the Levant (Chaitau) and Nubia (Dedwen).105 In the Late Bronze Age, deities from the Levant were worshipped in Egypt, including Reshep, Baal, Hauron, Astarte, Anat, and deities responsible for the sea, such as Yam.106

There is some evidence that Egyptian ideas influenced Near Eastern cultures in the Early Bronze Age. For instance, ideas from Egyptian iconography, divine kingship, and the name of the god Osiris reached Mesopotamia.107

In the Middle Bronze Age (early 2nd millennium bce), images of several Egyptian deities were present in the Levant, Syria, and Anatolia. The image of the Egyptian divine king smiting his enemies was adapted in the Levant to show the most important god, the weather god, in a similar pose, holding a lightning bolt. Other images, such as the winged solar disc, the sphinx, and the ankh symbol, became part of the Near Eastern visual repertoire.108 The growing Egyptian influence on these regions definitely inspired certain ideas and imagery of the Bible and the biblical world.109

The impact of Egyptian deities abroad continued during the Iron Age. In the Near East and the Mediterranean world, this impact was often filtered and transmitted by Levantine city-states.110 In Nubia and the Sudan, the Ethiopian kings who ruled Egypt as the Twenty-fifth Dynasty continued the adaptation of Egyptian ideas in areas of religion, mostly via their kingship ideology and representation.111 Images of Egyptian gods are also known in Assyria, for instance, on ivories for furniture, as magically protected parts of horses’ harnesses, and on protective amulets.112

In the Ptolemaic period many Egyptian deities became very prominent, and some were equated with Greek deities. In the Roman period, these beliefs spread throughout the Roman Empire, often via the mysteries of Isis and Osiris.113 Some of the ancient ideas are still echoed in Coptic Christian Egypt.114

Review of the Literature

In antiquity there were both fascination with and aversion to the animal-shaped ancient Egyptian gods. Lucian of Samosata (2nd century ce) ridiculed them; the Church Fathers passed their dislike on to the modern age. In the 18th and 19th centuries, a more scientific interest in ancient cultures in general led to the decipherment of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs in 1822, making these texts understandable. Early on, this led to divergent views of ancient Egypt: on the one hand, there was admiration for the early and great accomplishments of the ancient Egyptians, and on the other, bewilderment over their polytheistic, “weird” ideas about religion and the divine. Many debates ensued about whether Egyptian religion was polytheistic only on its surface, but monotheistic at its core. It was suggested, for instance, that Egypt had a primary monotheism that degraded into polytheism, that there was a high god, or that the Egyptian elite was monotheistic whereas polytheism was for the simple people. In the early 20th century, the discussion was enriched by further characterizations of Egyptian religion being pantheistic and/or henotheistic. Later on, and based on the known material and textual evidence, various studies by Egyptologists discussed aspects and conceptions of the ancient Egyptian gods.115 Though they all made clear that Egyptian religion was polytheistic, the idea that it had some monotheistic tendencies lingered.116

Erik Hornung’s seminal “The One and the Many” still offers a profound analysis of the Egyptian conception of the gods. It was supported by many of his studies on Egyptian deities, the various Books of Afterlife, and the reception of ancient Egyptian culture in general.117

Spearheading some of the modern debates in cultural science are the works of Jan Assmann. In addition to his publications on ancient Egyptian topics such as hymns, prayers, theology, and the history of Egyptian religious beliefs in general, he contributed important ideas on collective memory, remembrance, death, ancient Egyptian religion, and its reception. Many of his works discuss the impact of ancient Egypt on the Old Testament, and associated modern reception. Of great interest are his discussions of polytheistic/henotheistic vs. monotheistic systems and views.118

Rosalie David and Emily Teeter provide modern introductions to Egyptian religion. Both vividly present Egyptian religion and its approach to the gods.119

Stephen Quirke offers a critical outline of problems in discussing ancient Egyptian religion. First, there is the Western foundation of scientific interest in ancient Egypt, and until today the almost exclusively Western view of a culture that has always been African and Near Eastern. Second, we find an emphasis on written information, and thus often a neglect of other sources such as images or archaeological contexts. Third, he mentions the problems posed by scientific language, the words for names and concepts used to describe phenomena within Egyptian religion, such as names of gods and places; we still commonly use the traditional labels coming from classical studies, tagging concepts like “god,” “demon,” and “soul” that are contaminated with Western ideas, instead of using the ancient Egyptian terms, which are more innocuous and less burdened with modern viewpoints. Consequently, Quirke replaces at least some of the traditional “antique” names with the ancient Egyptian ones. He also discusses whether there were differences in the belief systems documented by monuments and texts which were created by and addressed to the elites, and the lesser-known lower social strata who had no access to literacy and costly resources of self-representation.120

Primary Sources

Egyptian gods are known through texts and images. These two media were often used together, complementing and even interacting with each other. Hieroglyphic texts about deities appear in temples and tombs, but also on coffins, stelae, and statues, often next to representations of deities. The texts on papyri, usually written in the hieratic script, are often complemented by images, which do not simply illustrate the texts but contribute an extended view. The surviving records allow for some insights into how far different social groups and strata were integrated and participated in the mostly state-organized system of the Egyptian gods.

Among the various sources for Egyptian religion—ranging from simple objects to complex texts—there are common threads running through all periods which transmit the most information. The dead were not only supplied, sometimes lavishly, with spacious tombs, grave goods, and offerings, but also with collections of texts, spells, and utterances which would help them to successfully enter and stay in the beyond. Though the names of the various corpora of spells and utterances vary, they stand to some extent in a continuous tradition. Another joint feature is the fact that, for none of these groups, is a complete “master version” known, if such existed. Each burial was supplied with a variety of these utterances: some of them seem important enough to be found regularly, but others only rarely. Their subsumption into one corpus with a continuous numbering is not an ancient Egyptian concept, but a result of modern scientific editorial work.

In the Old Kingdom (from the Fifth Dynasty on), Pyramid Texts were written in hieroglyphs on the walls in the pyramids of the kings; they were the sole decoration in these royal tombs. This first large textual corpus on religion is evidence of a very elaborate and complicated system of divine-human interaction. 121 Its analysis shows that the rituals and utterances were very likely also part of the burial customs of non-royal persons—that they were not exclusive to kings. Therefore, the often-expressed idea that there was a democratization process, a trickling down of funerary texts and rituals from the royals to the elites between the Old and the Middle Kingdom, cannot be sustained.122 In the Middle Kingdom, the Coffin Texts adopted and developed the spells of the Pyramid Texts. They are found in non-royal contexts and were written not only on coffins but also on papyri, tomb walls, and various other objects within the burial.123

In the New Kingdom, the tradition of providing the dead with useful spells and descriptions for the beyond continued in several text groups. The foremost are (The Book of) Going Forth by Day (sometimes called the Book of the Dead), and (The Book of) That Which is in the Underworld (also called Amduat; see Figure 1). The utterances in these collections are often accompanied by illustrations. It was common to supply the dead with scrolls of papyrus containing these texts and images. Of course, style and quality of execution could vary.

In royal burials such texts were also written and drawn on the walls of the tombs.124 Other compositions include the Book of Caves, the Book of Gates, the Book of Caverns, the Book of the Earth, the Book of Nut, the Book of the Day, the Book of the Night, and the Book of the Heavenly Cow.125 From the New Kingdom, we also have plenty of texts and images on the walls of burials, temples of the gods, mortuary temples of the kings, chapels, statues, sarcophagi and coffins, scarabs, papyri, and many more objects, which provide information about Egyptian gods, their daily interactions with humans, and their position in the universe. An abundance of epigraphic and archaeological materials is known from the Greco-Roman period.126 Publications of many of these groups have often been grand-scale, longtime projects, of which many still are works in progress.127

Links to Digital Materials

Main Database for literature research


For further image materials see these online collections with Egyptian objects:

Two websites that focus on biblical studies but with many contributions on ancient Egyptian and ancient Near Eastern topics:

Further Reading

  • Allen, James P. Genesis in Egypt: The Philosophy of Ancient Egyptian Creation Accounts. Yale Egyptological Studies 2. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988.
  • Assmann, Jan. The Search for God in Ancient Egypt. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001.
  • Assmann, Jan. Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014.
  • David, A. Rosalie. Religion and Magic in Ancient Egypt. London: Penguin, 2002.
  • Dunand, Françoise, and Christiane Zivie-Coche. Gods and Men in Egypt: 3000 BCE to 395 CE. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004.
  • Hoffmeier, James Karl. Akhenaten and the Origins of Monotheism. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.
  • Hornung, Erik. Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and the Many. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996.
  • Hornung, Erik. The Secret Lore of Egypt: Its Impact on the West. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002.
  • Lehner, Mark. The Complete Pyramids. London: Thames & Hudson, 1997.
  • Quirke, Stephen. Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2015.
  • Redford, Donald B., ed. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. 3 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
  • Reeves, Nicholas, and Richard H. Wilkinson. The Complete Valley of the Kings: Tombs and Treasures of Egypt’s Greatest Pharaohs. London: Thames & Hudson, 1996.
  • Teeter, Emily. Religion and Ritual in Ancient Egypt. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
  • Wilkinson, Richard H. The Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt. London: Thames & Hudson, 2000.
  • Wilkinson, Richard H. The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. London: Thames & Hudson, 2003.
  • Wilkinson, Toby, ed. The Egyptian World. London and New York: Routledge, 2007.


  • 1. On the history of ancient Egypt, see Toby Wilkinson, The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt: The History of a Civilisation from 3000 BC to Cleopatra (New York: Random House, 2010); David Wengrow, The Archaeology of Early Egypt: Social Transformations in North-East Africa, 10,000 to 2650 BC (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2006). On early connections, see Samuel Mark, From Egypt to Mesopotamia: A Study of Predynastic Trade Routes (Studies in Nautical Archaeology 4; College Station: Texas A&M University press, 1997). On chronology, Erik Hornung, Rolf Krauss, and David A. Warburton, eds., Ancient Egyptian Chronology (Handbuch der Orientalistik, erste Abteilung: Der Nahe und Mittlere Osten/Handbook of Oriental Studies, section 1: The Near and Middle East 83. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2006).

  • 2. LGG = Christian Leitz, ed., Lexikon der ägyptischen Götter und Götterbezeichnungen (8 vols.; Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 110–116, 129; Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2002–2003). See Richard H. Wilkinson, The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt (London: Thames & Hudson, 2003), 6. See also Dagmar Budde, “Epithets, Divine,” in The UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 1(1) (UCLA: Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, 2011).

  • 3. On the geography of ancient Egypt, see Stephen Quirke, Exploring Religion in Ancient Egypt (Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2015), 12–23; A. Rosalie David, Religion and Magic in Ancient Egypt. London: Penguin, 2002), chapter 1; Donald B. Redford, ed. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), vol. 2, 16–20.

  • 4. See Lisa L. Giddy, Egyptian Oases: Baḥariya, Dakhla, Farafra and Kharga during Pharaonic Times (Warminster, U.K.: Aris & Phillips, 1987); Dionisius A. Agius, John P. Cooper, Athena Trakadas, and Chiara Zazzaro, eds., Navigated Spaces, Connected Places: Proceedings of Red Sea Project V Held at the University of Exeter, 16–19 September 2010 (British Foundation for the Study of Arabia Monographs 12; BAR International Series 2346; Oxford: Archaeopress, 2012); Pierre Tallet and El-Sayed Mahfouz, eds., The Red Sea in Pharaonic Times: Recent Discoveries along the Red Sea Coast; Proceedings of the Colloquium held in Cairo/Ayn Soukhna 11th–12th January 2009 (Bibliothèque d’étude 155; Cairo: Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale, 2012).

  • 5. Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses, 106–108, s.v. “Hapy”; Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 2, 466, and „Nile“ (543–551, esp. 550); Lexikon der Ägyptologie (henceforth LÄ) (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1975–), s.v. „Nil,“ „Nilgott,“ „Nilquelle.“

  • 6. Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses, 92–97, “Amun, Amun-Re,” 205–209 “Re”; Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 1, s.v. “Amun and Amun-Re,” vol. 3, s.v. “Re and Re-Horakhty”; “Ra,” Iconography of Deities and Demons. See further Stephen Quirke, The Cult of Ra: Sun-Worship in Ancient Egypt (London: Thames & Hudson, 2001).

  • 7. Osiris was worshiped from the Old Kingdom period on; the relationship between him and the deceased changed through time. On Osiris, see Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses, 118–123; Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, 615–619; LÄ 4: 623–633. On the changing relationship between Osiris and the deceased, see Mark Smith, “Osiris and the Deceased in Ancient Egypt: Perspectives from Four Millennia,” Annuaire, École Pratique des Hautes Études: Ve section—sciences religieuses 121 (2012–2013): 88–101.

  • 8. Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses, 213–215, “Nekhbet”; Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, 322–324, “Crowns”; LÄ 3: 811–813, “Kronen.”

  • 9. Quirke, Exploring Religion, 19–23; Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses, 84–87, “Nome Deities”; Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 1, 16–20, “Administration: Provincial Administration”; LÄ 2, s.v. “Gaue,” “Gauzeichen.”

  • 10. Erik Hornung, Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and the Many (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996), 228.

  • 11. Quirke, Exploring Religion, 19–25. See also, more generally, Colin Renfrew and Paul Bahn, Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice (London: Thames & Hudson, 2012), esp. 403–410.

  • 12. On Akhenaten, Aten, and the Amarna period, see Jacquelyn Williamson, Jacquelyn “Amarna Period,” UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 1(1); Janne Arp, Die Nekropole als Figuration: zur Methodik der sozialen Interpretation der Felsfassadengräber von Amarna (Göttinger Orientforschungen 4, Reihe Ägypten 50; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2012); Emily Teeter, Religion and Ritual in Ancient Egypt (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 182–196; Hornung, Conceptions of God, 244–250. See further, e.g., James K. Hoffmeier, Akhenaten and the Origins of Monotheism (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2015); Erik Hornung, Akhenaten and the Religion of Light, translated by David Lorton (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999). On monotheism/henotheism, see Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, s.v. “Monotheism.”

  • 13. See, e.g., Jan Assmann, From Akhenaten to Moses: Ancient Egypt and Religious Change (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2014); Jan Assmann, Of God and Gods: Egypt, Israel, and the Rise of Monotheism (George L. Mosse Series in Modern European Cultural and Intellectual History; Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2008). For a discussion of various approaches, see Nanno Marinatos, “The Debate over Egyptian Monotheism: Richard H. Wilkinson’s Perspective,” in Pearce Paul Creasman, ed., Archaeological Research in the Valley of the Kings and Ancient Thebes: Papers Presented in Honor of Richard H. Wilkinson (Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Egyptian Expedition, 2013), 173–179; Anne Koch Anne and Bernd U. Schipper, “Echnatons ‘Monotheismus’: Rezeptionen in den Wissenschaften,” in Christian Tietze, ed., Amarna: Lebensräume—Lebensbilder—Weltbilder (Potsdam: Arcus-Verlag, 2008), 276–287; Rolf Krauss, “Akhenaten: Monotheist? Polytheist?,” Bulletin of the Australian Centre for Egyptology 11 (2000): 93–101.

  • 14. John Baines, “Presenting and Discussing Deities in New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period Egypt,“ in Beate Pongratz-Leisten, ed., Reconsidering the Concept of Revolutionary Monotheism (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2011), 41–89.

  • 15. Manfred Görg, Religionen in der Umwelt des Alten Testaments III: Ägyptische Religion; Wurzeln—Wege—Wirkungen (Studienbücher Theologie 4.3; Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 2007), 25–27; Wengrow, Archaeology of Early Egypt, 56–59.

  • 16. Görg, Religionen, 27–37; Richard H. Wilkinson, Symbol and Magic in Egyptian Art (New York: Thames & Hudson, 1999), 225–228 (for early representations of deities); Hornung, Conceptions of God, 100–109.

  • 17. Wilkinson, Symbol and Magic, 241–278.

  • 18. Hornung, Conceptions of God, 34–40. In the Ptolemaic period, a star and other signs were added to the corpus.

  • 19. Görg, Religionen, 34–51.

  • 20. On Egyptian myths and mythological texts, see Quirke, Exploring Religion, 112–118, 135–142; Roland Enmarch, “Theodicy,” UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 1(1); Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, “Mythological Texts,” “Myths”; Marshall Clagett, Ancient Egyptian Science: A Source Book; Volume One: Knowledge and Order (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1989).

  • 21. On creation myths in general, see Quirke, Exploring Religion, 141–143; Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses, 16–19; David, Religion and Magic, chap. 3; Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, 469–472, “Myths.” See further Susanne Bickel, La cosmogonie égyptienne avant le Nouvel Empire (Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 134; Freiburg: Éditions Universitaires, 1994); James P. Allen, Genesis in Egypt: The Philosophy of Ancient Egyptian Creation Accounts (Yale Egyptological Studies 2: New Haven, CT: Yale Egyptological Seminar, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, 1988). On the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, see Brett McClain, “Cosmogony (Late to Ptolemaic and Roman Periods).” UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 1(1).

  • 22. Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 2, s.v. “Nun”; LÄ 4, s.v. “Nun.”

  • 23. Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses, 78–79, “Enneads”; LÄ 4, s.v. “Neunheit.”

  • 24. Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses, 77–78, “Ogdoads”; LÄ 1, s.v. “Achtheit”; Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 3, s.v. “Thoth.” In later traditions it was Thoth who created himself, the Ogdoad being his souls.

  • 25. Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 3, s.v. “Ptah.” See further Boyo G. Ockinga, “The Memphite Theology: Its Purpose and Date,” In Alexandra Woods, Ann McFarlane, and Susanne Binder, eds., Egyptian Culture and Society: Studies in Honour of Naguib Kanawati 2 (Cairo: Conseil Suprême des Antiquités, 2010), 99–117; Jan Assmann, “Rezeption und Auslegung in Ägypten: Das ‘Denkmal memphitischer Theologie’ als Auslegung der heliopolitanischen Kosmogonie,” in Reinhard Gregor Kratz and Thomas Krüger, eds., Rezeption und Auslegung im Alten Testament und in seinem Umfeld: ein Symposium aus Anlass des 60. Geburtstags von Odil Hannes Steck (Freiburg: Presses Universitaires, 1997), 125–139.

  • 26. See above on creation myths in general; Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 2, 470.

  • 27. Nadine Guilhou, “Myth of the Heavenly Cow,” UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 1(1); Erik Hornung, Der ägyptische Mythos von der Himmelskuh: eine Aetiologie des Unvollkommenen (Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 46; Freiburg: Presses Universitaires, 1997).

  • 28. Hornung, Conceptions of God, 227–230; LÄ 1, s.v. “Dat.”

  • 29. Hornung, Conceptions of God, 162–165; LÄ 6, s.v. “Weltbild,” “Weltende.”

  • 30. On Maat, see Quirke, Exploring Religion, 150–151; Emily Teeter, The Presentation of Maat: Ritual and Legitimacy in Ancient Egypt (Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization 57; Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 1997); Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 2, s.v. “Maat”; LÄ 3, s.v. “Maat”; Jan Assmann, Ma’at: Gerechtigkeit und Unsterblichkeit im Alten Ägypten (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1990). See further Maulana Karenga, Maat: The Moral Ideal in Ancient Egypt, a Study in Classical African Ethics (New York: Routledge, 2004); Miriam Lichtheim, Maat in Egyptian Autobiographies and Related Studies (Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 120; Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1992).

  • 31. On magic, see Teeter, Religion and Ritual, 161–181; Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 2, s.v. “Magic”; LÄ 3, s.v. “Magie.” See also Kerry Muhlestein, “Execration Ritual,” UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 1(1).

  • 32. In general, see Hornung, Conceptions of God. Monographs on specific deities are, e.g., Terence DuQuesne, The Jackal Divinities of Egypt, 1: From the Archaic Period to Dynasty X (Oxfordshire Communications in Egyptology 6; London: Darengo, 2005); Olaf E. Kaper, The Egyptian God Tutu: A Study of the Sphinx-god and Master of Demons with a Corpus of Monuments (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 119; Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2003); Herman te Velde, Seth, God of Confusion: A Study of his Role in Egyptian Mythology and Religion (Probleme der Ägyptologie 6;. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1967).

  • 33. Quirke, Exploring Religion, 27–37; Hornung, Conceptions of God, 33–65.

  • 34. E.g., Thomas Schneider, “Sur l’étymologie de nčr “dieu: à propos d'une interprétation récente,” Studi di Egittologia e di Antichità Puniche 12 (1993): 77–86.

  • 35. Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 1, s.v. „Ba“; LÄ 1, s.v. “B”; J. F. Borghouts, “Divine Intervention in Ancient Egypt and its Manifestation (bAw),” In R. J. Demarée and Jac J. Janssen, eds., Gleanings from Deir el-Medîna (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1982), 1–70; Louis V. Žabkar, A Study of the Ba Concept in Ancient Egyptian Texts (Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization 34; Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 1968), for Amun see 129–130.

  • 36. E.g., Jíří Janák, “Akh,” UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 1(1); Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 1, s.v. „Akh“; LÄ 1, s.v. „Ach.“

  • 37. Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 1, s.v. „Ka“; LÄ 3, s.v. “Ka,” LÄ 5, s.v. “Sechem.”

  • 38. Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses, 20–23; Hornung, Conceptions of God, 143–196.

  • 39. LÄ 5, s.v. “Stadtgott.”

  • 40. Hornung, Conceptions of God, 128–135, 166–172, 197–206.

  • 41. On names and epithets in general see Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 1, s.v. “Epithets,” vol. 2, s.v. “Names.”

  • 42. Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses, 36–39; Hornung, Conceptions of God, 66–99.

  • 43. Hornung, Conceptions of God, 56, 118–121, 127. See also Erik Hornung, Das Buch der Anbetung des Re im Westen (Sonnenlitanei): nach den Versionen des Neuen Reiches (2 vols.; Aegyptiaca Helvetica 2–3; Geneva, Switzerland: Éditions des Belles-Lettres, 1975–1976).

  • 44. Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses, 221–223, “Apophis,” 236–241, “Aten.”

  • 45. Hornung, Conceptions of God, 66–88.

  • 46. Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 1, s.v. “Astronomy”; Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses, 90–91, “Star Deities,” 241, “Moon”; Hornung, Conceptions of God, 80; IDD “Khonsu” and; IDD „Constellations (Egypt)“ and

  • 47. E.g., Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses, 33–35; Hornung, Conceptions of God, 91–99.

  • 48. Aidan Dodson, “Rituals Related to Animal Cults,” UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 1(1); Teeter, Religion and Ritual, 91–92; LÄ, s.v. „Tierkult.“ See further Martin Fitzenreiter, Tierkulte im pharaonischen Ägypten und im Kulturvergleich: Beiträge eines Workshops am 7.6. und 8.6 (Internet-Beiträge zur Ägyptologie und Sudanarchäologie 4; Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 2002).

  • 49. On Egyptian kingship in general see Katja Goebs, “Kingship,” Toby Wilkinson, ed., The Egyptian World (London and New York: Routledge, 2007), 275–295; Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses, 54–63; Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 1, s.v. „Kingship“; Hornung, Conceptions of God, 191–196; LÄ 3, s.v. “König,” “König-Gott-Verhältnis,” “Königsberofung,” “Königsideologie.”

  • 50. O. Kaelin, “Ein vorderasiatisches Ideen-Cluster zur frühen Inszenierung des ägyptischen Herrschers,” in K. S. Schmidt, ed., Gedenkschrift für Mark A. Brandes (1929–2011) (AOAT 423; Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2015), 127–148.

  • 51. Wilkinson, Symbol and Magic, 183–229.

  • 52. Wilkinson, Symbol and Magic, 230–260, 274–279.

  • 53. On Old Kingdom kingship, see Miroslav Bárta, “Egyptian Kingship during the Old Kingdom,” In Jane A. Hill, Philip Jones, and Antonio J. Morales, eds., Experiencing Power, Generating Authority: Cosmos, Politics, and the Ideology of Kingship in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 2013), 257–283; Dagmar Stockfisch, Untersuchungen zum Totenkult des ägyptischen Königs im Alten Reich: die Dekoration der königlichen Totenkultanlagen (Antiquitates: Archäologische Forschungsergebnisse 25; Hamburg: Kovač, 2003).

  • 54. Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 3, s.v. „Valley oft he Kings“; LÄ 3, s.v. „Königsgräbertal.“ See also

  • 55. E.g., Stefanie Schröder, Millionenjahrhaus: zur Konzeption des Raumes der Ewigkeit im konstellativen Königtum in Sprache, Architektur und Theologie (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2010); Susanna Constanze Heinz, Die Feldzugsdarstellungen des Neuen Reiches: eine Bildanalyse (Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Denkschriften der Gesamtakademie 18; Untersuchungen der Zweigstelle Kairo des Österreichischen Archäologischen Institutes 17; Vienna: Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2001)

  • 56. Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 3, s.v. “Tombs,” 425–433; LÄ 3, s.v. „Königsgrab.“

  • 57. Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses, 64–67; Hornung, Conceptions of God, 230–237.

  • 58. Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 2, s.v. “Montu, vol. 3, s.v. “Seth.”

  • 59. Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses, 72–79.

  • 60. Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses, 79–91.

  • 61. Hornung, Conceptions of God, 146–148, 230–231.

  • 62. In general, Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses, 26–31; Hornung, Conceptions of God, 100–142.

  • 63. O. Kaelin, “Deities vs. Demons in Mesopotamia. Iconography of Deities and Demons.”

  • 64. Wilkinson, Symbol and Magic, 262–264. For Min and

  • 65. E.g., Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 1, s.v. „Insignia.“

  • 66. Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses, 92–135; Dagmar Budde, “Child Deities,” UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 1(1); Alexandra von Lieven, “Deified Humans,” UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 1(1).

  • 67. Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses, 136–169.

  • 68. Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses, 170–235; Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 1, 512–513.

  • 69. Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses, 26–28; Hornung, Conceptions of God, 109–125. See also Erik Hornung, “Komposite Gottheiten in der ägyptischen Ikonographie,” in Christoph Uehlinger, ed., Images as Media: Sources for the Cultural History of the Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean, 1st Millenium BCE (Fribourg: University Press, 2000).

  • 70. See, e.g., Rita Lucarelli, “Demons (Benevolent and Malevolent),” UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 1(1); Henry G. Fischer, “The Ancient Egyptian Attitude towards the Monstrous,” in Ann E. Farkas, Prudence O. Harper, and Evelyn B. Harrison, eds., Monsters and Demons in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds: Papers Presented in Honor of Edith Porada (Mainz: von Zabern, 1987), 13–26.

  • 71. Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses, 236–241.

  • 72. Hornung, Conceptions of God, 125–135.

  • 73. Quirke, Exploring Religion, 94–97.

  • 74. On interactions between gods and men, see Teeter, Religion and Ritual, 76–118; Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses, 42–51; Hornung, Conceptions of God, 197–236.

  • 75. On temples, see Quirke, Exploring Religion, 80–88; Teeter, Religion and Ritual, 39–55. See also David A. Warburton, Architecture, Power, and Religion: Hatshepsut, Amun and Karnak in Context (Beiträge zur Archäologie 7; Vienna and Berlin: LIT, 2012); Richard H. Wilkinson, The Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt (London: Thames & Hudson, 2000).

  • 76. LÄ 5, 791–804, s.v. “See, hlg.”

  • 77. Teeter, Religion and Ritual, 36–37; LÄ 6, s.v. “Tempelbesitz.”

  • 78. Teeter, Religion and Ritual, 41–45; Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 3, s.v. “Sculpture,” esp. 242–246.

  • 79. Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 2, s.v. „Opening oft he Mouth.“

  • 80. On cult statues see Quirke, Exploring Religion, 88–91; Teeter, Religion and Ritual, 53–55; Gay Robins, “Cult Statues in Ancient Egypt,” in Neal H. Walls, ed., Cult Image and Divine Representation in the Ancient Near East (Boston: American Schools of Oriental Research, 2005), 1–12. On the lists details on statues see Sylvie Cauville, “Les statues cultuelles de Dendera d’après les inscriptions pariétales,” Bulletin de l’Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale 87 (1987): 73–117.

  • 81. On the daily ritual see Quirke, Exploring Religion, 91–92; Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 2, s.v. „Offerings.“

  • 82. On priests see Quirke, Exploring Religion, 92–94; Teeter, Religion and Ritual, 16–38; LÄ 6, 387–407, “Tempelpersonal I & II.”

  • 83. On festivals see Quirke, Exploring Religion, 97–106; Teeter, Religion and Ritual, 56–75; Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 1, s.v. “Festivals”; LÄ 2, 171–191, “Feste.” On festivals in the Ptolemaic in Roman periods see Filip Coppens, “Temple Festivals of the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods.” UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 1(1). On oracles, Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 2, s.v. “Oracles”; Alexandra von Lieven, “Divination in Ägypten,” Altorientalische Forschungen 26.1 (1999): 77–126.

  • 84. Teeter, Religion and Ritual, 58–66.

  • 85. Teeter, Religion and Ritual, 66–73; LÄ 6, 187–189, “Talfest.”

  • 86. Teeter, Religion and Ritual, 73–75; LÄ 1, 201–203, “Amenophis I.”

  • 87. LÄ 5, 782–789, “Sedfest.” See further Erik Hornung and Elisabeth Staehelin, Neue Studien zum Sedfest (Aegyptiaca Helvetica 20; Basel: Schwabe, 2006).

  • 88. John Darnell, “Opet Festival,” UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 1(1); LÄ 4, s.v. „Opetfest.“

  • 89. On the terminology see Michela Luiselli, “Personal Piety (modern theories related to),” UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 1(1). See also Maria Michela Luiselli, Die Suche nach Gottesnähe: Untersuchungen zur persönlichen Frömmigkeit in Ägypten von der 1. Zwischenzeit bis zum Ende des Neuen Reiches (Ägypten und Altes Testament 73; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2011); Kasia M. Szpakowska, Daily life in Ancient Egypt: Recreating Lahun (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

  • 90. Teeter, Religion and Ritual, 60, 77–87. On the “counter-temples” see Rudolf Jaggi, “Gegenkapellen in der Thebaïs,” 3 (2002): 57–64.

  • 91. Geraldine Pinch and Elizabeth A. Waraksa, “Votive Practices,” UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 1(1); Teeter, Religion and Ritual, 87–92; Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 1, s.v. „Amulets.“ See also Günter Vittman, “Personal Names: Function and Significance,” UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 1(1).

  • 92. E.g., Anna Stevens, “Domestic Religious Practices,” UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 1(1).

  • 93. Teeter, Religion and Ritual, 92–101; Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 3, s.v. “Sculpture,” esp. 235–242, s.v. “Stelae.”

  • 94. Wengrow, Archaeology of Early Egypt, 72–98, quoting p. 83.

  • 95. Mark Smith, “Osiris and the Deceased,” UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 1(1); Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 1, s.v. „Judgment of the Dead.“

  • 96. On Egyptian afterlife, see Quirke, Exploring Religion, 230–237; Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 1, s.v. „Afterlife.“ On death see Jan Assmann, Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt, translated by David Lorton (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005).

  • 97. On funerary rites and the dead see Harold Hays, “Funerary Rituals (Pharaonic Period),” UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 1(1); Teeter, Religion and Ritual, 119–160. On the development of the tombs and its provisioning see Quirke, Exploring Religion, 201–230; Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 1, s.v. “Funerary Ritual,” vol. 3, s.v. “Tombs.” For the Ptolemaic and Roman periods see Christina Riggs, “Funerary Rituals (Ptolemaic and Roman Periods),” UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 1(1); LÄ 6, s.v. “Totenkult, Totenglauben.”

  • 98. A. Rosalie David, ed., Egyptian Mummies and Modern Science (Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 11–17; Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 2, s.v. „Mummification.“

  • 99. Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 1, s.v. „Canopic Jars and Chests.“

  • 100. Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 1, s.v. „Coffin, Sarcophagi, and Cartonnages,“ “Masks” (346–348).

  • 101. Alexandra Verbovsek, “Als Gunsterweis des Königs in den Tempel gegeben-- ” : private Tempelstatuen des Alten und Mittleren Reiches (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2004).

  • 102. T. Wilkinson, Egyptian World, 401–471; Stefan Pfeiffer, “Egypt and Greece before Alexander,” UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 1(1); Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 1, s.v. „Mediterraenean Area.“

  • 103. Christiane Zivie-Coche, “Foreign Deities in Egypt,” UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 1(1).

  • 104. Kaelin, “Ein vorderasiatisches Ideen-Cluster,” 127–148.

  • 105. Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses, 105 (Dedwen); Thomas Schneider, “Wer war der Gott ‘Chajtau’?,” in Krzysztof M. Ciałowicz and Janusz A. Ostrowski, eds., Les civilisations du bassin Méditerranéen: hommages à Joachim Śliwa (Cracow: Université Jagaellonne, Institut d’Archéologie, 2000), 215–220.

  • 106. Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses, 101–102, “Baal,” 126–127, “Reshep,” 137, “Anat,” 138–139, “Astarte”; IDD “Anat” and; “Astarte” and; “Baal” and; “Resheph” and; “Yam” and

  • 107. Oskar Kaelin, “Modell Ägypten”: Adoption von Innovationen im Mesopotamien des 3. Jahrtausends v. Chr. (Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis, Series Archaeologica 26; Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006).

  • 108. Paolo Matthiae, “Pouvoir et prestige: Images égyptiennes pour le panthéon et la royauté paléosyrienne,” in R. Stucky et al., eds., Proceedings of the 9th International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, 2014 Basel (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2016); Susan Tower Hollis, “Hathor and Isis in Byblos in the Second and First Millennia BCE,” Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 1.2 (2009): 1–8; Béatrice Teissier, Egyptian Iconography on Syro-Palestinian Cylinder Seals of the Middle Bronze Age (Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis, Series Archaeologica 11; Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1995).

  • 109. Othmar Keel, The Symbolism of the Biblical World: Ancient Near Eastern Iconography and the Book of Psalms, translated by Timothy J. Hallett (New York: Seabury, 1978), 178–230 (various examples).

  • 110. E.g., Eric Gubel, Eric „Multicultural and Multimedial Aspects of Early Phoenician Art, c. 1200–675 BCE,“ in Christoph Uehlinger, ed., Images as Media: Sources for the Cultural History of the Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean, 1st millenium BCE (Fribourg: University Press, 2000), 185–214.

  • 111. Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 2, s.v. “Nubia,” vol. 3, 460–461, “Twenty-fifth Dynasty.”

  • 112. E.g., Oskar Kaelin, „Pazuzu, Lamaschtu-Reliefs und Horus-Stelen: Ägypten als Modell im 1. Jt. v. Chr,“ in Susanne Bickel et al., eds., Bilder als Quellen/Images as Sources: Studies on Ancient Near Eastern Artefacts and the Bible Inspired by the Work of Othmar Keel (Fribourg: University Press, 2007), 365–378; Eric Gubel, „Das libyerzeitliche Ägypten und die Anfänge der phönizischen Ikonographie,“ In Manfred Görg and Günther Hölbl, eds., Ägypten und der östliche Mittelmeerraum im 1. Jahrtausend v. Chr.: Akten des Interdisziplinären Symposions am Institut für Ägyptologie der Universität München 25.-27.10.1996 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2000), 69–100.

  • 113. E.g., David Frankfurter, “Religion in Society: Graeco-Roman,” In Alan B. Lloyd, ed., A Companion to Ancient Egypt (Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2010), vol. 1, 527–546; David Frankfurter, Religion in Roman Egypt: Assimilation and Resistance (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998); Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses, 242–243; Redford, Oxford Encyclopedia, vol. 1, 190, “Isis,” vol. 2, 618–619, “Osiris”; LÄ 6, s.v. “Verehrung ägyptischer Götter im Ausland.”

  • 114. Saphinaz-Amal Naguib, “Survivals of Pharaonic Religious Practices in Contemporary Coptic Christianity,” UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 1(1).

  • 115. E.g., Adolf Erman, A Handbook of Egyptian Religion, translated by A. S. Griffith (London: Constable, 1907); Hermann Kees, Der Götterglaube im alten Ägypten (2d ed.; Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1956); Jaroslav Černý, Ancient Egyptian Religion (London: Hutchinson’s University Library, 1957).

  • 116. For a general overview, see Hornung, Conceptions of God, 15–32.

  • 117. E.g., Hornung, Conceptions of God (German original, 1972). Other works by Hornung are cited throughout this entry.

  • 118. Assmann, From Akhenaten to Moses; Jan Assmann, Cultural Memory and Early Civilization: Writing, Remembrance, and Political Imagination, translated by David Henry Wilson (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010); Jan Assmann, The Price of Monotheism (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008); Assmann, Of God and Gods.

  • 119. David, Religion and Magic; Teeter, Religion and Ritual.

  • 120. Quirke, Exploring Religion, 4–12, 25–27.

  • 121. James P. Allen, The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts (Writings from the Ancient World 23; Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2005).

  • 122. See, e.g., Mark Smith, “Democratization of the Afterlife,” UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 1(1); Harold M. Hays, “The Death of the Democratisation of the Afterlife,” in Nigel Strudwick and Helen Strudwick, eds., Old Kingdom, New Perspectives: Egyptian Art and Archaeology 2750–2150 BC (Oxford: Oxbow, 2011), 115–130.

  • 123. Raymond O. Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts (Warminster, U.K.: Aris & Phillips, 1973–1978).

  • 124. See, e.g., David Warburton, The Egyptian Amduat: The Book of the Hidden Chamber, edited by Erik Hornung and Theodor Abt (Zurich: Living Human Heritage, 2007).

  • 125. See, e.g., Erik Hornung and Theodor Abt, The Egyptian Book of Gates (Zurich: Living Human Heritage, 2014); Erik Hornung, The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife, translated by David Lorton (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999).

  • 126. On the Greco-Roman period, e.g., Colleen Manassa, The Late Egyptian Underworld: Sarcophagi and Related Texts from the Nectanebid Period, Part 1, Sarcophagi and Texts; Part 2, Plates (Ägypten und Altes Testament 72; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2007); Burkhard Backes and Jacco Dieleman, eds., Liturgical Texts for Osiris and the Deceased in Late Period and Greco-Roman Egypt/Liturgische Texte für Osiris und Verstorbene im spätzeitlichen Ägypten: Proceedings of the Colloquiums at New York (ISAW), 6 May 2011, and Freudenstadt, 18–21 July 2012 (Studien zur spätägyptischen Religion 14; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2015). For the important temples see,on Dendera, Sylvie Cauville, Dendara—le pronaos du temple d’Hathor: analyse de la décoration, with photographs by Alain Lecler (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 221; Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2013); Sylvie Cauville, Dendara XV: traduction. Le pronaos du temple d’Hathor: plafond et parois extérieures (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 213; Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2012), as well as earlier volumes of the Dendera series. On Edfu see Dieter Kurth, Edfou VI: Die Inschriften des Tempels von Edfu: Abteilung I Übersetzungen 3 (Gladbeck: PeWe, 2014), as well as earlier volumes of the Edfou series. For various other aspects see the volumes of the series Studien zur spätägyptischen Religion (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz).

  • 127. On the image programs in temples, see Hosam Refai, Untersuchungen zum Bildprogramm der grossen Säulensäle in den thebanischen Tempeln des Neuen Reiches (Veröffentlichungen der Institute für Afrikanistik und Ägyptologie der Universität Wien 91; Beiträge zur Ägyptologie 18; Vienna: Institute für Afrikanistik und Ägyptologie, 2000). For the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, see Reeves and Wilkinson Complete Valley of the Kings, 33–37; Erik Hornung, The Tomb of Pharaoh Seti I, with photographs by Henry Burton (Zürich, Switzerland: Artemis, 1991). On royal mortuary temples in the Old Kingdom see Stockfisch, Untersuchunger der Totenkult, and in the New Kingdom, Schröder, Millionenjarhaus.