Amun, the Great God :
Hidden, One and Millions.

AMUN : unbegotten preexistence
double-concealed in transcendence and immanence
and the unity of Ancient Egyptian theologies

by Wim van den Dungen

"O You, the Great God, whose name is unknown."
 Pharaoh Unis (PT 276c - ca. 2350 BCE)

The translation of The Hymns to Amun is part of my Ancient Egyptian Readings (2016), a POD publication in paperback format of all translations available at These readings span a period of thirteen centuries, covering all important stages of Ancient Egyptian literature. Translated from Egyptian originals, they are ordered chronologically and were considered by the Egyptians as part of the core of their vast literature.

The study of the sources, hieroglyphs, commentaries and pictures situating the text itself remain on the website at no cost.

 "None of the gods knows His true form,
His image is not unfolded in the papyrus rolls,
nothing certain is testified about Him."

Hymns to Amun, Papyrus Leiden I 350, chapter 200, lines 22- 24.
ca.1213 BCE (end of the reign of Ramesses II)

Table of Contents


1 Amun in the Old and Middle Kingdoms.

1.1 Amun as hidden, primordial god in the Pyramid Texts.
1.2 Amun, hidden of name in the Coffin Texts.

2 The crisis of polytheism in the New Kingdom.

2.1 The New Solar Theology and early Amun-Re theology.
2.2 Amarna, the Restoration & late Amun-Re theology.


Philological remarks.
Text in English with Commentary.
III Text in French
IV Hieroglyphic Text.



The importance of the state cult of Amun (later Amun-Re), initiated in the Middle Kingdom, is undisputed. The cult of Amun-Re, the "king of the gods", was outstanding, as archaeological, monumental, textual, ritual & funerary evidence shows. So powerful was the name : "Amun", that Akhenaten tried to erase it from the records (scriptoral as well as monumental). This outrage was immediately restored by Tutankhamun after the heretical king died. In the Ramesside era, after the Amarna episode, Amun rose to even more formidable resplendance. In the Third Intermediate Period which followed the New Kingdom, civil stife occured & a double monarchy ruled : a military dictatorship of the high priests of Thebes (with Amun-Re as Pharaoh) versus the Kings of Tanis in the Delta. But, Amun's cult remain active as far as Upper Nubia ...

"A papyrus furnished the number of persons in the service of Amun during the reign of Ramesses III (ca.1198 - 1166 BCE) -priests, peasants in the fields, hunters, boatmen, administrators, and workers of all sorts- a total of 81.322 persons ! We also learn from this papyrus that this fortunate god owned 433 gardens, 591.320 acres of fields, 83 boats, 46 construction sites, and 65 towns, all dedicated to the sole purpose of maintaining his sacred domains. Seeing these figures, we can easily imagine the astonishing number of priests and other staff who could be employed in the cult and the management of such an organism : we can count as many as one hundred twenty-five different posts among the personnel employed in the service of this all-powerful god." - Sauneron, 2000, pp.52-53 (translated by David Lorton).

The importance of the cultic, ritual and intellectual activities offered to Amun-Re, answered theological and philosophical answers posed by the confrontation between the monotheist, solitary & Pharaonic solution of Akhenaten and the undisputed adherence of the people to a plurality of deities, acting in constellations (Assmann) and listening (during the festivals) to the voice-offerings of the commoners. These discussions and ideas were "secret", implying a limited access. The "inner" aspect of the Egyptian Sun-cult was only for an elite. The Books of the Netherworld are royal guides, i.e. the best of the best knowledge for the afterlife.

"The 'inner aspect' of the Egyptian sun-cult, its mysteries, is constituted by a tradition that specifies what must be known, said and done during the enactment of it. The representatives of this tradition are a small circle of professional priests and scholars. They are in no sense identical nor should they be confused with the larger circle of sun-worshippers, which in the New Kingdom almost took on the character of a 'movement'." - Assmann, 1995, p.17.

no supreme, creative, supernatural principle or being (God) exists ;
it is unknown and/or remains unknown whether a supreme, creative, supernatural principle or being exists or not ;
a supreme being exists (God) or supreme beings exist (gods and/or goddesses) ;
a collection of such gods & goddesses exists ;
one supreme principle or being (God) exists and is at the head of (abides in) a pantheon, or family of deities ;
one and only one supreme principle or being (God) exists ;
there is only one supreme being and that is creation itself ;
all happens in one supreme being (God) who transcends creation but who nevertheless is creation itself (with or without other supreme beings).

Following themes run accross our philosophical study of Amenism :

  • the synthesis of the main theologies : It became necessary to invoke Amun-Re as an all-comprehensive deity, who united the principle of creation (Re), verbality (Thoth), materiality (Ptah) and tenacity (Osiris-Pharaoh). How to realize this, without harming the integrity and uniqueness of each individual deity ? How to give form to such all-comprehensiveness and maintain the countless gods and goddesses of the constellational pantheon (rooted in mythical & pre-rational thought - cf. Verb) ?

  • the replacement of Pharaonic rule : In the Ramesside experience, the world had become unstable. The presence of (a heretic) Pharaoh could lead to the exodus of the deities ! Pharaoh no longer guaranteed order, but he lived by it because he followed the will of the god. The just follow Pharaoh, because Pharaoh follows the god. The notion of Pharaoh as source of order "sui generis" (as in the Old Kingdom - cf. Wenis) was discarded (although in the New Kingdom exceptions occur : Amenophis III, Akhenaten, Ramesses II).

  • the democratization of mediation : From the Middle Kingdom onwards, deceased non-royals could assume the title "Osiris-NN" and, if justified by Maat (i.e. truth-speaking), enter the Osirian Field of Reeds. Although during festivals and in the open courts of the temple, common Egyptians made offerings, danced & prayed, and hence participated in the cultic acts, they did not hope that the god would hear their voice-offerings directly and personally. This was reserved to Pharaoh and his priests. Akhenaten had been the last Pharaoh to have implemented this idea "de manu militari" with unbelievable tenacity & zeal. This had taught the commoner to pray in silence, hidden from the social eye. Hence, in the Ramesside theology of Amun-Re, such a direct experience (called by Assmann "personal piety") was deemed possible, for Amun-Re (with large ears), heared the prayers of the poor and everything was in his omnipotent hands & onmiscient heart. By placing Amun-Re in one's mind (a divine person rather than a divine energy, intimate rather than cosmic), one's voice-offering would be returned if he willed, and nothing in-between was longer necessary to mediate the divine communication.

  • the exodus of monotheism : The founding story of Judaism, the Exodus, probably took place under Ramesses II (Modrzejewski, 1995). If we accept that Moses was initiated in the Egyptian mysteries, we may put into evidence the resemblance between the Mosaic heritage (of memory) and Amarna theology (of history). By introducing an aniconic religion, Moses only took Akhenaten's Aten-theology to its final step. Take away the "icon" of the Aten (and with it the realm of heliomorph proto-rationality and its contextual focus on light), reduce the role of Akhenaten to that of a "prophet" (one to whom the god reveals himself), and a more or less "rational" monotheism ensues. Furthermore, the ineffable, hidden & unsaying aspect of "YHVH" is an aniconic transposition of the name "Amun", the "hidden", whereas the "ALHYM" or Divine presence (the "shekinah") refers to Re and the deities ("Elohim" is a plural word - cf. theonomy). Israel, "a people come out of Egypt" (Numeri, xxii, 5 -11) indeed drank deeply at the wells of Egypt (Williams, 1981), as would the Greeks later ... 

Following table broadly sketches the different phases to be noted in Ancient Egyptian theology. It also summarizes the ideas proposed in this paper. The elements of philosophy prevailing in each phase have been put in italics.

1 Amun in the Old and Middle Kingdoms.

the Predynastic roots of the sacred

Evidence suggests that the domestication of cattle and the cultivation of cereals appeared in the Western Desert ca. 5000 BCE. Mid-Holocene aridity probably encouraged desert herders and farmers to settle along the banks of the Nile.

The Neolithic period is the interval between the emergence of farming villages on the banks of the Nile and the initiation of the Egyptian nation-state (ca. 3000 BCE). The earliest evidence of Neolithic communities in the Nile Vally dates between 5000 and 4100 BCE (cf. Merimda Beni Salama).

  • The Badarians (cf. Badari, Upper Egypt, about 4000 BCE) were a farming and herding community. These settlers raised cattle, sheep/goats and pigs. They cultivated barley and wheat and agriculture was supplemented by fishing and fowling. Pottery, glass, copper and glazed staetite were found at some sites. They provided their dead with food and placed female figurines in the graves. Funerary orientation was not yet fixed.

  • Middle Predynastic Period (ca. 4000 - 3600 BCE) : with Amratian culture (cf. site of el-Amra, Sohag - Naqada I) agriculture inceased, hunting deceased and a marked techological change took place. Pottery not yet diffused from Mesopotamia was created, with geometrical and naturalistic designs, unstructured in layout. Concentration and centralization of power in its incipient stages with the formation of a managerial class. Transportation of goods along the Nile. Social status evident in funerary cults. Clear proof of religious activity involving female deities such as Hathor. Graven images in tombs. Corpse on its left side, head of deceased pointing South, looking West.

  • Late Predynastic Period (ca. 3600 - 3300 BCE) :  in Gerzean culture (cf. site of el-Gerza, Fayum - Naqada II), fundamental changes happen and techniques were improved. Contacts with Mesopotamia. Cult centers and urban centers emerged, associated with chiefdoms, principalities, provincial states and village corporations united into regional kingdoms. Trade continued to flourish and wealth distinctions became more salient. Whole burial treasures. Sky & cow goddess Hathor is very prominent ;

  • Terminal Predynastic Period (ca. 3300 - 3000 BCE - Naqada III) : The rise of the Egyptian state was the result of wars and alliances. Over at least 250 years, fragmentation and reunification had occurred. In Upper Egypt, there had been the kingdoms of Naqada and Hierakonpolis, and in the Delta the petty kingdoms of Buto, Sais, Tell el-Balamoun, etc. The first major power emerged when the two Southern kingdoms of Hierakonpolis (Nekhen) and Naqada united. These kings from Hierakonpolis, later known as the "Followers of Horus" conquered and annexed the kingdom of Naqada (Seth) and later the Delta. FInally, Pharaoh Aha founded Memphis (or "Mennefer" in the North), to serve as a link between Upper and Lower Egypt (ca.3000 BCE) and initiated the Dynastic Period.

Although polytheism is attested, it is likely that the tendency towards one divine principle was present from the start of the Dynastic Period (ca. 3000 BCE). I speak of a "tendency" rather than of a basic monotheism with polytheism as a façade. Nevertheless, an overarching, mythical & pre-rational view was clearly present (cf. the figure of the Horus Falcon) and had formidable growth-potential, although the use of the word "monotheism" (cf. Otto's "Monotheistische Tendenzen in der ägyptischen Religion" of 1955) should be considered misleading in the context of the Early Dynastic Period (the Archaic Period, Dynasties I & II) and the early Old Kingdom (Dynasties III & IV).

a divine dual monarchy

In the Archaic Period, this tendency to unite was clearly manifested in the figure of Pharaoh (Hebrew pronunciation of "pr Aa", "great house"), the divine king, who was a "Follower of Horus". He had come from the South and was an embodiment of the divine, celestial and supreme principle. By his sheer presence, he guaranteed the unity of the Two Lands and represented Egypt as a whole (with his Residence in northern Memphis). The Horus names of these kings suggest the use of pairings, possibly reflecting the binary structure of Egypt (with its Two Lands, the South -Upper Egypt- and the North -Lower Egypt-).

"The institution of kingship was projected as the sole force which held the country together, and the dual nature of the monarchy was expressed in the king's regalia, in his titulary, and in royal rituals and festivals. This concept -the harmony of opposites, a totality embracing pared contrasts- chimed so effectively with the Egyptian world-view that the institution of kingship acquired what has been called a 'transcendent significance'. This helps to explain the centrality of the institution to Egyptian culture, and its longevity." - Wilkinson, 2001, p.185, quoting Frankfort, 1948).

These early figurations of unity are mythical (Pharaoh assimilating the sacred power of the "Great Goddess" of Predynastic times) and pre-rational (Pharaoh overseeing everything as does the falcon, a bird of prey that glides high up in the sky on the hot air and with a watchfull eye overlooks its large territory, soaring down on its prey at a 100 miles per hour, combining speed with endurance). On the ivory comb of Pharaoh Djet of the First Dynasty, Horus is represented in three forms : 

  1. as the celestial falcon, whose outspread wings are the vault of the sky ;

  2. as a falcon traversing the sky in a celestial, solar bark and 

  3. as a falcon atop Pharaoh's "serekh".

It is clear that Pharaoh was seen as Horus incarnate. Horus was the "great(est) god, lord of the sky", "he who is above", "face of heaven" (i.e. Horsemsu, "Hr-smsw" or Horus the elder and Heru-ur or "Horus the Great").

"The identification of the ruler with Horus, represented by a falcon, is apparent from late Predynastic times, and is given expression on royal monuments and in the serekhs of the kings from the period of state formation. It is possible that the worship of a celestial falcon god was widespread in Predynastic Egypt since there is evidence for the existence of several falcon cults. As a universal deity, Horus would have been a natural choice to associate with the kingship, since the connection would necessarily have had greater resonance and significance." - Wilkinson, 2001, p.184.

Besides one passing occurrence in the IIth Dynasty (Pharaoh Reneb), Re played no role in royal names (the titulary was not yet completed). But we do have IIIth Dynasty evidence of a single Solar creator god (cf. the Step Pyramid complex of Djoser by Imhotep).

"The religious idea driving this new construction is not recorded, but it seems that the Step Pyramid may be the first great monument equating the single earthly king with a single power in heaven, the sun. There are two supporting, if circumstantial pieces of evidence. In the reign of Netjerkhet (Djoser), for the first time Ra appears as not just the word for sun, but unequivocally as the name of a great god : one of the officials of the king bore the name Hesyra 'he whom Ra favours', with Ra written first as befits a deity. The second piece of evidence we have seen at Iunu itself, the fragments of stone shrine inscribed with the name of Netjerkhet and images of the king and of gods associated with Iunu." - Quirke, 2001, pp.119-120, Netjerkhet (Djoser) reigned between ca. 2654 - 2635 BCE.

In the IVth Dynasty, Solar theology got further developed and was explicitly linked with Pharaoh. The conflict between Horus and Seth was harmonized by Re and became a smaller part within the new general scheme of this single all-powerful Solar creator, who throned in the sky, ruling together with his official and unique son, Pharaoh, the "son of Re", who throned on Earth and who, in the afterlife, returned to his father (in the Northern, imperishable, circumpolar sky). Pharaoh Khephren completed the titulary.

"Perhaps the most powerful and pervasive ideology in Ancient Egyptian culture was the ideology of divine kingship : the belief that the king was the earthly incarnation of the supreme deity, a channel of communication between the divine and human spheres, and the unifying force that held Egypt together, without whom chaos would ensue." - Wilkinson, 2001, p.xiv, my italics

The Dynastic Titulary : a theo-political constitution ...

the example used is the original titulary of Amenhetep IV, followed by that of the later "Akhenaten", meaning : "He who is useful to Aten", "Radiance of Aten" or "Glory of Aten"




The Horus-name (a falcon perched on a rendering of an archaic palace or "serekh" within which is Pharaoh's name) is the oldest of the five names of the titulary. It designates Pharaoh as the incarnation of the divine power of kingship (Horus), residing in the palace (i.e. the "great house", Pharaoh). This is Horus, the "Lord of the sky". The earliest Pharoah's were only named with this Horus name. In the New Kingdom, "Mighty (or strong) Bull" was added at the beginning, but it was usually quite variable.

"Strong Bull of the Double Plumes"
"Strong Bull, Beloved (or lover) of Aten"

Clearly the Horus-name refers to the Predynastic and Early Dynastic Period and the original mythical link between kingship (as enduring unificator) and the falcon of the sky. This name shows that the unity of the Two Lands is guaranteed by a divine embodiment, Pharaoh. The latter exclusively embodied the overseeing qualities of the sky god Horus. He was the only "incarnation" of the celestial principle (the sky) on Earth (the Two Lands). He "embodied" the divine spirit ("akhu") of the sky god Horus, i.e. the power of the divine spirit "in the flesh".


This name appears in the First Dynasty. Nekhbet and Wadjet were the protective goddesses (cf. the "Two Ladies" - "nebty") of Upper and Lower Egypt respectively (a vulture & a cobra, each atop a basket). These two refer to the duality of Pharaoh's realm, as does "Lord of the Two Lands". The "Two Ladies" correspond to the "Two Lords", the royal gods Seth and Horus.

"Great of Kingship in Karnak"
"Great of Kingship in Khut-Aten"

The Two Ladies metaphorize the dual monarchy, as well as the duality that characterized creation as a whole. In the Ancient Egyptian mind, duality was the fundamental condition of every state of being, whether it be that of a deity or any other being. Creation and existence were constantly moving, or part of a process, fluctuating in cycles and rhythms. This fact is fully acknowledged in the myths and even made part of the Dynastic Titulary. The Horus-name underlined the divine presence of Pharaoh. The Nebty name makes that divine presence result in the tenacious continuity of unity of the Two Lands, and by extension, the harmony of the elemental opposites that characterize creation.

of Gold

The name of gold or Falcon of Gold name (first attested in the IVth Dynasty) is represented by a Horus falcon atop a beaded collar (gold). The name might refer to the wealth and splendour of Pharaoh, as well as to his enduring qualities (gold was considered to be the untarnished "flesh" of the deities). In the Papyrus of Ani (chapter 77), the Falcon of Gold refers to the Sekhet Hetep, the field of peace and nourishment.

"Crowned in Heliopolis of the South"
"Exalter of the Name of Aten"

The ancient name of Naqada, the cult centre of Seth, was "Nubt" or "golden (city)". Seth was described as "nbwty" or "the golden one". The image of Horus mounting gold, may have expressed the rule of order over chaos, and with it, the idea of Pharaoh as the champion of Maat.


This prenomen name is the youngest of the five names, first appearing in the Vth Dynasty. It is preceded by the title "King of Upper and Lower Egypt" ("he of the sedge and bee") and enclosed by a cartouche (a long oval, protective ring of rope, a cycle suggestive of eternity). More recent scholarship conjectures this name to be a statement regarding Pharaoh and his policies (instead of a theological statement concerning the god). It was compounded with the name of the Sun god Re (i.e. it included the hieroglyph of the disk of the Sun - N5). Eventually this name became the most important of the titulary, being (after the Middle Kingdom) often the only name by which Pharaoh is mentioned in texts.

"Nefer-kheperu-Re, Waen-Re" " or : perfect are the manifestations of Re, Sole one of Re" - "Nefer-kheperu-Re, Waen-Re, Living by Maat"

The title preceding the throne name apparently stressed Pharaoh was the embodiment of the dualities which made up Egypt and creation. This formal affirmation of dual kingship is then followed by the motto of the king, declaring the major theme of his reign and the tenacious powers with which he planned to guarantee the continuation of the order of creation (the unity of the Two Lands). 

of Re

Pharaoh's personal, nomen name is always preceded by : "son of Re" (first attested with a cartouche in the IVth Dynasty). This is the name given to the prince at birth. After coronation is was enclosed in a cartouche. It affirmed that Pharaoh is by birthright a god.

"His beloved Amenhetep, god-ruler of Thebes"
"Living by Maat, Lord of Crowns, Khut-en-Aten, Great in his Lifetime"

The fact that the epithet "son of god" precedes the name of the royal prince at birth, points to the intimate relationship between this human person and his divinity. Divine birthright, due to the exclusive filial relationship between Pharaoh and his father Re, the celestial principle of creation, is not based on a bloodline (the texts never mention "father of the king" or "brother of the king"). Kingship was a single line of individual manifestations of Re. This divine Solar king had contact with human women. The outcome, if male, was ipso facto divine too. Before his coronation, the prince could already use lofty titles, but never "son of Re".

Egyptian texts usually refer to Pharaoh, during his life and after his death, by his throne name. By convention, egyptologists use the nomen name instead. Since a Dynasty often had several kings with the same nomen name, they are numbered, a convention not used by the Egyptians themselves.

Atum-Re, Aten, Amun-Re : seeking to solarize the deities and initiation

By the Vth Dynasty, the supreme and divine Solar father of Pharaoh, namely Re, had surpassed Horus (god of the sky & the kingship). Re became the active power in the world, a position previously exclusively held by Pharaoh (Hornung, 1999). Pharaoh was the sole mediator, who offered truth and justice to his father Re (who returned what belonged to the sky-god, namely order). By doing so, the divine king maintained creation (the divine gift of a "good Nile") and conquered the forces of darkness, destruction, corruption and chaos inside and outside Egypt. In the afterlife, Pharaoh ascended to the sky to be with his father Re (cf. Pyramid Texts). The impact of Heliopolitan theology was immense. Atum, the "ba" of Nun, was the Sole Creator, and this "autogennetos". Atum creates Atum. Re and Atum are the same deity.

Hornung (1982) showed that the idea of oneness may be understood as "uniqueness", applicable to every deity as such and inherent in the concept of "netjer" ("nTr"), "god". The divine world, which was the spiritual expression of reality, was conceived as a multiplicity. According to Hornung, the only place were the Egyptians found the absolute unity of Divinity, was outside creation and existence, namely during the fugal transition between non-existence and existence (called "zep tepy", the "first occasion, or "first time"). 

For Assmann (1995), and rightly so, Hornung goes too far. For there are many textual examples dedicated to the "aloneness" of the supreme god, especially in the New Solar Theology, Atenism and the Ramesside theology of Amun-Re. Indeed, top level theologians & scholars produced a henotheist concept of Amun-Re, embracing both the unsaying (apophatic - "one") and symbolical (katapathic - "millions") side of the fundamental bi-polarity of the Divine (cf. theonomy).

We may conjecture a tiny minority of specialists of the "mysteries" or "secrets" of Amun-Re had an abstract (decontextualized) concept of the unique, solitary & supreme God. This grew hand in hand with the pantheon, understood as a theophany of the various aspects, forms, images, manifestations & transformations of the One & Great God (mature, rational henotheism instead of monotheism). Moreover, this theology expressed its views in an iconical, pictoral & contextual language and God remained accessible to commoners (personal piety) and popular polytheistic practices. It allowed "images" and "divinities" next to God to explain His Will. The praise of God's Will was the law.

Using words like "mystery" and "initiation" should remind us of the difference between their meaning in Ancient Egypt and their role in the Greek mysteries or in Egypto-Alexandrian Hermetism. Greeks started to settle in Egypt under Pharaoh Amasis (570 - 526 BCE).

"Greek immigrants, and the more urban and educated among their descendants, often persevered in Greek ways of thought and behaviour. They spoke their own language, keeping it free of loan-words, and exploiting its flexibility, consciously or not, to disguise the uniqueness of their adopted land, bequeathing us in the process 'pyramids', 'obelisks', 'sphinxes' and 'labyrinths'. They read their own literature, and stuck to the company and customs of their own kith and kin." - Fowden, 1993, p.17.

Under the Ptolemies (304 - 30 BCE), Graeco-Egyptian religion was asymmetrical and stressed the autochthonous. This also shows how Greek culture got assimilated by upperclass Egyptians. A minority of them could write books on the Egyptian religion in Greek and translate sacred priestly books for those unable to read Egyptian. But there was no shortage of priests who were called "unlettered", i.e. ignorant of Greek. True cultic syncretism came from the heavily Hellenized parts of the country, such as Alexandria and the Fayum.

The essence of the Greek (Hellenistic) mysteries (imported in Egypt) dealt with the distinction between "psuchè" (breath of life, spirit, soul, state of mind) and "phusis" (nature, physical body, elements). "Initiation" consisted in the liberation (emancipation) of the psyche out of its physical entrapment here and now. Moreover, physical extremes were not avoided to generate "katharsis" and to allow the psyche to enter altered state of consciousness (cf. Orpheus, Dionysius, the role of the choir in the tragedies, etc.). Being a "young people" (cf. Plato's view on the Egyptians ideas about the Greeks), the Greek mysteries involved renewal and rejuvenation during one's lifetime. If spirituality had any meaning at all, it had to refer to one's actual physical life on Earth. 

Much later, this view would be developed at the most abstract level of (conceptual) rationality : in the Neoplatonism of Plotinus (who studied in Alexandria under Ammonius Sacca), the body is called the jail (cave) of the soul (Enneads, IV 8,3). The latter was able to realize illumination by itself during one's lifetime. The whole notion of "morality" became linked with the preparatory purifications necessary to achieve this (see also the Golden Verses of Pythagoras). So Greece and Egypt viewed initiation from a radically different perspective :

"(...) in ancient Egypt, this was a matter of a constantly renewed regeneration ; in Hellenism, however, it was a release from the forces of fate and mortality, freedom from imprisonment in this world." - Hornung, 2001, p.14.

1.1 Amun as hidden, primordial god in the Pyramid Texts.

Two alternative views on the principle of creation are attested : 

  • the creator is understood as immanent in the forces and elements of the created world, i.e. a supreme being, in whom all of creation is inherent. This notion was associated with Atum-Re, who as "Khepri" self-created on the first occassion and split into Shu and Tefnut ("I am Re who issued from the Nun in this my name of Khepri." - CT 307) ;

  • the creative principle is viewed as transcending creation, being independent of it (as Atum-Re self-creating in the Nun), creating (in the Middle Kingdom) the world by means of magic (cf. the "Lord of All" and "Sole Lord" in CT 261, To Become a Magician) or crafting the universe and its order by the design of his mind (cf. the logos-philosophy of the creative verb in the XXth Dynasty Memphis Theology on the Shabaka Stone, and the Hymn to Ptah, Berlin Papyrus 3048 of the XXIIth Dynasty). However, the greatest development of this transcendent notion of the creator, is found in the Ramesside era. In late Amun-Re theology, transcendence is no longer exclusively realized by positioning the One before creation (in pre-creation), but (also) as a "hidden unity" in creation.

The name "Amun" ("imnw") suggests imperceptibility in and of itself and derives from the verb "imn", meaning both "to conceal" and "be hidden". Its vocalization is said to belong to the same noun-class as the name "Atum" (Osing, 1976). Amun is depicted anthropomorphically and wears his typical crown, consisting of a modius surmounted by two high feathers, divided vertically into two sections (the Two Lands), each plume having horizontal segments adding up to seven. His flesh is coloured blue, suggestive of lapis lazuli, an imported, highly-prized stone dedicated to Amun. He is a god of Air, as the two feathers suggest. As the wind, Amun can be felt but not be seen, except in its effects, just as the blowing wind moves through feathers ...

In the New Kingdom, the epithet "he whose name is hidden" ("imn-rn.f" or "imn-rn") was commonly used as an etymology of "Amun". Several of these New Kingdom "etymologies", as well as our Hymns to Amun from Papyrus Leiden (I 350), speak of Amun as "concealing Himself".

This epithet can be found in the Pyramid Texts :

  • PT 399a : in this Cannibal Hymn, Pharaoh (Unis) is said to "sit together with Him whose name is hidden" ;

  • PT 1778a : Pharaoh Neferkare is a great falcon upon the "enclosure of Him whose name is hidden" ;

  • PT 276c : in Pharaoh Unis the phrase is : "O You, the great god whose name is unknown".

The role of Amun in the passage from the Cannibal Hymn is not insignificant ! He is not eaten by Pharaoh and sits together with him when he judges himself without having need of the pantheon, for Pharaoh is the "power of powers" and the "image of images". The great falcon sitting upon an enclosure calls the "serekh" to mind. In this image, Pharaoh is identified with a falcon who sits upon the "palace" of the hidden god, suggestive of the special relationship between Pharaoh and the hidden god. In Unas again, we are told the unknown god is a great god.

"O You, the Great God, whose name is unknown."
 Pharaoh Unis (PT 276c - ca. 2350 BCE)

In the Pyramid Texts, the actual name "Amun" appears in three passages :

PT 446c

First attested in the tomb of Pharaoh Unis, Amun appears together with a feminine counterpart called "Amunet" in a short litany of pre-creational deities, said to protect the gods (of creation) with their shadow.

Pyramid Texts, Utterance 301, §§ 446 a-d, tomb of Unis
These hieroglyphs have been digitally enhanced using the standard notation of Sethe.
His major work is partly made availabe by the
Library of the University of Chicago

To say the words :
You have your bread-loaf, O Nun and Naunet !
You pair of the gods,
who joined the gods with their shadow.

You have your bread-loaf, O Amun and Amaunet !
You pair of the gods,
who joined the gods with their shadow.

You have your bread-loaf, O Atum and Double-Lion !
Who yourselves created your two gods and their bodies,
that is Shu and Tefenet, who made the gods,
who begot the gods and established the gods.

Pyramid Texts, Utterance 579, §§ 1539 a-c - 1540a, tomb of Pepi II.

To say the words :
"This going forth from your house, O Osiris, this Pharaoh Pepi,
is the going forth of Horus seeking You, O Osiris, this Pharaoh Pepi.

Your porters hasten, your couriers run, your heralds hurry ...
They announce to Re that You have come, O this Pharaoh Pepi,
as the son of Geb upon the throne of Amun."

The phrase : "son of Geb upon the throne of Amun" prefigurates Amun's Middle Kingdom epithet : "Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands".

In another text in the tomb of Pepi II (Neferkare), the name "Amun" is mentioned without further information. But the earlier copy of Merenre of the same text has the name of the god Min instead. From the XIIth Dynasty onwards (Middle Kingdom), Amun is often represented in the same form as Min ("the bull of his mother"), a god worshipped in the Theban area, assimilated by Amun, and with Predynastic associations.

"Dès l'Ancient Empire, très probablement, il est une des divinités adorées dans la région de Karnak. Des scarabées 'trigrammes', attribués à une époque qui va de la VIIIe à la XIe dynastie, portent son nom." - Barucq & Daumas, 1980, p.181.

In the Old Kingdom record, Amun was conceptualized as a hidden, primordial deity, a great one, who existed before creation came into being and who was associated with the throne of Egypt. Let us take the mentioned sparseness of (written) information about Amun seriously (it is a recurrent theme). This would mean that the nature of Amun was indeed largely unknown. Moreover, the little known had to be considered a "mystery", i.e. something to be kept secret and exclusively revealed to the "higher" initiates (royality, high priests, viziers, high administrators & learned men). Although not of national importance, Amun was already a "great god". Of all the primordial deities, Amun was the only one (together with "Nun", the primordial ocean itself) who remained important. This was apparently already the case in the Old Kingdom.

Although Hornung confirms the preexisting world of "Nun" implied the absolute absence of existence (i.e. is non-existence), to the Egyptian mind, "absence of existence" meant a "negative" existence unlike created existence, which is "positive". The fact alone the Egyptians introduced primordial, pre-creational gods in this preexisting world (the chaos-gods of the Pyramid Texts and the Hermopolitan Ogdoad), shows they did not conceptualize this pre-creation as a passive nothingness (a mere zero), although it was inimical to the conditions of creation and life as we know it (i.e. not spatial, not temporal and not differentiated). This mythical "negative existence" (the "Nun", the "father of the gods" without a cult of his own) is an absolute, unlimited, pre-creational, preexistent inertness in which the dramatical self-creative activity takes shape in the first time, namely the first occasion of the god of creation himself (Atum, the "father of the gods" rising from the Nun).

Pre-creation is thus a passive nothingness (the Nun, zero) in which the active potential or principle of creation (Atum, the empty set of all possibilities), creates itself "ex nihilo". Hence, in "negative existence", the principle of creation -by creating itself- established a permanent "first occurence", out of which "positive existence" (the primordial hill) emerged due to the split of the creator into Shu (sky) and Tefnut (moist), and through them, into a multiplicity (of deities), out of which the life & the order of the pantheon, nature and people sprang.

1.2 Amun in the Coffin Texts.

The First Intermediate Period was a turning point in the history of Thebes, the fourth nome of Upper Egypt (opposite Karnak), "she of the sceptre". In the Old Kingdom, Thebes offers no clear evidence for royal activity. Substantial evidence for statuary data of this type does not exist outside of the Memphite region.

Around ca. 1980 BCE, after a century of disunity (the First Intermediate Period), Herakleopolis ("Nekhen") fell and all of Egypt was again under the rule of a single Theban Pharaoh, namely Mentuhotpe III (ca. 1945 - 1938 BCE). The apprenticeship period of Egyptian literature lay behind. The Middle Kingdom produced a vast number of works in a variety of genres and with full control over a vast number of forms. Hence, it is called the "Classical Age" of Egyptian literature, which saw the consolidation of Middle Egyptian.

Amenemhet I ("Amun is pre-eminent" - ca. 1938 - 1909), who initiated the XIIth Dynasty and with it the Middle Kingdom, moved the Residence away from Thebes to the North, thus removing the centre of activity (Pharaoh) elsewhere. Thebes lost much of its political power. Simultaneously, however, one of the local gods worshipped in the region, namely Amun, was promoted to be the pre-eminent dynastic and national deity. Thebes became the city of Amun. Pharaoh donated statues and a granite altar to the temple of Amun. However, he attended Ptah of Memphis too. Ptah, the patron of Memphis, had not been very prominent in the Old Kingdom. Amun-Re, Ptah and Osiris (who received special attention as an enduring focus of belief touching the afterlife) formed a constellation of leading deities.

"La suprématie d'Amon s'affirmera à Thèbes de la XIe à la XXVIe dynastie, malgré l'intermède d'Hyksos et surtout son effacement temporaire lors de la crise armanienne. En son honneur s'élèveront dans une splendeur sans cesse accrue les immenses édifices de Karnak et de Louqsor. Tous les grands souverains, y compris les princes macédoniens, voudront pouvoir revendiquer l'honneur d'avoir réparé, agrandi, embelli son palais toujours plus complexe." - Barucq & Daumas, 1980, p.182.

The Coffin Texts superceded the Pyramid Texts as early as the VIIIth Dynasty, but their principal sources are the later cemeteries of the nomarchs of Middle Egypt in the XIIth Dynasty. The largest number of spells of this textual tradition was found in Deir el-Bersha, the cemetery of Hermopolis, the city of the god of writing, Thoth. These spells (1.185 of them) appear mainly on coffins of officials and their subordinates, but also on tomb walls, stelæ, canoptic chests, mummy masks and papyri. Important spells were entirely in red. 

The Coffin Texts eliminated the royal exclusivity of ascension. Every deceased was an "Osiris NN", although the principal group of people to make use of them were the nomarchs and their families of the Middle Kingdom. The tradition of these Coffin Texts came to an end at the end of the Middle Kingdom. They were transformed into the new Book of the Dead in the XVIIth Dynasty. Some important spells survived and were used in the New Kingdom (cf. burial chamber of Minnakhte TT87).

The epithet "Him whose name is hidden" is also to be found in the Coffin Texts :

  • CT 132 / II 154 : "I have sat with my back to Geb, for I am he who will judge in company with Him whose name is hidden ..." ;

  • CT 147 / II 207 : "Have judgement with Him whose name is hidden ..." ;

  • CT 148 / II 220 : "... for you have reached the horizon, having passed by the enclosure of Him whose name is hidden." ;

  • CT 148 / II 221 : "O Falcon, my son Horus, dwell in this land of your father Osiris in this your name of Falcon who is on the enclosure of Him whose name is hidden." ;

  • CT 148 / II 223 : "See Horus, you gods, I am Horus, the Falcon, who is on the enclosure of Him whose name is hidden."

  • CT 682 / VI 310 : "He has flown and soared as that great falcon which is on the enclosure of Him whose name is hidden, who takes what belongs to those who are yonder to Him who separated the sky from the earth and the Nun."

The recurring association of Amun with the falcon is what strikes here. It shows the house of Amun is envisaged as the place to be for Pharaoh in his form of Horus, the falcon. The power of the magician NN is made formidable by situating him before creation too. Indeed, in the famous spell, Becoming a Magician (CT 261 / III 382 - 389), the "Lord of All" and the "Sole Lord" are invoked. The latter made the deceased "before there came into being the two meals on Earth". The magician is the son of the goddess who bore Atum and caused the Ennead to live ! He took the authoritative command in his mouth and speaks as the august god.

In the Coffin Texts, the actual name "Amun" appears in only one major spell, entitled : "Words spoken by him whose names are secret, the Lord of All" and combined with the above mentioned epithet. After a long description of the excellent powers of the Lord of All, the text says : 

"I am he in this name. Make way for me, that I may see Nun and Amun ! I am that equipped spirit who passes by the (guards). They do not speak for fear of him whose name is hidden, who is in my body. I know him, I do not ignore him ! I am equipped and effective in opening his portal."
Coffin Texts, VII, 469 - 470.

In the Story of Sinuhe (Middle Kingdom), we read :

"It is your ka, o good god, lord of the Two Lands, which Re loves and which Mont, Lord of Thebes, favors, and Amun, Lord of Thrones-of-the-Two-Lands, and ... "
Story of Sinuhe  - translated by Lichtheim, 1975, vol I, p.230.

At the beginning of the XIIIth Dynasty, Egypt withdrew from Nubia and entered a period of great confusion (the Second Intermediate Period). Kush (founded on Kerma, Upper Nubia) becames the most important state in Nubia. The Kushite expansion into Lower Nubia & beyond (i.e. Upper Egypt) could begin. They managed to penetrate the outer defences of Buhen and capture & burn the inner fort. Extensive destruction followed. Those in command gave the Kushite kings access to both the desert roads and the river route to Upper Egypt. They traded directly with the new rulers of the Delta, the Hyksos kings of Avaris (Lower Egypt). The presence of Egyptians at Buhen and other forts points to a considerable egyptianization of Kerma culture.

Even during the occupation of the North by the Hyksos ("rulers of foreign lands"), Amun remained known at Thebes as :

  • the "great god whose name is unknown" (Old Kingdom - Pyramid Texts) ;

  • the "throne of Amun" (Old Kingdom - Pyramid Texts) ;

  • "him whose name is hidden" (Old Kingdom - when part of Heliopolitan system and Middle Kingdom - Coffin Texts) ;

  • the "Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands" (Middle Kingdom - Story of Sinuhe) ;

  • the "divine judge" (since Middle Kingdom, when Amun assimilated Re - Thebes becomes "Memphis of the South") ;

  • the "king of the gods" (since Middle Kingdom state deity - Pharaoh Amenemhat).

The Theban princes, trapped between the Hyksos and the Kushite -who saught alliances against Thebes- moved to reunite Egypt under their own rule. Kamose (Wadjkheperre), with whom the Second Intermediate Period ends (ca.1539 BC), regained control over the 2th cataract and reoccupied the fortress at Buhen. His brother Pharaoh Ahmose (Nebpehtire, ca.1539 - 1514 BC) was victorious against both the Hyksos and the Kushites and initiated the XVIIIth Dynasty and with it the "imperial age" of Egypt, the New Kingdom ...

2 The crisis of polytheism in the New Kingdom.

2.1 The New Solar Theology and early Amun-Re theology.

the New Solar Theology

In the course of the XVIIIth Dynasty, the Sun god Re was turned into an all-embracing creator-god, manifesting himself under various names & forms. The Books of What is in the Duat ("Amduat", the netherworld, "Unterwelt", "monde inférieur" or Rilke's "Weltinnenraum") were the new guides to the hereafter (Amduat, the Book of Gates, the Book of Caverns, the Book of Earth). Contrary to the Book of the Dead, which was a development of the Coffin Texts, it was a new, foremost royal literary genre (even absent from the tombs of the queens). The Book of the Dead continued to be an ever-changing collections of spells (cf. the different papyri), but these new religious books had a permanent content. A precursor of this literature is the Book of the Two Ways (part of the Coffin Texts).

Their focus was nocturnal, otherworldly forms of the Sun god Re, and their effect in the netherworld. As Hornung, in his The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife (1999, p.27) claimed, they furnished : "the ordering and creative principles for the spaces in the hereafter"
and dealt with the nocturnal regeneration of the Sun. Hence, on the far side of death, renewal is at work and the netherworld is the "interior of the sky", or "lower sky" (of Osiris). The Amduat arranges the nightly course of the Sun in twelve hours, with the Solar Bark in the center of each hour. Later, this Bark disappears, and Re was indicated by a red Sun disk, which remained absent from the damned. 

In the eleventh nocturnal hour of the Book of Gates, the deceased views the Sun god.

"As the face of Re is pulled through the underworld it turn toward the observer - a rare occurrence in Egyptian two-dimensional art. The frontal position helps emphasize the directness of the visual contact. The deceased sees the god and knows his secret. He becomes an initiate, as in the later mystery cults that derive many of their notion from ancient Egyptian concepts of death and the hereafter. But while in the later period a few select individuals become initiates by undergoing a symbolic death, in the Pharaonic Period each person enters the realm of the gods and learns the secrets of the afterlife through his or her actual death." - Hornung, 1992, p.112.

early Amun-Re theology

Again, the victorious Theban dynasty of the early New Kingdom choose Amun as their national god. Its thinkers tried to formulate a theology of Amun-Re which would be comprehensive enough to include the traditions of both Amun and Re. By accumulation and juxtaposition, their various features were combined, and Amun was worshipped in the same way as the Heliopolitan Re. The Theban theology of the XVIIIth Dynasty may be called a continuation of the search for a more unified articulation of the divine, which had been initiated in the Middle Kingdom. It is also the starting point of the quest for a brand new concept of the divine, for the Sun god existed outside the constellations of the pantheon, he was "alone".

In his Egyptian Solar Religion in the New Kingdom (1995) and The Search for God in Ancient Egypt (2001
) Assmann defined the "New Solar Theology" as :

"... the explication and representation of the course of the sun in the non-constellative categories of explicit theology. (...) The New Solar Theology arose as a cognitive iconoclasm that rejected the entire mythic, pictoral world of polytheistic thought. All its basic principles can be understood as theological explications of cosmic phenomena, specifically the sun, its light, and its movement." - Assmann, 2001, p.201.

According to Assmann, the phraseology of Middle Kingdom biographies revealed the emergence of a new concept of man, i.e. the invention of an inner universe of virtues. Likewise, the phraseology of the "eulogies", (predications in the nominal style of the specific nature of Amun-Re), which were added as extensions of the Offering Formula, reveal the emergence of a new concept of god, and also :

"... a conscious conceptual elaboration of certains semantic complexes and problems, such as the 'oneness' of the divine, the relationship of the 'one' and the 'many', the relationship between mythical and historical, celestial and terrestial kingdom, between creation and preservation and between cosmic and local rule." - Assmann, 1995, p.108.

These eulogies were classified according to contents.

Three categories ensue :

  1. Amun as primordial, unique, & self-created creator :
    "primeval one" - "primeval one of the beginning" - "without his equal" - "unique in his kind" - "unique god" - "unique one" - "unique one in the beginning" - "divine god" - "greatest of the great" - "ruler of rulers" - "self-created" - "who created humankind and gods" - "who made the gods" - "who made what is and created what exists" - "who raised high the sky" - "builder who made every eye"

  2. Amun-Re as preserver or source of light (Sun) :
    "living flame who came forth from Nun" - "sharp/noble power" - "who makes light/gives free passage" - "lord of breathe who leads it to the nose"

  3. Amun-Re as ruler :
    "lord of the double plumes" - "beautiful of face with the double plumes" - "beautiful of face with the diademe and plumes" - "perfect of form, high with diademe" - "great god on the great throne"- "ruler of all gods" - "ruler" - "chief of the gods" - "king of eternity, lord of everlastingness" - "king of heaven, ruler of the two lands" - "king of the two lands" - "ruler of Heliopolis" - "universal lord" - "who speaks and what is to happen happens" - "a good burial of his command" - "to enter the earth according to his command"

"The Amun-Re eulogies appear in the early period of the Theban solar hymns in such profusion that one can describe the worship of Amun-Re as not simply in its infancy, but in the prime of life. The great interrelationships of texts, their use of the same phraseology and text structure, enables one to conclude that they reflect a theological discourse that was fully developed at the time and was being disseminated by means of hymns." - Assmann, 1995, p.128.

2.2 Amarna, the Restoration & late Amun-Re theology.

the Amarna crisis

Let us, by way of introduction, consider the tomb stela of the architects Suti and Hor from the reign of Amenhotep III, the father of Akhenaten. In these two hymns to Amun-Re, these twin brothers gave a prominent place to the Aten, the physical disk of the Sun. The major themes of Amarna religion are to be found : the Sun, its light and its movement.

"Self-made you fashioned your body,
Creator uncreated.
Sole one, unique one, who traverses eternity.
Remote one, with millions under his care ;
Your splendor is like heaven's splendor,
Your color brighter than its hues.
When you cross the sky all faces see you,
When you set you are hidden from their sight ;
Daily you give yourself at dawn,
Safe is your sailing under your Majesty.
In a brief day you race a course,
Hundred thousands, millions of miles.
A moment is each day to you,
It has passed when you go down.
You also completed the hours of night,
You order it without pause in your labor.
Through you do all eyes see,
They lack aim when your Majesty sets.
When you stir to rise at dawn,
Your brightness opens the eyes of the herds ;
When you set in the western mountain,
They sleep as in the state of death."

Suti & Hor : Hymn to the Sun god, first hymn.
Stela British Museum 826, translated by : 
, 1976, vol II, p.87.

Most of the elements becoming prominent in Amarna religion were present before Akhenaten implemented the final consequences of his reflections on the Divine. The notion that besides the Sun god no other divinities could be tolerated is the original step taken by Akhenaten. The New Solar Theology was not an early form of Amarna religion, for early Amun theology (after Akhenaten's ban was lifed), picked up :

"... after the Amarna Period at exactely the point at which this new development had been interrupted by Akhenaten's upheaval and continued down until nearly the end of the history of Egyptian religion, side by side with texts expressing the rehabilitated constellative theology of the course of the sun."
Assmann, 1995, p.201.

The reasons for this are clear :

"The New Solar Theology stood, and understood itself, in the context of the other deities. By way of an example, the frame of the stela of the two architects contains offering prayers to, among others, Hathor, Khons, Mut, Amun-Re, Anubis and the God's Wife Ahmes-Nefertari. Though other deities no longer participated in the course of the sun, they were nevertheless there, and their mere existence stood in the way of a total demythologizing and disenchantment of the world." - Assmann, 1995, p.208, my italics.

Hence, not so much the contents of Akhenaten's message was original and heretic, but rather the politico-religious form in which he poured it (exclusive monotheism) and the radical way he implemented them (cf. the abrupt closure of most cults and the eradication of the name of Amun - cf. the Great Hymn to the Aten).

the Restoration under Tutankhamun

In a Hymn to Amun from the reign of Pharaoh Haremhab (ca. 1319 - 1292 BCE), we read : 

"Thou findest him who transgresses agains thee ;
Woe to him who assails thee !
Thy city endures ;
But he who assails thee falls.
Fie upon him who transgresses against thee in every land (...).
The sun of him who knows thee not goes down, O Amun !
But as for him who knows thee, he shines.
The forecourt of him who assails thee is in darkness,
But the whole earth is in light.
Whosoever puts thee in his heart, O Amun !
Lo, his sun dawns."

Ostrakon 5656a, British Museum.
Translated by
Breasted, 1972, p.345-346.

The so-called "Amonite Papacy" recovered all it had lost and much more, but although Akhenaten was forgotten, certain aspects of his revolution remained.

"Indeed, notwithstanding the restoration of Amon, the ideas and the tendencies which had given birth to the revolution of Ikhnaton were far from disappearing. It was not possible to carry them on, under a monotheistic form, involving the annihilation of the old gods ; but the human and beneficent aspects of Aton, in his care for all men, had taken hold upon the imagination of the thinking class, and we find the same qualities now attributed to Amon." - Breasted, 1972, p.346.

late (Rammeside) Amun-Re theology

The rise of "personal piety" is evidenced by the prayers from Deir el-Medina, a workmen's village laid out in a narrow valley on the fringe of the western desert. Numerous workmen, artisans, scribes and others provided an immensely rich documentation of the life and thoughts of this New Kingdom community of average people, from simple laborers to skilled, moderately wealthy artists. The prayers on the votive stelæ are penitential hymns, and hymn and prayer merge, for the deity is praised in the traditional manner (hymn) but also prayed to in personal terms.

"Praisegiving to Amun !
I make hymns in his name.
I give to him praise :
to the height of heaven,
and the breadth of the earth.
I tell his might to him who sails down-stream,
and to him who sails up-stream.

Beware of him !
Repeat it to son and daughter,
to great and small.
Herald him to the generations not yet born.
Herald him to the fishes in the deep,
and to the birds in the sky.
Repeat it to him who knows it not,
and to him who knows.
Beware of him !

You are Amun, the Lord of the silent.
Who comes at the cry of the poor.
When I call to you in my distress,
You come to rescue me.
Give breath to him who is wretched.
Rescue me from bondage.

You are Amun-Re, Lord of Thebes,
Who rescues him who is in the netherworld ;
For you are he who is [merciful],
When one appeals to you.
You are he who comes from afar."

Votive Stela of Nebre
translation based on :
Breasted, 1972, pp.350-351.
, 1976, vol II, p.105-106.

As Assmann correctly pointed out, we are dealing with a "structural change of the old religion" which left the traditional forms of expression intact. Early Amun-Re theology had not yet faced the major conceptual problem of henotheism (the relationship between the supreme and the pantheon), for the "Great One" had always been associated with pre-creation and its first occurence. As in Anaximander's "apeiron"
much later (cf. the boundless & indefinite), the "One" had been spatiotemporally divided (separated) from the "enantia" (elements). This points to a spatial, architectonic perspective at work in the pre-rational mode of thought of the Old Kingdom : Shu is the "space" necessary to divide Earth and sky, allowing for creation, whereas Tefnut (appearing simultaneously) is the "moist" that conditions the emergence of life and the flow of time (cf. the flow of the Nile from South to North).

The "nugget of gold" of the Amarna experience had been its emphasis on movement, intimacy, personal devotion, artistic expression and a "protestant" use of the popular tongue (Late Egyptian) to express sublime statements of natural mysticism (Amarna art, architecture & cult dealt with direct movement). In Rammeside theology, these appropriated qualities implied the spatiotemporalization of the One, and raised the question of the direct, immediate interference of the creator in the state of affairs in the world (and of course also, in the life of each and every Egyptian). For had Amun not decided to eradicate his own name ? If such an extreme and unprecedented destruction had been possible, then surely Amun was absolutely free to decide whatever Amun desired. He saved whom he willed ! Amun became personally involved in the welfare of all (which -without taking action agains the pantheon- reduced the importance of all other mediators).

From the start of Egyptian religion until early Amun-Re theology, the transcendence of the creator had been affirmed by saying he preexisted before creation. Hence, as the falcon, the divine was remote. Only exclusive mediators could operate the connection (Pharaoh & the pantheon). Amarna theology wanted to eradicate the nocturnal, invisible, hidden pole of the divine (cf. Divine bi-polarity), summarized by the name "Amun". The Aten was direct, physical and alight. No trace of mystery or magic surrounded the Aten. Amarna proposed a universal Solar monotheism with no shadows, veils, clouds or curtains. 

This absence of mediators (the light of the Aten was the only divine presence), the failed project of Akhenaten (the frail -mad ?- sole mediator) and the "exodus" of the gods & goddesses (who no longer dwelled in their temples because they lacked the offerings to their doubles) must have provoked a deep cognitive crisis (followed by the extreme repression of its memory), which apparently triggered (at least) three insights : 

  • the divine is not only before (creation) or after (life), but also a hidden unity (a soul) in creation & in life, enduring in all things ;

  • the divine is not exclusively outward (and remote) but also inward (and near) ;

  • lastly, the divine will is the final ethical authority : nothing happens outside the divine will.

Assmann's preliminary summary of the motifs and characteristics by which the post-Amarna, Amun-Re theology may be recognized most clearly has following points : 

"1. the emphasis on the oneness and hiddenness of the god ;
2. the predication of the god as '' in connection with the concept of hiddenness ;
3. the formula of the 'one who makes himself into millions', with all its variants ;
4. the concept of the god dwelling in the world as 'ba', image and body, who has created the world as earth, heaven and underworld for these three constituent elements of his self ;
5. the theory of the 'life-giving elements', i.e. the concept that god sustains and gives life to the world not only by, but also as light, air and water ;
6. the idea of all-prevasiveness in the form of air, as is expressed in the formula (Jmn) mnw m jht nbt [(Amun) enduring in all things] ;
7. the role of this god as god of time and fate in connection with
8. his personal aspect as 'ethical authority'." -
Assmann, 1995, p.133.

Following themes spring to the fore :

  1. the emphasis one the oneness of Amun-Re ;

  2. the one-and-millions-formula ;

  3. the omnipotence of Amun-Re's will ;

  4. the all-prevasive, hidden unity of Amun-Re in the world ;

  5. the transcendent & immanent transcendence of Amun-Re.

the emphasis on the oneness of Amun-Re

"Oneness" is the overarching concept here. Despite multiplicity and variety (which are not denied), the divine is One. 

Hence, oneness characterized all possible transformations of Amun-Re : 

  • before creation : Amun (here "Re" should not be added, because there was no Sun god in existence yet) is a primordial god, "existing" before existence (like Atum in Nun) ;

  • during creation as sole creator : Amun-Re is the creator, transforming the primeval word into the cosmos (as Atum hatched out the primordia egg by himself) ;

  • after creation as pantheon : Amun-Re is "hidden" behind all other deities who are his images, forms, manifestations, transformations and names.

The distinction between : 

  • an absolute unity, or ultimate, primordial cause, which remains identical with itself and unopposed to anything (but out of which "sui generis" creation unfolds) and

  • a (self-created) creator, the first cause or first number, is explicit in the difference between pre-creation (with its Ogdoadic inertness rooted in Nun) and the "first time" of Atum-Re, who creates himself out of himself and all the rest of existence out of his own body. Atum splits as soon as he emerges, and so his creativity is always tangential (mythical, fugal), for it was the Ennead -sprang out of him-, which ruled the affairs of the world. Hence, the first cause is Re, the final manifestation of Atum, self-creating himself in eternity-in-everlastingness.

Hence, the oneness of Amun-Re covers pre-creation, the creator and creation. It is an all-encompassing oneness, also to be found in the Memphite theology of the period.

the one-and-millions-formula

The "canonical" form of this concept is : "the one god who made himself into millions".

In Papyrus Louvre (3292) we also read : "Hail to you, who brought himself forth as one and who created millions in their abundance." In Papyrus Leiden (I 344), we find : "The one alone, whose body are millions."  etc. These various expressions of the same idea have been discussed by Sethe, Hornung, Zandee and Assmann. All passages of this formula come from Thebes and almost always refer to Amun-Re. 

The most obvious interpretation of this formula was given by Hornung, who understands it in a temporal sense. So "oneness" is the condition of Amun before creation and "millions" is the polytheistic divine world of reality after creation. Amun-Re is therefore one and all. Assmann adds that the late Amun-Re theology aims at a concept of the god as expressed in the formula "unus qui est omnia" ("the one who is all"). In his interpretation, Amun-Re is also a "hidden power" or "hidden soul" in creation who is the source of the million-fold plurality in which he unfolds into the boundless. Not the world is "boundless", but Amun-Re himself, and this by virtue of the fact that Amun-Re transformed himself into the millions and the millions did not exhaust him nor did he cease to be One.

"He is the many in that mysterious way, hidden and present at the same time, which this theology is trying to grasp by means of the ba-concept. A common text even goes so far as to describe god as the ba of gods and humans, i.e. 'the millions'. (...) By linking the ba concept and the theology of the hidden, it becomes clear in what respect this formula goes beyond the traditional creation theology of the opposition between unity and plurality. (...) In the context of this hymn, the concept of 'all that is' ntj nb / wnnt nbt is then explained as the totality of living creation, from gods and humans to worms, fleas and mice."
Assmann, 1995, p.153.

Amun-Re, by creating the world, transforms himself into a totality of gods and goddesses (divine powers), which operate creation and maintain the world. The complete pantheon is thus comprised in the One !

Interestingly enough, the one-and-millions-formula became the credo of Hermetism, which proves its success and continuity throughout the Late Period. In the teachings of Hermes to his son Tat, the fifth treatise of the Corpus Hermeticum (cf. the Tabula Smaragdina), we read : 

"Il est, lui, le Dieu trop grand pour avoir un nom, il est l'inapparent et il est le très apparent ; lui que contemple l'intellect, il est aussi celui que voient les yeux ; il est l'incorporel, le multiforme, mieux encore, l'omniforme. Rien n'existe qu'il ne soit aussi : car tout ce qui est, tout est Lui. Et de là vient qu'il a tous les noms parce qui toutes choses sont issues de cet unique père ; et de là vient qu'il n'a point de nom, parce qu'il est le père de toutes choses."
Hermes Trismegistos : Corpus Hermeticum, V.10, between 100 and 300 BCE, translated by : Festugière, A.J. & Nock, A.D. : Corpus Hermeticum, Les Belles Lettres - Paris, 1983, p.64 (with a critical rendering of the Greek text), translated into English as  :

"He, He is the God too great to have a name ! He is the inapparent and He is the very apparent. He who the intellect contemplates ! He is also the one seen by the eyes. He is the incorporeal, the multiform, better still, the omniform. Nothing exists which He is not, for everything that exist, everything is Him. From that comes that He has all names, for all things come forth from this unique father. From that comes that He has no name at all, for He is the father of all things."

the omnipotence of Amun-Re's will

The Old Kingdom had produced the (mythical, pre-rational and early proto-rational) ideology of a divine, cosmic order ("Maat") realized and tenaciously maintained by Pharaoh, who offered order to his father, the creator and source of order. Indeed, before the cosmos (i.e. an inherently ordered creation) came into being, only the undifferentiated "Nun" and its darkness, nothingness and oblivion prevailed ("existence" would be a bad choice of words). In it Atum lay dormant as the mere possibility to self-create, the "soul" of Nun.

The "humanist" Middle Kingdom recovered from the collapse of this ideal and the conceptual crisis it involved, by discovering the value of persoonhood, selfhood, individuality and personality. Its literature also questioned the afterlife (scepticism) and described the worse traits of humankind (pessimism) in a way which is "for millions of years", i.e. "for all times". Hence, this elaborated religious humanism (cf. Discourse of a man with his Ba) introduced -besides the institutional rule of Pharaoh, who still embodied the unity of the Two Lands- "personal conscience" and the "inner values" of what was thought, said and willed (i.e. the "heart" - "ib"). This lightness of the heart (cf. the Judgement Scene) was a subjective affair, for having been near to Pharaoh while serving him and being approved by him, no longer guaranteed a happy afterlife (as had been the case in the Old Kingdom).

However, both in the Old Kingdom and Middle Kingdom, the permanence of existence had been the underlining principle : a long life (here and now), filled with happiness, prosperity & health ("ankh, uda, seneb"), a good burial and in the afterlife, being justified, venerable. Shu (life) and Tefnut (Maat) evidence the close connection between order and life, continuous life. This was achieved by the constant restoration and rejuvenation of creation and the daily victory of good over evil. This repeated triumph (the battles are won but the war is never won) is what made "permanent existence" possible. The success of this operation have been differently appreciated. In the Old Kingdom, Pharaoh was the sole guarantee. In the Middle Kingdom, the lightness of each person's heart was the "via Regia" to the god's blessing ("hesu" - "Hzw" : "one to whom grace and favour have been given"). But in both cases, there was the concept of an unchangeable order which had to be followed (public and/or personal). Personal conscience was weighed in the afterlife, magic opened the doors and gave the deceased a safe passage.

Amarna provoked a crisis precisely because personal conscience was considered of no importance. The netherworld and magic were eliminated. The identity of the supreme netherworld deity (the "hidden" in essence), Amun, was eradicated. Akhenaten moved back to the archaism of the deified Pharaohs of the late Old Kingdom. Re had incarnated again in Egypt and had removed the pantheon "de manu militari" ! He had subjected his people to his views and tolerated no opposition. This anachronism could not shoot root. Meanwhile, those who adhered to the netherworld and its magic (surely not a few), went underground and the pantheon left the "public" domain (cf. the deities "leaving Egypt"). For the first time in Egyptian religious history, the netherworld had become intimate, secret and exclusively of the "private" domain.

"After Amarna all the topoi of 'ethical authority' (good sheperd, asylum of the oppressed, ferryman of the boatless, pilot, vizier of the poor, etc.) are related to god. God is now praised precisely in those aspects of his nature which it is not only possible, but indeed obligatory for human beings to 'imitate'. The spiritual change expressed in these shifts can now be understood as follows : god now appears directly and no longer through a representative in institutions created by himself and courts appointed by himself."
Assmann, 1995, p.207.

The importance attributed in Amarna theology to Akhenaten (its inventor), was also the reason for its eventual downfall. With no other mediators present, nobody understood the essence of the Aten. Who would present the offerings ? Akhenaten's death coincided with the end of Amarna religion. But during this incredible experience (although forgotten as such in less than a century thereafter), the netherworld had been a private affair. 

Shortly after his death (or even before ?), Akhenaten's display of "free will" (i.e. the Aten moving against the divine order deemed unchangeable) was projected upon Amun-Re. Following Akhenaten was swiftly replaced by following Amun-Re. Only Amun-Re disposed of free will. Nothing happened without him willing it. And Akhenaten ? His memory could be forgotten, his frail talatat-constructions demolished and reused as in-betweens, reinforcing the new & enduring monuments praising Amun ...

the all-prevasive, hidden unity of Amun-Re in the world

Although Amun-Re was direct and intimate, he was so in a hidden, concealed and mysterious way. His interventions are permanent, but unseen. In Egyptian we find words as secret, inaccessible, difficult ("StA"), secluded ("Dsr"), august, noble ("HAp"), hidden ("imn"). They refer to the concept of the holy, the sacred, the put aside.

"It is expressed through the secrecy surrounding the ritual, through the regulations for the initiation and purification of priests and in temple architecture, the development of which down to the Late Period makes it clear how much importance was attributed to this aspect of holy throughout Egyptian religious history." - Assmann, 1995, p.137.

It is said of the deity that it is "secluded" or "segregated" (as was its image). 

"We have seen this segregation in the concealment of the image in a dark and remote sanctuary, where it may be handled only by a high priest who has undergone special initiation ; it may have been kept in a closed shrine even when carried about in procession." - Morenz, 1992, p.99.

In Ramesside theology, the one deity was also concealed from its own creation, even though he acted in it (or rather, it in Amun-Re). Nobody knew the identity of Amun-Re. The crown was not even revealed to the best of the best of creation. No revelation was possible. Amun-Re was part of the world but remained an invisible, hidden part. But the world was also a part of Amun-Re, but it knew it not. The best of what was known regarding this god were his perfect transformations, i.e. the pantheon. Humans could take Amun-Re "in their hearts" and he could become their personal saviour. To follow the will of Amun-Re is all what is necessary in religion.

the spatiotemporal & sacred transcendence of Amun-Re

In mythical thought, pre-creation was segregated from creation. The only route from creation to pre-creation (which did not stop to "be chaos" after creation) was the netherworld, deep down in the darkness lurking beneath the Solar Bark, trying to destroy Re as does Apepi. For kings, the route was an ascension to the sky. In the traditional descriptions of divine transcendence, the primeval world was the mythical anchor : by making the god (Pharaoh or magician) stand before the spacetime of creation, creation itself is superceded and made dependent of the creative command which initiates a new creation.

In Ramesside theology, the sacredness of Amun is no longer realized by this spatiotemporal segregation (his essence being pre-creational), this "temporal Beyond" (Assmann, 1995). Instead, Amun-Re as creator is "summum bonum" and "summum ens" (first cause), dwelling everywhere in his creation "behind" the screen of an infinite number of forms. Amun-Re is ontologically segregated from all other deities and none of them knows his name. Like the subtle "logos" of the Stoics much later, Amun-Re is present in the invisible domains of creation.

So regarding the transcendence of Amun-Re, two aspects are distinguished :

  • pre-creational transcendence : Amun is primordial and so he spatiotemporally transcends the order or creation (this is the traditional line of thought, starting with Atum) ;

  • sacred transcendence : Amun-Re is the self-created "soul" ("Ba") of creation, the "summum ens", the supreme being. He is present in his creation as a sacred, hidden god, a supreme being, that transcends all other beings, because Amun is the all-prevasive, sacred unity in all beings that remains hidden for his transformations (late Amun-Re theology or Amenism).

Ramesses II allowed the oracle of Amun-Re to guide him in the appointment of the god's high priest, which made the step to a hereditary priesthood simple. At the end of the New Kingdom, Egypt had become a sacerdotal state ruled by Amun-Re of Thebes. Pharaoh had yielded his power to the head of the state church, whose high priest knew the will of Amun-Re ...

Leiden Papyrus  I  350

I Philological remarks

Although in many New Kingdom texts, the three major aspects of Amun-Re (primordial god, creative principle and ruler of the creation) are developed in detail, the Papyrus Leiden I 350 contains the most elaborate statement of Ramesside Amun theology, with a clear attempt to integrate Heliopolitan and Memphite cosmological schools of thought in a new comprehensive theology. Amun is described in three stages, namely :

  • as a hidden hypostasis of the unity of the primodial deities ;

  • as the primodial hill ("ta-tenen") emerging out of Nun, a place of which Amun-Re can set foot and begin to create ;

  • as the alone and separated from those who came forth from him.

A cosmological scheme of succession unfolds : Amun, "ta-tenen" and Re.

Hence, for an eloquent exposition of Amun's role in creation, none is better than the series of songs or hymns dedicated to the glorification of Amun contained in Papyrus Leiden (I 350). This document was probably originally divided in 28 "enclosures" ("Hwt") or "chapters", of which only 22 have survived in whole or in part (1 through 4 and the last 2 are lost). 

The cursive handwriting is difficult to read and allows for different translations. In each enclosure, a red dot divides the verses of the manuscript, which facilitates the discovery of the intended poetical structure. However, punctuation abruptly ends at line 11 of page 5. Scribal errors are probable.

The manuscript was transcribed, edited and discussed by Gardiner, A.H. : "Hymns to Amon from a Leiden Papyrus.", in : Zeitschrift für ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde, Berlin, n°42, 1906, pp.12-60. An elaborate and authoritative study was published by Zandee, J. : De Hymnen aan Amon van Papyrus Leiden I-350, Oudheidkundige Mededelingen uit het Rijksmuseum van Oudheden te Leiden - Leiden, 28, 1947 and Ermann, A. : "Der Leidener Amonshymnus.", in
Sitzungsberichte der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften - Leipzig, 1923. A complete French translation was made by Barucq, A. & Daumas, F. : Hymnes et Prières de L'Égypte Ancienne, Du Cerf - Paris, 1980, pp.208 - 229. The most interesting enclosures were translated into English by Allen, P.J. : Genesis in Egypt : The Philosophy of Ancient Egyptian Creation Accounts, Hew Haven - Connecticut, 1988, pp.49 - 55 as well as by Assmann, J. : Egyptian Solar Religion in the New Kingdom, Kegan - London, 1995, chapter 5 - see also : Assmann, J. : Ägyptische Hymnen unde Gebete, Zurich, 1975.

In this paper, five pivotal hymns (so called because they praise & honour Amun - cf. "Hset") of the 22 (whole and partial) chapters have been translated. They back the philosophical exercise at hand. The central song, in the form of a sonnet (Assmann, 1995), was transliterated according to the standard system for the computer-encoding of hieroglyphs.

The "enclosures" were artificially numbered from 1 to 10 (1 through the beginning of 5 is lost), then by tens from 10 through 100, and by hundreds from 100 through 800 (the last extant in the manuscript), probably up to 1000, i.e. a total of 28 enclosures (2 + 8 = 10 = 1).

"L'usage constant de jeux de mote entre la numérotation du chapitre et le premier et dernier mot du texte (souvent des mots-clés pour l'intelligence du chant) est aussi à mettre au compte d'une signification théologique. (...) Les Égyptiens pensaient bien que sous les mots se cachait l'essence des choses et des idées transmises. La combinaison chiffres-mots ajoutait encore à la puissance significative de l'ensemble. D'où le choix de chiffres simples, comme ceux des unités, dizaines et centaines. La symbolique des nombres est chose utilisée dans toutes les spéculations religieuses et dans les compositions théologico-mystiques ..."
Barucq & Daumas, 1980, p.207, my italics.

A tentative Ancient Egyptian "number" symbolism could be :

  {0} = the set of all possibilities of Amun being Single, Alone, with no second (Atum ba of Nun) ;
  {00} = the self-creation of Atum, hatching out of the primordial egg, the first time, the pantheon ;
  {000} = the undifferentiated primordial ground of everything - the Ogdoad ;
  1 = unity, the monad, Atum-Re, Amun-Re ;
  2 = division, the Two Lands, the tension between the elements of creation, Shu and Tefnut ;
  3 = harmonization, one-as-three, the divine family-trinities : god and goddess with child ;
  4 = the 4 pillars, the cardinal points, the sons of Horus ;
  5 = tenacity, Pharaoh, the continuous rule of law governing the Two Lands, Horus ;
  6 = flow of life, Re, eternal life, the diurnal and nocturnal cycle of the Sun ;
  7 = resurrection, fertility, Osiris & the 42 Assessors, Djed pillar, fate, judgement, soul ;
  8 = healing, regeneration, thought, the heart, magic of the manifested, Ogdoad, Thoth ;
  9 = perfection, completion, the Ennead, the whole pantheon, Isis as "una quæ es omnia" ; 
10 = solidification, the double, physical manifestation of order, Ptah and Pharaoh.

In the following English translation, I capitalized "God, He, His, Him and Himself" (pointing to Amun), for the mode of theological thought is deemed abstract enough to be classified as a discourse in the archaic stage of the rational mode of thought, written in a highly sophisticated literary style, using a carefully planned compositional structure. The discourse succeeds in positioning "Amun" as a concept devoid of contextual connotations, such as the "neteru" or creation (the effect of His creative act). The "neteru" ("nTrw", pronounced : "netjeru" and usually translated as "gods") are Amun's perfect manifestations. The songlike quality of the verses bring the Psalms and the Koran to mind, although their semantics is henotheist (the Godhead being explicit and all-comprehensive despite but not against the "neteru", cf. Sufism).

For our authors and their environments, presumably XIXth Dynasty Theban "initiates" of the "mysteries" of Amun (cf. remark supra), the "neteru" receive new meaning. In their theology, the "neteru" are no longer unique, one and great, but attributes of Amun insofar as His creative activity goes (compare this with the role of the "Elohim" -a plural- in qabalah or the  "Beautiful Names" of Allah in Sufism). The "neteru" are Amun's transformations, and as such, they loose their autonomy and are not opposed by Amun (as in radical monotheism, moving against the plurality of Divinity - cf. Islam). These authors were well aware of the cultural disasters caused by the radical monotheistic tenets of Atenism and did not wish to oppose the house of the "neteru". But neither did they wish to remain confused about the precise relationship between Amun and the "neteru" (cf. infra).

The translation of The Hymns to Amun is part of my Ancient Egyptian Readings (2016), a POD publication in paperback format of all translations available at These readings span a period of thirteen centuries, covering all important stages of Ancient Egyptian literature. Translated from Egyptian originals, they are ordered chronologically and were considered by the Egyptians as part of the core of their vast literature.

The study of the sources, hieroglyphs, commentaries and pictures situating the text itself remain on the website at no cost.

Hymns to AMUN
a selection

Leiden Papyrus
I 350 - ca.1213 BCE

II Text in English

Chapter 80

1     80th Chapter.
       The Eight
(1) were Your first manifestation (2),
       until You completed these, You being Single
       Secret was Your body among the elders,
5     and You kept Yourself hidden as Amun,
       at the head of the gods.

       You made Your manifestations in Tatenen
       to accompany the primeval ones in Your first primeval time.
       Your beauty arose as the Bull of His Mother
(5) .
       You withdrew as the one in the sky, enduring as Re.
10   You returned in fathers, maker of their sons,
        to make an excellent heritage for Your children.

        You began manifestation with nothing,
        without the world being empty of You on the first occasion
        All gods came into existence after You ... [remainder lost]

(1) The pre-creational, primordial Ogdoad or "chaos-gods" (Faulkner), worshipped at Hermopolis, city of Thoth ("Khemenu" or "xmnw"), also : "the Hermopolitans".
(2) "Kheperu" ("xprw") also means "form, shape, similitude, image, change, transformation".
(3) The word here is "watii", which also means "sole, lone, alone".
(4) The primordial hill emerging out of Nun, solid ground for the creator to step on.
(5) Amun (Min) Kamutef is the ithyphallic form. As Amun has no father, He impregnates His mother himself. The bull is a metaphor for strength, fertility and sexual athletism. The epithet also refers to the god Min ("mnw"), worshipped in the 9th nome of Upper Egypt (the Greek city Panopolis), with secundary sanctuaries at Memphis, Thebes and Esna. In Coptos, as well as in Thebes, the epithet was a metaphor for the idea that Min was born out of his own semen.
(6) The "first time" or the mythical realm "in the beginning", when the primordial hill rises, Atum self-creates and Atum splits, initiating creation through Shu and Tefnut.



In the traditional (Old Kingdom based) mythical & pre-rational Heliopolitan theology of Re, a confrontation between, on the one hand, Atum-Re, self-created and alone in his creation (cf. Coffin Texts, spell 80 - II, 39) and, on the other hand, Nun, the inert primordial ocean is avoided, for the undifferentiated inertness of the latter is overcome in an by the self-creative act of Atum. By declaring Atum "causa sui", one may visualize him as spontaneously emerging "ex nihilo" (like the "primeval hill" Tatenen) out of the Nun (a vast, limitless, infinite, black ocean of oblivion). Atum is the "Ba" of Nun. The myth of emergence (visualize the water of the Nile lit up by the division of the horizon when light -Re- rises at dawn, heralded by the chanting baboons) is coupled with the vastness of pre-creation (and thus the uniqueness of life & order guaranteed by Pharaoh). In the cultural forms of the Terminal Predynastic and Early Dynastic Periods (ca. 3300 - 2600 BCE) a movement away from the chaos of disharmonized division towards the harmonized (organized, regulated, administrated) division of the Pharaonic state is apparent, for the latter served as "harmony of opposites" (cf. Chapter 200 and the Two Lands).

Ramesside and Memphite theologies go a step further : the Nun is a manifestation of Amun (or Ptah). The 8th Chapter (the beginning of which is lost) ends with these words about Amun : "God with souls more powerful than those of the gods, because He is the One who remains unique, Divine, whose Name is hidden among the Ogdoad." Taken here a step higher (80), and more explicit, the present enclosure reaffirms this, but starts with the affirmation that the Ogdoad is a manifestation or transformation of Amun. What could this possibly mean ? Consider this :

  • Amun precedes the primodial ocean, the Waters (Nun, "father of the gods") and the rest of the Ogdoad. Inertness, chaos and destruction, which characterize the Waters, do not know His "secret body". Even to them, Amun is a stranger ... this anteriority is explicit & absolute ;

  • Before creation, nothing except Amun existed (He being Single). "Negative" existence is an intrinsic part of the Divine, which comes down to say that before creation only God existed ;

  • The first step in the developmental process of creation is taken in "negative" existence, namely as the typical characteristics of the Waters, described by the Ogdoad : His first manifestation (in pre-creation) ;

  • The second step is "Tatenen" : the material principle allowing for creation ;

  • The third step is His perfection as the Creator of the gods, at the head of the pantheon but again absolutely withdrawn from them. The apophatic condition works for all possible deities (Ogdoad + Ennead).

The material principle ("Tatenen" or "primeval hill") offers the land, not the seed, the creative principle ("Re", source of an eternity of everlasting life & regeneration). So Amun creates a material pre-condition (a matrix or space, field, realm of options). Primeval matter is made manifest by Amun out of Himself in His primeval time, which is a liminal, mythical, "cross-over" from the Single Amun (in non-ogdoadic pre-creation) to the Amun as "head of the gods" (in ogdoadic pre-creation and in enneadic creation).


Amun is Single - there is no Ogdoad, no primeval "chaos"-gods, no "negative" existence of any kind



Amun manifests the Ogdoad in His primeval time. He creates the material principle or matrix of creation ("the risen land") to accompany the Ogdoad.

With the expression "beauty" or "perfection" of Amun, rising as "bull of His mother", Re and the pantheon are invoked, but their multiplicity and variety is coupled with the idea that Amun is hidden from them. If anything, the Divine was deemed nameless. That is the revelation of no-revelation in these Theban mysteries of Amun : the purified soul alights because Amun Wills so !

Chapter 90

 1     [90th Chapter]
        The Ennead
(1) combined is Your body.
        Every god joined in Your body, is Your image.
        You emerged first, You inaugurated from the start.
5      Amun, whose name is hidden from the gods.
        Oldest elder, more distinguished than these,
        Tatenen, who formed [Himself] by Himself as Ptah
        The toes of His body are the Eight
        He appeared as Re, from Nun
(4), so that He might rejuvenate.
10    He sneezed, [as Atum, from] His [mouth and gave birth to] 
        Shu and Tefnut
(5), combined in manifestation.
        He appears on His throne as His heart prompts.
        Who, through His [power], rules for Himself all that is.
        Who binds together for Himself the kingship for ever, 
15    down to eternity, established as Sole Lord

        Light was His coming into existence on the first occasion,
        with all that exists in stillness for awe of Him.
        He honked by voice, as the Great Honker,
        coming into a land that He created for Himself, 
        while He was Alone.
20    He began speaking in the midst of silence,
        opening every eye and causing them to look.
        He began crying out while the world was in stillness,
        His yell circulated while He had no second,
        so that He might give birth to what is and cause them to live,
25    and cause every man to know the way to walk.
        Their hearts live when they see Him.
        His are the effective forms of the Ennead.

(1) The Heliopolitan Ennead is the result of the split of Atum ("the Bull of the Ennead") in Shu (air) & Tefnut (moist), engendering Geb (earth) and Nut (starlight). The latter gave birth to Osiris, Isis, Seth and Nephthys. Together with Pharaoh, the Ennead is the sacred Decad (10), the number of ultimate completion (macro and microcosmos interpenetrating) and oneness (sky and earth united).
(2) Here the suggestion is made Amun and Amunet are not part of the Ogdoad, confirmed by the idea the Ogdoad was Amun's first manifestation (hence his 10 toes = Ogdoad + Amun and consort). 
(3) The primordial, inert ocean of non-manifestation characterized by the Ogdoad.
(4) In the myths, Atum either sneezed or masturbated.
(5) Shu creates space (air, breath, enduring life), Tefnut the order of time (cf. the flow of water, of the Nile, rejuvenating, "what is right" - Maat).
(6) As "unique" Lord is also possible, but the context suggests aloneness (the French has "uniqueness").



The Ennead (90 = 9) is the company of the "neteru", the organs of the "body" of Amun. This "body" is a metaphor for the principle and operations of materialization (Ptah). The combination of the organs make up the unity of the material vehicle. The "neteru" are Amun's means of direct action. Each of them is an image of Amun, for He was first and initiated the "start" of creation. 

Amun's absolute anteriority, precedence and distinction are again emphasized and then the theme of his preeminent causative role is developed. Is it a coincidence that in this "enclosure", dealing with the Ennead (multiplicity in Divinity), the fundamental theme is Amun's singleness and sole creative power ? The last verse ends with : "His are the effective forms of the Ennead." Amun is One before creation, during creation and abides as an "image" in every "neter". He is also the only true king on Earth (theocracy). The entire company of "neteru" is nothing more than the sum total of Divine transformations and the image of the creator, whose existence precedes theirs. The "neteru" are Amun's theophanies.

The occurence of both the Heliopolitan (mythical & pre-rational) and Memphite (proto-rational) accounts of the creative act, points to the underlying intention present in the songs to synthesize the two major theologies of Egypt. The Atum-cycle is linked with the rule of Amun as king (cf. Pharaoh, son of Re, replaced by Amun, "King of the Throne of the Two Lands"). The Ptah-cycle is replaced by the "Great Honker" who spoke "in the midst of silence" and opened every eye. The creation of the "neteru" and the world through the creative verb is coupled with the personalizing thought that Amun is at work in every person and can be "seen", rejuvenating the mind.

Chapter 100

     100th Chapter.
        The One who initiated existence on the first occasion,
        Amun, who developed in the beginning,
        whose origin is unknown.

5      No god came into being prior to Him.
        No other god was with Him who could say what He looked like.
        He had no mother who created His name.
        He had no father to beget Him or to say : "This belongs to me."
        Who formed His own egg.
        Power of secret birth, who created His (own) beauty

10    Most Divine God
(2), who came into being Alone.
        Every god came into being since He began Himself.

(1) "Neferu" ("nfrw") can also mean "perfection".
(2) "Neter neteri" ("nTr nTri") is a superlative expression like : "God of gods".



In chapter "100", Amun's preexistent unity is invoked (100 = 1). His absolute transcendence is affirmed and approached with negatives : this absolute unity of His being is unknown, unseen, uncreated, not generated and of secret birth. What we do know is that Amun is prior to everything, that He is "causa sui", also the cause of His own perfection and absolutely Alone, Single and without a second. As the end of this chapter indicates, He is the only "Divine" God, every "neter" coming into being after He began Himself. Transcendence is thus linked with ontological priority (anteriority) and Self-creation.

Chapter 200

1      200th Chapter.
        Secret of manifestations and sparkling of shape.
        Marvellous God, rich in forms.
        All gods boast of Him,
5      to magnify
(1)  themselves in His beauty,
        to the extent of His Divinity.
        Re himself is united with His body.
        He is the great one in Heliopolis.
        He is called Tatenen.
        Amun, who comes out of the Nun,
        to guide the peoples

10    Another of His forms are the Eight,
        primeval one of the primeval ones, begetter of Re.
        He completed himself as Atum, 
        being of one body with him.
        He is the Universal Lord, 
        who initiated that which exists.

        His Soul
(3), they say, is the one who is in the sky.
15    He is the one who is in the netherworld, 
        foremost of the East.
        His Soul is in the sky, His body in the West.
        His statue is in southern Heliopolis,

elevating His body (4).

        One is Amun,
        who keeps Himself concealed from them,
        who hides Himself from the gods,
        no one knowing His nature.
20    He is more remote than the sky,
        He is deeper than the netherworld.

        None of the gods knows His true form.
        His image is not unfolded in the papyrus rolls.
        Nothing certain is testified about Him.

25    He is too secretive
        for His Majesty to be revealed,
        He is too great to be enquired after,
        too powerful to be known.

        People immediately fall face to face into death
        when His Name is uttered
        knowingly or unknowingly.
        There is no god able to invoke Him by it.
        He is Soul-like, hidden of name, like His Secrecy.


StA xprw THn irw
nTr biAiiti aSA xprw
nTr nb ab=sn im=f
r SaA-sn m nfrw=f mi nTri=f

Raw Ds=f  zmAw m Dt=f
ntf pA wr imi Iwnw
iw TA-tn ir=f
Imn priw m Nnw sSm=f Hrw

kii xprw=f m xmnw
pAwti pAwtiw msiw Raw

tm=f sw m Itmw Haw wa Hna=f
ntf Nb-r-Dr SAa wnnt

bA=f pw pA nti m Hrt
ntf pA nti m dAt xnti iAbtt
bA=f m pt Dt=f m imntt
Xnti=f m Iwnw Smaw Hr wTz

wa Imn imnw-sw ir=sn
sHApw-sw r nTrw 
bw iwn=f
wAiw-sw r Hrt
mDw-sw r dAt

bw rx nTrw nbw qi=f mAa
nn sSm=f prxw Hr zSw
nn ir=f Driiwt

sw StA r kfA Sfiit=f
sw aA r dDdD=f
wsr r rx=f

xr Hr-a m mwt n Hr-n-Hr
n wD rn=f StA xmw rxw
nn nTr rx nis sw im=f
bAii imn-rn=f mi StA=f

(1) Literally : "to make themselves greater".
(2) "Hr" or "face" ("Hrw", "the faces") is also possible. "Hr nb" is "everyone". The poetical "the faces" refers to all human beings (all of those who have a face), i.e. "the peoples".
(3) "Ba" ("bA"), represented by the Jabiru-bird (Ephippiorhynchus senegalesis) to be distinguished from the "Akh" ("Ax"), represented by a crested Ibis (Ibis comata).
(4) "Elevating His appearances" is also possible.



This form of this chapter has been called a "magnificent hymn" comparable with that of a sonnet (Assmann, 1995), and the "clearest surviving expression of the Egyptian concepts of immanent and transcendent divinity" (Allen, 1988). However, to refer to its contents as "pantheist" -as does Assmann (1997)- is not in accord with the text.

Indeed, in this song, Amun is described in positive ("katapathic" - lines 3 - 17) and negative ("apophatic" - lines 18 - 28) terms. In the former, the immanence is affirmed and the "neteru" appear as sparkling manifestations of Amun, so many of His forms, each form becoming "greater" not through themselves, but in His beauty and perfection. In the latter, His absolute transcendence is put to the fore in terms of concealment, secrecy, hiddenness, un-saying and unknowing. In a pantheism, God and His attributes are identical and transcendence is undone. This is not the case here. Hence, our Amun theologians were pan-en-theists, for Amun is transcendent (as preexisting essence) and immanent (as the created existence of His forms, the "neteru" or Divine Names). Everything happens "in" Amun, in other words, nothing falls outside Him ("pan-en-theos", "all-in-God").

"Every being came into being when His being began being.
There is nothing outside Him."

Praise of Amun in the Decree for Nesikhonsu, 6, XXIth Dynasty (the "Credo of Amenism").

The division implied by the diad is applied to Amun Himself. Hence, our title for this chapter ("the Two Lands") is a metaphor for the bi-polarity of the Divine. Amun, on the one hand, equals created existence as a countless variety of manifestations (perfect as the "neteru" and imperfect as the rest of creation). On the other hand, Amun is unknown to both the "neteru" of creation as well as to the Ogdoad. Such a one-and-millions-theology was also at work in the Great Hymn to the Aten :

"You created the sky far away in order to ascend it, 
to witness everything You created.
You are alone, shining in Your form of the living Aten.
Risen, radiant, distant and near.
You made millions of forms from Yourself alone : 
cities, towns, fields, the river's course."

Akhenaten : Great Hymn to the Aten, 72 - 75.

The "noble" and "base" Divine Names of Amun are the ontological roots of everything in existence. Nearness and remoteness are thus both applied to Amun. Much later, we witness the same theological structure with regard to the all-comprehensive Name of God in the Koran, namely "Allah" and His Most Beautiful Names, which can also be divided in "perfect" and "imperfect".

Bi-polarity makes the distinction between, on the one hand, "uncreated and creating" and, on the other hand, "created and creating" explicit (these categories were taken from the IXth century Periphyseon of Johannes Scottus). Indeed, Amun is not created by anything except Himself and creates the pre-creational Ogdoad as well as (in the form of Atum) the Ennead. Amun is present in each and every Divine Name He creates and these Names are responsible for the construction of the whole of the created universe. Were it not for the explicit transcendence of Atum before creation and His concealment after creation, a pantheism would indeed be the case. However, the all-comprehensiveness of Amun coupled with a clear division between pre-creation and creation, points to pan-en-theism (a term created by Christian Krause in his System der Philosophie of 1828, also used by Jacobi). In Renouvier's Traité de Logique of 1854, we read :

"Ce cas, que l'on a appelé de nos jours de panenthéisme, consiste à supposer entre l'unité et la pluralité non pas une relation telle que celle-ci soit issue de manière ou d'autre de celle-là, mais une relation de nécessité réciproque, jointe à une subordination constante, éternelle, du Multiple par rapport à l'Un." - Renouvier, Ch. : Traité de Logique, 1854, tome III, p.220.

The message of line 22-24 is interesting :

"None of the gods knows His true form,
His image is not unfolded in the papyrus rolls,
nothing certain is testified about Him."

Chapter 200, lines 22- 24.

Nothing certain is known about Amun, although He is given names as "Atum", "Tatenen" and "Re". People also say that He is a "Ba" or "soul", but in fact the papyrus rolls do not unfold His image. He can not be perceived, and so He cannot be known. His identity being unknown, nobody has any power over Him. Not the gods, not the world, not the people. This strong affirmation of un-saying, ineffable transcendence is striking. The "neteru" conceal Amun. People may think that Amun is this-or-that "neter", but in truth, only Amun knows Amun. He is Alone, One and Single and hence His essence (or face) is only for Him to know & behold. This radical articulation of transcendence is however no monotheistic declaration of unity (like "there is no god, but the Aten"). Quite on the contrary : Amun who is the God of gods does not deny the "gods & goddesses" their existence, but their manifestation can only be perfected (made greater) in and through Amun. He does not move against the "neteru", but subjugates all of them to His Will. The extent of His Divinity determines the grand power of these "neteru". Without Amun, they are not. Hence, the "neteru" are no longer "gods" but Divine Names or Divine Attributes at work insofar Amun deals with creation (either in pre-creation, in the creative act of creation and in creation itself).

The end of the song again focuses on the personal element : if anybody would utter the true, hidden Name of Amun to invoke Him, they would find death instead. His soul-like quality is an outer manifestation grasped by the "neteru" and the people, but His true Name is secret. Hence, the word "Amun" (the Hidden) points to the namelessness of the Absolute God who abides as the All in All. Everything happens "in" Him, and He has no second (nothing exists outside Him) ...

Chapter 300

     300th Chapter.
        All the gods are three :
        Amun, Re and Ptah, without their second.
        His identity is hidden as Amun,
5      He is Re as face, His body is Ptah.
        Their towns are on earth, fixed for the span of eternity :
        Thebes, Heliopolis and Memphis are established perennially.
        When a message is sent from the sky, it is heard in Heliopolis,
        and repeated in Memphis for the god-with-the-beautiful-face
10    put in a report, in Thoth's writing
        directed to the town of Amun, bearing their concerns,
        and the matter is answered in Thebes,
        by an oracle emerging, intended for the Ennead.
        Everything that comes from His mouth,
15    the gods are bound by it, according to what has been decreed.
        When a message is sent, it is for killing or for giving life.
        Life and death depend on Him for everyone,
        except for Him, Amun, together with Re, [and Ptah] : total, 3.

(1) This is of course Ptah.
(2) Thoth is the god of writing and magic.



The preceding chapters taught us that the "neteru" are the sparkling theophanies of Amun. They are no longer independent of Amun and called "the one" (as usual), but "three". Indeed, only Amun is One. This "3 = 1"-formula is next coupled with the "divine" geography of Egypt, affirming that the "neteru" evidently deal with the realm of creation, in specific, the Two Lands  :

AMUN Thebes the hidden identity principle of
RE Heliopolis the outer "face" principle of
PTAH Memphis the outer "body" principle of

All "neteru" are "three", namely Amun, Re and Ptah, i.e. the hidden identity (Amun Himself, the principle of unity), their "face" or "presence" as Re (the principle of light & life, i.e. the "son" of the "father of the neteru") and their "body" or "solidity" as Ptah. This trinitarian solution reminds us of the Christian dogma of the Holy Trinity, and indeed, one may wonder whether an indirect influence is really to be excluded.

We know that Christianity arrived in Alexandria, at least, by the middle of the first century and so encountered the learned Alexandrian tradition, with its Hermetism and traditional Egyptian religion. If we realize that Paul was influence by Philo of Alexandria ("Christ" as "second God", "contrition of the heart" etc. - cf. history of Early Christianity and Jewish Christianity), we may suspect the presence of a broader context of cultural diffusion, assimilation and integration of interesting theological concepts still circulating in Memphis and Thebes at the time of the first heresies (second century) and even later, when an independent Coptic Church was established and affirmed against the authority of Rome ("Coptic" by the way, is the last phase of Ancient Egyptian). When the conflict between Rome and Constantinopel regarding the nature of Christ was sealed in the West by Constantine the Great with the "Nicene Creed" (arrived at with a minority of bishops present), the notion of a Divine Trinity was already well established and in accord with Ramesside theology, for "Father", "Son" and "Holy Spirit" can with ease find links with the triune theology invoked by our Amun theologians (see also my Tabula Smaragdina) :

  • Amun (the hidden, secret "father of the neteru") = the Heavenly Father

  • Re = Christ ("pantokrator" and exclusive path to the Father) and

  • Ptah = Holy Spirit (the principle of manifestation acting through Mary to engender Christ).

However, note (and here Amun theology differs from its Christian offshoot) that our authors do not say that Amun is three, but that all "neteru" are three. Each and every sparkling manifestation of the hidden God is triune : Amun, Re and Ptah, i.e. hidden essence, luminous presence and physical solidity :

  • hidden essence : the spirit of each "neter" withdraws to abide in the sky. Moreover, although celestial, they do not know their Creator, who hides from them. Their own essence thus remains concealed from them.

  • luminous presence : the doubles and souls of the "neteru" exist on Earth. As in Atenism, their presence is extended everywhere, from "stone to man", and global.

  • physical solidity : the bodies of the "neteru" are in gold, precious stones, stone, wood and clay . So they exist in the very elements constituting nature and become solid as a culture of sustainable harmonization, the interlocking of human culture with the cycles of nature. The "neteru" are the "names" of the laws & conditions of process and evolution, "schemata" of successful schemes of creating harmony in and with the environments (inertia being overwon through "heka"). Their "quantum" involving continuous emergence, dissolution (annihilation) and resurrection (rejuvenation). Each "neteru" in its own unique and special way. Solid structures (such as carved hieroglyphs) symbolized the power magic had over matter & inertia (cf. amulets & talismans).

The true identity of the "gods" is "hidden as Amun", implying that the Name "Amun" is the best verbal approximation possible of the Nameless, ineffable Supreme God. It invokes His Secrecy ! Hence, the "essence" of each and every "neteru" is the same, namely "hidden" as "Amun", the highest Name of the One God Alone, the Single without a second, before, during and apparently in creation too. 

The presence of the "gods" is luminous as Re. They are all beings of light, or excellent manifestations of the creative principle. They are the multiple rays emanating from the One, Limitless Source. 

The body of the "gods" is their extension in space (the towns where they act) and time (when they act). It is also a principle of outer organisation (government) which keeps the Two Lands solidly together (Dynastic rule). What is "heard" in Iunu is "repeated" in Men-nefer, "put in a report" by Thoth and "directed" to Thebes, where it is "answered" by the oracle of Amun, who has the last say on everything.

Moreover, this trinity is linked with the major cult-areas in the "body" of Egypt, the city of Amun (Ta-Apet, Thebes), the city of Re (Iunu, Heliopolis) and the royal Dynastic city (Men-nefer, Memphis). These also represent two traditional theologies (verbal, in the case of Ptah of Memphis and self-creational, in the case of Re of Heliopolis) and the synthesis proposed by our Theban authors. They were confident to have realized a superior scheme, although it is not likely to have had popular following. These hymns reflect the canonical discourse of a small elite, and focus on the theological superstructure of the "initiate" mystery-cult of Amun after Amarna.

The "hearing" of Heliopolis, is more than just processing air. The high priest of Re is a visionary and interacts "face to face" with the creative principle. This "hearing" hence points to inspiration, insight, revelation and the direct experience of Re, all rooted in the presence of Pharaoh. Heliopolitan theology is fundamentally celestial, Solar and Pharaonic. The "repetition" done in Memphis, is more than verbosity. The contents of the "hearing" is made conceptual (Sia), is given an authoritative form (Hu) and is simultaneously spoken aloud by means of the tongue, giving what was "heard" its first "sheet" or "layer" of solidity, for the "magical" word is spoken by Ptah, the principle of continuous craftmanship and enduring defiance of the inertia of matter (associated with the act of eternalizing hieroglyphs). The recording of Thoth is a short reminder of Hermopolitan theology (with Thoth at the head of the pre-creational Ogdoad) and is suggestive of the tremendous importance of writing. This truthfull report is "answered" in Thebes by the oracle of Amun, who has the last word in all things. As "King of the Throne of the Two Lands", Amun was Pharaoh and hence nothing He said could be countered, His decrees were final.

The Great God Alone is Nameless. His Name "Amun" is His Secrecy, His Ineffable Essence. Re is His outer manifestation as Light, Life and Love. Ptah is His solidity in the elements of the Earth as the Unique Master of His Temple. His Great Work is constantly being accomplished.

III Text in French

The French translation of The Hymns to Amun is part of my Ancient Egyptian Readings (2016), a POD publication in paperback format of all translations available at These readings span a period of thirteen centuries, covering all important stages of Ancient Egyptian literature. Translated from Egyptian originals, they are ordered chronologically and were considered by the Egyptians as part of the core of their vast literature.

The study of the sources, hieroglyphs, commentaries and pictures situating the text itself remain on the website at no cost.

IV Hieroglyphic text

The hieroglyphs were published by Jan Zandee in 1948 in his doctoral thesis at Leiden University, Zandee, J. : De Hymnen aan Amon van Papyrus Leiden I 350, Brill - Leiden, 1948, plates I - VI.


At its best, philosophy is an answer to the question : What makes beings be ? This answer surpasses their existence (cf. "ex" + "histanai"), their Whatness ? and Whoness ? Philosophy proper (not to be confused with philosophistics, the logistics of philosophy, studied at most of our universities) stands in the limitations or isthmus of all possible entities, and by remaining there, it transcends the existence of these entities by entering into their being-there, i.e. into the essence of what these things are, given they are some thing besides being something (what) and/or somebody (who). In the case of human beings, the question is : is there a someone instead of only something ?

As an independent discipline of abstracts, philosophy was non-existent in Ancient Egypt. But as a discourse on wisdom, it had a distinctive historical record as old as the Early Dynastic Period (namely as the "transcendent significant", Pharaoh, the eternal witness). One can not assert a "system" of human thought (as Allen, 1988 does), for the mature proto-rational mode of cognition (producing a concrete, practical and contextual system) was only attained as late as the New Kingdom. Moreover, the pictoral, contextual imagery of the Egyptian language itself was never left behind and, in the religious context, Classical Middle Egyptian became the standard language (cf. the Shabaka Stone).

"The biological imagery provided the ancient Egyptian with a means of visualizing and communicating basic concepts that are more familiar to us as abstracts principles or the terms of an equation. To appreciate the true intellectual content of ancient thought, we have to look behind the images for the concepts those images are meant to convey." - Allen, 1988, p.ix.

Extant texts underline the Egyptian interest in the origin and constitution of the cosmos. They provide us with a variety of cosmogonical and cosmological considerations. The latter were  an intrinsic part of the religious corpus. Alongside this, the Egyptians were fascinated with the good afterlife, and developed a specific anthropology to discuss these matters. The two main objects of "natural philosophy" (the cosmos and humanity) were important themes, and this from the start of Heliopolitan theology in the Old Kingdom.

between sky and Earth : Pharaoh and the deities

The theology of Pharaoh called for transcendent and harmonizing qualities and the specifics of the ascension-texts reveal something of the phenomenology of Pharaonic (self)consciousness, the embodiment of a witnessing awareness. In the Old Kingdom, no other individual received comparable attention, and common Egyptians "hid", whereas Pharaoh "flew" to the sky. Classical literature (Middle Kingdom) introduced the expression (verbalization) of personality within the provincial and urban family-context, flanked by the articulation of (funerary) scepticism and a pessimistic literature. Internationalization came with the New Kingdom, born out of the collapse of the Hyksos, who -as other peoples- had introduced new cultural forms (subsequently assimilated). Natural philosophy was at the core of the New Solar Theology, and its monotheistic extension briefly became state theology. After Amarna, Pharaoh lost his power to the advantage of Amun, who's representative he was.

Atenite monotheism made it clear what happens when religious and political authority coincide : destructive action is undertaken against the plurality of deities. Amun was targetted by Akhenaten because He represented the "hidden", ineffable side of the Divine, as it were expelled into the desert (as was Amun's high priest) by the fundamentalism of light, direct (intimate) presence and movement, essential to Atenism. The light of the Aten did not allow for shadows. No rival "cosmic god" could be allowed. The "plural" for "gods" was eliminated. This eradication was systematic with regard to Amun, but did not touch minor deities, nor Thoth, indicating Amarna's "monotheism" was clearly tailored for the Egyptian mind.

"We also see no indication that the existing temples of the gods were converted into sanctuaries of the Aten ; the worship of the god had its unequivocal center in the new capital. At the same time, only fifteen miles away in Neferusi, Knum, Thoth, and Osiris were still being worshipped ! (...) We must imagine that the supression of the old cults was not altogether consistent in the distant provinces, and that Thebes surely was a special case."
Hornung, 1999, p.86.

Moreover, Akhenaten had good political reasons to move against Thebes, which had risen to considerable political and economical might. With his "renaissance", Akhenaten wanted to return to the old system, centralizing all political, economical and theological power in Pharaoh. Although the temples were closed, the Thebans did not loose their money, and so they waited for better times.

It is not unlikely this unacceptable violence is akin to all forms of monotheism ?! This could well be another interesting aspect of the Amarna episode : the first theo-political sectarian disaster in recorded history ! A whole state run by an artistic madman & his wife. A "god" who left foreign messengers waiting outside until they died in the burning Sun. The sole mediator who crushed the salvic hopes of the poor, outlawing their religion, and closing down their age-old religious points of reference (the various temple cults and their festivals), impoverishing their religious & social life. Akhenaten brought a new creation, a new cult, a new afterlife and abolished the netherworld ! This frenzy led to the interiorization of religious life and a shock-wave which would revise the notion of kingship fundamentally (and this despite the gigantism of the Ramesses). After the death of Akhenaten (apparently not caused by a fall from power by a violent end), the sole worship of the Aten was immediately given up. The experience was so traumatic, it was repressed (and, as Assmann suggested, reappeared transformed in -Jewish- literature, like Psalm 104 and popular legends). In Egypt, the name of Akhenaten was erased and slowly but surely the Egyptians transferred Pharaonic power & status from the king to Amun, who became Pharaoh, and the king His masterservant.

The same lack of respect for Divine pluralism witnessed in Amenhotep IV, can be found in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, although each of these religions "of the book" have assimilated plurality and immanence implicitly (i.e. under the control of their dogmatic theologies) and have acted against heresy with more radical zeal. 

  • in Judaism there is the "Shekinah", the "Messiah" & the "chosen people" ;

  • in Christianity the "Christ-Divinity" of Jesus & the theology of the Paraclete ;

  • in Islam the "Most Beautiful Names" or attributes of Allah with which the Sufi is adorned.

In Amenism, an abstract comprehension of the Divine was realized and the division between the various theologies harmonized (as evident in the one-and-millions-formula). Moreover, the necessity of "outer" cultic ramifications was superceded, and replaced by the "Will of Amun", who even "heard" the poor who were unable to offer ! Religious tolerance, personal conscience and the proximity of God walked hand in hand. 

These complex religious, political and theological issues imply philosophical activities like epistemology, natural philosophy, metafysics, ethics, esthetics and philosophical anthropology. There is however no text which records the results of such speculative activity for its own sake, i.e. for that reason alone. Ulterior purposes, mostly relgious and theological, supercede the concerns of a speculative approach, which is intransitive. The abstractor necessary for this operation was not present or functioned at the tangent of the excellence of proto-rationality (as in the authors of Papyrus Leiden I 350). This unity of religion and philosophy does not mean that in thousands of texts, such as hymns, prayers, songs, funerary and temple liturgies, spells, narratives, dialogues, etc., subjects of philosophical interest can not be isolated "post hoc", although they are always part of and refer to a larger context.

In the Old Kingdom, wisdom and its discourse, emerge as a synthesis of cosmic & social justice (Pharaoh being the moral center) and its verbal power (Memphis). Pharaoh's power of exclusive constellational mediation is omnipresent : Pharaoh is a god among the gods who mediates between Egypt and Re by offering justice and truth, i.e. Maat, to his father Re. After the collapse of the Old Kingdom, wisdom is democratized (we see provincial constellational participations and early henotheism rising). A justified (virtues) & deified (Osiris NN) individuality are wisdom's domains. The New Kingdom implied another considerable leap forwards. The assimilation of foreign forms (under the Hyksos), reunification (by Thebes) and the strong power of Pharaoh, transformed Egypt into an international nation. Changes in theology and philosophy were impending. The Books of the Afterlife are the research manuals of the hereafter, to be known and used by Pharaoh alone !

Given the cognitive limitations of proto-rationality, it is suprising to witness the extent of what was still possible in philosophy. This because a refined and mature proto-rationality is the outcome (apex or flower) of a difficult process of differentiation, and hence is characterized by a relative stability in the concrete & practical realm, whereas with the next step, rationality, the whole process is to be repeated, to realize the operation of abstraction, on a higher level of cognitive performance.

In the general development of the cognitive growth of humans and their cultures, the treshold between proto-rationality and rationality is therefore pivotal. Ancient Egyptian civilization never anchored in the rational mode, although its most exceptional individuals inspired the admiration of philosophers like Pythagoras and Plato, who did. The Egyptian elite, discoursed in the way of conceptual rationality, but with the door left wide open to mythical, pre-rational and proto-rational influences (i.e. with no systematic abstraction or "theoria") and using a refined, literary language steeped in metaphor, allegory, analogy & poetry. 

Egyptologists are wrong when they say the attempt to communicate abstract thought to others is universal, making pre-Hellenistic peoples no exception (Allen, 1988). The importance of Greek thought is unmistaken, although not exclusive. But with the introduction of the categorial concept, Egypt's practical wisdom could be reformulated, and it was. The Greeks provided the syllogism and its "major", the Egyptians the "minor". The result, Egypto-Alexandrian Hellenism (and Hermetism), was most influential ... The abstract core of most ancient practical procedures could now be established as well as the logical language underlying them (cf. Euclid, Hipparchus).

"Read" the word "neter" and its derivations as expressions, transformations, modifications or permutations of the hidden, secret "Deus absconditus" (Atum, Amun). "Decode" the specific literary style of Ancient Egyptian, with its specific associations, epithets, references to the vast traditional mythical storehouse of imaginal representations (with Re, the principle of light & creation, at its head) and its early, pre-rational, pre-conceptualization of collective experiences in loose, plastic and flexible (somewhat confused) "pre-concept-sets". Due to crisis this requilibrates and an integrated (not underlying) philosophical stratum may be discerned. It is often interrupted by theological, religious and funerary considerations or spiced with epithets or series of words (spells) intending a physical result (magic or "actio-in-distans"). This is a proto-rational system at work, a model with closure enabling a specific ante-rational mode of thought to be developed. Three distinct modes of thought engender three distinct views on creation and mankind, canonized in three pivotal realizations : Heliopolitan theology and wisdom-teachings (Old Kingdom), "humanistic" literature and individualized magic (Middle Kingdom) and the New Solar Theology and its conceptualizations (New Kingdom).

Regarding recurring patterns of interest for philosophy, Ancient Egyptian philosophy brought the origin (creation) and working (life & death) of the cosmos and humankind to the fore. Material (Men-nefer), self-emergent (Iunu) and verbal (Khemenu) pre-systems of philosophy emerged. The former, macrocosmic intellectual interest, prevailed in theology, temple-liturgy and festivals. The latter, microcosmic aim, was foremost realized in the funerary context and in the obligation of a good life in accord with the practical wisdom in which order is truth and justice (cf. "maâti", "Maat", "Judgement", Osiris, etc.).

During the "second" blossoming of Egypt (XIIth Dynasty, Middle Kingdom), it was acknowledged that every human being had a "Ba" (soul) and a conscience ("Ib", heart). The latter would be judged in the afterlife and had to be as light as the Feather of Maat, the metaphor of being "true of voice". The weight (burden) of the mind determines bliss or perdition.

The dialectical (here : conflictual) nature of existence, both cosmical and anthropological (returning in Greek pre-Socratic philosophy - cf. the tension of war between the "enantia", the "elements" from Thales to Empedocles and later in Plato's model of psyche's "two horses"), i.e. the division of the "Two Lands" and their unity as "Egypt" is acknowledged as early as the Terminal Predynastic Period (ca. 3300 - 3000 BCE). The harmonization of division ("coincidence of opposite") being the final aim.

In the foundational myths of Ancient Egyptian theology & religion, the following philosophical elements return and give rise to pre-rational and proto-rational patterns of speculative thought  :

  • the existence of an ontology of pre-creation : an undifferentiated and inert ocean of potential energy exists - it is before, during and after creation ends : a limitless, spaceless and timeless implicate order, characterized by the possibility of creation (Atum, the Ba of Nun) ;

  • the self-creation of the creator : "ex nihilo", the creator of everything emerges as his own cause and simultaneously splits into space, time and the elements ;

  • the verbal factor in creation : through "great speech", "authoritative utterance", "generative command" and "divine words" in the mind and on the tongue of the creator, everything ensues ;

  • the fundamental importance of light : if darkness is a metaphor for pre-creation, then dawn represents creation in its material, physical aspect. The light of the disk of the Sun is the cause of photosynthesis and all forms of life on the surface of the Earth ;

  • the transcendent element : the dialectical divisions are always superceded and harmonized (unified) by a central power (of powers). This "image of images" is first projected on the king and kingship, later attributed to Amun, the "King of the Throne of the Two Lands".

from natural order to Divine morality and the king as protocol

Amun hears everybody, His Will abides and He is the Saviour and Helper of the oppressed. So can one still perform votive offerings which bestow a particular favour (blessing) "ex opere operato" (out of the nature of the things themselves) ? The constellational discourse of the old theology had always been cosmological and the (meta)physics of the magic of the proper "name" omnipotent. But in mature Amun theology, as well as in that of Ptah (cf. Papyrus Harris I,44), God was also conceptualized as being a Personal Saviour, and the righteous order of things was identified with His Will. Hence, the "natural" order was broken down to the advantage of the "Divine Will" able to curtail the cosmological order of things.

"Amun-Re, I love You !
My heart has been filled by You.
I have placed You in my heart,
for I know Your Name."

Prayer to Amun, Ostracon British Museum (5656a), XIXth Dynasty.

From the point of view of natural philosophy this was a drawback. Also morally this development was rejectable, for the acquired conscience and its "lawful justification" was replaced by the oracular randomness (or secrecy and mystery) of Amun (c.q. the power of the clergy).

"You are Amun, Lord of the Silent,
who answers the cry of the humble.
I cry unto You because I am afflicted,
and already You come and save me.
You who gives breath to he who lacks it !
Save me, I, who am in distress.
You are Amun-Re, Lord of Thebes,
who even saves the one who is in the netherworld."

Prayer of Nebre, Stela 23.077 of the Berlin Museum, XIXth Dynasty.

After Amarna, the power of Thebes rose again. This had been the last confrontation between Pharaoh and the Theban clergy, and the latter had won. Pharaoh remained an important figure, but he could no longer do anything without the approval of the oracle of Amun. The end of the ideology of the Pharaonic Period was at hand, and after the New Kingdom, Pharaoh became an institution which reflected the unity of the Two Lands. In the Third Intermediate Period (ca. 1075 - 664 BCE), the Asiatic regions were lost, and Nubia and its gold slipped from Egyptian authority.

"In practice, the Thebaid was a military dictatorship ruled by the high priest, but in theory it was a theocracy in which the all-powerful divine ruler Amun guided all that happened, down to the solving of crimes and the appointement of officials, through his oracular decisions."
Hornung, 1999, p.125.

In the Ptolemaic Empire (replacing Amun with Ptah), this would become his most important, charismatic function. With the formula "Amun is King", all major decisions in Egypt were (in principle) taken by the Hidden One.

"The principal quality of the Ptolemaic kingship, inspired as it was by Hellenistic ideology, consisted of a charismatic invincibility which was upheld by the gods and which had to be proven if recognition by the kingdom's subjects was to be secured. This was essentially different from the sovereignity of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh, since the latter's invincibility, affirmed in his role as the victorious Horus, was principally understood in cultic and mythic terms." - Hölbl, 2001, p.91.

the strong argument of monotheism

"ALLAH has no son, nor is there any divinity next to ALLAH. For otherwise, each god would make creation his and some of them would risen up above the others. Far from the glory of ALLAH is what they describe."
Koran, 23:92

In most chapters of the Koran, Divine unicity is emphasized. Although Allah has attributes (His Most Beautiful Names), He is Alone. He created the world but has no divine son and no fellow Divine beings. Christianity, which largely incorporated the Egyptian Pharaonic model in its Christology (Jesus being the unique "son of God", i.e. a God-man), is rejected as a milder form of incarnationism (i.e. the notion that God incarnates in a human being or may dwell in parts of creation). In Sufism, only creation as a whole and the Perfect Man are images revealing something about God, but He has no need of creation. What argument did the Koran provide for this radical monotheism ? Is this not the only form of theology which is logically consistent with the idea claiming the supreme must be One, i.e. with the fundamental condition of the Divine ? Or is a postmodern henotheism possible ?

Islamic law (drawn from the Koran and the so-called "traditions", the hadith) refutes Egyptian religion on the grounds that it is idolatrous, i.e. based on the worship of idols. Historically, this interpretation holds true for Egypt's polytheistic phase, situated before the emergence of the Dynasties. However, these authors do associate idolatery with the theology of Dynastic Egypt, and this is somewhat off the mark. We know of the fugal monotheism of Atum of Heliopolis, of the pan-en-theistic verbal creation of the world by Ptah of Memphis, of the solitary Re in the New Solar Theology and Amarna and of the present, strict henotheist interpretation of Amun in Rammeside theology. In all these theologies, the One is not an idol but incarnates in whatever material object He desires and the pantheon in particular is but a manifestation of His fundamental, hidden unity. Hence, idolatery is not the strongest argument against Egyptian religion. It was probably proposed as a result of a focalization on Pharaoh and his claim to be a god (cf. the many instances in the Koran describing the confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh (Ramesses II?)). 

The Koran proposes another, stronger argument. Suppose, says the author of the Koran, we accept the existence of Gods and Goddesses. Then each Deity would claim creation for itself and try to compete with the others. Indeed exactely what happened in Ancient Egypt ! In the Old Kingdom, Osiris competed with Re. In the Middle Kingdom, Osiris and Amun-Re confronted each other. Amarna theology tried to eradicate Amun by destroying his name & temple-service. And although in the late New Kingdom, the Thebans claimed the "millions" to be the many outer faces of Amun, each "face" (in its own nome & temple) continued to be praised for its own "greatness" and "oneness" without relating its founding myth to the fundamental unity of which it was deemed to be but an expression (as do the Divine Names of Allah). Indeed, in the Late Period, the formula "one and millions" was also attributed to ... Isis !

So in his or her own temple, each god & goddess remained omnipotent, and the fact Amun was the hidden origin of them all, may well have been part of the hymns sung at Thebes, but was clearly not generalized on the walls of the temples of the other deities. The exclusivity of the local deity was stressed as much as the overall divine kingship of Amun. Just as Osiris and Re were left to exist side by side, Amun-Re and the pantheon co-habitated. Even in a strict henotheism, onflicts between deities cannot be excluded. Ancient Egyptian proto-rationality was unable to operate consistently, and so the fundamental confusion eroding Ancient Egyptian theologies was never taken away. Is this the confusion the Koran rejected ? There is only one Great God, and everything else is far removed from His Glory. Introduce more than one god and we do not know who is really in charge. The whole rational effort of theology becomes futile. But is theology served with this exclusive focus on reason and rational completion (cf. neurotheology) ? Is religion rational ?

"Have you considered El-Lat and El-'Uzza ? And that other, Manat, the third idol ? What ? Do you have sons and He daughters ? Indeed an unjust division. They are nothing but names. You and your fathers named them as such. ALLAH has not sent down any authority touching them. You only follow surmise, and what your souls desire, and yet guidance has come to you from your Lord. Shall the human have whatever he fancies ?"
Koran, 53:19-24

"Is your Lord not the final end of everything ? It is He who makes you laugh and weep. It is He who makes you die and live. He Himself created the two kinds, male and female, of a sperm-drop, when it was emitted. Upon Him rests one second of growth. It is He who gives wealth and riches. It is He who is the Lord of Sirius."
Koran, 53:43-50

Against the idolatery of pre-Islam Arabia (plunged in the so-called "era of ignorance"), the Koran states that people give names to divinities of their own fancy which are not endorsed by Allah, nor exist without Allah. The epithet "Lord of Sirius" in the context of growth, wealth and riches, is suggestive of Osiris & Isis. Allah is the All. If He has All Names, then clearly the worship of any individual Name as such is vane and useless, for in each Name all other Names manifest. This logically terminates the henotheist project and opens the way for a radical & consequent monotheism (indeed, even in strict Egyptian henotheism, Osiris and Seth remain two operational entities, whereas in monotheism only God is operational).

Whenever free individual expression in writing and art is coupled with the fundamental question : Why is there something rather than nothing ?, philosophy is at work. Although philosophical inquiry is a rational process, and criticism, dialogue and the limitations of thought come to the fore in the rules of the game of "true" knowing, we should not replace our philosophical task (being) with the instrument (thought).

Philosophy can be unsystematic, poetical and literary, as evidenced by Ancient Egyptian civilization, both in its Pharaonic as well as in its Hellenistic phase. Perhaps this is the wisdom of the ancients : the tread of Ariadne is thin and interwoven with the "great story" of life itself ; it is not a "rational" Tower of Babel to reach the heavens, but, like the scales of Maat, a bridge for passers-by, a channel harmonizing the flow of the waters, a mediator between above and below, a pathway, landmark and waymark for a good and happy life here, but also hereafter.

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initiated : 11 V 2002 - last update : 06 I 2016 - version n°5

© Wim van den Dungen
Antwerp, 2005 - 2016.