Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Egyptian Flood

A painting of the Colossi of Memnon in the days before the Asswan High Dam, when the Nile used to flood. The colossi represent Amenophis III and  formed part of  his mortuary temple. The temple was 'one of the largest and most magnificent of all the religious structures created in Egypt' (R.H. Wilkinson The complete temples of ancient Egypt 2000, p 188). As the illustration shows, flood water was welcomed into the temple compound as a representation of the primal waters from which the earth was created. A pharaoh's tomb was a symbol of Osiris tomb. The pharaoh became Osiris when he passed from bodily life to the after-life for which a mortuary temple provided a home. His responsibility for giving Egypt its annual flood continued during his after-life. Amenophis is seen here watching the sun which gave rise to life on earth.

The Egyptian flood story resembles the Mesopotamian and the Genesis flood stories in that it tells the story of the ungrateful evil of humankind, the punishment for that evil, and the saving of a few in order that a new beginning might be made. A late-third-millennium B.C.E. myth of the Herakleopolitan dynasties tells how humankind plotted against the high god Re, and Re called into council his "eye" (the goddess Hathor) and the other important gods "who were with me in the Primeval Waters," including the original god of the watery chaos, Nun himself (Clark, iSiff.). Re asked advice of Nun. What was he to do about these misguided humans, the children of his "eye"? Nun advised that he turn his "eye" against humankind, and the other gods agreed. And so the "eye," as the now Kali-like destructive Hathor (perhaps the hot, unbridled sun), descended upon humans and killed them in the desert. Hathor returned claiming that to destroy mankind was "pleasant to my heart." The "eye" as the lion goddess Sekhmet was sent to continue the destruction, but Re decided to prevent total destruction. He created beer from barley and red ochre and flooded the fields of Egypt with it. Sekhmet, on her way to the slaughter, was attracted by the beer and drank so much of it that she became intoxicated and forgot about killing humans. So it was that a few were saved.

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