March 3, 2012

The Memphite Theology of Creation and Triad of Memphis

The Triad of Memphis
Today the ruins of Memphis lie a little over twenty kilometers to the southwest of modern Cairo. Not much is left of the old city, but at one time it was the capital of all Egypt and one of the most powerful cities in the world. Here, somewhere around the year 3000 B.C., the kings of the First Dynasty forged a merger between the peoples of Upper and Lower Egypt and began to build a city worthy of their political achievements. It was a city for the living-full of houses, markets, government offices, and temples for worship of their godsvery little of which has survived. Its Egyptian name was Hikaptah, which meant “House of the Ka, or Spirit, of Ptah,” and clearly indicated the town’s dependence on its chief god.

Triad of Memphis
Ancient Memphis was laid out around the Temple of Ptah. The temple, measuring about one third by one quarter of a mile, was the focal point of the town. The royal palace, called “The White Walls,” was to the north, near the sacred lake and the royal gardens. To the south of the temple was the shrine of the Apis bull and stalls for the bull and his mother. A canal brought boats from the Nile to the town, which was bounded on both east and west by canals. The town probably covered an area about one and three quarter miles long and three quarters of a mile wide. In the nearby desert t Sakkara, the people built a city for their dead, which was ultimately to include the first pyramids and several important tombs.

Of ancient Memphis little remains now, but scattered here and there are a few statues, including an interesting alabaster sphinx from the Eighteenth Dynasty. The most important piece is a limestone statue of Ramses II which must have stood about thirteen meters high at one time. Now the legs and part of the crown are missing, and it lies on its back in a small museum where it can be examined, studied, and photographed. Nearby are the ruins of a temple and alabaster beds used to mummify the Apis bulls that were later buried in gigantic sarcophagi in Sakkara. These later items provide clues to the religious life of ancient Memphis.

The Memphite Theology
The religious beliefs of Memphis are quite ancient, but according to Siegfried Morenz the gods of the area remained local until sometime during the Fifth and Sixth dynasties. At this time the theological system of Heliopolis seems to have lost some of its influence, and the priests from Memphis took advantage of this to advance the power of their triad and insinuate them into the cosmology from Heliopolis. Jaroslav Cerny maintains that the theology of Memphis conflated the gods of Heliopolis into a system headed by its own god, Ptah, as first principle and creator. Rudolf Anthes has written: “The ‘Memphite theology’ should be understood as the theological explanation and justification of the undisputed fact that Memphis was the residence of the kings. It was adapted to the concept current in Heliopolis, and was not designed for competition.”

The Memphite Theology of Creation Symbol
The politics of religion were potent. One text described the extent of Ptah’s international political power as a result of his part in the creation:

It was not the army that caused every nation to bring tribute . . . ; it was the gods of the land of Egypt, the gods of every country, that caused- the great princes of every country to bring tribute themselves to the King Ramses ... to convey their gold, their silver, their vases of malachite ... to bring their herds of horses, of oxen, of goats, of sheep.... It was not a prince that went to fetch them, it was not an army of infantry that went to fetch them, it was not horsemen that went to fetch them. It was Ptah, father of the gods.....

Through the centuries many gods were worshipped in Memphis, but Ptah emerged as their chief and the head of a triad that included his consort Sekhmet and their son Nefertem. The precise origin of Ptah remains unknown. Some scholars have evidence that he was originally a variation of the sun god, but other evidence suggests that he may equally have been connected with the moon. One prayer to him reads: “It is your two eyes that give light... your two eyes that circle day and night; your right eye is the disk of the sun, your left eye the moon. Your images are the indefatigable ones.” Sir Flinders Petrie believed that Ptah was thought to be the incarnation of the Apis bulls that had long been worshipped at this site.

The theological beliefs from Memphis were recorded on a granite slab in the Twenty-fifth Dynasty (ca. 710 B.C.), but the lost documents on which it was based were of the Old Kingdom, probably dating from about the same time as the Pyramid Texts. The inscription begins by identifying Ptah with Tatenen, an ancient earth god from Memphis, and with the king. Ptah is described as self-begotten and creator of the Nine Gods.

Next, the stone recalls the judgment of the Ennead that ended the war between Seth and Horus. At first the peace agreement gave Seth Upper Egypt and Horus the land of his father to the north, but eventually the two were pacified and united in the House of Ptah. Horus came to be lord of both Upper and Lower Egypt, which made Ptah supreme god, since Horus was an ingredient of Ptah, a point of doctrine that is confusing theologically but politically serviceable.

In the following section, the stone acclaims Ptah as supreme god and creator of all: “For the very great one is Ptah, who gave life to all the gods and their kas through his heart and through his tongue” The text recalls the widely recognized version of creation from Heliopolis that claimed Atum created the Ennead through masturbation, but it makes the higher claim that Ptah spoke the words that inspired Atum’s action. Ptah’s heart was the seat of intelligence and his tongue the agent of the heart: “For every work of the god came about through what the heart devised and the tongue commended.” In addition to creating the gods, Ptah was the originator of food, provisions, divine offerings, justice, labor, movement of the body “all good things,” as the text said. Ptah was acknowledged as the mightiest of the gods, and it was said of him that he “was satisfied after he had made all things and all divine words.”

The text then concludes by asserting Memphis’ claim to be the royal city because it was located at the spot where Isis and Nephthys brought Osiris to land after his drowning by Seth.

Related Web Search : 
  • Theban Triad
  • Ancient Egyptian Gods
  • Ancient Egyptian Gods And Goddesses
  • Ancient Egyptian Gods for Kids
  • List Of Ancient Egyptian Gods

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