Religion in Ancient Egypt

Religion in Ancient Egypt
How Religion Affected Egyptian
Political, Legal, and Creative
Impact of Geography on Religion:
The Nile
• Rose and the land was covered with water;
the Nile subsided and land, now full of life
was ready to be sewn and produce crops
• Consequently, Egyptians accepted water as
the beginning of everything
• Water revered in the form of a creator-god
named Atum, who emerged from the first
hill that rose from the water
• Atum was “the perfect one” that created
the earth and sky, who later had children
Impact of Geography on Religion:
• From the Old Stone Age man had buried
the dead, and early Egyptians did too
• Hot, dry climate meant that body did not
rot, but desiccated and remained a wholly
recognizable corpse
• Consequently developed unparalleled
emphasis on continued existence of
physical body after death
• Sun also recognized as another great lifegiving force (hence Sun-god Re)
The Development of Deities
• Atum ejected from his being Shu (air) and
Tefenet (moisture) (the sun itself)
• Atum also known as Ra
• Separated sky (Nut) from the earth (Geb)
• Geb and Nut had children: the gods Osiris,
Isis, Seth, and Nephthys
• Anubus born out of love between Nephthys
and Osiris—helped Isis by embalming king’s
• Local gods, such as Amon (Thebes) began to
emerge during Middle Kingdom
Nut (goddess of the sky and heavens) is depicted with her
husband-brother Geb. Together they bore 5 children (Osiris,
Horus the Elder, Seth, Isis, and Nephthys
The Depiction of Deities: Atum
• Atum is rarely
depicted as a human,
but rather as a crown
or as one of his many
totem animals (i.e. a
black bull, cobra)
• Not only the father of
the gods, but also the
father of the pharaohs
Atum, wearing the double crown, worshipped by the deceased Lady
Tashenat; Third Intermediate Period; in the Louvre
Religious Beliefs
• Aside from their physical body, each person
had a ka, ba, and akh
• Ka is a person’s spiritual duplicate, which was
stored in the heart and separated from the
body at death
• Ba is essentially the person’s character or
personality; left the body at death; depicted as
a human-headed bird
• Akh is the form the person would exist in in
the afterlife (through spells said over the
Religion and Political Thought
• Concept of the god-king was central
• Pharaoh believed to be the earthly
embodiment of the god Horus (son of AmonRe)
• Partial divinity of king helped to ensure
stability since the word of the king would be
considered the word of the gods
• The Pharaoh owned all of the land in Egypt,
the people, and their possessions
Religion and Legal Thought
• Believed law was infused into the world by
the gods at the time of creation
• Goddess Ma’at personified law (truth,
righteousness, and justice)
• Despite absolute power, the king must rule
over Egypt subject to Ma’at
• Goal was to maintain equilibrium
• According to Ma’at, the goal of all people
was to maintain the correct balance of the
Depiction of Ma’at
• Ma’at is
personification of law,
justice, order, and
• Depicted as a young
woman sitting or
• Held scepter in one
hand and ankh in
• Sometimes has wings
or ostrich feather
Religion and Legal Thought
• Likely because of Ma’at, Egyptians
generally law abiding, stability-seeking
• Unlike the Mesopotamians, Egyptians did
not have a codified body of laws
• Legal system was based on precedent
• Courts ensured that laws were consistent
Ma’at and Economics
• Pharaoh had absolute control over means
of production and distribution of wealth
• See influence of Ma’at in employment
• Skilled trades were passed down from
father to son
• Led to stability and continuity in Egypt
Religion and Culture: Art
• Virtually all art was
produced for religious
• Pharaoh chief patron and
subject of the arts
• Art not innovative, but
rather sought to remain
• Art served to capture for
eternity the ideal form of
the individual represented
Religion and Culture: Sculpture
• Sculptures ranged
from small statues to
huge works (I.e.
• Looked straight ahead
• Not engaged in
• Lacked emotion
• Captured grandeur
Religion and Culture: Reliefs and
• Reliefs are pictures
cut into stone
• Most commonly
found in tombs
• Aimed to convey to
the gods the character
of the deceased
• Illustrated activities to
be enjoyed in afterlife
• Not concerned with
realism or perspective
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