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Osiris

Osiris is the Egyptian Lord of the Underworld and Judge of the Dead, brother-husband to Isis, and one of the most important gods of ancient Egypt. The name `Osiris’ is the Latinized form of the Egyptian Usir which is interpreted as ‘powerful’ or ‘mighty’. He is the first-born of the gods Geb (earth) and Nut (sky) shortly after the creation of the world, was murdered by his younger brother Set, and brought back to life by his sister-wife Isis. This myth, and the gods involved became central to Egyptian culture and religious life. Osiris was originally a fertility god, possibly from Syria (though this claim is contested) who became so popular he absorbed the function of earlier gods such as Andjeti and Khentiamenti, two gods of fertility and agriculture worshipped at Abydos. He is associated with the djed symbol and is often depicted with black or green skin symbolizing the fertile mud of the Nile and regeneration. He is also frequently shown as a mummy or in a partially mummified form in his role as Judge of the Dead.

Images of Osiris as a living god depict him as a handsome man in royal dress wearing the crown of Upper Egypt as a plumed headdress known as the atef and carrying the crook and flail, symbols of kingship. He is associated with the mythical Bennu bird ( an inspiration for the Greek Phoenix) who rises to life from the ashes. Osiris was known by many names but chiefly as Wennefer, “The Beautiful One” and, in his role as Judge of the Dead, Khentiamenti, “The Foremost of the Westerners”. The west was associated with death and ‘westerners’ became synonymous with those who had passed on to the afterlife.

He was also known as The Lord of Love, King of the Living, and Eternal Lord. After Isis, Osiris was the most popular and enduring of all the Egyptian gods. His worship spanned thousands of years from shortly before the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3150-2613 BCE) to the Ptolemaic Dynasty (323-30 BCE), the last dynasty to rule Egypt before the coming of Rome. It is also possible that Osiris was worshipped in some form in the Predynastic Period of Egypt (c. 6000-3150 BCE) and probably that he originated at that time.

Although he is usually seen as a just, generous, and giving god of life and abundance there are also depictions of him as “a terrifying figure who dispatches demon-messengers to drag the living into the gloomy realm of the dead” (Pinch, 178) though these are the minority. Osiris as the kind and just ruler, murdered by his resentful brother, who comes back to life is the most popular and enduring image of the god.

Small statue of Osiris

Worship of Osiris

The myth embodied some of the most important values of Egyptian culture: harmony, order, eternal life, and gratitude. Set’s resentment of Osiris, even before the affair with Nepthys, grew from a lack of gratitude and an envy for someone else’s good fortune. In Egypt, ingratitude was a kind of “gateway sin” which opened the individual up to all others. The story dramatically illustrated how even a god could fall prey to ingratitude and the consequences which could follow. Just as importantly, the myth told the story of the victory of order over chaos and the establishment of harmony in the land; a central value of Egyptian culture and religion.

A sandstone relief stele depicting in the top panel Minhotep and his son Nakhtmin making offerings to Hathor, Anubis, and Osiris. The middle panel shows Minhotep and his wife Nefertari. The bottom panel shows Nakhtmin and his wife Sekhmet. New Kingdom, Dynasty XVIII, c. 1300 BCE. (Egyptian Museum, Turin)

Osiris’ rebirth was associated with the Nile River, which was considered a symbol of his life-giving power. Osiris’ festivals were held to celebrate the beauty of the god and his transcendent power but also his death and rebirth. The festival of the Fall of the Nile commemorated his death while the Djed Pillar Festival celebrated Osiris’ resurrection.

The city of Abydos was his cult center and the necropolis there became the most sought-after burial ground as people wanted to be buried as close to the god as they could get. Those who lived too far away or did not have the resources for such a burial had a stele erected there with their name on it. Osiris was most widely worshipped as Judge of the Dead but the ‘dead’ continued to exist in another realm and death was not the end of one’s existence. The festivals, therefore, celebrated life – both on earth and afterwards – and part of these celebrations was the planting of an Osiris Garden which was a garden bed molded in the shape of the god and fertilized by the mud and water of the Nile. The grains which would later grow symbolized Osiris rising from the dead and also the promise of eternal life for the one who tended the garden. Osiris Gardens were placed in tombs where they are known as an Osiris’ Bed.

Priests of Osiris tended the temple and statue of the god at Abydos, Busiris, and Heliopolis and, as was customary with Egyptian worship, the priests alone were allowed into the inner sanctum. The people of Egypt were invited to visit the temple complex to make offerings and ask for prayers, seek medical advice and counsel, receive aid from the priests by way of material goods or financial gifts, and leave sacrifices to the god in asking for a favor or by way of thanking the god for a request granted.

Osiris, the King, & the People

Osiris was considered the first king of Egypt who established the cultural values all later kings were sworn to uphold. When Set murdered the king, the country plunged into chaos and order was only restored with the victory of Horus over Set. The kings of Egypt identified with Horus during life (they each had a personal name and a ‘Horus Name’ they took at the beginning of their reign) and with Osiris in death. As Isis was the mother of Horus, she was considered the mother of every king, the king was her son, and Osiris was both their father and their higher aspect and hope of salvation after death.

A 2nd century CE Roman marble statue of the Egyptian god Osiris. (Palazzo Altemps, Rome)

It is for this reason that Osiris is so often depicted as a mummified pharaoh; because pharaohs were mummified to resemble Osiris. The image of the great mummified god preceded the practice of preparing the royal body to look like Osiris. All the Egyptian symbols and images which made up the Pyramid Texts on the walls of tombs were meant to remind the soul of the deceased what to do next once they arrived in the afterlife. Their appearance as Osiris himself would not only remind them of the god but also would drive away dark spirits by fooling them into thinking one was the great god himself. The king’s appearance as modeled after Osiris’ extended throughout his reign; the famous flail and shepherd’s staff, synonymous with Egyptian pharaohs, were first Osiris’ symbols as the flail represented the fertility of his land while the crook symbolized the authority of his rule.

Harmony and order had been established by the son of Osiris, Horus, and the king was Horus’ living representative who provided for the needs of the people. Osiris was credited with establishing both the kingship and the natural order and law of life and so, through one’s participation in one’s community and observance of rituals, one was following Osiris’ guidelines. The people, as well as royalty, expected the protection of Osiris in life and his impartial judgment after death. Osiris was the all-merciful, the forgiving, and the just judge of the dead who oversaw one’s life on earth and in the afterlife.

The Mysteries of Osiris

Osiris’ identification with eternal life, with life from death, gave rise to his mystery cult which would travel beyond the boundaries of Egypt as the Cult of Isis. Although no one knows what rituals were involved in the mystery cult of Isis, they may have developed from Osiris’ earlier mysteries celebrated at Abydos beginning in the Twelfth Dynasty (1991-1802 BCE). These were very popular festivals which drew people from all over Egypt to participate in the ritual. Bunson notes that “the mysteries recounted the life, death, mummification, resurrection, and ascension of Osiris” (198). Dramas were staged with the major roles given to prominent members of the community and the local priests who enacted the story of the Osiris myth.

The story known as The Contention Between Horus and Set was then acted out in mock battles between The Followers of Horus and The Followers of Set where it seems anyone could participate. Once the battle had been won by the followers of Horus, the people celebrated the restoration of order and the golden statue of Osiris was brought forth from the inner sanctum of the temple and carried among the people who lavished gifts upon the image. The statue was carried through the city in a circuit and finally placed in an outdoor shrine where he could be admired by his people and also participate fully in the festivities. The emergence of the god from the darkness of his temple to participate in the joys of the living symbolized Osiris’ return to life from death.

Although this festival was primarily held at Abydos, it was also celebrated at other cult centers dedicated to Osiris throughout Egypt such as Bubastis (which was another very important cult center), Busiris, Memphis, and Thebes. Osiris, of course, was the central figure of these celebrations but, in time, the focus shifted to his wife, Isis, who had actually saved him from death and returned him to life. Osiris was intimately tied to the Nile River and the Nile River Valley of Egypt but Isis eventually became detached from any given locality and was considered the Queen of Heaven and the creator of the universe. All other Egyptian gods were finally seen as aspects of the mighty Isis and in this form, her cult traveled to Greece, to Phoenicia, to Rome and throughout the Roman Empire.

The Cult of Isis was so popular in the Roman world that it outlasted every other pagan belief system once Christianity took hold of the popular imagination. The most profound aspects of Christianity, in fact, can be traced back to the worship of Osiris and the Cult of Isis which grew from his story. In ancient Egypt, as in the modern day, people needed to believe that there was a purpose to their lives, that death was not the end, and that some kind of supernatural being cared for them and would protect them. The worship of the great god Osiris provided for that need just as people’s religious beliefs do today.

Source: Ancient History (www.ancient.eu), feature image: wikipedia.

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Nefertiti

Nefertiti was the wife of the Pharaoh Akhenaten of the 18th Dynasty of Egypt. Her name means, `the beautiful one has come’ and, because of the world-famous bust created by the sculptor Thutmose (discovered in 1912 CE), she is the most recognizable queen of ancient Egypt.

She grew up in the royal palace at Thebes, probably the daughter of the vizier to Amenhotep III, a man named Ay, and was engaged to his son, Amenhotep IV, around the age of eleven. There is evidence to suggest that she was an adherent of the cult of Aten, a sun deity, at an early age and that she may have influenced Amenhotep IV’s later decision to abandon the worship of the gods of Egypt in favor of a monotheism centered on Aten. After he changed his name to Akhenaten and assumed the throne of Egypt, Nefertiti ruled with him until his death after which she disappears from the historical record.

Nefertiti’s Reign

She ruled alongside Akhenaten during the eighteenth dynasty (1550-1292 BC).  She lived in Tell El Amarna, a city constructed by the pharaoh to worship their god Aten. There, they safeguarded their family and their beliefs—it became the center of Egypt’s new religion. It’s believed that Nefertiti was probably a distant relative to Akhenaten and a favorite queen to the pharaoh. Nothing is known about the queen’s childhood and no evidence has yielded who her parents are. Some believe her father could be Aye due to inscriptions found inside his tomb proclaiming him the father of her sister Mutnodjmet.

During her reign as queen, Egypt went about many radical religious changes. Hundreds of years of culture and worship had been exchanged for a new radical concept— Monotheism. The old gods had been disregarded, temples shut down, and priests forced to change their ways. Many historians believe this transition could have been hostile and was not adopted so easily by the citizens or priests.

Her reign with Akhenaten was unlike the traditional ways Egypt had seen. She was more than just a typical queen and helped to promote Akhenaten’s views. Her reign was only 12 years, but she was perhaps one of the most powerful queens to ever rule. Supporting her husbands’ beliefs she changed her name to Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti meaning, “The Aten is radiant of radiance [because] the beautiful one has come.” Her importance was greatly valued by Akhenaten and he went to great lengths to show her as his counterpart. As queen, she took on powerful roles and showed herself in ways only Egyptian kings did. For example, she was often shown with the crown of a pharaoh or was depicted in scenes of battle smiting her enemies. Akhenaten valued her so much, that he also allowed her to practice that art of priesthood and she too was allowed to make offerings to Aten.

Many Egyptologists believe that perhaps Akhenaten was born with deformities that hindered his role as king. One of the ailments that were believed he had was bad vision. This illness could have made his job difficult, in turn, he could have put trust into Nefertiti allowing her to decide many important matters. He trusted her so much, that he went as far as placing her name next to his in his royal cartouche. This was very unique and could have symbolized her as equal status next to Akhenaten.

Other depictions show the couple side by side often with their children in a utopic fashion. In one stela, found in Tell el Amarna, the couple is seated together. Akhenaten is giving his daughter an earring while his wife Nefertiti has the other two daughters on her lap. In this depiction, the queen is having a wonderful time and is shown in a loving manner with her husband and children. Both are shown as equal counterparts in their status and family affairs.

Akhenaten and Nefertiti

Times of her Youth & Marriage

Even though it appears that Nefertiti was the daughter of Ay, this claim is far from substantiated. Inscriptions refer to Ay’s wife, Tiye (or Tey) as Nefertiti’s wet nurse, not her mother, and nothing is known of Ay’s lesser wife. Ay, in addition to his other duties, was tutor to the young Amenhotep IV and may have introduced the prince to Nefertiti when both were children. Nefertiti and her sister, Mudnodjame, were certainly regular members of the court at Thebes and, whether or not Ay introduced her to Amenhotep IV, the two would have known each other simply for that reason.

Ancient images and inscriptions indicate her early interest in the cult of Aten but, as every Egyptian favored one god or another, there is no reason to believe that she had any ideas relating to monotheism or elevating Aten above the other gods (as has been suggested by some scholars). All that can be stated with certainty is that both sisters were adherents of Aten and may have influenced Amenhotep IV’s interest in that cult from an early age. Any definitive statements regarding her influence on the rise of monotheism in Egypt must of necessity be speculative as there is no conclusive evidence to support it; just as there is little information on her life in general.

By the time she was fifteen years old she was married to Amenhotep IV and, after the death of Amenhotep III, she became queen of Egypt. It is at this stage that some scholars claim she most exerted her influence on Amenhotep IV to abandon the ancient religion of Egypt and initiate his religious reforms but, again, this is unsubstantiated.

Nefertiti & Akhenaten, a deeper look

In the fifth year of his reign (some sources claim the ninth), Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten, abolished the religious practices of Egypt, closed the temples, and decreed Aten the one true god. While it is possible he created monotheism out of a genuine religious conviction, it is more probable that it was a political manoeuver to cut the power and wealth of the priests of the god Amun, whose cult was extremely popular. Throughout the 18th dynasty the cult of Amun had increasingly grown in wealth and prestige so that, by Akhenaten’s time, the cult’s priests were almost as powerful as pharaoh. Instituting monotheism, and proscribing the old religion, would have completely restored power to the throne; and that is precisely what it did. The god Aten was now considered not only a powerful god of Egypt but the god of creation, the one true god of the universe.

At the site of Akhetaten (Amarna), the new city dedicated to the god Aten. In the sixth year [of Akhenaten’s reign] Nefertiti’s name was changed to Nefernefruaten which means `Beautiful in beauty is Aten’. Nefertiti lived with Akhenaten in Amarna where he conducted religious services to Aten. (Bunson, 185).

The couple had six daughters: Meritaten, Meketaten, Ankhesenpaaten, Nefernefruaten-tasherit, Neferneferure, and Setepenre, but no sons. With his lesser wife, Kiya, Akhenaten had two sons, Tutankhamun and possibly Smenkhkare (though Smenkhare’s lineage is disputed). Akhenaten married two of these daughters, Meritaten and Ankhesenpaaten (later, Ankhsenamun, wife of Tutankhamun) and may have had children with them (though this is also disputed). What is clear, however, from stele and inscriptions which survived the later purge of their reign, is that the royal couple was deeply devoted to each other and constantly together or with their daughters. Regarding Nefertiti’s physical appearance at this time, Heller writes:

“It is surmised that she must have been about four feet, six inches tall, the height of an average Egyptian woman of the time. It is known from her depictions that she often went about scantily dressed, as was customary in the warm climate. Otherwise, she appeared in the traditional garb of a clinging gown tied by a girdle with ends falling in front; at times, she is depicted coiffed with a short wig. She probably had a shaven head to improve the fit of her unusual tall blue crown. It is known that she identified with her husband’s heresy and that, according to Akhenaten’s poetry, he loved her dearly. It is also known that her beauty was legendary”

The royal family originally lived at the palace of Malkata in Thebes, which was built under the reign of Amenhotep III but renovated under Akhenaten and re-named Tehen Aten (meaning `the splendor of Aten).

Watterson, and others, also point out that the palace was abundant in gold decorations and ornate reliefs. However opulent Malkata was, the new palace at the city the couple founded, Akhetaten, was even grander and, more importantly, served a symbolic purpose in the new religion of Aten.

As part of his religious revolution, Akhenaten decided to leave Thebes and move to a virgin site that would be dedicated to his new cult. The new city was located in Middle Egypt, and called Akhetaten, `Horizon of Aten’. It was laid out parallel to the river, its boundaries marked by stelae carved into the cliffs ringing the site. The king himself took responsibility for its cosmologically significant master plan. In the center of his city, the king built a formal reception palace, where he could meet officials and foreign dignitaries. The palaces in which he and his family lived were to the north, and a road led from the royal dwelling to the reception palace. Each day, Akhenaten and Nefertiti processed in their chariots from one end of the city to the other, mirroring the journey of the sun across the sky. In this, as in many other aspects of their lives that have come to us through art and texts, Akhenaten and Nefertiti were seen, or at least saw themselves, as deities in their own right. It was only through them that the Aten could be worshipped: they were both priests and gods. -Egyptologist Zahi Hawass explains.

Egyptian Royal Woman – Possibly Nefertiti

In her role as part of the divine couple, Nefertiti may also have been co-regent. Akhenaten joined his cartouche (his seal) with hers as a sign of equality and there is evidence that she took on the traditional duties of pharaoh while her husband busied himself with theological reformation and architectural renovations. Images which have survived depict her officiating at religious services, receiving foreign dignitaries, moderating diplomatic meetings, and even in the traditional royal role of the king smiting the enemies of Egypt. None of these images would have been created if there were not some truth behind the stories they depict and so Nefertiti must have wielded more power than any woman in Egypt since the time of Hatshepsut (1479-1458 BCE). From the royal palace at Akhetaten, she sent forth the royal decrees and made the decisions which, according to tradition, were the responsibility of her husband.

Source: Ancient History Encyclopedia (ancient.eu), kingtutone.com

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The Tomb of a Pharaoh’s Jeweler Reveals Some Very Fancy 3,500-Year-Old Mummies

Sarah Cascone (artnet), September 11, 2017

The drumbeat of Egyptian archaeological discoveries continues, with that country’s Ministry of Antiquities revealing that it has uncovered an ancient tomb belonging to an Egyptian goldsmith named Amenemhat. The site is just the latest archaeological find in the Draa Abul Naga necropolis, located near the Valley of Kings in the city of Luxor, some 400 miles south of Cairo on the Nile River.

Egyptian archaeologists unearthing mummies at a newly-uncovered ancient tomb in Luxor. Courtesy of the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry.

“We found many objects of the funerary equipment inside and outside the tomb,” said Minister of Antiquities Khaled al-Anani in a statement, as reported by the BBC. “We found mummies, coffins, funerary combs, funerary masks, some jewellery, and statue.”

Lead archaeologist Mostafa Waziri stressed that an Egyptian team, rather than foreign professionals, was responsible for the find.

“We used to escort foreign archaeologists as observers, but that’s now in the past,” Waziri told the Daily Mail. “We are the leaders now.”

About 3,500 years old, the tomb is thought to date to the 18th dynasty. Amenemhat was a jeweler, and his tomb was dedicated to Amon-Re, the main Egyptian deity. Inside, archaeologists found a statue of Amenemhat and his wife, featuring a portrait of their son between them. The site also contained 150 small carved wood, clay, and limestone funerary statues.

Archaeologists found two separate burial shafts, both of which contained mummies. Later sarcophagi, from the 22nd and 21st dynasties, were also excavated.

“We are not sure if these mummies belong to Amenemhat and his family,” Waziri told the New York Times.

Egyptian archaeologists unearthing mummies at a newly uncovered ancient tomb in Luxor. Courtesy of Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images.

Waziri also pointed out that he and his team are not the first to have found the ancient crypt, which, he revealed, was likely disturbed long ago. “Others have clearly reused this tomb and poked around in ancient times,” he said. “That’s probably why their heads are uncovered.”

The latest find follows other recent discoveries in the region. Last November, archaeologists discovered a lost city thought to be Egypt’s first capital. In April, a Japanese team unearthed a 3,500-year-old tomb belonging to an ancient Egyptian nobleman named Userhat. It was work on the latter site that first offered clues about the whereabouts of Amenemhat’s tomb, according to CNN.

The country hopes excitement over archaeological sites can help boost tourism levels, which have remained low in the years following the 2011 ousting of former president Hosni Mubarak. Egypt has since struggled with political instability, as well as car bombings and other terrorist attacks.

The spate of recent discoveries has led to a 170 percent increase in tourism between January and July, according to the Times.

“This is not the end,” said Waziri of the latest find. “This will lead to more discoveries in the future.”

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Making a boat fit for a Pharaoh

Making a boat fit for a Pharaoh | Giza plateau was crowded on Monday as journalists, TV anchors, photographers and antiquities officials flocked to the northern side of King Khufu’s Great Pyramid to witness Japanese scientists and archaeologists taking samples from different parts of Khufu’s second solar boat, which is still buried in sand after 4,500 years.

The boat’s wooden beams are to be subjected to laboratory analysis to determine the types of fungi, insects and viruses that are affecting the boat, as well as the amount of deterioration that has taken place, so that an appropriate method can be selected to restore it and place it on display beside King Khufu’s first boat, which is on display in a museum especially constructed for it on the plateau.

“This is the third phase of the five-year project to restore Khufu’s second boat,” — Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim who told journalists.

The first phase began 20 years ago, when in 1992 a Japanese scientific and archaeological team from Waseda University in collaboration with the Japanese government, offered a grant of $10 million to remove the boat from its original pit, restore and reassemble it and put it on show to the public.

The team cleaned the pit of insects, but found that water had leaked from the nearby museum which housed the first solar boat. This had affected a small part of the wood, hence the necessity quickly to finish the studies and restore the wood. The Japanese team, under the direction of Professor Sakuji Yoshimura, inserted a camera through a hole in the chamber’s limestone ceiling to transmit video images of the boat onto a small TV monitor on the site. Images screened showed layers of wooden beams and timbers of cedar and acacia, as well as ropes, mats and remains of limestone blocks and small pieces of white plaster. The camera allowed an assessment of the boat’s condition and the possibility of restoration.

A large hanger has been constructed over the area surrounding the second boat pit, with a smaller hanger inside to cover the top of the boat itself. The hangers were designed to protect the wooden remains during analysis and treatment. A laser scanning survey also documented the area and the wall between the Great Pyramid and the boat pit.

According to Yoshimura while the fillings around the sides of the covering stone were being cleaned the team uncovered the cartouche of King Khufu of the Fourth-Dynasty inscribed on one of these blocks, and beside it the name of the crown prince Djedefre. This, he argued, meant that this boat was constructed during the reign of King Khufu and not, like the first boat now on display at a special museum on the plateau, during the reign of his son and successor Djedefre.

Yoshimura said that restoration and reconstruction work would last for five years. A special small museum will be constructed for it at the entrance of the Giza plateau on the Cairo-Fayoum road, while the first boat will be transferred to the planned Grand Egyptian Museum.

The second boat was in a much better state of preservation than was the first when it was discovered in 1954, when Egyptian architect and archaeologist Kamal El-Malakh together with Zaki Nour were carried out routine cleaning on the south side of the Great Pyramid. The first boat was removed piece by piece under the supervision of the master of restorers Ahmed Youssef, who spent more than 20 years restoring and reassembling the boat. The second boat remained sealed in its pit up until 1987, when it was examined by the American National Geographic Society in association with the Egyptian office for historical monuments. They bored a hole into the limestone beams that covered it and inserted a micro camera and measuring equipment. The void space over the boat was photographed and air measurements taken, after which the pit was resealed.

It was thought that the pit had been so well sealed that the air inside would be as it had been since ancient Egyptian times, but sadly this was not the case, as air had leaked into the pit and mixed with the air inside it. This had allowed insects to thrive and affect some parts of the wooden beams.

Author: Nevine El-Aref | Source: Al-Ahram Weekly