Yah, the Other Egyptian Moon God
by Jimmy Dunn
Many topics in ancient Egyptian religion can be fraught with complexities. Trying to understand the changing roles of gods such as Re, Osiris and Amun are difficult if not impossible with the limited text available to us today. However, there are none of these more difficult, or certainly more controversial than the Moon God, Yah.
It is interesting that the earliest references to the name Yah (Yaeh) refer to the moon as a satellite of the earth in its physical form. From this, the term becomes conceptualized as a lunar deity, pictorially anthropomorphic but whose manifestations, from hieroglyphic evidence, can include the crescent of the new moon, the ibis and the falcon, which is comparable to the other moon deities, Thoth and Khonsu.
Of course, the complexity and controversy of Yah stem from the term's similarity to the early form of the name for the modern god of the Jews (Yahweh), Christians and Muslims, as well as the fact that their ancestors were so intermingled with those of the Egyptians. In fact, this distinctive attribute of this god makes research on his ancient Egyptian mythology all the more difficult.
Little is really know of this god's cult, and there is no references to actual temples or locations where he may have been worshipped.
However, among ancient references, we do seem to find in the Papyrus of Ani several references to the god, though here, his name has been translated as Lah:
In Chapter 2:
"A spell to come forth by day and live after dying. Words spoken by the Osiris Ani:
O One, bright as the moon-god Iah; O One, shining as Iah;
This Osiris Ani comes forth among these your multitudes outside, bringing himself back as a shining one. He has opened the netherworld.
Lo, the Osiris Osiris [sic] Ani comes forth by day, and does as he desires on earth among the living."
And again, in Chapter 18:
"[A spell to] cross over into the land of Amentet by day. Words spoken by the Osiris Ani:
Hermopolis is open; my head is sealed [by] Thoth.
The eye of Horus is perfect; I have delivered the eye of Horus, and my ornament is glorious on the forehead of Ra, the father of the gods.
Osiris is the one who is in Amentet. Indeed, Osiris knows who is not there; I am not there.
I am the moon-god Iah among the gods; I do not fail.
Indeed, Horus stands; he reckons you among the gods."
The high point in Yah's popularity can be found following the the Middle Kingdom when many people immigrated from the Levant and the Hyksos ruled Egypt. Hence, it is likely that contact with the regions of Palestine, Syria and Babylon were important in the development of this god in Egypt. George Hart, in his "A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses" believes that these foreigners in Egypt may have associated Yah with the Akkadian moon-god, Sin, who had an important temple at Harron in north Syria. Like Thoth, Sin was a god of Wisdom, but his other epithets included "Brother of the Earth", Father of the Sun, Father of Gods, as well as others.
Later during the New Kingdom within the Theban royal family, and not so strangely, even though it was they who expunged these foreign rulers from Egypt, the name of the god Yah was incorporated into their names. The daughter of the 17th Dynasty king, Tao I, was Yah-hotep, meaning "Yah is content". The name of the next and last ruler of the 17th Dynasty, Kamose, may have also been derived from Yah. His name means ""the bull is born", and this might be the Egyptian equivalent of the epithet applied to Sin describing him as a "young bull...with strong horns (i.e. the tips of the crescent moon). Also another interpretation of the name of the founder of the 18th Dynasty, Ahmose, is Yahmose, which would mean "Yah is born". However, this was not the only name associated with Hyksos gods to be adopted by these Egyptians.
In the tomb of Tuthmosis III of the 18th Dynasty, who is often called the Napoleon of Egypt, and who was perhaps responsible for Egypt's greatest expansion into the Levant, there is a scene where the king is accompanied by his mother and three queens, including Sit-Yah, the "daughter of the moon-god". However, after this period, the traces of Yah's moon cult in Egypt appear to be sporadic.
At this point, and because this is a scholarly work, we need to point out several important elements surrounding the name of this ancient Egyptian god, beginning with the fact that most Egyptologists throughout the history of that discipline have had difficulty agreeing on the translation of names from ancient text. Of course, this is not unique to Egyptologists, but is a problem throughout ancient studies.
Secondly, the references on Yah as an Egyptian moon god are slim. The best available documentation is that of George Hart, "A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses", but few other scholarly references make mention of this specific Egyptian deity.
Now as an observation, the fact that this deity's name appears so similar to the early form of the Hebrew God, may mean little if anything. A powerful god of one region was often taken by another, including the Egyptians, and almost completely redefined.
In any event, this god did not attain a very high regard within Egypt, and it is unlikely that he had any major effect on the religion of others in his Egyptian form. Rather, it was the Egyptians in this case who were influenced from without.
Most of the information for this article was derived from "A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses by George Hart, published in 1986 by Routledge, ISBN 0-415-05909-7, though additional observations of this author were provided by numerous web sites.