Egypt: Khnemu


Khnemu, the first member of the great triad of Abu, or Elephantine, is the oldest god of Egypt, and we find him mentioned in the text of Unas in such a way as to show that even at the remote period of the reign of that king his cult was very old. The views which the Egyptians held concerning this god changed somewhat in the course of their long history, but the texts show that Khnemu always held an exalted position among the ancient gods of their country, and we know from Gnostic gems and papyri that he was a god of great importance in the eyes of certain semi-Christain sects fro some two or three centuries after the birth of Christ. It is probable that Khnemu was one of the gods of the predynastic Egyptians who lived immediately before the archaic period, for his symbol was the flat-horned ram, and that animal appears to have been introduced into Egypt from the East ; he disappears from the monuments before the period of the XIIth dynasty. In the text of Unas the name of khnemu is found in a section which contains twenty-five short paragraphs, the greater number of which must certainly date from a period far older than the reign of this king, for the forms of the words and the language are very archaic, and few names of the serpents which are addressed in them occur in later texts. Khnemu is represented on the monuments in the form of a ram-headed man who usually holds in his hands the scepter, and the emblem of life of life. He wears the White Crown, to which are sometimes attached plumes, uraei, etc.; in one example quoted by Lanzone he has the head of a hawk, which indicates that he possessed a solar aspect. As a water-god he is seen with outstretched hands over which flows water, and he somtimes seen with a jug, above his horns, which indicates his name. The name of Khnemu is connected with the root khnem, "to join, to unite," and with khnem, "to build"; astronomically the name refers to the "conjuction" of the sun and moon at stared seasons of the year, and we know from the texts of all periods that Khnemu was the "builder" of gods and men. He it was who, according to the statements which were made by the priests at Elephantine, the chief seat of the worship, made the first egg from which sprang the sun, and he made the gods, and fashioned the first man upon a potter's wheel, and he continued to "build up" their bodies and maintain their life. The portion of Egypt in which the worship of Khnemu was supreme from Thebes to Philae, but the principal sanctuaries of the god were at the two ends of the First Cataract, i.e., on Elephantine on the north and on Philae and the adjoining islands on the south. He was the god par excellence of First Cataract, throughout which, with his female counterpart Satet and local Nubian goddess Anqet, he was worshipped from the earliest dynasties ; the goddess Satet was identified as a form of the star Sept, of Elephantine and of Menhet, lady Latopoilis. An examination of the texts makes it clear that khnemu was originally a water or river god of the Nile-flood, and as such he bore the name Qebh, and appeared as the ram-headed god,. In the passages quoted by Signor Lanzone and Dr. Brugsch he is called the "builder of "men and the maker of the gods and the Father who was in the "beginning," maker of "things which are, creator of things which shall be, the source KHENEMU-RA "of things which exist, Father of fathers, and Mother of mothers," "Father of the fathers of the gods and goddesses, lord of created things from "himself, maker of heaven, and earth, and the Tuat, and water, "and mountains;" and "raiser up of heaven upon its four pillars and "supporter of the same in the firmament," Khnemu united within himself the attributes of the four great gods Ra, Shu, Qeb, and Osiris, and in this aspect he is represented in pictures with four rams' heads upon a human body ; according to Dr. Brugsch these symbolize fire, air, earth, and water. When depicted with four heads Khnemu was the type of the great primeval creative force, and was called Sheft-Hat,. The first ram's head was the face of Shu, and symbolized Khnemu of Elephantine ; the second was the head of Shu, and symbolized Khnemu of Latopolis ; the third was the head of Seb, and symbolized Khnemu of Het-urt ; and the forth was the head of Osiris, and symbolized Khnemu was the lord of Hermoplois Magna and of Thmuis, and possessed all the attributes which have been enumerated above, From another text we learn that the four rams also symbolized the life of Ra, the life of Shu, the life of Seb, and the life of Osiris, and the ram of Ra gave him sovereignty over the South and North, and identified him with the Ram of Mendes, Ba-neb-Tettu. The principal shrines of Khnemu-Ra were situated at Sunnu, the modern Syene, on the Island of Abu, the modern Elephantine, and the Island of Senmut, the modern Biggeh, which marked the frontier of Ta-kens, or Nubia. He appears in these as the lord of all the South of Egypt, and is associated with Isis, the great goddess of the South, and in fact is to the South of Egypt exactly what Ptah-Tanen, who was associated with Nepthys, was to the Delta an the North of Egypt. To him was ascribed every attribute of Ra, and thus he is described as the god who existed before anything else was, who made himself, and who was the creative power which made and which sustains all things. When the cult of Khnemu-Ra became general in the south his priests increased the importance of their god by identifying him with Nu, the great primeval god of the watery abyss, and from being the local river-god of the Niel in the First Cataract he became the god Hap-ur, or the Nile of heaven ; in the latter aspect he was said to dwell in the Island of Senmut. The views which were held about Khnemu-Ra as god of the early Niel are best illustrated by the famous inscription which was discovered on a rock on the Island of Sahal in 1890 by the late Mr. Charles Wilbour. According to it, in the xviiith year of king Tcheser, who has been identified with the third king of the IIIrd Dynasty, the whole of the region of the south and the Island of Elephantine, and the district of Nubia were ruled by the high official Mater, The king sent a dispatch to Mater informing him that he was in great grief by reason of the reports which were brought to him into the palace as he sat upon his throne, and because for seven years there had been no satisfactory inundation of the Nile. As the result of this grain of every kind was very scarce, vegetables and garden produce of every kind could not be found, and in fact the people had very little food to eat, and they were in such need that men were robbing their neighbors. Men wished to walk out, but could not do so for want of strength ' children were crying for food, young men collapsed through lack of food, and the spirits of the aged were crushed to the earth, and they laid themselves down on the ground to die. In this terrible trouble king Tcheser remembered the god I-em-hetep, the son of Ptah of the South Wall, who, it would seem, had once delivered Egypt from a similar calamity, but as his help was no longer forthcoming Tcheser asked his governor Mater to tell him where the Nile rose, and what god or goddess was its tutelary deity. In answer to this dispatch Mater made his way immediately to the king, and gave him information on the matters about which he had asked questions. He told him that the Nile flood came forth from the Island of Elephantine whereon stood the first city that ever existed ; out of it rose the Sun when he went forth to bestow life upon man, and therefore it is also called "Doubly Sweet Life,". The spot on the island out of which the river rose was the double cavern {? Qerti, which was likened to two breasts, from which all good things poured forth ; this double cavern was, in fact, the "couch of the Nile," and from it the Nile-god watched until the season of inundation drew nigh , and then he rushed forth like a vigorous young man, and filled the whole country. At Elephantine he rose to height of twenty-eight cubits, but at Diopolis Parva in the Delta he only rose seven cubits. The guardian of this flood was Khnemu, and it was he who kept the doors that held it in, and who drew back the bolts at the proper time. Mater next went on to describe the temple of Khnemu at Elephante, and told his royal master that the other gods in it were Set {Sothis, Anuqet, Hapi, Shu, Seb, Nut, Osiris, Horus, Isis,and Nephtys, and after this he enumerated the various products that were found in the neighborhood, and from which offerings ought to be made to Khnemu. When the king heard these words he offered up sacrifices to the god, and in due course went into the temple to make supplication before him ; finally Khnemu appeared before him, and said, Iam Khnemu the Creator. My hands rest upon "thee to protect thy person, and to make sound thy body. I ?"gave thee thine heart ......... I am he who created himself. I am "the primeval watery abyss, and I am Nile who riseth at his will " give health for me to those who toil. I am the guide and "director of all men, the Almighty, the father of the gods, "Shu, the mighty possessor of the earth." Finally the god promised that the Nile should rise every year, as in olden time, and described the good which should come upon the land when he made an end of the famine. When Khnemu ceased to speak king Tcheser remembered that the god had complained that no one took the trouble to repair his shrine, even though stone lay near Elaphante should be set apart for the endowment of the temple of Khnemu, and that certain tax should be levied upon every product of the neighborhood, an devoted to the maintenance of the priesthood of the god ; the original text of the decree was written upon wood, and as this was not lasting, the king ordered that a copy of it should be cut upon stone stele which should be set in a prominent place. It is nowhere said that the god kept his promise to Tcheser, but we may assume that he did. The form of the narrative of the Seven Years' Famine summarized above is not older than the Ptolemic period, but the subject matter belongs to a much older time and very probably represents a tradition which dates from early Empire. We have seen that the spirit, or soul, of Khnemu pervaded all things, and that god whose symbol was a ram was the creator of men and gods, and in connection with this must be noted the fact that , together with Ptah, he built up the edifice of the material universe according to the plans which he had made under the guidance and direction of Thoth. As the architect of the universe he possessed seven forms which are often alluded to in texts ; they are sometimes represented in pictures, and their names are as follows :------- Khnemu Nehep,"Khnemu the Creator." Khnemu Khenti-Taui, "Khnemu, the governor of the two lands."