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The Book of the Dead, Ideas of God


The Papyrus of Ani



Late keeper of Assyrian and Egyptian Antiquities
in the British Museum



The word neter and its meaning.

To the great and supreme power which made the earth, the heavens, the sea, the sky, men and women, animals, birds, and creeping things, all that is and all that shall be, the Egyptians gave the name neter. This word survives in the Coptic ###, but both in the ancient language and in its younger relative the exact meaning of the word is lost. M. Pierret, following de Roug connects it with the word ### and says that it means "renovation" (renouvellement), but Brugsch renders it by "gtlich," "heilig," "divin," "sacr" and by three Arabic words which mean "divine," "sacred or set apart," and "holy" respectively. By a quotation from the stele of Canopus he shows that in Ptolemaic times it meant "holy" or "sacred" when applied to the animals of the gods. Mr. Renouf says that "the notion expressed by nutar as a noun, and nutra as an adjective or verb, must be sought in the Coptic ###, which in the translation of the Bible corresponds to the Greek words {Greek du'namis, i?sxu's, i?sxuro's, i?sxupo'w} 'power,' 'force,' 'strong,' 'fortify,' 'protect,'" and he goes on to show that the word neter means "strong" or "mighty." M. Maspero, however, thinks that the Coptic nomti has nothing in common with meter, the Egyptian word for God, and that the passages quoted by Mr. Renouf in support of his theory can be otherwise explained. His own opinion is that the signification "strong," if it ever existed, is a derived and not an original meaning, and he believes that the word is so old that its first sense is unknown to us. The fact that the Coptic translators of the Bible used the word nouti to express the name of the Supreme Being shows that no other word conveyed to their minds their conception of Him, and supports M. Maspero's views on this point. Another definition of the word given by Brugsch makes it to mean "the active power which produces and creates things in regular recurrence; which bestows new life upon them, and gives back to them their youthful vigour," and he adds that the innate conception of the word completely covers the original meaning of the Greek {Greek fu'sis} and the Latin natura.

Neteru, the gods.

But side by side with neter, whatever it may mean, we have mentioned in texts of all ages a number of beings called neteru which Egyptologists universally translate by the word "gods." Among these must be included the great cosmic powers and the beings who, although held to be supernatural, were yet finite and mortal, and were endowed by the Egyptians with love, hatred, and passions of every sort and kind. The difference between the conceptions of neter the one supreme God and the neteru is best shown by an appeal to Egyptian texts.

In the pyramid of Unas it is said to the deceased, un-k ar kes neter Thou existest at the side of God.

In the pyramid of Teta it is said of the deceased, ut'a-f met neter as set'em-nef metu He weigheth words, and, behold, God hearkeneth unto the words. nas en Teta neter God hath called Teta (in his name, etc.).

Views held in the first six dynasties.

In the pyramid of Pepi I. an address to the deceased king says, sesep-nek aru neter aaa-k am xer neteru Thou hast received the form of God, thou hast become great therewith before the gods. ta en mut-k Nut un-nek em neter en xeft-k em ren-k en nefer Hath placed thy mother Nut thee to be as God to thine enemy in thy name of God. tua Pepi pen neter Adoreth this Pepi God. Pepi pu ar neter sa neter Pepi this is then God, the son of God.

All these extracts are from texts of the Vth and VIth dynasties. It may be urged that we might as well translate neter by "a god" or "the god," but other evidence of the conception of neter at that early date is afforded by the following passages from the Prisse papyrus, which, although belonging at the earliest to he XIth dynasty, contains copies of the Precepts of Kaqemna, written in the reign of Seneferu, a king of the IVth dynasty, and the Precepts of Ptah-hetep, written during the reign of Assa, a king of the Vth dynasty.

Views held in the first six dynasties.

1. an rex-entu xepert arit neter Not known are the things which will do God.

2. am-k ari her em reth xesef neter Thou shalt not cause terror in men and women, [for] is opposed God [thereto].

3. au am ta xer sexer neter The eating of bread is according to the plan of God.

4. ar seka-nek ter em sexet ta set neter If thou art a farmer, labour (?) in the field which hath given God [to thee].

5. ar un-nek em sa aqer ari-k sa en smam neter If thou wouldst be like a wise man, make thou [thy] son to be pleasing unto God.

6. sehetep aqu-k em xepert nek xepert en Satisfy those who depend on thee, so far as it may be done by thee; it should be done by hesesu neter those favoured of God.

Views held in the first six dynasties.

7. If, having been of no account, thou hast become great, and if, having been poor, thou hast become rich, when thou art governor of the city be not hard-hearted on account of thy advancement, because xeper-nek mer septu neter thou hast become the guardian of the provisions of God.

8. mertu neter pu setem an setem en mesetu neter What is loved of God is obedience; disobedience hateth God.

9. mak sa nefer en tata neter Verily a good son is of the gifts of God.

Views held in the XVIIIth dynasty.

Passing from the Prisse papyrus, our next source of information is the famous papyrus containing the "Maxims of Ani," which are well known through the labours of de Roug Maspero, Chabas and Amineau. We should speak of them, however, more correctly as the Maxims of Khonsu-hetep. The papyrus was probably copied about the XXIInd dynasty; but the work itself may date from the XVIIIth. The following are examples of the use of neter:--

1. Pa neter er seaaaua ren-f The God is for magnifying his name.

2. xennu en neter betu-tuf pu sehebu senemehu-nekbnThe house of God what it hates is much speaking. Pray thou em ab mert au metet-f nebt amennu ari-f with a loving heart the petitions of which all are in secret. He will do xeru-tuk setemu-f a t'et-tuk sesep utennu tu-k thy business, he will hear that which thou sayest and will accept thine offerings.

3. au tau neter-kua unnu Giveth thy God existence.

4. Pa neter aput pa maa The God will judge the right.

5. utennu neter-ku sau-tu er na betau-tuf In offering to thy God guard thou against the things which He abominateth. a ennu maat-k er paif sexeru qentet emtuk O behold with thine eye His plans. Devote thyself senenti-tu ent ren-f su tat baiu heh en aaru to adore His name. It is He who giveth souls to millions of forms, se-aaaua pa enti seaaaua-f ar neter ta pen and He magnifieth whosoever magnifieth him. Now the God of this earth en pa Suu her xut du nai-f matui is the sun who is the ruler of the horizon, [and] his similitudes are her tep ta tata-tha neter sentra em kai-set emment upon earth is given incense with their food offerings to these daily.

6. faau-s aaui-set en pa neter emtuf setemu If she (i.e., thy mother) raiseth her hands to God, he will hear sebehu-set her prayers [and rebuke thee].

7. amma su en pa neter sauu-k su emment en Give thyself to God, keep thou thyself daily for pa neter au tuauu ma qeti pa haru God; and let to-morrow be as to-day.

God and the gods.

The passages from the pyramid of Pepi show at once the difference between neter as God, and the "gods" neteru; the other passages, which might be multiplied almost indefinitely, prove that the Being spoken of is God. The neteru or "gods" whom Unas hunted, and snared, and killed, and roasted, and ate, are beings who could die; to them were attributed bodies, souls, ka's, spiritual bodies, etc. In a remarkable passage from the CLIVth Chapter of the Book of the Dead (Naville, Todtenbuch, Bd. I., Bl. 179, l. 3) the deceased king Thothmes III. prays:-- seset-kua emxet-k Tem huau ma ennu ari-k Preserve me behind thee, O Tmu, from decay such as that which thou workest er meter neb netert nebt er aut neb er t'etfet neb for god every, and goddess every, for animals all, for reptiles all sebuit-f per ba-f emxet mit-f ha-f for each passeth away when hath gone forth his soul after his death, he perisheth emxet sebi-f after he hath passed away.

The gods mortal.

Of these mortal gods some curious legends have come down to us; from which the following may be selected as illustrating their inferior position.


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