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The Memphite Theology

illustration from Egyptian Mysteries; p.10 (Thames & Hudson, Art and Imagination
The Memphis theology is "ased around #tah (e$ui%alent to the &ree' Hephaistos, the
di%ine "la('smith!, (sho)n a"o%e on the left!, )ho himself "e(omes the primordial fire
and gi%es it su"stan(e. This (osmologi(al system )as de%eloped at Memphis, )hen it
"e(ame the (apital (ity of the 'ings of Egypt. #tah is the (reator*god of Memphis, and
during the long period the (ity ser%ed as the (apital of Egypt it )as 'no)n as Het*'a*#tah
or +House of the oul of #tah+. #tah is one of se%eral Egyptian deities attri"uted )ith a
myth a"out fashioning (reation. #tah, as the god Ta*tenen (the primordial mound!, (reates
in the so*(alled +Memphite Theology+ the )orld, its inha"itants, and the 'as of the other
gods. ,eferen(e is again made to the Ennead, this time )ith #tah at its head.
The )hole Memphite theology is preser%ed on a sla" of "asalt no) e-hi"ited in the
Egyptian (ulpture &allery. It )as (omposed at a %ery early date, and (ommitted to stone
during the T)enty*fifth .ynasty "y the order of the /u"ian 'ing ha"a'a. The ha"a'a
Te-t ((. 010 12! )hi(h )as intended to preser%e +a )or' of the an(estors,+ this te-t is
alternati%ely 'no)n as The Memphite Theology, and "ased upon the generati%e po)er of
&od3s thought and spee(h. The ha"a'a Te-t is perhaps the earliest re(ord of theisti(
(reation in e-isten(e.
4nfortunately, this ha"a'a tone )as su"se$uently used as a nether mill*stone and
mu(h of the te-t has "een lost. The do(ument 'no)n as the 1remner*,hind #apyrus
in(ludes, among other religious te-ts, t)o monologues of the sun*god des(ri"ing ho) he
(reated all things.
As )ith all the Egyptian theologies, the Memphite religion )as also politi(al, 5ustifying
the primary status of the ne) (apital. #tah, the prin(ipal god of Memphis, had to "e
sho)n to "e the great (reator*god, and a ne) legend a"out (reation )as (oined. 1ut it
)as also important to organi6e the ne) (osmogony so that a dire(t "rea(h )ith the priests
of Heliopolis might "e a%oided. #tah )as the great (reator*god, "ut eight other gods )ere
held to "e (ontained )ithin him, in(luding some of the Heliopolitan Ennead and the
Hermopolitan 7gdoad. The Heliopolitan Atum held a (entral position, and the
Hermopolitan /un and /aunet )ere also in(luded.
The ha"a'a Te-t enumerates #tah3s eight hypostases or $ualities as +the /eter) )ho
ha%e (ome into e-isten(e in #tah+. #tah himself in(arnates the primordial Eight, and then
"e(omes Tatenenn, 3the earth )hi(h rises up3, an e%o(ation of the primordial hill. +He
)ho manifested himself as heart, he )ho manifested himself as tongue, in the li'eness of
Atum, is #tah, the %ery an(ient, )ho ga%e life to all the /eter).+ Tongue means spee(h,
or in later philosophi(al idiom the logos. #tah (on(ei%ed the )orld intelle(tually "efore
(reating it 3"y his o)n )ord3. The heart and the tongue 3ha%e po)er o%er3 all the other
mem"ers, sin(e the tongue des(ri"es )hat the heart (on(ei%es. Thus #tah re*(reates the
&reat Ennead, and gi%es rise to all the $ualities of things, through the .esire of his heart
and the 8ord of his tongue.
#tah3s name means +2reator+. He is depi(ted as a mummified man )ith only his hands
free to grasp a s(eptre (omposed of the sym"ols of life (an'h!, po)er ()as!, and sta"ility
(d5ed!. He is also typi(ally sho)n )earing a s'ull(ap and standing on the plinth*shaped
hieroglyph that is part of the name for Ma3at, the goddess of fundamental truth.
The Memphite theology, li'e the The"an religion, is "ased on a primordial triad of
deities. In this (ase )e ha%e #tah )ho is a((ompanied "y e'hmet, the great lioness
)hose name means 3the po)erful3, and /efertum, 3the a((omplishment of Atum3, thus
ma'ing up the first (ausal triad.
There are also interesting parallels here )ith the Hindu trinity, %i6.
#tah * (reator (1rahman!
eh'met * destroyer (hi%a!
/efertum * preser%er (9ishnu!
In another, although related (onte-t, eh'met has al)ays seemed to me $uite a "it li'e
:ali. #tah therefore )ould ha%e a (onne(tion )ith hi%a (as the spouse of :ali!.
The monotheisti( element is interesting here as )ell. In the Memphite Theology it is said
of #tah;
3He )ho made all and (reated the gods.3 And he is Ta*tenen, )ho ga%e "irth to the gods,
and from )hom e%ery thing (ame forth, foods, pro%isions, di%ine offerings, all good
things. Thus it is re(ogni6ed and understood that he is the mightiest of the gods. Thus
#tah )as satisfied after he had made all things and all di%ine )ords.
(An(ient Egyptian <iterature, 9olume I; The 7ld and Middle :ingdom translated "y
Miriam <i(htheim!
8e ha%e here a strongly de%eloped theism, )hi(h gi%es the lie to the oft*asserted
statement that A'henaten )as the first monotheist. #tah (onstitutes a (reator figure, in
(ontrast to Atum is more of an Emanator. =et this )as still )ithin the same o%erall
tradition (al"eit )ith a different deity!. There )as no (ultural "rea' su(h as A'henaten
attempted. An analogy (ould "e made "et)een, say :ashmir hai%ism (emanationist!
and the 9aish%anite ()hi(h is more dualisti( and de%otional!. 7r li'e the differen(e
"et)een the &od of Mysti(al %s <egalisti( >udaism. Emanationism is more prone to a
philosophi(al "ased mysti(ism in )hi(h human gro)th is the 'ey issue, )hile (reation
"ased is more on a (reator )ho gi%es la)s that you must follo). The Hermopoli( (reation
story (in )hi(h e%erything emerges from the primordial Eight or the /un! is more prone
to left*hand path "elief systems sin(e there is no pre*e-istent &od, and the The"an seems
li'e it )ould "e purely mysti(al, )ith it3s a"stra(t sym"olism.
#tah as the di%ine (raftsman also re(alls >udaeo*2hristian themes of &od fashioning the
)orld, ma'ing Adam out of (lay, et(. I lea%e it to the reader to de(ide )hether this
similarity is due to diffusion (the Memphite ideas filtering through to the rest of the
Mediterranean )orld! or ar(hetypal (on%ergen(e (the same sym"ol or motif reappearing!