The Hair Episode

Or lack thereof

There’s a worrying lack of clarity when it comes to Ancient Egyptian hairstyles, given that there has been a strong stereotype perpetuated that Ancient Egyptians, both male and female, shaved themselves bald. To be frank, it’s even hard to research this topic and find reliable sources. Hearsay, it seems, is king.

Which, I suppose, is not surprising, seeing that a society where everyone was bald is rather sensational. But, I am sorry to have to say, this was not the case.

Now wait! You’re saying. I’ve been lied to my whole life?

Well, yes and no. Some people did shave themselves bald. But the idea that everyone was walking around with no hair on their head is patently inaccurate.

The sidelock of youth, also known as the Horus Lock

This is made more confusing to the average layperson given that anytime the history of shaving or razors is brought up, Ancient Egypt is always mentioned. Because, even if adults didn’t all shave the top of their heads bald, they were shaving addicts when it came to all other areas of the body. Further, you’ve probably seen the traditional image of the Ancient Egyptian child wearing the sidelock of youth, the hairstyle worn by all Ancient Egyptian children. This hairstyle required the entire head of the child to be shaved, except for a single braided section.

However, once adulthood was reached, there were a myriad of hairstyle options to choose from. Priests and priestesses shaved their head as part of their ritual duties, and many men shaved their heads as well. But other men simply kept their hair clipped short. Wigs were another option, and a popular one because the woven structure would not trap desert heat near the head. Note that you did not have to be shaved bald to wear a wig.

Women had many options, including wigs. But, whether their hair was fake or not, it was worn long, at least to the shoulder, though I can’t find evidence that it was ever worn any longer than the mid-back. The Ancient Egyptians were also pros at adding extensions to the hair. Many mummies have been found with natural hair still on their heads, with extensions woven into that. I’d love to show pictures, but given that it could come off as rather grim, I’ll leave you to research it if you’re so inclined. Further, other mummies have been found with a fat-based hair gel on their heads! Henna was also used as a hair dye to cover those pesky greys. The Ancient Egyptians, it seems, were pretty good at making sure you could achieve the hairstyle of your dreams.

If you chose a wig because you wanted to skip all the extension and hair-product-based drama, or because you were going grey or naturally balding, you had a lot of options, especially if you were wealthy. Real human hair was the most expensive material used, but there were also wigs made from materials such as vegetable fiber, wool, or other animal fibers.

We’ve actually found some Ancient Egyptian wigs, or some of their decorative aspects, intact at burial sites, and I’ll leave some images here below.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this short three-week journey though Ancient Egyptian fashion! Join me next week as we head back into the world of Ancient Egyptian religion.

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

The Makeup Episode

The cat eye look is old as dirt

The ancient cat-eye

Woohoo! Time for another episode focused around style and fashion.

This time, I thought we’d focus on a very famous aspect of Ancient Egypt – makeup. Frankly, their famous cat-eye look probably the oldest style in existence which has a close variant that is still stylish today. You can see it here on this image of a queen (you can tell she’s a queen by the specific type of fancy hat she’s wearing).

It’s important to note that although the Ancient Egyptians knew that wearing makeup had certain aesthetic benefits, they were also convinced that it had magical properties as well (as you have probably guessed by now, the Ancient Egyptians thought most things in the world had a magical or spiritual element). Further, makeup did not discriminate in Ancient Egypt. Every person of every class wore makeup daily.

Still going strong

On the subject of daily rituals, it’s worth noting that the Ancient Egyptians were also notorious for being clean. The Ancient Greek historian Herodotus even wrote that the Egyptians “set cleanliness above seemliness.” In a pretty dirty world, the Egyptians idealized being (at the time) shockingly clean. Like makeup, this was not dependent on class. Ancient Egyptians bathed every morning, washed several times a day if they could, and had daily rituals of creams, oils, perfumes, hair removal, manicures, and pedicures. They had toothbrushes, toothpaste, and breath mints. They put so much thought into the recipes for such things that one suggested etymology for our word chemistry is that it comes from the old name for Egypt, Kemet.

So – back to the makeup! The Ancient Egyptian makeup look included malachite-based eyeshadow, which creates a stunning shade of green. Black kohl was used as eyeliner, with galena as an important ingredient. Various substances were used to create a red lipstick, including ochre and even crushed beetles!

Now, galena is a lead ore and does have some health risks. However, the galena in the kohl also served as an antibacterial agent which protected the eyes and could ward off flies. So … ah … you decide if that’s a net positive or a next negative. Copious amounts of kohl around the eyes can also serve to block some sunlight from bouncing off the eye area and into the eye, making it almost serve a function similar to modern sunglasses.

As I mentioned a bit ago, like everything in Ancient Egypt, makeup was believed to have a magical component. For that reason, many Egyptians were buried with makeup supplies. We have some spectacular examples that I want to leave you with today.

I hope you enjoyed another aesthetics-based entry in my blog! Join me next week as we talk about hair … or the lack thereof.

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

The Bling Episode

Ancient Egyptian jewelry – pictures galore!

Okay, so for today I thought we’d take a hard left turn and talk a bit about Ancient Egyptian jewelry. Yah!

Of course I’ll be focusing on Middle Kingdom styles, since this is the setting for my story, but I have some interesting examples from the New Kingdom that I will throw in, too.

One of the things you need to know about to understand Ancient Egyptian jewelry is that it’s not all gold. I know the movies have shown you people walking around wearing solid plates of gold as necklaces (we’ve talked about this before – that’s a purely New Kingdom style), but that wasn’t generally the case, especially in the Middle Kingdom, which is known for more delicate filigree-type work and beading.

One of the most common materials used in Middle Kingdom jewelry is something called Egyptian faience. Faience is a ceramic made from melted sand or crushed quartz which develops a bright color and shiny finish during the firing process. It’s believed that the Egyptians used this as a replacement for the more difficult-to-get gemstones and glass.

So, are you ready? It’s time for the pictures!

Broad Collars and Necklaces

The style you probably think of when you think about an Ancient Egyptian Necklace is actually called a broad collar. They look like this:

These are all Middle Kingdom styles. As you can see – lots of beadwork!

Below are two examples of New Kingdom styles that may be more like what you are used to seeing in the movies.

Now, what we see less of in movies are straight-up necklaces. But, they had these too. We have lots of Middle Kingdom examples.

We have a comparatively large jewelry collection from Princess Sithathoriunet, who appears in my story. Some boxes of her jewelry and cosmetic items were left undisturbed by grave robbers for centuries. You can see a stunning example of Middle Kingdom gold and beadwork in her pectoral-style necklace, below.

Image courtesy of The Met

Bracelets and Anklets

Bracelets and anklets were commonly worn throughout Egypt, and in the Middle Kingdom had a similar beading style to what you have already seen above.

And, for reference, here’s some New Kingdom styles below. As usual, much more bling-y.

Headgear

Surprisingly, Ancient Egyptian earrings are comparatively understated. Here’s a New Kingdom example.

Gold earrings. Image courtesy of The Met

But, the jewelry of Princess Sithathoriunet has a little bit more to teach us about Ancient Egyptian headgear during the Middle Kingdom. Check out her wig rings.

Gold wig rings. Image courtesy of The Met

And, the coup de grâce, her pretty amazing crown.

Image courtesy of ancient-egypt.co.uk/

I hope you enjoyed this super-blingy entry of my blog! I have upcoming entries planned along similar lines, including makeup, hair, and fashion. I hope you’ll join me!

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

All Hail the Pharaoh

A series on Ancient Egyptian Religion (Part 4)

The name “pharaoh” sits with “caesar” and its variations (tsar, kaiser) as the only non-English titles that the general U.S.-populace recognizes as words for “king”. Fun fact, though – the word pharaoh doesn’t mean king, it means “great house.”

Yes, you heard that right. Loosely translated, I guess we could call the pharaoh “homeboy.”

All joking aside, eventually (by the time of the New Kingdom) “great house” became a reference to the man himself, and the word came to be used as we use it.

 Now, if I were to just firehose you with all the information we have on the pharaoh and his duties (or rarely, her) and position we would be here all week. So, my plan is to just fill you in on some of the important iconography related to the pharaoh, as well as his role in Egypt, both religious and secular. I think you’ll find, surprisingly, that even the most secular of duties was colored by the veneer of religion.


Image courtesy of thegreatcoursesdaily

Wearer of hats

So, you may have noticed in movies that rich Egyptian men will wear a headdress with blue and gold stripes. This was made especially famous by the death mask of King Tut, seen here.

This is called the nemes. And, surprise, surprise, they’re using it wrong in movies. It was only worn by the pharaoh – not every rich guy in Egypt. You can also see the snake and vulture figures on the nemes. The snake is also known as the uraeus – and we’ll get back to what they represent in a second.

If you stretch your mind waaay back to my first posts on Ancient Egyptian History, you may remember that there are such things as Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt. Upper Egypt is inland towards the headwaters of the Nile, and Lower Egypt surrounds the Nile River Delta, where the river flows into the Mediterranean Sea.

Image courtesy of The British Museum

Historians consider the unification of these two previously-separate areas by the Pharaoh Narmer in 3150 BC as the beginning of Ancient Egypt. To represent these two areas of the kingdom, the pharaoh wore the vulture and uraeus (that we just talked about), as well as the famous double crown, called the pschent, seen here.

Lower Egypt was represented by the red portion of the crown and the snake (uraeus), and Upper Egypt was represented by the white portion of the crown and the vulture. The snake was the representation of Wedjet, the patron goddess of Lower Egypt, and the vulture was the representation of Nekhbet, the patron goddess of Upper Egypt.

Image courtesy of touregypt

See? The more you know.

Holder of things

Pharaohs are also strongly associated with the familiar iconography of the pharaoh holding the crook and flail. These were images associated with Osiris (Remember him? King of the gods before his brother Set took him down and made him “only mostly dead.”) The crook represented kingship and the flail represented the fertility of the land.

Kind of a god

If you remember more of the story of Osiris and Set, you’ll remember that Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis, eventually defeats Set (in most retellings) and becomes king of Egypt.

This posed a bit of a problem, since (obviously), there was also a pharaoh ruling over Egypt, and last anyone looked he hadn’t taken down any Set. He also had a predecessor, who had a predecessor, who had a predecessor … so, he definitely wasn’t Horus, the supposed king of Egypt.

You see the problem.

To solve this, the Egyptians saw the pharaoh as a momentary aspect of Horus. The next pharaoh would be the next momentary aspect, and so on.

Maintainer of Ma’at and ruler of stuff

Last week, we talked about Ma’at, the universal balance and harmony Egyptians celebrated. As ruler, it was seen as the pharaoh’s job to do everything in his power to maintain justice, order, and balance in the kingdom. He was seen as the high priest of each temple in Egypt and an intermediary between the people and the gods. To celebrate his achievements, he would be expected to build many temples and monuments in his lifetime while also overseeing religious ceremonies, waging war, making laws, levying taxes, and, during the Middle Kingdom, setting his chosen son as coregent (in the pharaoh’s later years) to ensure an easy succession. Often the son was the firstborn son of the pharaoh’s Great Royal Wife, but at times the pharaoh would choose a different son.


I hope it’s clear here that the pharaoh’s position as king was intrinsically linked to the Ancient Egyptian religion, as so many aspects of life in Egypt were.

We’ll be taking a break from mythology for the next two weeks, and I’ll be posting some fun stuff I have waiting in the wings. It’s the end of the semester, and for us teachers, this equals crazy time. We’ll pick up on mythology again in February, and, for next week – prepare for lots of pictures of Ancient Egyptian bling!

 (Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

Truth, Justice, and the Ancient Egyptian Way

A series on Ancient Egyptian Religion (Part 3)

Ma’at. Image courtesy of the National Archaeological Museum, Florence

So! After the last two fairly involved posts, I wanted to leave you with one more important factor in the Egyptian religious landscape, but I wanted to keep it short and sweet. So, let’s have a brief overview on what is probably the most important ideal in Ancient Egyptian beliefs, and then call it a day.

It’s known as ma’at.

Perhaps in part due to the highly regular and seasonal rise and fall of the Nile (the predictability of which was a luxury that no other river-civilization had) the Ancient Egyptians placed a high value on natural order, harmony, and balance. This translated to a strong cultural emphasis on truth and justice.

These concepts came to be consolidated into a single word, ma’at, which came to be personified as a goddess, also called Ma’at. She was often seen as the daughter of Ra and the wife of Thoth (the Egyptian god of wisdom) but remember, Egyptian mythology was the Wild West of storytelling and your mileage may vary. Choose your own adventure, that sort of thing. Different sources have different explanations of her place in the mythology.

The Pharaoh and the Vizier (which was Joseph’s eventual position) were both seen as being the guardians of the characteristics of Ma’at – this put me in a very interesting position as someone trying to display Joseph’s devotion to the one God. That said, I don’t want to spoil too much about my story! Given that this discussion could reveal several plot points, I’ll leave it at that for now and move forward.

Ma’at’s role as a goddess was an interesting one. She was almost a concept rather than a personage in many cases. She had no cult centers and no real ranks of priests or priestesses. In the mythology, she had only one real role in direct relation to humanity, playing a key part in the judgment of the dead before the throne of Osiris by weighing their hearts with her feather of truth (you can see it on her head in the image above).

Yet the influence of her concepts permeated every part of Egyptian society and she was held responsible for crucial events such as the changing of seasons, the movement of the stars, and maintaining the natural order of the universe itself.

On that note, I’ll conclude here! I told you I’d keep this post short! 😉 Join me next week as we take a look at the Pharaoh’s critical role in Ancient Egyptian Religion.

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

The Great Ennead, the Memphis Triad, and That One Guy (Episode 2)

A series on Ancient Egyptian Religion (Part 3)

Horus is often represented by a falcon

So – we’re back! Let’s continue with our exploration of some key points of Egyptian Mythology that are important to my book.

Memphis: The Triad of Memphis

Okay, so rule one. Forget everything you read last week about the Great Ennead in Heliopolis. You’re in Memphis now, so different rules apply.

Ptah: Ptah was the first god. I know, I know, you read last week that Atum was the first god. I don’t know what to tell you. We’re not in Heliopolis anymore, Toto. This is the way Ancient Egyptian Religion works. Ptah was seen as the creator god in Memphis and was the god of craftsmanship and architecture. Like Osiris, he was depicted with green skin.

Sekhmet: Sekhmet was Ptah’s wife and sometimes said to be the daughter of Ra. She is another Egyptian goddess portrayed with the head of a lion – she was the goddess of war, so no surprise there. But, she was also seen as the protector of Pharaohs and the goddess of healing.

Nefertem: Nefertem was the son of Ptah and Sekhmet and was associated with the first sunlight, the sun, and the lotus flower.

Abydos: Just That One Guy, Osiris

During the Middle Kingdom of Egypt (the time in which my story is set) the worship of Osiris by both royalty and the masses grew. This cult center was in Abydos, which was far from Heliopolis and Memphis. Osiris was seen to be the ruler of the afterlife, and perhaps because of this, the Egyptian people began to place more importance on him. It is logical to assume that since the Middle Kingdom arose out of the chaos of the First Intermediate Period, people began to think more about the afterlife.

People would travel from all over Egypt to celebrate Osiris and reenact important elements of the Osiris myth in Abydos (in my story, I extend the celebrations to also take place in the Egyptian capital, something I thought would be logical).


As I mentioned before, there are not that many fully-drawn-out myths in Egyptian religion. The Osiris Myth is one of the few and the most influential. The very brief (and sanitized, yikes) version is this:

Osiris is the ancient king of Egypt, and his younger brother, Set, is jealous of his rule and power. Set murders Osiris and assumes the throne.

Osiris’ wife, Isis, searches far and wide for his body, and eventually finds him. She is able to return him to a form of life for a short time and she becomes pregnant with a son, Horus.

Osiris, with a legitimate heir now in place, descends into underworld to rule since he is not truly alive. Horus must take his rightful place once he is grown, and dethrone Set.

Horus is faced with many dangers growing up, sometimes sent after him by Set. Isis, with her magic and cunning, defends or heals him from each.

The Eye of Horus

Once Horus is grown, he and Set face off in a series of battles. One of the most famous episodes, in which Set takes one of Horus’ eyes, results in the famous “Eye of Horus” symbol, commonly associated with ancient Egypt and used as a symbol of protection. Horus eventually triumphs (in many versions anyway – remember, Egyptian mythology is nothing if not inconsistent) and order is restored. Horus rules in Egypt and Osiris rules the dead.

This concept of order and balance is a critical point of Egyptian mythology. Called ma’at, it will be the focus of my post next week.

I want to leave you with a note that basically every single thing I have told you about in the last two posts has a different version (or many different versions) somewhere else. For instance, we have many different retellings of the Osiris Myth as well as different recordings of its celebrations, both from Egyptian sources and from famous non-Egyptian personages such as Plutarch and Herodotus. Sometimes a specific element may only be found in one version.

What I’ve attempted to do here is give you a baseline familiarity with a standard, not-too-esoteric version of these parts of the mythology. If you have questions or want more information, comment below!

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

The Great Ennead, the Memphis Triad, and That One Guy (Episode 1)

A series on Ancient Egyptian Religion (Part 2)

Set and Horus surround the Pharaoh in this carving

Okay, so like I said last time, trying to sort through Ancient Egyptian Religion is like trying to sort through the most bonkers rabbit hole you have ever encountered.

With that in mind, I have also known that this post would have to come down the pipeline eventually. And I have been worrying about it since – basically since I started blogging. So, September.

As I write this, it is December 31st. So, a good four months.

So, here I am, buckling down, going to get it done. It’s now or never, and now, for the first time, I actually have a plan.

I have decided that there’s no way I’m going to be able to properly cover everything we know about every Egyptian deity. That’s what an encyclopedia is for. Further, I have finally convinced myself that no one is expecting me to be an encyclopedia, and that neither should I aspire to be one.

So, instead of attempting to imitate an encyclopedia (which I would fail at spectacularly), what I am going to do is give you a brief overview of the religious landscape in Egypt during the time during which my story is set (Twelfth Dynasty), specifically focusing on the deities and/or cult centers mentioned in my book. That way, I do not have to cover an entire pantheon with four thousand plus years of history (you can probably see why I have been stressing about this).

So, let’s break it down by those cult centers. You may remember I mentioned these in my last post. Basically, these are centers of worship that subscribe to a very specific understanding of the Egyptian religion and specifically venerate a deity or group of deities. They do not necessarily ignore the others, but priests or priestesses at a cult center certainly viewed their deity/deities as the most important. (There were also a lot of politics and power plays that fed into this, but that’s a whole other can of worms.)

The cult centers we will be discussing are:

Heliopolis

Memphis

Abydos  

Some of these names may be familiar to you, particularly Memphis. That is because these cult centers were also cities. Not everyone in the city were religious personnel, but there would have been large areas of the city dedicated to worship.

Each of these cities focused on a very different aspect of the Egyptian pantheon.

Heliopolis: The Great Ennead (Egyptian name Pesedjet)

This is the biggie. The Great Ennead is a group of nine (sometimes ten) deities, worshiped in Heliopolis as the preeminent gods and goddesses. It was thought that together they created the great council of the gods. There were also little Enneads that I won’t talk about here.

In the Ennead were:

Atum-Ra: Atum was the first god. Note that this did not make him the head honcho. At some points, and in Heliopolis, he was combined with Ra (the king of the gods, god of the sun and creator of life) to become Atum-Ra, thus making him both the first and king of the gods.

Shu: Atum’s son. He was a chill guy with power over the air and wind, and associated with peace.

Tefnut: Atum’s daughter. Also Shu’s wife (bleh, I know). One of the goddesses who gets to be drawn with a lion’s head sometimes, which means she has anger issues. She was associated with rain and moisture.

Geb: The son of Shu and Tefnut and the god of the earth. He was also associated with snakes.

Nut: The daughter of Shu and Tefnut and the goddess of the sky and cosmos. Wife of Geb.

Osiris: Yay for the first name since Ra that probably sounds familiar to you! Osiris was the son of Geb and Nut and was the god of death and rebirth. He was the judge of the dead and often was drawn with green skin – green symbolized rebirth. There was a whole cult dedicated to him (in Abydos), centered around the Osiris Myth, that we’ll talk about coming up here.

Isis: And another one you may have heard of! Isis was the daughter of Geb and Nut and the wife of Osiris. She had many traits both associated with her role in the Osiris Myth and the fact that the Pharaoh was connected thematically to her son, Horus. Overall, she was associated with birth, destiny, and magic, and portrayed as clever and cunning.

Set: The son of Geb and Nut, drawn with an animal head that we still can’t quite identify – though it has similarities to an aardvark or jackal. He plays a large part in the Osiris Myth as the antagonist and was the god of the desert, chaos, fire, and storms.

Nephthys: The daughter of Geb and Nut and wife of Set. She was, in many ways, his antithesis, seen as a goddess of nurturing and protection in life and death.

Horus: The tenth and optional member of the Ennead, son of Osiris and Isis. He also played a part in the Osiris Myth. He was portrayed with the head of a falcon and was seen as the protector and king of Egypt. For that reason, the Pharaoh was seen as an aspect of Horus. We’ll talk more about this in another post.

It is important to note that this particular mythology was only completely accepted by the followers of the Great Ennead in Heliopolis. Other cult centers might agree in part with this mythology, or not at all. As an example, we’ll move to nearby Memphis.

… In the next post.

I am mapping out this post and it, like Egyptian Mythology, is a bear. I can see your eyes starting to cross right now. So, I will leave you here, and we will pick up in Memphis next time!

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

Ra, Atum-Ra, and Amun-Ra, Oh My!

A Series on Ancient Egyptian Religion (Part 1)

Okay, so way back when this blog first started, I made a poll on my Facebook page and asked if people wanted me to talk about Ancient Egyptian History or Ancient Egyptian Religion first. History won by a nose, and to be frank, I was grateful.

This is because Ancient Egyptian Religion is a BEAR.

Not literally a bear. What I mean is – sorting through it all is really tough going.

So, after finishing my series on Ancient Egyptian History, I stayed away from writing about the religion portion. To be fair, I also wanted to mix things up and not focus on Egypt, Egypt, Egypt, 24/7 if I could help it. Hence my posts on the beginnings of the Jewish faith and Ancient Canaan that have recently been mixed in with my posts on Ancient Egypt.

But, I figured that the time has come now, and as I sorted though some of the (multitude of) topics that fall under this heading, I realized that this series on religion could go on for something near to eternity.

However, I am here to promise you that I will not go on and on for anything near to eternity. That said – fair warning – this is the beginning of another series!

Are you ready?

Let’s dive in.


When I started researching Ancient Egyptian Religion, I have to say that I expected to find a setup similar to the Greco-Roman mythos we learn about in Western Civ classes here in the US. As in, a pantheon that has been pretty well synchronized into a (often) non-contradictory, logically ordered, set of tales, exploits, and characters.

As it turns out, Ancient Egyptian Religion is basically the antithesis of this.

As in, their gods and goddesses literally become each other (while not erasing the other form) at various points and/or specific places of worship in Egyptian History.

Ever heard of Ra, the sun god? Well great. Okay, meet Ra, Atum-Ra, and Amun-Ra. Over here, we also have Atum and Amun.

All were considered gods at one point or another. Depending on the place or time period, Ra and Atum might have been seen as aspects of a single idea, or, in another time, Ra and Amun. Or, in another time period, they might have all been seen as completely different entities.

Further, their mythical narratives are just not set up nicely. As in, I have D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths sitting on the shelf behind me, right this second. It is chock-full of stories and characters that the Ancient Greeks would use to explain their world, history, and heroes.

We have no such thing for Egyptian mythology. I mean, there are some narrative stories that tell how the Egyptians believed the world worked (these could be either complete or, for example, an ongoing story-cycle of a deity who completes the same task over and over to keep the days running), but a lot of the gods and goddesses don’t even appear in them. Further, they contradict each other at times and even the character and personality of the deities is inconsistent from myth to myth.

Further, the function and nature of certain deities changed from region to region. This is an effect of something called a cult center, which we’ll discuss in more detail another post. Basically, the priesthood in a certain city would have a specific version of the Egyptian mythos, but the mythos may have been different in another city (another cult center).

Scholars disagree about whether the fact that we have large gaps in the mythology is a result of the myths being a mostly oral tradition that is now lost, or if this was in fact just the way it was. But no matter the reason, it makes the study of Ancient Egyptian Religion pretty hairy for us.

So, what I plan to do in this series is cover some various aspects of their religion that we have solid knowledge on. For my post next week, we’ll cover some key players in the Egyptian pantheon during the time my story is set (Middle Kingdom). I hope you’ll check it out!

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)

Canaan, 1800 BC

Let’s get ready for some culture shock

Looking back on my blog posts so far, I’ve realized that I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Ancient Egypt and not a lot of time contextualizing it. Meaning, if you’ve read everything so far, you probably know quite a bit about what Ancient Egypt was like, and not as much about what made it different from the rest of the surrounding world.

On that note, I thought it would be good to talk a little bit about what nearby Canaan was like during the time period. This will give you a pretty good idea of why Egypt was considered a pretty marvelous place.

Please note that Egypt was not the only “marvelous” place in the world at the time. Mesopotamia (modern Iraq and environs), which  I’ve mentioned before, was another large power center. Further afield, the Indus Valley Civilization in what is now Pakistan and India was going strong. Closer to the modern Middle East, the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete is now considered the first advanced civilization in Europe and was an important player during this time.

But, I mean, that’s kind of it. At this time, Ancient China is still in a quasi-mythical state of which we’re not even sure of the historicity, and even the Mesoamerican Olmecs won’t be around for another couple hundred years.

So, you can imagine that anyone living even vaguely near one of the few advanced centers of civilization would have heard all sorts of fabulous tales of all the wonders to be found therein.

You can also imagine that anyone who actually traveled to one of those advanced centers of civilization would be very much blown away.

So, given the fact that the story of Joseph definitely has a character going from a rather unadvanced area to one of the most advanced areas in the world at the time, you can imagine that I had a lot of fun playing with the idea of culture shock as I wrote my story.

Back to Canaan, then. What was it actually like in 1800 BC?

Canaan was culturally under the influence of Mesopotamia more than Egypt. The languages belong to the same wider family and, while we don’t have evidence of a script native to Canaan until centuries later, we do know that the Mesopotamian cuneiform script was used throughout the Near East (excluding Egypt) for record-keeping.

But, unlike Mesopotamia, Canaan had no giant population centers. There were cities, here and there, but they were not the sprawling, comparative metropolises of places like Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Canaan does have a claim to fame in that one of its cities, Jericho, has the distinction of being one of the oldest (if not the oldest) continuously inhabited settlements in the world, starting possibly as far back as 9,000 BC. Canaan may not have been as well-developed, but it had street cred.

Canaan’s religious systems (aside from being the incubation area for the Jewish faith) were also influenced far more by Mesopotamian religion than that of Egypt, though this would change in the following centuries. A quick survey of the religious practices of Canaan turns up Mesopotamian deity names like Astarte (the goddess of fertility and war) and Dumuzid (Astarte’s dead husband that she killed – long story). Both are mentioned in the Bible under the alternate names Ashteroth and Tammuz.

In regards to cultural homogeneity, Egypt had the world pretty well beat, as I have discussed before. Mesopotamia had multiple cultures that would fall under varying leadership depending on which people group was in power at the time.

Canaan, on the other hand, was fractured into city states while at the same time incubating the beginnings of several distinct cultures. Cities had a “king” (the Pharaoh in Egypt would have laughed), who ruled over an individual city and the surrounding lands or villages. Plenty of land beyond that, we can assume, was little more than no-man’s-land.

This lasted for a while, but we have record that before 2000 BC, many cities were abandoned and the area returned to a very nomadic and agrarian lifestyle, with people living as they had in centuries prior. It took some time before people began moving back into cities again. This speaks to the instability of the region – it didn’t have the trade and social supports to maintain a constant urban civilization.

You can imagine, then, the sheer culture shock that would ensue if someone living in Canaan (i.e., Joseph) encountered the cultural monolith that was Egypt. The sprawling Egyptian city of Memphis, for example, had been a cultural epicenter for 500 years and more by 1800 BC. Egypt had police, Nile River merchants, courts of law, and a complex governmental, military, and religious hierarchy. Canaan was a true backwater in comparison.

The story is made all the more interesting (from a writing perspective, at least!) by the fact that the majority of Canaan’s outside influence was from Mesopotamia at the time, not Egypt. Therefore, the language, religion, and writing systems of Egypt would have been much more foreign than anything a traveler from Canaan would have found in Mesopotamia.

I hope you can see the sheer fun this gave me as a writer (and I hope I don’t sound like a sadist, hah!). Confusion and conflict breed a good story, after all.

I hope to be able to share it with you in the future!

(Do you have any questions you want me to answer? Topics you want me to cover? Comment below, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @headdeskliz .)