Triads in Egypt

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   gypt xploration Society Some Remarks on the Structure of Egyptian Divine TriadsAuthor(s): H. te VeldeSource: The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 57 (Aug., 1971), pp. 80-86Published by: Egypt Exploration Society Stable URL: . Accessed: 23/05/2014 09:18 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at  .  . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact  .  Egypt Exploration Society  is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The Journalof Egyptian Archaeology. This content downloaded from on Fri, 23 May 2014 09:18:05 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  (80) SOME REMARKS ON THE STRUCTURE OF EGYPTIAN DIVINE TRIADS' By H. TE VELDE ALTHOUGH the Egyptian word for triad rarely appears in Egyptian texts, the triad is undoubtedly a structural element of Egyptian religion.2 We too often find traces in Egypt of the triadic ordering of gods to suppose it to be due to an illusion of modern scholars preoccupied with Christian trinitarian doctrine.3 A critical approach s needed, however; the triadic structure was not realized always and everywhere n Egypt. Neither is there much point in disqualifying the triad as a secondary religious phenomenon. Theological treatment of the religious tradition, such as grouping gods into triads, is no less an element of religion than certain aspects and developments of cult and devotion. The triadic structure (or structural element) was used in Egypt to answer the problem of divine plurality and unity. The triad restricts plurality and differentiates unity, as every plural number does. In Egypt the triad was an extremely suitable structure for connecting plurality and unity, because the number three was not only a numeral, but also signified the indefinite plural. This is apparent, for instance, in hieroglyphic writing: to express the plural, an ideogram may be repeated three times or three strokes placed after the signs indicating a noun. Thus the triad was a structure capable of transforming polytheism into tritheism or differentiated monotheism. Because of the nature of binary oppositions within the triad, its monistic tendency could not always be realized, and pluralism remained dominant in most cases. Monistic and pluralistic triads may be distinguished, with differently assembled inmates. One might reserve the term triad for the pluralistic triads and call the monistic triads trinities. The danger is, however, that in doing so one would lose sight of their connections, and would also no longer distinguish a main objection in Egyptian religion to monotheism. The breaking-point between the monistic and pluralistic triads, or a stumbling-block for monistic tendencies lies in sexual differentiation. In triads containing the binary opposition of male and female, the way from plurality to unity is obstructed. I Paper read at the XIIth Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions at Stock- holm, Aug. i6-22, 1970. I do not pretend to have reached definite conclusions in this paper on the vast subject of Egyptian triads, but it may stimulate further research to publish it. I thank Professors E. Anati, J. Bergman, J. Gwyn Griffiths, L. Kakosy, M. Heerma van Voss, and J. Zandee for their remarks and questions. Dr. J. Gwyn Griffiths read at the same congress a paper entitled 'Triune Conceptions of Deity in Ancient Egypt', and I thank him for his readiness to publish this paper in EA. 2 H. Kees, Gotterglaube, 148-61; H. Bonnet, RARG, 251. 3 Cf. S. Sauneron in G. Posener et al., Dictionnaire de la civilisation egyptienne (Paris, 1959), 29I: 'On peut meme se demander si la notion de triade n'est pas une illusion des modernes .. .'. This content downloaded from on Fri, 23 May 2014 09:18:05 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  THE STRUCTURE OF EGYPTIAN DIVINE TRIADS 81 We can distinguish (a) triads consisting of three gods or three goddesses, and (b) triads consisting of two gods and a goddess or one god and two goddesses. The triads containing both sexes usually have the family structure: father, mother, and child. When a family was placed in the triadic structure, the concept of a differentiated monad could not subsist, and it remained a pluralistic totality. In the lesser temple of Abu Simbel there is a place where three Nubian gods are portrayed: Horus of Miam, Horus of Bak, and Horus of Buhen.' The three of them together represent the many Nubian deities. Actually the triad restricts this profusion by only comprising three gods. Since their names and iconography agree although their srcins are different, these three Horus gods make the impression of being three local forms of one god. The tritheistic reduction of polytheism is mono- or heno- theistic here. In the great temple of Abu Simbel, not three but four figures are carved in a central place: Amen-Re', Rc-HIarakhte, Ptah, and Pharaoh Ramesses II. The three gods form an essental representation of the many gods of the empire, and the pharaoh seems to represent the unity of this triad. And indeed, the great temple of Abu Simbel is named: House of Ramessesmeramin.2 By way of the triad, plurality moves to unity here, and vice versa, for in this temple to the unique pharaoh many gods are present in written or sculptured form. Elsewhere too we find that a god may be the unity of this triad. Thoth is called: 'The heart of Re, the tongue of Tatenen (= Ptah) and the throat of the Hidden of name (= Amun).'3 Sometimes the starting-point is not plurality but unity, which is differentiated nto three, that is into plurality. In the sun-god the rising sun Khepri, the midday sun Re , and the setting sun Atum are distinguished, and these modalities are joined in the name Khepri-Rec-Atum. The gods Pta, Sokaris, and sirians could be conjoined and depicted as a single being: Ptah-Sokaris-Osiris. The great majority of texts regard this composite god as singular. In a few cases, where the third person plural is used of him, he seems to be looked upon as a plural being.4 An excellent example of the triad not only as a triple, and so implicitly plural differentiation of unity, but particularly as a restriction of plurality is found in Pap. Leiden I, 350 Iv, 2I.5 The Egyptian scribe even uses the Egyptian word for triad: The pantheon ntrw nbw) s a triad who do not have heir equal. Hidden s his name as Amfun. He is Re( n countenance. tah s his body. We note the changing inflexion for the number of the pronouns. The many gods- all the gods, says the text6-are summarized in a triad, an Egyptian plural. At the same time they are restricted to three gods. Referring to this passage, Gardiner7 I C. Desroches-Noblecourt and C. Kuentz, Le Petit Temple d'Abou Simbel (Cairo, 1968), I, 90; ii, pl. civ. 2 L. Habachi, 'Features of the deification of Ramesses II', ADAIK 5 (Gliickstadt, 1969), 10, pl. vb. 3 Opet, I I9 i, 167 c; Urk. vIII, 47 (58 b); C. de Wit, Les Inscriptions du temple d'Opet a Karnak, iii (Brussels, 1968), 64, 95, 133, n. 262. 4 S. Morenz, Agyptische Religion, I50. 5 J. Zandee, De Hymnen aan Amon van Papyrus Leiden I 350, 87 ff. 6 If this translation is right. In his paper 'Triune Conceptions of Deity in Ancient Egypt', which he read at the above-mentioned congress, J. Gwyn Griffiths translated nbw as 'lords'. 7 ZAS 42 (I905), 36. C 7959 G This content downloaded from on Fri, 23 May 2014 09:18:05 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  speaks of 'trinity as a unity' and Zandee' remarks: 'Amiin, Rec and Ptah are regarded as one god.' By the aid of the triad, divine plurality is explained as a unity. The examples of triads given so far were trinities. They all consist of male deities. Morenz2 gives an example of a trinity consisting of three female deities: Qadesh- Astarte-<Anat. He also mentions a triad containing one goddess: Atum, Shu, and Tefnut. He calls this 'eine Trinitat des Werdens', and remarks: 'Wir sehen zwar die Einheit sich entfalten, aber der Grundakkord der Einheit wird nicht durchgehalten, der die Trinitaten erst zu dem macht, was sie sind.'3 Where the threefold differentiation comprises a differentiation of male and female divinities, no return to unity is possible any more. One god as indweller of another is a common conception in Egypt, for instance Atum and Re<, so that they are looked upon as the single god Atum-Rec. For the indweller of a goddess to be a god, however, or the other way round, is not possible. The union of man and woman is not re- strictive but productive, and leads to the birth of the child. The triad Atum, Shu, and Tefnut, indeed, develops into an ennead. Mixed male-female triads are no trinities, and not monistic but pluralistic triads.4 Worship in the temples was not usually confined to a triad. The tritheism inherent in the triad, also in the pluralistic triads of mixed sex, was clearly felt as too much of a limitation. An ennead was worshipped, in which the triadic structure was sometimes plain to see. Such an ennead did not always consist of nine gods; there might be more or less. It was not a matter of a definite number of gods, but of undefined plurality. In the temple of Abydos there were seven chapels, for Osiris, Isis, Horus, Amiin, Re(, Ptah, and the pharaoh. The Osirian triad, the triad of the empire, and the pharaoh together constitute a triad.5 The ennead of Karnak, consisting of fifteen gods, was I Hymnen aan Amon, 87. 2 S. Morenz, Agyptische Religion, loc. cit. 3 S. Morenz, op. cit. 153 f. In the discussion after the paper was read J. Bergman remarked: 'Pap. Ebers 95, 8 stellt bekanntlich Isis als Mutter von Schu und Tefnut dar. Dahinter scheint eine Struktur von Urgottin- erster Zweiheit (etwa als Parallele zu Atum-iitt, CT Spell 261/ siehe Bergman, Ich bin Isis, 286 mit Anm. 3) zu stecken. Man denke an den Sagenkreis um s;'ti biti ,,das Kinderpaar des K6nigs von Unteragypten (vgl. Pyr. 804c, IoI7a und Sethe, Komm. Bd. IV, 30 f.). Hier sind wohl auch andere unterigyptische Muttergottheiten (vor allem Neith; vielleicht auch Bastet - vgl. die gew6hnliche spate Darstellung dieser Gottin als Katze zusammen mit zwei Kitzchen) in der Rolle einer einzigen Urg6ttin-Muttergottheit aufgetreten.' In future studies on divine triads in Ancient Egypt it may be of interest to make further investigations into these 'Trini- taten des Werdens', consisting of one 'Urwesen' with a male son and a female daughter. Cf. also S. Sauneron, Les Fetes religieuses d'Esna (Cairo, I962), ii i, ? 6. 4 J. Bergman remarked: 'Wenn auch der Geschlechtsunterschied gew6hnlich fur die G6tteridentifikationen/ Zusammenschmelzungen eine nicht zu iibertretende Grenze zu bilden scheint, zeugen die spiten Spekulationen iiber Neith und Isis, nach denen diese Gottheiten zu zwei DritteIn minnlich, zu einem Drittel weiblich sein sollen (siehe hierzu Sauneron, Melanges Mariette (196i), 242 ff. ( Le cr6ateur androgyne ), von einer auffiilligen Einheit vom Mannlich-Weiblichen. Diese aus drei Elementen bestehende Einheir kommt m. E. einer aus drei Gottheiten entstandenen Trinitat sehr nahe.' These examples seem to be connected with the problems, as yet unsolved, about the above-mentioned 'Trinitaten des Werdens'. One might call the two-thirds male and one- third female goddess a preliminary stage in the 'Trinitaten des Werdens'. She is not yet a triad, nor even a trinity with three different names. As soon as the three parts in the goddess are given three different divine names the point of no return is reached, because of the male-female opposition. Answering a question of J. Gwyn Griffiths on the difference between triads and trinities, we stress the point that trinities are monistic triads or 'tri-unities' and triads groups of three gods. 5 E. Otto, Saeculum, 14 (I963), 268 n. 48. 82 H. TE VELDE This content downloaded from on Fri, 23 May 2014 09:18:05 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
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