The creation of the world from an Ancient Egyptian perspective
Egyptian tradition relates to the creation of the world as being the result of the universe emerging from an amalgam of chaos and darkness. Before the creation of the world, everything consisted out of dark water that had no form and that could not be described by trying to use concepts that mankind is accustomed to. Egyptian tradition promotes a wide range of stories concerning the moment of creation and with the culture being very complex it is difficult to verify particular accounts. There is a widely accepted form of the story of the creation of the world and by identifying common elements in several accounts one can get a better understanding of Egyptian history.
The idea of Maat is meant to address the order in the universe as an essential concept keeping society together. Maat made it possible for the world to evolve and for people to be able to get actively involved in the social order. The world previously stood in a condition of chaos and is still dominated by this respective chaos, with Maat being the main element distinguishing between chaos and order (Allen & Manuelian 2005, p. 435).
The Ancient Egyptians considered that the Maat was very important because it kept the world in order, as without it everything would go back to the chaos that once existed. Time is closely related to Maat, with the concept keeping the world in order experiencing a periodical renewal process as a result of the fact that time has a cyclical pattern. Elements such as the sun going through a daily journey through the sky and the Nile flooding the territory once every year contributed to people's understanding of time's cyclical nature. "Time -- or more precisely put -- the continuity of reality had its origin in the cyclical uniting of neheh and djet, "virtuality" and resultativity." (Assman 2001, p. 109)
Figure 1 Gods Shu and Heh supporting Nu while god Geb focuses on the earth
The chaos and the water that once existed were related to by using the name 'Nu'. Nu is also related to as having the form of a goddess that was all-powerful. "In prehistoric times it seems clear that a great goddess, sometimes called Nun (the Primordial Waters), reigned supreme and was responsible for creation out of herself." (Adams Leeming 2010, p. 103) Nu was apparently responsible for creating herself, as she reigned over the world and as her powers could not possibly be understood from an earthly perspective.
A primordial hill emerging from the watery chaos was the first element that put an end to the nothingness and gave a sort of meaning to the world. This primordial hill was shaped in the form of a pyramid and was intended to serve as a place where the sun god of Heliopolis could stay. The sun god of the city of Heliopolis was also created by Nu, as she intended to use him as a tool to create the universe.
Figure 2 Nun creating the world at the beginning of time
Time plays an important role when considering Egyptian mythology, with texts and all types of sources relating to the creation of the world having developed through time and having led to ideas that often contradicted concepts that emerged in the past. Ancient Egyptians were particularly concerned in the way they communicated with their gods and thus used a wide range of means with the purpose of registering historical data. Writing was apparently used as a tool to register this information and to make it available to the masses.
People in Ancient Egypt were inclined to consider Nu as being a concept that gave birth to the sun god on a daily basis. As the day began at sunrise, Nu would allow the sun to emerge and travel throughout the day sky. It would eventually go to the place beyond the world as perceived by the Ancient Egyptians and was expected to turn up again the next day. This, alongside of the Nile's yearly floods, played a major role in shaping people's understanding of a cycle as being one of the most important concepts in their lives.
Many events that took place in Egypt came to be associated with gods, as people acknowledged their importance and power and thus focused on providing them with a type of praise that would put them into the pages of history. While some accounts relate to Amun as being the god responsible for creating the world consequent to the moment when Nu created him, others promote Ra as being the powerful being that created the world. Osiris is the god of earth -- a being that in spite of being considered to rule the land of the dead had great influence over the living and was provided with much appreciation throughout Ancient Egypt. "Thou art the Soul of Ra, his own body, and hast thy place of rest in Henensu (Herakleopolis)." (Papyrus of Ani; Egyptian Book of the Dead [Budge])
Figure 3 Excerpt from the papyrus of Ani
The papyrus of Ani is a papyrus manuscript meant to commemorate the death of the Theban scribe Ani. The document emphasizes Ra as a being who has great power on the world and provides a hymn meant to praise this particular god. Osiris is also provided with a great deal of appreciation throughout the papyrus, but Ra's hymn is important because it makes it possible for viewers to gain a better understanding of the exact role that this god played in the creation of the world.
In certain sources Ra and Atum are actually seen as two gods that one can combine in order for the respective person to gain a more complex understanding of the role they play in society. "When Atum is combined with Ra (the creative force), the resultant is Ra-Atum, representing the manifestation of the creative force." (Gadalla 2001, p. 52)
Ancient Egyptians had trouble differentiating between gods and their leaders, with pharaohs often being perceived as gods. Even with the fact that they were familiar with the fact that their leader was human in nature and that he was vulnerable to a series of problems that normal people could experience, they were still convinced that he was in some way characteristic of divinity and that he should have thus been praised as a god. The moment when the pharaoh died was the instance when people started to associate him with the normal portrayal of a god. Pharaohs were associated with several gods when they died, with Ra and Osiris being among the most common deities believed to be reborn at the time when a leader died.
While the Ancient Egyptians used mythology as a means to explain concepts that they could not possibly understand by using tools available at the time, it is intriguing to observe how they attempted to use somewhat logical ideas in order to come up with information of the world. "Looking at the sky without telescopes, the Egyptians saw only an undifferentiated amount of blue by day, or black by night -- the same qualities visible in the river Nile." (Silverman 2003, p. 114) This makes it possible to comprehend how they used values they were acquainted with as they tried to explain things they had trouble understanding.
The fact that the sun produces light and heat further assisted the Egyptians in understanding that it was, to a certain degree, possible for them to associate it with fire. They acknowledged its power and realized that it needed to be extremely far from them in order for it to benefit them in a way that did not disrupt their society. The ceilings of the two Ramesside monuments are particularly…