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By Alan F. Alford

The ancient Egyptian cosmos was a perpetual motion machine, designed to function for 'millions upon millions of years'. The system possessed not so much longevity as immortality ­ an idea enshrined in the divine principle djet, which is translated 'eternal duration' (Assmann 1984).

Eternal duration (djet) was dependent upon the ordered motion of the cosmos. The sun, moon, and stars were required to orbit according to preordained cycles, while on earth (the land of Egypt) the river Nile had to flood in its due time and the soil bear produce in its due season. These recurrent cycles enshrined the divine principle neheh, which is translated 'eternal repetition'.

Eternal repetition (neheh) was not understood in the modern sense of repeating the previous event or cycle but in the ancient sense of repeating the original event or cycle which had been initiated at the time of creation. This primeval age was known as zep tepi, which is translated 'the first time' or 'the first occasion'. It witnessed the establishment of maat, 'the cosmic order'.

The events of the first time are partially described in the Egyptian creation myths, which represent 'facets of a persistently uniform understanding of what the universe is and how it came to be' (Allen 1988). Three recurrent themes are: the origin of all things from a primeval ocean (nw or nnw) which apparently contained the building blocks of primeval matter; the emergence of a primeval mound or island (the earth) from the receding waters; and the separation of the sky (pt or Nwt) from the earth (ta or Geb).

The creation in Egypt has long been viewed as an act of the sun-god. However, it is better viewed as an act of the creator-god who personified the primeval waters and earth, and came into being by developing the cosmos from himself (kheper-djesef). Hence Ptah, Ta-tenen, Geb, Atum, Kheprer, and Khnum were primarily chthonian, not solar, in nature.

According to James P. Allen, the process of creation involved the establishment of a bubble-like void within an infinite, unchanging ocean of water. The creation of this void caused the waters to be pushed back and allowed the primeval mound to emerge at the bottom of the void (Genesis in Egypt, 1988).

We argue that Allen's interpretation is flawed, to the serious detriment of our understanding of Egyptian religion. In our view, creation involved an expansion of the primeval waters and the primeval matter it contained. Water, light, and material elements were all spat out from the original body of the cosmos and lifted up by the wind of the air (Shu) which thereupon became a cushion or support for the newborn sky.

This new interpretation of the creation myth has important implications for our understanding of the role of the king, in life and in death, and for the architectural symbolism of pyramids, temples, and tombs.

The time has come to put aside the solar bias that has afflicted Egyptology for the past two centuries and to reconsider the significance of the creation in ancient Egypt.


Alan F. Alford is a scholarly layperson. He has recently authored a 440-page book entitled The Midnight Sun: The Death and Rebirth of God in Ancient Egypt.

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'These pages are the copyright of Eridu Books 2004. The images and diagrams are the copyright of Alan Alford or of other photographers, where indicated. Eridu Books welcomes the reproduction and dissemination of these pages, in original, unaltered form, for non-commercial purposes, but permission must be sought for any other usage, other than 'fair dealing' quotations.'

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