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
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,
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, WALSALL, 11TH MARCH 2005
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.