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History of the Egyptian Religion, part IV: New Kingdom

Author: Mirjam

Brought to you by Akhet

New Kingdom (ca 1580 -1085 bc.)

The Hyksos people

The so called 'Hyksos' invasion, which was most likely composed of several small groups of different people infiltrating the delta during the 13th Dynasty, meant the end of the Middle Kingdom. The Hyksos rulers established control over Lower Egypt from their main city Avaris, adopting Egyptian habits and administrative customs and letting temple building and religious life continue as before. Their chosen main state god was Set, probably because they saw in him one of their own Asiatic gods rather than the god playing the same part as he had done in the cult of Osiris. Since the Hyksos rulers also worshipped the old royal god Re, it seems they did not force any foreign religious beliefs upon the Egyptians.

Their rule was ended by an uproar from the princes at Waset (Thebes), who were ruling as vassals of the Hyksos. These princes now established Dynasty 18, and thereby the New Kingdom begins.

Amen of Waset

In the 12th Dynasty the deity Amun had been brought to Waset, where he replaced Montu as the state god. He were to hold this position throughout the New Kingdom. Originally one of the Hermopolitan Ogdoad, he was also closely associated with the ithyphallic fertility god of Coptos and Akhmim, Min. At this point the Waset princes attributed their successful victory over the Hyksos to him and he was even being considered to have brought about Egypt's expansion in Asia Minor.

To ensure Amun´s sovereignty, the Waset rulers associated him with Re, whose aspects as well as mythology Amun assumed. He also became the protector of the royal house and therefore his powers and influence extended substantially.

In the beginning of the New Kingdom Amun was considered a god of war, but when the Egyptian rule in Asia Minor became well established, the priesthood at Waset (Thebes) proclaimed Waset as the very site where Creation had originated, relegating the other cosmogonies to a lesser position. Amun was now more frequently regarded as a creator god, not only for the Egyptians themselves, but for all other peoples under the rule of Egypt as well.

The Cosmogony of the priesthood of Amun

The new cosmogony which the priesthood at Waset developed incorporated motifs from the earlier creation myths and aimed at placing Amun as the primeval creator of the cosmos as well as of all other gods. He was the invisible but ever-present selfcreator, who had come forth from an egg which had existed on the primeval mound. All other creation myths and all other gods were said to have then been brought into existence by Amun. Thus he was in effect each and every one of the gods and could at will assume any of their aspects. Accordingly he was called the 'King of the gods'.

His most important aspects were those of Re, Min and Ptah, his symbol of fertility and cult animal was the ram and he was also shown in the form of a goose. His consort in Waset became Mut, in the Hermopolitan Ogdoad the consort of Amun had been Amanuet. The moongod Khonsu was considered their son. Amun, Mut and Khonsu now formed the triad of Waset.

The power of the priesthood

Besides placing Amun as the creator god of the cosmos, the priesthood in Waset also claimed that the city was the original place where Creation had occurred, where the Primeval Island had risen out of the chaotic waters of Nun and where Amun had created himself out of the egg. Waset as the center of the worship of Amun, the state god and protector god for the royal house, now became the most important religious center in Egypt. Instead of having their burial places at Abydos, the kings and nobles now chose to have their tombs prepared here.

The priesthood of Amun grew in religious and political power. In the beginning of the 18th dynasty the priesthood received large donations from the kings as gratitude for the assistance in overthrowing the Hyksos. They accumulated enormous riches and assumed the right to supervise other important deities like Re and Ptah, thus controlling the priesthood of these deities, and their growing power began to rival that of the king himself, just like in the end of the Old Kingdom. Through divinely approving or disapproving of the heritage to the throne, they soon controlled the country, and perhaps the short-lived cult of Aten can be looked at as a counter reaction to a centralized priestly power.

The Temple of Amun-Re at Karnak

The great temple precinct at Karnak was added to by many different rulers, each trying to outdo his predecessor. It was began in the 12th Dynasty, and the most impressive building is the the Great Temple dedicated to Amun. Inside of this were also smaller temples to Mut, Khonsu, Ptah and Montu erected, thus these deities were put under the supervision of the priesthood of Amun. There are several processional routes, the main one, lined with sphinxes, is leading up to the first pylons, a smaller one, also lined with sphinxes leads to the Temple of Mut, the consort of Amun, where once a year the cult statue of Amun travelled in procession to spend a period of 24 days together with his consort, before he was brought back to his own temple. This was called the Festival of Opet, an occasion of festivities and celebration for everyone.

Finally there is a long processional road leading to the temple complex at Luxor, also dedicated to the triad of Waset, situated to the south of the Karnak complex.

At this period the temples at Karnak held enormous estates, some figures that are preserved show us a number of 81.322 employees, 421 362 animals, 433 gardens, 83 boats and 65 subtowns.

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