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Old November 27th, 2012, 01:01 PM   #1

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The pharaoh and god


It has been really hard to find out how did the egyptians picture their pharaoh over time, was he a living god, or just a representation, an emissary? How did thus representation changed over time? And influence did the subjugation of egypt by various civilizations had on this subject?
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Old November 27th, 2012, 10:33 PM   #2

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The term "Pharaoh" [from the Greek "Pharạ"] meant "great home" and in origin it indicated the palace of the power. Later this term became directly identifying for the figure of the king.

The Pharaoh was a living deity for the Egyptians. He was Horo [the divine hawk], son of Ran [the God of the Sun].

The social role of the king was fundamental also because he was considered the linkage between the human world and the realm of the Gods.

Probably it's important to underline that magics was where today we put religion in the world of ancient Egyptians, so that you have to think to the Pharaoh as a magical figure connecting reality with the "powers" [may be a better word to indicate the Egyptian deities] of the supernatural sphere.
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Old November 28th, 2012, 05:40 AM   #3
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Well, actually ancient Egyptian did make a difference between the king in officio - divine, ntr/netjer - and ex officio - a regular man, hm, hem.

There's a funerary temple biography of one 6th dyn. court official who when stating how the king raised him up and lavished favour on him officially clearly talks about the king-as-god, while when it is brought up how at his death, the king wept over him as a dead friend, that was the king-as-an-ordinary-man.
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Old November 30th, 2012, 07:53 PM   #4

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I don't know Egypt very well, but I imagine that when you're talking about a civilization of 3000 years which is poorly documented by modern standards of history and religious philosophy, it is hard to make conclusions that are both widely applicable and accurate. Probably much of it had to do with the individual pharaoh's interpretation of his or her role. E.g. Akhenaten had a radically different conception of his relation to God than any other pharaoh.
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Old November 30th, 2012, 09:31 PM   #5

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Originally Posted by apophaticlogos View Post
I don't know Egypt very well, but I imagine that when you're talking about a civilization of 3000 years which is poorly documented by modern standards of history and religious philosophy, it is hard to make conclusions that are both widely applicable and accurate. Probably much of it had to do with the individual pharaoh's interpretation of his or her role. E.g. Akhenaten had a radically different conception of his relation to God than any other pharaoh.
Would it not be similar to the reverence paid to the Chinese Emperor or even to this day the Japanese Emperor. I remember seeing YouTube videos of the Emperor of Japan visiting refugees during the Fukishima crisis. Even in their despair and pain, Japanese of all ages stopped and knelt and bowed in awe as the Emperor came amongst them. Even when he knelt they refused to look directly at a living god.
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Old November 30th, 2012, 10:28 PM   #6

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Would it not be similar to the reverence paid to the Chinese Emperor or even to this day the Japanese Emperor.
Would what not be similar? Akhenaten's instituted religion?

There are a few points
1. (As far as I know) the Chinese emperors were never considered to be gods. I might be mistaken, but I don't think so.

2. It's somewhat difficult to understand another culture's customs when you approach it with a pre-fixed judgement about what you expect. I am 99% certain that those Japanese people weren't bowing to the emperor because they believe he is a god. I have never seen any statistic but I would doubt 0.1% of Japanese people believe that. What looks like religious worship to Westerners looking for religious worship is actually a common expression of respect in Asian cultures. Especially when someone owes a great favor to someone of much higher status; it may look like they are worshipping their benefactor. I have never met a Japanese person who believes the emperor is a god. (not to say that didn't exist in the past)

3. As far as Akhenaten, he was certainly not respected as a god. His official religion was more stringently monotheistic than even Christianity (think something of a mix between the Christian Divine Right of kings and Islam). Akhenaten was revered because he was the prophet-qua-pharaoh of his religion, and he distributed the blessings of God to his kingdom.
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Old December 1st, 2012, 12:26 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by evilsummoned View Post
It has been really hard to find out how did the egyptians picture their pharaoh over time, was he a living god, or just a representation, an emissary? How did thus representation changed over time? And influence did the subjugation of egypt by various civilizations had on this subject?
I believe the most stable aspect is how the king was the direct intermediary between the realm of gods and men in the temple cults.

For the ancient Egyptians (unlike for example the Greek), the goods were pretty distant, and interaction between them and mere mortals was pretty much limited to the religious functions of the king. The traditional temple hierarchy held position of what Egyptologists have taken to referring to as 1st and 2nd "Prophet" of the god, i.e. the high priests. But the 1st prophet was entirely charged with the cult of the goods, while 2nd prophet was the manager of all things temporal. So when in history there are references to powerful high priests of Amun, like Herihor who came to be joint ruler of Egypt with the king Ramses XI, we're actually talking about a 2nd prophet.

The 1st prophet of a temple however is always a stand-in for the king. Technically all cultic rituals in all temples all over Egypt were supposed to be carried out by the king himself as the designated go-between, divine while in office. In practice of course the functions were of course delegated to a stand in, the high priest/1st prophet.
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Old December 1st, 2012, 01:00 AM   #8

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Actually the "linkage" between Egypt [KmT] and its deities was the "battlefield" [or if we prefer the field of social conflict for the power] between the Royal figure and the clergy [the clergies of the temples].

Usually there was a kind of equilibrium [the High Priests talked with the figures and the statues of the deities and in the religious / magical perspective of that culture this meant to talk wit the deity itself, the Pharaoh did the same ...], but it happened that the system was unbalanced.

Akhenaten was the most clear example of the break of this equilibrium [in favor of royalty in that case].
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Old December 1st, 2012, 03:48 AM   #9
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Actually the "linkage" between Egypt [KmT] and its deities was the "battlefield" [or if we prefer the field of social conflict for the power] between the Royal figure and the clergy [the clergies of the temples].

Usually there was a kind of equilibrium [the High Priests talked with the figures and the statues of the deities and in the religious / magical perspective of that culture this meant to talk wit the deity itself, the Pharaoh did the same ...], but it happened that the system was unbalanced.

Akhenaten was the most clear example of the break of this equilibrium [in favor of royalty in that case].
That certainly was how it played out. It seems like the OP is rather asking for a more general view of kingship and divinity in principle, some form of what it would mean "theologically speaking" perhaps?

In which case I think he just might need your above observation expanded on somewhat.

The way I've had a few things about Egyptian society explained to me, a lot of the temple-hierarchy vs. kingship power-plays occured over the matter of principles for appointment.

Very briefly put, in periods of relatively weak royal power the principle of heredity asserted itself, and the priestly class became pretty much exclusively a family matter, sons inheriting the jobs from their fathers even in matters of very prominent temples. (And none was more prominent than the great Amun temple at Thebes of the New Kingdom, where the roster of employees for the 18th dyn. apparently runs to over 10 000 individuals, meaning in ancient Egyptian terms the Amun temple was a bit like GM to the US in modern times — too big to fail, and what's good for the Amun temple at Thebes is good for Egypt.)

Otoh in periods of strong royal power, the monarchs had the ability to make high religious office a matter of royal appointment instead, meaning the kings would be able to place their men at the heads of the major temple operations of the realm, fighting back even long-standing and entrenched families of religious functionaries. Until such time as royal power dipped again...
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Old December 1st, 2012, 03:56 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by evilsummoned View Post
It has been really hard to find out how did the egyptians picture their pharaoh over time, was he a living god, or just a representation, an emissary? How did thus representation changed over time? And influence did the subjugation of egypt by various civilizations had on this subject?
Over time is a bit hard to say. It's still relatively murky. Though iirc Snefru, founder of the Big Pyramid Building dyn. 4 (he built three big ones himself no less), just might have been the only ancient Egyptian king to expressely and literally claim to have been an actual good on the same level as any other greater diety of the Egyptian pantheon. His dyn. 4 successors, Kheops and Khafre et al. seem to have been a bit less full of themselves in that regard, even if they built bigger pyramids. Then there's again a possible downshift in the status of the kings as focal religious figures from dyn. 4 to dyn 5. when the new dynasty instead became very convinced solar diety (Ra) worshippers, spending money on huge solar temples as well as pyramids.

Oh, and I'd be very wary of claims of Akhenaton having been monotheistic. It seems more a case of consciously trying to get back to conceptions of divinity and royalty of the Old Kingdom, as Aten woship involved an upgrading of Old Kingdom divinities like Geb, Nut, Shu and Tefnut, along with the worship of Aten central to royal power. I.e. not very monotheistic at all, but possibly looking back to older times when the religious power of the king was even greater?
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