Walking in (the) Memphis Theology

“The living Horus : excellent Two Lands ; the Two Ladies : excellent Two Lands ; the Golden Horus : excellent Two Lands ; King of Upper and Lower Egypt : Neferkare, the son of Re, [Shabaka], beloved of Ptah-South-of-his-Wall, who lives like Re forever.

This writing was copied out anew by his Majesty in the House of his father Ptah-South-of-his-Wall, for his Majesty found it to be a work of the ancestors which was worm-eaten, so that it could not be understood from the beginning to the end. His Majesty copied it anew so that it became better than it had been before, in order that his name might endure and his monument last in the House of his father Ptah-South-of-his-Wall throughout eternity, as a work done by the son of Re [Shabaka] for his father Ptah-Tatenen, so that he might live forever.”  – Shabaka Stone, lines 1-2 (horizontal)

In Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume I – The Old and Middle Kingdoms, Miriam Lichtheim includes the text from the Shabaka stone in the section for Old Kingdom literature.  This is because, according to the writings on the stone, it is a direct copy of an ancient text that was so badly preserved it was in danger of being lost forever.  So, while the stone and its hieroglyphs are dated to the 25th Dynasty, the compendium of information it presents is clearly from an earlier period.

Or…is it?

I’ll back up, for a moment, to say that I knew almost nothing about the Memphis Theology before writing this blog post despite being a worshiper of Sekhmet.  I planned to learn about it and then write about the Memphis Triad – Ptah, Sekhmet, and their son Nefertem – and the manner in which their worship in Memphis occurred.  I’d heard something about Ptah being considered a creator god as part of the Triad and looked forward to reading an alternate creation story; it’s kind of a hobby of mine.  Instead, I found a story of political aspiration and the molding of beliefs to legitimize the reign of a King.

Shabaka’s rule marked the first time since the 20th Dynasty that Egypt (Lower and Upper) was united, and it was done in this fashion: Shabaka defeated the monarchy of Sais and chose to settle in Memphis, making the ancient Dynastic capital the seat of his government.  However, despite the unification of Egypt and the taking of the throne name Neferkare (as Pepi II did), further action was required for Shabaka to be seen as Pharaoh in a continuance of tradition.  An ancient text was then found and copied onto a slab of green breccia; the stone was then set up at the Temple of Ptah in Memphis.  The copied text, especially lines 53-61, proved the legitimacy of Shabaka’s rule in equating it to that of Ptah who united the Two Lands and was the greatest of gods.

To this day, the text copied to the Shabaka stone has not been found.  I suspect that no one except the Pharaoh Shabaka and (I assume) his priests saw the ancient text…just like no one but Joseph Smith saw the golden plates.  This doesn’t disprove its existence, per se, but it doesn’t prove it existed either.  But really, I think wondering about the text itself misses the point.  Shabaka managed to unite Egypt and become Pharaoh by referring to ideas and actions of the Ancients.  He and/or his advisers knew enough about the way Egyptian society worked and its reverence for the Ancestors to be able to use the system to their advantage.   The question is: did his actions uphold ma’at in the way the Pharaoh should and, if they did, does it matter what his motivation was?

My guess, from the buzzing in my head, is “Yes” to the former and “No” to the latter.


2 responses to “Walking in (the) Memphis Theology

  1. I now need to go back to it to figure out where the Triad fits with what Shabaka did. However, I think looking at his adaptation of Egyptian mores to fit the agenda he had is exactly what Sekhmet wanted me to focus on this week.

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