Ancient Egypt, Ancient Mesopotamia, Anubis, Anzata, Apis, Aset, Banebdjedet, Bekh, Buchis, Djed, Djedet, Djedu, Egyptian Gods, Geb, Gods, Hatmehyt, Herishef, Heru, Heru-sa-Aset, Heru-Wer, Khnum, Men-Wer, Mnevis, Nebet-Het, Neith, Nephthys, Nit, Osiris, Polytheism, Ptah, Ra, Ramesside Kings, Ramses III, Ramses IX, Set, Seth, Shu, Sutekh, Tatenen, Yinepu
“Revered before Banebdjedet, the ‘Chamberlain-Priest,’ He Who Separates the Two Gods, Prophet of the Ram, Hatmehyt and the Greater and Lesser Enneads, the Chief W’ab Priest who knows his duty . . . Nes-usert, called Wahibre . . . he says: “O Ram of [Ra], Ram of the Great One, Ram of Shu, Ram of Earth! Four faces on a single neck! O entombed rams within the Mansion of the Rams! (Ye for Whom) the Nile emerges from the cavern of Yebu that the fields may sparkle with ‘clothing’ (of herbage), that breasts may foal in timely season, their sustenance being on earth, and that Ra rises and Atum sets, so as not to impair Their offerings day and night! Remember Ye my name specifically when offering is made to Your kus! Grant Ye me an offering at the moment of requital, given at Your volition, (and also) a good burial after old age. May I go about as I wish without being blocked at the gates . . . O Ye that go upstream and downstream to see the Great Rams, thank God for this (my) statue.”
— M. Burchardt, “Ein saitischer Statuensockel in Stockholm,”
ZÄS 47 (1910), 111-15
I was recently asked by a reader about the Egyptian God Banebdjedet. With the querent’s permission, I am publishing the response to my blog, since it shall be rather lengthy.
“I noticed you talking about Banebdjedet in some of your posts. What does Banebdjedet’s name mean, and how did the Egyptians write it? Isn’t the -et ending female, in terms of conjugation? Why does a God have a female ending to His name? What was Banebdjedet’s place in Ancient Egyptian mythology? How is He represented?”
Banebdjedet’s name means “Ram Lord of Djedet / the Abiding Place.”
BA — Historian and Archaeologist Donald B. Redford explains to us that the word ba is a double-entendre. The Ancient Egyptians were exceedingly fond of puns, believing that homophony in language was no meaningless coincidence. They crop up frequently in both religious and informal contexts. Ba means “ram” as well as “spiritual manifestation.” (Redford, 134) The plural of this word is bau. Ba can be represented either by the Ovis longipes ram hieroglyph; or by a human-headed falcon. In the case of the Divine ba, it can be signified by the Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis stork — not to be confused with the Bennu heron/”phoenix,” Ardea cinerea — represented as a monogrammatic group of three birds. All depending, of course, upon textual context. (Wilkinson, 61, 99)
To provide further illustration, a corresponding pun is that of ka. Ka means both “bull,” which is represented by a bull hieroglyph, and “vital essence,” which is represented by two arms raised at ninety-degree angles. This complicated vital essence is another component of the Egyptian concept of the soul of both humans and deities. (Wilkinson, 49, 57)
NEB — Neb is the word for “Lord.” Given the feminine -et ending, this creates “Lady” or “Mistress.” Hence the name of one of Set’s wives, Nebet-Het, called Nephthys by the Hellenes, which means “Mistress [of the] House.”
DJEDET — Djedet is the Egyptian name for the city, formerly called ‘Anepat during the earlier years of its extensive history, home to Banebdjedet’s cult. When the Neo-Assyrians under Esarhaddon gained control of the Delta region around 671 BCE, long before the coming of the Hellenes, they renamed this city Aššur-massu-urappiš, or “Aššur Has Expanded His Land.” (Redford, 120 – 2) The Hellenes would later call this city Mendes during the 300s BCE and later.
Concerning the feminine -et ending of the name of the city, and of Banebdjedet’s name, Djedet is simply the name of the city, referring to “The Abiding Place,” and thus its feminine -et ending has no reflection on the gender of its tutelary Ram God. This having been said, Tamara L. Siuda tends to spell Djedet’s Ram God’s name as “Banebdjed,” and Redford oscillates between the two spellings. Other scholars seem to favor the “Banebdjedet” spelling.
The Djed is a symbol of strength and resurrection, and makes up part of the city’s and its God’s name. This symbol is usually associated with Wesir (Osiris), especially during later periods of Egyptian history, though not exclusive to Him. It is thought to be a stylized sheaf of corn, or bundle of reeds. (Note how the two Djed pillars in Banebdjedet’s name resemble the double-pylon symbol thought to depict the Gates of the West, the boundary between this world and the Otherworld.) Banebdjedet — like Wesir, with Whom Banebdjedet was eventually identified — was very much involved in funerary religion and the successful transfiguration of souls into imperishable Akhu. ____________________________________________________________________
Banebdjedet is depicted in a number of ways within Ancient Egyptian art.
He is at times represented in full ram form:
Or as a ram-headed man donning the Atef crown, making Him easy to confuse at first glance with another popular Ram God, Herishef:
He was sometimes shown in the guise of Ptah-Tatenen, as pictured in the image of the KV19 mural at the beginning of this article.
In other depictions, He has a much different face. Four of them, in fact. He could appear as a four-headed ram, or a man with four ram heads, with or without the Atef crown:
BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE HISTORY OF DJEDET
AND THE ROLES OF ITS RAM GOD
The first documented inhabitants of the area, at the dawn of recorded history in the Northern Delta region, were West Semitic-speaking wanderers from the Levant. They emigrated from Asia to a place they called Laẖaẖta, “The Watery Place.” The papyrus marshes of this “Watery Place,” while fertile, were not suitable for settlement. They established a settlement called ‘Anepat, “The Place of Greenness,” further North beyond the papyrus marshes, on a piece of land between two tributaries. In time, ‘Anepat and its neighboring towns to the Southwest — ‘Ummah, “Clan-Town,” and ‘Aneze, “The Pasturage” — which began as humble fishing, fowling, and shepherding communities, would grow to become one of the most important economic centers of the Egyptian Empire. (Redford, 1 – 4) The area would suffer tragedy after devastating tragedy, particularly under Neo-Assyrian rule, but these will not be focused on here.
The ram was a sacred animal to the people who settled this region, being nomadic herders in origin. The ram would continue to be held in high regard by their descendents, who would come to call their burgeoning city Djedet. The people of this land, having also taken to fishing to sustain themselves in this “Watery Place,” also held particular species of Schilbid catfish sacred. It is the symbol of Banebdjedet’s wife Hatmehyt, “Foremost of the Fishes,” a primordial Goddess of the Inundation later identified with Aset. Her catfish symbol, rather than a ram, makes up part of the standard of the Djedetian/Mendesian Nome.
Banebdjedet was not the first nor only God of the region. From the neighborhoods of “The Pasturage” and Djedu (Busiris) came ‘Anzata, a Shepherd-God depicted as an upright man wearing two tall, curved feather plumes upon His head, bearing a long staff and flail. The Shepherd and the Ram were, in large part, representative of the people’s livelihood. We should take care to prevent ourselves from thinking of Early Egyptians as primitive and backward simply for endowing their beloved deities with the symbols and roles with which they were best acquainted.
‘Anzata was the people’s protector and provider in life, and His Godly role was paralleled in the tribal hierarchies of the Early Delta: just as ‘Anzata shepherded His mortal flock, the clan Chief shepherded his small community and led it to prosperity and fulfillment. (Redford, 33) This was certainly not ‘Anzata’s only role, but it was one of His more prevalent ones. He also had male virility as well as funerary associations. For these qualities, ‘Anzata was absorbed by Wesir’s nascent cult during what Redford refers to as “the Pyramid Age.” (32)
Male virility and funerary associations, as we shall see, go hand-in-hand. It was required that the deceased be reborn in the Duat in much the same manner the deceased had been born into the tangible world. The imagery accompanying the descriptions of this rebirth of the soul in the Duat are highly sexual, but not inappropriately sexual by Ancient Egyptian standards. The penis, testicles, and their semen, rather than the uterus (viewed as a vessel which receives and incubates the masculine creative essence), were believed to house primary creative power in Ancient Egyptian thought: hence myths about monads like Atum ejaculating beings into existence as an act of Spontaneous Creation, insinuating an Ancient belief in homunculi. Indeed, creatrixes such as Neit (Neith) manifest penises “in Their moment” so that They might bring Creation into being. And there are epithets praising the strength of a God’s phallus and the potency of His sperm that are common to countless male Egyptian deities. Consequently, the Ram, as a masculine, sexual, and vivacious being, was a fitting symbol for Gods responsible for the rebirth of a person’s soul in the Otherworld. Thus we see in beatifications of the deceased such impassioned words as “ . . . my ba is mine, He through Whom I ejaculate; the Abiding Place belongs to me: what I say is what will be done!” (Redford, 35)
The Ram was a protector and provider of a different sort than ‘Anzata, and much more complex. Banebdjedet was, and is, multiversal. It was Banebdjedet’s multiversality that allowed His cult to survive with His face and His identity largely intact through the ensuing centuries, with the coming and going of various influential cults, and the transition from polytheistic theological interpretations in State religion to henotheistic ones.
As the ba, the Ram and the mutable spiritual manifestation, the Ram Lord was the quintessential soul, the Shepherd of those who had since passed into the realm of the Duat, and the Ram Lord Who fathered the deceased into the Otherworld. This Ram was to the Ancient Egyptians — particularly those of the Middle and New Kingdom Periods — a visible and tangible conduit for invisible and intangible elements, the most liminal of beings, one Who straddles the boundary between the material world and the Otherworld, between Yesterday and Tomorrow.
Wesir was a potent though latent force of life and fertility, “fertility-through-water,” as Redford phrases it. (35) When Wesir’s ever-expanding cult came to the “Watery Place,” His cult adopted the ram as one of His symbols, and Wesir became manifest within the being of Banebdjedet, the Ram Lord of the Abiding Place. Another great life force came to be represented by, and within, Banebdjedet: the Sun God Ra. Banebdjedet’s Ram thus came to be called “The Soul of Ra” and “The Living One of Ra.”
The union of Wesir and Ra as one Godhead can be found in Chapter 17 of the Book of the Dead:
“As for that day of ‘Come to Me,’ it means that Osiris said to Ra, ‘Come to Me that I may see You’ — so said He in the West.
I am His twin souls which are within the twin fledglings [Heru-sa-Aset, the Protector of His Father, and Heru-Wer, The Eyeless].
Who is He? He is Osiris when He entered into Djedet. He found the soul of Ra there and They embraced each other. Then His twin souls came into being.”
(Faulkner et al., Plate 10; 102, 160)
Rundle-Clark points out that this is a basic dogma of the Egyptian religion during the Middle Kingdom Period and the New Kingdom Period. (158) The Sun God Ra as transcendent and Wesir as emergent are the complementary forms of deity. In the same chapter of the Book of the Dead, and throughout other texts, such as the gloss on a coffin from Beni Hassan, Wesir is defined as “past” or “yesterday,” and Ra as “future” or “tomorrow.” This dichotomy of time and oneness is underscored by the mention of Heru-Wer and Heru-sa-Aset: Heru-Wer, the “Eyeless One” Who is brother of Wesir, is the Falcon of Yesterday; Heru-sa-Aset, the son of Wesir Who is ruling in His father’s place, is the Usherer of Tomorrow. The union of Wesir and Ra as “the Ba of the Ba” is not just about the negotiation of antithetic modes of being as a complementary whole (hetep). It is also about the continuity of time, the assurance that the cycles of life, creation, and rebirth will continue. Banebdjedet is Their union. Banebdjedet is that negotiation and that assurance.
The New Kingdom Period symbol of Banebdjedet for which the God is best known, the ram quadrifrons, or “four faces upon one neck,” represents the four hypostases of the abstract qualities of the Abyss, each with a nuance of the Infinite. These are: Absolute Darkness (Kkw), Infinity (Hhw), Fluidity (Nw), and Directionlessness (Tnmw). The ram quadrifrons also encompassed the basic elements of Creation: Light/Flame, Air, Earth, and Water. These correspond to the Gods Ra, Shu, Geb, and Wesir, respectively. (Redford, 134)
In New Kingdom Mendesian Theology, Banebdjedet came to represent all that was, all that is, all that has yet to become, and all which is not. He is the union of Creation and Uncreation / Pre-Creation, the Eternity of the Supreme’s Creation and the Limitless Void. The major hypostatic Gods made up His soul and were subordinate to His identity. He was at the same time the manifested soul of all the major hypostatic Gods, and therefore subordinate to Their identities. He had become the Supreme Totality, both immanent and transcendent.
Banebdjedet is the meeting of opposing life forces, antithetic states of being. Water and fire do not mix, nor do earth and air. Water is cool and latent, a passive thing that is shaped by what surrounds it and goes where gravity dictates. Light/fire is ravaging and forceful, a thing that leaps upward of its own will, and vigorously consumes and changes whatever is in its path. Earth is rigid, fixed, and singular; it is a tangible thing. Air is fluid, weightless, and omnipresent; it is an intangible thing. Yet, none of these can exist or function without the others. If we were to imagine existence as a flower, how would it live if even one of these elements were nixed? Without water, without the light and heat of the sun, without soil, without air . . . there is no life. The plant would perish and be no more.
Banebdjedet is, therefore, Completeness. He is Wholeness and Balance. His appearance with four faces does not simply have to do with His expression of Ra, Shu, Geb, and Wesir. The four faces aren’t simply representative of the four major elements of Creation within the Egyptian worldview, nor the four major elements of the raw existence extending forever beyond Creation. Four is the number of completion in Egyptian religion, the number of Mysteries. This appearance renders Him an immensely powerful God, an ineffable God Who cannot be entirely known, Whose experience defies even the most precise description.
Amun’s cult had adopted Banebdjedet’s by the New Kingdom Period, as it had done to so many others before, some time after Banebdjedet came to be tied up with the identities of Ra, Shu, Geb, and Wesir. The all-encompassing profundity of Banebdjedet fit perfectly with the nature of Amun, “The Hidden One,” during and after this time, not to mention the desires of the cult of Amun for its expansion.
Much like the Hap (Apis) bull — the Herald of Ptah — the bull of Montu’s Bekh cult, and the Men-Wer or Mnevis bull of Ra, Banebdjedet had an incarnation on Earth. It resided in Banebdjedet’s cult center. Foreigners, among them Hellenic and Roman chroniclers, penned salacious stories about the cult of the Living Ram, which may or may not have had a grain of truth to them. Banebdjedet and His ram had the epithet “Fornicating Ram Who Mounts the Beauties.” This not only refers to the fertile aspects of the God, but suggested something perverse about the Ram Lord and His living avatar’s sexual proclivities. In addition to mounting ewes from his harem, the Living Ram, it was rumored, also had sex with human women. Pindar refers to “Mendes, on the overhanging sea-cliff, at the farthest horn of the Nile, where goat-mounting he-goats fornicate with women.” And when Herodotus visited the city during the mid-5th century BCE, he heard report of a recent public spectacle in which a ram had intercourse with a woman; and based on a mould from the site itself, which Donald B. Redford helped to excavate, such coitus a tergo had become a motif in the art of the day, and might have become a staple of the cultic mythology. (Redford, 133)
The Living Ram was well-taken care of by the priesthood of Banebdjedet. In the 1st century BCE, the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus relays to us that it was kept in a sacred enclosure, and supped “with unfailing regularity [upon] the finest wheaten flour . . . seethed in milk, every kind of confection made with honey, and fowl either boiled or baked.” It was bathed regularly in warm water, anointed in sacred oils, fumigated with fine incense, and bedecked with jewels. (Redford, 127) Upon its death, it was buried with great ceremony among its predecessors in the sepulchre of the sacred rams, “The Mound of Souls.” (Redford, 128) And, much like the the avatar of Ptah, in death the ram of Banebdjedet became Osiris, having returned to the “primordial mound” from which the God had initially come.
ADDITIONAL APPEARANCES OF BANEBDJEDET
An inscription which comes to us from the mortuary temple at Medinet Habu of Ramses III gives an account of the relationship the God Banebdjedet had with the Pharaoh’s mother. In it, the God Tatenen states He revealed Himself in the form of Banebdjedet to the Queen, and impregnated her thereby. Hart states that the inscription could also be attempting to identify the chthonic deity Tatenen with the Sun God, the traditional Divine father of the Pharaoh (in keeping with the concept of “Divine Right of Kings”), since Banebdjedet is represented as “Lord of the Sky” and “The Living One of Ra” within The Litany of Ra. (Hart, 53)
In the Chester Beatty Papyrus I, which dates to the 20th Dynasty, Banebdjedet makes a cameo appearance in The Contendings of Heru and Set. Atum sends for Banebdjedet to settle the dispute between Heru-sa-Aset and Set. Banebdjedet is described as dwelling in Setit, which is the island at the first cataract of the Nile at Swentet (Aswan). This identifies Banebdjedet, the Northern Ram, with Khnum, the Southern Ram. Banebdjedet urges the council of the Gods to not rush Their decision, but to instead consult Neit, comically deferring His responsibility. Neit sends out a reply in favor of Heru-sa-Aset — much to Banebdjedet’s chagrin, as He was ultimately in support of Set’s claim to the throne. (Hart, 53)
Banebdjedet is mentioned in a spell designed to repel hostile articulations of heka which have been set against an individual. Edward Butler’s article states :
“Here the operator refers to ‘the name of the relics of Banebdjedet – four faces on one neck – to which offerings are brought with a seal’ as a ‘mystery’ of the ‘Great House’ (the temple at Mendes) which the operator denies having repeated; rather, ‘It is this magic that comes for NN born of NN that has said it, that has repeated it.’ The spell launched against the operator is thus symbolically transformed into an act of profaning the sanctuary of Banebdjedet, and hence presumably turned back upon the one who would wield it.”
In addition to Chapter 17 of the Book of the Dead as mentioned in the previous section, Banebdjedet makes another appearance within the funerary text, spell 125A, “The Chapter for Entering into the Hall of Two Truths and a Chapter for Praising Osiris, Foremost of the Westerners” :
“Words spoken by [Yinepu] in the presence of His entourage: ‘A man has come from Egypt who knows our roads and our towns, and I am satisfied with him. I smell his odor as belonging to one among you. He has said to me: I am the [Wesir] [deceased person] _________, the vindicated, in peace and in vindication. I have come here to see the Great Gods and so that I might live upon the offerings which are Their victuals, while I am the limits of the Ram, the Lord of Djedet. He allows me to fly up as a Bennu-bird at my saying so, when I am in the river.’ “
(Faulkner et al., Plate 30)
Butler, Edward. “Banebdjedet.” Henadology : Philosophy and Theology. Web. Date of access: May 5, 2013.
Faulkner, Raymond O. et al. The Egyptian Book of the Dead — The Book of Going Forth by Day : The Complete Papyrus of Ani. 2nd Ed. San Fransisco : Chronicle Books LLC, 2008.
Hart, George. A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses. 10th ed. New York : Routledge & Kegan Paul, Inc., 2000.
Redford, Donald B. City of the Ram-Man : The Story of Ancient Mendes. Princeton : Princeton University Press, 2010.
Rundle-Clark, R. T. Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt. London : Thames and Hudson, Ltd. London, 1978.
Wilkinson, Richard H. Reading Egyptian Art – A Hieroglyphic Guide to Ancient Egyptian Painting and Sculpture. London : Thames and Hudson, Ltd., 1992.