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The Religion of Ancient Egypt
Bast originates in ancient Egypt or, as it was known to its people in antiquity, "Kemet". Egypt or "Aigyptos" is a Greek word, and originally referred to Men-Nefer or Memphis, the city of Ptah.
Traditionally, the religion She springs from is typecast by the mainstream public as polytheistic in nature. Modern Egyptology has questioned this label, and the ground-breaking book Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and the Many by Erik Hornung introduced a new label: monolatry. That is, a belief system with one god who can take on multiple faces (the One and the Many).
By that definition, people who purport that the religion of ancient Egypt was a polytheism are half correct. However, the numerous references to deity in the singular throughout religious texts from antiquity should not be ignored (the priests of antiquity often prided themselves in texts on knowing all the "names" of Netjer, or God).
Kemet was influenced in its twilight era by two classically polythetistic cultures: the Roman Empire (which would absorb ancient Egypt completely) and the Greeks (who would rule it for a short period of time). With the hieroglyphic language lost for numerous centuries, it is easy to see how it became miscategorized. However, just as one could not call the Yoruba or Hindu religions strictly polytheistic, so also one would not do the same with Kemetic religion.
It is extremely important when studying ancient Egypt to differentiate between the time when Egypt was held by foreign powers--the Late Period on--and when it was not. Culturally, religiously, and structurally, the differences are readily apparent--enough so that Egypt may as well have been two different countries entirely: the land of the native Pharaohs, and the land of the foreign rulers.
If the ancient Egyptian religion and its seemingly random flurry of myriad, over-lapping concepts is confusing to you, consider not approaching it as strictly a polytheism. While there are polytheistic aspects to Kemetic religion, texts from antiquity indicate additional highly sophisticated layers of theological and philosophical thought that strongly support the theories of Erik Hornung and his colleagues.
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Essay copyright © 1996-2010, S.D. Cass; Site copyright © 2013, N. Baan
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