If we consider for a moment the vast amount of thought which the Egyptian gave to the problems of the future life, and their deep-seated belief in resurrection and immortality, we cannot fail to conclude that he must have theorised deeply about the constitution of the heaven in which he hoped to live everlastingly, and about its Maker.
The translations given in the preceding pages prove that the theologians of Egypt were ready enough to describe heaven, and the life led by the blessed there, and the powers and the attributes of the gods, but they appear to have shrunk from writing down in a connected form their beliefs concerning the Creation and the origin of the Creator.
The worshippers of each great god proclaimed him to be the Creator of All, and every great town had its own local belief on the subject.
According to the Heliopolitans, Atem, or Tem, and at a later period Râ, was the Creator; according to Memphite theology he was Ptah; according to the Hermopolitans he was Thoth; and according to the Thebans he was Amen (Ammon).
In only one native Egyptian work up to the present has there been discovered any connected account of the Creation, and the means by which it was effected, namely, the British Museum Papyrus, No. 10,188.
This papyrus was written about 305 B.C., and is therefore of a comparatively late date, but the subject matter of the works contained in it is thousands of years older, and it is only their forms which are of a late date.
The Story of the Creation is found in the last work in the papyrus, which is called the "Book of overthrowing Âapep, the Enemy of Râ, the Enemy of Un-Nefer" (i.e. Osiris).
Watch This great Video on the Story of creation.
This work is a liturgy, which was said at certain times of the day and night in the great temple of Amen-Râ at Thebes, with the view of preventing the monster Âapep from obstructing the sunrise.
Âapep was supposed to lie in wait for the sun daily just before sunrise, with the view of doing battle with him and overthrowing him.
When the Sun-god arrived at the place where Âapep was, he first of all cast a spell upon the monster, which rendered him helpless, and then he cast his fiery rays upon him, which shrivelled him up, and the fire of the god consumed him entirely.
In the temple of Amen-Râ the priests recited the spells that were supposed to help the Sun-god to burn up Âapep, and they burnt waxen figures of the monster in specially prepared fires, and, uttering curses, they trampled them under foot and defiled them.
These spells and burnings were also believed to break up rain clouds, and to scatter fog and mist and to dissipate thunder-storms, and to help the sun to rise on this world in a cloudless sky.
Âapep was a form of Set, the god of evil of every kind, and his allies were the "Red Fiends" and the "Black Fiends," and every power of darkness.
In the midst of the magical spells of this papyrus we find two copies of the "Book of knowing how Râ came into being, and of overthrowing Âapep."
One copy is a little fuller than the other, but they agree substantially. The words of this book are said in the opening line to have been spoken by the god Nebertcher, i.e. the "Lord to the uttermost limit," or God Himself.
The Egyptian Christians, or Copts, in their religious writings use this name as an equivalent of God Almighty, the Lord of All, the God of the Universe.
Nebertcher says: "I am the creator of what hath come into being.
I myself came into being under the form of the god Khepera. I came into being under the form of Pautti (or, in primeval time), I formed myself out of the primeval matter, I made myself out of the substance that was in primeval time." Nothing existed at that time except the great primeval watery mass called Nu, but in this there were the germs of everything that came into being subsequently.
There was no heaven, and no earth, and the god found no place on which to stand; nothing, in fact, existed except the god.
He says, "I was alone." He first created himself by uttering his own name as a word of power, and when this was uttered his visible form appeared.
He then uttered another kind of word of power, and as a result of this his soul (ba) came into being, and it worked in connection with his heart or mind (ab).
Before every act of creation Nebertcher, or his visible form Khepera, thought out what form the thing to be created was to take, and when he had uttered its name the thing itself appeared in heaven or earth.
To fill the heaven, or place where he lived, the god next produced from his body and its shadow the two gods Shu and Tefnut.
These with Nebertcher, or Khepera, formed the first triad of gods, and the "one god became three," or, as we should say, the one god had three aspects, each of which was quite distinct from the other.
The tradition of the begetting of Shu and Tefnut is as old as the time of the pyramids, for it is mentioned in the text of Pepi I, l. 466.
The next act of creation resulted in the emerging of the Eye of Nebertcher (later identified with Râ) from the watery mass (Nu), and light shone upon its waters.
Shu and Tefnut then united and they produced Keb, the Earth-god, and Nut, the Sky-goddess. The text then refers to some calamity which befell the Eye of Nebertcher or of Khepera, but what it was is not clear; at all events the Eye became obscured, and it ceased to give light.
This period of darkness is, of course, the night, and to obviate the inconvenience caused by this recurring period of darkness, the god made a second Eye, i.e. the Moon, and set it in the heavens.
The greater Eye ruled the day, and the lesser Eye the night.
One of the results of the daily darkness was the descent of the Sky-goddess Nut to the Earth-god Keb each evening.
The gods and goddesses next created were five, namely, Osiris, Horus, Set, Isis, and Nephthys.
Osiris married Isis, and their son was called Horus; Set married Nephthys, but their son Anpu, or Anubis, is not mentioned in our text.
Osiris became the great Ancestor-god of Egypt, and was a reincarnation of his great-grandfather.
Men and women were first formed from the tears that fell from the Eye of Khepera, or the Sun-god, upon his body; the old Egyptian word for "men" very closely resembles in form and sound the word for "tears."
Plants, vegetables, herbs, and trees owe their origin to the light of the moon falling upon the earth. Our text contains no mention of a special creation of the "beasts of the field," but the god states distinctly that he created the children of the earth, or creeping things of all kinds, and among this class quadrupeds are probably included.
The men and women, and all the other living creatures that were made at that time by Nebertcher, or Khepera, reproduced their species, each in his own way, and thus the earth became filled with their descendants as we see at the present time.
The elements of this Creation legend are very, very old, and the form in which they are grouped in our text suggests the influence of the priests of Heliopolis.
It is interesting to note that only very ancient gods appear as Powers of creation, and these were certainly worshipped for many centuries before the priests of Heliopolis invented their cult of the Sun-god, and identified their god with the older gods of the country.
We may note, too, that gods like Ptah and Amen, whose reputation was so great in later times, and even when our text was copied in 305 B.C., find no mention at all.