Abstract: Mythology and Iconography of Divine Kingship in Ancient Egypt


Divine kingship was one of the fundamental tenets of ancient Egyptian religion.  In order to begin to appreciate the doctrine of the king’s divinity, we must project ourselves into the world of the ancient Egyptians and examine their beliefs from within their own cultural perspective.  By the time of the New Kingdom (1570-1070 BCE), the dogma of divine kingship exhibited a high degree of sophistication.  A solar incarnation, the Egyptian king ruled as the Sun, manifesting its powers; and when he died, his divine spirit rejoined the Sun, while his transfigured body was buried in a tomb where the drama of the sun’s nightly rebirth was reenacted.  This lecture investigates several symbolic representations of the king’s divinity.

The king was the physical offspring of the Creator by a human woman—a queen who became the Mother of God.  Essentially, there were always two kings on the Throne of Horus at the same time.  First there was the mortal king, who had gained control of the throne and ruled from it on behalf of humankind; as High Priest, he made offerings to the gods for his subjects’ sake.  Then there was the abstract King, a theological conception and political symbol, who was regarded as the living incarnation of immortal Kingship; as heir and successor to the gods on earth, he was the recipient of his own offerings.  Normally, these two aspects of divine kingship were represented in a single god-man, a hybrid being with two natures—uniquely and ideally suited to be the Intermediary between the human and divine worlds.

A special appendix considers the possible implications of the iconography of several powerful queens (Tiye, Nefertiti, Ankhesenamun, Mut-Tuy, Nefertari) for their roles as female co-equal partners with their husbands in the performance of ritual acts. 

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