Laws, Vows, and Wars & The Scorpion in Ancient Egypt

Are they getting ready for war again?

Horus is one of the oldest and most significant deities in ancient Egyptian religion, who was worshiped from at least the late Predynastic period through to Greco-Roman times.

Different forms of Horus are recorded in history and these are treated as distinct gods by Egypt specialists.

These various forms may possibly be different perceptions of the same multi-layered deity in which certain attributes or syncretic relationships are emphasized, not necessarily in opposition but complementary to one another, consistent with how the Ancient Egyptians viewed the multiple facets of reality.

He was most often depicted as a falcon, most likely a lanner or peregrine, or as a man with a falcon head.

The earliest recorded form of Horus is the patron deity of Nekhen in Upper Egypt, who is the first known national god, specifically related to the king who in time came to be regarded as a manifestation of Horus in life and Osiris in death.

The most commonly encountered family relationship describes Horus as the son of Isis and Osiris but in another tradition Hathor is regarded as his mother and sometimes as his wife.

Horus served many functions in the Egyptian pantheon, most notably being the god of the sun, war and protection.

“Then came the daughters of Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, the son of the families of Manasseh, the son of Joseph’s firstborn: and these are the names of his daughters; Mahlah, Noah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Tirzah. 

And they stood before Moses, and before Eleazar the priest, and before the princes and all the congregation, by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying, 

Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not in the company of them that gathered themselves together against the LORD in the company of Korah; but died in his own sin, and had no sons.

Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, because he hath no son? Give unto us therefore a possession among the brethren of our father. 

And Moses brought their cause before the LORD.

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

The daughters of Zelophehad speak right: thou shalt surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father’s brethren; and thou shalt cause the inheritance of their father to pass unto them” (Num 27:1-5).

It became a new law, if a man dies without and his inheritance first goes to his daughter, if he has no daughter, then it goes to his brothers, then to uncles, then to his cousin.

“And the LORD said unto Moses, Get thee up into this mount Abarim, and see the land which I have given unto the children of Israel. 

And when thou hast seen it, thou also shalt be gathered unto thy people, as Aaron thy brother was gathered. 

For ye rebelled against my commandment in the desert of Zin” (Num 27:12-14).

“Moses then suggested that God find his replacement, so God chose Joshua the son of Nun.

Hathor is an Ancient Egyptian goddess who personified the principles of joy, feminine love, and motherhood. She was one of the most important and popular deities throughout the history of Ancient Egypt. Hathor was worshiped by Royalty and common people alike in whose tombs she is depicted as “Mistress of the West” welcoming the dead into the next life. In other roles she was a goddess of music, dance, foreign lands and fertility who helped women in childbirth, as well as the patron goddess of miners. The cult of Hathor predates the historic period, and the roots of devotion to her are therefore difficult to trace, though it may be a development of predynastic cults which venerated fertility, and nature in general, represented by cows. Hathor is commonly depicted as a cow goddess with horns in which is set a sun disk with Uraeus. Twin feathers are also sometimes shown in later periods as well as a menat necklace. Hathor may be the cow goddess who is depicted from an early date on the Narmer Palette and on a stone urn dating from the 1st dynasty that suggests a role as sky-goddess and a relationship to Horus who, as a sun god, is “housed” in her. The Ancient Egyptians viewed reality as multi-layered in which deities who merge for various reasons, while retaining divergent attributes and myths, were not seen as contradictory but complementary. In a complicated relationship Hathor is at times the mother, daughter and wife of Ra and, like Isis, is at times described as the mother of Horus, and associated with Bast. The cult of Osiris promised eternal life to those deemed morally worthy. Originally the justified dead, male or female, became an Osiris but by early Roman times females became identified with Hathor and men with Osiris. The Ancient Greeks identified Hathor with the goddess Aphrodite and the Romans as Venus.

God then told Moses to remind the people of the offerings He had explained to them in Num 1-7.

If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth” (Num 30:2).

This is the same for women, accept if she lives with her father or is married at the time she makes the vow, but if her father vetoes the vow than God disregards it. 

This law was probably designed for the protection of the woman, who in ancient Near Eastern society was subject to strong societal pressures, some of which would leave her without defense.  God could be, but is not, a despot. 

He has His laws, but as long as the laws that man makes do not violate His laws He will not intervene, it goes with the freewill He gives us.

“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites: afterward shalt thou be gathered unto thy people.  

And Moses spake unto the people, saying, Arm some of yourselves unto the war, and let them go against the Midianites, and avenge the LORD of Midian. 

Of every tribe a thousand, throughout all the tribes of Israel, shall ye send to the war” (Num 31:1-4).

The Israelites killed all the males and the kings of the Midianites, as well as five other kings: Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur,and Reba.  They also killed Balaam. 

They kept the women, children, the cattle, flocks, and all their goods.  They then burnt the cities and castles.

Moses was angry with them when they came back because they didn’t kill the women, they were just as evil as the men.  By not killing them it was a trespass against God. 

Moses ordered that they kill all the male children and any woman that wasn’t a virgin.

“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,  

Take the sum of the prey that was taken, both of man and of beast, thou, and Eleazar the priest, and the chief fathers of the congregation:

And divide the prey into two parts; between them that took the war upon them, who went out to battle, and between all the congregation:

And levy a tribute unto the LORD of the men of war which went out to battle: one soul of five hundred, both of the persons, and of the beeves, and of the asses, and of the sheep:

Take it of their half, and give it unto Eleazar the priest, for an heave offering of the LORD. 

And of the children of Israel’s half, thou shalt take one portion of fifty, of the persons, of the beeves, of the asses, and of the flocks, of all manner of beasts, and give them unto the Levites, which keep the charge of the tabernacle of the LORD” (Num 31:25-30).

Isis’s mother was Nut or Neuth and was the goddess of the sky in the Ennead of Egyptian mythology. She was seen as a star-covered nude woman arching over the earth, or as a cow. Her father was Geb, the Egyptian god of the Earth and a member of the Ennead of Heliopolis. It was believed in ancient Egypt that Geb’s laughter were earthquakes and that he allowed crops to grow.

The total booty was:

Sheep – 1,350,500
Beeves – 144,000 
Asses – 122,000 
Virgins – 64,000

And the amount of gold offered to God was 16,750 shekels ($4,373.36 dollars).  That’s a lot of money at that time, around 1451 B.C.

The Scorpion in Ancient Egypt

The ancient Egyptians knew the scorpion and its toxicity, and venerated it since pre-dynastic era.

They used the scorpion as a king’s name, a name of a nome

(county), and a symbol to their goddess, Serqet, that protects the bodyand the viscera of the dead, and that accompanies them in their journey to the afterlife.

They had medical prescriptions and magical spells to heal the stings. Since the 5th dynasty, the title of a “Follower of Serket” wasgiven to clever physicians.

Scorpions are most famously depicted on Horus Cippus, a talisman featuring Horus the Child holding in his hands figures of serpents, scorpions, and dangerous animals.

A drawing of a scorpion with twometasomas was found in the tomb of the pharaoh Seti I (1290–1279 BC), probably the first record of thisabnormality, more than 13 centuries before Pliny the Elder.

Scorpion in the ancient Egyptian myth andreality Scorpions have influenced the imagination of the peoples of the Orient and the Mediterranean since earliest times.

In ancient Egypt, scorpions were frequently depicted in tombs and on monuments. They are mentioned in the Ebers papyrus (“How to Rid the House of Scorpions”) and in several passages of the Book of the Dead (Cloudsley-Thompson, 1990).

The writings about scorpions found on ancient Egyptian papyri were confined to myths, to advice onhow to get rid of the scorpion and its venom, or how toheal its sting.

Nothing was recorded about geography of scorpions, which was first noted by Aristotle (384–322BC).

The Macehead of king “Scorpion”.

The white parts are a reconstruction of the shape of the object.

The ritual mace head of “Scorpion” is one of the rare artifacts to have survived from this king’s reign.

It is a rounded piece of limestone, shaped like the head of a mace of 25 cm. high.

Its dimensions and the fact that it is decorated both show that it was intended as a ritual artifact and not as a real mace head.

The mace head was found by archaeologists Quibell and Green during their expedition of 1897/98 in the main deposit at Hierakonpolis.

This main deposit also contained other artifacts from the Pre-dynastic and Early Dynastic Periods, among them a long narrow vase also showing the name of king “Scorpion”, as well as, perhaps, the Narmer Palette.

The decoration on the highly fragmentary mace head is interesting and has been an important part of the debate surrounding the supposed unification of Egypt.

The dwellers on the Nile in ancient Egypt knew the scorpion and venerated it since pre-dynastic era. They used the scorpion as a king’s name, Scorpion I and Scorpion II, a name of a nome(county), and a symbol to their goddess Serqet (in addition to other goddesses).

Scorpions invoke, for many people, as much fear as venomous snakes. That is probably precisely the reason that one of Egypt’s most most famous predynastic rulers chose this invertebrate for his name.

Of course, that ruler’s widespread fame is mostly due to the movie, “Scorpion King”, which is a completely fictional account grounded in virtually no factual history.

Really, we know very little about that king’s true historical role, but we know much more about the creatures sacred significance in ancient Egypt.

Rare terracotta image of Isis lamenting the loss of Osiris (18th dynasty)

Isis was a goddess in Ancient Egyptian religious beliefs, whose worship spread throughout the Greco-Roman world.

She was worshiped as the ideal mother and wife as well as the patroness of nature and magic.

She was the friend of slaves, sinners, artisans and the downtrodden, but she also listened to the prayers of the wealthy, maidens, aristocrats and rulers.

Isis is often depicted as the mother of Horus, the hawk-headed god of war and protection (although in some traditions Horus’s mother was Hathor).

Isis is also known as protector of the dead and goddess of children.

Scorpions did, during ancient times, inhabit the mostly the deserts of Egypt, as they continue to do so today. Of course, they are found in dry climates throughout the world and are certainly not unique to Egypt.

While the Scorpionidae is relatively harmless. The venom of both scorpions and snakes is neurotoxic, and if their bite results in death, it is by asphyxiation.

Scorpions are certainly well attested from the earliest times in Egypt. During the PredynasticEarly Dynastic Periods, the scorpion is depicted on various painted vessels and carved on schist palettes, as well as sculpted in the round, often in precious metals.

The scorpion ideogram, one of the earliest known hieroglyphic signs, was depicted on wooden and ivory labels found in the early period Dynastic royal necropolis at Abydos and also among the cache of cult equipment of the Early Dynastic temple at Hierakonpolis.

Usually, depictions of the scorpion from ancient Egypt show the animal in side or three-quarter view, with the number of legs varying from three to four pairs.

When drawn in texts or engraved on monuments, it is typically shown flat, positioned either horizontally or, in later periods, vertically, with two to four pairs of legs.

After the Old Kingdom, the scorpion was no longer found on vessels, but was often made into a talisman sculpted in the round.

There were various names for the scorpion in ancient Egypt, and yet, it was actually rarely mentioned in text and is not found at all in the Pyramid Texts, even though serpents and are frequently referred to in those compositions.

In the Coffin Texts, it serves only as the determinative of a goddess. In fact, the scorpion is mostly found in a few medical papyri and particularly magical texts, in formulas either to repel them, conjure away their venom or cure their sting.

Ostraca discovered at Deir el-Medina on the West Bank at ancient Thebes (modern Luxor) mention workers bitten by scorpions, and therefore absent from work.

In the Late Period, several Greek funerary stelae also mention young people who were killed by a scorpion’s sting.

The magical text used to cure such stings is both a treatises with recipes for the bite and a collection of incantations that are a psychological means fortifying the patient.

The incantations are sometimes hidden within mythological events.

The Narmer Paletted

Named after the Horus Narmer, whose titulary appears on both its faces, the Narmer Palette is a flat plate of schist of about 64 cm in height.

Its size, weight and decoration suggest that it was a ceremonial palette, rather than an actual cosmetics palette for daily use.

It was found in Hierakonpolis, the ancient Pre-Dynastic capital located in the south of Egypt, by the British archaeologist J.E. Quibell during the excavation season of 1897/98, in a deposit, along with other artifacts stemming from the early beginnings of the recorded history of Ancient Egypt: fragments of a ceremonial mace head belonging to Narmer and some other mace head fragments inscribed with the name of the Horus “Scorpion”, one of Narmer’s predecessors.

The exact finding circumstances of the palette have not been noted and there appear to be some contradictions in the publication of Quibell’s work at Hierakonpolis.

In a recently published papyrus, a list of snakes in Egypt is provided with descriptions on how to treat, or not treat their bites in cases of high toxicity.

This document belonged to the library of “the exorcisor of the goddess Serket (Selket)”, who was herself a scorpion deity.

When laborers from Egypt went to the turquoise mines in the Sinai, a particularly hot, desert environment, they brought with them “the one who removes scorpions”, servants of the goddess Serket and specialists in the prevention and cure of scorpion stings and snake bites.

Of course, they also took along embalmers for situations where the specialists’ skills were insufficient.

In general few gods were associated with insects or invertebrates in ancient Egypt. Notable among these was Khepri, the personified in the scarab beetle.

There were actually only a very few examples of deified scorpions in ancient Egypt, all of which personified goddesses, mostly as a result of syncretism.

The goddess Serket was the principal divine personification of the scorpion and was usually depicted with a scorpion perched on her head.

She was a protector goddess, perhaps best known to the public at large as one of the four goddesses who’s golden statues surrounded the sarcophagus of Tutankhaman in his tomb.

Her full name, Serket hetyt itself means “she who causes the throat to breath”, referring to the effects of a scorpion sting.

However, there were other gods and goddesses also associated with the scorpion. One of the most famous is Isis, who is said to have been protected from her enemies by seven scorpions.

Isis herself may have at times been depicted in scorpion form, though this is not clear.

Interestingly, it is not Serket, but rather Isis who is more frequently mentioned in many magical spells for scorpion stings.