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Autofellatio and Ontology / Isap kontol sendiri dan ontologi

Ancient Egyptian Religion and the Problem of Closure

© 1995 by David Lorton


What follows is the text of a lecture given at Virginia Commonwealth University on September 20, 1996.

The lecture was written as an outreach to humanists, in particular people in the field of literature, where there has been in the recent past (and in some cases, the present) an interest in the philosophers Martin Heidegger and Jacques Derrida; hence the inclusion of some discussion of these thinkers. Because of its intended audience, the lecture assumes some familiarity with these modern philosophers, but none with ancient Egyptian religion. Since most of the text is concerned with the latter topic, the lecture can serve as an introduction to the subject of ancient Egyptian cosmogony and cosmology.

The first part of the lecture draws principally on received opinion. Since this is a lecture and therefore contains no footnotes, I feel I should acknowledge here the considerable debt my description of the Ennead owes to the discussion by James P. Allen in his book Genesis in Egypt: The Philosophy of Ancient Egyptian Creation Accounts, Yale Egyptological Studies 2 (New Haven, 1988), pp. 3-4 and 8-9. The second part of the lecture, which addresses gender issues in Egyptian cosmology, contains original points that have not yet been published in print.

The lecture is to be accompanied by a handout and a small number of slides. At present, I have been able to include only a part of the handout here. I plan to add the missing items as soon as I'm able, but in the meanwhile, their absence should not interfere with the reader's ability to take in the text.

Since this is a somewhat lengthy text, I recommend printing it out so that you can read it at your leisure. I hope it will prove to be of some interest or value to you.

Part One

In 1979, I translated and commented on a short poem embedded in a prose account of creation in a document known as the "Book of Overthrowing Apophis," one of the religious compositions on Papyrus Bremner-Rhind. We don't know the date of the composition of the text, but an apparently secondary notation, written in a different hand, provides a terminus ante quem for the copy we have, namely, year 12 of Pharaoh Alexander, son of Alexander, that is, 312-311 B.C. (the ancient Egyptian year spanned parts of two of our calendar years). So, the copy might have been made around the time that Alexander the Great conquered Egypt. The poem itself deals with the beginning of creation, when the pantheistic creator god began his process of self-differentiation. Our concern here is not with the analysis, but rather with the straightforward content of the poem. It's quite short, and it begins at the bottom of the first page of the handout and continues onto the second page. Would you take a minute, please, and read it.

handout, page 1

Papyrus Bremner-Rhind 28, 20–24

1 When I had come into being in the being of the Being One who came into being on the First Occasion,
2 when I had come into being in the being of the Being One,
3 it meant that my coming into being was the coming into being of beings,
4 for I am more primeval than the Primeval Ones whom I have created.

5 (Because) I have been primeval among the Primeval Ones,
6 my name is more primeval than they.
7 (And when) I had made the primevalness of the Primeval Ones,
8 I did my every wish in this land in which I had become broad.

9 I had clenched my fist,
10 when I was alone, before they were born:
11 I had not spat out Shu,
12 I had not sputtered out Tefnut

13 I had brought my own mouth,
14 my name was Magic:
15 it was I, who had come into being in being,
16 when I had come into being in the being of the Being One.

17 When I had come into being as the Primeval Ones,
18 a multitude of beings came into being at once, before any being came into being in this land.
19 I had made every created thing,
20 when I was alone, before any other came into being who might act with me in that place.

21 I made beings there through that "soul" (ba) of mine.

To begin, I'd like to raise two points. The first is that, although it's put a bit discreetly, the operative image here would seem to be autofellatio. Ancient Egyptian texts state that the creator god Atum (although in this text the sun god Re is standing in for him), created Shu and Tefnut by spitting, or that he created them by masturbating, but it is unusual to combine the two images. This, in and of itself, invites us to contemplate autofellatio. But, the text is not as discreet as it seems in my translation, because there is, I now feel, a problem in what I did with verse 13. There, I rendered, "I had brought my own mouth," which in and of itself makes no real sense in context. This is indeed a literal translation, but there is a rare idiomatic use of the Egyptian word ini "to bring" in connection with an organ of the body, in which it means "to reach out with and use" the organ: thus, "to bring the arm" can mean "to reach out and use" it.

So: god reached out with his mouth and took the end of his penis in his mouth, and he used his mouth. And, helping things along by masturbating with his fist, god ejaculated into his own mouth, and then he spat out the semen as the god Shu and the goddess Tefnut.

The second point is that, as you read the translation, it probably seemed a bit peculiar. I'm referring especially to verses 1-2, "When I had come into being in the being of the Being One," etc., and to the similarly worded material in verses 15-16. I think that most anglophonic Egyptologists would render these verses as I did, but it has to be admitted that to anyone unable to consult the Egyptian text itself, or without benefit of some special explanation, these passages sound rather like gibberish. With that, we have already run into the problem of the closure of language, in this case, of the English language. It seemed to me that German is a far better vehicle for rendering this text, and in 1986, Eckhard Eichler kindly helped me make a German version of it. Our result is on the next page of the handout; if you would, now, please take a minute and read it.

handout, page 2

1Nachdem ich zum Wesen des Werdenden wurde, der zum ersten Male wurde,
2nachdem ich zum Wesen des Werdenden wurde,
3das war, dass mein Werden das Werden der Werdenden war,
4weil ich urzeitlicher bin als die Urzeitlichen die ich erschuf.

5(Weil) ich urzeitlich war unter den Urzeitlichen,
6mein Name ist urzeitlicher als sie.
7(und als) ich die Urzeit der Urzeitlichen gemacht hatte,
8da machte ich alles, was ich wünschte in diesem Lande, in dem ich weit wurde.

9Ich ballte meine Faust,
10als ich allein war, bevor sie geboren waren:
11ich hatte Schu noch nicht ausgespuckt,
12ich hatte Tefnut noch nicht ausgespien,

13Ich hatte meinen eigenen Mund gebracht,
14mein Name war "Zauber":
15ich war es, der zum Wesen wurde,
16als ich zum Wesen des Werdenden geworden war.

17Als ich zum Urzeitlichen geworden war,
18eine Menge an Wesen waren auf einmal im Werden, bevor irgendein Wesen in diesem Land geworden war.
19Ich hatte alles Gemachte gemacht,
20als ich allein war, bevor irgendein Anderer geworden war, der mit mir an jenem Ort handeln könnte.

21Ich machte Wesen dort durch jene meine "Seele" (ba).

I'm sure that cast into German, the "problem" verses were much more meaningful to you than they were in English, and indeed, the German version more successfully conveys the sense of the Egyptian original. This is because German, like Egyptian, has two words meaning "to be," and the meanings of these pairs are somewhat similar. Roughly corresponding to German sein "to be" and werden "to become" are the Egyptian verbs wenen "to be" indicating existence at all and kheper "to become," with an additional nuance "to be in a particular form." It is the root kheper that is all-important in the "problem" verses, which make the poem an unusual and even Heideggerian meditation (his "Welt weltet," "the world worlds," could be rendered into Egyptian as kheperu khepered) on the significance of kheper-being, which itself is, from the earliest religious texts we have, a critically important concept in Egyptian descriptions of creation and the cosmos. As a dynamic form of being, as a form of being that is always a becoming, the concept characterizes the nature of existence as an ontologically weighted version of what Anaximander otherwise characterized as a physical arche: that is, individual forms (kheperu) come into being (kheper) and pass out of existence, but the material cosmos that god created, that god made out of himself, that is god himself, both materially and ontologically, is itself a dynamic, everlasting kheper. This is not a static Parmenidean cosmos. The ancient Egyptian cosmos is a dynamic, self-generated and ever self-regenerating kheper, which makes this theology an ontotheology par excellence.

But while we could use werden in our German translation with a fair amount of success, we were not entirely successful. The root kheper is used in three ways in the passages, and we could only reproduce two of these with werden. One is a conjugated form of the verb kheper, which was rendered "come into being" in the English version. The second is a noun meaning "entity" or "being" or "form." Where the English version has "the being of the Being One," it could have said, "the form of the Being one," and here, in the German version, we had to use the noun Wesen. The third use of the root kheper, rendered "Being One" in the English version and "Werdende" in the German version, is a noun—Kheprer in early times, and later Khepri—which serves already in the earliest texts as another name for Atum the creator. Atum is thus named, or defined as, kheper-being itself.

So: this poem is telling us that the creator god differentiated himself, although without losing his own identity in the process, and quickly became (as the text puts it) "a multitude of beings." And, the poem is telling us that the process that began and sustains this ongoing kheper-being that is the created cosmos, is that god is always already blowing himself. The process is imaged sexually, a point to which we shall return later.

Now: what does all this imply, if not for morals, at least for metaphysics?

A part of our problem here is the western closures, and getting beyond them if we can, in order to understand this ancient, nonwestern system of thought. I think it would help at this point if you were active participants rather than passive listeners. And so, I'd like to ask you to indulge me and participate in a little experiment in imagination. If you would, then, please close your eyes, or look down, or do whatever might help you to concentrate, and try to imagine two balls, one inside the other.

Try, now, to imagine a globe . . . a ball. The ball is made of matter, but this is chaotic matter, an apeiron. Or, employing an anachronistic concept as a heuristic bridge, try to imagine that this ball is made up of random atoms, that is, matter in a state of entropy. There is nothing outside this ball. Again using a modern concept, this is a self-enclosed universe. This ball is all there is. Now, inside this ball, please picture a second, smaller ball. Its exact size doesn't matter. This smaller ball is thus made of the same matter as that of the outer ball: they are consubstantial. The matter of the inner ball, however, is not random matter. This is some of the matter of the outer ball, but this matter is in a state of energy, and it is in forms. You don't need to try to imagine little forms, but do try to imagine that the inner ball is composed of the same matter as the outer ball, though in a different state or condition. And finally, please imagine that the inner ball is bisected horizontally by a disk; the exact thickness of the disk doesn't really matter. Now, if I've done a good enough job of describing all this to you, the image you have in your mind should look something like the picture on my first slide.

Now, with the picture on the screen, let's cast aside the anachronisms. The Egyptians would not have talked of a self-enclosed universe; I think they simply would have said that the outer ball is infinite. Nor did they speak of atoms: for them, the chaotic matter was a watery element, a shapeless fluid; and their name for this chaos was Nun. Texts never tell us just how or why it happened, but they make it clear that some of the matter we are imaging here as the outer ball distinguished itself from the rest as Atum, who was energized, dynamic kheper-being, and began the process of self-differentiation or becoming (that's kheper again) that resulted in the cosmos we inhabit. In the inner ball, you see the flat earth, and the upper half of the ball is the canopy of heaven, which itself would have had some thickness. The sun travels along this margin between the inner ball and the outer ball, and according to one belief, during the night, it travels along the margin of the bottom canopy and shines on the flip side of the disk, where, according to one opinion concerning life after death, the deceased live. Now, the picture we have been considering is the universe of the ancient Egyptians as implied by a system of thought first attested to us about 2350 B.C., known as the Heliopolitan Cosmogony, because it seems to have originated in the cult center of Heliopolis. The scheme is outlined on the next page of the handout.

Leaving aside Nun for the moment, for he is technically not a part of the scheme, the deities of the cosmogony are nine in number. The Egyptians referred to them collectively as pesdjet, "the Nine," and Egyptologists refer to them as the Ennead, using a Greek word for a group of nine. There is probably a numerical symbolism entailed here. The Egyptians wrote the numeral "1" with one vertical or horizontal stroke, "2" with two strokes, and so forth through "9," which they wrote with nine strokes, arranged aesthetically into three groups of three. They also used three strokes, in their writing system, to indicate plurals. As Hermann Kees has pointed out, the notion of "nine" can therefore be envisioned as the plural of the plural, in other words, "everything": this scheme stands, as we have just seen, for the created universe, for "everything." And "everything" is also, logically enough, the meaning of the name of the god Atum. His name means "the All," which is appropriate to this pantheistic system. It is also possible that there is simultaneously a theologia negativa implied in the name, for it can be viewed as a form of the negative verb tem. (The Egyptian language has a negative verb meaning "to not," which is followed by some other verb in a grammatical form known as the "negatival complement.") As the "Not-one," Atum can be understood as being so thoroughly hidden in the creation he became, that one cannot apprehend him for what he himself really is: he can only be apprehended as the forms he became. And, in the New Kingdom (a period of history from roughly 1600 to 1100 B.C.), when the god Amun-Re could take the place of Atum in this system, the name Amun was punned with the verb imen "to hide" to emphasize this very notion.

Nun is a bit puzzling. His name, originally Nuu, could be related to an old word for "water." It could also be related to the word nu "this," and to understand "Thisness," we could perhaps call on the medieval scholastic concept of quiddity "thisness" by way of a rough analogy. It is also possible that Nuu is to be taken as a participle of the verb nui "to be inert," and beginning in the Middle Kingdom (about 2000 B.C.), the name, in the form Nun, could be written as if it were a participle of the verb neni "to be inert." And with the notion of "the Inert One," it does indeed seem that the Egyptians, in their own way, did have a concept of matter in a state of inertia. And, because the Egyptians wrote under erasure—as we shall see a little later—any or all of these associations could be valid. As a tenth figure, Nun is technically not a part of the "Nine." But it is difficult to think of Atum without Nun, for the two represent the same matter, though in two different states. Because of the notion of Nun as the "Inert One," it is possible, then, to draw an analogy between Nun and Atum on the one hand, and the unmoving and moving parts of Aristotle's Unmoved Mover, on the other. And the comparison is particularly interesting, because, as I'm sure you all can see, this scheme is for all intents and purposes Aristotle's scheme turned inside out. Instead of being absolutely transcendent, the Egyptian First Cause is absolutely immanent.

Moving along, at one period or another in Egyptian history, Shu is identified with dryness, air, and light. We have little information about Tefnut, but as Shu's female counterpart or complement, she might be moisture and darkness. These two principles produce the next pair of deities, and with these, we arrive at the visible cosmos around us, for Geb is the god of the earth, while Nut is the goddess of the sky: thus, heaven and earth. These last produce what occupies the space between heaven and earth, that is to say, our world. Osiris is the king. Actually, he is the deceased king. This scheme is first outlined for us in texts prepared in connection with the royal funeral and afterlife, so it is possible that the scheme was contrived specifically in connection with mortuary beliefs to establish an ontological claim to the afterlife on behalf of the king. On the other hand, if the scheme was originally devised in connection with beliefs held in the land of the living, I suspect that the position of Osiris was originally occupied by the god Horus, who stands for the institution of kingship: each king of Egypt is "a Horus." The name Isis means "throne": she stands for the king's right to rule. Nephthys, whose name is usually rendered "Mistress of the House," is less well understood. In discussing the name of the goddess Hathor, in Egyptian Hut-Her, "House of Horus," Hans Goedicke has suggested that the word hut, which refers not just to a "house" as an individual building but also to a landed estate, actually refers to the world of nature: that is to say, the name actually refers to the natural world in which the king, embodiment of the god Horus, operates. (Egyptian thinking about this world, as you can see, was usually quite Egyptocentric.) Seth, finally, is a strange figure, a negative force who was ultimately an embodiment of both the xenos and the barbaros, although he was sometimes also a force for the good. He seems to stand for what can happen arbitrarily in what, for the Egyptians, was otherwise an ordered and harmonious world. He even seems to be in some part what Sartre has called "the absurd": the ultimate absurdity is death, and indeed, Seth in part serves as an embodiment or mythical prototype of death, for it was he who murdered Osiris.

Now, this scheme we have been looking at is not just an account of a series of events that occurred in a remote, mythic past and resulted in our world. It is also an account meant for all time, an account of the structure of the real world around us. That is to say, this is not just a cosmogony, but also a cosmology. Perhaps it would help you to see that if you would turn the handout upside down, please. The visual effect is a little awkward, but I think it helps. At what is now the top, you see the world of appearances, that is to say, the world as we know it. And proceeding down, step by step, we get to the bottom of everything, to the underlying principle of everything, which is itself named "Everything," that is, Atum, "the All."

We shall return to these matters in a while, but for the moment, let's turn to the second of the two short texts on which this presentation is based. This text is from the Ptolemaic (Hellenistic) period temple of Horus at Edfu. There, beyond the open forecourt and the hypostyle halls of the temple, the large inner part is windowless, though a system of holes on the roof allowed beams of sunlight to play on the depictions and inscriptions carved on the walls. The only exception to this is a staircase area, where there are some little windows for air and light. Beneath one of the windows is a hymn describing the sunrise, which perhaps was recited when the first ray of sunlight entered the window, as a signal for the day's festivities to begin on New Year's and certain other festival days, when the statues of the temple were taken to the rooftop terrace by way of this staircase. The text is on the next page of the handout; would you take a minute, please, and read it. Don't bother with the footnotes; just read the poem itself, please. The text contains some problem spots, as does the one from Papyrus Bremner-Rhind, and it also contains some allusions that need not detain us here. What matters for our purposes here is the nature of what is being said.

handout, page 4

M. Alliot, Le Culte d'Horus à Edfou au temps des Ptolémées, Vol. I, Bibliothèque d'Étude 20 (Cairo, 1949), p. 413

The Sun Disk shining on the eastern side,
Earth's Consort (i.e., the sky) clear of clouds,
Horus-of-the-East glows,
shining in the sky,
having entered the window of the Great Place (i.e., the temple)

The Eastern Ba (i.e., the rising sun), as he races (up) to heaven,
his beams make light in the window!
As Horus-of-Horuses goes out,
having distanced himself to the sky,
may his rays unite with (his) august "body" (i.e., the cult statue of the god)!

He-of-the-dawn, He-who-comes-into-being-in-the-Netherworld at daybreak, his brilliance in [his] house!—
Re presents himself in the eastern highlands,
having flown to the sky,
his sunlight (upon) the Place-of-the-two-deities (i.e., the temple).

Divider-of-sides, having divided the skies,
his brightness illuminates the House of Horus (i.e., the temple)!
As He-who-is-in-the-sky shines on the arms of the Two Sisters (i.e., shines over the pylon of the temple),
may his "birthing" mingle with his image!

Re-the-Great shines in the East,
having cast (his) light on his Seat (i.e., the temple)!
He goes out from Nun,
having left Punt (a land to the southeast of Egypt), having lit up [the temple(?)]
[. . . As he rises] in the eastern highlands, and as he sets in the western highlands (i.e., during the entire course of the day),
his care is upon his Great Place (i.e., the temple)!

May he alight upon his statue [. . .] his "majesty" (i.e., the statue)!
The god, his heart rejoices in goodness,
lasting forever,
shining above,
his statues glowing in Pe (a city in ancient Egypt, here a metaphor for the temple)!

This is no epic. Nor is there much of a plot here: the sun just keeps rising and rising. In fact, the sunrise is described five times, while the sixth stanza is concerned with the special ceremony to come. The descriptions of the sunrise are varied, and they are somewhat incongruous and not entirely compatible with one another. Egyptology as we know it as a discipline was forged in the days of logical positivism, which in itself did not bode well for an appreciation of Egypt's religion. This evident lack of logic bothered earlier Egyptologists, particularly Adolph Erman, whose low opinion of Egyptian religion proved to be rather influential. That attitude began to change after World War II, and the change was largely due to the work of Henri Frankfort, who was able to consider religious material with some real appreciation, and who spoke of phenomena such as what we see in this hymn as a "multiplicity of approaches," and though he did not mention it, what he had to say in fact shows that ancient Egyptian religious expression is in no way incompatible with the basic principles of Aristotelian logic. But his expression "multiplicity of approaches" is quite intra-Egyptological, and in fact is redundant. First, it is redundant to Niels Bohr's concept of "complementarity," which works well to describe the phenomenon, and whose pertinence has meanwhile been noted by U. Berner. Moreover, it is redundant to the humanistic concept of writing under erasure. The Egyptians did not have our modern scientific knowledge, and to them, the processes of nature, and the divine forces behind them, were sources of awe and wonder. Texts describe such things as seshta "mysterious," or seshtau "a mystery." These mysteries could not be solved, but because the Egyptians wanted to understand and talk about such things as best they could, they sometimes imaged a single phenomenon in many ways, each image valid in its own way, from its own perspective, but evidently with no single image in and of itself, and perhaps not even all images taken together, constituting a fully adequate explanation of the "mystery." This poem also allows me to address another issue of interest, namely, the relationship between the visual and the verbal in ancient Egyptian expression. While the writing system is complex, it principally indicates the consonants of the words; but of course, it consists in and of itself of little pictures. This poem illustrates a relationship at a higher level, for various allusions and statements in it would inevitably have conjured up, in the mind of any priest who heard or read it, well-established iconographies. At this point, we can review these.

In the first stanza, the relatively unusual phrase "Horus-of-the-East" is, I think, a scarcely veiled allusion to Re-Horakhty, an age-old syncretism used of the rising sun: the sun-god Re is syncretized, or identified, with Horakhty, a name that means "Horus of the horizon," which is also a solar reference. (SLIDE) Here, in this slide, you see the typical iconography of this god: anthropomorphic, but with a falcon's head, atop which is the sun disk that identifies him. At the temple of Edfu, the epithet "Horus-of-Horuses," which occurs in the second stanza, is sometimes attested in reference to the rising sun as Horus of Edfu, in Egyptian, Hor-Behdety.

Behdety, which means "He-of-Edfu," is the name of the winged sun-disk that is ubiquitous in Egyptian art, and which is often to be seen at the tops of stelae. (SLIDE) And here you see it at the top, the winged sun disk. The third stanza, which mentions the sun flying up to the sky, might also allude to this image, or alternatively, to the winged beetle, the beetle being the hieroglyph for kheper, although the image is known as Apy, the "Flying One."

In the fourth stanza, mention is made of the sun "shining on the arms of the Two Sisters," who in fact are Isis and Nephthys. (SLIDE) Here you see an image of them: the Two Sisters, whose names are written in front of them, are lifting the sun up into the sky. There is, however, a layering of imagery in this allusion, for in the Ptolemaic period, "Two Sisters" was also a name for the pylon (the monumental gateway) of a temple. (SLIDE) The temple of Edfu, like most temples, was oriented towards the sunrise, and to someone standing in the open forecourt of the temple, at some point, there would come a moment when the sun would seem to be resting on the lintel of the gateway between the two towers of the pylon, which are imaged as the "Two Sisters," with their outstretched arms forming the lintel.

The stanza also mentions the "birthing" of the sun, and this refers to one of the beliefs regarding what happens to the sun at night. (SLIDE) According to this belief, at sunset, the sun is swallowed by the sky goddess Nut. During the night, he travels through her body, until finally, over at the business end of her, in the morning, the sun-god is reborn.

The Egyptians wrote under erasure in their art as well, and this is illustrated by the next slide. (SLIDE) Here, we see the sky imaged, not as Nut, but as the goddess Hathor, here shown as a cow. (SLIDE) Next, we see a version of this which just might be unique. For the Egyptians, the sky was feminine, yet here we see the sky—and this is unmistakable, because of the stars depicted on the body—imaged as a very ithyphallic male. Once the separation of the sky and the earth is effected, it is permanent, and down below, his partner, the earth god Geb, is reduced to servicing himself. This representation is from a funerary papyrus, and either this is someone's idea of a dirty joke, or it's an abstruse theological concept wanting an explanation that I am unable to supply. However, if it's a joke, only the top part is a joke, for there are parallels to the bottom part of the representation. (SLIDE) This version is also from a papyrus belonging to an individual, so it could be regarded as suspect. (SLIDE) This version, however, is carved on a wall in the temple of Denderah, and that's no joke. The drawings in the last two slides were made late in the last century, and these are the only reproductions I've seen, so I'm unable to tell you whether the bowdlerization is ancient or modern. But what Geb is supposed to be doing is obvious enough, and with these examples, we have visual parallels to the verbal image in Papyrus Bremner-Rhind, though applied to a different deity.

Finally, in the fifth stanza, we are told, "he goes out from Nun"; a better rendering would be, "he emerges from Nun." (SLIDE) Now, here we have an extremely complex representation, only part of which concerns us here. We see the sun disk, and it's being pushed up by a beetle. Now, the word for the beetle is kheper, and the beetle is used in writing the word kheper-being in the Egyptian writing system; and, as here, it can also be used iconographically to symbolize kheper-being. The Egyptians recognized and worshiped the light and life-giving potency of the sun. And, because they understood the ultimate creator to be invisible or hidden within his creation, to them, it was the sun that was the place in the cosmos where the potency of the creator is most visibly manifest. And so, the beetle is here to remind us that it is the kheper-being of the creator that is the driving force behind the power of the sun. All that is being lifted on the arms of the Two Sisters, whom we've already seen. They are in a boat, a sun-barque; we are informed, in fact, that the sun traveled in one boat through the netherworld at night and another boat in the daytime, as he sailed across the sky, which itself could be imaged as a river of water. And all of that is being lifted on the arms of a figure who is Nun himself. The hieroglyphic caption just below reads, "These two arms emerge from the water, they lift this god." And so we see layer on layer of imaging in this visual writing under erasure.

Before we pass on to Heidegger and Derrida, I'd like to return to the concerns of the first part of this presentation and comment further on the nature of the divine. Earlier, I stressed the importance of kheper-being, this dynamic mode of being, in Egyptian cosmology. This had certainly been undervalued by Egyptologists for a long time, until James Allen quite rightly drew attention to its importance in his book Genesis in Egypt, in 1988. But what has remained undervalued, and so far as I know, even unrecognized, is the importance, in the Egyptian system, of imaging kheper-being as male sexual energy. Now, I don't mean just sexual potency, which can entail the possibility of passive potency, to use St. Thomas Aquinas' distinction. What I mean is what St. Thomas calls "pure act." What I mean is explosive, orgasmic male sexual energy. This has gone unrecognized although references to it are ubiquitous in religious texts, especially from the New Kingdom on, although the concept occurs earlier as well. One reason for this, perhaps, is that the Egyptians tended to make references to it in a manner that is, in its own way, chaste. That is to say: religious texts—hymns and otherwise—tend to consist of long strings of names, epithets, and descriptive phrases expressing a variety of concerns, so that a text can contain a little expression of a sexual nature, such as "who begat himself," sandwiched in between phrases expressing quite different matters. And with that, the importance of such imagery seems to have gone unnoticed.

I have a text, however, which is different in this regard, although not unique. On the exterior wall of the first hypostyle hall of the temple of Edfu, there is a representation of the solar creator god as the sun-god Re, with his seven bas, that is, his seven "forms of manifestation," the seventh of which, incidentally, is named "Ejaculator." The representation is accompanied by a text that begins by expressing the usual sorts of concerns, such as "the great god, lord of heaven," and so forth. Later in the text, we read, "lord of humankind, many of mysterious qualities, the Being united as the one who made all the millions, begetter . . .," and with that, we have the usual sort of sexual reference. But then, having introduced the motif, this text continues: "fucker, who has an orgasm, who ejaculates from (his) penis to create the manifestations of Re, whose flesh is potent, master of his magic and the manifestation of his form, whose life force is potent, whose passion stays hot until (even his) manifestation fucks, who ejaculates as he fucks the virgins." That's god! And this passage is an enthusiastic celebration of his creative, sexual energy.

With that, we should cite the earliest attestation of this concept, set down a good 2000 years earlier than this text, and than Papyrus Bremner-Rhind. There, the text reads, "It is Atum, who came into being (kheper) and masturbated, indeed, in Heliopolis. After he put his penis in his fist, that he might make an orgasm with it, the Two Children, Shu and Tefnut, were born." That's god! He masturbates, he has an orgasm, and that orgasm, as we've seen, is the universe. Employing an available double entendre in English, god literally becomes the universe.

To summarize the metaphysical aspects of all this, god is kheper-being, which is the matter of the cosmos. In defining Atum as being itself, to the ancient Egyptians, being and matter were one and the same, for what they were describing was what we would call matter in a state of energy, the energy being, as they conceived it, kheper. And, the system is pantheistic. That means that as individual entities or forms (kheperu), we all . . . we and everything around us . . .we all are a part of the larger kheper that is god himself in his dynamic, ever self-regenerating mode of being. And, because of the further imaging of kheper-being, that means that we all . . . we and everything around us . . . we all are a part of god's everlasting orgasm. Or, as Derrida would put it, we are all a part of the orgasm that god is always already having.

So much for the meaning of existence and the essence of the divine. Armed with the insights we have won, let us turn, finally, to Heidegger and Derrida. Since you know these thinkers better than I, I shall not presume to lecture to you about them. Rather, what I would like to do is share with you some reactions I had on reading Heidegger's Introduction to Metaphysics and Derrida's Of Grammatology when I read them, as I inevitably had to, as an Egyptologist.

When I first read the Introduction to Metaphysics more than twenty-five years ago, and when I retread it more recently, I was quite surprised. Reading the book as an Egyptologist, I could not avoid the impression that what Heidegger was trying to describe was, for all intents and purposes, the metaphysical system implied by the Heliopolitan Cosmogony. Let me give you a few examples:

for example, when Heidegger explains Greek physis as "self-blossoming emergence (e.g. the emergence of a rose), opening, unfolding . . ." (p. 14; incidentally, knowing that Heidegger rejected a metaphysics of transcendence, medievalists should find Heidegger's choice of the image of the rose intriguing)

or: "Physis means the power that emerges and the enduring realm under its sway. This power of emerging and enduring includes 'becoming' as well as 'being' in the restricted sense of inert duration." (p. 14)

Now, we saw that the Egyptians viewed kheper as power, although for them it was sexual power. Here, it might seem that Heidegger is describing something like Egyptian kheper and wenen, and he does use both werden and sein in the German original of the quotation, but in fact, both things that Heidegger is describing were expressed, for purposes of this system, by kheper. That is, kheper is not just a momentary "becoming"; rather, it also can mean "to be" in duration, but specifically "to be (in a particular form)." In short, the two systems of thought are addressing some of the same issues, although their expression is not identical. I also see some real difference in the following:

"Thus far in our inquiry about being we have striven primarily to grasp the word according to its form and meaning. Now it becomes clear that the question of being is not a matter of grammar and etymology. If in spite of this we again take language as our starting point, a special status must, here and in general, be accorded to the relation between being and language." (p. 87)

This passage occurs shortly after a lengthy etymological investigation of sein. Perhaps the difference I see can be ascribed to the fact that Heidegger is philosophizing in our sense, while the Egyptians expressed themselves with images, but I'm not entirely sure that's the case. Kheper is both a noun and a verb in Egyptian; as god is Kheper, so he khepers, as Papyrus Bremner-Rhind says so eloquently: the ultimate kheper accounts for all khepering, including all individual entities and their khepering. And, somehow, what Papyrus Bremner-Rhind asserts seems satisfying in and of itself. It seems to me that in identifying matter with being itself, the Egyptian vision bypasses problems that detain Heidegger. On the other hand, Heidegger seems close to the Egyptian vision when he writes:

"For Parmenides, too, being was hen, syneches, holding together in itself; mounon, unique and unifying; houlon, complete and fully-standing—the permanently manifested power through which shines perpetually the appearance of the one-and-many sided." (p. 136)

I'm also intrigued by the following:

"Apprehension is not a function that man has as an attribute, but rather the other way around: apprehension is the happening that has man." (p. 141)

In his discussion of human apprehension of being, Heidegger seems primarily to be trying to avoid epistemological concerns, and in his phrase "the happening that has man," his word is Geschehnis, and not a word derived from the root werden. Yet when his phrase is put into English—and I honestly can't tell how true the rendering is to Heidegger's intent—the ontological thrust given to the statement by the rendering of Geschehnis as "happening" again reminds us of the unity of being and matter in ancient Egyptian thought. But even if the rendering is not true to Heidegger's intent, and we take Geschehnis as "occurrence," the Egyptian connection is still there to be made, because "to occur" is one of the meanings of the Egyptian word kheper.

Now, I don't know how well the quotation of a few short passages out of context works for you. All I can say is that reading these and other passages in the full context of Heidegger's discussion, I could not help feeling that Heidegger's vision of a metaphysics of immanence, with its emphasis on the nature of being, bears a very real resemblance to the vision of the Egyptian system as I've just outlined it to you.

On the other hand, Heidegger has some difficulties in expressing his own vision of things, and reading him with a prior knowledge of the Egyptian system, what I believe I catch sight of, for all the power of Heidegger's vision, is the western closures that circumscribe his means of expression. One notes, for instance, the closure of the German language, as he plays with words and builds various compounds on roots to explain what he has in mind. Because I've noted that German is a better language than English for translating the poem in Papyrus Bremner-Rhind, that has to count more as an observation than a criticism. But still, any of us who prefer to read the book in English have reason to be grateful to Ralph Manheim that he had the good sense to include Heidegger's German vocabulary at various critical junctures, for to the extent that Heidegger's discussion works, it works best in German. More serious problems occur, however—as you all know—with Heidegger's discussions of Greek words and his interpretations of the systems of early Greek philosophers in his attempt to establish a pre-Socratic authority for the vision he is attempting to articulate, along with his willingness to valorize the Greek experience, leaves him voluntarily caught in the closure of a particular brand of western philosophy. In short, while I think that Heidegger's genius made it possible for him to break out of the closure of the tradition of an ontotheology of transcendence, he nevertheless remained caught in other closures in his attempt to articulate his vision of a metaphysics of immanence.

Additionally, notwithstanding such similarities as I have professed to see in the two systems, the Egyptians expressed an ontotheology based on their equivalent of the German word werden, while Heidegger constructed a metaphysics of sein. I find something curious in that, because as I think you can now see, Heidegger could conceivably have insisted, in an Anaximandrian fashion, on an enduring arche, while otherwise accounting for change with a metaphysics based on the verb werden. But Heidegger's approach is in a sense a synthesis of his understandings of Parmenides and Heraclitus, and Parmenides wrote of to on: on is the participle of eimi, and eimi is the Greek equivalent of German sein. I wonder whether it was nothing more than a curious lack of imagination, along with a willingness to succumb to the influence of Parmenides, that prevented Heidegger from attempting a metaphysics of immanence whose ontology was based on the more dynamic notion of being to be found in the word werden.

Turning to Derrida, because the Grammatology isn't itself primarily about what we've been concerned with here, he says little that speaks to it. Like Heidegger, Derrida feels that the western tradition of philosophy and theology of transcendence that began with Plato and Aristotle (or actually, a bit earlier) is quite mistaken, and several times in the book, he fulminates against what he calls "ontotheology." I think we can now see that that, in and of itself, is a mistake. Caught as he is in the Western closures, Derrida cannot imagine an ontotheology that is not an ontotheology of transcendence. But, earlier in this presentation, we were considering an ontotheology of immanence. It can be done, and the ancient Egyptians did it. The trace is a difficult concept, and in the relatively few times that he writes of it in the Grammatology, Derrida writes under erasure and describes it differently. Three brief passages inevitably caught my Egyptological eye: "Differance [another name for the trace] is therefore the formation of form. But it is on the other hand the being-imprinted of the imprint" (p. 63); and "The trace is nothing, it is not an entity, it exceeds the question What is? and contingently makes it possible" (p. 75); and there is one further passage the reference to which I've unfortunately lost, but with says something to the effect of, the trace is nothing, it is becoming, it is the possibility of becoming. At this point, I think you can see why these passages interest me. What corresponds to the phenomenon Derrida is trying to describe in the Egyptian system, however, is something quite the opposite of Derrida's trace. In the Egyptian system, what corresponds to the trace is not nothing: it is everything ("Atum," the All), it is an everlasting, always-already becoming (kheper). And because this is an ontotheology of immanence, this everything that is an always-already becoming is the material universe itself, imaged as alive (the system is hylozoistic), imaged as an always-already auto-effected orgasm. Again, as with Heidegger, in identifying matter with being/becoming itself, the Egyptian system seems to achieve its vision in a manner that bypasses the problems that affect Derrida and lead him to posit his difficult concept, the trace. (There was a mistake in what I just said. But it was such an interesting mistake that I decided to leave it in, at least for the time being. I’ll return to it later and correct it.)

At one point in his discussion, in dismissing traditional Western ontotheology, Derrida asserts that this "does not invoke a return to a prescientific or infra-philosophic form of discourse" (p. 93). In her introduction to the English translation, Spivak rightly notes that Derrida is affected by an odd ethnocentrism of his own, and that he does not really give the East a fair and adequate consideration (p. lxxxii). And I can't help suggesting that the little passage I just quoted might furnish the clue as to why this is so. Philosophy as we know it is a Western phenomenon, and Derrida wants to philosophize. (I say this notwithstanding the fact that there is a traditional rabbinic system of logic, and that there is Indian philosophy; but nothing in the Grammatology suggests an interest in them on Derrida's part.) In any event, while Derrida rejects the old tradition of Western ontotheology, he is nevertheless a philosopher in the tradition of Heidegger and of Heidegger's intellectual predecessors, and that is also a western tradition. Now, consider for a moment the prefixes of Derrida's words "prescientific" and "infra-philosophic." "Pre-" might or might not be value-laden, but "infra-" most certainly is. It would seem that Derrida is committed to thinking, to philosophizing, as a westerner. This determination could be taken as strange, given that he himself is not a westerner, but rather an Algerian Jew, and thus grew up at least exposed to nonwestern traditions. Spivak notes this fact at the beginning of her introduction to the English translation of the Grammatology, and she notes Derrida's brand of ethnocentrism near the end, and these placements might signal a subtext of her own. I do not, however, really mean to be personal in this. I would not, for instance, resort to juvenile pop psychology and theorize that Derrida is affected by Jewish self-hatred, for what he does could just as easily be motivated by ethnic pride. I understand that there might be some reflection of Derrida's relationship to his own ethnicity in his writings, but here, I choose not to apply biography to ideas presented by Derrida for consideration on their merits. I am a student of a nonwestern culture who happens to have read the Grammatology, and my point is intellectual, not personal, and that is that Derrida, notwithstanding his background and the awareness he betrays of nonwestern cultures in the Grammatology, has made an ethnocentrically western intellectual commitment that led him, in the short passage I quoted, consciously and deliberately to reject the value of nonwestern modes of thought. As so, while I cannot help but recognize that Derrida has succeeded, after a fashion, in piercing the closure of the dominant tradition of Western philosophy and theology, as an Egyptologist, I also cannot help but see that he is also caught within western closures. And with that, I cannot help but wonder what Derrida, with his rejection of transcendence, might have written if he had turned away from his (as it were) ethnocentrism and explored nonwestern systems of thought, or more specifically, this ancient Egyptian system, this ontotheology of immanence, in which the material universe is self-generated and ever self-regenerating, and in which, according to Papyrus Bremner-Rhind, that is because god is always already blowing himself? Or, at least, he's always already having an orgasm as he masturbates. And with that, I hope I've succeeded in rescuing poor Mr. Rousseau from Derrida's attack on him in Part II of the Grammatology.

Part Two

The preceding was what I had originally written regarding the philosophy and theology of immanence. Subsequently, I had some further thoughts about ancient Egyptian religion, and these would perhaps have been of too parochial an interest, except that they brought me unexpectedly back to Derrida. And with that, they seemed worth communicating here.

What prompts this second part of the presentation is my reaction to a paper by the late Jan Zandee. When I came across what I took to be references to divine autofellatio, I thought this was an original observation, but it turned out that Zandee had anticipated me in a paper published in volume 100 of the Zeitschrift für ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde in 1973. He wrote of this again in the Griffiths Festschrift in 1992. In any event, the question comes naturally to mind whether the image is always autofellatio, even when the texts happen to mention only spitting or masturbation. After all, autofellatio is so much more intellectually satisfying. Otherwise, we are presented with an initial creation plus a creatio continua; autofellatio provides a satisfying resolution of what are otherwise two separate stages into a single image. But as tempting as the idea might seem, I think it is better to be conservative, and to see in any given reference only what is explicitly stated, for spitting and masturbation are in and of themselves adequate images of the underlying liquidity of everything, that is to say, the Nun-ness, the liquid quality of the underlying primal chaotic matter out of which the cosmos emerged. But Zandee's second paper was principally about another theme, namely, bisexual imaging of creation. Zandee took this to mean that Atum was conceived of as androgynous or bisexual. Personally, I found that very troubling. The word "androgynous," which Zandee presumably borrowed from Classics, conjures up the wrong images, images from Marie Delcourt's wonderful book Hermaphrodite: the image of Hermaphrodite himself, the youth with female breasts and male genitals; or the sexually ambiguous old Latin deities; or the successive androgyny of the seer Tiresias, who was born a boy, lived life as a woman, and died after seven or nine generations as a fabulously old man; or Zeus Labrandeus, with his beard and his six artificial breasts. I think that anyone who knows ancient Egyptian religion will agree that these are not images of Atum. The term "bisexual" is perhaps more acceptable, but my purpose here is philosophical, and I should like to suggest that the expression "dyadic gendering" is preferable. To help elucidate the problem, let us return to the passage we considered earlier from the Pyramid Texts of the late third millennium. These texts are not much concerned with cosmogony: we find the deities of the Ennead listed a few times, we find creation by spitting mentioned twice, and there is a single mention of creation by masturbation, which I read to you earlier. In the ancient Egyptian language, all nouns are either masculine or feminine, and in the clause "after he put his penis in his fist," the words for "penis" and "fist" are grammatically masculine. As it happens, there are also grammatically feminine terms for these body parts, and since the evidence explored by Zandee mostly entails the introduction of such terminology into statements about creation, it is essential to note that in the Pyramid Texts, which make statements about creation in terms of the religious thinking of the city of Heliopolis, near modern Cairo and thus near the apex of the Nile delta, what we find said is exclusively male: Atum is male, and the process of creation is imaged with the help of terms that are grammatically masculine. The only thing feminine in this description, interestingly enough, is the word for Atum's orgasm, nedjmemet, which is grammatically feminine. But the orgasm is the result of the process of masturbation: Atum and the process itself are masculine. The ancient Egyptian language also has several words for "orgasm," some of which are masculine. I think the person who wrote the text was choosing his words carefully, and that we have here a theological expression of a typically Egyptian sort: what Atum's orgasm becomes is the remainder of the Ennead, and the Egyptian word for "Ennead," pesdjet, is grammatically feminine.

We must also note that conceptually, the point of a monadically male Atum producing a bisexual dyad is to account for unity and diversity. In Nun and the sexually monadic Atum, we see an assertion of the fundamental unity of all matter, although Atum is some of that matter in a different mode of existence from the rest, while in the remainder of the Ennead, which is sexually dyadic, we see an account of the diversity of forms in the world around us. Put in ancient Egyptian terms, Atum the monad was what there was "before two things (i.e., duality) came into being (kheper)." And since the ancient Egyptians anthropomorphized and theriomorphized in their religious thinking, they expressed abstract theological concepts biologically. And since they expressed the unity of all the matter of the created cosmos as a male monad, they were reduced to positing that Atum spat or performed a non-natural sex act—masturbation or autofellatio—on himself in order to get creation going. So despite the introduction of bisexual imagery, we must see Atum himself as relentlessly male, and that is what can produce violently phallic and orgasmic imaging of the creator, such as the "fucker who has an orgasm" passage that I read to you earlier.

The period that saw the construction of the principal monuments in which the Pyramid Texts are preserved lasted from about 2350 to 2100. The Coffin Texts, a body of mortuary literature that we see as a development from the Pyramid Texts, are attested to us principally from a period that begins a little later, about 2000, and from a little farther south, from a region we call Middle Egypt. As it happens, the Coffin Texts contain more material about creation than do the Pyramid Texts, and as noted, we find in it the introduction of the bisexual imagery that caused Zandee to posit that Atum was androgynous, and which, as it happens, also prompted Gertie Englund and Vincent Tobin to mention the same idea in passing a few years earlier. And once this imagery was introduced, it remained in the literature of pharaonic religion. The following two examples typify the evidence surveyed by Zandee. The first passage is from Coffin Texts spell 77, where the following words are placed in the mouth of the deceased: "I am that manifestation of Shu, first(born) of the blazing heat. When Atum had ejaculated by means of his hand, as he had the orgasm, the choice liquid flowed into his mouth." The text then goes on to speak of the spitting out of Shu and Tefnut. As Zandee points out, something interesting has happened here. In the passage from the Pyramid Texts, the word khefa "fist" is grammatically masculine. But here, in the present passage, the noun djerit "hand" is grammatically feminine, and with that, a female allusion is introduced. And in the passage I read to you earlier from the temple of Edfu, where the text says, "who ejaculates from his penis to produce the manifestations of Re," the word for "penis," djet, is grammatically feminine. And with that, god's penis has been feminized. The second example from the Coffin Texts is from spell 245, where the deceased says to Kheperi, that is, to Atum under his other name, "I am indeed this semen that you had conceived in your mouth. It was by your hand and by coming that you conceived me." In this spell, in which the deceased is identified with Shu and Tefnut and thus said to be conceived by Atum, a female process—conception—is said to occur in Atum's mouth, the word for which, by the way, is grammatically masculine. Furthermore, giving birth in ancient Egypt was mesi—the verb mesi, "to give birth." This verb is also used in accounts of creation, as Zandee has pointed out in his study. The verb is only applied to male figures in the divine realm; it is not applied to humans as a synonym for "to engender." And thus, again, we have a female concept brought into a relationship with the creator god. As it happens, the word mesi occurs in the passage from the Pyramid Texts: mes(u) saty senty Shu hena Tefnut "the two children, Shu and Tefnut, were born." But here, the verb is in the passive, so that its subject is not Atum, but rather Shu and Tefnut, and strictly speaking, the text is telling us what happened to the latter two deities, using "were born" as though it were a synonym for "came into being," while it is not telling us what Atum was doing. This is admittedly hairsplitting, but we must look carefully at what texts are saying, and we must also be attentive to the possibility of developments over time. But we are also at the mercy of the hazards of the preservation of evidence, and of we pose the question whether bisexual imagery was employed in accounts of creation in the Old Kingdom, I think we must conclude that the information in the only reference preserved to us for creation by a sexual act, the information is ambiguous: henen and khefa, the words for "penis" and "fist," are grammatically masculine, while Atum is not the subject of the verb mesi, so that reading the passage most literally, he is not said to give birth.

But the imagery is clearly at work in the Coffin Texts, as Zandee has shown. I do not, however, think that the images serve to make Atum bisexual. Again, we must look closely at what the texts are saying. Atum himself is thoroughly male. The verbs "to conceive" and "to give birth" evoke female processes, but nowhere is Atum credited with any female organs, which is the real requirement for androgyny. When a text uses a feminine noun for Atum's hand or penis, the imagery serves to suggest a feminine aspect in connection with what is nevertheless a thoroughly male autoerotic act, while no amount of grammatical gendering can alter the fact that the virile member of the creator remains immaculately male. Indeed, in languages that have grammatical gender, including modern languages, the words for body parts can differ in gender, with no regard for whether or not the individual whose body is in question is male or female. Thus, Atum himself is masculine, while the process he undergoes can be imaged with verbs indicating female processes and nouns of either gender, that is, the process of creation can be imaged bisexually.

The expression of Egyptian religious thought can be quite different from that of western thought, and so it is worth mentioning here that even in western thinking about a transcendent first principle, androgyny appears as an image of self-generation and self-regeneration in Orphic cosmogonies and in non-Christian philosophies of the early Christian era, and in the myth of the Phoenix. In all these cases, however, it is the deity who is androgynous, while the ancient Egyptian Atum was not sexually dimorphic. But in the thought of Philo Judaeus, the Alexandrian Jewish Neoplatonist, while God contains the ideas (Platonic ideas, of course) of male and female, God is not Himself androgynous. Here, with the drawing of a distinction between maleness and femaleness on the one hand, and the deity himself on the other hand, we have something roughly analogous to the ancient Egyptian religious belief that had the sexually monadic god Atum become the sexual dyad Shu and Tefnut by putting himself through a process that can be imaged bisexually, though he himself remains male. One text goes so far as emphatically to deny the creator's bisexuality: "He fucked his fist because there was no vagina." This god is pure act, as stated earlier, he is pure orgasmic act. At first, I thought an attempt was being made in all this to resolve the philosophical problem of expressing his potential for being a dyad without acknowledging any passive potency in god by referring the potential to the processing of the orgasm. That, however, raised the serious problem of how the Egyptians could possibly come to or formulate the problem, given the closures of their religious thought and of their language. In the German-to-Egyptian volume of the Wörterbuch der Ägyptische Sprache, the standard dictionary we all consult, there are no entries for the concepts "passivity" or "potentiality," and the only entry for the meaning "possible" (möglich) is an idiom expressing the notion that something is possible for someone, and that is, believe it or not, kheper en, that is, something "happens" or "occurs" (one of the meanings of kheper) to someone: in other words, there is an idiomatic use of the expression in contexts where we might prefer to render "possible," possible" (French) or möglich (German) in modern western languages, although the nuance expressed by these words is not actually present in the Egyptian. In short, while it is natural enough for a westerner to entertain the scholastic notion of passive potency in attempting to explain the presence of dyadic imagery in Egyptian expressions of the process of creation, this particular philosophic issue evidently lay outside the conceptual realm of a system of religious thought that dealt with the divine in terms of bodies, body parts, and bodily processes. While the intent behind the imagery can only be guessed at, this is a juncture where some guess might indeed be in order. I think you all can appreciate the point that Atum, gendered monadically, can represent the fundamental unity of all matter in a pantheistic system of religious thought that images biologically, although the male gendering of Atum lends a distinctly androcentric cast to this system of thought. On the other hand, the diversity of forms in the world around us is obvious, and the dyadic gendering represented by the pair male/female is an equally obvious expression of it, as we indeed find in the pair Shu and Tefnut and in the remaining pairs of the Ennead. (For us, this is true for the animate world at least, but in the hylozoistic thought of the ancient Egyptians, and here we must also bear in mind that in their language, all nouns were grammatically masculine or feminine, this was true for all the natural world.) And, further, as I shall discuss momentarily, there was another system we call the Ogdoad, and that system was balanced with regard to gender. To put a process of creation that is gendered dyadically into the moment of creation, along with the monadically male creator god, clearly has the result of injecting a decided gender balance into an image that is otherwise decidedly androcentric, and I would venture to guess, with all due reserve, that that might even have been the intention. And with that, in the imagery of the Coffin Texts studied by Zandee, we see that the autogenesis of the Pyramid Texts has been turned into autofructification.

But in this, we can see a somewhat disconcerting artificiality in what I described as the imaginational conception of a process that is otherwise treated as so physically direct, and the concomitant complication of what had been, in the Pyramid Texts, simple. This complication at the imaginal level is virtually a metaphysical conceit, and this in a system that can be so obscenely primitive and straightforward in its means of expressing creation. In short, there seems to be an odd obsession with elaborating on the notion of a dyad at work here. I felt uncomfortable with that, and I began to think more generally about the evidence for Egyptian religious thought as it is preserved to us.

And with that, I should like to propose a direct answer to the dilemma, namely, that lying behind this heightened concern with the notion of dyadic gender, or at the very least going hand in glove with it, is the Ogdoad, yet another cosmogonical scheme, cooked up in the city of Hermopolis in Middle Egypt, whence stems most of our evidence for the Coffin Texts. The Ogdoad, called Khemeniu "Eight" by the Egyptians, and Ogdoad, a Greek word for a group of eight, by us, constitutes a description of the primeval chaos. In this system, the chaos is described as comprised of four male-female pairs of deities: Kek and Kauket, "darkness"; Amun and Amaunet, "hiddenness"; Heh and Hauhet, "infinity"; and Nun and Naunet, "water." These deities produce the sun. Or, to reformulate the matter for the purposes of this discussion, the system describes the primeval chaos as dark, hidden, infinite water . . . dyadically gendered.

In the Pyramid Texts, the only spell mentioning the Ogdoad is spell 301, where all eight deities are not enumerated. Only Nun and Naunet are named, along with Amun and Amaunet, and the spell refers to them with an obscure word mechenemty, which Faulkner translated "protectors (?) of the gods," connecting the word with the root chenem "protect," though I think it might better be rendered "modelers," taking it as an instance of the better-attested root chenem "to model," in the sense of "creators."

The spell also mentions Atum and a divine figure called Ruti, as well as Shu and Tefnut, and states that they made the gods, begot the gods, and established the gods. And interestingly enough, this is not a text about cosmology, but rather an offering text: as these groups of deities are addressed, an unidentified speaker says to them, "you have your offering loaf." So, in this offering context, the two systems of thought are mentioned on a pars pro toto basis, and they are treated as comparable, that is to say, both groups of deities are involved with creation. But this is the only allusion to the Ogdoad in the entire corpus of the Pyramid Texts. It certainly betrays an awareness of it in Heliopolis in this earlier period, but tempting as it might be to do so, and it is just possible that the religious thinkers had combined the two systems into a larger Gestalt at this time.

What their early contemporaries in Hermopolis were thinking, we don't know. But just a little later, when evidence of their thought appears written on coffins that have survived to us, we find both systems—the Ennead and the Ogdoad—articulated in some of the spells. That is to say, the two systems were on the minds of the same thinkers at the same time. The next important evidence stems from much later, around 500 B.C., in the lengthy hymnic material in the temple of Hibis, which was built under the Persian emperor Darius. There, mentions of the Ogdoad and the Ennead are thoroughly commingled, clearly indicating that they were joined to form a larger theological system.

Returning to the Coffin Texts, I am noting that the Ogdoad, with its theology of a dyadic primeval chaos, appears in this corpus of texts along with the Ennead. And, as noted earlier, the dyadic imagery studied by Zandee also appears there, imagery that adds diadically gendered descriptive elements to the process of creation, and in some of the very same spells that mention both the Ennead and the Ogdoad. It is certainly tempting to think of a cause and effect relationship between these two manifestations, although that is beyond any means of proof. But I think you can see that because both entail sexual dyads, there is a connection to be made.

Now, in scholarship on Egyptian religion, the Ennead and the Ogdoad have heretofore been treated separately, and of course they did have their origins in different cities. But I think that this has led to a wrong kind of pigeonholing of thought, and with that, as can happen, the obvious has been overlooked. What I want to suggest here is that despite the separate origins of these systems of creation, they can easily be juxtaposed, and without that constituting a writing under erasure. If the two systems were known to the same people at the same time, as in fact they were, it is not at all surprising that the two systems were combined, because they complement one another. In the Enneadal thinking of the Heliopolitan Cosmogony, nothing is really said about Nun: he is just the primeval chaos, just inert matter, just there. But when the two systems are joined, the Ogdoad provides a theology of the primeval chaos, while the Ennead provides a theology of the created cosmos. And conceptually, it was very easy to reconcile the sun created by the Ogdoad in Hermopolitan thinking with the creator god Atum of the Ennead, because the syncretism of the solar creator god, that is to say, the syncretistic deity Re-Atum, was already in place in the Pyramid Texts.

Now, in the Ennead, we have seen a pantheism, one in which Atum, "the All," begins a process of self-differentiation into the cosmos, the world in which we live. With the joining of the Ogdoad to the Ennead, we arrive at a more pantoscopic pantheism, one that takes into fuller account the unity of all matter by providing a theology of both the chaos and the cosmos. Put into our own, abstract terminology, with the combining of the two systems, we now have a more comprehensive system in which the primeval chaos is imaged as dyadic, and a part of it is momentarily a monad—or, if you prefer, passes through a monadic moment—and acts on itself in a dyadic manner, and then redyadalizes as the world we know.

Now, all this is getting very complicated, so I'm going to put a diagram on the board for you: ? . . .? There: with the ends closed, it looks much neater, and I've put an "O" up top and an "E" down below. So: here is the Ogdoad; and here is Atum, blowing himself; and here is the remainder of the Ennead.

This is not a figure from ancient Egyptian art. This is simply a figure I made in my mind to help my thinking along as I contemplated the joining of the two systems of thought and the theological implications of doing that. Since matter has extension in space, when I originally pictured this figure in my mind, I thought of it as representing something spatial, a visual writing under erasure that represented an alternative to the image of the outer and the inner balls that we considered earlier. But then I realized that I had reduced Atum, "the All," to a dimensionless point, and I had no passage from any Egyptian text that I could cite to authorize me to do that. But then I realized that if I imagined the point temporally, the figure was valid, because there is plenty of textual evidence to authorize it. Egyptian texts frequently refer to the moment of creation, when the creator god actualized himself as Shu and Tefnut, as sep tepy, "the first moment," and sometimes as shaa kheper, "the beginning of kheper-being."

Now, because we were all taught it at a relatively young age, we are accustomed to thinking of a point as dimensionless. But in fact, though the ancient Egyptians did do some rough and ready geometry, we don't have their definitions of terms, and so it must remain uncertain whether they understood a point to be dimensionless, or more to the point, whether they ever even saw a sep, an "occasion" or "moment," as a point in time, or whether they saw it rather as a segment of time of some duration, however brief. Indeed, Volume 6 of the Wörterbuch lists no word for a geometrical point under "Punkt," nor does it indicate any way to express the notion of a point in time in ancient Egyptian under "Zeit." So when we look at this figure representing the combined Ogdoad and Ennead, and when we look at the intersection of the two lines and see it temporally as the sep tepy, "the first moment," we must content ourselves with an imprecise understanding of what the Egyptians meant by it regarding its dimension.

But if we allow ourselves to be moderns, as we of course may—and as of course we must—and if we look at this representation of the Egyptian system as a geometric figure and understand the point of intersection of the two lines of the "X" as temporally dimensionless, then, there . . . there it is . . . we've located it: we've located the Derridean trace.

The trace is nothing, and that's not easy to find. You kind of have to sneak up on it. But, we've done it: we've located the trace. The trace is a difficult concept, and when I read the Grammatology, I wondered whether it was a valid concept. And because I'm not a philosopher, I didn't worry about it very much. But now that I've located it, I can verify that, at least to my own satisfaction, the trace is a valid concept. That vindicates Derrida. But that also vindicates my complaint with Derrida, because I verified his concept with the help of a nonwestern system of thought.

With that, we can identify the error I made in the first part of this presentation, when I stated, "What corresponds to the phenomenon Derrida is trying to describe in the Egyptian system, however, is something quite the opposite of Derrida's trace. What corresponds to the trace is not nothing, it is everything ("Atum") . . ." Now, I think I was correct in postulating that Atum and the trace somehow belong together. My mistake was that in understanding Atum as matter with spatial dimension, I allowed myself to think of the trace in spatial terms. I could have avoided that problem if I had thought of the trace temporally and pictured Atum in his sep tepy, his "first moment," as passing through the Derridean trace, that interstitial nothing that Derrida calls "becoming," which he calls "the formation of form," and which Papyrus Bremner-Rhind calls the khepering of kheper, which in its turn, because of the semantic range of the ancient Egyptian root, can be translated into English as the "becoming of becoming" or "the formation of form."

Still, I must be careful to note that despite what I said about Atum, the “first moment,” and the trace, I am not necessarily implying that the trace is a temporal concept. The one thing that Derrida says repeatedly about the trace is that it is nothing, and for him, it apparently follows that the trace is neither spatial nor temporal. It should be clear enough that what the Derridean trace and Atum’s sep tepy, his “first moment,” actually have in common is their interstitial quality, their position that accounts for both differing and deferring, and which Derrida at one point images as la brisure, “the hinge.”

In closing, I would like to offer some words of advocacy. I have always considered myself to be a humanist who happens to study ancient Egypt, and while Near Eastern studies is a field in which most practitioners seem to be content to wallow in technical details, at least a few of us insist that to understand the ancient cultures we study, we must draw upon the relevant concepts and methods of other disciplines, particularly anthropology and the humanities. But to do this is not just to bring these disciplines to the study of these cultures, but also to bring these ancient cultural expressions into the purview of these disciplines. Though the primary concern of humanists has traditionally been with the preservation and pursuit of western cultural expression, the impact of the Bible on the west, as well as the interest of certain classical writers in Egypt and other nations create a tangible bridge to these eastern lands. But direct contacts or influences are not the only reasons for humanistic interest in nonwestern cultures, Near Eastern or otherwise, especially the literate high cultures. Questions of direct influence are both real and legitimate. But interest in nonalphabetic scripts, as evinced for instance by Derrida, reveals another level of concern. And though it might be difficult to do, bringing western and nonwestern thought into a direct dialogue with one another is yet another means of exploring their mutual relevance. I don’t know how well I’ve succeeded, but I hope that my attempt to do the last has awakened at least some interest on your part.

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