Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt
Page: 124Asiatic Gods
Semitic Asia supplied the greatest number of gods borrowed by the Egyptians, foremost among them being Baal, Ashtoreth, Anthat, Reshpu, and the goddess Qetesh. The greatest of all is, of course, the Syrian Baal, the terrible god of war, also a personification of those terrors of the desert, the burning heat of the sun and the destroying wind. This god first became known to the Egyptians under the[Pg 277] Eighteenth Dynasty, when they were at war with the Syrians for centuries, and, as they had proved anything but easily vanquished foes, their god must be regarded with due reverence and awe. The Ramessides especially esteemed this deity, and "had a special predilection for calling themselves as brave and mighty as Baal in heaven," and under Rameses II a temple of the god existed at Tanis, where this king carried out his architectural undertakings on such a large scale. To a certain extent Baal was identified with Set, for a figure of the fabulous animal in which the latter became incarnate is placed by the Egyptians after their transliterations of the name Baal, from which it is evident that they believed the two gods to have qualities and attributes in common. Indeed, in one case, that of the texts of Edfû, wherein is related the legend of the Winged Sun Disk, the name of Baal is substituted for that of Set. Unfortunately, of his form and rites nothing is known.
Anthat was a war-goddess whose cult was widespread in Syria, and at the time when the Egyptians were making their Asiatic Empire she naturally became one of the adopted deities. Again, the huge number of Syrian captives brought into Egypt would undoubtedly introduce her worship as well as that of others into the country, and therefore it is no surprise to learn that in the reign of Thothmes III a shrine was built and dedicated to Anthat at Thebes. Rameses II, of the Nineteenth Dynasty, honoured this goddess often in his inscriptions, a custom followed by Rameses III, also a great warrior, and the latter gave to his favourite daughter the name of Banth-Anth, 'daughter of Anth.' Of the form of her worship little is known, but on Egyptian monuments she is called the "lady of heaven and mistress of the gods," and is depicted seated on a[Pg 278] throne or standing upright. Seated, she wields a club with her left hand, and with her right holds spear and shield; standing, she is shown wearing a panther-skin, with the emblem of life in her left hand, while in the right she holds a papyrus sceptre. On her head is the White Crown. Her worship was well established in Egypt, and in time she was identified with the native gods, and even said to have been produced by Set.
Ashtoreth was called by the Egyptians "mistress of horses, lady of the chariot, dweller in Apollinopolis Magna." She is a Syrian deity, the terrible and destroying goddess of war, and her cult would seem to have been brought into Egypt during the Syrian campaign of Thothmes III. Her worship seems to have been well established in the country by the time of Amen-hetep III, for in a letter from Tushratta, king of the Mitanni, to this Pharaoh, he speaks of "Ishtar of Nineveh, Lady of the World," going down into Egypt in his own reign and that of his father, and seems to infer that her worship there has declined, for he begs Amen-hetep to make it increase tenfold. That it was widespread cannot be doubted. It flourished in the Delta, and was known there down to Christian times. The eastern quarter of Tanis was dedicated to Ashtoreth as was a temple near by on the shores of the Serbonian lake. Mention is made of a priest of Memphis who served Ashtoreth together with the moon-god Ah, for she was also regarded as a moon-goddess, and was identified with one of the forms of Hathor, or Isis-Hathor. In the treaty concluded between the Kheta and the Egyptians she is mentioned as the national goddess of the Syrians, though by this time she was[Pg 279] also a familiar deity to the Egyptians, for proper names compounded with hers were current, and Rameses II, who had named his daughter after Anthat, also named one of his sons after Ashtoreth: Mer-Astrot. Her designation 'lady of horses and chariots' shows the comparatively late period at which she entered Egypt, for it was only about 1800 B.C., at the earliest during the Hyksos period, that the Egyptians learned from the Semites of the Eastern Desert how to use horses in war for charging and for drawing war-chariots. Ashtoreth is depicted as lioness-headed, and mounted on a quadriga, she drives her rampant horses over prostrate foes, and thus was the guide of the madly rushing war-chariot on the battlefield.