Basics of Kushite Religion: The Story of Creation, Jebel Barkal, and Maat
Sources of knowledge on religion in Nubia may be traced back to about 6000 BC (Khartoum Paleolithic), as indicated by the deceased positions, the burial items, as well as various indicators of religious rites and rituals. Nevertheless, the material finds for these periods is too much limited to allow for some solid conclusions on the theology of the period.
Ta Seti, in Ancient Egyptian means ‘Land of the Bow’ or Nubia, was described by Old Kingdom pharaohs as composed of tribes, chiefdoms, and proto-kingdoms.1 Probably, each of these tribes had its own deity. However, later by the time the kingdom of Kerma was formed, some common concepts helped to bring various deities together.
The Story of Creation:
According to Kushite (Nubian) beliefs, before creation, the world was all covered with water.2 Then a mound of earth has risen out of the water. On top of this mound, Atum the first god on earth, was born. Atum then gave birth to Shu, the first man on earth, and Tefnut, the first woman goddess. Shu and Tefnu married and gave birth to Geb (the god of Earth) and Nut (god of the Skies). Geb and Nut then were responsible for giving birth to the most important gods in Nubia, Osiris (god of the pharaohs) and Seth (god of devastation), and Isis (god of motherhood)and Nephthys (protector of the dead). Atum signified the concept of creation. Atum was also believed to have created the heavens and earth. He was portrayed as an old man and sometimes with a ram head in connection to Amon.
Re was the most publicly worshiped form of Atum, though the cult of Re emerged as a universal god. The symbol of Re is a sun disk, which is found to be pictured on chapels of pyramids as well as on temples.
Jebel-Barkal (in Arabic meaning the Holly Mountain) , in Napata (capital of Kush), Sudan. Both the Kushites and Egyptians believed that Jebel-Barkal was the site where life on earth had started. Thus, this mountain functioned, throughout history, as the center of religious life in Nubia. There, numerous temples had been constructed, including the Amon temple where the major religious ceremonies took place and the annotation of pharaohs. During religious festivals, these temples would have gotten crowded with pilgrims who traveled from distant places to pay homage to the Nubian deities.
Maat is the concept of order and righteousness that was required of rulers to adhere to, and judge by. The concept shaped Kushite politics and played a role similar to the constitution. According to Maat, however, the priests had the right to decide whether a king was ruling properly or not. If they decided that a ruler was inconsistent with the Maat doctrine, they could process an order that he or she commit a suicide.
The system of Maat, however, had also helped to preserve a sense of order and morality among common people. Opposite to meaning of Maat was the function of God Seth, who was believed to cause disorder and challenge immoral behavior and ignite evil acts. Yet, dealing with him in the religious rituals, the Seth had an important role to play accomplishing the function of Maat. This concept remained the main doctrine in Nubia throughout its pagan history.
Amon:Material items found at the Deffufa temple in Kerma (built around 1600 BC) are considered revolutionary in helping to understand the origins of Kushite belief systems. There, statues of Amon, the ram-headed the creator god, were clearly labeled and sculptured. At a later date, this cult was worshiped in Thebes and became the most prominent god in ancient Egypt.Throughout the history of Nubia, Amon remained the chief deity, which greatly shaped the order in which the Kushite pharaohs ruled. One inscription states that King Tanwetamany attacked the Assyrians in Lower Egypt as a response to a vision that he saw in sleep that Amon assured his success. Again, when Tanwetamani withdrew his forces from Lower Egypt, Herodotus tells us that the King’s action was a result of a dream, in which God Amon told him to withdraw.The Nubians believed that the priests had their spiritual ways to communicate with God Amon in order to consult with him on the election of the righteous king from among the candidate family members. At Amon Temple in Napata, in front of the cult of Amon in the holly sanctuary of the temple, the chosen Kushite king was anointed and declared pharaoh.3
- 1 D. O’Connor, Ancient Nubia: Egypt’s Rival in Africa (University of Pennsylvania P, 1994) 22, and Ancient Sudan-Early States and Cultures, and the A-Group Proto-Kingdom (Click here for link).
- 2 For example see: “Nubian/Egyptian Gods and Godesses,” DigNubia, Education Development Center, Inc. Dec. 2008 <http://www.dignubia.org/bookshelf/goddesses.php>.
- 3 E. A. W. Budge, Gods of the Egyptians Part 2: Studies in Egyptian Mythology (Kessinger Publishing, 2003) 40, Association for the Study of Northwest Semitic Languages in South Africa, University of Stellenbosch Dept. of Ancient Near Eastern Studies, Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages (Dept. of Ancient Near Eastern Studies, Univ. of Stellenbosch, 2001), and E. A.W. Budge, Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection (Courier Dover Publications, 1973) 244-6.