We have occasionally been asked some questions pertaining to the interrelationship (or lack thereof) between the Egyptian (and other Near Eastern), and Indo-European spheres.
Here’s two recent ones, with the accompanying answers. We are posting these as we presume they may be of interest to others. They are not full scale analyses of the matters in question, but shall do as a start.
“It is said that the Greek gods are similar to the Egyptian gods. Is that true? Because I read in one of your articles that the Semitic, Mesopotamian, and also the Egyptian pantheons were not related to the Indo-European one. But since I still wasn’t sure about Egypt (the Kemetic civilization); I decided to ask you. Your guidance shall be eagerly looked forward to!”
As applies your question viz. Egyptian etc. religion … it is a bit of a complex matter. Because on the face of it, no, the archaic Egyptian religion is definitely not Indo-European. However … they were in contact with Indo-European peoples from the late Bronze Age/early Iron Age onward (so, whether we are speaking about Hittite contacts, the Mitanni (with their well-known Indo-Aryan saliency – and the ‘Maryannu’ chariot-warrior institution that they may have played a key role in spreading to the Near East), or for that matter, the Sea Peoples … ); and it is something of an open question how much of an influence some of these groups may have had here and there around the fringes.
One example of this concerns the Hyksos. Now, these are not securely identified as Indo-European – and while there is a theory in that direction, these days it is generally agreed to be rather unlikely. I mention it here for comparative purposes because what happens viz. Set is … significantly the result of Hyksos bits and pieces leading to ‘political’ decision-making for the Egyptian religion and a consequent significant decline in stature for that figure. (because the ‘barbarian’ Hyksos took Set as a ‘patron deity’ of sorts when they were running the place (apparently because this was rather coterminous with one of their own major deities, it should seem) – and so, of course, when the Hyksos were no longer in charge, the opprobrium of such associations stuck)
In the 1st millennium BC, the situation changes and complexifies again – as Egypt’s … steady implosion as an actual imperial power leads to significant ‘foreign’ dominion and influx of influence. Whether in terms of Persian dominion – or the ensuing Macedonian/Greek, and thence Roman.
So, we most definitely start seeing an increased saliency for Indo-European elements as the directly attributable result of this, and overtly ‘syncretic’ elements as matters of imperial policy. Which goes both ways – both into the Classical spheres, and also into the Egyptian. You can see this not only with the saliency for Anubis in some later Roman specific developments of their Imperial age (although I personally think that this can be a bit overstated – yes ‘Hermanubis’ is a thing; however the notion of a ‘dog-headed’ Hermes / Mercury is something that we should almost be expecting … I took a brief look in a recent piece that can be found upon the website )
But that is the nature of such things – they are separate at their roots, they have some degree of crossover with later ensuing contact ; and eventually, branches may entertwine here and there. Although it is very easy to overstate just how much. And I definitely consider circumstances wherein we find such Egyptian etc. elements turning up within the Roman or Greek milieus to be foreign influences.
Although having said that, they are also ones that can ‘reconfirm’ what was already there in various ways (c.f the point made about ‘dog-headed’ Mercury / Hermes).
However, we have a bit of a difficulty because for some decades / centuries, a lot of ‘accepted wisdom’ in some corners of academia wanted to try and make out a lot of Egyptian influence in areas that we now know is rather unlikely to be the case.
A good example for this concerns Dionysus. Because once upon a time, the ‘accepted perspective’ was Dionysus being an effective ‘calque’ of Osiris into Greek religion. Well .. one ‘accepted perspective’ – others pointed toward Thracian etc. origins (and they are not entirely incorrect, as applies the latter), or insistent ‘Mesopotamia’ bits and pieces … based around (sketchy) preconceptions of what archaic IE religion looked like which necessarily excluded any possibility for an ‘Attis’ style figure.
We now know, of course, that there is ample evidence to show Dionysus is a very archaic IE figure indeed – showing up in Mycenaean Linear B script by that name, if memory serves – and with strong cognate-coherent value for, for instance, Lord Shiva, Odin, you get the idea. No Egyptian influence required. The ‘Death & Resurrection Show’ […]
“On that note, isn’t there a curious similarity between the dismemberment of Osiris, and that of Lady Sati? As if only the gender roles were reversed, and the core of the story remained intact. I wonder if this was the result of an Indo-European influence over the Egyptian mythology at some point in time?”
Now, as applies your question – I am not sure about the details of the Osiris myth in its exegesis. It is not impossible for cultural contact to ‘reconfirm’ stuff, as previously discussed. However, a cursory browse of wiki suggests that the elements in question were ‘in place’ for the Egyptian sphere in the mid 2nd millennium BC. I am unsure whether there is comparable mythology in the Hittite or other IE spheres that they could have gotten such a thing from as a transmission vector, as i genuinely haven’t looked into it.
Often people would attempt to connect a ‘dismembered God’ myth with the RV’s Purusa hymnal and associated conceptry – although that tends to rather annoy me because we can easily demonstrate rather important points of difference between that and, say, Odin et co dismembering Ymir. But you can read about that on the site 😛
What I would suggest is that it is always a good idea to be circumspect in cases where we aren’t quite sure if something’s actually linked due to shared origins against auto-presuming that it is. I mean, you may / may not have read my work pertaining to Nana , and my annoyance at the presumption that lion-associated War Goddess “has” to be a Near Eastern originated element that’s been very pervasively incorporated.
However, the better example to illustrate this, I think, is a rather .. bemusing interaction I had with somebody a few months ago who was very, very determined to try and present Hindu / Vedic mythology as .. well, a development of Egyptian. I think that he was Egyptian in some sense … and annoying in others.
Now, to ‘prove’ this, he cited some stuff (with incorrect linguistics, because of course) to try and argue Brahma was developed from some Egyptian figure ; and that this could be attested by the origin mythology around a lotus floating on the waters etc. etc. – which ok, yeah, sure, does show up in both the Puranic canon and also in archaic Egyptian mythology. Except … the actual Vedic form of the myth that he was referencing … doesn’t contain such a detail. Or the usage of “Brahma” as a theonym. Instead it goes with a rather different approach, albeit one that we can see how the Vedic developed into the subsequent Puranic iteration.
So, prima facie, we can see that there’s a ‘gap’ – and that it is rather unlikely that the Hindu development, assuming it came from the Vedic, actually resulted from the Kemetic.
And as applies the seeming similarity of symbolism – well, it is quite simple. Both the Nile and Ganges / those Indian rivers have Lotus flowers that bloom upon them. Both cases, floods happen, and this leads to the future flowering because it disturbs the seeds in the silt on the river’s bed & banks. So, in both cases – if you’ve got a cosmological setup which ‘starts out’ with water and surging flood thereof perhaps … then ok, sure, you connect it to what’s around you in your natural environment – and you suddenly find that lotuses turn up after the flood and such. They ‘grow’ in the water. ‘Something’ out of ‘Nothing’ [well, not quite nothing, but you get the idea]. And, as I say, this is a more recent – post-Vedic – development in the Hindusphere, as one creation myth amidst many.
Hence .. well, you get the idea.
We are on surer ground with the Indo-European internal comparanda precisely because we can demonstrate that it’s the same mythology at its inception carried forward in multiple directions (and yes, thence undergoing loka-lized development in the relevant environments in question). It doesn’t require the detailed attestation of trade routes or reasons for other cultures to have wholesale incorporated rather significant religious swathes into their religions (which, to be sure, sometimes could and did happen).