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Was Pharaoh Divine?

 

Introduction

Obviously the answer is No, the question is did the Egyptian in the street believe that he was and why was it necessary that he believed the religious teachings.

To understand the development of kingship and the belief in the divinity of the pharaoh we need to look at the development of the civilization in the Nile Valley and compare it to the progress made elsewhere in the world.

Religion and religious ceremony was necessary to hold together the primitive civilizations and cultures that were beginning to form some 7,000 years ago or more. The great fear of the time was death and the blackness that this brought. The promise of life after death for those that believed and followed the true teachings was a big incentive to conform.

The country may have been unified under one ruler with one set of laws and a single legal and taxation system but the people would only be unified by a single religion. The various festivals, ceremonies and communal acts of worship were what really brought the people together as a nation.

 Above: Celebrating the "Beautiful Feast of the Valley" at Thebes

We should not compare Ancient Egypt with current concepts of culture, law, morality or ethics. Holding a rich civilization together with its growing population and rising economic prospects and holding off external forces that would love to conquer it was not any easy task. If we keep these factors in mind we will see why civilization generally and Egypt in particular developed in the way they did.

 

Development of the State

It is surmised that the development of the state of Egypt closely follows that of other states in the area that developed at about the same time.

Originally the nomadic tribes were hunter-gatherers while the climate was suitable for the growth of wooded grassland. As it dried out tribes tended to migrate to oases and flowing rivers. Those tribes that could adapt survived and gradually changed to a farming way of life for most of their food. These tribes gradually grew in size and would have traded excess produce with neighbours. This would have resulted in some intermarrying and merging into larger units 2.

When a tribe found itself short of food or women a raid would be organised against other local tribes and eventually one tribe grew stronger, dominated the area and assimilated its neighbors.

As the tribe grew in influence the tribal leader became what we would call a warlord who eventually took on the mantle of king 1.

 

Development of the Leader

With the growing influence of the tribe so the influence of the leader grew. The leader would mostly be male and aggressive because the means of choosing a leader was usually by fighting between challengers. The leader would then gather a powerful group around him, consisting of other aggressive males, to reinforce his leadership. The leader would remain in power so long as he could command the loyalty of his men, which he did by giving them special privileges such as the best food and the choice of the women.

The most able leaders would have realized that the strong-arm tactics that kept the populace in order did not bring as much prosperity and power as a growing economy. It was also wasteful because it took men away from work in order to enforce his leadership. The fewer men that this took the more produce and goods there would be available for trade.

The more intelligent leaders would therefore have selected some of the more able and thinking types to act as his advisers.

Brains gradually replaced brawn and the heavies would have been put in charge of the army and border guards while the king gathered about him a corpus of advisers who organised the different aspects of state affairs under his guidance. As the task grew larger and more complex these advisers would have gathered their own staff to help them.

 

Development of Religion

In parallel with the growth of the tribe and warlord/king, primitive forms of religion were developing, initially worshiping in some form the sun, the moon, particular star formations and even dangerous animals. This was an important step in the development of the state.

All civilizations developed their own creation myth naming all the gods necessary to do the work. They still thought of the gods in terms of human endeavor so the sun god for example had to have helpers. They were responsible for the weather, crop fertility, the river and all types of different human and natural activities.

The leader or king was expected to provide protection for his people and this would have extended to food storage against bad harvests. If he couldn't or hadn't provided enough he would send his army to annex his neighbor and steal their food stocks. If he lost he would be killed and his area of influence taken over by the victors or one of his generals.