Unidentified king as Khnum, Dyn. 20

Unidentified king as Khnum, Dyn. 20
Period:Egypt, New Kingdom, Dynasty 20
Dating:1185 BC–1070 BC
Origin:Egypt, Upper Egypt, Elephantine
Physical:9.7cm. (3.8 in.) - 85 g. (3 oz.)

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Links to others from Dynasty 20

Aegis-Menat of Tefnut and Shu, Dyn. 20
Amulet of Ptah-Sokar, Dyn. 20-21
Basalt hawk-headed god Khonsu, Dyn. 20
Bronze statuette of Anhur, Dyn. 20
Bronze statuette of Sakhmet, Dyn. 20
Cartonnage with Isis, New Kingdom
Crude pottery shawabti, Late Dyn. 20
Crude pottery shawabti, Late Dyn. 20
Gilded funerary mask, Dyn. 20
Large amulet of Pataikos, Dyn. 20
Mummy cartonnage, New Kingdom
Priest of Hapy, temple of Aswan, Dyn. 20
Ptah-Min of Memphis, Dyn. 20
Ruling king as Khonsu, Dyn. 20
Shawabti of Hor-Te-Ha, early Dyn. 20
Shawabti of the prophet of Amen, Dyn. 20

Links to others of type Statuette-animal

Bronze of Ibis-Thoth, 3rd Inter. Period
Bronze of Sakhmet seated, Dyn. 20-23
Bronze of Sakhmet seated, early Dyn. 18
Bronze Ra ensign, Early Dynastic
Bronze statuette of Apis, Dyn. 18
Bronze statuette of Apis, Late Period
Bronze statuette of Apis, New Kingdom
Bronze statuette of Bastet, Dyn. 22
Bronze statuette of Bastet, Dyn. 26
Bronze statuette of Sakhmet, Dyn. 20
Gilded bronze of Bastet, Dyn. 22
Horus, Lord of the Two Lands. N.K.
Ibis-headed Thoth with human body, Dyn.18
Oxyrynchus sacred fish, New Kingdom
Thoth as a baboon, stone, 2700-2500 BC
Wood statuette of Horus stiding, Dyn. 11
  This bronze statuette represents the god Khnum in his usual incarnation, with the body of a man and the head of a ram. At the same time, it also represents the king, clutching cylindrical seals in his hands, and wearing such traditional royal attributes as the white crown of Upper Egypt with feathers, solar disk, and uraeus (cobra).

The pedestal that would have been engraved with a dedication in hieroglyphs is unfortunately missing, but the style, proportions, and details are clearly that of the New Kingdom—probably the beginning of Dynasty 20.

“The importance of Khnum at Elephantine can be traced back to the early dynastic period although the archaeological evidence is predominantly from the New Kingdom” (Hart 1986:110).

The ram-headed god Khnum was a god of universal creation (his name itself means “to create”). He created himself, produced the original egg from which hatched the sun and the earth, then sat at his potter’s wheel and fashioned gods, men, all other life on earth, and all the languages of the human race. On some level, Egyptians believed that he was personally involved in the fashioning of every child in the womb. For instance, the funerary temple of Queen Hatshepsut (Dyn. 18) tells that upon God Amun-Ra’s orders, Khnum shaped the body and the soul of the queen, gracing her with exceptional beauty. Indeed, Khnum was often asked by other gods to create people, as in the famous Tale of the Two Brothers, where Ra orders Khnum to make a wife for Bata.

Interestingly, Khnum was not the only god of creation. Alternate myths ascribed this responsibility to other gods, such as Ra, Ptah, or Nefertum. While each of those myths may have had greater currency in a particular area or time period, it remains that Egyptians were not troubled by what we would see today as mutually exclusive and irreconcilable explanations of the origin of the universe. This was completely acceptable to Egyptians. Our obsessive quest for the correct explanation and the True God was not, by and large, their concern.

More peculiar, from an Egyptian mindset, is the idea of a potter creating gods and kings. Potters (and pottery as an art form) were held in very low esteem in classic Egyptian society. They were stereotyped as dirty, smelly people, living in the margin of refined society. That an all powerful god be cast as a potter may therefore be an indication that this myth was already firmly ensconced in predynastic times, when pottery was still a vibrant art form commanding respect in Egypt.

Perhaps just as importantly, Khnum was the Lord of the First Cataract, where Egyptians believed the annual flood of the Nile originated. There, he ruled over Hapy, the god of the flood. Since the fate of Egypt—prosperity or famine—depended completely upon the flood, and since Hapy was not a god Egyptians worshipped directly (curiously, there was no temple of Hapy), it follows that Khnum held the primary key to the fate of the Egyptian people.

On a rock overlooking the first cataract, on the island of Sehel, is a large stela carved during the Ptolemaic period, commonly called the Famine Stela. The Famine Stela is presumed to be a copy of a much older document (2,500 years older), that recalls a tragic famine during the reign of King Djoser (Dynasty 3):

Hapy had failed to come in time
In a period of seven years.
Grain was scant,
Kernels were dried up,
Scarce was every kind of food.
Every man robbed his twin,
Those who entered did not go.
Children cried,
Youngsters fell,
The hearts of the old were grieving;
Legs drawn up, they hugged the ground,
Their arms clasped about them…
(Sauneron, 2000:117-118)

The story explains that King Djoser eventually found out that Khnum was the god in charge, and had grievances concerning the bad upkeep of his temple. So, Djoser made offerings to Khnum: a pledge to renovate the temple, additional land for its dependencies, and regular income of Nubian wealth. The flood resumed, and Egypt’s prosperity returned.

Such was the power of Khnum over the people of Egypt.

There are regional and temporal trends in the worship of most Egyptian gods. The common pattern is that initially each city had its local god, which it regarded as the greatest of gods. Some local gods gained wider, or even national prominence as their “home city” gained power and influence. And so, as the fortunes of cities ebbed and flowed, so did the popularity of their gods (Vandier, 1944). Hornug (1982) asserts that this pattern does not apply to Khnum. Khnum is closely associated with the first cataract area, at the south end of Egypt, and most particularly with the island of Elephantine. But when Elephantine first became prominent (at the end of Dynasty 3), Khnum was not yet attached to that area. Instead, the prominence of Khnum in personal names and inscriptions in the early dynastic period suggests that Khnum enjoyed national recognition much earlier than the rise of Elephantine, and did not become a local god of the cataract until later.

Temples dedicated to Khnum are found on either side of the First Cataract. To the north of the cataract are the beautifully preserved temple of Khnum at Esna and his main sanctuary at Elephantine Island, of which nothing but the main terrace remains. At Esna, Khnum shares his temple with Neith, and is shown with the minor lion-goddess Mehit as his consort. At Elephantine, his consort Satis and—in the New Kingdom—his daughter Anukis joined him to form a triad. To the south of the cataract, his main cult center was at Philae Island.

Khnum was sometimes considered as the Ba (soul) of Re, and then called Khnum-Re. At Herwer, he was the Ba of Geb. At Shashotep, he was the Ba of Osiris. The Egyptian god Khnum and the Nubian god Doudoun may have become national versions of the same divine ideal.

Bleeker (1967) argues that, as a ram, Khnum is a “symbol of divine vitality which cannot be confined by death,” that he “represents the power that defies death.”

Khnum is usually portrayed as a man with the head of a ram—a breed of ram with long wavy horns which disappeared after the Middle Kingdom (by contrast, Amun as a ram is portrayed with regular ram horns). More rarely, he is shown as either a whole ram, or as a man with four ram heads. As god of the waters, he is shown with arms and hands outstretched so the water can run through his fingers.

His titulary includes: ‘lord of the cool waters’, ‘lord of the crocodiles’, ‘lord of destiny’, ‘lord of that which is and that that will be’, ‘high of plumes’, ‘sharp of the horns’.

Bibliography (for this item)

Hart, George
1986 A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, United Kingdom. (

Khalil, Hassan M.
1976 Preliminary Studies on the Sanusret Collection. Manuscript, Musée l’Egypte et le Monde Antique, Monaco-Ville, Monaco. ([I] 273)

Bibliography (on Khnum)

Bleeker, C. J.
1967 Egyptian Festivals; Enactments of Religious Renewal. E. J. Brill, Leiden, Netherlands. (62)

Budge, E. A. Wallis, Sir
1969 The Gods of the Egyptians or studies in Egyptian Mythology (unabridged republication of the 1904 edition by the Open Court Publishing Company). Dover Publications, New York, NY.

Guirand, Felix
1968 New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology. Crescent Books, New York, NY. (37)

Hart, George
1986 A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, United Kingdom. (111-112)

Ions, Veronica
1969 Mythologie Egyptienne (Translation of the 1968 edition by the Hamlyn Publishing Group). ODEGE, Paris, France. (109)

Sauneron, Serge
2000 The Priests of Ancient Egypt. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY. (117-119)

Shafer, Byron E.
1991 Religion in Ancient Egypt: Gods, Myths, and Personal Practice. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY. (43)

Vandier, Jacques
1944 La Religion Egyptienne. Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, France. (13)

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