In Mark Smith’s On the Primaeval Ocean (2002) – his monograph on a Demotic cosmological text – he mentions a papyrus from the 21st Dynasty. This papyrus “depicts a winged serpent with four legs, a human head on its neck, and a jackal’s head at the end of its tail. Its wings enfold a sun disk containing a scarab. The accompanying inscription identifies this creature as mwt pꜢ nṯr ꜥꜢ ir nṯr.w rmṯ.w.” Smith translates this (or quotes from a translation) as “Death the great divinity who made gods and men” (p. 212).

Christiane Zivie-Coche, following this translation/interpretation, calls this a “unique instance of Egyptian religious iconography and literature…a tradition otherwise unknown to us…imaged death as a whole iconology [sic]” (2004: 158). And while the presence of the jackal’s head may indeed suggest Anubis – that is, death – it is hard to completely follow this view, in light of characteristic of the Egyptian goddess Mut (in modern conventions of Egyptian transliteration, mw.t) – “the mother of mothers, who has given birth to every god.” How death could be regarded as a creator seems illogical. Come to think of it, while Egyptian mythology isn’t my primary interest, from the amount I’ve looked into it I haven’t found Mw.t as a clearly deified ‘Death’ in Egyptian texts.

Interestingly, though, Christopher Hays has argued in several recent papers for an identification of the Egyptian Mut and the Northwest Semitic deity Mot, from Ugaritic texts and elsewhere (cf. especially “The Covenant with Mut: A New Interpretation of Isaiah 28: 1-22” in VT 2010). I think he’s way off here, though; and I may write about this in a future post.

Also, speaking of a future post, if we were to think that this indeed depicts Mut – and not a personified Death – the winged serpent would also requires some more comment (in addition to the jackal head-on-tail). Perhaps there’s actually some (wholly unique) cross-pollination between mw.t and mwt here.

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