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.

Well, I had pretty much finished a post talking about how Takács, in an otherwise massive entry in his monumentally impressive dictionary of Egyptian, missed a crucial Semitic cognate for mr, ‘pyramid’ – “[o]ne of the most enigmatic words from an etymological viewpoint” – in Akkadian amaru, “pile of bricks.” This seemed pretty important, and I was excited to write about it. I even did a PDF search, just to make sure Takács hadn’t already covered it. As I’m finishing up my post, I was looking back through the discussion of mr, and somehow stumbled upon an entire section I had missed that indeed mentions amaru. No idea how I missed it, either…it was one of the very first sections.

Anyways, I don’t have much to add to this, other than the slightly interesting fact that ziggurats – the well-known Mesopotamian stepped pyramids – were made of baked mud bricks; whereas the Egyptian pyramids were limestone blocks. Thus, the Mesopotamian amaru and Egyptian mr are even more analogous than thought, in terms of basically meaning the same thing to the respective cultures (that is, Egyptian pyramids as “piles of stone blocks”).

Also, Takács cites Biberstein Kazimirski, Albright and others have appealed to another apparent Semitic cognate of amaru: Arabic ˀamārāt, either interpreted as “pierre qui indique la route” – that is, marker stones to indicate routes – or as “pyramidal heap of stones” (Albright). Although somewhat insightful, this is a contextually-dependent definition, Albright noting correctly that ˀamāra is “properly ‘mark, sign'” (Albright 1927: 218). But interestingly, in Genesis 31, Jacob makes a “heap” (גל) of stones as something of a stele – a boundary marker (31.52), and a sign of his “treaty” with Laban.