Scribes, Officials, and the Deities

I’ve been reading Red Land, Black Land by Barbara Mertz. It’s an engagingly written, enjoyable read. Talking about the scribes and other officials, she said:

One of the significant aspects of Egyptian life which is brought out by the Hekanakhte letters is the combination in one man of functions which we would consider incompatible, or at least divergent. Hekanakhte’s “job” was that of ka-priest to the deceased vizier, which meant that he was supposed to make the offerings to the dead man’s soul at such times as the mortuary contract stated.

We would define this as a priestly function. However, Hekanakhte’s letters show that he spend a lot of time administering the lands left by the vizier to supply his tomb offerings. He was more of a bailiff than a priest.”

The higher the position in the bureaucracy, the greater the variety of the official’s responsibilities….

She also uses the term “Lord High Everything Else” to describe them.

This sounds just like the Gods and Goddesses to me! Take Het-hert (Hwt-Hrw, Hathor) for example. Goddess of Love, Beauty, Motherhood, Joy, Music, Dance, Fertility. Add to that “Mistress of the West”-as a mortuary goddess who offers refreshments to the dead. Also foreign lands and mining. Mining? Turquoise is a favorite stone of hers, and it’s got to come from somewhere! Those are just the highlights. As a friend said when I showed her the wiki page for Hathor, “That is one busy Goddess!” Not to mention her other aspect as avenging Eye of Ra.

This factor isn’t even limited to the major deities. Consider Shezmu. His main job is crushing the severed heads of the wicked in a press. Not a bad idea- those heads can start to pile up after a while, and people would be tripping over them in the Duat. From the heads he makes a refreshing red wine which he serves to the righteous dead. But then by extension he’s the god of perfumes and oils. Also unguents and embalming oils, and beauty! I suppose he might eventually become the God of Hazmat Disposal.

I imagine this became a two-way street. If the Netjer aren’t limited to one job, shouldn’t a “white kilt” worker aspire to be as versatile? And if that wide variety of jobs is appropriate for a capable man, (sorry, most women didn’t have “careers”), then it would be reasonable to ask a God or Goddess to take on a new role. “If you need something done, ask a busy person.” Do you need someone to help control the weather? How about Aset/Isis? Sure! She’s into the whole Heka/Hair Braiding thing anyway!

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