The Priests of Ancient Egypt: New Edition
Serge Sauneron (author), David Lorton (author), Jean-Pierre Corteggiani (author)
Cornell University Press (May 25, 2000)
Reviewed by Devo
This book is considered a staple for Kemetics in many circles, and it doesn’t disappoint. This book goes far more in-depth into the priesthood of ancient Egypt than almost any other book that I have read so far.
The book starts off discussing the generalized idea about what priests are and do. Sauneron shows us that while many people have an ideal about what priests were like (morally speaking) there were examples of priests who were less than savory in their dealings. I would guess he does this to break any romanticism we have with the notion of being a priest. Priests were people just like us- and they were fallible as we are now.
Sauneron also discusses the basics of temple ritual, what a priest’s day might entail while in the temple. Most of this was not entirely new to me, but it was still interesting to read another perspective on it. He also goes into detail about different areas priests would have studied. He made a point to mention that each priest within the temple would have had a specialty. There was rarely a priest who knew EVERYTHING. Usually, you had someone who read stuff. Someone who oversaw just the offerings. Someone who spent their day making the linen and clothes for the icon. Someone who was there to deem if an animal was pure enough to be sacrificed to the god. Someone who knew the music that the god liked… etc. I think this is an important concept for modern Kemetics to consider, since it seems like we all have to know everything about everything in order to get somewhere. He also gave a generalized history of ancient Egypt and how the priesthood could have played a role in it. It was interesting to see his ideas about how the Ramessides were trying to placate the priests of Amun while trying to promote their own god- Set. I’ve never seen anyone really discuss whether the 19th dynasty had problems with the temple of Amun or not. So the concept was interesting to consider.
I liked learning little facts that I’ve seen asked around the Kemetic community, yet never knew answers to. For example, Sauneron does mention that there was likely some type of initiation ritual for new priests. He says not a lot of information is known, but that something happened to transition them from outside to inside. In the case of higher priests appointed by the King, they would receive a ring and ceremonial staff, which I thought was interesting to know.
Overall, the book had some interesting stuff to it. I learned a few new things and it reinforced a lot of what I have already read. Here are a few excerpts from the book:
A priest is any man who, through bodily purification, puts himself in the state of physical purity necessary to approach the holy place, or to touch any objects or dishes of food consecrated to the god.
Maat is the aspect of the world that the gods have chosen, it is the universal order as they established it from its basic constituent elements, such as the course of the starts and the succession of days, down to the humblest of its manifestations” the harmony of the living, their religious piety; it is the cosmic balance, and the regular recurrence of the seasonal phenomena; it is also the respect for the earthly order set up by the gods – truth, and justice.
The Egyptians distinguished in the sky, beyond the sun and the moon, the stars which never rest – our planets: Mercury, Venus (the star of the evening and the morning), Mars (the red Horus), Jupiter (the glittering star), and Saturn (Horus the bull).
I think the biggest complaint I have about this book is that he cites late sources a lot. It seems like the majority of his information comes from Greek writers. While I know that it’s possible that this was his only major resource to pull from, I would certainly enjoy using more native sources – information directly from the priests themselves- not outsiders who came to Egypt at the very end of her life.
All in all, I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the priesthood of Egypt, and whoever might be interested in creating a priestly role for themselves (or taking on such a role) in the modern era. I think by looking back at how the ancients did it, it can create a lot of ideas about how we can approach the concept today, and translate it into something that works in this time and place. I also feel this book does a good job at clearing up some of the misconceptions one might have about what bring a priest in ancient Egypt was about.
4.5 pawprints out of 5 pawprints