Egypt had been ravaged by foreign rulers for a period of 400 years after the end of the New Kingdom. A renewal of ancient Egyptian culture, philosophy and theology were desperately needed. The Pharaohs of the 25th Dynasty were Nubians and even though the Nubians had followed the Ancient Egyptian religion for 2000 years, they were considered foreign rulers. Pharoah Neferkare Shabaka, the 3rd Nubian ruler, sought to reestablish Old Kingdom traditions and used various restoration projects as an opportunity to bring back the golden days of Ancient Egypt as well as to popularize and solidify his rule.
This project involved restoring ancient texts, the most famous of which has been called the Shabaka Stone, written on a slab of basalt measuring 66cm (26 in) by 137cm (53 in). According to the text on the stone, Shabaka was inspecting the Temple of Ptah in Memphis when he came across a “work of the ancestors which was so worm-eaten that it could not be understood from the beginning to end” (Shabaka Stone, 1-2). Horrified by what he saw, Shabaka ordered the text on the worm-eaten papyrus scroll to be copied onto something more durable so “it became better than it had been before.” The religious text on the Shabaka Stone is referred to as the Memphite Theology and the writing is seemingly much older than the 25th Dynasty, incorporating some of the earlier theological writings of the Old and Middle Kingdoms, as well as some of the Pyramid Texts.
According to the text on the Shabaka Stone, the world was brought into being by Ptah through his heart and words:
“There took shape in the heart, there took shape on the tongue the form of Atum. For the very great one is Ptah, who gave [life] to all the gods and their kas through this heart and through this tongue,” and “For every word of the god came about through what the heart devised and the tongue commanded” (Shabaka Stone, 53).
“Horus came into being in him; Thoth came into being in him as Ptah. Power came into being in the heart and by the tongue and in all limbs, in accordance with the teaching that the heart is in all bodies and mouths of all Gods, all men, all flocks, all creeping things and of everything which lives… And so it is said of Ptah: He who made all and brought the gods into being. From him every thing came forth: foods, provisions, divine offerings, all good things…Thus Ptah was satisfied after he had made all things and all divine words” (Shabaka Stone, 54).
The writings on the Shabaka Stone can be interpreted to mean that divinity is no longer restricted to the gods, but dispersed by Ptah to all creatures across the world. This does not exclude polytheism, as the text includes “the bodies and mouths of all Gods.” The Memphite Theology presents a deity who goes forth into the world and becomes an integral part of the bodies and souls of all human beings; Ptah’s divinity identifies with, and includes, nature and all living creatures.
“Lo, he gave birth to the gods.
He made the towns.
He established the nomes.
He placed the gods in their shrines.
He settled their offerings.
He established their shrines.
He made their bodies according to their wishes.
Thus the gods entered into their bodies,
of every kind of wood, of every kind of stone, of every kind of clay,
in every kind of thing that grows upon him,
in which they came to be.
Thus all the gods and their Kas were gathered to him,
content and united with the Lord of the Two Lands.”
Bodine, Joshua J. “the shabaka stone: an introduction.” Studia Antiqua 7, no. 1 (2009): 3.
Dodson, Aidan. “Shabaka.” The Encyclopedia of Ancient History (2013).
Van den Dungen, Wim. “The Theology of Memphis: Fugal Monotheism, Creative Speech & Pantheism in Ancient Egyptian thought.” maat.sofiatopia.org/memphis.htm.
Van den Dungen, Wim. “On the Shabaka Stone.” maat.sofiatopia.org/shabaka.htm.