The Behdetite: A Study of Horus the Behdetite from the Old Kingdom to the Conquest of Alexander

A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of the Division of the Humanities in Candidacy for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations

By Randy L. Shonkwiler

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Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
University of Chicago
Commitee: Janet H. Johnson, Peter F. Dorman, Robert K. Ritner


This dissertation is a study of Horus the Behdetite based on material dating prior to the construction of the god's famous temple at Edfu during the Ptolemaic Period. Although much of the earlier temple of the god has been destroyed, there is still a wealth of material pertaining to Horus the Behdetite, due to his association with the rituals of kingship and his frequent appearance in temples as a hovering falcon and sun disk. Several private monuments of cult personnel from Edfu exist from the Middle and New Kingdoms and the Late Period. The god also appears in ritual and other temple scenes and some private monuments outside of Edfu and is mentioned in hymns in Theban tombs. Most of this material has been studied in part but there has been no major comprehensive study of the early material pertaining to Horus the Behdetite. The major study of the god that deals largely with the early material is a journal article by Alan H. Gardiner from the 1940s: "Horus the Beḥdetite," JEA 30 (1944): 23-60. Most of this article concerns the question as to whether Horus the Behdetite was a god originally from Upper or Lower Egypt. The article also dealt with the origins and meaning of the winged sun disk, which is usually identified as the Behdetite. Much material was unknown or overlooked by Gardiner and some of his interpretations must be revised. Although the Behdetite is only a specific manifestation of Horus, the god is important, because of his intimate association with the king. The god protects the king as a hovering falcon or sun disk, is depicted purifying and crowning the king and symbolically binding the Two Lands on his behalf. The Behdetite in the form of the winged sun disk increasingly becomes symbolic of the rebirth of the king and the powers of kingship and later of non-royalty. Many aspects of the god are found later in the texts and scenes of the Ptolemaic temple but some are not.

Chapters 2-4 concern the three most common forms in which the god appears: the falcon, sun disk, in all its manifestations, and the falcon-headed man. Each chapter examines  the origins and early history of each form and the contexts in which they appear. Chapter 3 on the sun disk also examines the theological and ideological symbology of the god in the form of the winged sun disk and sun disk with two uraei: . Chapter 5 examines the evidence for the cult of the god at the two cities named Behdet: Edfu and Tell el-Balamun. Chapter 6 concerns Horus, Lord of Mesen with whom the Behdetite is identified in the Old Kingdom as well as the rituals and myths of the harpooning god at Edfu. Chapter 7 looks at evidence for the worship or cult of Horus the Behdetite outside of the cities named Behdet. Chapter 8 takes a closer examination of the Behdetite's relationship with the king.

Gardiner and other scholars of his era hotly debated the origin of Horus the Behdetite. Most scholars now believe that the question as to whether the Behdetite was originally from Upper or Lower Egypt is unanswerable or, even, irrelevant. The question may not be answerable, however Horus the Behdetite's identification with one or both of the parts of Egypt appears to be an important part of his identity. These associations with Upper and Lower Egypt are noted in several places in the dissertation. The final conclusion is that the Behdetite is identified with both parts of the country at a very early date and can appear associated with either Upper or Lower Egypt depending on the context. This double identification is likely inherent in the form of the winged sun disk. The identification with the Two Lands also influences the Behdetite's identification with the king. Identification of the god and king is also noted in several places and interpreted in Chapter 8. The god first appears in the rituals of the Sed festival and is likely involved with the enthronement of the king. His name "Behdetite" connects him with the place of the throne. In a scene from the Middle Kingdom he appears as the winged sun disk above the king, who sits on the double-throne of the Sed festival, while the Behdetite receives the breathe of life from the gods. The scene indicates that the king on the double-throne is acting in the capacity of the Behdetite. As Horus there is already a certain identity of the king with the Behdetite but it is the fact that the Behdetite is the solar Horus that leads to a triple identification of Horus the Behdetite, the king and Re in royal names. The key to understanding this triple identification is the Royal Ka.

The close connection of the Behdetite with kingship limited the spread of his cult outside Edfu. To the people of Edfu he was just "Horus." Changing decorum following the Amarna Period, a close association of the cult with Thebes and an identification of the god with Amun-Re, as well as the god's transition to a funerary god of the king during the Ramesside Period all contributed to an expansion of devotion to the god, at least in Upper Egypt. These changes allowed the Behdetite, specifically in the form of the winged sun disk, to represent rebirth for non-royalty in the Late and Greco-Roman Periods.