A papyrus leaf from the Book of the Dead of Imenemsauf.

A papyrus leaf from the Book of the Dead of Imenemsauf.

Thoth and Khepri

The ancient Egyptian gods of creation and knowledge vanquish the ‘Lord of Chaos’.

Thoth and Khepri, on board a barque, defeat the serpent Apep in this detail from the Book of the Dead of Imenemsauf, written during the 21st and 22nd dynasties (1069-716 BC) and now in the Louvre.

Just seen at the bottom of this image, Apep, also known as Apophis, was the embodiment of chaos. He battled daily with Ra, the sun deity, seeking to devour him as he descended below the horizon – where Apep lived – into the underworld. Night would fall, but Apep, never managing to swallow Ra whole, would spit him out and the sun would rise again.

Khepri, the scarab-headed god second from the right, is the morning manifestation of Ra, associated in particular with creation: the eggs of the scarab beetle are laid in dung and so emerge fully formed, their incubation hidden from the world. Because scarab beetles roll dung, they also became associated with the movement of the sun across the sky.

Thoth, who stands at the prow of the barque, with the head of an ibis, was married to Ma’at. She was the god of order and so inextricably opposed to the serpent Apep, the ‘Lord of Chaos’. Thoth was the judge of the dead, who had overseen three epic battles between Good and Evil. He was also an engineer, associated with science and knowledge, and, as scribe of the gods, he was the creator of language.

In the television series Stargate SG-1, in which the Egyptian gods are a race of aliens, Apophis is defeated by Anubis, god of the dead, rather than Thoth and Khepri. Thoth is today best remembered from Aleister Crowley’s Thoth tarot deck and its accompanying commentary The Book of Thoth: A Short Essay on the Tarot of the Egyptians (1944), as well as a fleeting mention in an episode of Midsomer Murders.

Thoth also features on the logo for Cairo University.

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