Theology of Memphis

The Shabaka Stone

I don't read Egyptian, except somewhat in its much later Hellenistic form (better known as Coptic). So this 'translation' is a conglomeration from those of Miriam Lichthiem[1], John A. Wilson[2] (in Pritchard's ANET[3]), and Wim van den Dungen[4]. Generally, where two agree against one, I take the majority reading, although I recognize that is somewhat of a problem since Dugen appears to be primarily based on Lichthiem. If there is no agreement, I am inclined to go with Dungen since it is the most recent. I will note what appear to be real differences (not just different ways of saying the same thing). Occasionally, I will change the language from 'translationese' to something more like modern English (so, e.g. "who prospers the Two Lands" in the first paragraph, I have turned into "who makes the Two Lands prosper"—I am not sure I have ever heard 'prosper' used as a transitive verb in normal conversation). Where notes are not mine, they are credited. Please report errors to me (link at end of page). -Alan Humm

Shabaka Stone
The Shabaka Stone
Summary: To some extent this story is an example of religion as politics. The original version of this text purports to come from the Old Kingdom in Egypt, when the first Dynasty established itself in Memphis and had to create a theology that (a) gave divine authority to the unified kingdom, and (b) established Memphis at it apex. The stone itself is much later, dating from the 25th dynasty, during the reign of Shabaka (ca. 716 - 702, BC). It claims to be a copy of a worm-eaten (more) ancient papyrus found in the temple of Ptah by Pharaoh Shabaka. This story may itself be a fiction, but even if true, does not indicate that the forelage, or even its remote ancestor, dates from the 31st century, BC. The obvious damage in the picture comes from the fact that it was used as a millstone in post-pharaonic times.
   The Memphis God, Ptah, is made the creator, and the primary nine others (the Ennead) are created by his utterance. Creation from word may seem old-hat to us because of the Bible, but may have been fairly new-fangled at the time of this composition. Whether it was depends on our analysis of the age of the text. Word creation would have been new ground in the 3rd mil., BC, but not so much by the 8th century. The British Museum site admits that it has the layout of earlier texts, and various archaisms, making it look older, but "is clearly much later than it claims."
   Old myths are included, and subsumed under the new. The other gods are essentially emanations. It is not surprising that this can serve as a back-drop to Gnostic myths, a millennium (more or less) later. Wim van den Dungen has an excellent fuller discussion, which the interested should read.]

Left side


1-2, horizontal The living Horus: who makes the Two Lands prosper; [5] the Two Ladies: who makes the Two Lands prosper; the Golden Horus: who makes the Two Lands prosper; the King of Upper and Lower Egypt : Nefer-ka-re, the son of Re, Sha[baka], beloved of Ptah-South-of-his-Wall, who lives like Re forever.

This writing was copied out anew by his majesty in the House of his father Ptah-South-of-his-Wall, for his majesty found it to be a work of the ancestors which was worm-eaten, so that it could not be understood from beginning to end. His majesty copied it anew so that it became better than it had been before, in order that his name might endure and his monument last in the House of his father Ptah-South-of-his-Wall throughout eternity, as a work done by the son of Re [Shabaka] for his father Ptah-Tenen, so that he might live forever.


3 He [7] is this Ptah who is called [8] by his great name: Tenen. 4 He who united this land of the South as King of Upper Egypt and this land of the Delta as King of Lower Egypt. 5 --- [9] 6 He indeed begat Atum who gave birth to the Ennead. [10]



7 Geb [11] commanded that the Ennead [12] gather to him. He judged between Horus and Seth ; 8 he ended their quarrel. He installed Seth as King of Upper Egypt in the land of Upper Egypt, at [13] the place where he was born, which is Su. [14] And Geb made Horus King of Lower Egypt in the land of Lower Egypt, at the place where his father was drowned 9 which is <the> "Division-of-the-Two-Lands." [15] Thus Horus stood over one region, and Seth stood over one region. They made peace over the Two Lands at Ayan. [16] That was the division of [17] the Two Lands.

SUBSECTION B (damaged)

10a Geb's words to Seth : "Go to the place in which you were born."
10b Seth : Upper Egypt.
11a Geb's words to Horus : "Go to the place in which your father was drowned."
11b Horus : Lower Egypt.
12a Geb's words to Horus and Seth : "I have separated you."
12b Lower and Upper Egypt. [18]

10c, 11c, 12c Then it seemed wrong to Geb that the portion of Horus was equal to the portion of Seth. So Geb gave Horus his inheritance, because he is the son of his firstborn son.
13a Geb's words to the Ennead : "I have appointed 13b Horus, the firstborn."
14a Geb's words to the Ennead : "Him alone, 14b Horus, the inheritance."
15a Geb's words to the Ennead : "To his heir, 15b Horus, my inheritance."
16a Geb's words to the Ennead : "To the son of my son, 16b Horus, the Jackal of Upper Egypt […
17a Geb's words to the Ennead : "The firstborn, 17b Horus, the Opener-of-the-ways."
18a Geb's words to the Ennead : "The son who was born --- 18b Horus, on the birthday of the Opener-of-the-ways." [19]

SUBSECTION C (damaged)

13c Then Horus stood over the land. He is the uniter of this land, proclaimed in the great name: Tenen, South-of-his-Wall, Lord of Eternity. [20] Then sprouted 14c the two Great in Magic [21] upon his head. He is Horus who arose as King of Upper and Lower Egypt, who united the Two Lands in the Nome of the (White) Wall, [22] the place in which the Two Lands were united.

15c Reed and papyrus [23] were placed on the double door of the House of Ptah. That means Horus and Seth, pacified and united. They fraternized so as to cease quarreling 16c wherever they may be, since they are united in the House of Ptah, the "Balance of the Two Lands" in which Upper and Lower Egypt had been weighed.

SUBSECTION D(very badly damaged) [24]

This is the land 17c […] the burial of Osiris in the House of Sokar. 18c […] Isis and Nephthys without delay, 19 for Osiris had drowned in his water. Isis [and Nephthys] looked out [saw] his drowning. 20a Horus speaks to Isis and Nephthys : "Hurry, grab him […]." 21a Isis and Nephthys speak to Osiris : "We are coming, we will get you […]."
20b [They heeded] and brought him to [land. <But> he entered the hidden portals in the glory of the lords of eternity]. 21b [… Thus Osiris came into] the earth 22 at the royal fortress, to the North of [ the land to which he had come. And his son Horus arose as king of Upper Egypt, arose as king of Lower Egypt, in the embrace of his father Osiris and of the Gods in front of him and behind him.] [25]

23 There was built the royal fortress [at the command of Geb…].
24a Geb speaks to Tehuti: [26] […]
25ab - 30a ---
31a - 35a ---
27b [Geb] speaks to Isis : ---
28b Isis causes [Horus and Seth] to come.
29b Isis speaks to Horus and Seth : "[Come …]."
30b Isis speaks to Horus and Seth : "Make peace […]."
31b Isis speaks to Horus and Seth : "Life will be pleasant for you when […]."
32b Isis speaks to Horus and Seth : "It is he who dries your tears […]."
33b - 35b Isis speaks to ---.
36 - 47

Right side


48 The gods who manifest in Ptah:
49a Ptah-on-the-Great-Throne, […]
49b [Ptah] […] who bore the gods.
50a Ptah-Nun, the father who gave birth to Atum.
50b [Ptah] […] who bore the gods.
51a Ptah-Naunet, the mother who bore Atum ;
51b [Ptah] […] (who bore the gods) ;
52a Ptah-the-Great, heart and tongue of the Ennead;
52b [Ptah] --- Nefer-Tem at the nose of Re every day.


53 (Something) in the form of Atum took shape in the mind; [27] took shape through the tongue! Ptah is the very great, who gives life to all the gods and their Kas through this heart and this tongue. 54 Horus came into being as Ptah, and Thoth came into being as Ptah. [28]

Thus mind and tongue rule [29] over all the limbs in accordance with the teaching that it is in every body and it is in every mouth: of all gods, all men, all cattle, all creeping things, whatever lives, thinking whatever it wishes and commanding whatever it wishes. [30]

55 His (Ptah's) Ennead is before him as teeth and lips. They are like the semen and hands of Atum. Atum's Ennead came into being through his semen and his fingers, But the Ennead is the teeth and lips in this mouth which pronounced the names of all things, from which Shu and Tefnut came forth as him, and 56 which gave birth to the Ennead (of Ptah). [31]

What the eyes see, the ears hear, and the air that the nose breathes all contribute to the mind's understanding. [32] Then the tongue repeats what the mind concludes. In this way, all the gods were born and his Ennead was completed. So, every word of the god came about through the thoughts in 57 the mind & the command of the tongue.

Thus all life-essences were made and all qualities [33] determined, they that make all foods and all provisions, through this word. <Justice> is done to him who does what is loved, 7lt;and punishment> to him who does what is hated. Thus life is given to the peaceful and death is given to the criminal. Thus were made all labor, all crafts, the action of the arms, the motion of the legs, 58 the movements of all the limbs, according to this word which is devised by the mind and comes forth on the tongue and gives substance to [34] everything.

Thus it is said of Ptah: "He who made all and created the gods." And he is Ta-tenen, who gave birth to the gods. [35] From him everything came forth: foods, provisions, 59 divine offerings, all good things. Thus it is recognized and understood [36] that he is the mightiest of the gods. Thus Ptah was satisfied after he had made all things and all divine words. [37]

He gave birth to the gods. He made the towns. He established the nomes. He placed the gods in their shrines. 60 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, [38] 61 in which they came to be. Thus all the gods and their Kas were gathered to him, content, united with the Lord of the Two Lands.


The Great Throne [39] that gives joy to the heart [40] of the gods in the House of Ptah is the granary of Ta-Tenen, the mistress of all life, through which the sustenance of the Two Lands is provided, 62 because of the fact that Osiris was drowned in his water. Isis and Nephthys looked out, beheld him, and attended to him. Horus quickly commanded Isis and Nephthys to grab Osiris and prevent his drowning. [41] 63 They heeded quickly and brought him to land. <But> he entered the secret portals in the glory of the Lords of Eternity, in the steps of him who rises in the horizon, on the ways of Re at the Great Throne. 64 He entered the palace and joined the gods of Ta-Tenen Ptah, Lord of Years. Thus Osiris came into the earth at the Royal Fortress, to the North of this land to which he had come. His son Horus arose as King of Upper Egypt, arose as King of Lower Egypt, in the embrace of his father Osiris and of the gods in front of him and behind him.


[1] Lichtheim, Miriam. (1975). Ancient Egyptian literature: A book of readings, vol. I. Berkeley: University of California Press.

[4] Wilson, John A. (1955). The Theology of Memphis. In Pritchard, ANET.

[3] In Pritchard, James B. (1955). Ancient Near Eastern texts relating to the Old Testament. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

[2] Dungen, Wim van den (2003 - 2011). The Theology of Memphis. Antwerp.

[5] In this and the following two cases, Dungen gives, the excellent Two Lands.

[6] This section is not included in Wilson's translation.

[7] Lichthiem reconstructs, King of Upper and Lower Egypt.

[8] Dungen: proclaims.

[9] void, no inscription [Dungen].

[10] 4, 5, & 6 following Dungen. Lichthiem reads: (4) … the joiner] of Upper and Lower Egypt is he, this uniter who arose as king of Upper Egypt, who arose as king of Lower Egypt. (6) …] "self-begotten" so says Atum: "who created the nine gods." She adds the following note: This much damaged section appears to be a summary of Phah's claims to supremacy: He is identical with the old Memphite earth-god Ta-tenen. He is king of Egypt because Horus is a manifestation of Ptah. And he is the self-begotten creator of all the other gods.

[11] The earth-god.

[12] or: the Nine [gods], and so throughtout.

[13] or up to, as in the next sentence as well.

[14] near Herakleopolis [Dungen].

[15] probably near Memphis [Dungen].

[16] opposite Cairo [Dungen].

[17] Wilson has, they were reconciled about.

[18] Here the text exhibits most clearly its form for dramatic purposes. A notation is used for speakers and for stage directions. "Seth—Upper Egypt" meant either that the priestly actor playing the part of Geb points out the direction to the actor who played Seth, or that the Seth-actor was to go off to the south [Wilson].

[19] The jackal-god, Wep-waut ("Opener of the ways") was often identified with Horus [Lichtheim].

[20] E.g. Ptah as Ta-tenen, " 'The land arising' (out of the primeval waters, so that creation might take place)" [Wilson].

[21] with Dungen; Lichtheim & Wilson have "magicians," but both tell us that these are the (magical) crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt.

[22] The province (nome) of Mempis was named "White Wall." [Wilson].

[23] reed and papyrus, the heraldic plants for Upper & Lower Egypt [Dungen], put together "symbolize the reconciliation of the two parts of Egypt and of their gods" [Wilson].

[24] This section is largely based on Lichtheim who supplies some of the lacunae from 62-64, below. Wilson does not even attempt it.

[25] This last proposed reading may contain the essence of the missing material, but seems entirely too long for the space allotted [AH].

[26] Lichtheim: Thoth.

[27] lit. heart.

[28] Lichtheim provides an alternative reading for this paragraph: (53) Heart took shape in the form of Atum, Tongue took shape in the form of Atum. It is Ptah, the very great, who has given [life] to all the gods and their kas through this heart and through this tongue, (54) in which Horus had taken shape as Ptah, in which Thoth had taken shape as Ptah.

[29] Power came into being in the heart… [Dungen].

[30] The bolded its represent an interpretative problem. They could also each be translated he, as does Wilson, and according to Lichtheim, in agreement with most translators/interpreters. If it is appropriate, then the first and third instances refer to the mind (heart), and the second and fourth to the tongue. Lichtheim and Dungen take this approach (apparently following Junker). Wilson, and most earlier scholars see these references as referring to Ptah, and so translate with he. Seen this way, Ptah is revealed as both mind and tongue. It is a question of whether this passage is to be seen as more natural, or more metaphysical [AH].

[31] In the Heliopolitan creation myth Atom-Ra creates the gods through masturbation, or perhaps self-impregnation (if he is androgynous and his 'mouth' is his vagina)—see Ra and the Serpent. This paragraph gives that tradition a recognition of sorts, but supersedes it with Ptah's creation through thought and speech. The linguistic observation that the teeth and lips shape most of the tongue's productions into meaningful words may, or may not be at play here. In any case, Shu and Tefnut were the first deities spoken into existence [AH drawing from both Lichtheim & Wilson].

[32] As usually here, mind is used to translate the text's heart. The heart was believed by the ancients to be the locus of thought. This shift in understanding is illustrated by the fact that in the Egyptian embalming process, the heart was preserved in the body (the brain was discarded); we moderns are more likely to pickle the brain and put it on display (as with Einstein's brain), but ship the heart off to be recycled (transplanted) if possible.

[33] ka & hemsut. Alternatively, spirits and fates [AH].

[34] Lichtheim & Dungen: creates the performance of; Wilson: gives value to.

[35] Dungen: There came the saying that Atum, who created the gods, said concerning Ptah-Tenen: "He gave birth to the gods !"

[36] Dungen: Thoth understood and recorded.

[37] Wilson: order.

[38] Upon Ptah, in his form of the "rising land." Note that divine images were not the gods themselves, but only places in which they might assume appearance [Wilson].

[39] Memphis [Dungen].

[40] OK, the heart is also the seat of emotions, which I consistent with English usage [AH].

[41] i.e. submerging [Dungen].

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