Danielle Sass, Macquarie University

Slaughterers, Knife-Bearers and Plague-Bringers: A study of the role and significance of the xA.tyw in ancient Egyptian thought.

This paper will present the findings of a study focused on a particular group of liminal beings that are conceptualised in ancient Egyptian thought as belonging to the realm of the divine. They are identified in the written record by the designation xA.tyw in the first three phases of the Egyptian Language or as xt.w in the fourth stage (Demotic). The xA.tyw are manifested primarily through textual sources, with the corpus in terms of date, context, media, language phase and script being extensively varied in nature. While the documentation spans a large time-frame of Egyptian history from the Old Kingdom to the end of the Greco-Roman Period, only a very limited data set can be derived from the historical periods before the beginning of the New Kingdom. The increased level of attestation for the xA.tyw from the New Kingdom onwards is most likely the result of a change in religious ‘decorum’; with the disintegration of barriers between individual and deity from this period onwards, we accordingly have more evidence for instances where there was direct accountability to deities and divine involvement in an individual’s life that could be benevolent or malevolent in nature. This paper aims to provide an overview of the orthography and etymology of the designation xA.tyw, the form and appearance of the xA.tyw, the position and subordination of the xA.tyw within the hierarchy of the pantheon, the celestial nature of the xA.tyw, and finally the role of the xA.tyw as bearers of disease. An examination of this material will contribute to a greater understanding of the agency of this type of divine being who operated at both state and personal levels of religion, and further scholars’ understanding of Egyptian world-view and society as a whole on account of the dualistic nature of the xA.tyw that encompasses components of both ma’at and isfet.

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