Hebrew For "The House Of Truth"

Craig M. Lyons Ms.D., D.D., M.Div.


The third major cosmogonic scheme we find in Egyptian religion that helps better explain the Genesis creation accounts is that of the priesthood of Ptah, and it derives from his cult center at Memphis. Although it was possibly formulated comparatively soon after the Heliopolitan cosmogony, in the Old Kingdom, we know the Memphite cosmogony from a Twenty-fifth Dynasty granite block, onto which was inscribed an earlier text (probably dating from the Nineteenth Dynasty) on the orders of King Shabaka (Miriam Lichteim, ed. Ancient Egyptian Literature, vol. 1, p. 51-57). Unlike both the Heliopolitan and Hermopolitan cosmogonies, which dwell on different aspects of the premanifest Godhead, the Shabaka Text throws emphasis on the creative deeds of the Godhead or Absolute Spirit as Ptah, and thereafter affirms the immanence of the supreme deity in all earthly creation.

Let us take time to summarize again the differences and emphasis between the three major Egyptian creation accounts as it applied to the Genesis creation accounts:

Ptah is the Godhead conceived as formgiver or shaper of the material world. For this reason he was the chief god of craftsmen and all workers in metal and stone, and was later to be identified by the Greeks as the blacksmith god, Hephaistos (Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians, vol. 1, p. 500-501). The name Ptah probably means "sculptor" or "engraver," and so we may picture Ptah as God at work in the world, {short description of image}giving to all creatures their forms (Ibid., p. 500). He is usually depicted wearing the skullcap of the craftsman, as in figure. Here he also stands on a chisel-shaped plinth, which is the special symbol of the goddess Maat, of whom Ptah was said to be the lord (Ibid., p. 501).

The connection of Ptah with the material world is to be seen especially in his aspect as Ptah-Tatenen, which literally means "risen (or exalted) earth," a reference perhaps to the Primordial Hill. Tatenen was in fact a god, comparable in many respects to Geb (personification of the god of the earth), and often-like Geb-was painted with a green face and limbs. Conjoined with Ptah, Tatenen becomes a creator god, concerned specifically with the final phase of the outpouring of the Absolute into the inert but living matter of the earth. In a hymn to Ptah-Tatenen, we read:

Thou didst knit together the earth, thou didst gather together thy members, thou didst embrace thy limbs, and thou didst find thyself in the condition of the One who made his seat, and who fashioned the Two Lands ("Hymn to Ptah-Tatenen" quoted in Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians, vol. 1, p. 510).

It is significant that Ptah is usually represented as a mummiform god, like Osiris, with whom he eventually became identified. Much of the Shabaka Text concerns the relationship of Osiris to Ptah. But Ptah was linked not only to Osiris but also to Sokar, the god who presided over the very deepest regions of the Underworld. The Memphite theology thus relates to that aspect of the divine that is most involved in matter, the aspect that has sacrificed a purely spiritual mode of being in order to become crystallized in materiality.

The identification of Ptah with the supreme Godhead is an assumption explicitly made in the Shabaka Text. We read how within Ptah both Nun and also the Primordial Hill came into being. But their origin within Ptah is asserted without referring to the mythic upsurge of the Primordial Hill from the waters of Nun; it is perhaps presupposed that this is already known. At this point in the text, there is no mention of explicit cosmogony, but rather brief theological or metaphysical statements concerning the necessary background to the cosmogony. The key affirmation is that Ptah is "the mighty Great One" the source of all that exists, and hence the equivalent of the Heliopolitan Alum. The cosmogony as such begins with these words:

"There came into being as the heart and there came into being as the tongue something in the form of Atum" (Shabaka Text 53, trans. John A. Wilson in J. B. Pritchard, ed., The Ancient Near East (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958), p. 1).

This can also be translated thus:

"In the form of Atum there came into being heart and there came into being tongue" (As translated in R.T. Rundle Clark, Myth And Symbol In Ancient Egypt, New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1966). p. 61.)

Before this "moment," Ptah is wholly identified with the Absolute Spirit. It is thus in the first emanation of the Absolute Spirit that Ptah assumes the form of Atum. It is as Atum that Ptah becomes creative by bringing into existence the two organs of creativity:

The heart is the organ of thought, the tongue is the organ of speech.

As we have seen, these organs were attributed to Thoth in the Hermopolitan cosmogony. In the Shabaka Text, only the tongue is associated with Thoth, the heart belongs to Horus.

Answer for yourself: Do you see formation of the trinity here?

It is thus as the trinity Atum-Horus-Thoth that Ptah sets about the work of creation:

The mighty Great One is Ptah, who transmitted life to all gods, as well as to their kas, through this heart, by which Horus became Ptah, and through this tongue, by which Thoth became Ptah (Shabaka Text 53-54).

The first beings brought into existence by this trinitarian Ptah are the company of gods that, the text states, are to be regarded as the teeth and lips of Ptah:

His divine company is part of him as his teeth and lips, which correspond to the seed and hands of Atum. [In that myth] the Divine Company arose through the action of his seed and fingers. But the Divine Company is really the teeth and lips in that great mouth which gave all things their names (Shabaka Text 55).

The Divine Company, or Ennead, is in this way distinguished from the Heliopolitan Ennead. For the Heliopolitan Ennead arose as a result of Atum's act of procreation, whereas the Memphite Divine Company is identified with the act of procreation. Just as Horus and Thoth are assimilated into the being of Ptah, so also is the whole company of gods. The spiritual world of gods is grouped together as one with Ptah the world creator. They are all instruments of the one supreme god's creative thought and deed. The significance of this is that whereas the Heliopolitan and Hermopolitan cosmogonies concentrated on the emanation of the Absolute through successive spiritual stages, with these represented by the gods who are the spiritual preconditions of the manifest universe, the Memphite cosmogony-insofar as it regards the gods simply as instruments of the creator-thereby relegates them to the background of interest. It is then able to focus all the more on the final stages of the emanation of the Absolute into materiality, and to assign responsibility for this wholly to Ptah.

And so the making of everything, and the creation of the gods, should be assigned to Ptah. He is the Primeval Hill which produced the gods, from whom everything has come, whether food, divine sustenance or any other good thing (Shabaka Text 58).

It is precisely because the gods, who in the Heliopolitan and Hermopolitan cosmogonies stood as intermediaries between the supreme Godhead and creation, are here assimilated into the Godhead that stress is laid on the immanence of the Godhead in creation. God is the "heart" and "tongue" of all creation:

It happened that heart and tongue prevailed over [all other] members, considering that he [Ptah] is [as heart] in every body, [as tongue] in every mouth, of all gods, people, beasts, crawling creatures, and whatever else lives, while he thinks [as heart] and commands [as tongue] everything that he wishes" (Shabaka Text 54).

Since it is "in the form of Atum" that "there came into being heart and there came into being tongue," it can be seen that from the Memphite perspective Atum (or Ptah in the form of Atum) is brought down to earth, and regarded as immanent within all creation. Thus, in the hymn to PtahTatenen we read:

The winds come forth from thy nostrils, and the celestial water from thy mouth, and the staff of life [i.e., wheat, barley, etc.] proceeds from thy back; thou makest the earth to bring firth fruit, and gods and men have abundance ("Hymn to Ptah-Tatenen" in Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians, vol. 1, p. 511).


The emphasis on the immanence of Ptah extends beyond the natural world to the realm of human conduct. The Shabaka Text states:

And so justice is done to him who does what is liked, and evil is done to him who does what is hated. And so life is given to the peaceful, death to the criminal. And so are done all labour and all arts (Shabaka Text 57).

Ptah's involvement in the material world ramifies into the details not only of social but also of religious life, down to the determining of the shapes in which the gods are to be worshiped, and the materials from which their statues are to be made, since these "grow" upon him as the earth god:

He gave birth to the gods, he made the cities, he established the provincial divisions, he put the gods in their places of worship, he fixed their offerings, he established their shrines. He made their bodies according to the wishes of their hearts. And so the gods entered into their bodies of every kind of wood, of every kind of stone, of every kind of clay, of every kind of thing which grows upon him, in which they have taken form" (Shabaka Text 59-61).

This kind of attention to detail is the special prerogative of Ptah, who is lovingly involved with the material world. The Memphite cosmogony presents us with the fulfillment of the divine creative process, the final embodiment of the divine substance in material form. Viewed in this light, the cosmogonies of Heliopolis, Hermopolis, and Memphis do not appear as rivals so much as complementary aspects of a greater cosmogonic scheme in which different phases of the emanation of the divine into material manifestation are given emphasis.

And when compared to the sparse telling of the creation as found in the Genesis narratives we find a much more through and detailed exposition of the workings within the Godhead that helps elaborate and give a fuller understanding of what went on behind the scenes of sort in the Genesis creation accounts. It is when we look at the Memphis creation accounts of the Godhead as symbolized by Ptah do we take up with the Genesis creation accounts of Gen. 1:9-13:

9 And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. 10 And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good. 11 And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. 12 And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. 13 And the evening and the morning were the third day. (KJV)

The Memphis Cosmogony takes up with Genesis 1:9 and begins to elaborate how the divine incorporeal Spirit of the invisible realm of God manifests itself in the visible corporeal realm of matter. It would seem that the metaphysical accounts of the Egyptians bring a lot more understanding to the table when considering the origin of the creation of both the realms of the invisible immaterial universe as well as the visible corporeal realm of the visible material universe.

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