Cult-like Ritual for a Newborn Crown Prince
The theme "the new-born child in a small boat of woven rushes floating on the
Nile and recovered by the king's daughter" is known as one of the most popular
stories in connection with Moses.
reading of the Moses stories in the Bible can lead us to believe that an
accidental foundling, the infant Moses, was fortunate to have been discovered
and brought up by a princess. In reality, the episode with Moses in the little
boat on the water is an example of an "internationally" widespread cult-ritual
for designated crown princes before and after the time of Moses, although the
Bible in its present version may leave the impression that Moses' experience was
unique and almost a "miracle".
Stories of a new-born child found in a boat floating down the River Euphrates were already known from
Babylon almost a millennium before Moses' time, where a boy-child - later to
become the king named Sargon (Sargon I) - was found, brought to the king's
palace and given a high education; (cf. Appendix 1). According to his so-called
'autobiographical' record, this child (Sargon) in the rush boat was the son of the
king's daughter. No foreign child of low birth could have obtained such a
significant education followed by a royal career. Thus, it must have been a
thoroughly planned happening intended for a child of royal origins.
A similar cult-ritual is
related in ancient Scandinavia, where a young boy-child - "sent by the gods" -
arrived alone in a boat floating on the water. This too describes what must have
been a staged happening, since "all the people who received him on-shore
immediately knew that the child was to be the country's future king". This child
was later to be known as King Skjold ('shield') of Denmark, the
progenitor of the Skjold-children's dynasty, who lived at the royal seat of
King Sargon is the
earliest known case of this ancient ritual for royal children: - "a
new-born child sent by the gods in a small boat on the water, recovered and
brought to the king's palace by the king's daughter (and later was to become
king)" - while the case of Moses is the most famous.
There have been numerous other cases since it was a
widespread royal tradition and in addition a
prestigious, religious custom.
The last known and in many ways similar case is about the
Dalai Lama; and even in connection with the old Tibetan Bön
religion where the Tibetan god, Pe har, had assumed a form
of a boy and was placed in a box drifting down the Kyichu
river and was then picked up by high-ranking lamas or
abbots, or by the Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama himself.
In ancient Egypt, the pharaoh was considered to be a god,
and thus the pharaoh-son to be the god-child, Horus, who was
recovered by his mother, the goddess queen Isis, from the
little vessel in the reeds or bulrushes, on the Nile.
In addition to King Sargon I found on the Euphrates
(ca. 2300 BC) and Moses found on the Nile (ca. 1500 BC), it
is known that Erechtonius, the first Athenian prince
(ca. 1400 BC) was found in the water on the coast; and that
the Greek "god-child" Dionysus - born of King
Cadmus' daughter Semele - was found in a little boat
riding the waves near Brassiae in Laconia.
Another Greek "god-child", Attis, was received on the
banks of the River Sangarius by the mother-goddess Cybele.
However, many scholars have too easily dismissed these
cultic traditions, places, and persons as being myths and
fairytales. But in the 1950's, the burnt ruin of Cadmus'
royal palace was found by archaeologists, and likewise in
Denmark in 2004 the royal palace in Lejre was found. Thus,
both sites are scientifically dated, proving time and
location correct and disproving these as being myths only.
Moreover, the Mycenaean (ancient Greek) linear-B tablets
prove that the name Dionysus was known ca. 1500 BC.
In India the Sun-god's
son, Karna, the Prince Royal, was placed in a woven reed boat by his
mother, the king's daughter Kunti; as similarly was the Babylonian Queen
Humar's son set out on the Euphrates to be received and recognized as heir
to the throne.
The Latin King
Romulus was found on the River Tiber (ca. 800 BC); while King Tu-Küeh
of the ancient Turkish people was set out on the water at Turkistan (ca.
200 AD). As with King Skjold ('shield') - also known as King Sheaf -
on the Roskilde fiord near the settlement Lejre, in Denmark.
The same ritual was held not only for King Arthur on
the Cornwall coast (all ca. 600 AD), but also for the Celtic
kings' children on the Rhine; and it even appears in ancient
myths in Tibet (within the Bön religion) and Japan (the
new-born son of Izanagis and Izanamis was set out in a woven
rush boat). And the ritual was also known to be associated
with high leaders of the (early Asian influenced?)
North-American Tlatlasikoala-, Tsimschian- and
Even much later, this tradition or idea may be identified
demonstrating its widespread occurrence. For example, all
over the south of France the tradition of Mary Magdalene
arriving on the coast of Provence is still well-known. The
place, later a city, is named: Les Saintes Maries de la Mer.
It was normal in the 1st century AD that Jewish refugees
escaped to southern France, for instance the 'famous' Jewish
ex-king Herod Antipas. Some Christian texts of Antiquity
together with partly secret legends tell us that Mary
Magdalene was Jesus' wife and most preferred disciple. In
addition that she carried their unborn child, thus of "royal
blood" (cf. royal ancestors of Jesus, in the New Testament),
on her arrival to the coast "in a boat without sails and
oars", where they were picked up and helped ashore.
The event where Moses was received with the ritual for the
chosen royal child indicates him as being an Egyptian - the
Israelites had no kings until 500 years later (Saul, David
etc.). In any case, the Moses episode in the Bible seems
actually to describe a cult ritual for the initiation of
royal children chosen to become heirs to the throne.
In Egypt, occasional fragments of this royal ritual are
well-known (see chapters 4 and 14, and cf. the Egyptologist
H.W. Helck below in the present chapter), but in less
detailed form. Also the fact that Moses went through this
ritual, of which also minute details can be recognised in
the Bible, and was then for some time placed with a
wet-nurse, conclusively speaks for Moses as being the child
of Pharaoh's Daughter.
It was a normal practice
that royalty used wet-nurses for their children. Thus the previously mentioned
Hatshepsut, at that time a very young Pharaoh's Daughter, seems to have
similarly arranged for her child to be briefly "returned" from the
wet-nurse's-care to partake in the ritual.
The Mystery Play: a Key to Ancient World Concepts!
In ancient society, mystery plays or cult-dramas had an extremely important
function. Today, it is easily forgotten how much a "religious" attitude
penetrated the cultures of the ancient world, and how much attention these cult
forms received. Religion, mysticism and cult were all blended on a high level
and influenced most daily activities. In the profane world, one strove to
re-live the myths of the gods - for instance, when the king himself was made to
catch a dangerous animal while hunting, this was believed to reflect the gods'
victory over the powers of chaos.
Throughout most of the
ancient world in the Middle East and India, mystery plays were practiced. Later,
other forms could be found in the secret society like "the eagles" of the Mayas
in Central America - and even some parallels could be seen regarding the
mysterious "leopard men" in West Africa. Real mystery plays still exist,
especially in the contemporary Masonic lodges, when for example connected with
their different steps of the initiation ceremonies.
In the ancient world the
more or less secret cults with their sacred rituals and other special ceremonies
where the secret mystery plays were also practised were an "international"
phenomenon. This in principle reflects a homogeneous form of cult-practice and
an equivalent unified core of religious-philosophical ideas in spite of all the
external differences. In the Bible's original Hebrew text about the "ritual
episode" with the infant Moses on the river Nile, we find that key words in the
story - bulrushes, papyrus, Nile, riverbank, etc. - are not Babylonian but in fact ancient Egyptian words.
Some of the forms of
development taken by the mystery plays (as mentioned in detail in later
chapters) follow directly from ancient Egyptian texts. Many of these were
translated by Kurt Sethe, the German Egyptologist, in his "Dramatische Texte zur
altägyptischen Mysterienspielen" (Leipzig 1928). Several authorities depict the
mystery plays associated with throne-inheritance rites: inter alia, Egyptologist
Alan H. Gardiner, - and Henri Frankfort in his book "Kingship and the Gods"
(Chicago 1948), and in H.W. Fairman & S.H. Hooke's dissertation "The Kingship
Rituals of Egypt" (Oxford 1958).
An impression can still
be given concerning the importance of this part of culture in Ancient Egypt
through the many traces of ancient mystery plays in the late middle ages. For
instance, the crowning rituals of the kings, in commedia dell'arte, in
the crib- and passion plays of the church, and also in the ceremonies of the
freemasons. Archaeological finds of the priests' great god-masks for such plays
in Egypt are also well-known.
Theatre-playing in Europe
has its origin in these mystery plays via Greek tragedies and satires, and from
the mystery plays they have continued the tradition of using masks and costumes,
especially those of gods and demons.
Elements of the mystery
plays, which seem strange today, can be recognised in many significant
situations of Moses' life, and are also recorded in the Rabbinical Writings and
other ancient texts.
It was, of course,
possible for power-seeking rulers and competing branches of the royal family to
abuse the situation when a new-born prince and heir to the throne went through
the ritual of being set out in a boat, thereafter to be received by high-seated
persons, taking the opportunity to get rid of an unwanted heir. The child could
then be removed under cover of this rite or by arranging an accident during a
Some of these
practices are also hinted at in several myths; yet again some of the incidents
are but witness to the tribulations the child had to go through via the mystery
plays, since at the same time the rite was perceived as a consecration of the
child as "the chosen one".
originated from earlier, often more brutal, traditions where the survival
abilities and "power" of the king's child were tested by literally
life-threatening methods; for example by setting a child out on the water or in
the wilderness. In other cases, on the contrary, the goal was protection of the
child e.g. by reporting the child lost, while at the same time having arranged
in secret for childcare by strangers in a hidden place far away.
the practice of the more or less secret cults with their mystery plays was
exercised by royalty, the highest ecclesiastic persons, the nobility and
aristocratic families. For example, at Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine emperor, a
queen and an heir to the throne all played the main characters in frequently
performed ecclesiastic mystery plays dealing with the birth of Jesus.
The story in the
mystery plays connected to a newborn royal-child's first consecration - as
protection against evil influences - is retold in the Brothers Grimm story about
the Sleeping Beauty. Three fairies (originally goddesses) came to the newborn
child, offering magical cradle-gifts.
However, one of the
fairies took the opportunity to achieve her own mischievous purpose - still
within the rules of the game. Even this twist in the plot has its origin in the
content of the mystery plays, where a suitable balance from an "opponent" was
always sought for - not necessarily by compensating for the good gifts with
something bad, but for example by giving rights together with duties.
Thus the reception
of the three-month-old Moses by the women of the royal house dressed as
goddesses, had also been performed within a cultic mystery play, whereafter,
like the act of the fairies, the child was endowed with royal attributes such as
wisdom, strength, beauty, devotion etc. Such mystery plays with "good fairies"
(goddesses) at the birth of the heir to the throne, relating to early Egypt, can
be found in "Papyrus Westcar" from the times of King Cheops, ca. 2550-2525 BC.
Horus-Myth-Play with Moses as a King's Son on the Nile
To be able to better understand what actually happened on this special occasion
when the princess received Moses from the Nile, some well-documented early
Egyptian conditions must be taken into consideration.
In ancient Egypt,
religious processions often included taking statues of gods out of the temples,
dressing them in special costumes and then carrying them in chests/coffins (in
some cases known as 'fdt-st3t, 'cista mystica' ), in processions, with
halts on the way in certain places. Here the escorting priests and audience
could praise, intone hymns, genuflect, or prostrate themselves to honour the
practice is known from ancient Babylon and later also with ancient Roman gods.
In principle it is still to be found, 3,500 years later, in the Catholic Church,
where statues of saints are dressed and carried along certain routes, also
having special stops at "stations" on the way for genuflection, supplication,
Instead of using
likenesses of gods, i.e. figures, statues, pictures, these religious rites could
also be expressed by certain persons dressed as gods acting out the gods' part -
and that is exactly the practice characterizing the mystery plays. In Egyptian
temples and tombs frequent illustrations are found showing human figures dressed
A form of religious
procession, used on numerous occasions, was carried out by sailing on the Nile
with different gods - also here often in coffins placed on the boats - which
thereafter were received on the east bank near the Amun(-Re) temple close to the
palace in Egypt's then capital No, i.e. Karnak/Luxor - 680 km south of
present Cairo - more precisely in the northern part (Karnak); the town and place
which was later called Thebe(s) by the Greeks (from Greek taibe,
'ark/chest/coffin', thus related to Egyptian debet).
narratives about royal children who were "sent by the gods", like Sargon,
Romulus, Skjold etc. - and thus also Moses - and who from their special boat
were then taken up by the king's daughter and brought to the royal house,
clearly were arranged mystery plays. All the aforementioned children who
went through this ritual were brought up to become kings - and according to the
Rabbinical Writings and several ancient writers, this has also been the case
An important element in
Egyptian religion is also seen in the many religious processions where gods
(statues) in chests/coffins were transported, e.g. the traditional religious
teaching about the mythological king-god Osiris, who after his death was laid in
a floating coffin. (Likewise the rabbis describe the little boat of Moses as
"the little ark" on the Nile). From this ark, the king-god was then to be
revived, with the help of the goddess Isis, in the image of his and Isis'
newborn son Horus, a god-child that was to become the new king. In other words -
again, exactly like Moses.
In this Horus-myth an
important feature was that Horus' mother, Isis, appeared together with her twin
sister Nephthys, the goddess, so that the god-child, Horus was conceived by Isis
and "born", in a figurative sense, by Nephthys. Therefore, the delivery was
painless - but the ambiguity was understood and reported so that in reality Isis
conceived him, and yet another sister of Isis, Hathor (the goddess of the sky),
In the study of Egyptian
theology and mystery, this ambiguity could be perceived as if the child went
through a physical as well as a spiritual birth. The same line of thought is
later seen in some of the old Christian and Christian-inspired sects, for
instance the Gnostics in Egypt (and also with Rudolf Steiner in more recent
times), where Jesus too is connected with this religious idea of having two
mothers, a physical mother and a spiritual mother. Likewise, some of the
mythological pictures of the Deir el-Bahari temple, for example, deal with the
birth of Hatshepsut, showing her as a newborn child in a similar dual form,
where she is depicted as two identical king's children - one of which
personifies her ka, or soul.
From the written records
as well as from historical knowledge of the ancient Egyptian relations, it is
possible to reconstruct the structure in this mystery play, where it will appear
that Moses acted as the divinely born Horus-child, the new king, who
arrived on the Nile in Osiris/Horus' ark.
This "container" was no
ordinary rush basket - the Hebrew Bible explicitly states that it was a boat
woven in papyrus, and was "an ark", i.e. shaped as a rectangular chest or coffin
with a lid, in Hebrew theba, an equivalent of the previously mentioned
Egyptian word debat (debet): 'ark', 'chest', or 'coffin' (later taibe
in Coptic and Greek). It was such chests/coffins - though mostly made of wood -
that were used by the Egyptians for storing statues of their gods at ceremonies.
The ark of the Moses
child, made of reed (bulrush, papyrus) was sealed with zefeth, Hebrew for
'pitch' - originally an Egyptian word from the time of Hatshepsut: sifet,
an oil-product either as 'pitch', or as 'oil-ointment' especially used for
preparing the dead in the coffins. Modern research has discovered traces of
pitch in the mummies, and that the pitch normally being used was imported from
Canaan (cf. "La Recherche", février 1990). Of the Bible's different words for
'pitch', the use of the word zefeth in the texts about Moses is to be
connected with the coffin/ark of the Osiris-ritual.
From this special boat -
the floating, woven coffin - Moses was consequently received by his mother
Hatshepsut, who, since she was Pharaoh's Daughter, performed the role of the
mother of the god-child, Horus, the goddess Isis in this mystery play.
Royal Wet-nurses, - and Royal Radiance
In addition, Moses was supplied with a nurse, who correspondingly filled the
role of the goddess Nephthys. Royal nurses were recruited from families of great
reputation - as one example, the later pharaoh Tuthmosis III made his nurse's
daughter, Sat-iah, his chief wife long before he married an Egyptian daughter
of the king.
It is also a well
documented situation that in the era of the kings of the 18th dynasty - and
hence in the time of Hatshepsut - it was a tradition that the nurses at the
court were ladies-in-waiting who were married to high ranking officers and who
had special connections with the king.
The aforementioned German
Egyptologist, Hans Wolfgang Helck, explores this issue in two of his treatises
(cf. Bibliography: group 9a), "Der Einfluss der Militärführer in der 18.
ägyptischen Dynastie" (Leipzig 1939) and "Zur Verwaltung des Mittleren und Neuen
Reiches" (Leiden 1959). Furthermore, such an upbringing must be seen in relation
to the fact that the Rabbinical Writings and also several ancient writers
mention the young Moses as already having great abilities as a general and a
military tactician in the service of the then ruling pharaoh.
Therefore, it came to be
that also Moses - as in the Horus-myth - was provided with a nurse who,
according to the Bible, also acted as a kind of mother to him. This was in fact
a universal cultural practice with the Egyptians, as well as with the
Babylonians and later with the Greeks and Romans. In common with them all, the
nurses practised as a sort of reserve mother since they acted as midwife, nurse,
governess, teacher and tutor. In Louis Ginzberg's collection of Rabbinical
Writings, "Legends of the Jews" (vol. 5, Philadelphia 1925, p. 399), it is
expressly written, concerning the woman that stood ready and waiting in the
bulrushes (reeds) that
"... the woman was
told to 'be a nurse' to him, but not breast feed him ...".
Several Rabbinical Writings also mention that this wet-nurse and (surrogate)
mother "delivered without pain". This is in total correspondence with her role
in the mystery play as the goddess Nephthys who was also nurse, reserve mother,
and "delivered without pain" since she is not proclaimed as the biological
mother of the (Horus) child. In accordance with Hans Wolfgang Helck's "Twk und
die Ramses-Stadt", in Vetus Testamentum (vol. 15, Leiden 1965), the motif of the
episode in the Bible is just as Egyptian as it is Semitic.
Exactly as in the
original story, "a sister" was particularly mentioned in connection with the
breastfeeding. From the story in the Bible it appears that similarly Moses'
so-called sister, who was waiting in the bulrushes, arranged for the baby's
mother to act as wet-nurse - again in similarity with the Horus-myth, where the
mother (Isis) of the Horus-child arranged for a (her) sister (Nephthys), who was
waiting in the bulrushes, to act as wet nurse. This similar relationship
supports the assumption that there exists a connection to the later text of the
Hebrew Bible, in which the sister is not at all mentioned as a little girl, but
referred to by the word "the young woman". These relationships can be documented
1. The pursuit of the child: - is
mentioned already in "Papyrus Jumilhac" (VI, 9).
2. Which text also refers to Nephthys
as: - "the sister, who watches in the bulrushes".
3. Furthermore, this text mentions,
also in close correspondence with the text in the Bible that
"... he (the
Horus-child) sails in a reed boat, and then Isis said, 'let me see my son
that is hidden in the bulrushes' ...".
Generally, it is not yet scientifically established that the Moses-text is
rooted in the Egyptian royal tradition - although the following can be
4. The pharaonic child on the Nile
is delivered by the god: - this is directly to be read in the inscriptions
about Egyptian kings (more details in chapter 14).
5. That a mother with royal
connections, as in this case Pharaoh's Daughter, thus "taking over" her child,
is a known ritual: - "adoption of pharaoh" (see chapter 4).
According to the
information in the Bible, the woman that nursed Moses was a Levite; in later
Jewish tradition, she was generally perceived as belonging to a Hebrew tribe of
Levi. However, much seems to indicate that in Egypt, most of these Levites
actually were Egyptians originally (more on this in chapter 6).
As a starting point it was not unrealistic to presume that
Moses' nurse could be of Egyptian origin, possibly slightly
"Levitine"; or even more foreign, a Hebrew. Compare with the
fact that as late as in the 1860's, rich white Southern
State, Americans entrusted their children with nurses
selected from among their slaves. But the Book of Exodus
(2:9) mentions that a woman was paid to nurse the infant
Moses. Thus, as opposed to servants and slaves, she was a
paid employee of the Pharaoh's Daughter, which, at the
Egyptian court, was a practice with ladies-in-waiting; and
according to the Bible as well as the Rabbinical Writings,
the woman who nursed Moses already had two children.
From the beginning,
Moses, as a royal child - a divine child, the god-child, Horus, - was a potential heir
to the throne, since Exodus (2:2) states that
"… And when she
(Moses' mother) saw him (the infant Moses) that he was a goodly child, she
hid him three months …".
Egyptologists have demonstrated that special circumstances existed when
Egyptian royal children were born - forming part of a cultic ritual. These
births took place in special huts or tent-structures often erected on the roof
of the palace or temple - according to, e.g. the German Egyptologist Emma
Brunner-Traut's treatise about 'vigil-huts': "Die Wochenlaube", in Mitteilungen
des Institut für Orientforschung (Band 3, Berlin 1955, pp. 11-30).
The mother could, in this
childbirth-pavilion, "hide the child" in isolation from the public during the
first period after birth, "protected from danger" according to "Papyrus Westcar"
- exactly as stated in the Bible.
Since most mothers would
probably think that their child was good-looking, there must be another meaning
of the expression 'good-looking' ('goodly') found in the biblical text. In
Egyptian, this expression is absolutely logical - as no word for 'good' existed
as a moral expression - but was the word nefer (nfr), which in "humble"
translation means 'good or beautiful (in appearance)' and was mostly used in
referring to kings and gods, and meant 'royal radiance', or 'divine radiance'.
Likewise, it appears from
Philo's two thousand-year-old biography on Moses, and from the "Epistle to the
Hebrews" in the New Testament that originally there is something special about
the Hebrew expression tov that means 'good', and which, as in the ancient
Greek Bible-translation the word asteios also means 'good' in the sense
of a person's appearance and charisma. This is also confirmed by the rabbis
(Midrash, fol. 51) since - from S. Baring-Gould's collection of Rabbinical
Writings (vol. 2, p. 74) - it appears that
"… the splendour
of the face of the child was like that of the sun …",
- which is in harmony with the fact that the god-child, Horus, traditionally also
was connected with the sun.
These conditions must be
seen in relation to the previously mentioned tradition where goddesses (like the
fairies) gave the god-king-child "magical" crib-gifts of such attributes. This
mystery play was a sort of theophany, '(first) appearance of the god',
and is later known also by the church. It now appears to be a reality that all
the traditionally prescribed rites were included in the episode with Moses.
In this book the use of such even generally accepted
procedures is referred to as a starting premise by means of
which evidence of customary practices and rituals are
treated as being relatively true, as long as they are not
proven false or unreasonable (i.e. as a useful, provisionary
working hypothesis only and not seen as a fixed proof). This
has proved to be more plausible than assuming beforehand
that almost anything, in principle, in the ancient reports
is not true before it has been established. This present
method was also used by several archaeological authorities
like Cyrus Gordon, Yigael Yadin, and especially W.F.
Albright who introduced stringent standards into biblical
archaeology, making it more scientific and acceptable.
Evaluations made by them for which they were especially
criticized, were often cases where they had deviated from
using this present method.
It has now been shown
above that several parts of the Biblical texts and Rabbinical Writings in
question are relatively correct reports - also concerning ceremonies on the Nile
- and seems to be in logical agreement with Egyptological knowledge. This
strengthens the historical certainty of the essence of the ancient reports - not
necessarily as "hard evidence" about the "truth" of the Bible, but shedding new
informative light on its content.
- Examination of several ancient Middle Eastern ceremonial
performances which resemble the episode with Moses, has shown that this
special procedure could only be related to royalty and was an
"international" tradition for royal children as heirs to the throne.
This implies that Moses must also have been a royal child when in the first
place thus able to partake in this rite.
- The ritual for the royal child was arranged as a mystery
play. In the Egyptian version, this meant that one of the participating
women acted as the royal child's wet-nurse. This fits in with the biblical
mention that Moses' nurse was paid, and again that the nurses of the royal
house in Egypt were not serfs or slaves but were attached to the court as