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Ancient Egyptian God Khnum: Temple, Symbol & Facts

Instructor: Grace Pisano

Grace has taught high school history in several states with a master's degree in teaching.

Khnum, the god of water, creation of humankind, and fertility was very important to ancient Egyptians. In this lesson, learn about the history and legacy of Khnum.

Khnum

Water in the desert, the creation of gods, the beginnings of life, health, and protection in the afterlife are just a few of the things the ancient Egyptian god Khnum was associated with. Seems like a lot for one god, doesn't it? Khnum was one the oldest worshiped gods in Egypt, dating back to the 1st dynasty (2925-2775 BCE). Often called the ''Father of Fathers and Mother of Mothers,'' of the pharaohs, Khnum's name literally meant to ''unite, build, or join.'' Originally recognized as the god of water, he was later also associated with fertility and the creation of humankind.

Khnum is one of the most recognizable gods. Although he is depicted in several different ways, he usually has the head of a ram and hands of a man. Occasionally, you will see him depicted as just a ram, a man with the horns of a ram, or with four rams heads. The association with the ram is unique. When Egyptians began worshiping Khnum, he had long, corkscrew horns. However, this species died out, so later depictions show him being modeled after a ram whose horns curve inward. This is one way the legend of Khnum was adapted throughout time. He typically wears a white crown and is holding a jar with water coming out of it.

God of Water

Since Khnum was originally seen as the god of water, it makes sense that we should start our study of him there. Other than traditional water you or I might think of, Khnum was also associated with the rivers and lakes of the underworld. Khnum was seen as the source of the Nile, the most powerful river in Egypt. In addition to providing water, the Nile served as a way to irrigate crops and transport goods. According to the legend of Khnum, he made sure there was enough black silt deposits along the banks of the Nile to make the land fertile. This same silt forms clay, which link Khnum to his next association—the potter god.

God of Fertility

Khnum was often depicted with human hands so that he could work his potter's wheel to create humans. Khnum was believed to have created humankind from clay. Not only did he craft their physical bodies out of clay, but he also created an individual's ''ka'' (spirit) and could bless them with the gift of health. Ancient Egyptians believed he also created the gods that came after him on his potter's wheel. Additionally, they believe he created the ''First Egg,'' which is what the sun came from. Because rams are very fertile, he was also associated with fertility.

Deity of the Dead

In the Book of the Dead, spells call on Khnum, and many Egyptians were buried with heart-scarabs with spells to Khnum. They did this looking for protection and favor in the afterlife.

Khnum guided Ra (the sun god) on his journey through the underworld, created the boat they used, and defend him from the serpent that tried to attack. Egyptians believed that during the day, Ra road the boat across the sky—bringing light and warmth to the earth. Each night, when the sun set, he made a journey through the underworld. This journey was difficult, so Ra depended on Khnum and a few other gods to help him on this difficult journey. Because Khnum made sure that Ra made this dangerous journey safely, he was regarded as the protective deity of the dead.

Worship

During the Old Kingdom (2613-2181 BCE), Khnum was the most worshiped god. In fact, the pharaoh even took the name Khnum-Khufu, which means ''Khnum is his protector.'' Later, his popularity was surpassed by Ra.

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