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THOTH was the god of wisdom from Hermopolis in Middle Egypt. According to the Hermopolitan cosmology (which is best known from texts found at other sites), the eight primordial gods representing "hiddenness," "darkness," "formlessness" (?), and the "watery abyss" produced an egg that appeared at Hermopolis when the inundation subsided and from which the creator god appeared and brought everything else into being. When mentioned in the Heliopolitan Pyramid Texts, this creator god was Atum, but in the local Hermopolitan tradition he could have been Thoth.

Thoth was the moon god and as such was the companion of Re, the sun god, but he also had his own following among the stars in the night sky. One mortuary tradition, probably originating at Hermopolis, permitted the dead who knew the correct spells to accompany Thoth in the sky. Thoth was the son of Re, but he also represented the injured eye of the falcon-headed sky god, Horus, whose sound eye was Re. For unknown reasons Thoth is identified with both the ibis and the baboon. He is regularly depicted as a human with the head of an ibis. Baboons often appear in temple reliefs worshiping the sun god, and this association might indicate his subordinate relationship to Re. In the judgment scene of chapter 125 of the Book of Going Forth by Day, Thoth as the ibis-headed god presides over and records the weighing of the heart of the deceased owner of the book. A baboon is also represented in this scene seated atop the balance, apparently to ensure its accuracy. Thoth is credited in Egyptian mythology with separating the two contenders, Horus and Seth, as well as with magically restoring Horus's injured eye. He has one of the major supporting roles in much of Egyptian religious literature, and a number of hymns are addressed to him directly, although Re and Osiris are the principal gods discussed and invoked in these texts.

Thoth was renowned for his wisdom and praised as the inventor of writing. The mdw-ntr ("god's words," i.e., hieroglyphs) were recognized as perhaps his greatest contribution, and he was frequently shown with brush and papyrus roll in the attitude of the scribes, whose patron he was.

In the eighteenth dynasty several kings took as their throne name Thothmose ("Thoth is the one who bore him"). This Thutmosid family included several other members with ʿi' ("moon") in their names, so it is clearly Thoth's position as moon god that is being recalled. Remains of two small temples to Thoth survive in the Theban area, one very late and poorly decorated. Since the eighteenth dynasty was of Theban origin and the son of Amun-Re at Thebes was the moon god, Khonsu, these two moon gods could have been assimilated, but the family could also have chosen the name of the northern god (Thoth) when they moved their residence (capital) to Memphis.

In Egyptian literature there clearly was an ancient tradition concerning the secret knowledge of Thoth. Secret rooms and mysterious books were sought by learned scribes, priests, and princes. This tradition was carried over into some of the Coptic gnostic library tractates, and the question arises whether these were Egyptian or Greek in origin since the Greeks had early identified their god Hermes with Thoth. The origins of the continuing traditions of Hermes Trismegistos and gnosticism can be traced to Egypt, to Thoth, and perhaps even to the Hermopolitan cosmology, but the extent of Egyptian influence on these beliefs remains to be determined.

The great temple of Thoth at Hermopolis has not survived, although its location is known from finds in the area. A large catacomb for the burial of mummified ibises and baboons has been found nearby at the necropolis of Tuna al-Gabal.

See Also

Hermes Trismegistos.


Bleeker, C. Jouco. Hathor and Thoth: Two Key Figures of the Ancient Egyptian Religion. Leiden, 1973. Issued as a supplement by the periodical Numen.

Boylan, Patrick. Thoth, the Hermes of Egypt. New York, 1922.

Černý, Jaroslav. "Thoth as Creator of Languages." Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 34 (1948): 121122.

Leonard H. Lesko (1987)

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