Author: Erik Hornung
Translated by John Baines
Trade Paperback, 295 pages
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Publication date: 1982
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In Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and the Many, Erik Hornung provides a general overview of how gods were viewed in Ancient Egypt. While it is an overview, it is by no means a simplistic one.
Because the Egyptians viewed their gods and their religion in a way the western mind may not necessarily be familiar with, Hornung is careful to guide the reader step-by-step as he builds his explanation. The book opens with a chapter on how various Egyptologists interpreted findings through the years. He mentions how some theories were discarded because of later archaeological discoveries and how some Egyptologists misinterpreted findings because of their own beliefs.
This provides a strong foundation for the rest of the book. Hornung frequently refers to other scholars, sometimes using their work to support his, sometimes using his to disprove theirs. The book is heavily footnoted but fortunately it is not necessary to read all of the other books to understand Conceptions of God. After the historical introduction, Hornung moves to Egyptian terms for god through to an explanation of the pantheon. Each of the seven chapters builds upon the previous so that the reader is introduced to the Egyptian way of thinking in a logical manner. In the back of the book, Hornung includes a small glossary of the gods, although readers looking to find out which god was responsible for what (which after you read the book you will discover is not as clear cut as you might think) would want to look elsewhere for a more expanded explanation. Hornung sums up his glossary this way: I have added a brief description after each name. These descriptions can only indicate a few salient aspects of the deity; they cannot supply an adequate characterization.
I loved this book. I have seen it recommended in various places, including The Cauldron's forum and I understand why. Not a fluffy book by any means, it is, however, written in a way that can be understood by the non-scholar reader. For those interested in the Egyptian Reconstructionist path, you ll want to read other books in addition to Conceptions of God, but this is a very good place to start. I would also recommend it to anyone who has enjoyed an Egyptian exhibit at a museum or program on the History Channel. Reading Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and the Many will enhance your view of the ancient Egyptians and the beauty that was their religion. Hornung sums it up best, I think, when he writes in his conclusion: "Any sort of contact with the world of the Egyptians silences one question, that of the existence and reality of these gods."
Reviewed by Sauronsmom