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The 'God with the Upraised-Arm' in Near Eastern Mythology: An Astronomical Archetype?
By Greg Taylor of The Daily Grail

In the depictions of mythological scenes on Near Eastern archaeological monuments a number of 'archetypal images' are apparent. One of the most intriguing of these is the 'God with the Upraised-Arm', which can be found in scenes from Egypt, right through the fertile-crescent to Anatolia. In Egypt it is apparent from the time of unification onwards, seen in identical depictions which capture the pharaoh in the act of smiting his enemies. This common image can be linked within a mythological context to the contendings of the gods Horus and Seth, with the king identified as Horus and the enemy Seth. Further, it would also appear that the 'smiting pose' was considered by the Egyptians to be visible as a constellation in their sky. The constellation of Orion presents itself as the most convincing candidate, although previous studies will have to be considered before accepting this identification. If correct, this would suggest that some of Horus' characteristics were due to the use of Orion as a seasonal marker. This becomes even more apparent when we shift our gaze to other parts of the Near East, where the 'God with the Upraised Arm' can be found in abundance. His context remains the same: either as the adversary of chaos, or as the bringer of rain and fertility. The common depiction and mythological treatment of this god across a range of cultures and time-periods suggests that it must be have been based upon an important and archetypal image. It is impossible to say for certain whether this image was Orion; nonetheless, this identification provides a comprehensive explanation for certain characteristics of the 'God with the Upraised Arm'.

The Narmer Palette (Figure 1) is often seen as a historical depiction of the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. The image of King Narmer, wearing the white crown of the south and smiting an enemy commonly held to be a northerner, is often cited as evidence that he was the unifier of the two lands (Grimal 1992, p. 37). This became a standard picture of the king throughout the history of Egypt (see Figures 2 and 3), whether the king holds a mace, a spear or even a bowstring in his right hand. Frankfort (1948, pp. 7-9) sees this as not only a scene showing a decisive historical battle, but also as a representation of the king as the divine ruler.


Figure 1 : Narmer Palette. (Source: Frankfort 1948)
 
Figure 2 : King Sekhemkhet. (Source: Aldred 1965, p 64)
 
Figure 3 : King Den (Source: Aldred 1965, p 64)

He asserts that the real meaning of the scene is that the king's victory represents the 'reduction of chaos to order', an important pre-occupation with the ancient Egyptians. Chaos assumed many forms: death, drought, invading enemies; these were all seen as manifestations of Seth (Frankfort 1948, p. 183). It was the king's job, as the earthly incarnation of Horus, to overpower Seth/chaos and maintain the established order. This is obvious from ancient Egyptian texts. For example, in the Cosmology of Abydos we find the following passage describing the triumph of Horus over Seth: 'Dignity has been set in place, honesty has been established through his laws, evil has departed, wickedness is gone, the land is at peace under its lord' (Colless 1994, p. 23). If the Narmer Palette scene is thus considered a symbolic representation of Horus defeating Seth, we would expect to see similar representations explicitly showing these gods battling. There is ample evidence of this and, importantly, certain elements such as the 'upraised arm' seem to hold great significance.

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