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Re: Isis as virgin

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  • neseret
    ... ========== As has been noted to you on EEF, virginity - as a moral state of no sexual activity prior to marriage - was not a valued moral condition in
    Message 1 of 2 , Mar 27, 2013
      --- In ANE-2@yahoogroups.com, Jgibson <jgibson000@...> wrote:
      > Can any one here tell me when and where in Egyptian texts Isis is
      > described as "virgin"? Does the word that I understand to be used for this -- hwnt -- only mean "never having had intercourse"? Is there any truth to the claim that Isis was always regarded as a /perpetual virgin, /let alone an "immaculate one" as is asserted by//William Williamson (The Great Law: A Study of Religious Origins [Longmans, 1889] 26) in his claim that
      > > the goddess Neith, who, like Isis, the mother of Horus, was known by the titles of Mother of God, Immaculate Virgin, Queen of Heaven, Star of the Sea, The Morning Star, The Intercessor.
      > If not, what texts falsify this claim?
      As has been noted to you on EEF, virginity - as a moral state of no sexual activity prior to marriage - was not a valued moral condition in ancient Egypt. In regards to Isis in particular, Plutarch's rendering of the myth indicates that she and Osiris were so involved with one another from the beginning that they mated with one another while in the womb of their mother, Nut (Plutarch, De Iside et Osiride 12,356A). Further, Isis is noted in myth to have been mated to and ruled with Osiris for many years before his death, with the only "parthenogenic" activity - if one may call it so - is her magical ability to conceive Horus upon Osiris' body, after the death of her husband at the hands of Sutekh.

      I suspect, as the Isis cult spread throughout the Graeco-Roman world by the 4th century BCE, the value of virginity was added as a principle through its Greek interpretation. As noted on EEF, this may have come about with the conflation of Isis with Neith, who in Greek interpretation was equated with the virgin goddesses Artemis and Athena. While Neith herself was not considered a "virgin" deity, she was a powerful creatrix in her own right, as declared in the Saite theology, who created the world and universe without a male consort.

      Beyond this, I can think of no _Egyptian_ text which declares Isis (or any Egyptian goddess, for that matter) was a "virgin." The Greek interpretation that Isis was virgin may have come about from the requirement that actresses who played Isis and Nephthys were usually young twin girls, since the goddesses are twins (Baines 1985). However, by the Ptolemaic period, when the "Songs of Isis and Nephthys" were written, the requirements for the actresses had changed to that of two women who were "pure of body and virgin, with the hair of their bodies removed, their heads adorned with wigs...tambourines in their hands, and their names inscribed on their arms, to wit Isis and Nephthys, and they shal sing from the stanzas of this bood in the presence of the god [Osiris]."

      However, chastity was a feature of the Isis cult as practiced in Greece and Rome. The best work on this topic is

      Heyob, S. K. 1975 _The Cult of Isis Among Women in the Graeco-Roman World_. √Čtudes Pr√©liminaires aux Religion Orientales dans L'Empire Romain. Leiden: Brill.

      Within, Heyob notes that abstinence from sex - by both married and unmarried adherents of the cult - is first noted in the Delos cults of Isis, which begin about the 4th century BCE. These 10-day periods of abstention were required before a woman was initiated into the cult, and again before the performance of certain rituals.

      Further, Greek interpretations of Isis name her as the protectress of the chastity of lovers while parted, and as an extension of this protection, infant daughters were often dedicated to Isis in order to protect their virginity. Meanwhile women often fled to the temples of the goddess in order to protect themselves from violation(Heyob 1975: 123).

      There's also the whole issue of transmuting statues of Isis Lactans from the cult into the Virgin Mary by the developing Christian cult. There are a number of publications along this line,hich I will provide later, if you are interested. This is also worth looking into,in my opinion, since Heyob notes that early Christian writers generally commended the Isis cult, primarily on its principles of sexual abstention (Heyob 1975: 123-6). This admiration of the cult's sexual abstinence principles may have led early Christians into accept the Isis Lactans statues more readily into churches.


      Baines, J. 1985. Egyptian Twins. Orientalia 5: 461-482.

      Finally, I think the term to which you referred is /Hnwt/, not /hnwt/. /Hnwt/ has the meaning of "Dame, Mistress" (Dame, Frau) and "mistress" as in the sense of the master of a skill or division, i.e, Seshat as the "mistress" of recording of history. As far as I am aware, nowhere does /Hnwt/ have the meaning of being a "virgin" (Jungfrau) in the sexual sense.

      I hope this assists.

      Regards --

      Katherine Griffis-Greenberg

      Oriental Institute
      Doctoral Programme in Oriental Studies [Egyptology]
      Oxford University
      Oxford, United Kingdom
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