Signs of creation: Sex, gender, categories, religion and the body in ancient Egypt

Few images from ancient Egypt more poignantly express the extraordinary differences between modern and ancient notions of the sacred than the juxtaposition of Mary and babe, or Christ on a cross, with ithyphallic Min (or Mut!) or Hapi with liquid streaming from his breasts. For ancient Egyptians, cr...

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Bibliographic Details
Other Authors: Williams, Malayna Evans (Other)
Format: Electronic | Book Microfilm
Language:English
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Published: [s.l.] Proquest 2011
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Summary:Few images from ancient Egypt more poignantly express the extraordinary differences between modern and ancient notions of the sacred than the juxtaposition of Mary and babe, or Christ on a cross, with ithyphallic Min (or Mut!) or Hapi with liquid streaming from his breasts. For ancient Egyptians, creation discourses intersected with the imagined sexed body, genitalia and all: myths, beliefs, iconography and even the writing system itself employed sexed signs to capture and convey ideas regarding the primordial moment, the daily regeneration of the world, the creation of the people who populate it, and the rebirth of the dead--concepts patterned upon human reproduction
In reality, everyone is created from the union of man and woman or, more accurately in today's modern world, the union of egg and sperm; biologically speaking, that is a universal truth. Indeed, nothing is more "natural" than our biological sexed bodies and the role of human sexed body parts in conceiving, bearing and nurturing offspring. But as M. Foucault and many others have pointed out, even social features long assumed to be natural and unchanging--madness, gender, sexuality, the body--can more profitably be viewed as cultural constructs worthy of historical exploration. The way sexed bodies are avoided, explained or celebrated differs dramatically across time and space as does the degree to which biological realities are recognized in sacred discourse. The Egyptian discourse of creation, and the role of sexed signs (phalli, breast, womb-vulva, pregnant woman) and one gendered sign (the egg) in creating, crystallizing and conveying ideas regarding creation and existence, is the object of this study. (I am distinguishing sex and gender here in terms common to modern Western academic discourse: sex as something that differentiates bodies and gender as "the set of variable social constructions placed upon those differentiated bodies.") By deconstructing sexed and gendered creation signs, I believe we can gain a better understanding of how human reproduction functioned as a foundational metaphor in Egyptian creation discourses, the power of signs in Egyptian culture, the construction and flexibility of ancient categories, the relevance and limitations of the concrete and imagined body, and the stability and/or fluidity of cultural constructs such as sex and gender
The ancient Egyptian perception of the body influenced cosmological and mythological beliefs. In turn, this religious discourse had a material impact on how real bodies were constructed, understood and treated. Imagined bodies were, in a sense, rather fluid in the ancient Egyptian thought world. Although the categories of sex and gender were stable, indeed foundational, for ancient Egyptian society, on occasion, sexed signs could be borrowed or adopted by the opposite sex, even other species, in order to signify a meaning attached to the sexed sign. We even find examples of sexed identities that don't easily fit into a binary male/female schema. Most commonly, this happens in a divine realm and signals extraordinary capabilities, often related to creation. Since determinatives help construct and reflect categories of meaning, hieroglyphic sexed signs as determinatives themselves contribute to the construction of categories and similarly expose it--sexed determinatives too can be adopted in ways that challenge traditional notions of sex and gender. And although jarring to widely-held modern notions of the sacred, sexed body parts were both common and essential to religious discourse, employed to communicate an array of ideas related to creation, nurturing and rebirth. In this project I use lexicographical, textual and art historical sources to explore some implications of the relationship between real human bodies and the divine realm, alternative readings of gender-bending identities, and the variability and flexibility of signs and how the signs treated here speak to the sensuality of creation discourses and Egyptian religion. Corporal aspects of religion should not be deprecated, but rather understood as part of tangible religious communion with gods, reality experienced through mind, body and all available senses. Egyptians built their belief system on natural observed phenomena and granted sexed body parts, such as phalli and breasts, an iconic place in religious discourse. By fostering a more complete understanding of how sexed body parts functioned in the representational system and religious discourse, I hope to have made a valuable contribution to the scholarship of ancient Egyptian religious discourse, sex and gender identity, constructed categories and symbols, and notions of the body
Item Description:Advisor: Janet Johnson. - Dissertation Abstracts International
ISBN:1124718362