On priesthood, from: “The House of Horus at Edfu”, by Barbara Watterson

An Egyptian priest observed religious law as practiced in his own temple, and it was the doctrine of his own temple that he was most familiar with. Priests were not even required to exert moral authority or to have a divine calling to the priesthood, for their role was to carry out the temple rituals necessary for the maintenance of cosmic order and the well-being of Egypt, not as agents in their own right but in the name of the King, who was considered to be the High Priest of every temple.[…]

Certain positions in a cult temple were held by full-time members of staff who did not belong to the rotating phylae but were on duty at all times. The post of Superintendant of the temple, held by the High Priest, was permanent, as was that of chief Reader-priest, whose duty it was to recite from the sacred books when occasion demanded. Both posts were often held by the same person. The priests known as s3-mry.f (son-whom-he-loves), who performed the Opening of the Mouth Ceremony and the iwn-mwt.f (pillar-of-his-mother), who featured in coronations, jubilees, and royal processions, were permanent members of staff, as were the door-keepers, temple-sweepers, and other minor officials.[…]

The priesthood of a cult temple was divided into four groups, known as s3w or ‘gangs’ in ancient Egyptian but as phylae in Greek, with each phyle serving one lunar month in four. At the end of its month’s duty, the outgoing phyle drew up an inventory of the temple property and checked it with the incoming phyle.[…]

There were several categories of priest in a cult temple, the lowest being the w’b-priest. Every entrant to the priesthood, even the son of a king, had to begin his career as a w’b-priest. The next rank was that of ‘father-of-the-god’ (it-ntr). The higher ranking priests were known as ‘servants of the god’ or hm-ntr, an apt description since a temple was supposed to be the house of the god, putting its priests on par with domestic servants… There were three categories of hm-ntr, the third hm-ntr being the lowest rank, the first hm-ntr being the High Priest of the Temple.[…]

Priests received a share of the offerings that came into the temple every day, and were paid a regular income from its estates, with the priests of the largest, richest temples benefiting the most. The offerings were divided on a daily basis, with each priest receiving a great or lesser share according to his rank: the normal share for a High Priest was one tenth. A priest’s daily rations, according to Herodotus, consisted of bread and ‘a great quantity of goose-meat and beef, in addition to wine.’ The wives and daughters of priests also received a daily bread allowance. A High Priest had special perquisites: in the Temple of Wepwawet at Lycopolis (modern Assiut), for example, the High Priest received a roast of meat from every bull slaughtered and a portion of beer from every jar used on days when there was a procession. Other priests supplemented their income by performing services for the dead.[…]

Priests seemed not to have had any special training; nor were they required to demonstrate any particular talent for priesthood expect the willingness to undertake its disciplines. Priests were not expected to be unmarried, but they were obliged to refrain from sexual intercourse during each period of service. The same obligations were required of women as well as men…[…]

Priests, therefore, were important members of society. They were not, however, spiritual leaders in the way that Christian and Muslim clergy are, they were not preachers, they had no congregation.

Quoted from: “The House of Horus at Edfu”, by Barbara Watterson

Leave a Comment