Deborah and Egyptian Neith Comparisons



[Neith’s] role as both mother goddess and warrior is most evident from the Hymn to Neith preserved at the Esna temple, where she is quoted as saying:

“An august god will come into being today. When he opens his eyes, light will come into being; when he closes them, darkness will come into being. People will come into being from the tears of his eye, gods from the spittle of his lips. I will strengthen him by my strength, I will make him effective by my efficacy, I will, make him vigorous by my vigor. His children will rebel against him, but they will be beaten on his behalf and struck down on his behalf, for he is my son issued from my body, and he will be king of this land forever. I will protect him with my arms . . .. I am going to tell you his name: It will be Khepri in the morning and Atum in the evening; and he will be the radiating god in his rising forever, in his name of Re, every day.”

Compare elements of this hymn with the Song of Deborah.

1. Deborah and Neith both talk about their role as a mother;
2. Deborah and Neith each talk about how their actions led to an increase in population;
3. In both stories we find a rebellion of new gods battling against heaven;
4. In both stories, the mother, in her role as mother, promise to intervene in the fighting;
5. In both stories, the mother fights on the side of the chief deity;
6. In both stories there is talk about the enemy being struck down; and
7. In both stories the side representing the chief deity wins.

Additionally, we note that in the prose version, Barak is made effective by Deborah’s participation, and, in the Hymn to Neith, Re was made effective and vigorous by the actions of the goddess.

One difference between the two stories is that the Neith is identified as the mother of the chief deity, but the child of Deborah is not named. This is not surprising given the monotheistic nature of Hebrew religion. Permitting a character to have too close a resemblance to the chief Egyptian deity would be highly offensive.

Although we don’t know the name of Deborah’s child, we do know the names of the only two persons with a close relation to her. Her husband’s name, Lapidoth, translates as “torches”. Barak’s name means “lightening.” Both of these names are interesting in connection with the iconography of Neith.

One of the features of Neith worship, according to Herodotus, was a great festival known as the Feast of Lamps, during which her devotees all through the night kept numerous lights burning. So we have Neith, who is worshipped at the House of the Bee with a festival of torches, and Deborah, “the Bee” who is married to “torches”. A coincidence? Perhaps, but certainly very suggestive of a close mythological relationship.

Neith and Deborah also have a connection as Judges. In the New Kingdom story known as “the Contendings of Horus and Set”, Neith appears twice in a judiciary role. In this story, Set and Horus sue for the right to succeed Osiris as king of Egypt. Early in the story we are told that the struggle has been going on for eighty years but the dispute was unresolved. The gods then implored Thoth to send a letter to Neith, asking for guidance on how to resolve the dispute. Neith replied that the office should go to Horus, and then adds that if the gods don’t award judgment to Horus, “I shall become so furious that the sky will touch the ground.” This threat sounds very much like a description of lightening, an interesting phrase considering that Deborah’s general, the enforcer of her will, is named “lightening.” Later in the story of the “Contendings”, Neith is once again called upon to make a decision.

From the above, we can see a number of points of comparison between Neith and Deborah the warrior/judge. Not only were there thematic similarities between the Hymn to Neith and the Song of Deborah, we find both are judges, both are associated with the bee, and both have an important connection to torches and perhaps lightening.


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