Hymn to Ptah

By now you should have read Genesis chapter 1 for the course.  We will be discussing throughout the semester some of the literature from other places in the Ancient Near East.  An Ancient Near Eastern text that bears some similarities to Genesis 1 is the Egyptian “Hymn to Ptah.”  Read the hymn below and in the comments section discuss any similarities or differences that you see between the two texts:

The ka-souls of all the living were created in the image of Ptah.
All formed in his heart and by his tongue.

Horus was created from the thoughts of Ptah’s heart.
Thoth was formed by the words of Ptah’s tongue.

Ptah’s heart guides the Ennead,
Ptah’s tongue directs human

Ptah creates the Ennead with only teeth and lips,
Atum must create with hands and semen.

Atum had to masturbate to bring forth the Ennead.
Ptah had only to speak, and the Ennead came forth.

Ptah called the names of Shu and Tefnut,
The wind and the rain gave birth to the Ennead.

Sight, hearing, and smell all report to the heart,
The heart is the source of all knowledge.

The tongue speaks only the words of Ptah…

Ptah’s heart grants the gift of life,
Ptah’s tongue organizes life’s abundance.

Ptah’s heart grants life to the steady heart,
Ptah’s tongue orders death for fools.

* Excerpt taken from Old Testament Parallels by Victor Matthews and Don Benjamin (page 5)

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About Jeremy

I work at Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Hammond, LA. I teach part-time classes from time to time, through Loyola University in New Orleans, Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans and St. Joseph's Abbey and Seminary College. I also just finished a doctoral degree in Biblical languages through the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa.
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21 Responses to Hymn to Ptah

  1. Heejoong "PK" Kim says:

    One similarity I found was that like God, Ptah was central to all creation and all the things that were created was by his own image.
    One difference I found was that unlike the Genesis 1 in the Old Testament, Ptah created other gods. In Genesis 1, God did not create other gods.
    Awesome excerpt!

  2. Andrew McDaniel says:

    I found it interesting that the first God Ptah created was named “Atum”. I can’t help but relate it to Adam in Genesis. Although “Atum” was a God, Adam was the first comprehensive being created by God, so in a way these creation stories are oddly simmilar.

    • Jeremy says:

      Andrew,
      That is an astute observation about Adam – Atum. It made me go look it up. Unfortunately, I’m not sure it bears out. Egyptian and Hebrew are from two different language families. And, these words have different root meanings. But, very good eye. I had not noticed that to even look for a connection before.

  3. Jade Tang says:

    Like God in the book of Genesis, Ptah was the ultimate creator. From Ptah’s own self, he created everything. Although Ptah was the ultimate creator, he used his abilities to create others of varied significance unlike God. Because I am not familiar with the language, I am not sure what to consider the others, but I assume that they have some deal of importance. I am thinking it might be something like Greek mythology where out of one God, many others were formed.

  4. Alex Hall says:

    It’s interesting how the Near Eastern is a comparison between God and one of his creations where as the creation stories of the new bible are a narrative of how the world was created. As far as form is concerned this is a major difference between the two texts. As far as purpose is concerned the two readings look to demonstrate the same thing, namely that a certain God is omnipotent. The Near East story does this through comparison with the abilities of a lesser being. The Genesis story does this by showing how God created the world from a chaos of nothingness.

  5. Caitlin Ordoyne says:

    A similarity between the two is that Ptah is the creator of everything just as God is the creator of everything in Genesis. Both Ptah and God created things in their image. A difference between the two is that Ptah creates certain individuals whereas in Genesis, God just created mankind.

  6. Paige Hinrichs says:

    There are some obvious similarities and differences with Genesis 1 and Hymn to Ptah. The first verse of the hymn talks of “ka-souls” being “created in the image of Ptah;” and Genesis 1:26 talks of God creating mankind in “according to our likeness.” Another likeness is in the kindness of both God and Ptah. The entirety of Genesis talks of God creating everything (animals, plants, sun, moon, etc.) out of love for us; and in Hymn to Ptah, Ptah creates various other gods, etc. out of his heart. However, the main difference between the two has to deal with “false gods.” Ptah created many other gods (Horus, Thoth, etc.) from his heart, but the Bible speaks against any other gods besides God. Also, there is a difference in what exactly is created by the two entities. In Genesis 1, God only creates Earth; but Ptah creates laws and restrictions in addition to the other gods, whereas the laws of the Bible are found later in the book.

  7. Dylan Kremer says:

    The most obvious similiarity is the relation between God and Ptah mainly both being omnipotent “creators.” However, in Genesis I, God is described with a powerful tone while Ptah is a more peaceful. Reffering to PK’s post, the most striking difference between the two texts is that Ptah created other gods while obviously in Genesis I, God does not. This hymn was very interesting and displays a different perspective into the views of people in the Ancient Near East.

  8. Whittney Smith says:

    I noticed more similarities than differences in the Hymn of Ptah and Genesis 1. The obvious similarity is the relationship between God and Ptah as the creators of mankind. There is also another similar character though, the relationship between Ennead and Earth being that each creator made them as he wanted. Lastly, another similarity is that all of the things/humans that were made by these creators were all made to serve Ptah or God in each of the readings. All things were made with the knowledge that God or Ptah were to worshiped or glorified.

  9. Cameron Cates says:

    I found that God and Ptah are the obvious similarity because they are both the creator of everything, creating all “people” in their own image. One difference I noticed was that unlike God it says Ptah created other Gods. God states that he is the only God to worship and there none else equivalent to him.

  10. Robin Tanner says:

    After reading the two creation stories, I was surprised that I didn’t find as many similarities as I thought might. There are the two omnipotent creators from which certain items are created in their image- all souls in Ptah’s image and humankind in God’s image. The Ptah Hymn gets makes a distinction between creating from the tongue and from the heart. It seems in Genesis 1, God creates primarily from his speech/tongue. I’m not too familiar with who Horus and Thoth were, but it seems Ptah creates gods, while there is no talk of God creating other gods in Genesis 1.

  11. Jessica Williams says:

    There are similarities between this and the book of Genesis, in that Ptah used his “word” to bring forth all life, just as God did at the start of creation. The stark differences lie within the mention of other gods, as well as through the sexual nature of this text.

    In the Bible, we don’t encounter sex until after the Fall of Man (when Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden, and then Adam “knew” Eve), and even then, it is not illustrated in the Bible like it is in this way. There is no talk of self-pleasure in Genesis, and I may be wrong, but the Bible in general doesn’t speak much of self-pleasure at all.

    Also in the Bible, you don’t get the outright comparison of God to other gods. Most praises in the Psalms simply say “There is no one like our God,” but never are the other gods’ supposed qualities mentioned.

    Overall, I thought it was an interesting text.

  12. Alexis English says:

    After reading both passages I found more differences than similarities. The most prominent similarity that I found was that Ptah, like God, created all living things in his own image. As far as differences, there are elements of nature mentioned in Ptah’s hymn, but there is no explanation of him creating these elements, whereas God created the earth in Genesis. Also, In God’s creation story there was a time frame of seven days, but there is no obvious time frame for Ptah’s creation.

  13. Jeffrey Ramon says:

    The main difference I have seen in the reading of different creation stories is the reality manifest in the creation stories of “other” cultures. For example, the Hymn to Ptah of Egyptians, the Brahma and Vishnu to the Hindu, and the Greek creation myth starting with Uranus and Gaia, all have a certain tangible reality to them. Partially this is related to the mythological aspect to these cultures in a sort of etiological theory. The differentiating relationship these creation stories have to Genesis, namely the Hymn to Ptah, is that Genesis has a sort of “genie complex.” There is not much explanation of process, more of a “poof, theres Adam.” Therefore, these texts show a much more tangible aspect to the creation of the world to give the people a sense of security, knowing the Gods are in complete control.

  14. Victor Harewood says:

    The “Hymn to Ptah” bears three major differences in relation to the Creation Story of Genesis 1. First, Ptah is clearly the counterpart to God of Genesis, however the “Hymn of Ptah” mentions what appears to be multiple spirits or gods within its creation story. The Ancient Near Eastern text therefore must have originated from followers of a polytheistic religion contrary to both the Jewish and Christian religions which are based in monotheistic belief. Second, the hymn lacks the conceptual creation of Earth, the organization of waters, or the appearance of plants as defined in the Genesis creation. On the contrary, the hymn contains the blanket statement, “The ka-souls of all the living were created in the image of Ptah.
    All formed in his heart and by his tongue,” which leaves the reader with the assumption that everything was simply created by the words and desires of Ptah. The Ancient Near Eastern text instead dives into the creation of man and circulates around that central idea for the length of the passage provided. Finally, though the Genesis 1 creation story is written in accordance with units of time, (ie. first day, second day, ect.), the “Hymn to Ptah” lacks a time frame. The Ancient Near Eastern text fails to describe whether the process of man’s creation lasts a minute or a number of centuries. Despite these three differences, the major similarity among these two passages lies within man being created in the image of the supreme deity. In this way the two passages relate, otherwise the bulk of these creation stories differ a great deal.

  15. Darrinton Moncrieffe says:

    Like the earlier comments have said one of the major similarities between the readings is that Ptah and God both take the roles of creator. They both create from their own images. The thing I thought was very different would be the creation of Ennead compared to the creation of Eve. I was not expecting the creation of Ennead to have anything to do masturbation. In Genesis 1 there isn’t any talk of sex. One of the other major differences is that Ptah does not have a time frame in his creation story but God does.

  16. Jeremy says:

    Very good discussion here. I think that you all hit the major similarities and differences throughout. A couple of points that I just wanted to hit. The creation by word is an important point of convergence. You don’t see creation by word, at least that I am aware of, in other places in the Ancient Near East. Usually, creation is formed out of some type of matter.

    The major point of divergence that I think most everyone picked up on was the polytheism in the Egyptian account. Ptah is creating other gods, whereas there is none of this in the Genesis account. However, as a point of clarification, the Old Testament in most places is not strictly monotheistic. Rather, it is monolatrous. The distinction is that the Israelites did not necessarily deny the existence of other gods (monotheism). However, they did worship only one god (monolatry).

  17. Both God and Ptah are the ultimate creators in each culture’s story. They both create in their own image so that they can be loved and worshiped by their creations. Ptah is creating multiple Gods but the God of the old testament created only mankind. This is the major difference and is probably do to cultural norms.

  18. Sean Hart says:

    Both God and Ptah are the ultimate creators in each culture’s story. They both create in their own image so that they can be loved and worshiped by their creations. Ptah is creating multiple Gods but the God of the old testament created only mankind. This is the major difference and is probably do to cultural norms.

  19. Marielly Abzun says:

    Genesis 1 and the Hymn of Ptah are similar in the idea of a God and the creationism. But one major difference was that in Genesis there were no other gods mentioned, unlike in the Hymn of Ptah. This seemed like it belonged to a polytheistic civilization unlike Genesis 1 where God himself says only he is to be worshipped and no other ‘god’. Also, Atum had to place some effort into the creation of Ennead, unlike Adam who did not because God did everything that involved creation.

  20. Melissa Raymond says:

    The biggest difference in this text compared to Genesis is that Ptah, the ultimate creator, has created other Gods. This is quite different from Genesis where God, who like Ptah is the ultimate creator, creates the Earth and Adam and Eve. No other Gods are created and polytheism is not present in Genesis.

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