Today’s offering is one of those collections of little bits of Isis information that aren’t quite enough to make a post on their own, but are interesting if you put them all together.

So here we go…

Cuneiform writing
Cuneiform writing

Isis in Babylonia…Maybe

Egyptologists have long used transcriptions of Egyptian personal names found in cuneiform as clues in helping them figure out how ancient Egyptian might have been pronounced. Many of the Egyptian names in these texts are what are known as theophoric names, that is, they include a Deity’s name in them. For instance, Isidora is a theophoric (“God/dess-bearing”) name meaning “Gift of Isis.”

A number of the Egyptian names in cuneiform also are Isis-bearing names. Researchers have also found something else interesting about them, and that is that the cuneiform also includes a marking that indicates that the name is divine. But only in the case of the Isis names—even though they have found a number of other theophoric names that include other Egyptian Deities (for example, Amun, Mut, Thoth, and Bastet).

What’s more, the Isis-bearing names with the divine marker in them were found mostly in the records of a wealthy merchant family from Nippur, dating from 465-405 BCE. This coincides with the first period of Persian rule in Egypt: 525–402 BCE.

An artist's conception of ancient Nippur
An artist’s conception of ancient Nippur

We might speculate that some members of this wealthy family, or perhaps an Egyptian family they were trading with during Persian rule of Egypt, had a devotion to Isis. Perhaps they brought Her worship to Nippur. As yet we have no other evidence of a temple there, but the prominence of Isis theophoric names, as well as the unusual divine marker in the writing makes this a possibility.

Another interesting bit of information in relation to this is that all the Isis-bearing names have Her name as “Esi,” which is another confirmation that the final “t” was dropped in saying Iset’s name at least by this time and probably quite a bit earlier…some think as early as the Middle Kingdom.

Personally, I love the softness of Isi/Esi/Ise/Ese…and I think I shall be chanting Her name that way for a while.

Some Notes on Isis as a Tree Goddess

The Tree Goddess Isis nourishing Pharaoh Thutmose
The Tree Goddess Isis nourishing Pharaoh Thutmose; you can see Her name at the bottom of the column of hieroglyphs

There were a number of sacred trees in ancient Egypt, notably the sycamore fig, the persea, and to a lesser extent, the date palm. All of these trees are fruit-bearing, and were sources of nourishment—both in life and in the afterlife. (We talked about the sacred acacia, which is not fruit-bearing but has other fine qualities, several weeks ago.)

Three Goddesses were particularly associated with these sacred trees, in which They could also be seen to dwell. They are Hathor, Nuet, and of course, Isis.

There are a number of representations of Isis as the Lady of the Sycamore. A pillar in the tomb of Sennefer of Thebes (18th dynasty) shows Sennefer and his wife Meryt as they stand before a leafy tree with a Goddess figure in it Who is identified in the hieroglyphic text as Isis. Another 18th dynasty stela shows “Isis the Great, the God’s Mother” as a Tree Goddess Who extends Her breast toward the souls of the man and woman standing at Her roots. A 19th dynasty stela shows a leafless tree in a pot, but which seems to be hung with ribbons. The Goddess wears Isis’ throne upon Her head, yet is identified as Mistress of the West as She pours water to refresh the deceased.

A beautiful piece of Tree Goddess Photoshop work...if you know the artist, please let me know.
A beautiful piece of Tree Goddess Photoshop work…if you know the artist, please let me know.

According to Plutarch, the persea tree (Egyptian ished) is sacred to Isis “because its fruit is like a heart and its leaf like a tongue.” He explains that this is because no human quality is more Divine than reason, symbolized by the tongue, and that there is no more driving human force than happiness, symbolized by the heart. Taking an Egyptian, rather than Platonic approach, we could say it was because Isis created by conceiving something in Her heart, then speaking it into being with Her tongue.

A Praise of Isis from Koptos

On a large stela showing Ramesses offering incense to Isis in Her sacred barque and dedicated by the overseer of the work on Ramesses’ temple, we read this praise of the Goddess:

Flinders Petrie, who excavated much of Koptos...looking a bit obsessive
W.M. Flinders Petrie, who excavated much of Koptos, offering us his intense look

Adoration to Thee, Isis, Fair of Face in the Adtet boat, Great of Prowess [. . . ] ills, abolishing quarrels, driving away [. . .] saving the weak from the fierce [very sketchy in here with many broken lines] this humble servant reached his city in order to give praise to Isis, to glorify the Great Goddess every day.

The rest is too broken up to reproduce here, but I get the idea reading it that perhaps he had had an encounter with Isis in Her barque and he had been inspired him to make this stela in Her honor. Also, I like the idea of Isis “saving the weak from the fierce.”

Women Isiacs in Roman-era Athens Causing Change

We have a number of Greek grave reliefs of women, and some men, in what has been termed “the Isis dress” and carrying a sistrum and libation vessel. The Isis dress is the one with the Isis knot in the center. I’ve written about that here and here. Elizabeth Walters (a professor of Art History and Archeology at Penn State University), who studied these reliefs extensively, believes that the people to whom the grave reliefs belonged were probably initiates of Isis.

Funerary relief of Alexandra in Isis dress, from Roman-era Athens
Funerary relief of Alexandra in Isis dress, from Roman-era Athens

A paper I’m reading now explores the role of these female “religious enthusiasts” and attributes to them some changes in the way priestly activities would have normally taken place. The author, Paraskevi Martzavou (A Greek-born professor of Classics at Oxford University), suggests that at least some of the women in the Isis dress may have played roles in an Eleusinian-style initiatory ritual, perhaps even taking the role of Isis Herself.

Martzavou believes that the influence of these women may have opened up a new way for Isis devotees to be more involved with their chosen Goddess outside of an official priestesshood. He sees it as characteristic of the worship of Isis and terms it “sacerdotization.” He explains that term as there having been a sort of freelance priestessly status among these women who may have been involved in initiatory rites. He says he’d like to see it studied more. And so would I.

Okay, that’s the download from the Isis cornucopia for now. I hope you found something to pique your interest, and as always, may She bless you abundantly.