Seth, the Bible, Translations, Interpretations, and History

Earliest known depiction of Seth (a god)

According to the Bibles of today, Seth (שֵׁת : transliteration is Sheth coming from Shith; Phonetic Spelling: shayth; the correct pronunciation is Shet; linguistically the Strong numbers are 7986 from 8352; Standard Šet, Tiberian Šēt; Arabic: شيث Shith or Shiyth, Sith Lord; “Placed; appointed”), in the Book of Genesis of the Hebrew Bible written around the 5th Century BCE, is the third listed son of Adam and Eve and brother of Cain and Abel and is the only other son mentioned by name) was the third son of Adam and Eve (The word “Seth” means “appointed”, “compensation” or “substitute”, and most commonly “sit” or “put” as well as “run” “devastate” and “ruin” {a verb} Genesis 4:25; cp. 5:3) depending on what version and/or scroll the person is reading. His mother gave him his name, “for God,” Eve declared, “has appointed me [i.e., compensated me with] another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew.” Both the story of Seth and his name can be directly traced to an ancient Egyptian god, patron of the 11th nome (or province) of Upper Egypt.  The earliest known representation of Set comes from a tomb dating to the Naqada I phase of the Predynastic Period (circa 4000 BC–3500 BC), and the Set-animal is even found on a mace-head of the Scorpion King, a Protodynastic ruler.

Royal tombs of Tanis watched over by Seth

Historically, linguistically, and hieroglyphically, Seth has been symbols of pigs, donkeys, and fishes. His cult centers were at Tanis (Τάνις), the Greek name of ancient Djanet (modern صان الحجر ān al-aǧar), it is a city in the north-eastern Nile delta of Egypt was the home city of Smendes, founder of the 21st dynasty and a very important νεκρόπολις (necropolis: city of the dead) of the

Golden death mask of Psusennes

Third Intermediate Period that was home to the burial of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun, where a Holy Trinity was based, consisting of the gods Amun, his consort, Mut, and their child Khonsu; consult: Stierlin, Henri, and Christiane Ziegler. 1987. Tanis: Trésors des Pharaons. (Fribourg): Seuil), and Ombos or Ombo (Arabic: كوم أمبو) (Greek: Ὄμβοι Omboi, cp. Ptolemy, Γεωγραφικά iv. 5. § 73; the 13th-century Codex Seragliensis GI 57 is the base for Alfred Stückelberger, Gerd Graßhoff, et al., eds. (2006), Ptolemaios Handbuch der Geographie (Griechisch-Deutsch), Basel: Schwabe Verlag) a city that was in the Thebaid, the capital of the Nomos that served as a garrison town for military personnel and had a medical school where Seth as regarded as the crocodile-headed god Sobek (in some Egyptian creation myths, it was Sobek (Σοῦχος) who first

Sobek in form of crocodile (12th dynasty: Staatliches Museum-Munich)

came out of the waters of chaos {Eve} to create the world {Adam: red earth} which is the reverse of the Genesis account that was patriarchal while ancient Egyptian was matriarchal in nature and format).  Seth had his largest following as the Lord of Lower (Northern) Egypt at Tanis.  Most commonly, Seth was represented by a big-eared imaginary animal with red (reflecting Adam: the red earth) hair resembling a donkey or maybe an aardvark. He was associated with the desert and storms. The Greeks associated Seth with their god, Typhon.  His story is more complete in ancient Egyptian theology than the mythology of Genesis.

Nephthys mourning the dead

In ancient Egypt Seth was the brother of Osiris, Isis and Nephthys (Nephthys was also his wife; she was the daughter of Nut and Geb, a member of the Ennead of Heliopolis, and protector of mummies; her name means “Mistress of the House” and “Friend of the Dead” and was a mourner at funerals, usually appearing as a cat, and is first mentioned in Old Kingdom Funerary papyri; in ancient Egyptian theology she is known as NebHet is almost universally depicted as a woman with the hieroglyphic symbols of her name {a basket and a house, stacked on top of each other} situated atop her head. She was associated with funerary rituals throughout ancient Egyptian history and was venerated not as Death itself, but as the companion who gives guidance to the newly deceased.). Nephthys’ son, Anubis, was born from her tryst with Osiris, formulating the Middle East acceptance of adultery and incest.

God Sobek (L) with Pharaoh Amenhotep III (R)

Seth of Egypt never had any children (unlike the Seth of the Bible who, Genesis 4:26, {cp. 1 Chronicles 1:1} had a son Enosh {אֱנוֹשׁ: it translates as “mortal”} when he was 105 {the Septuagint version gives 205 years} which would be in our dating between 13 and 26 years; it is copied into Luke 3:38; there is no other authentic record of him having other sons or daughters {the Septuagint says “other sons and daughters” in 5:7, but that is a standard boiler-plate inclusion}, indicating that the story of Seth and Enosh is but a ploy to define civilizations).  There is no Biblical, extra-Biblical or ancient record that shows Seth liking children.  This is a catalyst emphasis on his association with the barren desert and of his status as the antithesis of the fertile Osiris.

The Seth in extracanonical texts is somewhat different, however, and frequently overlaps into the family genealogy of Cain.  In the Book of Jubilees (The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, R.H. Charles, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913. Book of Jubilees 4:7-13), in 231 AM Seth married his sister, Azura, who was 4 years younger than he was. In the year 235 AM, Azura gave birth to Enos (אֱנוֹשׁ) that technically means “mortal frailty”, from anash, “sick”, “frail”, “mournful”, “melancholy”, or “wicked”. By analogy it is related to anashim (cf. ben Yehuda, Aramaic Enosh in Daniel) and may denote “peoples”, alluding to the spreading forth of the population in his day and an indication that not everyone would abide by rigid rules and has Sumerian antecedents (Seth is also considered by ancient Hebrews as the progenerater of Noah, and thus of the mortal race; and, in Islam as a prophet: قصص الانبياء by اسماعيل بن عمر بن كثير (1999). دار السلام، Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Darussalam [c.1999], which has an English edition by Imaduddin Abul-Fida Ismail Ibn Kathir ad-Damishqi, Imam (2000). Stories of the Prophets Karachi: Darul Ishaat; see “Story of Adam and Seth”, and a German edition: Geschiedenis van de profeten Delft: Uitgeverij Noer, [2003], and Thai edition เรื่องราวของบรรดานบี= khong bandā nabī = Stories of the Prophets published by ศูนย์หนังสืออิสลาม, Krung thēp… : Sūn Nangsư̄ ʻItsalām). 

Pillars of Seth/Hermes at Karnak (Book of Enoch)

Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 1:2:3:70:71, refers to Seth as virtuous (there is no Biblical reference to this) and that his descendants invented the wisdom of the heavenly bodies, and built the “pillars of the sons of Seth” (more commonly known as the Two Pillars of Hermes):  two pillars inscribed with many scientific discoveries and inventions, notably in astronomy (cf. 17th and 125th chapter of the Ritual of the Dead the Egyptian Book of the Per-em-Hru or the Book of Coming Forth into the Day, being the two oldest books ever discovered and online at http://www.angelfire.com/ab6/imuhtuk/gdmans/pillars1.htm).

White Pillars of Death: Door to Afterlife (Egyptian engraving)

Josephus mistook Seth for Sesostris (but does not say which one of the three that had that name), pharaoh of Egypt, the erector of the referenced pillar in Siriad (being a contemporary name for the territories in which Sirius was venerated i.e., Egypt (read: Herodotus {writing 450-420 BCE}, ιστορίες (Histories) 2 [Euterpe].104; cp. Diodorus Siculus i. 53-59 and Strabo, most likely not the geographer’s name, as the word means “squinty” and refers to misshapen or malformed eyes, indicating that the author needed glasses that at that time did not exist, (Στράβων; 64/63 BCE – ca. CE 24) Geographica or Geography (Ancient Greek: Γεωγραφικά, Geōgraphiká) [a seventeen volume encyclopedia] xv. p. 687; for a reference to consider read: Kurt Sette, “Sesostris,” in Unters. z. Gesch. u. Altertumskunde Agyptens, tome ii. Hinrichs, Leipzig (1900). 

Strabo's Map of the World BCE

Studying Strabo is critically important today, for he was not like modern scholars:  Strabo rightly argued for a broad and multifarious education that recommended an encyclopedic acquisition of knowledge as a means of attaining learned status in any of the primary realms of study. He was among the first to teach that no one can find truth by reading one book and attempting to prove the validity, accuracy, veracity and credibility of what the book contained by citing the book itself; yet contemporary evangelicals and fundamentalists still attempt to prove the Bible using the Bible as their reference source. If the Bible story of the Flood is to be even partially trusted there was no way for any pillars of Seth to survive the deluge, because the deluge buried all such pillars and edifices far underground in the sediment of its waters.

Goddess Neith

During his battles with Horus, the goddess Neith suggested a compromise by giving Horus the throne and Seth the Semitic goddesses Astarte (known as Venus in the Greco-Roman world but who in Canaanite theology was known as Asherah) and Asat.  That gave Seth two wives like other Middle Eastern Semitic men, for throughout the Old Testament of the Judeo-Christian Bible polygamy was common, and it was rare for any man to have less than two wives—especially if they could afford more.

The story of Seth in Egypt is similar to that of Cain in the Old Testament for Seth became famous for the fratricide of his brother Osiris and that is most likely the source for the Genesis account of Cain and Able.  The Bible’s account is nearly identical to the attempted murder of his brother’s son, Horus.

Osiris and Seth (prototypes for Cain and Abel)

Unlike Abel, Horus survived and avenged his father’s death by ruling all of Egypt and exiling Seth to the desert “for all time”—similar to Cain’s exile. Seth however was not willing to accept the loss of his “birthright” and, like the legend of Jacob and Esau, was tricked out of it by his father’s wife. 

While Jacob covered his hairless arms with the skins of goats to fool his father Isaac, Isis transformed herself into a beautiful young woman and went to Seth with tears streaming down her face.  Seth asked the young woman what the matter was and Isis told a story not unlike the situation she experienced with

Seth, with 72 disciples, conspires against Osiris

Horus.  Isis related that an evil man with 72 conspirators (cp. Luke 10:1)  whom Seth declared were his disciples, and had killed her beloved husband who was brought to the earth to help all of humankind, but the evil man was not satisfied with the slaughter of her husband but was equally intent on trying to steal her family’s flocks (Compare Genesis 12:12-16:   וְהָיָה כִּי־יִרְאוּ אֹתָךְ הַמִּצְרִים וְאָמְרוּ אִשְׁתֹּו זֹאת וְהָרְגוּ אֹתִי וְאֹתָךְ יְחַיּוּ׃  אִמְרִי־נָא אֲחֹתִי אָתְּ לְמַעַן יִיטַב־לִי בַעֲבוּרֵךְ וְחָיְתָה נַפְשִׁי בִּגְלָלֵךְ׃  וַיְהִי כְּבֹוא אַבְרָם מִצְרָיְמָה וַיִּרְאוּ הַמִּצְרִים אֶת־הָאִשָּׁה כִּי־יָפָה הִוא מְאֹד׃  וַיִּרְאוּ אֹתָהּ שָׂרֵי פַרְעֹה וַיְהַלְלוּ אֹתָהּ אֶל־פַּרְעֹה וַתֻּקַּח הָאִשָּׁה בֵּית  וּלְאַבְרָם.  Seth became angry at her plight.  Indignant, Seth insisted that the evil man be destroyed and that the young woman’s son should inherit the family’s estate. Hearing the words from Seth’s mouth, Isis rejoiced and noted that by his words, Seth condemned himself, and lost the throne of Egypt.  In the Legend of Osiris (there is a basically respectable English translation of it at http://www.touregypt.net/godsofegypt/legendofosiris.htm), Seth (who is also known as Set) kills Osiris and scatters his body, then claims the throne of the gods for his own. He is later struck down by Horus, the son of Osiris, who restores order to the world and sets up the pharaohs as the guardians of Maat.

Battle between Seth and Horus: the battle between Horus and Seth; Seth is shown in the form of a hippopotamus, his tiny size rendering him less threatening.

Seth/Set and Horus continue to battle for control of the world, setting up an epic conflict of good versus evil that would be plagiarized into the biblical fable of the archangel Michael battling the Fallen Angel (some who claim is Lucifer (cp. 2 Enoch 29:4, 31:4 {written c 200 BCE, and transferred shortly to “Devil” that has no Hebrew antecedent; see the Slavonic Enoch xxix. 4, xxxi. 4}),

Lucifer Liege Luc Viatour (Le génie du mal) by Guillaume Geefs, Cathedral of St. Paul, Liège Belgium

others say is Satan ( הַשָׂטָן ); they are not the same angels: Satan is a Babylonian Son of God who is known as the Adversary or Advocate/Lawyer in Job 2:1, and Lucifer (הילל בן־שׁחר) was an angel/god of light {lucem ferre} and comes from ancient Phoenician/pre-Hebrew theology of being “the morning light” (lucifer qui mane oriebaris) and is a part of Canaanite theology: “הילל בן־שׁחר” (Helel Ben-Shachar) in Isaiah 14:12 (cp. 2 Peter 1:19: Φωσφόρος), while the one Cast Down was “The Devil” as found in Isaiah 14:3-20, but is not said to have been “cast down” from heaven—this comes from the Second Book of Enoch Verses 29:4, 31:4 of the longer recension manuscript R —although many early Church Fathers celebrated this fiction which in time was accepted as fact, as with Tertullian (Contra Marcionem, v. 11, 17), Origen (Homilies on Ezekiel 13), and others, who identify Lucifer with the Devil, who various Father of the Church have erroneously interpreted as being the Devil who was “cast down from heaven” (a mistranslation of  Revelation 12:7–10; cf. Luke 10:18).

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3 Comments

Filed under Ancient Egypt, Bible, Evangelical Christianity

3 responses to “Seth, the Bible, Translations, Interpretations, and History

  1. Pingback: Adam and Eve | Arthur Frederick Ide's Blog

  2. Nycredyble

    Great intellectual piece!

  3. Seth

    Thanks for this writeup – very interesting and informative!

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