Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Short Story: King Tut, a God reborn

The pharaoh Tutankhamun, popularly known as King Tut, was mummified with a fully erect penis, according to a recent study. Standing proud at a stiff 90-degree angle, the erection was not simply for show, but was used to battle his father’s attempt to introduce drastic changes in Ancient Egyptian religion.

Buried in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, King Tut’s highly unusual embalmment did not stop with his perpetual state of arousal; he also had his heart removed, and his mummified corpse and coffins were slathered with a dense coat of black liquid.

While Tutankhamun’s burial peculiarities have been the subject of both scholarly research and media buzz in recent years, Salima Ikram, an Egyptologist and professor at Cairo’s American University, has come forward with a possible explanation for them.

How one boy’s penis defied an entire religion?

In her paper, which appears in the journal Études et Travaux, Ikram suggests the burial anomalies were not caused by mistakes during the embalming process, but were instead intentional efforts to make the boy king look like Ancient Egypt’s god of the underworld, Osiris, with the erect penis symbolizing the latter’s powers of regeneration.

“The erect penis evokes Osiris at his most powerfully regenerative moment, and is a feature of ‘corn-mummies,’ the quintessential symbols of rebirth and resurrection,” Ikram wrote in her paper. Corn-mummies were artificial, nonhuman mummies made of grain and other materials. They were created to honor Osiris.

In addition, the covering of liquid made the pharaoh’s skin resemble Osiris’ pitch-black skin. The missing heart was in reference to a legend in which Osiris was cut apart by his brother Seth, after which his heart was then buried.

Transforming the boy king into Osiris might have been an attempt to combat the religious revolution started by pharaoh Akhenaten, who many believe was King Tut’s father.

Akhenaten wanted Egyptian religion to focus worship on the sun disc, Aten, destroying images of other deities in the process. King Tut wanted to reverse these changes and bring back the traditional worship of multiple gods.

Researchers have yet to uncover another Egyptian mummy with King Tut’s unique features. “As far as I know, no other mummy has been found thus far with an erect penis,” Ikram told LiveScience.

It is interesting to note that shortly after Tutankhamun’s mummy was discovered, his penis broke off from the rest of the corpse. This led the media to speculate it had been stolen. 

“Osiris” on fire

At one point, thanks to the god-awful amount of black, sludge-like material that the embalmers administered on the boy king’s corpse as well as his coffins, Tutankhamun’s mummy caught fire. Archaeologist Howard Carter, who discovered the tomb in 1922, wrote, “the most part of the detail is hidden by a black lustrous coating due to pouring over the coffin a libation of great quantity.”

“The mass of oils and resins applied to Tutankhamun’s body might also allude to the black color associated with Osiris as lord of the land of Egypt, dark with the rich soil of the inundation, and the source of fertility and regeneration,” Ikram stated in her paper. 


Unlike most other mummies, King Tut lacked a heart, or its usual replacement, the heart scarab.

“This organ was a key component for the successful resurrection of the body,” said Ikram, referring to the Egyptian afterlife myth in which the heart was weighed against a feather to decide whether or not the soul was worthy of being resurrected.

Ikram believes the missing heart was not a result of theft, but is rather an allusion to Ancient Egyptian mythology. According to the story, Seth butchered Osiris, then buried his heart. Ikram observed that the way King Tut’s body was sliced open to remove his internal organs was particularly “brutal,” which may be another reference to Seth’s savagery.

 A god reborn

Aside from the mummy’s erect penis, thick coating of black goo, and absence of a heart, other evidence points to King Tut being deliberately made to channel Osiris.

For example, a decoration on the north wall of the burial chamber depicts King Tut as Osiris himself.

“Tutankhamun is shown as a fully fledged Osiris – not simply a wrapped mummy,” observed Ikram. “This representation of the king as Osiris is unique in the Valley of the Kings: Other tombs show the king being embraced by Osiris or offering to him.”

Though Ikram stresses that her ideas regarding King Tut’s mummy are speculative, Carter himself thought that the embalmers were depicting the pharaoh and Osiris as one.

“Perhaps Carter’s emphasis in his notes during the unwrapping and examination of the mummy is more correct than even he thought: the king was indeed being shown as Osiris, more than was usual in royal burials,” wrote Ikram.

The pharaoh’s embalmers, and Tutankhamun himself, may have been pressured to treat his corpse in such a way in reaction to the religious upheaval brought about by his father.

“One can speculate that at this delicate historical/religious time, it was thought that the usual modes for the transformation of the king were not sufficient, and so the priest-embalmers prepared the body in such a way so as to literally emphasize the divinity of the king and his identification with Osiris,” stated Ikram

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