1 God Lists from Cuneiform and Greco-Roman literature
God lists were a common feature of basic education in the polytheistic cultures of the Ancient Mediterranean and Southwest Asia. However, this was not religious education per se, since they were not meant to dogmatically set down a “pantheon” (a concept coined in modern times) that one must accept without additions or subtractions, in the manner of religious creeds or catechisms. Rather, since gods’ names formed an important subset of vocabulary, ancient scholars compiled them for use in teaching literacy and secondary languages.
One tradition of god lists is connected to cuneiform literacy, although it extends into some other scripts as well. These are self-contained texts, a sub-genre of so-called lexical lists, stemming from the mid-3rd – 1st millennium BCE.
- AN : Anum
- AN : Anu sha ameli
[revise; link to Cuneiform God Lists]
Another tradition, probably independent of the first, is Greek or Greco-Latin. These god lists are usually part of larger glossaries or Hermeneumata, composed or compiled in the Roman imperial period (1st–6th cents. CE) and transmitted through the Latin Middle Ages.
- The Leiden God List
- The Montepllier God List
2 The structure of the Greco-Roman Hermeneumata
3 The Egyptian Onomasticon of Amenope
As far as I can tell, nothing in the same vein as the cuneiform and Greco-Latin god lists survives in Ancient Egyptian, but the so-called Onomasticon of Amenope (used in the 1st millennium BCE), a list of all the (kinds of) things in the world, shows significant parallels to the larger structure of the Greco-Roman Hermeneumata. This text begins, in Gardiner’s translation, as follows:
“Beginning of the teaching for the clearing of the mind, for instruction of the ignorant and for learning all things that exist: what Ptaḥ created, what Thoth copied down, heaven with its affairs, earth and what is in it, what the mountains belch forth, what is watered by the flood, all things upon which Rēꜥ has shone, all that is grown on the back of earth, excogitated by the scribe of the sacred books in the House of Life, Amenopĕ, son of Amenopĕ. He said:
“Sky, sun, moon, star, [several constellations,] storm, tempest, dawn, darkness, shade, sunlight, storm-cloud, dew”. This corresponds more or less to the chapters De caelo in the Hermeneumata; it is followed by “Nile” and various words for bodies of water, then various words for kinds of land, neither having real parallels in the Hermeneumata.
The text continues: “male god (nṯr), goddess (nṯrt), male blessed dead (ꜣḫ), female blessed dead (ꜣḫt), king (nsw), queen (nsyt)” – the last term being otherwise used only of goddesses, but here included by analogy. After this, Amenope moves from the family of the king through some hierarchical steps down to ordinary people, and distinctions of age and gender. So, while no individual gods are listed, the gods as such are listed, and ahead of humans, as in the Hermeneumata.
For the rest of the text, in hieroglyphs, transliteration and translation and with abundant commentary, see Alan H. Gardiner’s Ancient Egyptian Onomastica, vol. 1 (1947). Also see the partial translation, with minimal commentary, on Digital Egypt for Universities (off-site link).
The Leiden God List
2. Hermeneumata Leidensia II p.8,12–27 Goetz
On the Gods1
The names of the gods:
Celestial, terrestrial, marine, subterrestrial/infernal gods.3
1. This and the following text are bilingual, from a sort of glossary. After the group names, the proper names of gods and goddesses are listed.
2. Greek theoi hileoi : Latin dii propitii.
3. ‘Celestial’: ouranioi : caelestes. ‘Terrestrial’: epigeioi : terrestres. ‘Marine’: thalassioi : marini. ‘Subterrestrial/infernal’: katakhthonioi : dei inferni.
4. ‘Daemones’: daimones : daemones. ‘Shade’: skia : umbra. Both words here refer to the dead.
The Montpellier God List
3. Hermeneumata Montepessulana II p.290,33–44 Goetz
Marine gods; ancestral gods, parental gods;1 celestial gods; immortal gods; subterrestrial/infernal gods,2 terrestrial gods, supernal gods, highest gods.3
1. ‘Ancestral gods’: Greek theoi patrōoi : Latin dii patrii, theoi patrioi : dii parentes. The latter Latin phrase could mean ‘parents (who have died and become) gods’, while the other three mean ‘gods whose worshipped has been inherited from one’s ancestors’.
2. ‘Subterrestrial/infernal’: theoi hypokhthonioi : dii inferi, theoi katakhthonioi : dii inferi. In Latin, the gods are often divided into the supernals or ‘gods above’ and infernal or ‘gods below’, a division that does not entirely line up with the Greek terminology.
3. ‘Supernal gods, highest gods’: theoi hypsistoi dii superi, theoi hypsistoi dii summi.