This is part of a larger piece of creative nonfiction. The beginning can be found here.
The ancient Egyptians look at Hapi, god of the Nile, a deity whose false beard reaches just to the tops of his female breasts. A cloth covers the loins that (we might guess) are turquoise like the rest of his skin. Hapi’s stomach is rounded as if stuffed with the fat of the land he has nourished.
When Hapi is god of the northern part of the Nile, he wears papyrus plants and his wife is Buto. When Hapi is god of the southern region of the river, his wife is Nekhebet and he wears lotus on his head. He oversees the water that floods the Nile, depositing the silt on the bank that makes the crops grow.
Hapi is a very old god, maker of the universe, creator of the earth. Over time, Hapi disappears into Osiris, god of the dead, god of earth, god of vegetation.
The droughts are Osiris’ death, and the flooding are his rebirth.
The sacred stories say Osiris is murdered by his brother, Set, who tricks him into trying out a fine sarcophagus that Set then casts into the Nile. Osiris’ wife, Isis, searches for the god’s corpse and finds it. She goes out to gather herbs and potions to bring Osiris back to life, but Set discovers the body, tears it into fourteen pieces, and flings it across Egypt. Isis finds and gives her husband a proper burial, but first she revives him (and his fish-eaten penis) long enough to copulate and conceive a son.
Osiris becomes king of the afterlife. When the Nile swells and floods, it is Osiris born again. When the Nile recedes, Egypt mourns Osiris’ loss and gives gifts on the shore. When it floods, the priests pour sweet water into the Nile and proclaim Osiris found.
But these are only two (or one?) gods.
There is Anuket, goddess of the Nile, decked in a headdress of reeds and ostrich feathers. Her sacred animal is the gazelle.
Nephthys, goddess of death, vegetation, and rivers. Her headdress is a house and a basket. She is the inversion of her sister, Isis–Nephthys is death and Isis is rebirth.
Khnum, god of creation and waters, source of the Nile, and the god that creates the bodies of children on his potter’s wheel from the Nile’s clay and places them in their mothers’ wombs.
Sobek, god with the head of a crocodile, god of the Nile, the army, military, and fertility.
Tefnut, goddess of moisture, air, dew, rain, weather, fertility.
I name only a few.
The Canaanites look at Yam (Sea), whose epithet is Judge Nahar, Judge River. Yam’s greatest rival is also a god of water: Baal Haddad, god of the storm, thunder, lightning, rain, fertility.
Baal Haddad rides on the clouds, clutching bolts of lightning in his fists. When Baal descends to the underworld, it leaves the summers dry. When he returns in autumn, storms revive the barren land.
Egypt and Mesopotamia hold fast to their river gods. Their agriculture depends on irrigation from these water sources. But here in Canaan, the life source for crops is rain. The stormgod must be kept close.
Baal Haddad conquers the serpent Yam. He strikes Yam’s skull and rends him in pieces.