Unknown author, CC BY-SA 2.5 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

The ancient Egyptian common people worshipped, prayed, and gave offerings to the pantheon of Egyptian gods that included both mythical deities and deified kings.  One shrine that was extra special was that of Ptah, the carpenter god of Egypt.  The cult of Ptah was centred at Memphis and honoured this patron deity of craftsmen. The priests of the cult were craftsmen and designers themselves. Ptah was one of the major gods of Egypt, which included Ra, the powerful sun god, and the beautiful fertility gods of water and the harvest, Isis and Osiris.  Ptah took many forms but was often portrayed as being deformed in some way, like the Greek craftsman god Hephaestus.  The cult of Ptah was spread throughout the Mediterranean, via the Phoenicians, as far as Carthage, and so may well have had an influence on early Greek mythology.  He carries a staff combining the sacred symbols of Egyptian state power: the was or royal sceptre, the ankh or symbol of life, and Djed, the column of stability. The sceptre is often striped, suggesting a storey pole or measuring stick.  The Djed symbolizes a timber column, the backbone of the god Osiris, who was resurrected in a cedar tree.  It is a world tree, or axis mundi, and it emphasizes the importance of trees and timber for Egyptian civilization.  In ceremonies, the Pharaoh himself, with help from his attendant priests, would raise a wooden Djed pillar using ropes, propping up the temple roof, as he propped up the nation.

In the myth of Isis and Osiris, Osiris is tricked into a wooden coffin by his brother, the evil god Set.  He dies and is carried down the river Nile and across the sea to wash ashore at Byblos, in Lebanon.  A magical Erica tree grows around the sarcophagus. Eventually, the tree is felled and installed in the palace of the local Phoenician king.  Isis, accompanied by the faithful Ptah, travels down from Egypt to rescue her brother/lover/consort.  She discovers the coffin in the wooden pillar and, with the help of the skilled carpenter Ptah, resurrects the god.  Osiris is the resurrected god whose spirit reflects the annual returning flood waters of the Nile that make fertile the earth, symbolized by Isis. The name Egypt (from the Greek Aegyptos and Latin Aegyptus) comes from the name of the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis, Hikuptah, that means “Home of the soul of Ptah.”

Bas-Relief by Auguste Mariette

This carpenter god reappears in the land of Canaan, north of Egypt, where the ancient people of that region would enter history as the various ethnic groups described in the Holy Bible and the Torah, including the Israelites and the Phoenicians. There, he was known as Kothar wa Khasis, a double name meaning “Wise and Skilful.”  He is a craftsman, engineer, architect, and inventor.  He is also a magician associated with metallurgy, both in the working of silver and gold, and in the production of bronze tools.  Kothar comes to the aid of the great sky/rain god, Baal, the Phoenician equivalent of Osiris. Kothar supports Baal in his battles against the god Yam who, like Set, is lord of the underworld. For his patron, the craftsman god creates magical wooden war clubs to defeat the enemy. Later, he builds Baal’s palace with gold, silver, lapis lazuli, and cedar wood. He decorates the palace with beautiful furniture for the wife of Baal, the goddess Athirat (the Babylonian Ishtar).  As with Ptah in Egypt, Kothar wa Khasis is not the supreme deity but, like the craftsmen of the Pharaoh, he is indispensable to the civilized world.