Geb was the Egyptian god of the earth. He was also a mythological member of the Ennead of Heliopolis. Moreover, Geb is also called the father of snakes. Myths from ancient Egypt state that Geb’s laughter created earthquakes and that he allowed crops to grow. Overall, Geb is considered the god of earth, vegetation, fertility, earthquakes and snakes.
Origin of God Geb’s Name
The god’s name was pronounced as such from the Greek period onward. It was initially wrongly read as Seb. However, the usual Egyptian name was Geb. It translated loosely to “The Lame One.” People usually spelt the name with either initial -g-, or sometimes with -k- point.
The patter initial root consonant occurs once in the Middle Kingdom Coffin Texts. Additionally, it appears more often in the 21st Dynasty mythological papyri and a text from the Ptolemaic tomb of Petosiris at Tuna El-Gebel. Moreover, sometimes people wrote the name with an initial hard -k- as mentioned in the 30th Dynasty papyrus text in Brooklyn Museum. This museum deals with descriptions and remedies against snakes.
Representation and Iconography Surrounding God Geb
The oldest representation of god Geb comes from a fragmented relief as a bearded being with its name. The relief dates back to king Djoser’s reign, the 3rd dynasty. Historians discovered it from Heliopolis. However, god Geb never received a temple of his own.
Later on, the imagery also represented the god as a ram, a bull or a crocodile. Historians saw the latter depiction in a vignette of the Book of the Dead of the lady Heryweben exhibited in the Cairo Egyptian Museum. People often feared Geb as the father of snakes. A coffin Texts spell describes Geb as the father of the mythological snake Nehebkau.
Moreover, mythologies describe Gab as a primaeval divine king of Egypt. From him, his son Osiris and his grandson Horus inherited the land. This happened after several wars with the disruptive god Set, brother and killer of Osiris. Myths also personify Geb as fertile earth and barren desert. The latter contains the dead or sets them free from their tombs. Metaphorically people interpreted it as “Geb opening his jaw.” It also represents the imprisonment of those who aren’t worthy of going to the fertile North-Eastern heavenly Field of Reeds.
Mythologies associated with Geb
God Atum or Ra created a group of nine gods at the beginning of time. Heliopolitan Ennead refers to this. In this, Geb is the husband of god Nut, the sky or daytime god. Geb was the son of the earlier primordial elements Tefnut (moisture) and Shu (emptiness). Along with Nut, he fathered four lesser gods of the system. Osiris, Seth, Isis and Nephthys.
In this mythology, Geb was believed to have been initially engaged to goddess Nut. Moreover, Shu, the god of air, had to separate Geb from Nut. Hence, ancient depictions show Geb as a reclining man with his phallus still pointed towards Nut. Together, Geb and Nut formed the permanent boundary between the ancient waters and the newly created world.
The Different Interpretations of the god Geb
With the progression of time, Geb became more associated with the land of Egypt. Moreover, people identified Geb as an early ruler of the land. The god further became related to fresh water and vegetation. People believed that barley grew upon his ribs. Moreover, imagery often depicted the god with plants and other green patches on his body.
His link with vegetation, healing and underworld furthermore associated Geb as the husband of Renenutet. She was a minor goddess of the harvest and caretaker of the young king in the shape of a cobra. Myths saw Renenutet herself as the mother of Nehebkau, a snake god linked to the underworld. Historians also equate him to the Greek Titan Cronus.
Often there is a debate between Shu and Geb to determine who was the first god-king of Egypt. The mythology states how Shu, Geb and Nut were separated to create the cosmos. Additionally, historians interpret this in human emotions: exposing hostility and sexual jealousy. Shu rebelled against the divine order, and Geb challenged Shu.
Moreover, Geb took Shu’s wife, Tefnut as his chief queen. Furthermore, this leads to the separation of Shu from his sister-wife. Geb did this act in reciprocation of what Shu did. The Heavenly Cow book further states that Geb is the heir of the departing sun god. Subsequently, Geb passed the throne to Osiris and then took the role of the judge in the Divine Tribunal of gods.
Geb and Goose
Some Egyptologists state that Geb links to a mythological divine creature, Goose. They believe that Goose laid a world egg from which the sun and the world sprung. However, this theory is wrong and confuses the divine name “Geb” with a White-fronted Goose.
One can find images of this divine bird on the temple walls of Karnak and Deir-el-Bahari. They showcase a scene of the king standing on a papyrus raft plucking papyrus for the Theban god Amun-Re-Kamutef. God Amun could embody a Nile Goose but never in a White-fronted Goose. Moreover, images never depicted Geb himself as a Nile Goose.
Geb as Cronus
In Greco-Roman Egypt, people equated Geb with the Greek god Cronus. The reason is that Cronus held a similar position as the father of gods in Greek mythology. Here Tebtunis described Geb as a man with attributes of Cronus and Cronus with qualities of Geb. Furthermore, Tebtunis depicted local iconography of the gods.
The priests of the local main temple identified as “Soknebtunis-Geb” in Egyptian texts. In contrast, in Greek texts, they identified as “Soknebtunis-Cronus.” Moreover, Egyptian names formed with the name of god Geb were popular amongst local villagers.
To summarise, Egyptian mythology identifies Geb as one of the most important gods in ancient Egypt. He comes from an essential line of gods and had equally crucial children. After Atum, the god only resided in the cosmos along with Shu, Tefnut and Nut. The ancient Egyptians linked powerful occurrences like earthquakes to Geb. Moreover, ancient Egyptians often recognised Geb as the god of mines and caves.