Mnevis (written in Egyptian Mer– or Men-Wer), is one of the great sacred bulls of Egypt, along with Apis and Buchis. Like these others, the God Mnevis was incarnate in a living bull who supplied oracles as a herald of the Gods while he was alive and who was upon death interred with great ceremony and worshiped in Osirianized form. Upon the death of the previous sacred bull, a new one was selected based upon certain criteria. In the case of Mnevis, the bull was to be completely black. Aelianus (De Natura Animalium XII, 11) states also that the Mnevis bull, which he knows under the name Onuphis, was of exceptional size, that its hair grew the opposite way to that on ordinary bulls, and that it was fed on alfalfa. The sacred bull had also a bovine harem, which in the case of Mnevis consisted in particular of principal wives identified with Hathor and with Iusâas. The mother of the sacred bull was herself seen as divine, and the mother of the Mnevis bull was identified with Hesat. The center of the cult of Mnevis was Heliopolis, and Mnevis was regarded as the herald of Re. For reasons which are unknown, it appears that the cult of Mnevis continued to receive state sanction during the reign of the heretical pharaoh Akhenaten, who attempted to stamp out the cults of the traditional Gods in favor of his single God, the Aten or visible disk of the sun.
A mythological text from the Delta (Brooklyn papyrus 47.218.84, §5) accords to Mnevis the role of transporting the gathered members of Osiris from Athribis to Heliopolis, a journey in the course of which Osiris is reconstituted. Something more akin to incarnation than transportation is suggested, however, by the statement at one point that “his [Osiris’s] members are inside him [Mnevis].” Elsewhere the text states that the members of Osiris are bound to Mnevis, his name being interpreted in this context as mr-wr, “the firmly bound one”. When the text speaks of the Osirian members as “bound” to Mnevis, it states that they are “wrapped in a panther skin”—the ritual garment the sem-priest wears on his shoulders—and “the skin of a khens[ui] bull”, and identifies them with the four sons of Horus.
The deceased king identifies himself with Mnevis in PT utterance 408 when he says “What is desired, of which is given, is what I give, for I am the Bull of Ôn [Iunu, Heliopolis].” In PT utterance 485A, the king states, “I have come to you, my father, I have come to you, O Re, a calf of gold born of the sky, a fatted calf of gold which Hesat created.” In CT spell 404, a spell to constitute the netherworld ferry-boat, various leather portions of the boat are said to be made from the skin of the Mnevis bull. Since the ferry-boat is a soul vehicle, this has virtually the same meaning as the straightforward identification, albeit in more colorful form. In spell 784, “To go out into the day,” the “Souls of Heliopolis” say, “O N., our son, our beloved, we have commanded that you go in to us and rest in our peace. Mnevis grants ascent to the sky and the Netherworld is opened up for the term of eternity.” Mnevis is mentioned several times in the Greek Magical Papyri. At PGM IV. 140 he is mentioned, along with Apis, in an erotic spell; at IV. 2994, an herb-gathering spell, the fibers of the plant to be picked are identified with the bones of Mnevis; and at XIXa. 7f, another erotic spell, Mnevis, Apis and Buchis are invoked together, all in Osirianized form (hence “Osor Mneuei”, “Osarapi” and “Osor Nobêchis,”) along with Onuphis (“Osor Nophris”), generally regarded as identical to Mnevis. Apis and Mnevis are mentioned together in the ‘Instruction of Papyrus Insinger’, in a chapter teaching against seeking retaliation. The person who has been wronged is advised instead to seek justice from the Gods and from the authorities, for “Apis and Mnevis abide at the window of Pharaoh forever. They will do good to him who will listen to these words,” (Lichtheim, vol. 3, p. 213). Plutarch (Isis and Osiris 364c) records that some regarded Mnevis as in some sense the father of Apis. It has been claimed that Mnevis and Apis are to be understood by the reference to the “two bulls in Egypt,” identified with the sun and moon, of the late Gnostic text “On the Origin of the World” (122) (Lexikon 4, p. 166).
Betz, H. D. 1992. The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation. 2d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. [PGM, PDM]
Faulkner, R. O. 1969. The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [PT]
Faulkner, R. O. 1973-8. The Ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts. 3 vols. Warminster: Aris & Phillips Ltd. [CT]
Helck, Wolfgang and Eberhard Otto, eds. 1973–. Lexikon der Ägyptologie. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.
Lichtheim, Miriam. 1975-80. Ancient Egyptian Literature. 3 vols. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Meeks, Dimitri. 2006. Mythes et Légendes du Delta: d’après le papyrus Brooklyn 47.218.84. Cairo: Institut français d’archéologie orientale.
Quirke, Stephen. 2001. The Cult of Ra. New York: Thames & Hudson.