(Sebek, Souchos) The most popular of a number of Egyptian deities depicted in crocodilian or semi-crocodilian form, Sobek embodies the creative potency of the Nile—vested especially in the Fayyum lake, the center of Sobek’s veneration—and, by extension, the primordial creative power of the cosmos itself, in perhaps its most intense form. Sobek is depicted either as a crocodile or as a crocodile-headed man, often wearing a crown with solar disk and plumes. His closest tie is with Neith, who is identified as his mother in PT utterances 308 and 317. A father is named for Sobek about whom nothing is known but his name: Senuy (in Greek Psosnaus), which literally means ‘the two brothers’. Since Sobek was worshiped all over Egypt (sometimes through the intermediary of living sacred crocodiles), he is associated with many consorts and offspring in a purely cultic context. The Pyramid Texts includes a spell identifying the deceased king with Sobek (PT utterance 317). Here Sobek is called, “green of plume, watchful of face, raised of brow, the raging one who came forth from the shank and tail of the Great One who is in the sunshine,” this “Great One” being feminine and hence probably referring to Neith. The “green plume” refers to the vegetation of the marshes. Greenness is a frequent motif in relation to Sobek, linking the greenish hide of the crocodile to the idiomatic sense of ‘green’ (wadj) in Egyptian as ‘healthy’ or vigorous: “I make green the herbage which is on the banks of the horizon, that I may bring greenness to the Eye of the Great One [fem.] who dwells in the field,” (PT utterance 317). Sobek also embodies sexual potency: “I am the lord of semen who takes women from their husbands whenever he wishes,” (ibid.); in the hymns from Sumenu Sobek is said to produce all living seed (pStrassburg 7, 5). In the Conflict of Horus and Seth, when Re writes to Neith seeking her advice in the matter of whether to recognize Horus or Seth as the successor to Osiris, he expresses the transcendence of Neith and Sobek both, remarking that “I your servant spend the night on behalf of Osiris taking counsel for the Two Lands every day, while Sobek endures forever,” (Lichtheim vol. 2, 215). Re means here that while he travels into the netherworld every night and thus has contact with the mortal realm, Sobek and Neith experience no such oscillation in their state of being, which renders them capable of offering a different perspective on the problem confronting the divine tribunal. In CT spell 160 (BD spells 108, 111), Sobek is described as living at the eastern side of the mountain of Bakhu “upon which the sky rests,” a mountain made entirely of crystal, while Sobek’s temple is of carnelian. From the summit of this mountain a serpent with its forepart made of flint attacks the boat of Re in the evening, presumably just before sunset, causing the boat to stop while Seth fights off the snake with his magic, allowing the solar voyage to proceed. Sobek’s role in this myth is unclear, but ‘Lord of Bakhu’ is a frequent epithet of his, and Sobek can be assumed to be friendly to the boat of Re, his presence on the eastern, dawn facing side of Bakhu acting as a counterweight to the flint-headed serpent’s presence on the western side.
Sobek is also called “Lord of Water” (285). In CT spell 636, which allows the operator establish his/her powers of magic in several different locales of the netherworld, the operator’s ka – the source of his/her heka, ‘magic’ (see Heka) – is said to be “in the water with Sobek,” and he is asked to bring it to the operator. CT spells 268 and 285 are both for “Becoming Sobek, Lord of the Winding Waterway,” a term which refers to the celestial ‘waterway’ of the ecliptic, which souls cross on their journey to the northern sky; the operator identifies with Sobek, who “comes, having eaten his brother and lived on his scales,” i.e., his brothers the fish (spell 268), stating that “I live on what he [the fish] knows and on that through which he has power.” Sobek is described in these spells as “eating when he copulates,” indicating that when he copulates he totally assimilates the other. In CT spell 158, the hands of Horus, severed and thrown into the Nile by Isis, are retrieved by Sobek, the spell remarking, “That is how the fish-trap came into being.” As might be expected, identifying with Sobek allows the operator to escape from the netherworld fish-nets of CT spell 474/BD spell 153; it is perhaps significant in this regard that a ‘House of the Net’ was part of the temple complex of Neith at Saïs. CT spell 991 also permits the invocation of or “transformation into” Sobek, described here as “that God whom the eight [i.e., the primeval Gods of the Hermopolitan Ogdoad] row” (compare pStrassburg 2 IV, 6, where Sobek is identified with Hu and Sia, divine personifications of authority and perception, and said to have engendered “the double Ogdoad of the Gods”). Sobek or the operator who identifies with him is also characterized in this spell as a “rebel among the Gods” who has “taken possession of the sky and of the earth” and as one who “has recourse to robbery.” This conjunction of attributes suggests that Sobek is conceived as a primordial God who transcends the lawful order of the cosmos as established by the Gods posterior to him and can thus uphold or transgress this system as he wishes; similarly, a stela from the eastern Delta refers to Sobek as “the Wrongdoer,” (Brovarski, Lexikon 1007). Perhaps surprisingly, however, given his crocodilian nature, Sobek is rarely portrayed as a God from whom humans would require protection, the purely destructive aspects of the crocodile generally being embodied by Seth’s crocodile son Maga, an exception being BD spell 71, which urges “Sobek lodging on his hill” and “Neith lodging on her shores” to “Stop … loose him [the deceased], free him; put him down, grant his desire.” This relationship bears no resemblance to simple fear, however: the implication in general is that Sobek is the object, not of fear, but of the dread and awe appropriate to an ancient and mysterious force of nature which is beyond the ken, not just of humans, but also in some respects of the ‘younger’ Gods.
Some have posited a tradition according to which Sobek was punished for a transgression against the body of Osiris by having his tongue cut out. This is chiefly based upon a line in CT spell 991 (for invoking Sobek) that is possibly to be read “I am that crocodile whose tongue was cut out because of the mutilation of Osiris.” But the manuscript is damaged at this point and the reading essentially conjectural (see de Buck, vol. 7, 201k.). Leitz, Tagewählerei, interprets several calendar entries in light of this putative tradition, but there are crucial ambiguities in the calendar texts as well and widely variant readings possible (compare Leitz, 93 and Chabas, Calendrier, 42; Leitz, 325 and Chabas, 95). Particularly troubling for Leitz’s preferred interpretation is the occurrence of the phrase xfty n Sbk, “enemy of Sobek” in both entries, indicating that if any tongue is being excised, it is not that of Sobek himself. Sobek, like Neith, is fairly well integrated into the Osirian mythos, albeit peripherally; and this warrants caution with regard to conjectures placing Sobek in open enmity to Osiris.
An unusual connection of Sobek to writing is suggested by a festival on II. Akhet 2 (Phaophi 2), which describes Sobek’s traveling to his mother Neith in northern Saïs for “the wetting of his scribal brush [gꜣy ꜥryt.f]” (Leitz, Tagewählerei, 63-65). This ritual should perhaps be considered in light of Sobek’s retrieval of the hands of Horus from the waters in CT spell 158. This mythic incident, which involves fishing, evokes in turn the persistent association between fishing and writing in the demotic scribal initiation text known as the “Book of Thoth”.
Allen, T. G. 1974. The Book of the Dead or Going Forth by Day. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. [BD]
Brovarski, Edward. “Sobek.” In Wolfgang Helck and Eberhard Otto, eds. 1973–. Lexikon der Ägyptologie. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.
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]
Gutbub, Adolphe. 1979. “La tortue animal cosmique bénéfique à l’époque ptolémaïque et romaine.” Pp. 391-435 in Hommages à la Mémoire de Serge Sauneron I. Cairo: Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale du Caire.
Lichtheim, Miriam. 1975-80. Ancient Egyptian Literature. 3 vols. Berkeley: University of California Press.