Temporal and Eternal, Being and Non-Being – “false” time and “changeless” time in Ancient Egypt

While reading ‘A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe’ (‘The Sleepwalkers’) by Arthur Koestler, there was a passage that gave me a “brain itch”; that feeling that something is really familiar, and you know you have definitely come across a similar idea before and you’re struggling to remember because it was in a completely different context. Then it came to me.

Kestler writes: “Herakleides, who died in 310 B.C. was inspired by the work of Philolaus. Herakleides created his so-called ‘Egyptian’ system in which the Earth remained at the centre of the Universe, but spun on its own axis, giving rise to the diurnal motion of the heavens. He explained the erratic orbits of Mercury and Venus by making them orbit the Sun, while Mars, Jupiter and Saturn still orbited the Earth.”

(Anyone know why this has been remembered as ‘his so-called Egyptian system’?)

Anyway, more to the point, Koestler writes:  “This splitting up of the Universe into two regions, the one lowly, the other exalted, the one subject to change, the other not, was to become a basic doctrine of medieval philosophy and cosmology. It brought a serene, cosmic reassurance to a frightened world by asserting its essential stability and permanence, but without going so far as to pretend that all change was mere illusion. [….]It was not a reconciliation of the temporal and the eternal, merely a confrontation of the two, but to be able to take in both in one glance, as it were, was something of a comfort.”

Having come across the early thoughts on ‘sub-lunary regions’, fixed and Vagabond lights in the sky- and Plato’s seeming disgust for change which he equated with degeneration – I couldn’t fail to notice a correlation with the two different ‘times’ of the Ancient Egyptians – nhh time and Dt time


The Hermetic texts of The Divine Pymander are very close to Plato’s philosophy, and it has been said that the Gnostics ‘disliked’ nhh time – it’s said that it was thought to be “false” time. ‘Dt’ was said to be changeless.


Daniel R. McBride writes:   “Gnostic Texts, and Coptic texts in general invariably use sha enech or some Greek loan word as dt seems to have disappeared. However, the distinction remained, and the Gnostics were anti nhh-time as it was viewed to be a false demiurgic “eternity” as opposed to the dt female aeon Sophia.”

To quote McBride further:   “The general consensus is that time as nhh has an end as it is bound up with the cyclic phenomenology of this world; time as dt on the other hand denotes the stasis of Nonbeing, the changeless and formless primordial state – though “pregnant” – which is the backdrop for the dynamic nhh. It would seem that eternity was considered to be Nun in its most archetypal manifestation, using such suggestive qualifiers as “inert” or “hidden” to imply the impending theogonic development of the ennead.”  (quote ©Daniel R. McBride 2002)

The Cartouche of Senwosret is followed by the hieroglyphs proclaiming him to be alive “for ever and eternity” using the symbols for nhh time and Dt time

One thought on “Temporal and Eternal, Being and Non-Being – “false” time and “changeless” time in Ancient Egypt

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.