Resheph (also Reshef and many other variants; Canaanite ršp רשף; Eblaite Rašap, Egyptian ršpw) was a deity associated with plague (or a personification of plague), war, and sometimes thunder in ancient Canaanite religion. The originally Eblaite and Canaanite god was then more famously adopted into ancient Egyptian religion in the late Bronze Age during the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt (late 15th century BC), also becoming associated with horses and chariots.
In Biblical Hebrew, רֶשֶׁף resheph is a noun interpreted as "flame, lightning" but also "burning fever, plague, pestilence".
The name is found in third millennium tablets from Ebla, as Rašap (Ra-ša-ap), listed as divinity of the cities of Atanni, Gunu, Tunip, and Shechem. Rasap was one of the chief gods of Ebla, with one of the four city gates named in his honor.
Ršp was an important Ugaritic deity. He had the byname of tġr špš "door-warden of the Sun". Sacrifices to Ršp (ršp gn) were performed in gardens.
Ugaritic Ršp was equated with the Mesopotamian deity Nergal. Fauth (1974) argued that ršp in the later Canaanite period no longer referred to a specific god and could be used as a byname, as in Rešep-Mikal at Kition. Teixidor (1976) based on an epithet ḥṣ in Kition (interpreted as "arrow"), identifies Ršp as a plague god who strikes his victims with arrows as Homeric Apollo (Iliad I.42–55), and argues for an interpretatio graeca of Ršp with Apollo in Idalium.
Resheph is mentioned in Ugaritic mythological texts such as the epic of Kirta and The Mare and Horon.
Probably introduced in Egypt by the Hyksos, Resheph was not assimilated into the Egyptian pantheon until the New Kingdom’s 18th Dynasty along with other Near Eastern deities. He was frequently associated with Seth and Montu, other deities related to war and plague, but he also formed a triad with Min and Qetesh. His consort was Itum.
He was usually depicted anthropomorphically, as a man brandishing a weapon, sporting a typical Syrian beard, and wearing the white crown of Egypt and/or a gazelle’s head on his own. A temple dedicated to him is attested in Memphis, but he was likely worshipped in many Nile Delta regions. His cult survived well into the Ptolemaic Period.
As a war deity, he was related to kingship as shown by a stele erected by Amenhotep II near the Great Sphinx. For the same reason, his bellicose nature became associated with fighting diseases such as abdominal pain, believed to be caused by a demon called Akha.
In Biblical Hebrew, resheph רֶשֶׁף means "flame, firebolt", derived from שָׂרַף "to burn". Resheph as a personal name, a grandson of Ephraim, occurs in 1 Chronicles 7:25 (here written as Rephah in King James Version). The Latin Vulgate renders his name as Rapha.
In Habakkuk 3:5, describing the procession of Eloah (אֱל֙וֹהַ֙) from Teman and Mount Paran, mention deber and resheph as going before him, in the King James Version translated as "pestilence" and "burning coals". Due to the discovery of both deber and resheph as theonyms in Ebla, this passage has been reinterpreted as describing a procession of the retinue of El going to war with Yam. In Job 5:7, there is mention of the "sons of resheph", translated in the Septuagint as νεοσσοὶ δὲ γυπὸς, "the young of the vulture", and in the King James Version as "sparks".
In popular culture
In the 1998 animated historical film Prince of Egypt, the Egyptian high priests Hotep and Huy invoke the name of Resheph (as Reshpu) during their song "Playing with the Big Boys now", as part of a pseudo-magical show to trick Moses.
In the book saga Lords of Deliverance from Larissa Ione, the fourth horseman is called Reseph, the personification of Sickness and Plagues and the brother of the first horseman Ares, personification of War, of the second horseman Limos (who is the only woman of the group), personification of Hunger, and of the third horseman Thanatos, personification of Death.
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- Studi semitici, 1981
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- tablet 1/CAT 1.14, column 1, lines 18-20; tablet 2/CAT 1.15, column 2, line 6
- CAT 1.100, lines 30-31
- Cornelius, Izak (1994). The Iconography of the Canaanite Gods Reshef and Baʻal: Late Bronze and Iron Age I Periods (C 1500-1000 BCE). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. p. 16. ISBN 978-3-7278-0983-5.
- Wilkinson, Richard H. (2003). The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. New York: Thames & Hudson. pp. 126–127. ISBN 978-0-500-05120-7.
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- Reshef, Encyclopedia of Religion (2005).
- Strong's Concordance H7565
- "Latin Vulgate Bible with Douay-Rheims and King James Version Side-by-Side+Complete Sayings of Jesus Christ". latinvulgate.com.
- John Day, "New Light on the Mythological Background of the Allusion to Resheph in Habakkuk III 5", Vetus Testamentum 29.3 (1979), 353–355.
- Dunham, Kyle (2016). The Pious Sage in Job: Eliphaz in the Context of Wisdom Theodicy. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 24, footnote 30. ISBN 978-1-4982-7459-3.
- Wolfgang Helck: Die Beziehungen Ägyptens zu Vorderasien im 3. und 2. Jahrtausend v. Chr., (Ägyptologische Abhandlungen, Band 5) 2. Auflage, Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1971 ISBN 3-447-01298-6 (Zu Reschef in Ägypten: S. 450-454)
- Lipiński, Edward. Resheph: A Syro-Canaanite Deity. Peeters, 2009. ISBN 978-90-429-2107-8.
- Münnich, Maciej M. The God Resheph in the Ancient Near East. Mohr Siebeck, 2013. ISBN 978-3-16-152491-2.
- Tazawa, Keiko. Syro-Palestinian Deities in New Kingdom Egypt: The Hermeneutics of Their Existence. British Archaeological Reports, 2009. ISBN 978-1-4073-0448-9.