ARCE OC: Rethinking the Royal Ka with Dr. Jonathan Winnerman

Presented by Dr. Jonathan Winnerman, Professor of Egyptology, UCLA

Abstract: The divinity of the king and the power it implies has demanded the attention of Egyptologists ever since the inception of the field. Much of the debate has centered on determining whether the king was either the foremost of the human or the lowest of the gods. Inherent in these conversations was the assumption that the king had only a single nature, which was either human or divine. This issue was cleverly resolved by means of a spiritual form of the king referred to as The Royal Ka. This theory, first proposed by Lanny Bell in 1985, argued that the individual king was mortal but that he gained divine status by merging with The Royal Ka, a singular ka spirit equivalent with the office of kingship and passed down the line of succession. All aspects of the divinity of the king and his worship were thus equated with this Royal Ka. This theory was therefore a good compromise between the human and divine nature of the king. Yet, a closer look reveals several inconsistencies. If there were only a single Royal Ka solely responsible for the divinity of the king, how could this account, for example, for scenes of a king before royal ancestors let alone for periods of coregency? If one of these officeholders was not forced to sacrifice his or her divinity, how was such a situation possible? This presentation will briefly summarize these contradictions and argue for a redefinition of The Royal Ka, one that is more consistent with other aspects of Egyptian theology. It will then conclude by suggesting a new approach to royal divinity that does not attempt to define the king's nature but instead looks at divinity from the perspective of efficacy.

Bio: Jonathan Winnerman is a lecturer in Egyptology at UCLA, and he recently received his PhD from the University of Chicago. His academic interests include the cross-cultural study of kingship, the application of political theology to ancient Egypt, and more generally religion in the New Kingdom through Greco-Roman Period. He has worked in Egypt for several years, most recently as an epigrapher with the Epigraphic Survey by the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago.


Location: Norma Kershaw Auditorium
PURCHASE TICKETS Free for Bowers & ARCE members | General $12

TICKETS: Online or onsite. Questions? E-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 714.567.3677. Proceeds benefit Bowers Museum Education Programs. Tickets are non-refundable.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons 


Event details

February 9, 2019 1:30 pm - 3:30 pm