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The Qerti or "Double Cavern" on Elephantine island, the mythical source of Egypt's Two Niles Hap-Reset and Hap-Meht.

Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld y de la Torre, M.A. Ed.

Revisions through 01 April 2010

Below, a line-drawing after an Egyptian relief found on a small island near Philae showing the Egyptian god of the Nile Hapi (Hapy, a male god with breasts like a woman and rolls of fat about his waist to show he is the source of Egypt's bountiful grain harvests) within a serpent biting its tail, holding two small water-vases from which pour the waters of the "subterranean" Nile under a rocky overhang or cliff-face upon which are a vulture and a hawk. Yahuda understood that for the Egyptians the Nile was conceived as a great circle. The top half of the circle represented an invisible Nile in the heavens upon which sailed a boat carrying the sun-god Ra. This Nile in some mysterious way enters the earth and through subterranean channels eventually surfaces via two caverns or spring-holes near the last Nile cataract in the vicinity of Aswan (Greek Philae). The Nile then flows upon the earth's surface till it reaches the Mediterranean Sea where it magically rejoins the sky. Please click here for ancient Egyptian portrayals of the Nile rendered as a Great Circular Stream in Heaven, the Underworld and the surface of the Earth. 

Professor Yahuda (1934):

"...the Egyptians held of the origin of the Nile and the connection of its sources with the Egyptian paradise in the netherworld. According to these "the fields of the blessed" which is the Egyptian paradise, were encircled by  "a river" (itru) that went forth from heaven. In a mysterious way that river reached the surface of the earth, through two sping holes below the first cataract between Elephantine and Philae and emerged as the Nile.

This idea is pictorially represented in a relief in a small island near Philae, at the first cataract. Under a mass of rocks, the god of the Nile, Haapi, protected by a serpent, is pouring out of two vases in his hands, symbolising the two sources of the Nile. Thus the Nile was merely the earthly prolongation of the heavenly "river" (itru) and the two spring-holes beneath the cataract only marked the place where it came out to the surface."

(p. 165. "The Story of Paradise." Abraham S. Yahuda. The Accuracy of the Bible. London. William Heinemann. Ltd. 1934)

Note: Yahuda proposed that the Edenic Paradise was to be found near Egypt, not Mesopotamia. Please click here for his arguments.

Yahuda describes the below picture:

"The Nile god Haapi, surrounded by a protective serpent, pours the Nile upon the surface of the earth out of two vases, symbolizing the sources of the two Niles hidden in two caves beneath the rocks."

(For the below drawing of Hapi cf. p. 166. "The Story of Paradise." Abraham S. Yahuda. The Accuracy of the Bible. London. William Heinemann. Ltd. 1934)
An Egyptian hieroglyphic inscription carved in stone on a rock near the 1st cataract explains how Pharaoh Zoser (Teheser) sought out the god of the Nile to ask of him rising waters to flood the Delta to grow crops in and end a seven year famine. What is clear is that Khenmu declares himself to be the Nile in its rising and conseqent annual flooding and that the river god rises from a cavern on the island of Elephantine near Syene/Aswan and the 1st cataract of the Nile:

"King Teheser was grieved at the woes of his people, and sought the
help of the god I-em-hetep, son of Ptah, the great physician, who in
former times had delivered the Egyptians from their troubles. However,
I-em-hetep did not answer to the King's prayer. The King deemed that
the god did not reply because the matter was not his. So he sought to
find out the name of the god of the Nile. He sent for his governor,
Mater, of the southern provinces, to gain from him the information he

Hurrying to the King, Mater bowed low and said: "O King, in the region
that thou hast given me to rule lies the wonderful island Elephantine.
On it was built the first city that was ever known in the world, and
out of it rises the Sun. Within the island is a great cavern, which is
in two parts, each shaped like the breast of a woman, and inside this
cavern is the source of the Nile. At the proper season of the year,
the god Khnemu draws back the bolts to the door of the cavern, and the
waters rush out to bless the land. But now the god draws not back the
bolts. He sits in the temple of the gods which is built on the island
of Elephantine, silent and motionless, because men have not made
offerings to him of the good gifts he has given them, and have not
remembered his name."

Hearing this King Teheser went to the temple of the gods and offered
sacrifice and prayer to Khnemu. The god looked on him and saw the
anguish of his spirit and the love he had for his people. Khnemu took
pity on him and said : "I am the Nile, who rises to give health to
those who toil. I am the guide and director of all men, the Almighty
father of the gods. Now I will have pity on you and your land and the
Nile shall rise again to bless the land as it has done in times past.
But remember O King how my shrine is broken down and no man has put a
hand to build it up, although all around lie the stones that would
make it whole."

Professor Budge on the "double cavern" called Qerti (1904):

"...the Egyptians believed that the Nile rose in the First Cataract, the Qerti, or "Double Cavern," and the Nile of the South was to them that portion of the river which extended from Elephantine to a place some little distance north of the modern Asyut. The god of the South Nile has upon his head a cluster of lotus plants whilst he of the North Nile has a cluster of papyrus plants, the former is called HAP-RESET, and the latter HAP-MEHT. When the two forms of Hep or Hapi are indicated in a single figure, the god holds in his two hands the two plants, papyrys and lotus, or two vases, from which he was believed to pour out the two Niles...the source of the waters of the Nile-god was unknown. The Egyptians, it is true, at one period of their history, believed that the Nile rose out of the ground between two mountains which lay between the Island of Elephantine and the Island of Philae, but they had no exact idea where and how the Inundation took place, and the rise and fall of the river were undoubtedly a genuine mystery to them."

(pp. 43-44. Vol. 2. E. A. Wallis Budge. The Gods of the Egyptians. New York. Dover Publications, Inc. reprint of 1969 of the original 1904 edition printed in London by Methuen & Company, in 2 vols.)

Below, a bas-relief of the two Nile Gods HAP-RESET and HAP-MEHT symbolically "binding" Upper and Lower Egypt together into one kingdom:

Budge citing from the Zoser account near the 1st cataract noted that it was on the isle of Elephantine that the Nile rose in the form of the water-god Khnemu-Hapi from a double cavern on the island:

"Mater...told him [Zoser] that the Nile flood came forth from the Island of Elephantine...The spot on the island out of which the river rose was the double cavern (?) Qerti, which was likened to two breasts, from which all good things poured forth; this double cavern was, in fact, the "couch of the Nile," and from it the Nile-god watched until the season of inundation drew nigh, and then rushed forth like a vigorous young man and filled the whole country. At Elephantine he rose to a height of twenty-eight cubits but at Diospolis Parva in the Delta he only rose seven cubits. The guardian of this flood was Khnemu."

(pp. 42-53. Vol. 2. Chapter One: "Hap or Hapi the God of the Nile; Chapter Two: "The Triad of Abu (Elephantine), Khnemu, Satet and Anquet." E. A. Wallis Budge. The Gods of the Egyptians. New York. Dover Publications, Inc. reprint of 1969 of the original 1904 edition printed in London by Methuen & Company, in 2 vols.)

From the Wikipedia article titled "Elephantine":

"Known to the Ancient Egyptians as Abu or Yebu, the island of Elephantine stood at the border between Egypt and Nubia...Elephantine was a fort that stood just before the first cataract of the Nile. During the Second Intermediate Period (1650 - 1550 BCE), the fort marked the southern border of Egypt...According to Egyptian mythology, here was the dwelling place of Khnum, the ram-headed god of the cataracts, who guarded and controlled the waters of the Nile from caves beneath the island."

Below, a bas-relief showing the Nile as the god Hapi in the color blue, to capture the blue water color of the Nile. He holds in his left hand long-stemed lotus blossums and in his right hand "the bounty" of the Nile: aquatic birds to dine upon, reeds to build with, and prepared foods. His breasts and rolls of fat are symbolic of good health, one's having plenty to eat.  Atop his head is a nome hieroglyph. The Nile was actually subdivided into more than two rivers, some bas-reliefs show numerous Niles each bearing a sign of the nome they provide water for. The idea that the Nile bore different names depending on the region it passed through still exists today, the river bearing numerous names.
Below, another rendering, showing in an adjacent panel Hapi in three forms (?).