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The Great Goddesses of Egypt Paperback – November 15, 1999

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About the Author

Barbara S. Lesko, Administrative Research Assistant in the Department of Egyptology, Brown University, is the author of The Remarkable Women of Ancient Egypt, collaborating editor of Dictionary of Late Egyptian, and editor of Women's Earliest Records from Ancient Egypt and Western Asia.  


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press (November 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0806132027
  • ISBN-13: 978-0806132020
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #417,337 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Biography of Barbara S. Lesko

Barbara Lesko was born in Chicago in 1940, the only child of John and Lee Switalski. She graduated from Hyde Park High School, class of 1958, and, having determined on her future profession by age 14, enrolled at and received her A.B. in 1962 from the University of Chicago, where she studied at the famed Oriental Institute and subsequently earned her A.M. in Egyptology in 1965. In 1966 she married a fellow student in Egyptology, Leonard H. Lesko, Chicago Ph.D. 1969, who had joined the Department of Near Eastern Languages at the University of California that year. The Leskos lived in California for the first 16 years of their marriage, and Barbara taught occasionally for the University of California Extension and worked as a bibliographer in the Department, collaborating with her husband on the Dictionary of Late Egyptian, subsidized by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The project used computer technology for the concordances and developed the first computer generated hieroglyphs. The Dictionary first appeared in five volumes during 1980's and has subsequently seen a second edition, including an English to Egyptian index, published by B.C. Scribe Publications of Providence.
During the late 1970's, while the block buster museum exhibition of the Treasures of Tutankhamun toured the United States, Barbara published the first book in English on ancient Egyptian women: The Remarkable Women of Ancient Egypt, published by B.C. Scribe Publications (the Leskos own company formed to bring out the Dictionary at a reasonable price). This book is now in its third edition. Both Barbara and her husband lectured extensively on the west coast during the years when the Tutankhamun exhibition visited three cities there. In 1981 Barbara served as cataloguer for the Berkeley/BYU expedition to the Egyptian Fayum, working on artifacts found at the site of the Seila Pyramid.

In 1982, Leonard, who had become Professor of Egyptology and Chairman of Near Eastern Studies at Berkeley, accepted an offer from Brown University to fill the Wilbour Chair Professorship of Egyptology and chair the Department of Egyptology, the only such at any North American university. Subsequently Barbara became the Administrative Research Assistant, working on publications and library acquisitions. It was this move and the discovery of an abandoned lighthouse for sale that is the subject of Barbara's latest book: Lighthouse Life, published by Outskirts Press in 2009. The experiences of storms and wild life and the Lesko's efforts at restoration and maintenance of the property, its history and that of other early Rhode Island lighthouses, and the 400 year history of the Nayatt Point neighborhood in Barrington, Rhode Island are all covered in this illustrated paperback.

Barbara was invited to write the chapter on women in the ancient Near East for the second edition of a college textbook: Becoming Visible, Women in European History, edited by R. Bridenthal, C. Koonz, and S. Stuard and published by Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1987. While researching for this assignment, she realized that not nearly enough had been published by experts on ancient economics, law, religion or even art to adequately understand female status in ancient societies. Thus she successfully sought an NEH grant to support an international conference on Women in the Ancient Near East, which was held in November of 1987 at Brown University. Nineteen paper presenters from the U.S. and Europe participated with a number of respondents from various periods of history and the proceedings were recorded and published (including discussions) as Women's Earliest Records, from Ancient Egypt and Western Asia by Scholar's Press of Atlanta in 1989 (and currently available from the American Council of Learned Societies).

During the 1990's, Barbara continued to collaborate on the Dictionary of Late Egyptian which went into a second augmented edition at the end of the decade, but she also contributed articles to magazines and chapters to encyclopedias and anthologies such as M.M. Wertheimer's Listening to their Voices, the Rhetorical Activities of Historical Women (1995); Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt edited by K.A. Bard (1999); and Encyclopedia of Women and World Religion edited by S. Young (1999).

In 1998, again because so little had been published by experts on the subject, Barbara brought out, with the University of Oklahoma Press, The Great Goddesses of Egypt, which concentrates on seven major goddesses in their celestial and solar forms and illustrates the varied roles they played in creation and procreation and as the protectors of the dead as well as the living and even as the personification of the Egyptian State, and how these roles changed over time. The end of the century also saw the organizing by Barbara of the Friends of Egyptology at Brown, a support group of members whose donations supports students, field projects, and lectures in the Department.

Before she retired in 2005, Barbara participated in the Brown conference on Household and Domestic Religion in Antiquity and wrote the chapter "Household and Domestic Religion in Ancient Egypt" for the publication of its proceedings: Household and Family Religion in Antiquity: contextual and comparative perspectives edited by J. Bodel and S. Olyan and published by Blackwell, Oxford, 2008. Barbara also collaborated with Brown Professor of Archaeology Martha S. Joukowsky on a Brown University website: "Breaking Ground, Women in Old World Archaeology." This features bios of prominent women archaeologists of the past.

After selling the lighthouse, the Leskos built on the coast of Maine, and retirement allowed free time for recalling the exciting eighteen years they had lived full time at Nayatt Point's lighthouse on Narragansett Bay and the subsequent writing of Lighthouse Life.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 55 people found the following review helpful By David D. Warner on June 7, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
At last, a scholarly work that makes accessible information that proves what those of us who have been steeped in ancient Egyptian lore have known all along. Using the latest scholarly material, and her own brilliant insights, Barbara Lesko aptly demonstrates that the ancient goddesses of Egypt were NOT considered merely consorts of more supreme male dieties, but were highly evolved and viewed as significant creative forces in their own right. Dr. Lesko examines extant evidence of the ancient cults of Isis, Hathor, Neith, Mut and others to present a coherent, comprehensive and chronological picture of how various feminine deities were incorporated into the daily lives of the ancient Egyptians and their neighbors, spanning the nearly 6,000 years of recorded history. For perhaps the first time, this material is presented in a format accessible to non-historians and to non-academicians.
In addition, Dr. Lesko shows us that, in the end, the powerful attributes of the goddesses assimilated into one super-goddess, i.e., Isis. The cult of Isis grew to be very powerful, and became so resonant with the common people that its adherents covered much of the known ancient world. Remanants of Isian worship have been found in such far-reaching locations as Pompei, Santorini, Crete, Malta, Turkey, Southern France and even as far north as England and Scotland -- a testiment to the enduring popularity of the divine feminine creative force in the lives of these ancient peoples. In addition, Dr. Lesko postulates that the remnants of the cult of Isis may also have merged with the Christian Marian cults, where the super-goddess was often venerated in the form of Black Madonnas and Christian cathedrals dedicated to the mother of Christ. Interestingly, Dr.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Francesca Jourdan on May 17, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book chronicles the goddesses who inspired Ancient Egypt's greatness, for they were important to the poor and the elite alike. The author focuses on Nut, Neith, Nekhbet, Wadjet, Hathor, Mut, and Isis. Some of the goddesses had their origins in the Predynastic whereas others were later political creations. A few of these goddesses, Lesko argues, can be traced through an association with various animals to African clan divinities. These great goddesses were believed to protect and nuture Kemet (the land of Egypt) and its pharaoh. The book has many black and white illustrations accompanying the text. It is a great reference and resource for consultation by students and scholars.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By She is no more on January 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is a great reference and in depth exploration into the many goddesses of a land I love....Egypt. It is not a picture book of any sort, it's power is in it's informational material.I found this book on my quest for knowledge of Hathor. This book gave me more then enough...and opened my eyes to interest in other deities of Egypt. I highly recommend it!
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Chris Renada on September 14, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this book because it was recommended in another book by Geraldine Pinch. I also recognized the author, Barbara Lesko, whose name is also attached to several collaborative works such as _Pharaoh's Workers: The Village of Deir el-Medina_. I was expecting a work of similar caliber, one that would present scholarly conclusions that rested squarely on the evidence presented. Frankly, I was disappointed.
This book does present some interesting bits of historical trivia, I will give it that. I could tell where Pinch got her citations from Lesko's information. There's also a bit of information on festivals toward the end of _Goddesses_ that I found new and illuminating. But to get to these juicy tidbits, I had to slog through what essentially amounted to academic bra-burning. After first contending that, just because neighboring civilizations also had primitive Mother Goddess creatrix-figures, prehistoric Egypt just HAD to have them as well, Lesko then goes on to paint Hathor as an 'invention' of the 'male-dominated' Heliopolitan clergy and Mut as a 'wise crone' whose union to Amun was a political convenience. Then she spent a chapter of glowing review on Isis, ending on the statement that "she was salvation". By the end of it, I found myself wondering if this author is a closet Dianic Wiccan, and that is not the sort of impression I need to come away with after reading what's supposed to be an scholarly work.
So readers, take this book with a grain of salt. She does dig up some little-known information on several goddesses, but the info is best taken separately from her overtly gender-biased assertions.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on March 3, 2000
Format: Paperback
Great Goddesses of Egypt examines the changing images and history of seven of the most important Egyptian goddesses, from Nekhbet to Mut and Isis. Some were prehistoric figures; others political figures of later times: Great Goddesses of Egypt deserves ongoing mention as an excellent resource introducing the facts about early Egyptian goddesses.
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