Moon Knight's God Khonshu Vs. His Real Egyptian Counterpart
We’re now two episodes into the newest series in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Moon Knight, starring Oscar Isaac. With the second episode, we got our first thorough look at Khonshu, the Egyptian god that has recruited-slash-forced into servitude mercenary Marc Spector (and with him, his alter Steven Grant.) Along with a spiffy gala-ready version of the Moon Knight suit, we finally see Khonshu beyond brief glances, and get a bit of a rundown on his motivations and overall vibe. This may leave you wondering if Khonshu is a real Egyptian god, given that old Marvel comics weren’t particularly known for their accuracy or respect when it came to ancient non-European cultures, and if he is, if their representation is at all accurate.
The answer to those questions, respectively, are “yes” and “sort of.” Khonshu is a real Egyptian god, though the spelling “Khonshu” is uncommon. If it had been invented decades later, it could have been seen as a shrewd SEO play by Marvel to not get Moon Knight googlers sent down an egyptology hole. The most common spelling to be found in reference to the real god is Khonsu, sometimes only abbreviated as Khons. Khonsu is indeed the god of the moon, which is a pretty important detail, so good on them.
As far as his appearance, it’s here where Marvel takes the most liberties, which is to be expected in a visual medium. And it’s undoubtedly a very cool take. He appears as a towering figure with a floating bird skull for a head, wrapped in flowing bandages, just to really juice the Egypt angle, I guess. He also has what is undeniably a sweet-ass staff, kind of like a Gandalf-ready resize of Sailor Moon’s wand. Honestly, Moon Knight/Sailor Moon team-up when?
The real, and by real I mean mythic, Khonsu is most commonly depicted as appearing human, with a long braid on one side of his head. He is occasionally shown as a figure with a falcon’s head, but even that is a bit removed from the massive crow-looking noggin Marvel’s Khonshu is rocking. He’s usually carrying a crook, which seems to have translated into a staff. Though that honestly could just be because staffs are badass. It's his second traditional accessory that I think Marvel honestly missed out on including, which was a flail. Flails are sick as hell and the fact that we could have had a hero beating the snot out of bad guys with basically spiked nunchucks this whole time reeks of wasted fight scene potential.
As far as his motivations and temperament, the new series paints him as a protector of the weak, and one that isn’t against protecting them very… brutally. Think less Captain America shielding a group of innocents and more, as instructed in episode two, swiftly crushing windpipes. The Khonshu of the Moon Knight series is decidedly not a benevolent presence, complete with a derisive laugh, taunting of his trapped avatar, and what seems to be a furious impatience with any form of negotiation that doesn’t result in shattering someone’s orbital. The Egyptian representation of Khonsu doesn’t portray him with this rage or cruelty, at least not unless you go back to very early texts, where he is referred to at one point as “Khonsu who slew the lords, who strangles them for the King, and extracts for him what is in their bodies.” We’ll have to wait for the rest of the series to see if they kept the body-extracting stuff. This is enough to say, though, that you can’t say the Marvel representation is wholly inaccurate, and to be honest, with how often Moon Knight is considered, unfairly, to be “Marvel’s Batman,” a refreshing change to have him not embroiled in a moral crisis every time a gun would be convenient.
The Egyptian Khonsu, of course, does have a broader domain and varied powers that the Marvel version skips over. For example, he is considered a god of fertility, something that isn’t brought up in the series outside of the casting of Oscar Isaac. Can’t say that’s one that would have enhanced the show too much, since I don’t think anyone wants to have the scary bird-skull god to also be horny, or rocking a big hog, or whatever your preferred representation of fertility is. This rep is also partly because of an ancient belief that the moon had influence over the rhythms of womens’ menstruation cycles, which is a power that I am VERY glad never made it to the pages of a comic book or a tv screen. A connection that I think is a massive miss to skip over, however, is Khonsu’s connection with baboons. Every single piece of media on Earth would be improved with the addition of more baboons. You’re telling me Moon Knight could have been perched on a rooftop, slapping his big red ass to summon an army of spectral baboons to rip a henchman’s arms off? Because that’s an immediate all-timer comic panel.
Honestly, the more I research Khonsu, the more impressed I am at how much inspiration and guidance Moon Knight seems to have taken from the genuine article. As mentioned before, especially in the past, comic book writers doing any further research past “I found a picture of a cool-looking guy in a museum brochure” was far from a given. Khonsu’s name is believed to come from “khenes” meaning “to travel,” which fits well with Marc Spector’s mercenary trade. A mercenary after all, is basically a traveling warrior. One of the first things unearthed by Marc’s alter Steven is a passport.
The coolest nod and parallel between the god Khonsu and Moon Knight, however, comes from a tale from the inscription on the Bentresh Stela. This inscription refers to Khonsu’s ability to converse with different aspects of himself. The inscription reads: “In Egypt Ramesses consults Khonsu in Thebes Nefer-hotep. Khonsu approaches the manifestation of himself specializing in healing and riving out demons, who is Khonsu pa-ir-sekher.” Which suggests that Khonshu’s chosen avatar suffering from what we now know to be Dissociative Identity Disorder wasn’t just a random attempt to give a hero a dark side, but may have been a sly reference to Khonsu’s own compartmentalized personality.
All in all, Khonsu’s adaptation into a source of power and character within the story of Moon Knight is not nearly as random as you might assume. In fact, more and more signs point to lore-building and characterizations driven by someone with the same curiosity and reverence for Egyptian culture that gift-shop-man Steven Grant has in the series.
Top Image: Marvel