Monday, October 26, 2015

The Egyptian Book of the Amduat

     At the beginning of the Eighteenth Dynasty, in the tomb of Tuthmose I, a new religious text makes its first appearance. This "Book of the Hidden Chamber" becomes what is known today as the "Book of What is in the Underworld" (Am-Duat). This text is, if anything, even more cryptic than the Book of the Dead. It describe the sun-god's journey through the underworld and tells how the dangers faced by the god during the night-time passage through the underworld are overcome.

     In two tombs, those of Tuthmose III and Amenhotep II, the Amduat is written and illustrated on the wall's of the King's burial chamber with a yellowish-brown background, as if the walls of the tomb are a papyrus scroll that has been unrolled. The book describes the twelve hours of the sun's underground journey (from sunset to its re-birth at sunrise the next day). Each "hour" has a gate which is opened by its guardian only for the boat that the sun travels in.

     In "Hour 2" we see the sun god's bark, along with several other boats, floating past fertile fields, where various gods present crops to Re and his followers. In Hour 4 the solar bark travels along a zig zag sand road (rather than on water). This sand road is blocked by gates and the boat of the sun god changes itself into a snake to make faster progress. In Hour 5 the god Sokar holds the wings of an enemy, a multi-headed snake. The cave that this scene takes place in is guarded by the god Aker (the god of the earth). In Hour 6 three divine graves guarded by fire-breathing snakes are shown along with the sun in "human form" as the "flesh of Khepri". This form of the sun is watched over by a protective five-headed snake.

     Snakes appear throughout the Amduat. Some are the enemies of Re, while others (such as in Hour 8) protect the sun and its boat. The sun itself is sometimes shown as a ram-headed human and sometimes as a snake, in addition to his depictions in forms more often used to show the sun.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Portals of the Underworld

     The Book of the Dead that belonged to Ani had ten "portals" the deceased needed to pass (according to the text of spell 146) in addition to the seven "gates". The difference between a gate and a portal is unclear to me, although the vignettes on the papyrus do show the portals and gates looking very different. The gates, which we described in some of the previous posts, are mostly painted as simple, single-color, rectangles with a door in the lower center of the rectangle. The portals are portrayed as being a more elaborate style of doorway. Two of the portals are topped by a kheker frieze, another shows two eyes of Horus, with a shen sign between them. Two show a single snake above them and the final one (portal ten) shows a pair of snakes. One of these entrances has two Ba birds with the sign of life (ankh), while yet another shows a row of rearing uraei much like the top of the exterior cover of Tutankhamen's canonic chest.

     Each portal has a single guardian eight of whom hold grain, one holds a knife and one holds both a knife and some grain. Ani and his wife stand before the vulture headed guardian of portal one holding their hands up in an attitude of adoration. The portal doorkeepers are:

Portal Guardian Name Description of Guardian
1 Terror Vulture-headed with a sun disk on its head holding grain
2 Child of the fashioner Alioness-headed guardian who holds grain
3 Splendid A human-headed guardian who holds grain and has the "divine beard"
4 Long-horned Bull This guard has a bull's head and holds grain
5 One who spears the Disaffected A half feline and half hippo figure that holds a knife
6 United One A male human figure with a mis-shapen head. He holds both a knife and grain.Unlike the guardians of the seven gates and 7 of the ten portals, this guard is not shown in mummy wrappings. He wars the "New Kingdom Male Kilt and a broad collar instead.
7 Ikety Ram-headed (like the god Khnum) and holding wheat
8 One who protects himself A falcon holding grain and wearing the double crown usually worn by Horus or the Pharaoh (who are often one and the same of course). He stands on a coffin, unlike the others who squat on a reed mat
9 One who made himself A feline-headed "demon" who has a sun disk surmounting his head and who holds grain in his hand.
10 Great Embracer A ram-headed figure who wears an "Atef" crown and holds grain

At each of the portals Ani must utter words (a spell?) to pass these strange beings and continue on his way to the land of the blessed dead.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A New Copy of the Book of Two Ways "Found"

     A leather "scroll" that has gone missing since the Second World War has been re-discovered in storage in the Cairo Museum. It dates to the early Middle Kingdom and contains spells from the Book of Two Ways. This document is rather unusual in that the text is written on leather, rather than a coffin, or even a papyrus scroll, and because it might indicate that the Book of Two Ways was not necessarily local to Middle Egypt as many scholars have thought. Here is a link to a longer article on this topic.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Gates Six and Seven from the Papyrus of Ani

    The Sixth Gate has a gatekeeper named "Seizer of Bread, Raging of Voice" with a Guardian and an Announcer name "One who Brings his own Face" and "Sharp of Face, Belonging to the Pool" respectively. Ani tells them that he is the bearer of the Wereret crown and that he has rescued the eye of Osiris. With this Ani is permitted to continue onwards "in triumph". The heads of the three figures seated before this gate consist of a jackal and two other animal heads that I cannot identify for certain, although they may be a crocodile and a dog The jackal holds grain in his hand, while the other two hold knives.

     The Seventh (and last) Gate is guarded by three kneeling figures which are rabbit-headed, lioness-headed (??) and human-headed. The human-headed figure holds grain (the other two hold knives) and wears the beard of the gods. The gatekeeper is referred to as "One who Prevails Over Knives", while the other two are named "Great of Triumph" and "One who Repels the Demolishers". At this gate Ani says, "I have come before you, Osiris, so that I might be pure of evils. May you circulate around the sky, may you see Re" and " are in the night bark as he circles the horizon of the sky".

     Making some sort of sense of all this is difficult. Here are some statistics, which may, or may not, mean anything:

Of the twenty-one kneeling figures who bar Ani's passage through the gates there are:

  • 4 Human-headed figures; two hold knives and two hold grain
  • 2 rabbit-headed figures; one holds a knife and one holds grain
  • 3 snake-headed figures; all three hold knives
  • 2 Crocodile-headed figures (one is clearly crocodile-headed, one might be crocodile-headed), both of which hold knives
  • 2 jackal-headed figures, both of whom hold grain
  • 3 figures that might be lioness-headed, all three hold knives
  • 3 dog-headed figures (?),  with all three holding knives
  • 2 raptor-headed figures (clearly shown as two different birds pf prey), one holds grain and one holds a knife
Fifteen of the "demons" hold knives, while six hold grain. 

     None of this seems to have any special meaning, or if it does I do not understand it. In an attempt to learn more I consulted some scholarly works on the subject. Not only did I get no real clarification, but I also got some added confusion.  For instance, Rita Lucarelli ("The Guardian-Demons of the Book of the Dead", British Museum Studies in Ancient Egypt and Sudan 15 (2010), pp. 85-102) points out that the names of the gates guardians (very rarely) change from one copy of the Book of the Dead to another, and that sometimes the animal heads on a particular guardian changes from one copy to the next. (Lucarelli, p. 87). Also, the number of guardians at each gate is sometimes two, rather than three (Lucarelli, p. 88). 

     The next post will start looking at the "portals" mentioned in the Papyrus of Ani (BD Spell 146) to see what we can find there.


Saturday, October 10, 2015

Gates Three, Four and Five in the Book of the Dead

     The name of the gatekeeper at gate number three of Ani's Book of the Dead is the quaintly named "One who Eats the Putrefaction of his Posterior". That makes the names of the guardian and the announcer for this gate ("Alert of Face" and "Gateway" respectively) seem quite normal. These three have the heads of a jackal, a dog (?) and a snake). When confronting these three Ani tells them that he is "...the secret one of the cloudburst..." who is there to drive evil away from Osiris and that the three "demons" should open the gate for him so that he (Ani) might shine in Rosetjau.

     At gate four we find guardians with the heads of a human, a raptor and a feline of some sort (?). The human-headed figure holds grain in his hand and wears the beard of the gods, while the other two hold knives. The gatekeeper is called "The one Whose Face Repels, One of Multitudinous Voices" while his companions are named "The Alert One" and the "One who Repels the Crocodile". Ani tells these three that he is the son of Osiris and that they should make a path for him so that "...I might pass by in God's Domain".

     At gate five Ani confronts a raptor-headed figure, a human-headed "demon" and a figure with the head of a snake. The gatekeeper is named "He who Lives on Worms", while the other two are named "Shabu" and "Hippopotamus-faced, One who Charges Opposite". Ani announces that he has "...protected him (Osiris) in triumph...".

     At this point I think it should be clear why scholars have had such a difficult time interpreting the Book of the Dead.  To the Egyptians a demon named "Alert of Face" is perfectly sensible, but we have a very difficult time understanding the significance of this sort of name. Also, note  that while these gates are described one after the other in Chapter 147 of the Book of the Dead, there is no reason to believe they were located in any particular place in the underworld. In fact, there is no evidence that the Egyptians ever even thought about the actual geography of the underworld, other than vague thoughts about gates, portals, caverns and fields that would be harvested for the blessed dead. Are these places located near the beginning of the underworld? In the Middle? Near the end where the sun exited at the dawn of each new day? Were they together or scattered throughout the deceased's journey? No one knows.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Still More on Tutankhamen

     The latest theory going around is that some of the people represented in the paintings located in Tutankhamen's burial chamber are not who we think they are. One representation of "Tut" might be Nefertiti. The representation of Ay performing the Opening of the Mouth for Tutankhamen, might actually be Tutankhamen performing the ritual for Nefertiti.  Hmmm............

     The Houston Museum of Natural Science has a blog post up on these theories.  It's an interesting read.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Gates of the Underworld in Egypt's New Kingdom

     In the New Kingdom "Book of the Dead" the Egyptian concept of the afterlife continued to feature a series of gates that the deceased had to pass through to join with Osiris in the land of the blessed dead. Like the gates in earlier texts, such as in the Book of Two Ways (see the posts I did on September 21 and September 23, 2015), the gates in the Book of the Dead had guardians who needed to be overcome for the deceased to continue his journey. The names of these fearsome demons are completely different from the names of the gatekeepers in the Book of the Two Ways.

     In the Papyrus of Ani, there are seven"gates" and ten "portals" that Ani needed to pass. Each of the gates had a "Gatekeeper", a "Guardian" and an "Announcer" squatting in front of it, while each of the ten portals was barred by a single gatekeeper. Other New Kingdom texts have up to twenty-one entrances which can be passed only by conversing with the guardians. Here the conversations are only hinted at (see: Goelet, Ogden, et al. The Book of the Dead, San Francisco: Chronicle Books, Third Edition, 2015, p. 171). We will start looking at the seven gates in this post and the ten portals in later posts.

     Gate One was blocked by a rabbit-headed "demon" holding what looks like a sheaf of wheat, a snake-headed "demon" and a crocodile-headed "demon" (both of whom were armed with knives). The gatekeeper was called "Inverted of Face, Multitudinous of Forms", the Guardian was called "Eavesdropper" and the Announcer was known as "Hostile-Voiced". Ani arrived before this gate and proclaimed that he was a great-one who could "make his own light". He then commanded that the demons "open the way in Rosetjau, so that I might cure the illness of Osiris".

     Gate Two had a gatekeeper referred to as "One who opens up the breast", a guardian named "Seqed Face" and an announcer named Wesed. Ani asks to be allowed to pass forward so that he could "...see Re among those who make offerings". The demons were fish-headed (?), human-headed and dog-headed and all three bore knives.

Note: the translations for this post (and for the next few) were done by Raymond Faulkner and published in: Goelet, Ogden, et al. The Book of the Dead, San Francisco: Chronicle Books, Third Edition, 2015.


Monday, October 5, 2015

New Chapter of Gilgamesh Epic Found

     A cuneiform tablet with a previously unknown portion of the Epic of Gilgamesh has been identified. The tablet dates (possibly) to the Neo-Babylonian Period and contains part of the scene where Enkidu and Gilgamesh hunt down and kill Humbaba. An article that goes into more detail can be found here.