Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Pyramid Texts

     The Pyramid Texts are the oldest large body of religious literature in the world. They first appeared in the pyramid of the Egyptian Pharaoh Unis, who was the last king of the Fifth Dynasty. Other copies of these texts can be found in the tombs of the Sixth Dynasty kings Teti, Pepi I, Merenre, and Pepi II, as well as in the pyramids of the queens Neith, Iput II, Wedjebetni (all wives of Pepi II), and Ankhesenpepi (a wife of Pepi I). A Dynasty Eight pharaoh named Ibi also had a copy of the Pyramid Texts in his tomb. The most recent copy of the Pyramid Texts to be found was in the burial chamber of the Sixth Dynasty Queen Behenu (found in 2010). It is unclear if Behenu was married to Pepi I or Pepi II.

     The Pyramid Texts gave way to the Coffin Texts in the Middle Kingdom and the Book of the Dead in the New Kingdom, but some of the Pyramid Text "spells" (as we refer to them today) remained in use up until the Roman Period.

     Sethe was the first to publish a translation of the Pyramid Texts and he numbered the spells found in the pyramid of Unis. As other copies of this religious document were found new utterances (spells) had to be added to Sethe's numbering system. This has led to complications in publishing translations (such as those of Mercer, Piankoff, Faulkner and, most recently James Allen). The complications have gotten so bad that Allen included in his translation a series of cross reference tables that take up more than 40 pages!

Allen, James. The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005.

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