Two Lines of the Book of the Dead


Edouard Naville

[Extracted from Zeitschrift für Sprache und Aegyptische Alterthumskunde, (May-June 1874), p. 58-60.
Translated into Eng. by Google from the original French.]

In his great work on the oldest texts of the Book of the Dead, Mr. Professor Lepsius, commenting on the 2nd line of c. 17, says (p. 47), speaking of the kingdom of Ra and the following words [glyphs]: "Es scheint dass hier von dem Erwachen, der Gestaltung des Chaos, von der Scheidung in Himmel und Erde und der Entstehung des Firmaments wie in der Genesis die Rede ist."

The passage from the Book of the Dead, which Mr. Lepsius gave this interpretation, is of great importance for the knowledge of the Egyptian cosmogony. There is, indeed, here a variant that is found in all the papyri of the Theban dynasties I'm looking at which significantly change the meaning of the sentence and gives the idea much greater precision. According to the ancient texts of the Theban period, the royalty of Ra is first in the sky; there would come a time when the sky does not exist, where heaven and earth were combined, and where the height of Amsesennu of Ra had elements and assigned their roles. To better understand the importance of these variants I will take as a base, not the Turin Papyrus, but an ancient text, the papyrus of Nebseni. I already know the readers of the Zeitschrift (1873, p. 26) and I will refer to the letter A. Then I will support other contemporaries at my disposal and I will refer to the following texts:

B. pap. of [glyphs] Museum of London.
C. pap. of [glyphs] Museum of London (see Zeitschr. 1873. p. 26).
D. pap. of [glyphs] Berlin.
E. Tomb [glyphs] Leps. Denk. III. 38.

The four papyri are hieroglyphic papyri, a writing very similar to that of the tomb, and all four are of the Theban period; one of them, that of Hunefer, provides irrefutable evidence because the deceased was a steward of Seti Ist. There is no need to include the sarcophagus of Mentuhotep and Sebekaa, published by Mr. Lepsius, because they omit most of this sentence. Here is the text of the first two [p.58] lines of c. 17, according to the Nebseni papyrus. Remember what I said earlier about this document; that there is no special sign for negation, written [glyphs] or [glyphs].

I am Tmu, the unique, Nun Ra with his crown when he began to exercise his sovereignty. What does that Ra when he began to exercise his sovereignty is when Ra began to appear in the kingdom he held when there were points of firmament and he was on the height when placed Amsesennu Renen the son of (?) on Amsesennu.

In French: I am Tmu, when the single, I am Nun, I am Ra wearing his tiara at the beginning of the sovereignty it has exercised. What is this, Ra at the beginning of the sovereignty he held? Ra is first appearing in his kingdom, when there was as yet no firmament, and it was the height of Amsesennu when Renen placed the son of (?) in the height of Amsesennu.

[glyphs] Alone with the sarcophagi to have this form of the pronoun, which even in the papyrus is special to c. 17, as also found mainly in the form [glyphs]. This spelling was happening in later documents, because I found it in the hieratic papyrus [glyphs] of the Berlin Museum, but only in the first chapter.

All papyri and sarcophagi instead of [glyphs] when is the sole, the pronoun [glyphs] or something similar, and B. [glyphs] I Tmu, as only myself. C. [Glyphs] when, or because I'm single. Despite the difference of the pronoun, the idea remains the same. Tmu is to be unique, which includes everything in it, which is the origin of all things. This assimilation of Tmu is found to be universal, while the Grand will be established, based on texts that I can not mention here, in my work on the litany of the sun.

B. [Glyphs] Take the word [glyphs] as it is in these three texts, without the determinative feature; this word is likely mixed. [Glyphs] means shining like the sun, to be bright, and the examples are so numerous that it is unnecessary to mention all of them. It means shining as a beautifully coated dress shines, or wearing a sparkling crown. The texts of Abydos we can rightly call the Ritual frequently use it in the same way; it means appear as the god who is out of his donkey sanctuary on the feast day. Finally, it means appear as a king, shining like wearing the royal crown, come to the throne. [Glyphs] "The first-year of [p.59] my reign, I ordered ... etc.. " says Ramses II (Abd. I. p. 49). But as there could be doubt about the meaning of the word [glyphs] it is natural that commentators have added their explanation in the second phrase: Ra in his appearance ... it is Ra when it appears as king; Ra at his coming. The answer to the question limits the meaning of the word in the sense of rule, or accession to the throne. In the papyrus Nebseni explanation was less necessary as we read [glyphs]. This word, a variant of [glyphs], means the crown coated with the uraeus, the royal crown, the diadem.

What initially Ra ... Ra is in its appearance as king at the beginning of his reign. Here, the Theban papyrus are unanimous, as well as those I quote, and those Mr. Lepsius (p. 47) speaks of. All are [glyphs] (C) [glyphs] (D) with small variations or graphics. None mention Heracleopolis which appears only in the later texts, especially hieratic. We must therefore believe an error induced by the ignorant copyist for the word [glyphs], or those less qualified tend to write [glyphs], and that this fault will be transmitted since it is in most copies of the text. This proves that when the Turin Papyrus and hieratic papyrus were written the understanding of the text had already been largely lost, since it could pass on a fault so deeply in the general sense of the sentence. But here's the most important variant, and I quote all the texts for clarity.

A. [Glyphs]
B. [Glyphs]
C. [Glyphs]
D. [Glyphs]
E. [Glyphs]

The texts are categorical. Except C. I explain the fault below. All have, When there were no Setes Su, or when there was no firmament. Here the Turin Papyrus is only at fault; the hieratic texts I collated, including two in London, one in Berlin and one of Leiden, are all negations [glyphs] that the Turin Papyrus has forgotten.

When there was no firmament; this implies that when Ra began to reign heaven and earth were still confused, a mass only, the Nun. Ra authorizing this chaos travelled much in the upper regions of the sky, but stood on the height of Amsesennu. This requires that subsequent to the appearance of Ra as king there had been a lifting in the firmament, of separation of heaven and earth. This simple variant of the Book of the Dead teaches us that the Egyptians had what we call it chaos; that is to say a shapeless mass of water (the Nun) where heaven and earth were not separated or covered yet. It is at this moment of world history they placed the reign of Ra.

Coming back to the text of C [glyphs], etc. This variant can also be read in the hieratic papyrus of Berlin that I quoted above, and is an easily explicable fault. [Glyphs] is indeed one of the names of the capital of the nome Hermopolitain of [p.60] the city [glyphs]. The scribe, who saw the few words, that it was the city of Hermopolis [glyphs], later replaced the verb to be [glyphs] by the name of [glyphs], a similar pronunciation, which is the name of the same city. The general meaning of the sentence does not change the rest.*

I will continue with reading A. [glyphs] which is obviously a transposition of the pronoun [glyphs] that is in no other text.

[glyphs]. In texts other than Nebseni the word would mean the god Amsesennu, but, as I indicated elsewhere (Zeitschr. 1873 p. 26), the determinative [glyph] is used in this papyrus with such a profusion that it is impossible to conclude that its presence is a divine personage. As noted by Lepsius, the preposition [glyphs] is part of the name of the locality.

About the next version, I quote again from all texts:

A. [Glyphs]
B. [Glyphs]
C. [Glyphs]
D. [Glyphs]
E. [Glyphs]

The two Theban papyri Mr. Lepsius mentioned in the note also give similar variations. Nowhere do we find in the ancient texts the word [glyphs] destroy: it is a different act. I do not insist on the variant [glyphs] (A). This place in the papyrus Nebseni is a bit bad and I'm not completely sure of the word. The translation of this sentence would be next B, C, and D when placed on the animals measured height Amsesennu and following E. when he placed the animals measured as gods, as gods on Amsesennu.

Both lessons have many unconnected, because someone put [glyphs], as the Book of the Dead mentions, also gives to be [glyphs] (85 10.) and not to destroy, but rather make it a god. The general meaning would be: when did the beasts Mesu gods Amsesennu. But that's what. [Glyphs]. I do not think we should take [glyphs] in the strict sense of son, I think we can hear in one direction appears as Hebrew בן in expression בן חיל son of war to belligerent man. Mesu beasts "the son of impotence" are inert, impotent by excellence. In fact, the original meaning of [glyphs], become impotent, be helpless, paralyzed, as a man plagued with terror (see Brugsch dict. p. 446.). Ra is powerless over the gods of Amsesennu, here is what leads us to a philological analysis. If allowed to go a bit in the interpretation of Egyptian symbolism, I will say that Sesennu, 8 [p.61] gods, following Mr. Lepsius; 8 elements make impotent gods; Amsesennu is born to these eight deities; is to change an inert and powerless in eight gods; matter is to distinguish the 8 elements, until then had no energy or activity, because they were part of chaos.

We found the existence established by the foregoing. Hopefully these two examples, and especially the first, have emphasized the interest that often a simple variant has. If we ever want to get a little closer to exact knowledge of Egyptian mythology, it is in the ancient texts of the Book of the Dead.

Geneva, 25. May 1874.

Edouard Naville.


* Despite the great beauty of the writing and vignettes, the papyrus Hunefer should be used with caution, especially as we approach the end. We find curious variants like this: [glyphs] to [glyphs]. The petrefsu is written: [glyphs].