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The Egyptian Book of the Dead

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Author Topic: The Egyptian Book of the Dead  (Read 8696 times)
Josie Linde
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« on: December 21, 2008, 09:55:28 pm »

Internal evidence of its antiquity.

The earliest texts bear within themselves proofs, not only of having been composed, but also of having been revised, or edited, long before the days of king Meni, and judging from many passages in the copies inscribed in hieroglyphics upon the pyramids of Unas (the last king of the Vth dynasty, about B.C. 3333), and Teta, Pepi I., Mer-en-Ra, and Pepi II. (kings of the VIth dynasty, about B.C. 3300-3166), it would seem that, even at that remote date, the scribes were perplexed and hardly understood the texts which they had before them.[2] The most moderate estimate makes certain sections of the Book of the Dead as known from these tombs older than three thousand years before Christ. We are in any case justified in estimating the earliest form of the work to be contemporaneous with the foundation of the civilization[3] which we call Egyptian in the valley of

[1. "Les textes des Pyramides . . . . . . nous reportent si loin dans le passé que je n'ai aucun moyen de les dater que de dire qu'elles étaient dejà vieilles cinq mille ans avant notre ère. Si extraordinaire que paraisse ce chiffre, il faudra bien nous habituer à le considérer comme représentant une évaluation à minima toutes les fois qu'on voudra rechercher les origines de la religion Égyptienne. La religion et les textes qui nous la font connaître étaient déjà constitués avant la Ire dynastie: c'est à nous de nous mettre, pour les comprendre, dans l'état d'esprit où était, il y a plus de sept mille ans, le peuple qui les a constitués. Bien entendu, je ne parle ici que des systèmes théologiques: si nous voulions remonter jusqu'à l'origine des é1éments qu'ils ont mis en œuvre, il nous faudrait reculer vers des ages encore plus lointains." Maspero, La Mythologie Égyptienne (in Revue de l'Histoire des Religions, t. xix., p. 12; and in Études de Mythologie et d'Archéologie Égyptiennes, t. ii., p. 2 36). Compare also "dass die einzelnen Texte selbst damals schon einer alten heiligen Litteratur angehörten, unterliegt keinem Zweifel, sie sind in jeder Hinsicht alterthümlicher als die ältesten uns erhaltenen Denkmäler. Sie gehören in eine für uns 'vorhistorische' Zeit und man wird ihnen gewiss kein Unrecht anthun, wenn man sie bis in das vierte Jahrtausend hinein versetzt." Erman, Das Verhältniss des aegyptischen zu den semitischen Sprachen, in Z.D.M.G., Bd. XLVI., p. 94.

2. "Le nombre des prières et des formules dirigées contre les animaux venimeux montre quel effroi le serpent et le scorpion inspirait aux Égyptiens. Beaucoup d'entre elles sont écrites dans une langue et avec des combinaisons de signes qui ne paraissent plus avoir été complètement comprises des scribes qui les copiaient sous Ounas et sous Pepi. Je crois, quant à moi, qu'elles appartiennent an plus vieux rituel et remontent an delà du règne de Mînî." Maspero, La Religion Égyptienne (in Revue de l'Histoire des Religions, t. xii., p. 125). See also Recueil de Travaux, t. iv., p. 62.

3. So sind wir gezwungen, wenigstens die ersten Grundlagen des Buches den Anfängen den Aegyptischen Civilization beizumessen." See Naville, Das Aegyptische Todtenbuch (Einleitung), Berlin, 1886, p. 18.]

{p. xiii}

the Nile.[1] To fix a chronological limit for the arts and civilization of Egypt is absolutely impossible.[2]

Evidence of the antiquity of certain chapters.

The oldest form or edition of the Book of the Dead as we have received it supplies no information whatever as to the period when it was compiled; but a copy of the hieratic text inscribed upon a coffin of Menthu-hetep, a queen of the XIth dynasty,[3] about B.C. 2500, made by the late Sir J. G. Wilkinson,[4] informs us that the chapter which, according to the arrangement of Lepsius, bears the number LXIV.,[5] was discovered in the reign of Hesep-ti,[6] the fifth king of the Ist dynasty, about B.C. 4266. On this coffin are two copies of the chapter, the one immediately following the other. In the rubric to the first the name of the king during whose reign the chapter is said to have been "found" is given as Menthu-hetep, which, as Goodwin first pointed out,[7] is a mistake for Men-kau-Ra,[8] the fourth king of the IVth dynasty, about B.C. 3633;[9] but in the rubric to the second the king's name is given as Hesep-ti. Thus it appears that in the period of the XIth dynasty it was believed that the chapter might alternatively be as old as the time of the Ist dynasty. Further, it is given to Hesep-ti in papyri of the XXIst dynasty,[10] a period when particular attention was paid to the history of the Book of the Dead; and it thus appears that the Egyptians of the Middle Empire believed the chapter to date from the more

[1. The date of Mena, the first king of Egypt, is variously given B.C. 5867 (Champollion), B.C. 5004 (Mariette), B.C. 5892 (Lepsius), B.C. 4455 (Brugsch).

2 See Chabas, Aeg. Zeitschrift, 1865, p. 95. On the subject of the Antiquity of Egyptian Civilization generally, see Chabas, Études sur l'Antiquité Historique d'après les Sources Égyptiennes, Paris, 1873--Introduction, p. 9.

3 The name of the queen and her titles are given on p. 7 (margin) thus:--

###.

4 It was presented to the British Museum in 1834, and is now in the Department of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities.

Todtenbuch, Bl. 23-25.

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