Book of Thoth
Book of Thoth is a name given to many ancient Egyptian texts supposed to have been written by Thoth, the Egyptian god of writing and knowledge. They include a text that is known and has been translated, many texts that were claimed to exist by ancient authors, and a magical book that appears in an Egyptian work of fiction.
Texts that are known or claimed to exist
The Egyptians stored many texts, on a wide range of subjects, in "Houses of Life", the libraries contained within temple complexes. As Thoth was the god of knowledge, many of these texts were claimed to be his work. The Egyptian historian Manetho claimed that Thoth wrote 36,525 books.
The church father Clement of Alexandria, in the sixth book of his work Stromata, mentions forty-two books used by Egyptian priests that he says contain "the whole philosophy of the Egyptians". All these books, according to Clement, were written by Hermes (the Greek name for Thoth). Among the subjects they cover are hymns, rituals, temple construction, astrology, geography, and medicine.
The Egyptologists Richard Lewis Jasnow and Karl-Theodor Zauzich have dubbed a long Egyptian text from the Ptolemaic period "the Book of Thoth". This Demotic text, known from more than forty fragmentary copies, consists of a dialogue between a person called "The-one-who-loves-knowledge" and a figure that Jasnow and Zauzich identify as Thoth. The topics of their conversation include the work of scribes, various aspects of the gods and their sacred animals, and the Duat, the realm of the dead.
The fictional Book of Thoth appears in an ancient Egyptian story from the Ptolemaic period. The book, written by Thoth, is said to contain two spells, one of which allows the reader to understand the speech of animals, and one of which allows the reader to perceive the gods themselves.
According to the story, the book was originally hidden at the bottom of the Nile near Coptos, where it was locked inside a series of boxes guarded by serpents. The Egyptian prince Neferkaptah fought the serpents and retrieved the book, but in punishment for his theft from Thoth, the gods killed his wife and son. Neferkaptah committed suicide and was entombed along with the book. Generations later, the story's protagonist, Setne Khamwas (a character based on the historical prince Khaemwaset), steals the book from Neferkaptah's tomb despite opposition from Neferkaptah's ghost. Setne then meets a beautiful woman who seduces him into killing his children and humiliating himself in front of the pharaoh. He discovers that this episode was an illusion created by Neferkaptah, and in fear of further retribution, Setne returns the book to Neferkaptah's tomb. At Neferkaptah's request, Setne also finds the bodies of Neferkaptah's wife and son and buries them in Neferkaptah's tomb, which is then sealed.
The story reflects the Egyptian belief that the gods' knowledge is not meant for humans to possess.
In popular culture
- The Book of Thoth is mentioned in The Rosetta Key, a novel by William Dietrich.
- The Book of Thoth plays a major role in the 1972 novel Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed.
- The book of Thoth appears in Rick Riordan's The Serpent's Shadow book, where it is used by Carter and Sadie Kane to banish Apophis from the world.
- The Book of Thoth is used by the demon Astaroth in the series The Tapestry to banish modern technology and cities.
- Book of Thoth is a very powerful and expensive magical item purchasable in the Hi-Rez Studios video game SMITE.
The Book of Thoth appears in Zora Neale Hurston's novel Moses, Man of the Mountain, a story in which Hurston's Moses, of ambiguous racial identity, derives power not only from the Midianite god, Jehovah, but also from this Egyptian book of power, produced by the Egyptian god of writing, Thoth.
- Fowden 1993, p. 57
- Jasnow and Zauzich 2005, p. 2
- Fowden 1993, pp. 58–59
- Jasnow and Zauzich 2005, pp. 2–9, 72–73
- Lichtheim 2006, pp. 125–128
- Lichtheim 2006, pp. 125, 129–136
- Lichtheim 2006, p. 126
- Fowden, Garth (1993). The Egyptian Hermes: A Historical Approach to the Late Pagan Mind. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691024981.
- Jasnow, Richard Lewis; Karl-Theodor Zauzich (2005). The Ancient Egyptian Book of Thoth: A Demotic Discourse on Knowledge & Pendant to Classical Hermetica. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. ISBN 9783447050821.
- Lichtheim, Miriam (2006) [1st. Pub. 1978]. Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume III: The Late Period. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-24844-9.