Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Book of the Netherworld)
Jump to: navigation, search

The Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld is a two-part ancient Egyptian funerary text found on the second shrine in KV62, the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun. It is speculated that the book covers the creation and rebirth of the sun; however, the true meaning of the book is not known due to the use of cryptographic illustrations to preserve the secrecy of the formulae. The Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld is broken into three sections that incorporate other funerary texts, such as the Book of the Dead and the Amduat. Other enigmatic books have been found in the tombs of Ramesses IX and Ramesses V.

The Democratization of the Netherworld[edit]

The spread of specialized knowledge of the netherworld is one way that differences in rank become an obvious feature of Egyptian burials. There is a clear pattern of expansion from the top down to other ranks over time. The texts originally formulated to help kings and other members of the royal family to live forever gradually became available to a wider group of people. As a particular set of spells became more broadly available, further research into the nature of the netherworld came to be utilized by kings. Later, this erudition, too, became available to a wider group of people.

This phenomenon, which the Egyptologist James Breasted called the 'democratization of the netherworld", occurred at least twice in Egypt's long history. The first phase included the royal texts of the Old Kingdom becoming available to the other ranks of society during the Middle and New Kingdoms. The second phase of democratization occurred when royal texts available to kings of the New Kingdom were utilized by other ranks of society as early as the Twenty-first Dynasty.[1]

Multiple Copies[edit]

Sheet from a Book of the Dead, ca. 1075-945 B.C.E., 37.1699E, Brooklyn Museum

These texts were quite important to the Egyptians. To ensure that the deceased was equipped with the knowledge necessary to reach judgment and survive it, texts of various kinds were inscribed on the tomb walls, on the coffin, on amulets wrapped in the mummy, on the mummy bandages, or on papyrus either wrapped in the mummy or in or near the coffin inside a statue of the god Ptah-Soker-Osiris. The owner of the tomb from which the picture to right came from, the royal scribe Yepu, had these spells for passing gates four and six of the netherworld carved in his tomb; formerly this kind of information was only available to kings.

In general, these texts are called se-akhu or "what causes one to become akh". The oldest of these spells were the Pyramid Texts, carved on the interior walls of the pyramids of kings in the late Fifth and the Sixth Dynasties of the Old Kingdom. By the Middle Kingdom, people of a wider variety of ranks had access to specializes texts, recorded on their coffins. These included the collection of spells called the Coffin Texts, as well as the map of the next world called the Book of Two Ways, which records the paths around dangerous mounds and fiery lakes occupied by hostile forces that could block the way to the netherworld.

In the New Kingdom, the contents of the Pyramid Text and Coffin Texts became available to the middle ranks of society through recording on their coffins and The Book of the Dead. The older material thus became less exclusive, though kings never completely abandoned the most important spells from the group. But perhaps this democratization of the earlier texts explains why royal special knowledge was enhanced with even more advanced and detailed research on the next world. New texts with their illustrations became available to royalty; they are generally known as The Books of the Netherworld. Rather than being collections of spells, as were previously devised texts for achieving eternal life, The Books of the Netherworld describe and illustrate the course the sun takes while illuminating the world of the dead during the twelve houses of the night. These texts and illustrations remained mostly restricted to kings from the early Eighteenth Dynasty until the Twenty-first Dynasty. Even queens did not have the use of all these books in their tombs in the earlier period.

Scholars divide The Books of the Netherworld into two groups. Two of the earlier books, written during the Eighteenth Dynasty, are the Amduat and The Book of Gates, which form on group. There are nine other known books introduced between the early New Kingdom and the Ramesside period. Though all of them deal with the fusion of the sun god Re with the king of the dead, Osiris, there are significant differences in their details.[2]

Second Phase[edit]

The diffusion of the Amduat is typical of the way the second phase of democratization occurred. Beginning in the reign of either Thutmose I (1493-1479 B.C.E.) or his daughter Hatshepsut(1478-1458 B.C.E.), this text was included in the royal tomb and continued in use through the Ramesside period. At the end of the New Kingdom, after 1075 B.C.E., the text began to appear in the tombs of priests of the god Amun in Thebes. They inscribed it both on their coffins and on papyri included in their tombs. Then in the Twenty-sixth Dynasty, barely three hundred years later, the same text was recorded on tomb walls belonging to other government officials. The texts also appear in non-royal sarcophagi of the Thirtieth Dynasty and the Ptolemaic Period belonging to wealthy individuals.

The Amduat gives a detailed descriptions, with illustrations, of the course the sun takes during its twelve hours in the netherworld. It shows how the sun travels in a boat while under attack from enemies who try to prevent the sun from returning to the world of the living in the morning. The god Osiris is included, but in the test he is rather passive in the battle. The deceased, who come alive while the boat is in their realm, go back to sleep when the sun reenters the land of the living and remain sleeping until the sun returns at the end of the earthly day.

The Book of Gates might have earlier origins, but the oldest known copy dates to the reign of Horemheb (1319-1292 B.C.E.) at the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty. It continued in use by the Ramesside kings. The Book of Gates also illustrates the twelve hours of night, but it reduces the number of crew members in the boat from those found in the Amduat. It also differs from the Amduat by adding a gate at the end of each hour and by more fully incorporating Osiris.

The pattern of New Kingdom royal texts reused increasingly by high officials after the Twenty-first Dynasty is also clear in The Book of Caverns, The Book of the Earth, The Book of the Night, The Book of the Day, and The Book of Nut. A variant pattern of democratization occurs, however, with The Litany of Re. Like the Amduat, The Litany of Re first survives from early in the Eighteenth Dynasty. It is found in the tomb of Thutmose III (1479-1425 B.C.E.). However, it is also simultaneously used but the king's prime minister, Useramun. The next appearance of the text in a royal tomb is in the reign of Sety I (1290-1279 B.C.E) in the Nineteenth Dynasty. This text, which invokes the seventy-five names of the god Ra and is specially devoted to uniting Re and Osiris, continued among high officials in the Twenty-first Dynasty.[3]

Sarcophagus Lid for Pa-di-Inpu, ca. 305-30 B.C.E., 34.1222, Brooklyn Museum; Elaborate stone sarcophagi were available only to the very richest Egyptians. Others made do with local wood, terracotta, or even wickerwork.

Permanently Restricted Texts[edit]

Some royal texts never became available to non-royal people. This group includes The Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld, a unique text used only by Tutankhamen (1332-1322 B.C.E.). A similar case is found with The Book of the Heavenly Cow. It also is first known from the tomb of Tutankhamen, but it continued to be used by kings into Ramesside times. There are no known non-royal copies of the text.

Finally, The Book of Traversing Eternity appears to be an original Ptolemaic text used by high officials but never by kings. This text gives the decease access to festivals of the gods of the earth. Knowledge was thus an important element in reaching eternal life. With the right physical preparations of the body, the tomb and its contents, proper behavior during life, and, finally, adequate specialized knowledge, and ancient Egyptian felt prepared to live forever.[4]


[5] [6] [7]

  1. ^ Bleiberg, Edward (2008). To Live Forever: Egyptian Treasures from the Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Museum. pp. 44–45. 
  2. ^ Bleiberg, Edward (2008). To Live Forever: Egyptian Treasures from the Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Museum. pp. 45–48. 
  3. ^ Bleiberg, Edward (2008). To Live Forever: Egyptian Treasures from the Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Museum. pp. 48–49. 
  4. ^ Bleiberg, Edward (2008). To Live Forever: Egyptian Treasures from the Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Museum. pp. 49–50ssdate=24 June 2014. 
  5. ^ Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife by Hornung, Erik 1999Cornell University Press
  6. ^ Life and Death of a Pharaoh: Tutankhamen by Desrochnes-Noblecourt published 1963 New York
  7. ^ An Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld From A Shrine of Tutankhamun by Taylor Ray Ellison


  • Hornung, Erik (1999). The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife (in German). David Lorton (translator). Cornell University Press. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Darnell, John Coleman (2004). The Enigmatic Netherworld Books of the Solar-Osirian Unity. Academic Press Fribourg / Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht Göttingen.  ISBN 3-7278-1469-1 / ISBN 3-525-53055-2