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The Legend of Astarte and the Tribute of the Sea (1.23)

(1,146 words)

Author(s): Ritner, Robert K.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Other Myths Commentary The tattered remains of a once magnificent manuscript, the “Astarte Papyrus” nevertheless provides tantalizing evidence of Egyptian traditions regarding the Asiatic goddess who had been adopted into cult and mythology by the beginning of the New Kingdom. While this legend has been shown to have an indigenous Egyptian setting, it is yet parallel to, and likely inspired by, the Ugaritic …

The Song From the Tomb of Neferhotep (1.31)

(729 words)

Author(s): Lichtheim, Miriam
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Harpers’ Songs Commentary When they first appeared in the Middle Kingdom, the texts known as Harper’s Songs were designed to praise death and the life after death. But in the famous Harper’s Song from the Tomb of King Intef, preserved in a papyrus copy, the praises of the afterlife were replaced by anxious doubts about its reality, and by the advice to make merry while alive and to shun the thought of death.…

From A Ramesside Stela (1.13)

(441 words)

Author(s): Allen, James P.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Cosmologies Commentary In the Middle Kingdom Coffin Texts, the creative role of Ptah is clearly secondary to that of Atum, the material source of creation. In the New Kingdom, however, it evolved into a full cosmogony in its own right, combining the intellectual principle of Ptah with the material role of Ta-tenen (“Rising Land”), the deified Primeval Hill representing the first instance of created matter. …

The Repulsing of the Dragon (1.21)

(747 words)

Author(s): Ritner, Robert K.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Other Myths Commentary During the course of each day’s journey, the sun god confronted a serpent adversary a whom he vanquished with the assistance of the militant god Seth and the force of divine magic. Within the following Coffin Text spell, this battle with the “dragon” is located at Bakhu, the mountainous western support of heaven where the sun sets. Elsewhere the serpent is styled Apep (Apopis), who threatens to dev…

The Great Hymn to Osiris (1.26)

(1,491 words)

Author(s): Lichtheim, Miriam
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Hymns Commentary A round–topped limestone stela, 1.×.62 m, of fine workmanship dating from the 18th Dynasty. In the lunette there are two offering scenes showing, on the left, the official Amenmose and his wife Nefertari seated before an offering table and, on the right, a lady named Baket, whose relationship to Amenmose is not stated. Before Amenmose stands a son with his arms raised in the gesture of offe…

Sinuhe (1.38)

(5,660 words)

Author(s): Lichtheim, Miriam
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; Narratives Commentary The numerous, if fragmentary, copies of this work testify to its great popularity, and it is justly considered the most accomplished piece of Middle Kingdom prose literature. The two principal manuscripts are: (1) P. Berlin 3022 (abbr., B) which dates from the 12th Dynasty. In its present state, it lacks the beginning of the story and contains a total of 311 lines; (2) P. Berlin 10499 (abbr., R) which contai…

From Coffin Texts Spell 75 (1.5)

(1,667 words)

Author(s): Allen, James P.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Cosmologies Commentary Spells 75–81 of the Coffin Texts, which identify the deceased as a manifestation (ba) of the first element of the world (Shu), are a major source for the evolutionary view of creation promulgated in Heliopolis. In at least two mss (S1C and S2C), these seven spells were treated as a single text, with the title “Spell of the ba of Shu and evolution into Shu” (CT I 314a). Spell 75, one of the most frequently copied of all Coffin Texts, describes the …

King Lists (1.37)

(563 words)

Author(s): Hoffmeier, James K.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Royal Focus; Historiography Commentary King–lists of various types abound in ancient Egyptian sources. Technically, a collection of three or more names is a “group” and a true king–list arranges names in proper historical order and provides the length of reign. Following this definition, the only Egyptian source that meets these requirements is the Turin Canon, and it is not fully preserved. Nevertheless, the term king–l…

The Song From the Tomb of King Intef (1.30)

(1,415 words)

Author(s): Lichtheim, Miriam
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Harpers’ Songs Commentary The song is preserved in two New Kingdom copies. First, on pages vi, 2–vii, 3, of the Ramesside Papyrus Harris 500 (= P. British Museum 10060); and, second, carved on a wall of the tomb of Paatenemheb from Saqqara, now in Leiden, which dates from the reign of Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten). The latter copy, which is incomplete, is written above the heads of a group of four musicians led b…

From Coffin Texts Spell 1130 (1.17)

(1,306 words)

Author(s): Allen, James P.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Cosmologies Commentary Egyptian cosmogonies were concerned primarily with explaining the origin of the world and its elements. The creation of human beings was considered part of this process, and as such was not given special attention in and of itself: if noted at all, it is usually explained by a simple “etymological” metaphor, which derives people (rmṯ) from the “tears” (rmyt) of the creator’s eye. By …

Dream Oracles (1.33)

(1,608 words)

Author(s): Ritner, Robert K.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Divination, Incantation, Ritual Commentary The Chester Beatty “Dream Book” is currently the oldest surviving manual of dream interpretation. Perhaps deriving from a 12th Dyn. original, the present manuscript dates from the 19th Dynasty and was the property of senior scribes at the royal workmen’s village of Deir el–Medineh.1 The book comprises eleven columns in tabular form, each preceded by the vertically–written heading: “If a man see himself in a …

Amenemhet (1.36)

(1,724 words)

Author(s): Lichtheim, Miriam
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Royal Focus; Instructions Commentary When first studied, the text was regarded as the genuine work of King Amenemhet I, composed by him after he had escaped an attempt on his life. The currently prevailing view is that the king was in fact assassinated in the thirtieth year of his reign, and that the text was composed by a royal scribe at the behest of the new king, Sesostris I. The attack on the king’s life is told in a deliberately veiled manner; yet there are sufficient hints in th…

Execration Texts (1.32)

(1,391 words)

Author(s): Ritner, Robert K.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Divination, Incantation, Ritual Commentary From the Old Kingdom through the Roman era, priests performed official ritual cursings of the potential enemies of Egypt. The ceremonies included the breaking of red pots1  a and figurines inscribed with formal “Execration Texts” listing Nubians, Asiatics, Libyans, living and deceased Egyptians, as well as generally threatening forces. The texts themselves contain no explicit curses, but inst…

Cairo Love Songs (1.50)

(231 words)

Author(s): Fox, Michael V.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; Love Poems Commentary The following are stanzas from the second of two seven-stanza love songs (numbers 21A-21G) written on a vase, now shattered.1 Cairo Love Songs (1.50) Subject: Cant 8:6 ( Boy) ( Number 21A)If only I were her Nubian maid,her attendant in secret!She brings her [a bowl of] mandragoras …It is in her hand,while she gives pleasure.In other words:she would grant methe hue of her whole body. ( Boy) ( Number 21B)If only I were the laundrymanof my sister’s linen g…

From Pyramid Texts Spell 600 (1.4)

(435 words)

Author(s): Allen, James P.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Cosmologies Commentary The beginning of this spell, another “mythological precedent,” combines three images of the first moments of creation. The first lines invokes the divine source of all matter (Atum) in his evolution as the sun (“Scarab”) and the world-space within the primeval waters. This is followed by references to the “etymological” origin of Shu and Tefnut and to the source of their life force. From Pyramid Texts Spell 600 (1.4) Atum as the First Things (Pyr. 1652…

From the “Memphite Theology” (1.15)

(1,859 words)

Author(s): Allen, James P.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Cosmologies Commentary Perhaps the most famous of all Egyptian creation accounts is preserved on a worn slab of black granite, created for erection in the temple of Ptah at Memphis during the reign of the Nubian pharaoh Shabaqo and now in the British Museum (BM 498). As its dedicatory text records, the stone was purportedly inscribed in order to preserve a much older document, probably on papyrus or leather; lacunae deliberately incorporated in th…

The Shipwrecked Sailor (1.39)

(2,153 words)

Author(s): Lichtheim, Miriam
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; Narratives Commentary The tale is set in a narrative frame. A high official is returning from an expedition that apparently failed in its objective, for he is despondent and fearful of the reception awaiting him at court. One of his attendants exhorts him to take courage, and as an example of how a disaster may turn into a success, tells him a marvelous adventure that happened to him years ago. At the end of his tale, however, the official is still despondent. The only preserved pa…

Dua-khety or the Satire On the Trades (1.48)

(2,454 words)

Author(s): Lichtheim, Miriam
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; Instructions Commentary Like the other Instructions, this work has a prologue and an epilogue which frame the actual teaching and set its stage. A father conducts his young son to the residence in order to place him in school, and during the journey he instructs him in the duties and rewards of the scribal profession. In order to stress the amenities and advantages that accrue to the successful scribe, …

From the Berlin “Hymn to Ptah” (1.14)

(1,056 words)

Author(s): Allen, James P.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Cosmologies Commentary Although much of what we know about Egyptian cosmogony derives from funerary compositions such as the Pyramid Texts, Coffin Texts, and Book of the Dead, informative reflections of these creation accounts are also preserved in hymns designed for use in daily temple rituals. One such hymn to Ptah, preserved on a papyrus from the reign of Ramesses IX now in Berlin (pBerl. 3048), is an im…

From Coffin Texts Spell 76 (1.6)

(952 words)

Author(s): Allen, James P.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Cosmologies Commentary This text continues the tale of Shu’s birth by describing how the structure of the world-space and its contents derive from the initial creation of the atmosphere. It also contains one of the first references to the four negative qualities of the primordial waters, later developed by the theologians of Hermopolis into a cosmogony of four divine couples, the Ogdoad. From Coffin Texts Spell 76 (1.6) Subject: Deut 30:4; Isa 44:2, 24; 49:5; Job 31:5; Gen 1:2; 2 Sa…
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