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Lecture 8: The Sacred Books

LIKE all other organised religions, that of ancient Egypt had its sacred books. According to St. Clement of Alexandria, the whole body of sacred literature was contained in a collection of forty-two books, the origin of which was ascribed to the god Thoth. The first ten of these “Hermetic” volumes were entitled “the Prophet,” and dealt with theology in the strictest sense of the term. Then followed the ten books of “the Stolist,” in which were to be found all directions as to the festivals and processions, as well as hymns and prayers. Next came the fourteen books of “the Sacred Scribe,” containing all that was known about the hieroglyphic system of writing, and the sciences of geometry and geography, astronomy, astrology, and the like. These were followed by two books on music and hymnology; and, finally, six books on the science and practice of medicine.1

The Hermetic books were written in Greek, and were a compilation of the Greek age. Such a systematic epitome of the learning of ancient Egypt belonged to the period when Egyptian religion had ceased to be creative, or even progressive, and the antiquarian spirit of Greek Alexandria had laid hold of the traditions and institutions of the past. But they were derived from genuine sources, and represented with more or less exactitude the beliefs and practices of earlier generations. They were, it is true, a compilation adapted to Greek ideas and intended to satisfy the demands of Greek curiosity, but it is no less true that the materials out of which they were compiled went back to the remotest antiquity. The temple libraries were filled with rolls of papyri relating not only to the minutest details of the temple service, but also to all the various branches of sacred lore. Among these were the books which have been called the Bibles of the ancient Egyptians.

Foremost amongst the latter is the Ritual to which Lepsius gave the name of the Book of the Dead. It was first discovered by Champollion in the early days of Egyptian decipherment, and a comparative edition of the text current during the Theban period has been made by Dr. Naville. Papyri containing the whole or portions of it are numberless; the chapters into which it is divided are inscribed on the coffins, and even on the wrappings of the dead, as well as on the scarabs and the ushebtis that were buried with the mummy. It was, in fact, a sort of passport and guide-book combined in one, which would carry the dead man in safety through the dangers that confronted him in the other world, and bring him at last to the judgment-hall of Osiris and the paradise of Alu. It described minutely all that awaited him after death; it detailed the words and prayers that would deliver him from his spiritual enemies; and it put into his mouth the confession he would have to make before the tribunal of the dead. Without it he would have been lost in the strange world to which he journeyed, and hence the need of inscribing at least some portions of it on his tomb or sepulchral furniture, where their ghostly doubles could be read by his ka and soul.

The Book of the Dead was the Bible or Prayer-book of the Osirian creed. Its universal use marks the triumph of the worship of Osiris and of the beliefs that accompanied it. It was for the follower of Osiris that it was originally compiled; the judgment with which it threatened him was that of Osiris, the heaven to which it led him was the field of Alu. The Pyramid texts of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties imply that it already existed in some shape or other; the Osirian creed is known to them in all its details, and the “other world” depicted in them is that of the Book of the Dead.2

But the Book of the Dead is a composite work. Not only are the religious conceptions embodied in it composite and sometimes self-contradictory, on the literary side it is composite also. It was, moreover, a work of slow growth; glosses have been added to it to explain passages which had become obscure through the lapse of time; the glosses have then made their way into the text, and themselves become the subject of fresh commentary and explanation. Chapters have been inserted, paragraphs interpolated, and the later commentary combined with the original text. The Book of the Dead as it appears in the age of the Theban dynasties had already passed through long centuries of growth and modification.3

The Pyramid texts show the same combination of the doctrines of the Osirian creed with those of the solar cult as the Book of the Dead.4 But the combination is that of two mutually exclusive systems of theology which have been brought forcibly side by side without any attempt being made to fuse them into a harmonious whole. They display the usual tendency of the Egyptian mind to accept the new without discarding the old, and without troubling to consider how the new and old can be fitted together. It was enough to place them side by side; those who did not think the Osirian creed sufficient to ensure salvation, had the choice of the solar creed offered them with its prayers and incantations to the sun-god. But it was not an alternative choice; the heaven of the solar bark in its passage through the world of the night was attached to the heaven of Alu with its fields lighted by the sun of day.

It is evident that the chapters which introduce the doctrines of the solar cult are a later addition to the original Book of the Dead. That was the text-book of the Osirian soul, with whose beliefs the doctrines of the solar cult were absolutely incompatible. While the one taught that the dead, without distinction, passed to the judgment-hall of Osiris, where, after being acquitted, as much on moral as on religious grounds, they were admitted to a paradise of light and happiness, the other maintained that only a chosen few, who were rich and learned enough to be provided with the necessary theological formulæ, were received in the solar bark as it glided along the twelve hours of the night, thus becoming companions of the sun-god in his passage through a realm of darkness that was peopled by demoniac forms. The Osirian and solar creeds issued from two wholly different religious systems, and the introduction of conceptions derived from the latter into the Book of the Dead, however subordinate may be the place which they occupy, indicates a revision of the original work. It was not until the book had gained a predominant position in Egyptian religious thought that it would have been needful to incorporate into it the ideas of a rival theology. But the incorporation had taken place long before the Pyramid texts were compiled, perhaps before the day when Menes united the two kingdoms of Egypt into one.

There are yet other evidences of a composite theology in the Book of the Dead. In one chapter we have the old doctrine of the Ka confined to the dark and dismal tomb in which its body lies; in another we see the soul flying whithersoever it will on the wings of a bird, sitting on the branches of a tree under the shade of the foliage, or perched on the margin of flowing water. But such theological inconsistencies probably go back to the age when the book was first composed. The conceptions of the Ka and of the soul, however inconsistent they may be, belong to so early a period, that they lay together at the foundation of Egyptian religious thought long before the days when an official form of religion had come into existence, or the Book of the Dead had been compiled.

In some instances it is possible to fix approximately the period to which particular portions of the book belong. Professor Maspero has shown that the 64th chapter, once considered one of the oldest, is in reality one of the latest in date. It sums up the different formulæ which enabled the soul of the dead man to quit his body in safety; and accordingly its title, which, however, varies in different recensions, is a repetition of that prefixed to the earlier part of the work, and declares that it makes “known in a single chapter the chapters relating to going forth from day.” According to certain papyri, it was “discovered” either in the reign of Usaphaes of the First Dynasty or in that of Men-kau-Ra of the Fourth Dynasty, under the feet of Thoth in the temple of Eshmunên, written in letters of lapis-lazuli on a tablet of alabaster. The details of the “discovery” are not sufficiently uniform to allow us to put much confidence in them; the tradition proves, however, that the Egyptians considered the chapter to be at least as old as the Fourth Dynasty; and the belief is supported by the fact that on the monuments of the Eleventh Dynasty it is already an integral part of the book. If, then, a chapter which is relatively modern was nevertheless embodied in the book in the age of the earlier dynasties, we can gain some idea of the antiquity to which the book itself must reach back, even in its composite form.5

The first fifteen chapters, as Champollion perceived, form a complete whole in themselves. In the Theban texts they are called the “Chapter of going before the divine tribunal of Osiris.” In the Saite period this is replaced by the more general title of “Beginning of the Chapter of going forth from day.”6 They describe how the soul can leave its mummy, can escape forced labour in the other world through the help of the ushebti, can pass in safety “over the back of the serpent Apophis, the wicked,” and can acquire that “correctness of voice” which will enable it to repeat correctly the words of the ritual, and so enter or leave at will the world beyond the grave. The 15th chapter is a hymn to the Sun.

The 17th chapter begins a new section. It sums up in a condensed form all that the soul was required to know about the gods and the world to come. But it has been glossed and reglossed until its first form has become almost unrecognisable. The commentary attached to the original passages became in time itself so obscure as to need explanation, and the chapter now consists of three strata of religions thought and exposition piled one on the top of the other. As it now stands it unites in a common goal the aspirations of the followers of Osiris and of those of the solar cult; the dead man is identified with the gods, and so wends his way to the divine land in which they dwell, whether that be the fields of Alu or the bark of the Sun.

The chapters which follow are intended to restore voice, memory, and name to the dead man. With the restoration of his name comes the restoration of his individuality, for that which has no name has no individuality. Then follows (in chapters xxvi.–xxx.) the restoration of his heart, which is regarded first as a mere organ of the body, and then in the Osirian sense as the equivalent of the conscience. As an organ, the figure of a heart placed in the tomb was sufficient to ensure its return; as the living conscience and principle of life, something of a more mysterious and symbolic nature was needed. This was found in the scarab or beetle, whose name kheper happened to coincide in sound with the word that signified “to become.”7

In a series of chapters the soul is now protected against the poisonous serpents, including “the great python who devours the ass,” which it will meet with in its passage through the limbo of the other world. As Professor Maspero remarks, the large place occupied by these serpents among the dangers which await the soul on its first exit from the body, make it plain that in the days when the Book of the Dead was first being compiled, venomous snakes were far more plentiful than they ever have been in the Egypt of historical times. Indeed, the python, whose huge folds are still painted on the walls of the royal tombs of Thebes, had retired southward long before the age of the Fourth Dynasty. To an equally early period we may refer the forty-second chapter, in which the soul is taught how to escape the slaughter of the enemies of Horus, which took place at Herakleopolis during the Osirian wars,—a chapter, however, in which, it may be observed, the elder Horus is already confounded with the son of Osiris.8

Chapters xliv. to liii. are occupied in describing how the dead man is thus preserved from “the second death.” Illustrations are drawn both from the punishments undergone by the enemies of the sun-god in the story of his passage through the world of night, and from the old beliefs connected with the lot of the Ka. He was neither to be beheaded, nor cast head downwards into the abyss, nor was he to feed on filth like the Ka for which no offerings of food had been provided. The dangers from which he is thus preserved are next contrasted with the joys that await him in the paradise of the Blest (chs. liv.–lxiii.).

The 64th chapter, which sums up the preceding part of the book, and constitutes a break between it and what follows, has already been considered. The ten chapters which succeed it are all similarly concerned with “coming forth from the day.” They thus traverse the same ground as the first fifteen chapters of the book, but they deal with the subject in a different way and from a different point of view. They are a fresh proof of the composite character of the work, and of the desire of its authors to incorporate in it all that had been written on the future life of the soul up to the time of its composition. Professor Maspero believes that they embody the various formulæ relating to the severance of soul and body which were current in the priestly schools.9

Equally separate in tone and spirit are the next six chapters (lxxv.–xc.), which have emanated from the school of Heliopolis. They deal with the destiny of the Ba or “soul” rather than with that of the Osirian, and describe the transformations which it can undergo if fortified with the words of the ritual. It may at will transform itself into a hawk of gold, a lotus flower, the moon-god or Ptaḥ, even into a viper, a crocodile, or a goose. But first it must fly to Heliopolis and the solar deities who reside there, and it is in Heliopolis that its transformation into the god Ptaḥ is to take place.

The next chapter, the 91st, transports us into a different atmosphere of religious thought. It deals with the reunion of the soul and the body. But the two which follow forbid the Egyptian to believe that this meant a sojourn of the soul in the tomb. On the contrary, the soul, it is said, is not to be “imprisoned”; while the 93rd chapter “opens the gates of the sepulchre to the soul and the shadow (khaib), that they may go forth and employ their limbs.” And the land to which they were to go was a land of sunlight.

From this point onwards the Book of the Dead is purely Osirian in character. But beliefs derived from the solar cult have been allowed to mingle with the Osirian elements; thus the bark of the sun-god has been identified with the bark which carried the Osirian dead to the fields of Alu, and Osiris is even permitted to assign a place to his faithful servants in the boat of Ra instead of in the paradise over which he himself rules. And the Osirian elements themselves belong to two different periods or two different schools of thought. In the earlier chapters the paradise of Osiris is gained like the paradise of Ra, by the magical power of the words of the ritual and the offerings made by the friends of the dead; from the 125th chapter onwards the test of righteousness is a moral one; the dead man has to be acquitted by his conscience and the tribunal of Osiris before he can enter into everlasting bliss.

The bark which carried the followers of Osiris has been explained by the Pyramid texts. When the dead man had ascended to heaven, either by the ladder which rose from the earth at Hermopolis or in some other way, he found his path barred by a deep lake or canal. According to one myth, he was carried across it on the wings of the ibis Thoth, but the more general belief provided for him the boat of the ferryman Nu-Urru,10 the prototype of the Greek Charon. The fusion of the Osirian creed with the solar cult, however, caused the boat of Nu-Urru and the bark of the sun-god to be confounded together, and accordingly three chapters (c.–cii.) have been added to that in which the boat of the Egyptian Charon is referred to, “in order to teach the luminous spirit (khu) how to enter the bark among the servants of Ra.” In the next chapter, Hatḥor, “the lady of the west,” is the object of prayer.

Two chapters (cv. and cvi.) are now interpolated from the ritual of Ptaḥ. They take us back to the age when offerings were made to the ka, of the dead and not to the gods, and declare that abundant food should be given it “each day in Memphis.” They have little to do with the destinies of the Osirian in the paradise of Alu. These are once more resumed in the 107th chapter: the fields of Alu are described, and the life led by those who enjoy them.

With the 125th chapter we enter the “Hall of the Two Truths,” where Osiris sits on his throne of judgment, and the soul is justified or condemned for the deeds it had done in the flesh. It is no longer ceremonial, but moral purity that is required: the follower of Osiris is to be saved not by the words and prayers of the ritual, however correctly they may be pronounced, but by his acts and conduct in this lower world. We are transported into a new atmosphere, in which religion and morality for the first time are united in one: the teaching of the prophet has taken the place of the teaching of the priest.

All the blessings promised to the disciples of other creeds than the Osirian are now granted to the soul who has passed unscathed through the hall of judgment. Not only the fields of Alu are his, but the solar bark as well, to which the school of Heliopolis looked forward; even the old belief which confined the Ka to the narrow precincts of the tomb was not forgotten, and the 132nd chapter instructs the Osirian how to “wander at will to see his house.” Like Osiris himself, he can take part in the festival of the dead, and share in the offerings that are presented at it. Free access is allowed him to all parts of the other world: whatever heaven or hell had been imagined in the local sanctuaries of Egypt was open to him to visit as he would.

The later chapters of the Book of the Dead take us back to the earth. They are concerned with the mummy and its resting-place, with the charms and amulets which preserved the body from decay, or enabled the soul to inspire it once more with life. They form a sort of appendix, dealing rather with the beliefs and superstitions of the people, than with the ideas of the theologians, about the gods and the future life.11

The order in which I have referred to the chapters of the book are those of the Theban texts as edited by Dr. Naville. But it must not be supposed that it constitutes an integral part of the original work. As a matter of fact there are very few copies of the book, even among those which belong to the Theban period, in which anything like all the chapters is to be found. Indeed, it is difficult to say how many chapters a complete edition of it ought to contain. Pierret made them one hundred and sixty-five; the latest editors raise them to over two hundred. The reason of this is easy to explain. The separate chapters are for the most part intended for special purposes or special occasions, and each, therefore, has had a separate origin. They have been collected from all sides, and thrown together with very little attempt at arrangement or order. They belong to different periods of composition and different schools of religious thought: some of them mount back to the remotest antiquity, others are probably even later than the foundation of the united monarchy. Hence, as a rule, only a selection of them was inscribed on the rolls of papyrus that were buried with the dead, or on the coffin and sepulchral objects deposited in the tomb; it was only the most important of them that the Osirian was likely to need in the other world. Indeed, in some cases only the semblance of a text seems to have been thought necessary. The copies made for the dead usually abound with errors, and some have actually been found in which the text is represented by a number of unmeaning signs. The Book of the Dead, moreover, was continually growing. The oldest texts are the shortest and most simple, the latest are the longest and most crowded with chapters. As fresh prayers and formulæ for protecting the dead in the other world, or directing them on their journey, were discovered in the local sanctuaries, they were added in the form of chapters; no precaution, it was felt, should be omitted which might secure the safety of those who had passed beyond the grave.

The Book of the Dead was thus a growth, and a growth it remained. It never underwent the systematic revision which has been the lot of most other sacred books. We look in it in vain for traces of an individual editor. And on this account its form and even its language were never fixed. The prayers and formulæ it contained were, it is true, stereotyped, for their success depended on their correct recitation; but beyond this the utmost latitude was allowed in the way of addition or change. A Masoretic counting of words and syllables would have been inconceivable to the Egyptian.

In later days, more especially in the Greek period, the Book of the Dead served as a basis for other religious compositions which claimed divine authorship, and the authority due to such an origin. Of these the most popular was the Book of Respirations (Shâ-n-Sensenu), which derives its inspiration from chapters liv. to lxiii. of the Book of the Dead, and is ascribed to the god Thoth. In anticipation of the apocalyptic literature of the Jews, the writer describes the condition of the soul in the next world, following closely the indications of the old ritual, and declaring how the “Respirations” it contains were first “made by Isis for her brother Osiris to give life to his soul, to give life to his body, to rejuvenate all his members anew.” The soul of the Osirian is said to “live” by means of the book that is thus provided for him, for he “has received the Book of Respirations, that he may breathe with his soul … that he may make any transformation at his will … that his soul may go wherever it desireth.”12 We are reminded in these words of the last chapter of the Book of Revelation (xxii. 7, 18, 19).

The Book of the Dead was the oldest of the sacred books of Egypt It was also in universal use. Whatever other articles of belief he may have held, the Egyptian of the historical age was before all things else a follower of Osiris. It was as an Osirian that he hoped to traverse the regions that lay beyond the tomb, and whose geography and inhabitants were revealed to him in the Osirian ritual. From this point of view, accordingly, the Book of the Dead may be termed the Bible of the Egyptians. But it was not without rivals. We have seen that even in the Book of the Dead the heaven of Osiris is not the only heaven to which the dead may look forward. Osiris has a rival in the sun-god, and a place in the solar bark seems almost as much coveted as a place in the fields of Alu. The solar cult of Heliopolis had indeed to yield to the more popular cult of Osiris, but it was on condition that the cult of Osiris recognised and admitted it. To be a follower of Osiris did not prevent the believing Egyptian from being also a follower of the god Ra.

In the latter part of the Theban period the solar cult received a fresh impulse and developed a new life. The attempt of Khu-n-Aten to establish a new faith, the outward symbol of which was the solar disc, was but an indication of the general trend of religious thought, and the Asiatic conquests of the Eighteenth Dynasty introduced into Egypt the worship and creed of the sun-god Baal. One by one the gods were identified with Ra; Amon himself became Amon-Ra, and the local deity of Thebes passed into a pantheistic sun-god. It was under these conditions that a new ritual was compiled for the educated classes of Egypt, or at all events was adopted by the religion of the State. This was the Book Am Duat, the Book of the Other World.

Copies of it are written on the walls of the dark chambers in the rock-cut labyrinths wherein the kings of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Dynasties were laid to rest. In the tomb of Seti I. we find two versions, one in which the text is given in full, another in which the usual plan is followed of giving only the last five sections completely, while extracts alone are taken from the first seven. The text is profusely illustrated by pictures, in order that the dead might have no difficulty in understanding the words of the ritual, or in recognising the friends and enemies he would meet in the other world.

Unlike the Book of the Dead, the Book Am Duat is a systematic treatise, which bears the stamp of individual authorship. It is an apocalypse resting on an astronomical foundation, and is, in fact, a minute and detailed account of the passage of the sun-god along the heavenly river Ur-nes during the twelve hours of the night. Each hour is represented by a separate locality in the world of darkness, enclosed within gates, and guarded by fire-breathing serpents and similar monsters. As the bark of the sun-god glides along, the gates are successively opened by the magical power of the words he utters, and their guardians receive him in peace. Immediately he has passed the gates close behind him, and the region he has left is once more enveloped in darkness.

But though he is thus able to illuminate for the brief space of an hour the several regions of the other world, it is not as the living sun-god of day that he voyages along the infernal river, but as “the flesh of Ra”—that is to say, as that mortal part of his nature which alone could die and enter the realm of the dead. The river is a duplicate of the Nile, with its strip of bank on either side, its fields and cities, even its nomes, wherein the god, like the Pharaoh, assigns land and duties to his followers. For the followers of Ra have a very different lot before them from that which awaited the followers of Osiris. There was no land of everlasting light and happiness to which they could look forward, nor was their destiny hereafter dependent on their conduct in this life. Their supreme end was to accompany the sun-god in his bark as he passed each night through the twelve regions of the dead, and this could be attained only by a knowledge of the ritual of Am Duat and the mystic formulæ it contained. Few, however, of those who started with the sun-god on his nocturnal voyage remained with him to the last; most of them were stopped in the regions through which he passed, where fields were granted them whose produce they might enjoy, and where each night for a single hour they formed as it were a bodyguard around the god and lived once more in the light. Even the kings of Upper and Lower Egypt were condemned to dwell for ever in this gloomy Hades, along with Osiris and the Khû or luminous souls of an earlier faith. Those who were happy enough by virtue of their knowledge and spells to emerge with Ra into the dawn of a new day, henceforth had their home in the solar bark, and were absorbed into the person of the god.

But it was not only the friends and followers of Ra who thus accompanied him in his journey through the other world; his enemies were there also, and the horrible punishments they had to endure, as depicted on the walls of the royal tombs, were worthy of the imagination of a Dante. The banks of the infernal river were lined with strange and terrible monsters, some of them the older deities and spirits of the popular creed, others mere creations of symbolism, others creatures of composite form to whose invention the older mythology contributed. Fire-breathing serpents are prominent among them, lighting up the darkness for the friends of Ra, and burning his foes with their poisonous flames.13

The artificial character of this picture of the other world is clear at the first glance. With the pedantic attention to details which characterised the Egyptian, every part of it has been carefully elaborated. The names and forms of the personages who stand on the banks of the infernal river or enter the boat of Ra, as with each successive hour he passes into a new region, are all given; even the exact area of each region is stated, though the measurements do not agree in all the versions of the book. But the best proof of its artificial nature is to be found in a fact first pointed out by Professor Maspero. Two of the older conceptions of the other world and the life beyond the grave, which differed essentially from the solar doctrine, are embedded in it, but embedded as it were perforce. In the fourth and fifth hours or regions we have a picture of the future life as it was conceived by the worshippers of Sokaris in the primitive days of Memphis; in the sixth and seventh, the tribunal and paradise of Osiris.

The kingdom of Sokaris represented that dreary conception of an after-existence which was associated with the ka. Like the mummy, the ka was condemned to live in the dark chamber of the tomb, whence it crept forth at night to consume the food that had been offered to it, and without which it was doomed to perish. Long before the age when the Book of Am Duat was written, this primitive belief had passed away from the minds of men; but the tradition of it still lingered, and had secured a permanent place in the theological lore of Egypt. It has accordingly been annexed as it were by the author of the book, and transformed into two of the regions of the night through which the solar bark has to pass. But the terms in which the kingdom of Sokaris had been described were too stereotyped to be ignored or altered, and the solar bark is accordingly made to pass above the primitive Hades, the voices of whose inhabitants are heard rising up in an indistinct murmur though their forms are concealed from view. A memory is preserved even of the sandy desert of Giza and Saqqâra, where the inhabitants of Memphis were buried, and over which Sokaris ruled as lord of the dead. The realm of Sokaris is pictured as an enclosure of sand, flanked on either side by a half-buried sphinx.

The author of the Book of Am Duat has dealt with the heaven of Osiris as he has done with the Hades of Sokaris. Osiris and his paradise have been transported bodily to the nocturnal path of the sun-god, and condemned to receive what little light is henceforth allowed them from the nightly passage of the solar bark. Thoth guides the bark to the city which contains the tomb of Osiris, that mysterious house wherein are the four human forms of the god. On the way the serpent Neha-hir has to be overcome; he is but another form of the serpent Apophis, the enemy of Ra, who thus takes the place of Set, the enemy of Osiris. When the sixth region is passed, which is a sort of vestibule to the “retreat” of Osiris in the seventh, other enemies of Osiris—of whom, however, the Osirian doctrine knew but little—are being put to death in true solar fashion. Perhaps the most noteworthy fact in this description of the kingdom of Orisis is, that not only all the gods of the Osirian cycle are relegated to it, including the hawk Horus, but also the Khû or luminous manes and the ancient kings of Upper and Lower Egypt. The fact points unmistakably to the great antiquity of the Osirian creed. It went back to a time when as yet the Egyptian monarchy was not united, and when the khû or luminous soul held the same place in Egyptian thought as had been held at an earlier time by the ka, and later by the soul or ba. So undoubted was the fact that the old Pharaohs of primeval Egypt had died in the Osirian faith, that the author of the Book of Am Duat could not disregard it; he was forced to place the predecessors of a Seti or a Ramses, for whom the book was copied, in one of the murky regions of the other world instead of in the solar bark. They had been followers of Osiris and not of Ra, and there was accordingly no place for them in the boat of the sun-god.

Osiris is thus subordinated to the sun. The god of the dead is not allowed to rule even in his own domains. Such light and life as are graciously permitted to him come from the passing of the solar bark once in each twenty-four hours. He has lost the bright and happy fields of Alu, he has had to quit even the judgment-hall where he decided the lot of man. Osiris and his creed are deposed to make way for another god with another and a lower form of doctrine.

The fact was so patent, that a second solar apocalypse was written in order to smooth it away. This was the Book of the Gates or of Hades, a copy of which is also inscribed in the tomb of Seti. It differs only in details from the Book Am Duat; the main outlines of the latter, with the passage of the solar bark through the twelve hours or regions of the night, remain unaltered. But the details vary considerably. The gates which shut the hours off one from the other become fortified pylons, guarded by serpents breathing fire. The Hades of Sokaris is suppressed, and the judgment-hall of Osiris is introduced between the fifth and sixth hours. The object of the judgment, however, seems merely the punishment of the enemies of the god, who are tied to stakes and finally burned or otherwise put to death in the eighth hour. Among them appears Set in the form of a swine, who is driven out of the hall of judgment by a cynocephalous ape. As for the righteous, they are still allowed to cultivate the fields of the kingdom of Osiris; but it is a kingdom which is plunged in darkness except during the brief space of time when the bark of the sun-god floats through it. Osiris, nevertheless, is acknowledged as lord of the world of the dead, in contradistinction to the Book Am Duat, which assigns him only a portion of it; and when the sun-god emerges into the world of light at the end of the twelfth hour, it is by passing through the hands of Nut, the sky, who stands on the body of Osiris, “which encircles the other world.” Nor is the serpent Apophis, the enemy of Ra, confounded with Set; his overthrow by Tum takes place in the first hour, before the tribunal of Osiris is reached.

The theology of the two books resembles the Taoism of China in its identification of religion with the knowledge of magical formulæ. The moral element which distinguished the Osirian faith has disappeared, and salvation is made to depend on the knowledge of a mystical apocalypse. Only the rich and cultivated have henceforth a chance of obtaining it. And even for them the prospect was dreary enough. A few—the innermost circle of disciples—might look forward to absorption into the sun-god, which practically meant a loss of individuality; for the rest there was only a world of darkness and inaction, where all that made life enjoyable to the Egyptian was absent. The author of the Book of the Gates gives expression to the fact when he tells us that as the last gate of the other world closes behind the sun-god, the souls who are left in darkness groan heavily. To such an end had the learned theology of Egypt brought both the people and their gods!

We need not wonder that under the influence of such teaching the intellectual classes fell more and more into a hopeless scepticism, which saw in death the loss of all that we most prize here below. On the one side, we have sceptical treatises like the dialogue between the jackal and the Ethiopian cat, where the cat, who represents the old-fashioned orthodoxy, has by far the worst of the argument;14 on the other side, the dirge on the death of the wife of the high priest of Memphis, which I have quoted in an earlier lecture—

“The underworld is a land of thick darkness,

A sorrowful place for the dead.

They sleep, after their guise, never to awaken.”

It was better, indeed, that it should be so than that they should awaken only to lead the existence which the Book of Am Duat describes.

How far the doctrines of the solar theology extended beyond the narrow circle in which they originated, it is difficult to say. In the nature of the case they could not become popular, as they started from an assumption of esoteric knowledge. We know that the majority of the Egyptians continued to hold to the Osirian creed up to the last days of paganism—or at all events they professed to do so—and as long as the Osirian creed was retained the moral element in religion was recognised. In one respect, however, the solar theology triumphed. The gods of Egypt, including Osiris himself, were identified with the sun-god, and became forms or manifestations of Ra. Egyptian religion became pantheistic; the divinity was discovered everywhere, and the shadowy and impersonal forms of the ancient deities were mingled together in hopeless confusion. It seemed hardly to matter which was invoked, for each was all and all were each.

Gnosticism was the natural daughter of the solar theology. The doctrine that knowledge is salvation and that the gods of the popular cult are manifestations of the sun-god, was applied to explain the origin of evil. Evil became the result of imperfection and ignorance, necessarily inherent in matter, and arising from the fact that the creation is due to the last of a long series of æons or emanations from the supreme God. The æons are the legitimate descendants of the manifold deities whom the Egyptian priests had resolved into forms of Ra, while the identification of evil with the necessary imperfection of matter deprives it of a moral element, and finds a remedy for it in the gnosis or “knowledge” of the real nature of things. Even the strange monsters and symbolic figures which play so large a part in the solar revelation are reproduced in Gnosticism. Abraxas and the other curiously composite creatures engraved on Gnostic gems have all sprung from the Books of Am Duat and the Gates, along with the allegorical meanings that were read into them. However much the solar school of theology may have been for the old religion of Egypt a teaching of death, in the Gnosticism of the first Christian centuries it was born anew.

  • 1.

    Clem. Alex. Strom. vi. p. 260, ed. Sylb. See Lepsius, Einlcitung zur Chronologie der Aegypter, pp. 45, 46. The remains ascribed to Hermes Trismegistos, including the Dialogue called Pæmandres, have been translated into English by J. D. Chambers (1882). The Dialogue is already quoted by Justin Martyr (Exhort. ad Græcos, xxxviii.).

  • 2.

    The extraordinary care with which the sacred texts were handed down through long periods of time is illustrated by certain of the Pyramid texts, which are reproduced word for word down to the close of the Egyptian monarchy. Thus passages at the beginning of the inscriptions in the Pyramid of Unas are repeated in the Ritual of Abydos, and another portion of the same text is found on a stela of the Thirteenth Dynasty, as well as in one of the courts of the temple of queen Hatshepsu at Dêr el-Bâhari, where, as Professor Maspero remarks, “we have three identical versions of different epochs and localities.” The invocations against serpents (Unas 300–339) recur in the tomb of Bak-n-ren-ef of the Twenty-sixth Dynasty. See Maspero, Recueil de Travaux, iii. pp. 182, 195, 220. The fact gives us confidence in the statements of the Egyptian scribes, that such and such chapters of the Book of the Dead had been “found” or written in the reigns of certain early kings.

  • 3.

    There is much to be said for the view of Professor Piehl, that we have in it an amalgamation of the rituals and formulæ of the various chief sanctuaries of Egypt, which have been thrown side by side without any attempt at arrangement or harmony. One of such rituals would be that mentioned on the sarcophagus of Nes-Shu-Tefnut, where we read of “the sacred writings of Horus in the city of Ḥuren” in the Busirite nome (Recueil de Travaux, vi. p. 134). On the sarcophagus of Beb, discovered by Professor Petrie at Dendera, and belonging to the period between the Sixth and the Eleventh Dynasties, we have not only “early versions” of parts of the Book of the Dead, but also chapters which do not occur in the standard text (Petrie, Dendereh, 1898, pp. 56–58).

  • 4.

    We even read in them of Ra being “purified in the fields of Alu” (Unas 411).

  • 5.

    Maspero, Études de Mythologie et d' Archéologie égyptiennes, pp. 367–370.

  • 6.

    Various interpretations have been given of the phrase per m hru. I have adopted that which seems to me most consonant with both grammar and logical probability.

  • 7.

    The inscribed scarab does not seem to be older than the age of the Eleventh Dynasty, when it began to take the place of the cylinder as a seal. At all events there is no authentic record of the discovery of one in any tomb of an earlier date, and the scarabs with the names of Neb-ka-ra, Khufu, and other early kings, were for the most part made in the time of the Twenty-sixth Dynasty. It is possible, however, that some at least of the scarabs which bear the name of Ra-n-ka of the Eighth Dynasty are contemporaneous with the Pharaoh whose name is written upon them. If so, they are the oldest inscribed scarabs with which we are acquainted. Uninscribed scarabs, however, go back to the prehistoric age. The use of the scarab as an amulet is already referred to in the Pyramid texts. And Dr. Reisner has discovered green porcelain beetles in the prehistoric graves of Negadiyâ, along with other green porcelain amulets, such as turtles, etc.

  • 8.

    As is also the case in the Pyramid texts.

  • 9.

    Maspero, Études de Mythologie et d' Archéologie, p. 369.

  • 10.

    Maspero, “La Pyramide de Pepi 1er” in Recuceil de Travaux, vii. pp. 161, 162. In the Babylonian Epic of Gilgames the place of Nu-Urru is taken by Ur-Ninnu.

  • 11.

    The Book of the Dead has been analysed by Maspero, Études de Mythologie et d' Archéologie égyptiennes, i. pp. 325–387.

  • 12.

    Translated by P. J. de Horrack.

  • 13.

    For a translation and analysis of the Book of Am Duat, see Maspero, Études de Mythologie et d' Archéologie égyptiennes ii. pp. 1–163.

  • 14.

    Revue égyptologique, i. 4, ii. 3 (1880, 1881), where an account of the demotic story is given by E. Révillout.