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The Book of Caverns is an important Ancient Egyptian funerary text of the Ancient Egyptian New Kingdom.[1] Like many funerary texts, it was written on the inside of the tomb for reference by the deceased. It describes the journey of the sun god Ra through the six caverns of the underworld, focusing on the rewards and punishments in afterlife.

The earliest appearance of this work is in the left hand wall of the Osireion in Abydos.[1] It first appears in the Valley of the Kings, in the tomb of Ramesses IV, in place of Amduat, where it was recorded by Champollion in his letters for Egypt.

The book has no ancient title, and is not divided in the hours of the night as other Ancient Egyptian funerary texts are.[2]

The Book of Caverns originated in the Ramessid Period. The book is known to be an underworld book that speaks of the deceased who fail their judgment in the afterlife, and also the rewards of those who pass the judgments. The Book of Caverns is one of the best sources to date that gives us the best view of the Egyptian concept of Hell. [3] The Book of Caverns is divided into two halves, six sections, by the ram headed sun god, and each half is divided into three other parts. The first half explains how the sun god invokes beings and groups of gods. The other half is a descriptive text of the earlier books. The Book of Caverns is much more literary that other funerary books, such as The Book of Gates, from the New Kingdom. The books does not have as many pictures than the other books, but instead it is much more descriptive and lengthy.[4] The book describes the journey and tasks Re must go through to eventually end up in the Light. Re, the ram headed sun god, must take souls through the after life journey through many caverns guarded by gods and goddesses. Each cavern has its own task and if the soul does not pass then is it sent to nonexistence. If the soul is condemned to nonexistence then they are beheaded and their hearts are ripped out of their chests.[3]

Contents

Section 1

Section 1 of the book describes Re as the ram headed sun god and his mission is to enter the darkness in order to defend and care for Osiris. Then Re has to direct the entities; here the snakes of the first cavern guard the cavern entrance. Re must greet Osiris with his hand extended to him; Osiris is sitting on his shrine surrounded by the serpents. Osiris’s enemies are below him beheaded; this is the Egyptian concept of Hell, where the entities of humans go if they belong there. Osiris and Re then condemn them all to nonexistence.[3]

Section 2

In Section 2 Re must reach various gods and goddesses who are guarded by various serpents. Then once he reaches Osiris they souls are once again sent to nonexistence. Nonexistence is known as the Place of Annihilation where the souls are punished by guards with knives.[3]

Section 3 through 6

Section 3 through Section 6 is about the damned and their punishment. The damned are shown on ovals in the walls of the caverns, hence the book is called The Book of Caverns.[3] In the caverns the gods lay also making sure each and every soul continues to serve their punishment. For the first time ever the book talks about women being in nonexistence. In all other books dealing with the afterlife of souls, none state anything about women in hell.[3] Women were always thought to have been pure, and could never have the option of being damned to hell.

As all the souls are trapped for eternity in hell, Osiris is down there with him. However a sun disc protects him and serpents surround him. Since he is protected he is able to continue the process.[3] Osiris has two sons’ names Anubis and Horus. Anubis is a god with the head of a jackal he is the god of mummification and the path of the dead.[3] Horus is the falcon headed god who is in charge of the living Pharaoh and also law, war, young men, and light.[3]

Ramessid Period

The Ramessid Period took place during 1295-1069BC (19th and 20th Dynasty), which is still part of the New Kingdom age. Pharaoh Rameses II is known for its length due to his many construction projects and confrontation with the Hittite Empire.[5] During the 19th Dynasty Egypt’s power was threatened by the Hittite Empire from Syria aka Palestine and then later by the Libyan tribes, known as the “Sea People”. However in the 20th Dynasty it was a time of social unrest, due to the extremely powerful High Priests of Amun.[5]

Origination

The first known almost complete version of The Book of Caverns that only has its upper register damaged was located in the Osireion. The Osireion was built at a considerably lower level than the foundations of temple Seti. It was first discovered by archaeologists Flinders Petrie and Margaret Murray who were excavating the site in 1902 through 1903. The Osireion was built with enormous 60-ton granite columns and is made up with a very different architectural style than to Seti’s temple being more like the Old Kingdom temples.[6] The Book of Caverns was found directly across from the Book of Gates within the entrance passage on the left wall. The Book of Gates was located near the Book of Caverns because it also deals with death. The Book of Gates is an Ancient Egyptian sacred text that dates back to the New Kingdom Dynasty also.[3] The book is about the journey of the deceased soul into the next world. The soul passes through a variety of ‘gates’ during different stages in their journey. If a soul does not make it through a gate it will suffer torment in the lake of fire, but if it makes it through them all it will pass unharmed. Both of the books are based upon funerary text of the New Kingdom, however they did not show up until the 19th Dynasty and were not in any of the tombs within the Valley of the Kings however except for Pharaoh Ramesses IV.[3]

Ramesses IV was the first to use one of the earliest passages from the Book of Caverns, rather than the traditional Amduat passages. Ramesses VI was the first to use the entire version of the book in his tomb, in the Osireion, with the Book of Gates in the front of the tomb. The passages of the book were written all over the walls of the tomb completely covering it in text. Ramesses the VII went even further and had passages not only written on the walls but the ceilings also, and in the sarcophagus chamber.[3] Ramesses the VII was the first to ever have a completed covered tomb in every room with The Book of Caverns.[3] After his tomb, Ramesses the VII, every future tomb to be created had used The Book of Caverns completely also.

History

Jean Francios Champollion first wrote about the book from the tomb of Ramesses VI providing some translations. Scholars however were not interested in the book at the time, until about a century later, when the second complete version of the book was discovered in the Osireion.[3] In 1933 Henri Frankfort tired to write the first complete translation of the book with the help of Adriaan de Buck. Unfortunately it was not translated completely into English until 1941. He also translated the text in the tomb of Ramesses VI in 1954.[3]

References

  1. ^ a b Hornung (1999) p.83
  2. ^ Hornung (1999) p.84
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/caverns.htm
  4. ^ http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/gates.htm
  5. ^ a b http://www.egyptancienthistory.com/ramessid.htm
  6. ^ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osireion

Bibliography

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

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