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A Report of Escaped Laborers (3.4)

(528 words)

Author(s): Allen, James P.
Subject: Archival Documents from the Biblical World; Egyptian Archival Documents; Letters; New Kingdom Model Letters Commentary Like Papyrus Anastasi III, the papyrus from which this letter is taken, now in the British Museum (EA 10244), contains a number of model letters and other scribal compositions, some of which appear in other contemporary papyri. Since several of these, including the letter translated here, mention the pharaoh Seti II (Dyn. 19, ca. 1200–1194 bce), the papyrus was probably written during his reign, but the mention of Regnal Year 33 elsewhere …

From the “Book of Nut” (1.1)

(1,472 words)

Author(s): Allen, James P.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Cosmologies Commentary This text consists of a series of captions accompanying the image of the goddess Nut stretched out as a representation of the sky, held off the earth by the atmosphere (Shu). Originally perhaps of Middle Kingdom composition, it appears on ceilings of the cenotaph of Seti I (Dynasty 19, ca. 1291–1279 bce) at Abydos and the tomb of Ramesses IV (Dynasty 20, ca. 1163–1156 bce) at Thebes; the texts were also copied, with exegesis, in two Demotic papyri…

From Pyramid Texts Spell 527 (1.3)

(294 words)

Author(s): Allen, James P.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Cosmologies Commentary The Pyramid Texts were inscribed on the walls of the substructures of royal pyramids at the end of the Old Kingdom, with the same purpose as their descendants, the Coffin Texts. This spell begins by describing the material derivation of the first two elements of the world — the atmospheres above and below the earth (Shu and Tefnut) — from the single source of all matter (Atum), as a “mythological precedent” for the daily rebirth of the deceased king. From Pyrami…

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. …

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 …

The Craft of the Scribe (3.2)

(5,210 words)

Author(s): Allen, James P.
Subject: Archival Documents from the Biblical World; Egyptian Archival Documents; Letters; New Kingdom Model Letters Commentary This extended model letter was probably composed during the early reign of Ramesses II (Dyn. 19, ca. 1279–1213 bce). Its most complete copy occupies a single papyrus, now in the collection of the British Museum (EA 10247); 84 additional copies are known, all shorter or more fragmentary than Papyrus Anastasi I. The letter takes the form of one scribe’s patronizing reply to his addressee’s unwarranted cla…

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 …

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…

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…

From Coffin Texts Spell 647 (1.12)

(1,287 words)

Author(s): Allen, James P.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Cosmologies Commentary The conceptual link between the creator’s fiat and its material realization in the forces and elements of the world was conceptualized by the theologians of Memphis in the creative role of their god Ptah. The earliest exposition of this theology appears in Spell 647 of the Coffin Texts. Attested in only one copy, it is a long spell identifying the deceased with all aspects of the Memphite god. The excerpts below concern Ptah’s role in the creation. From Coffin…

From Papyrus Bremner-Rhind (1.9)

(1,260 words)

Author(s): Allen, James P.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Cosmologies Commentary The papyrus from which this text is taken (pBM 10188) is a collection of theological treatises and magic spells against the dangers of the Netherworld (represented in sum by the demon Apophis), compiled from various sources at the beginning of the Ptolemaic Period. This selection, originally composed perhaps as early as the Ramesside Period, describes the evolution of multiplicity fro…

From Coffin Texts Spell 80 (1.8)

(2,101 words)

Author(s): Allen, James P.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Cosmologies Commentary Following a short reprise of Spell 76 (Spell 79), this text continues the temporal theme first sounded in Spell 78 and expands it through the additional concepts of Life, identified with Shu, and the natural Order of the universe, associated with Tefnut. As part of its exposition, the spell concentrates on the notion of the One (Atum) evolving into the multiplicity of life. This inclu…

Coffin Texts Spell 261 (1.11)

(882 words)

Author(s): Allen, James P.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Cosmologies Commentary While the Heliopolitan accounts of creation concentrate primarily on the material origins of the world, they also acknowledge the role played by magic, the divine force that translated the creator’s will into reality.1 In Egyptian thought, magic has two components: conceptualization (“Perception”), which takes place in the heart; and Annunciation, the creative expression of a thought through the medium of the spoke…

From Coffin Texts Spell 714 (1.2)

(417 words)

Author(s): Allen, James P.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Cosmologies Commentary This text is part of a series inscribed on coffins of the First Intermediate Period and Middle Kingdom, designed to aid the deceased’s spirit in its daily journey from the Netherworld of the tomb to the world of the living. This particular spell, in which the deceased is identified with the primordial source of all matter as it first existed within the primeval waters, has so far been found only on one coffin. From Coffin Texts Spell 714 (1.2) Subject: Gen 1:6–7 Th…

From Coffin Texts Spell 335 = Book of the Dead Spell 17 (1.10)

(1,629 words)

Author(s): Allen, James P.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Cosmologies Commentary This spell, the most frequently copied of all major Egyptian funerary texts, equates the deceased’s passage from the tomb to daylight with the sun’s journey from night to day, a theme summarized in its title. It originated in the Coffin Texts and was subsequently incorporated in their New Kingdom descendant, the so-called Book of the Dead, which was known by the same title. Almost fro…

From Coffin Texts Spell 78 (1.7)

(419 words)

Author(s): Allen, James P.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Cosmologies Commentary This text follows Coffin Texts Spell 76 after a few lines (Spell 77) that describe the birth of Shu through the combined metaphors of masturbation and spitting. The major theme in Spell 78 is the identification of this event with the evolution of Time in its two aspects: the permanent pattern of existence, identified with Tefnut; and the eternal repetition of life, identified with Shu. From Coffin Texts Spell 78 (1.7) Shu as the atmosphere ( CT II 19a-b) I am t…

Praise of Pi-Ramessu (3.3)

(789 words)

Author(s): Allen, James P.
Subject: Archival Documents from the Biblical World; Egyptian Archival Documents; Letters; New Kingdom Model Letters Commentary The papyrus from which this letter is taken, now in the British Museum (EA 10246), is dated to the third regnal year of Merneptah, son and successor of Ramesses II (Dyn. 19, ca. 1213–1203 bce). It contains several model letters and other scribal exercises, some of which appear in other contemporary papyri. The letter translated here celebrates the charms of the Ramesside capital Pi-Ramessu (House of Ramesses), the biblical Raamses. Praise of Pi-Ramessu (…

A Report of Bedouin (3.5)

(475 words)

Author(s): Allen, James P.
Subject: Archival Documents from the Biblical World; Egyptian Archival Documents; Letters; New Kingdom Model Letters Commentary This model letter is one of four unique scribal exercises compiled in a single papyrus, now in the British Museum (EA 10245). The opening protocol of the papyrus is dated to the reign of Seti II, but the regnal year mentioned in the letter translated here is probably that of his predecessor, Merneptah. The letter refers to the arrival of bedouin and their flocks from the northern Sinai…
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