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  THE FIRST EGYPTIAN BOOKS  

 

 

It is more than probable that Egyptians learnt the use of writing during the first dynasties, even though the first texts or drawings appeared around 2400BC, on the walls of the Pyramid of King OUNAS of the fifth official dynasty (he reigned from 2397BC to 2364BC). Henceforth, this writing continued to be painted, engraved or copied on to the many mastabas (tombs) of nobles and on most royal pyramids during the period of the Old Kingdom.

Texts especially relate to faith and religion: myths of the Creation of the world, to restraint of behavior and conscience, to the search for perfection and the exemplary life that must lead the king and all human beings to a spiritual rebirth.

 

Texts of the Pyramids :

 

Hieroglyphics of a religious character are engraved on walls of the pyramids, these being extracts of prayers for the the souls of the dead kings in their inevitable course toward the beyond. As the sun disappears in the evening among the stars of the night to be reborn and reappear in the morning, the soul must cross the night to be born again full of strength and energy in the other world.

Several gods take part in this ritual :

Sokar : the ancient god of Memphis that is represented as a mummified man, in a reliquary guarded by two young girls in his boat Henou, that takes him to the other bank, in the same way that Re, the father of light and life, crossed the Nile.

Osiris : the great god and the JUDGE of the DEAD, always accompanied by his supreme tribunal of THOT, god of Wisdom and MAAT, the goddess of truth.

 

Texts of the sarcophagi :

 

Shorter messages appeared toward the end of the Old Kingdom on tombs of the nobility, and they repeat in part the Texts of the Pyramids to which were added some local beliefs. These writings are based on theological reflections that inspired the contents of the Book of the Dead.

To become a civil servant, it was necessary to study to be a scribe, and as civil servants were numerous in the New Kingdom, papyruses and documents flourished during this period. Let us mention among others :

 

The Book of laws : the "forty rolls"which probably inspired Moses himself to dictate his Ten Commandments and the books that foresaw all the acts of daily and spiritual life. Only certain excerpts remain for us, discovered on the stele of Horemheb at Karnak, where writings mention the enactment of sterner laws against agitators. Punishment could be death, (for unscrupulous civil servants accused of having diverted money belonging to the state); or punishments of 100 lashes, (five were very harsh); exile; or cutting off the nose of the criminal.

Already in the Old Kingdom they cut out the tongues of people who committed perjury, and cut off a hand of those who had falsified seals or documents.

 

Like the Book of the TWO PATHS, the Book of the AMDOUAT is also a funeral Book. Part of its text were discovered on 22 sarcophagi in the Middle Kingdom at Hermopolis. It exhorted people to behave well while on Earth. The Amdouat also contained a map of the twelve regions of the underworld, which the soul had to cross after their time on Earth.

In the same way as the sun disappears for 12 hours on its nocturnal journey, Re, the god of Light showed the path of spiritual rebirth to the soul after the death of the body. In this book the soul receives a collection of welcoming prayers to say when following the light which brings him to the land of the AMENTI, (where Osiris reigned, together with Maat, the goddess of truth).

Thus the Amenti seems to be the Kingdom of the Heavens, the place only for those who are found to be just, having led an exemplary life devoted to sprituality, goodness and tolerance towards their neighbor.

" Happy are those that arrive in the home of just! No one arrives there unless their heart is devoted to justice. There, there is no distinction between the rich and the poor! Those who enter there are the ones who are justified by the balance between their souls and the weight (of the truth feather) before the Lord of Eternity." (Lefebvre translation).

 

In this Book is an entreaty to the living to care for the tombs and purify the statues; and, as a threat, the Book adds "Entrance to the Amenti can be denied to the indifferent". On the other hand, the dead promised their intercession to virtuous souls so that they would receive their reward...

Since the end of the Old Kingdom, certain Egyptians did not hesitate to write letters to their dead on papyruses which they placed on the table of offerings in the sepulchres. These asked for help from the dead for problems in their daily life or a cure from illness. The family believed that their dead relative returned from time to time (through a door drawn on the wall) to visit the tomb.

The LITANIES of Re, the 75 forms or manifestations of the sun god.

 

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