Funerary Compositions

From the end of Dynasty 5 onward, religious texts were inscribed in the burial chambers of royal tombs. The oldest surviving compositions, called Pyramid Texts because they were inscribed in pyramid burial chambers, were compilations of spells describing different aspects of the dead king's restoration and existence in the realm of the gods in the afterlife. For some unknown reason, Middle Kingdom rulers did not have any such texts inscribed in the burial chambers of their pyramids. Contemporary private burials, however, had a series of spells, called Coffin Texts because they were inscribed on coffins; many derived from or were influenced by the Pyramid Texts. The first descriptions of the netherworld appear as schematic "maps" on the inner floors on many of these coffins, and are called the Book of Two Ways.    
New Kingdom Books of the Netherworld
New compositions appear for the first time in royal tombs of the New Kingdom. They consist of both figures and texts that describe the realm of the dead ruled by Osiris and the journey of the sun god Ra through this realm.    
The modern name of this book was given because many of the figures are shown inside ovals that represent caves in the underworld [15150]. It is divided into only six sections, with the form of the sun god as a ram-headed man introducing the first four divisions. Bound enemies appear in the lowest register of the first five divisions, and two large figures of Nut and ithyphallic Osiris are found in the fifth division [15153]. In the sixth division, the concluding scene shows the dawning of the sun god as a scarab and a child emerging from the watery realm of creation [16311].     15150 15153 16311
Book of the Earth
The earliest appearance of scenes from this book is in the burial chamber of KV 8 (Merenptah), but the fullest version is in KV 9. Other tombs of Dynasties 19 and 20 have some scenes and texts derived from this composition in their burial chambers, such as KV 14, KV 11, KV 1, and KV 6. The composition does not follow an obvious narrative progression as other descriptions of the solar nightly journey do. (Egyptologists have divided the composition up in different ways: the system followed on this website is that of Piankoff, which distinguishes four parts, A-D.)    
In the examples from KV 8, KV 9, KV 11 and KV 14, the same scenes recur on the side walls. Three registers on the left wall show the sun god Ra in his bark beneath a supine mummiform figure with overarching stars and sun disks. The bottom register shows an ithyphallic figure standing in a structure representing a water clock [14624]. The ba of Ra in the form of a large ram-headed bird dominates the right wall [14622]. It lies beneath a representation of a reborn sun emerging from the waters of chaos (taken from the closing scene of the Book of Caverns). Beneath the outspread wings of Ra's ba, the sun god's boat is shown resting on the image of the double-headed sphinx Aker, the embodiment of the earthly entry to the netherworld, with goddesses representing hours facing toward Ra. The Book of Aker was a name given in the past to this part of the composition that illustrates the sun god's boat resting on the back of Aker [15078]. Traces of other scenes can be found on the rear walls of the burial chambers of KV 8 and KV 11.     14624 14622 15078

Published or last modified on: May 1, 2003
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