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The Book of the Amduat and its Relationship to the Architecture of Early 18th Dynasty Tombs

Barbara Ann Richter is an Egyptology PhD candidate in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, anticipating completion of her degree program by 2013.

Ms. Richter opened her lecture with an introduction to the books of the Netherworld, or Duat, of which there are many. The function of these books was to help the deceased travel safely through the dangerous underworld to the place of final judgment, where, after successfully passing his trial, he would become transformed into an akh, or “effective being,” capable of moving freely in a new eternal plane of existence. This transformation occurred through the union of his ba and the ka, two of the components (in addition to the heart, shadow, name, and body), which the Egyptians considered necessary to make up a complete human being.

Crucial to this transition was the relationship of the deceased with the gods Osiris and Ra. At sunset, Ra (specifically, the ba or soul of Ra) entered the Netherworld, traveling in his solar barque and eventually uniting with the body of Osiris. This union allowed him to be reborn at each sunrise. By traveling with Ra on this journey, the deceased could take part in this transformation and be reborn each dawn as well. 

The oldest funerary texts from ancient Egypt are the Pyramid Texts, which were carved on the walls of Old Kingdom pyramids in vertical columns of hieroglyphs. The texts are made up of more than 750 spells, some of which were recited during the king’s funeral.  The order in which the spells were placed in the tomb and thus read, was critical.  Reading began in the sarcophagus chamber, then continued outward through the antechamber and ascending corridors to the outside, just as the king’s spirit would have traveled in its journey through the Netherworld, until he emerged from the tomb and ascended to the sky to join Ra in his barque.  The function of the spells was to keep the king safe during this journey and provide him with provisions and freedom of movement in the afterlife. 

After the Old Kingdom, during the First Intermediate Period, the breakdown in centralized control allowed the royal Pyramid Texts to be used by non-royals.  They were adapted and expanded – 1185 spells made up the total – and used on coffins of private individuals.  They are found particularly on the coffins of the nomarchs (provincial governors) of Middle Egypt.  These Coffin Texts served the same purpose the Pyramid Texts had, and new spells allowed shape shifting, and options to be reunited with one’s family.

The Book of Two Ways, probably originally called the Guide to the Ways of Rosetau (Rosetau, a designation for the necropolis, literally means “the gate of dragging,” referring to the dragging of the coffin into the tomb).  Its function was to help the deceased navigate the various dangers that would be encountered on the journey to the Netherworld.  This book was read from right to left, top to bottom, and began with the sunrise on the eastern horizon.  At the top right, a sea of fire is depicted as a red horizon line, separated by two curving paths – blue for water and black for land.  The deceased was required to traverse these paths, which were guarded by menacing creatures with knives, to reach the domain of Osiris in Rosetau.  Thus, the Book of Two Ways supplied a graphic guide to help the deceased avoid dangers and false paths, as well as providing the knowledge he needed to reach the place of rejuvenation, after which he could take his place with Ra or Osiris for eternity.

From the 17th Dynasty onward, the mortuary spells of the Book of the Dead papyri superseded the earlier Coffin Texts, from which at least 1/3 of the new book originated. It appeared about the time of Thutmosis III’s reign and continued into the Roman period.  Like its predecessors, it provided a practical guide for the deceased as he navigated the route to the Netherworld where he would join the gods. The Book of the Dead continued the idea of gates blocking the way of those who are not permitted to enter the afterlife.  Like the Book of Two Ways, it also had seven gates manned by sentries – but now there were three of them for each gate. The landscape-like maps of the Book of Two Ways became simple vignettes. During the 21st Dynasty these vignettes began to represent entire spells without any accompanying text. At this time it also became traditional to enclose a papyrus inscribed with the Book of the Dead within a statuette of Osiris, which was buried with the deceased.

The spells contained within the Book of the Dead are more properly called The Book of Coming Forth by Day, and provide the magical means by which the deceased is provisioned, protected and guided through the afterlife. The possessor of this book is in effect given a free pass to proceed unhindered into Rosetau, the realm of Osiris, ride in the sun god’s barque, and enter the blessed Field of Reeds.

While private individuals were being equipped with papyri of the Book of the Dead, the kings of the early 18th Dynasty felt a need to commission a new genre of funerary literature exclusively for royal use. These new books gave a description of the Netherworld, with texts and pictures illustrating its complex topography and various inhabitants in great detail.

The two earliest books, the Book of the Amduat and the Book of Gates are arranged according to the twelve hours of the night, and the main focus is on the sun god’s nightly journey, the moment when he was united with Osiris, and his rebirth at dawn.

Amduat, means “that which is in the Netherworld”.  ts original title was The Book of the Hidden Chamber and it was the first of the new Netherworld books to appear in the royal tombs of the 18th Dynasty. Originally it was only used to decorate the sarcophagus chamber of the king.   The text and illustrations describing the twelve hours of the night were divided into three registers.  Each hour had a distinct beginning and ending.  The Amduat provided descriptions of the terrain and inhabitants of the dangerous journey, as well as actions and words of the sun god. With this knowledge the king was able to identify with the sun god and experience the same journey to rebirth.

The road to Rosetau, first illustrated in the Book of Two Ways, was depicted in the Amduat in much greater detail.  The sun god and his divine crew had to traverse this dangerous path in order to reach the domain of Osiris where he would begin his rebirth.  The domain of Osiris was given a much more significant role in the Amduat.  In the Fifth Hour of the Night the Amduat revealed a complex, multi-layered structure located deep in the Netherworld.  It is here that the ba of Ra unites with the corpse of Osiris.

After the Book of the Amduat, new royal Netherworld books continued to be composed, describing the Duat in successively more elaborate ways.  None of these Netherworld books had ancient names; however, scholars have labeled them in accordance with their most striking characteristics, for example, The Book of Gates, The Book of Caverns, and the Book of the Earth.

The Book of Gates systematically depicts the gates of the underworld in great detail.  There are again three guardians for each gate but now there are twelve gates, one at the end of each hour of the night.  The guardians take the form of long serpents or fire-spitting uraeii.  They, along with sharply pointed crenellations lining each gate, present a formidable barrier.  The tomb of Horemheb is the first appearance of the Book of Gates in the 18th Dynasty.

A judgment scene in the 5th Hour of the Night in The Book of Gates is its only appearance in a New Kingdom Netherworld book.  Its placement just before the crucial moment when the sun reunites with Osiris is an important difference.  Unlike earlier judgment scenes the personified scale standing before the enthroned Osiris had empty pans and Ammit, the eater of souls who do not pass judgment, was now nowhere to be seen.  The mysterious union of the sun with the corpse of Osiris was also treated differently.  The corpse was shown as invisible, carried by gods whose arms were also invisible due to their contact with the divine body. 

The Book of Caverns followed the Book of Gates.  Its first complete version appeared in the 19th Dynasty, decorating the Osirion, Seti I’s cenotaph at Abydos.  Unlike The Book of the Amduat and The Book of Gates, this book divides the Netherworld into a series of caverns instead of hours of the night.  The corpses of gods and goddesses inhabit these caverns, enclosed in ovals that are their sarcophagi.  The theme of the sun god’s nightly journey continued in this book, but the solar barque is now absent except for the final scene.  In its place, a red sun disk now represented the god.  The purpose of the journey was still the union of the sun god and Osiris, which took place in a cave beneath the earth god Aker.  Throughout this book the emphasis was on the punishment of the enemies of Ra, who were tortured and destroyed in a variety of creative ways.

The Book of the Earth was the next royal funerary book to appear, which has also been called The Book of Aker or The Creation of the Sun Disk.  Scenes that would later form part of the Book of the Earth already appeared in the tomb of Merenptah, but Ramses VI was the first to make extensive use of it in his sarcophagus chamber.  The book presented a complex, schematic representation of the entire realm of the dead. Many scenes also showed punishment of the enemies of Ra.  Similar to the Book of Caverns, there was a lack of a division into hours of the night and the theme of Osiris and the rebirth of Ra and the blessed dead was incorporated.

In addition to the Netherworld books, another group of books composed after the Amarna period dealt with a celestial hereafter.  In these books the sun god traveled through the body of the sky goddess Nut, whose figure stretched across the ceiling of the royal tomb.  These Books of the Sky, composed of the Book of the Day and the Book of the Night, complemented each other.  At dawn the sun god was born from the womb of Nut, he traveled through the hours of the day in his solar barque, then at dusk the goddess swallowed him up and he traveled within her body through the night.  The king was a particularly prominent figure in the Book of the Night, appearing at the head of the towers pulling the royal barque in every hour.

All of these “books” form the corpus of written funerary literature from the Old Kingdom through the Middle and into the New Kingdom.  The spells in these books helped the deceased reach his Netherworldly destination by keeping him safe through its dangerous passages.  After taking part in the nightly rejuvenation of the sun, he could dwell with Osiris in the Netherworld or participate in the cosmic cycle with Ra in his barque as he chose.

The Book of the Amduat

The Thutmosid kings of the 18th Dynasty were the first to decorate their tombs with the Book of the Amduat.  Ms. Richter noted that the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Catherine Roehrig observed that the layout of the burial chamber of Thutmosis III, in particular, reflects a number of concepts from the Amduat, which is what spurred her to do her own investigation of this intriguing book. The tombs of Amenhotep II and Amenhotep III also contain complete versions of the Book of the Amduat.

In its earliest representations the Amduat’s twelve hours of the night are painted in cursive hieroglyphs and illustrated with stick figures, imitating ancient scrolls.  The texts are written predominately in retrograde hieroglyphs with the columns placed in reverse of their normal order of reading – technique used in general for religious texts but which may also reflect time proceeding backwards.  Each of the hours after the first is divided into three registers: general phenomena in the upper register; the sun god Ra, accompanied by his crew of gods journeys through the middle register; and details specific to the hour are in the lower register.  Ra is depicted on this journey in his nightly, ram-headed form, which Ms. Richter explained is a visual pun for ba, meaning “soul”.

The goal of Ra’s journey through the Netherworld is to become rejuvenated so that he can emerge reborn in the morning.  The journey is not an easy one, however.  He must navigate a torturous path menaced by serpents and pass through the forbidden cave of Sokar in order to unite with Osiris, take a dip in the sacred waters of Nun, then travel backward in time, all so that he can emerge reborn as the young sun, Khepri, at dawn.

Understanding these basic features of the Amduat, Ms. Richter examined the tomb of Menkheperre Thutmosis III (KV-34), which most perfectly depicts, through its decoration and architecture, the Book of the Amduat.  The tomb, which is composed of a succession of three corridors, a well shaft, a pillared antechamber and a burial chamber with four side rooms, along with a sharp, 90-degree bend in the axis, is designed to play an integral part in the afterlife of the king.  Specifically, the bend in the axis is thought to represent the winding paths of the Netherworld; the oval shape of the burial chamber suggests the opened papyrus scroll, or the shape of the Netherworld itself; and the shape of the sarcophagus is that of a royal cartouche, thus associating the king with the solar cycle and giving him dominion over all that the sun encompasses.

Instructions in the text of the Amduat dictate the placement of each hour.  Ms. Richter noted that Thutmosis III is perhaps the only king to follow those directions.  Each hour occupies a strategic position with the first hour placed in the west where the sun sets, and the twelfth hour placed in the east where it rises.  The orientation of the hours coincides with the reality of the solar cycle.  The ordering of the hours between the first and twelfth actually forms a spiral reflecting the daily repetition of the solar cycle throughout time.

In order to personalize the tomb for the king, his name appears in the texts and images, and in the Amduat his name appears in the introductory texts for almost every hour, allowing him to be the one who knows the meaning of what is written in the Hidden Chamber and to benefit from this secret knowledge

·         The journey begins in the First Hour with the god Ra’s entrance into the western horizon at sunset accompanied by the king.  In Thutmosis III’s burial chamber this hour appears on the curve of the west wall. 

·         The next important step in the journey occurs in the Fourth Hour, which is placed just around the entrance to the burial chamber, and contains a broken sand path that cuts diagonally through the horizon register, leading deep into the Netherworld. Labeled “the mysterious ways of Rosetau” written in enigmatic hieroglyphs, it emphasizes the mystery of the path and may also increase the magical effectiveness of the passage between this world and the next.  Ms. Richter noted that the placement of this hour just before the entrance to the burial chamber is particularly appropriate as the three stairway corridors leading to the burial chamber precisely mirror the three breaks in the sandy path.  The solar boat can no longer sail freely in this sandy realm and must be dragged by tow ropes.

·         The Fifth Hour features a zig-zag path leading down to the cavern of the god Sokar, deep in the Netherworld.  The cavern is shrouded in impenetrable darkness, and it has been suggested that this is the place where the mysterious union of Osiris and Ra takes place.

·         Having successfully negotiated the potent dangers of the Fifth Hour, Ra’s barque moves into the crucial Sixth Hour.  Here he enters a water hole containing the primeval, regenerating waters of creation - the Nun, essential to Ra’s rejuvenation.

·         During the Seventh through Twelfth Hours, Ra, having been rejuvenated by the waters of the Nun, returns to his barque and continues his journey, passing enemies being punished in the Seventh Hour, and proceeding in the Tenth Hour past a lake where those who have drowned are led to a blessed Afterlife.  Finally, upon reaching the Twelfth Hour, the sun god completes his rebirth through a process in which the god and the millions of souls inhabiting the Netherworld are pulled backward in time through the body of a giant serpent.  As Khepri, the newborn sun flies into the outstretched arms of the god Shu, who lifts him into the sky.  This image is paced on the “ideal” east wall near the foot of the sarcophagus.

During her investigation of this tomb, Ms. Richter noted something particularly interesting on the pillars of the burial chamber.  The Litany of Ra, which invokes the sun god seventy-five times in various names and forms, was first used in this tomb on the several faces of two pillars.  A connection exists between the text on one pillar, an image on another and the events we have just seen take place in the crucial fifth and sixth hours of the Amduat on the wall.  The text on Pillar One which faces the Sixth Hour emphasizes the identification of the king with Ra who has just joined with the body of Osiris.  Ms. Richter believes that the positioning of this particular text was intentional. Additionally the Unified Being (Deba-Demedj ), which results from the fusion of the soul of Ra with the body of Osiris, and is identified with the king on Pillar One, is shown pictorially on the side of Pillar Two which faces the king’s sarcophagus.  This placement, Ms. Richter believes, was also intentional.  The king’s mummy was wrapped in a linen shroud also inscribed with the Litany of Ra, further identifying him with the litany’s texts and the depiction on the pillar.  Thus, the placement of the Litany of Ra’s textual and pictorial decoration on the two pillars works together with the most critical part of the Amduat on the wall, reinforcing and elaborating the events taking place in it.  Because the union of Ra and Osiris is necessary preparation for the sun god’s rejuvenation, by equating this union so explicitly with the deceased king, he, too, would be guaranteed rebirth at dawn.  It is this striking relationship between text, image and architecture that Ms. Richter discovered in her investigation.

The burial chamber itself is a microcosm of the Duat, formed by the placement of the Amduat hours at significant places in the chamber.  Thus the decoration and architecture of the tomb of Thutmosis III, along with the personalized text and images work together to facilitate the king’s safe journey to rebirth each morning.

Ms. Richter discussed briefly the use of the Book of the Amduat in the tombs of Amenhotep II (KV-35)and Amenhotep III (KV-22) and noted their differences. 

·         Amenhotep II abandoned the oval-shaped burial chamber of his father, and made his burial chamber rectangular, created two floor levels separated by five steps and placed three pairs of pillars down the center. These innovations, and the elaboration of architecture and decoration, give the tomb a more monumental character.  Its rectangular shape, added pillars and sunken crypt for the sarcophagus imitates the depths of the Netherworld.  The hours of the Amduat appear in a circular sequence, as opposed to the spiral of Thutmosis III.  The presentation is more formalized and monumental than was the case in his father’s tomb.

·         The tomb of Amenhotep III  has many similarities to that of his father, the same 90-degree bend in the axis, a well shaft with side chamber, and a rectangular, two-level burial chamber with six pillars, but this latter king elaborated and expanded with longer corridors, more stairways and more rooms, as well as more decoration.  The Amduat hours continue to be presented in numerical order with the first and last hours near the sarcophagus.  Thus, the tomb shows the next step in the expansion of the royal tomb.

Thus the architecture and decoration of the royal tombs of the early 18th Dynasty reflect the desire of the kings to represent the Duat and their place in it in successively more elaborate and creative ways, all with the purpose of securing their protection, regeneration and ascent to the sky for eternity.