An episode from 1/28/21: Tonight, I read from perhaps the oldest surviving religious texts in the world, those spells and prayers that were inscribed into the walls of the tombs of the pharaohs as early as 2353 BC. Collectively referred to as the Pyramid Texts, they were the basis of the later Coffin Texts, and the more famous Egyptian Book of the Dead.
These texts were not meant as “literature” in any modern sense. Instead, inscribed as they were into the walls of the pharaoh’s tomb, the pharaoh’s spirit was supposed to recite them after death in order to travel into the sky, gain access to the Egyptian afterlife, and identify himself completely with Osiris, the god of death and resurrection.
I’m particularly proud of this episode, the first in a series on Egyptian mythology, since the spells and prayers are a great example of just how strange and off-putting ancient literature can really be. The very real theological and spiritual needs of the Egyptians, which had little use for narrative as we think of it, led them to create this incantatory and repetitive form of liturgy. It can be by turns very alien one moment, and then suddenly become very powerful. There’s nothing else quite like it.
The books I read from in this episode include:
- The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, tr. James P. Allen (read the introduction here)
- The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids Texts, tr. Raymond O. Faulkner
- Erik Hornung, Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and the Many