Book of the Earth

Book of the Earth

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Taylor Ray Ellison

Introduction This funerary composition lacks an original ancient Egyptian title, and has actually been called by a number of names, depending on the scholar. Piankoff refers to it as La creation du disque solaire (The Creation of the Sun Disk). Hartwig Altenmuller calls it Buch des Aker (Book of Aker), while Erik Hornung names it Buch von der Erde (Book of the Earth) and Barta refers to it as Erdbunch (Earth-Book).

An overall view of the Book of the Earth

This was the last great composition concerning the netherworld, where the sun disk is raised up from the depths of the earth by numerous pairs of arms, and where the enemies of Egypt, those whose souls have not been blessed, are punished and destroyed in the Place of Annihilation.

Above all, it stresses the gods of the depths of the earth such as Aker, Geb and Tatenen.

However, in reality it is not known if these scenes and texts from a part of a single composition or an amalgamation from different works, and the divisions of the book are confusing at the very least.

Original Sources

The book of earth

The first vestiges we have of the Book of the Earth appear in the tombs of Merneptah (tomb), Tausert (tomb) and Ramesses III (tomb), where two scenes that wold later be including in the complete composition are depicted on the left wall of their sarcophagus chambers. They serve as a counterpart to the concluding representations of the Book of Caverns. We also find the solar barque atop Aker as a double sphinx as an individual scene from Merneptah on, and in the Tomb of Ramesses IV, it concludes the representation in the decoration of his tomb.

In the tomb of Ramesses VI, all the decorated walls of the sarcophagus chamber have scenes from the Book of the Earth, though in the tomb of Ramesses VII, only one register depicts the scenes from parts D and C. Finally, Ramesses IX uses two scenes from part A in his tomb. All of the examples of this book appear within the sarcophagus chambers of the royal tombs, including one scene represented on the actual sarcophagus of Ramesses IV. Later, individual scenes also occur on several sarcophagi of the Late Period.

We also find individual scenes from the Book of the Earth in the cenotaph of Seti I at Abydos, as well as in the tomb of Osorkon II at Tanis. The section of the Book of the Earth that Painkoff called the Book of Aker occurs on Papyri of the 21st Dynasty, together with variations on the resurrection scene in A2, the tombs of Petamenophis and Padineith, TT197 of the 26th Dynasty at Thebes, and Lepsius 23 at Saqqara. We also see, from the Late Period, the depiction of Nut from part D in the tomb of Aba (TT36) and the scene of the birth of the stars on a cartonnage from the Ramesseum.


Jean-Francois Champollion published the scenes and texts in the sarcophagus chamber of Ramesses VI in his Monuments de l'Egypte: Notices descriptives (Paris 1844, vol. 2, pp. 576-578), and later, a part of the composition was also published by Lefebure in his Notices des hypogees (Cairo, 1889). However, it was Alexandre Piankoff who actually provided the foundation for real study of the composition with his edition of it in 1953. Bruno H. Stricker provided an explanation of the book as a divine embryology in 1963, while Winfried Barta and Friedrich Abitz have been responsible for investigating the composition and meaning of the text.

The Structure of the Book of the Earth

In the Book of the Earth, just as in the Book of Caverns, the hours of the night are not divided into sections, and the solar barque is largely missing as an aid to orientation. Though the original composition was probably divided into three registers, the registers in the surviving work are uncertain. Hence, the composition seems like a loose sequence of scenes. Because of the incomplete condition of his sarcophagus chamber which gives rise to various transpositions of materials, it is very uncertain whether the tomb of Ramesses VI provides a complete example of the Book of the Earth. Like the Book of Caverns, portions of it appear on the sides of several pillars. Scholars such as Abitz believe that the Book of the Earth, like the Book of Caverns, consists of two halves of which only one contains scenes of punishment. Like the Book of Caverns, the Book of the Earth uses the sun disk as a reoccurring theme, while the solar barque only makes rare appearances.

The directions of the scenes are mostly all oriented to the right and there is no visible morning goal, nor is there depicted the entry into the netherworlds. In the tomb of Ramesses VI, the divisions of the book run right to left, which is contrary to the usual arrangement. Piankoff recognized four parts, which were lettered A-D, while Abitz added further scenes on three pillar sides as parts E. He further theorizes that part D. with its praying king, represents the beginning of the composition, as at the beginning of the corridor of the Osireion. Further more, he believes part B belongs in part A, and part C to be a part of D. Barta instead designates the sequences of scenes from the sarcophagus chamber of Ramesses VII and Ramesses IX as part E, with the last scenes derived from a wide variety of books. Part A in the tomb of Ramesses VI portrays a clear central axis that has probably led to changes in the arrangements of the scenes in later versions. Unless the Aker scene is intended as such, there is also no concluding representations at the end of the composition.

Lake the Book of Caverns, Ramesses VI inserted many references to the king throughout the composition and uses subtitles to structure it.

The Composition

While the content of the book is similar in many ways to the Book of Caverns, there remain clear divergences also. Osiris is, of course, an central figure within the work, as is the transformation of Re, together with the ba of the blessed dead. A special theme is the journey of the sun through the earth god Aker. This actually represents and expansion of the eleventh scene in the Book of Gates, with its " barque of the earth".

Part D

In part D, probably the beginning of the composition, we find a schematic depiction of the entire realm of the dead with Osiris as the central figure. He resides within a tomb structure which serpents guard. Two mounds, surmounted by his ba and the "corpse of Geb", flank Osiris. Beneath hi are Anubis and a "Mysterious One" who protectively stretch their arms over a "mysterious coffer" that invisibly contains his corpse. This is a scene of renewal, and to either side are scenes depicting punishment. Here, we find punishing gods, whose names refer to the devouring of the bodies and the ba-souls of the enemies, hold cauldrons aloft. Above, a God holds the hieroglyphs for fire and blood from decapitated enemies flows down into the cauldrons below

the next scene we find the mummy of the sun god flanked between two fire spitting uraei. He stands upon a large sun disk that in turn is flanked by two pairs of arms rising from the depths of Nun. Surrounding this scene is a wreath of twelve stars and twelve small disks indicating the course of the hours, who's ends are held in the hands of two goddesses. A modification of this scene where the pairs of arms replaced by a double ouroboros (a serpent biting its own tail) and the name of the king is placed in the large disk occurs in the sarcophagus chamber of Ramesses III.

A modification of the depiction of Nut from the fifth section of the Book of Caverns occurs in the next scene. Here, looking backwards, she is called the Mysterious One. A ram-headed ba-bird and a disk, representing the sun god, rests upon the palms of her hands. Flanking her are two human headed serpents and a crocodile, together with another snake.

The final scene in this section is also a variation of a popular theme. Here, atop the back of Aker is represented the barque of the sun god as a double sphinx. The barque is supported by two uraei, and inside the barque are Khepri and the ape headed Thoth, who pray to the sun god. Underneath the barque, two royal figures together with Isis and Nephthys, hold high a winged scarab beetle and sun disk.

Protected by Atum, the middle register begins with Horus rising up out of the recumbent divine figure called the Western One. Next we find seven shrines or mounds, each containing gods, "those of mysterious forms". In the next scene, the miraculous, posthumous propagation of Horus is repeated. In this scene, the falcon-headed Horus rises from the curved corpse of Osiris which is in turn being protected by the corpses of Isis and Nephthys. In the next scene, two anonymous gods look upon the ba of Osiris, which is avian in form. They are flanked by burial mounds surmounted by ram-headed mummies.

Two gods look upon the ba of Osiris in Avian form

The next two scenes have a similar theme. In the first, the arms only of Nun hold the solar disk, after which we find another huge sun disk flanked by four divine figures and two uraei. A Hathor head and a serpent emerge at the top of this solar disk, perhaps indicating the regeneration of the sun. In the next scene, two praying uraei and several burial mounts containing mummies, among them that of Osiris as Bull of the West, flank the birth of the sun, indicated by a winged scarab that emerges from the desk. The analogous scene with a sun disk and winged scarab flanked by mounds containing mummies probably also belongs in this register.

As is often the case with books of the netherworld, the lower register here is reserved for punishment of enemies in the Place of Annihilation. It starts out with a representation of the sun god together with several sarcophagi. There follows four enemies that are named the Burning Ones. Rather than heads, they have the hieroglyphs for fire surmounting their bodies, and they are watched over by four ram-headed gods.

In the next scene, four gods each carry an upside down, decapitated enemy. These enemies are painted red, perhaps to indicate that they are covered with blood. This scene is followed by one in which there are four kneeling enemies also with the hieroglyphs for fire, this time atop their heads. They are held by four goddesses who, we are told, "set the corpses of the enemies on fire". Afterwards, we find two goddesses hold their hands protectively over a large hart. They are flanked by two knife-welding gods facing pairs of arms that raise two cauldrons filled with the heads and pieces of flesh of enemies from the depths. Each cauldron is heated by a fire breathing head from below.

Next we find the "corpse" of the Place of Annihilation lying in a large sarcophagus, which Re calls the "corpse of Shetit". This is symbolically the realm of the dead, and above it three gods and three goddesses within burial mounds or shrines raise their hands in prayer. Finally, in the last scene, we find the familiar Apophis serpent being seized by ram headed gods. Beneath the snake, Osiris stands within a burial mound or shrine. Outside, the corpse of Geb and that of Tatenen flank the mound. All three of these figures are sunk to their knees in the depths.

Part C

There are three register in part C, that in some manner are connected with part D, but their precise sequence is unclear. Both the upper and middle registers each start out with a ram-headed sun god. In the upper register, two ba-birds pray to him. The first stands upon a perch-like structure and the second on a scarab above the Apophis snake, out of whose coils Khepri emerges according to the caption. Before the Apophis serpent stand Atum and Shu, though perhaps only their bas are intended here.

Below in the middle register, an unknown god greets the sun god in prayer, while behind are two more gods, one ram-headed and one serpent headed. They stretch out their hands in a protective gesture towards the sun disk, out of which the falcon shaped head of "Horus of the netherworld" is projected.

The lower register begins with a praying god and goddess, followed by four gods who grasp human headed posts. In the next scene, the corpse of Aker, who is represented in the form of a god holding a scepter, bends over his own ba in the form of a bird which is praying to him. He is flanked to either side by a burial mound containing a sun disk.

From these disks emerge a praying goddess. Afterwards, four Osirian figures follow, each with a sun disk behind him and a pair of arms stretched out towards him. At the end, there is a head, together with a pair of arms and a sun disk. The scene containing fettered and kneeling enemies with three gods must belong in a lower register, as perhaps also do the three ovals that follow (one of them now destroyed). On top of the ovals lie mummies that have turned themselves over, which with a goddess turned toward it.

Part A

Part A begins with the sun god, "who protects the corpses". He is flanked by mummies in a burial mound called the Mound of Darkness. Afterwards, we find a scene with the earth god Aker as a double sphinx. Above his mound is the solar barque. It sits between the personifications of the entrance and exit of the realm of the dead, with its direction reversed so that the stern faces the exit. Below is the resurrection of the corpse of the sun, a scene that occurs in the royal sarcophagus chambers beginning with Merneptah and often later on papyri of the 21st Dynasty. From a falcon's head that emerges from the bottom of the sun disk, we see light falling on the "mysterious corpse" which lies on the ground. It contains both Osiris and Re in a single form. This scene is surrounded by a wreath of twelve stars and twelve disks and by two Osiris figures on either side.

In the third scene, twelve goddess, each representing an hour of the night, are depicted, each with the hieroglyph of a star and a shadow along with a beaming disk above her. Then at the beginning of the fourth scene stands a "guardian of the corpses", flanked by representations of mummies. A few of the mummies are encased within four large disks. A central god, possibly Osiris but who's precise identity is not evident, is flanked by the corpses of Shu, Tefnut, Khepri and Nun in the fifth scene, and finally, in the sixth scene, a had and a pair of arms rise up from the depts. Upon the head, a goddess called Annihilator stand with her arms stretched out to embrace a solar disk. The arms, in turn, support two praying goddesses named West and east in a reverse orientation. Three mummies asymmetrically flank this scene. We believe the upper register of part A ends at this point with a line containing a title.

Below, the middle register begins, as in the Amduat and the Book of Gates, with the solar barque. It is towed by fourteen ram-headed gods, together with their bas. Below is represented an ithyphallic god who is called "he who hides the hours". He stands in his cave and is surrounded by twelve star goddesses who extend disks to him. There are also additional stars and disks, and there is the depiction of a child directly below the phallus of the god. All about this scene a giant snake is coiled.

The following scene, which is scattered about three places in the tomb of Ramesses VI, has five burial mounds, from which emerge a head and arms raised up in a gesture of praise. There are also two more mound without a head and arms. The birth of the sun is dealt with in the third scene. Here, there are two erect mummies. On the first, a sun disk replaces the head, and from the disk emerge the head and forelegs of a scarab. A praying goddess surmounts the second mummy. This is followed by a scene where a uraeus, a head with arms and an upright mummy are grouped on either side of a mummified god who is called "he who annihilates the hours". The arms each support a god holding a small sun disk in his hands. This scene also occurs on the sarcophagus of Ramesses IV, though there it is expanded. On this sarcophagus, the theme is the birth and annihilation of the hours in the abyss of the Place of Annihilation.

At the top, and also at the bottom of the fifth scene are ten heads. Those above are connected to hieroglyphs representing shadows, while below, arms extended from the heads are raised in prayer. A sun disk moves between the heads, which is adored by two extended goddesses from above and below.

The summary scene in part A showing the barque entering and leaving the depths

Part of the summary scene in part A showing the barque entering and leaving the depths

The lower register of part A might be seen as a concluding summary depicting the entire course of the sun. On the far left is the solar barque containing a scarab and the ram-headed sun god. It is towed by seven ba-birds. Below, the arms of Geb embrace a mummy called the Mourned One atop a mound containing a weeping eye and four hieroglyphs designating flesh. To their left this "mourning" is continued by other figures. As at the end of the Amduat, the regeneration of Re is put in contract against the mourning of Osiris.

Figures of dieties and uraeus below the barque

In the center we find the barque once more, but with a raft attached to the prow and a scarab adored by the bas of Atum and Khepri. It passes over one of the heads of the double sphinx of Aker and into the depths, where Tatenen, the god of the depths of the earth, receives it. There follows the arms of Nun raising the sun disk from the depths who is flanked by mummies. On the other side, the barque is then released by Nun, the god of the primeval waters, which is then hauled from the depths by fourteen uraei with human heads.

Part B

Part B is not clearly divided into registers and its scenes should probably be more correctly considered as belonging to part A. The first scene consists of four ovals that contain mummies, allowed to breath due to the rays of the sun god. There are also four burial mounds containing mummies that have turned themselves over. Each is under the protection of a serpent. Here, the caption alludes to their decay, from which even Re turns away.

The next scene takes up the entire height of part B. It is similar to the depictions of Nut and Osiris in the Book of Caverns found in the tombs of Siptah through Ramesses IV where a version of the scene was represented on the lids of the royal sarcophagi. The central part of the scene depicts a standing mummy called the "corpse of the god", in which is the sun disk. Before him, a pair of arms, from which serpents rise, holds a god and goddess in the act of praise. To the mummy's rear, another par of arms, called the "arms of darkness", support the crocodile Penwenti. They also hold a jackal-headed and a ram-headed scepter.

Afterwards, there are four ovals containing mummies that have an equal number of ba-birds, together with two hieroglyphs representing shadows. Underneath are depictions of barques that contain the recumbent mummies of Osiris and the falcon-headed "Horus of the netherworld". Each of these gods are attended to by the goddess Isis and Nephthys, respectively.

At the end of this part of the Book of the Earth, the upper portion starts with a depiction of a huge burial mound that contains the sun disk with a god praying to it. Adjacent to it are two godly figures above the hieroglyphic sign for flesh all within a large oval. Praise is given by two heads and two goddesses that flank the oval. Underneath this scene are four praying gods, with a ba-bird and the bend hieroglyph for shadow next to each.

Part E

. In part E, six gods in burial mounds are represented, and twice, gods pray beneath a sun disk.

Part A of the Book of the Earth

Part A of the Book of the Earth

Part B and C from the Book of the Earth

Part B and C from the Book of the Earth

Part D from the Book of the Earth

Part D from the Book of the Earth


Title Author Date Publisher Reference Number
Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife, The Hornung, Erik 1999 Cornell University Press ISBN 0-8014-3515-3
Ancient Gods Speak, The: A Guide to Egyptian Religion Redford, Donald B. 2002 Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-515401-0
Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and the Many Hornung, Erik 1971 Cornell University Press ISBN 0-8014-8384-0
Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, The Shaw, Ian; Nicholson, Paul 1995 Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers ISBN 0-8109-3225-3
Gods and Myths of Ancient Egypt Armour, Robert A. 1986 American University in Cairo Press, The ISBN 977 424 669 1
Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The Shaw, Ian 2000 Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-815034-2
Religion in Ancient Egypt: Gods, Myths, and Personal Practice Baines, John; Lesko, Leonard H.; Silverman, David P. 1991 Cornell University Press ISBN 0-8014-2550-6

Last Updated: June 22nd, 2011

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