An Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld From A Shrine of Tutankhamun

An Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld

From A Shrine of Tutankhamun

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Taylor Ray Ellison

Tutankhaman's Second Gilded Shrine

Engraved on the second gilded shrine of Tutankhamun, discovered in his tomb by Howard Carter, was two parts of a book that is completely unique, though they do seem to have similarities to two scenes from the Amduat which were depicted on the child king's third shrine. In fact, these texts are designated as an "amduat", which here for the very first time the term is used to describe a netherworld text in general rather than the specific text to which it is normally applied. This is also the first instance of a composition describing the creation of the new solar disk.

No real title has been found for the book. Amduat. Winfried Barta described the text as a "Kryptograph". However, because of its obscure nature, with text that was not translated into normal hieroglyphs, most Egyptologists refer to it as the Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld. That is, in the outer panels, the texts which accompany some of the illustrations are cryptographic in order to preserve the secrecy of the formulas. Indeed, this leads to some controversies where the meaning of the text is certainly not clear. However, it should be noted that other compositions exist that are also labeled "enigmatic" mostly from 20th Dynasty tombs such as KV6 (Ramesses IX) and KV9 (Ramesses V / VI).

Solar boat from an enigmatic composition in KV6 in the Valley of the Kings

The written portions of text that are spread amongst the registers seem to stem from the Book of the Dead, making it a unique book of the Netherworld at this point in time. Only as late as the 21st Dynasty would we again see portions of the Amduat and the Book of the Dead occasionally combined.

Egyptologists believe that this composition deals with the creation and refilling of the solar disk with fire during the night. The conception that the sun loses its heat by day and has to be replenished by night is very similar to the view of Heraclitus, much later, who believed that the solar 'trough,' or disk, was automatically replenished during the night by fumes which rose from the earth and which became ignited every morning, when the trough was full. Here, in the region of death, the sun passes by, or through, the bodies of the gods who reside there. Their bodies remain in the dark while their souls, or essence, follow the sun in its journey. In other words, in the region of death the sun collects new energy for his rebirth in the morning.

This text is divided into three registers, similar to the more familiar Amduat and within, the solar barque is absent. However, just as in the Book of Caverns, the sun god's presence is represented by ram-headed birds within a sun disk in the first section, and by only a sun disk in the second part.

The order of the two sections of the book is defined by two boundary posts prior to the so called first section, because they also proceed the first hour of the Book of Gates. This prelude consists of a "head of Re" and the jackal-headed "neck of Re", which symbolize the sun god's creative power. Another indication of the order of the two sections is that darkness and the Place of Annihilation dominate section A, which has only two large sun disks containing ram-headed bas, whereas light plays a major role in section B, which is dominated by rays of light that emanate from disks, stars, or serpents. We really do not know if there were additional sections to the book.

Section A of the Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld

Section A of the Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld

The first two scenes in section A in the upper and lower register each display eight deities. Those in the upper register are in the "caverns of the Duat (?)" and reside in darkness, while those of the lower register are in the Place of Annihilation, though it seems that their ba-souls are able to accompany the sun god. Piankoff believes that these beings symbolize the different transformations undergone by the sun god while passing through the Netherworld. He appears to believe that those in the bottom register, which are split between two groups of four with the chests of the four in front having the shape of the scarab, a symbol of renewal, indicate that the process of transformation is complete. Section A is split at its central point by a huge figure that spans the entire height of the three registers, which John C. Darnell sees as a union of Re and Osiris. However, Piankoff, perhaps more correctly, sees it as the mummiform figure of the king, Tutankhamun. The figure is named "He who hides the Hours". Both the head and feet of this figure are surrounded by an ouroboros-serpent, that is designated as Mehen, the Enveloper. This is the earliest representation of the ouroboros that we know. It, along with the text, refers to the beginning (genesis) and the end of time. A rope upheld by seven adoring gods in the center register evidently serves to pull the disk from the body of the mummiform figure.

Section A Dominated by the mummy of Tutankhaman

After the central division of section A, there are three scenes arranged vertically. In the upper register, seven goddesses within their coffins gaze upon the rays of the sun and follow the sun god with their ba-souls, as their bodies remain in place. Depicted in the middle register are seven beings, turned in the opposite direction from those in the upper register, praising the solar ba and receiving the rays of his disk with raised arms. The lower register is flanked by two guardians, and its caption again refers to the Place of Annihilation. However, Re lights up this region "with his voice", so that its inhabitants may breathe. There is also a serpent, with the head of a human, that is coiled several times about two sarcophagi that contain the corpses of Osiris and Re. Here, a large oval containing hands has been read as "coffer".

Section A of the Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld

Section A of the Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld

In the second part of the composition referred to as section B, we find three registers that each contain three scenes. Here, Re is represented by means of sun disks in each scene, and even to each figure within the scenes, for the disks are usually connected to the figures by rays of light. This is a graphic representation of text referring to the light of Re that enters their bodies.

The Spitting Cobra and the six gods fronted by ba-birds in the upper register of section B

Both the upper and lower registers begin with a spitting cobra. Within the top most register, each of six gods is fronted by a ba-bird, and the god receives light from a star, though the first of these figures receives it directly from the initial cobra. According to the caption, this is the light of Re, which enters them.

After this, the second scene in the upper register begins with a cat. Next, there are seven headless figures. They are fronted by faces, however, in each case inserted between a star and a sun disk with rays. They are flooded with light from the rays of the sun disks above. Apparently, this scene refers to the separation and rejoining of the head and the body. In the final scene of the upper register, six gods each stands on a Mehen-serpent, which helps with his regeneration, aided by light from a disk in front of them.

The mummy with a serpent that springs from his feet

The caption of the beginning scene of the middle register mentions the ram-headed solar ba, and here, we find depicted a mummy that has turned itself over and is extending a hand to the solar ba. A serpent that is flooded by light springs from the feet of the mummy. After this, there are four beings with lion heads. We cannot see their arms, and from similar material in the sixth hour of the Book of Gates, we may conclude that they are carrying the corpse of the sun. The last scene in the middle register is almost identical to the second scene, though now with six lion-headed figures. In each of these scenes, light from a sun disk surmounting a pair of legs enters the mouths of all these beings.

At the beginning of the lower register of section B, the cobra spits light that in every case is received by a lion's head and, in turn, is emitted again by a cobra next to it. This light floods over six Osiris figures that, we are informed by the caption, are "clothed" with the light of Re, while their ba-souls follow them. Sail hieroglyphs that signify wind or breath in front of them indicate that the Osiris figures have been granted breath.

Light floods over the Osiris figures

The middle scene of the lower register starts out with a lion that, like the cat in the upper register, is rising out of the earth, which hides a serpent. Afterwards, there are six mummiform figures with ram heads, and the caption here indicates that the deceased king is the object of their attention. In the last scene we see six goddesses. Each of them receives light from a disk and in turn, lets it pour from their hands onto the head of a serpent named "Evil of Face". Though these goddesses carry the sun, represented as a star and disk, in their wombs, their names designate them as punishing beings. It should be remembered that Tutankhamun's reign followed that of the heretic king, Akhenaten, and the significant and striking role of light in the realm of the dead may stem from that king's theological realm.

Section B is terminated by the appearance a doubled sun disk with its ram-headed ba. Here, it is part of a symbolic summary of the daily course of the sun, which is kept in motion by four pairs of arms. At the very end of the scene, we find serpents, the heads of four negau-cattle, together with goddesses making a gesture of praise, an Osiris figure and an "arm of Re". Some scholars recognize all this as the end of the composition, though Darnell prefers to see it as a beginning, because of a very similar depiction on the ceiling of corridor G in the tomb of Ramesses VI.


Title Author Date Publisher Reference Number
Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife, The Hornung, Erik 1999 Cornell University Press ISBN 0-8014-3515-3
The Shrines of Tut-Ankh-Amon Plankoff, Alexandre 1962 Harper and Row
Life and Death of a Pharaoh: Tutankhamen Desrochnes-Noblecourt, Christiane 1963 New York Graphic Society