Religion and politics being inseparable, some sections of the religious literature could be interpreted in a political light. The Egyptian Pyramid Texts are a compendium of writings inscribed on the tomb walls of the Pyramid of Unas, the last pharaoh of the 5th dynasty, and also on those of four of his successors of the 6th dynasty. The oldest and least corrupt of the religious writings of ancient Egypt, known to be derived from even older originals, they were modified, enlarged versions of early mythology, religious hymns and oral tradition. They contain some 715 verses or ‘utterances’. Some are spoken by the king (in announcing himself to the gods of heaven). Others are spoken by the priests (especially those involving mortuary spells and the resurrection texts which form a large body of the literature).
A section itemises offerings of food, drink, clothing, perfume and other items for the hereafter. The main theme of the Egyptian Pyramid Texts is the raising of the dead pharaoh to take his place among the gods of heaven. They have sometimes been called a magical bulwark against death, the implication being that, since they were written in tombs, they served no other purpose than magically to assist the deceased pharaoh to heaven. This is not so. They were undoubtedly preached by the priests not only during the burial of the pharaoh but on other occasions as well.
It should be emphasised that the ancient Egyptians recorded in their tombs aspects of their lives on earth that they wished to repeat in the afterlife. In Chapters 5 and 6 we see how a nobleman who possessed estates, servants and a loving family recorded all in his tomb. He also registered his titles, honours and duties, in the belief that by so doing he would enjoy the same eternally. The pharaoh, although recognised as divine, and however unapproachable he may have appeared to the people of ancient Egypt, was a mere mortal. When he died he too, it was believed, would rise and live again to repeat his experience on earth.
It will be remembered that during the Heb-Sed Festival there was a re-enactment of the coronation when the various gods of Upper and Lower Egypt gave their consent to the renewal of kingship and accepted the Egyptian God-king as one who had greater power than their local deity. The Pyramid Texts clearly confirm this:
Behold, the king is at the head of the gods and is provided as a god ... the ancient Egyptian gods do obeisance when meeting the king just as the gods do obeisance when meeting the rising of Ra when he ascends from the horizon.
An incentive to attend the Heb-Sed Festival was the bestowing of gifts on the different priesthoods. In the Egyptian Pyramid Texts the phrase ‘a boon which the king gives’ is repeated in many utterances. Some are more explicit:
" all you gods who shall cause this pyramid and this construction of the king to be fair and endure; you shall be effective, you shall be strong, you shall have souls, you shall have power, you shall be given ... bread and beer, oxen and fowl, clothing and alabaster . . . (U. 599)
As some of the utterances confirm political realities, let us view others, not as mortuary spells for the afterlife, but as records of what actually took place.
How They Organised Their World The utterance declaring that the gods (ie the local priests) should obey the pharaoh is most precise:
It is I who restored you,
It is I who built you up,
It is I who set you in order,
And you shall do for me everything which I say to you,
Wherever I go .. . (U. 587)
The implication that the gods who obeyed would be strong, effective and powerful (U. 599) is offset by the warning:
If I be cursed, then will Atum be cursed;
If I be reviled, then will Atum be reviled;
If I be smitten, then will Atum be smitten;
If I am hindered on this road, then will Atum be hindered,
For I am Horus,
I have come following my father.
I have come following Osiris. (U. 310)
Did the Egyptian pharaoh similarly warn the priests on his journeys throughout the land? And if reviled, what then? The texts state that the risen pharaoh joined the other gods in heaven, ‘that he may destroy (their) power and confer (their) powers, (U. 318). And ‘worship him . . . whom he wishes to live will live. Whom he wishes to die will die.’ (U. 217)
Was this a warning against extinction? According to Herodotus, Khufu (who restored the temple of Hathor, embellished one at Bubastis and consecrated precious ornaments to that of Selket) closed down the temples in the land in order to recruit slave labour to raise his monumental tomb. The Westcar Papyrus, a document relating events in the Egyptian Old Kingdom, confirms that he did indeed order the closing down of at least one temple. A local deity without a temple would be absorbed by a neighbouring deity (who would acquire its chief characteristics and adopt some of its regalia or emblems), but its priests would cease to be effective. The sons of local priests appear to have succeeded their fathers in their calling, generation after
The Ancient Egyptians generation, until they formed a sacerdotal nobility in each province. The possibility of being deprived of their means of livelihood, their Egyptian temple, was too terrible to contemplate. In this context the following verse, spoken by the priests, is particularly relevant:
0 King, may your soul stand among the gods and among the spirits, for it is fear of you which is on their hearts. 0 King, succeed to your throne at the head of the living, for it is dread of you which is in their hearts. (U. 422)
Here, finally, we have textual endorsement that the Egyptian God- king, who symbolised the collective power of the local gods for ‘he has swallowed the intelligence of every god. Lo, their souls are in the king’s belly, their spirits are in the king’s possession . . .’ (U. 273/4) had complete control over them by instilling a sense of dread in the hearts of the local priests.
Many of the utterances were repeated time and again in different contexts, sometimes with only slight variation in meaning. The phrase ‘Recite the words’ also preceded some of the utterances and is sure indication of their purpose. They were current dogma. Through the power of repetition the people believed. Egyptian The texts were recited not only on the day of burial but on other occasions as well, particularly during feasts in various parts of the country. It is clear that the priests who ordered their inscription had long circulated and preached their content.
The Heliopolis priests were not a dogmatic body of thinkers. They had formulated the first state religion, not by banner headlines announcing the supremacy of the Sun-god, but by carefully assessing the potential up and down the Egyptian Nile valley, by delving into tradition and folklore and by trading on the popularity of sun worship. Well aware of the superstitions of the people, they subtly appropriated the popular .beliefs of the different areas and modified them into a coherent tale. They undermined beliefs they considered irrelevant by denouncing them as enemies of the Sun-god, and embellished what they regarded pertinent. They superimposed the different interpretations of sun worship, one upon the other, like transparencies through which earlier and differing ideas could be discerned. Their doctrine was completely in the spirit of tradition.
In the Egyptian Pyramid Texts only On (Heliopolis) is mentioned. Atum-Ra the Sun-god presides over the Great Ennead (U. 601). Ptah, the god of Memphis, is significant for his absence. The Heliopolis priests satisfied in one massive literary creation the paradoxical nature and solar beliefs; the single overwhelming theme that emerged was that in death the resurrected pharaoh became Osiris while his throne on earth was taken over by his son Horus; and that Horus, the God-king, who restored and built the settlements, had the authority both to destroy and to confer power.
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