The Book of the Amduat

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The Book of the Amduat was called by the Egyptians ‘The Book of the Secret Chamber’ and was a knowledge oriented book.  Additionally, it is the first completely illustrated book with the text and pictures making up a unity and is the earliest of these ‘books’ to be seen in the New Kingdom tombs.  There is constant reference by the text to the accompanying pictures.   It describes the journey of the sun god through the twelve hours of the night, from his setting to his rising, as does the Book of Gates.  The sun god travels in a barque attended by divinities who personify his attributes and scenes of a similar nature are found in both compositions.  The modern name of Amduat (that which is in the Duat) derives from the Egyptian name for all the books of the Netherworld.  Each hour except the first has a heading that describes the events that occur in that hour along with notations that concern its usefulness and orientation.  The text gives the name of the hour, its gateway and its netherworld region which serves as a distinction between one hour and the next.  The first three hours have long concluding texts which are absent from the hours following.

        The book starts off with the entry of the sun god as a ram headed ba (soul), into the first hour of the night, along with his following of several gods, and ends with his rebirth in the morning.  This is acco
mplished after a uniting with his corpse in the middle of the journey in the sixth hour and defeating of the serpent Apopis in the seventh.      The  entire  composition  contains  a  series  of symbols


Barque from Amduat, Tomb of Amenhotep II


that pertain to the various stages of birth and a new becoming as the beetle Khepri.  Additionally, the number of crew members and the aspect of the barque change in almost every division.  The crew is usually composed of Wepwawet (Opener of the Ways), Sia (Mind), Nbt-Wia (Mistress of the Barque), Hru-Hknw (Horus the Praiser), Ka-Maat (Bull of Truth), Nbs (Watchful One), Hw (Divine word, Will), and Khrp-Wia (Guide of the Barque).  Isis and Nephthys can also be seen as serpents in the prow of the craft on occasion. 

The first hour lays out the basis for the ordering of the underworld wherein the sun descends.  The solar baboons and the hour goddesses along with all the various deities seen, rejoice at the appearance of the sun.  The goddess Maat can be seen twice directly in front of the barque and will appear again at the beginning of the second hour.  Justice and order are at work even here in the underworld.  Another barque shows the beetle (morning form of the sun god), being worshiped and praised by Osiris, who is his nocturnal form.  This scene already alludes to a successful conclusion of his journey.  The netherworld itself is referred to as the Great City in the text, due to its large number of inhabitants.  The gateway is appropriately named ‘Swallower of All’ as this world contains all that has ever existed.

What is perhaps the most important moment is seen in the fifth hour of the book.  In the preceding fourth hour, we notice that the barque has turned into a serpent and is now being towed across the sand.  The fifth hour is the deepest part of the underworld and the serpent’s task is to spit fire to illuminate the inky darkness through which the sun god is passing.  This is the ‘Land of Sokar’, a desolate place teeming with snakes, whose unnatural movements are highlight
ed by legs and wings on their bodies.  Here the barque needs to be towed.  In the fifth hour, we see a difference highlighted by the intersection of the registers.  This hour is representative  of the West,


5th Hour of Amduat, Cave of Sokar, Tomb of Tutmose III


and shows all the elements of the land of the dead.  The two birds on the hill are Isis and Nephthys with the hill itself the grave of Osiris.  From the bottom of this hill we can see the rejuvenated sun emerging in the form of the beetle that holds the tow rope and helps pull the barque along.  The sun is now forced to proceed through a narrow gap in the middle of the hour, and additional help is needed on the ropes.  We now see seven males and seven females pulling the barque in place of the four in the previous hour.  The oval at the bottom is the cavern of Sokar and this rests upon the shoulders of the earth god Aker.  It is here where the mysterious nightly union of the sun god and Osiris takes place and the sun god first returns to awakening life.

In the sixth hour the sun reaches the safety of the waters of Nun, the primeval waters.  The sun god meets here with his ba as Re and Osiris unite.  The idea of resurrection is emphasized by the semi-upright positions of the deities seen in the upper and lower registers.  The kings of Upper and Lower Egypt are seen and identified by the crowns, crooks and uraei.  In the seventh hour the serpent Apopis, who attempts to impede the way of the barque, is seen being dismembered and restrained by Isis and Seth.  Additionally, the sun now has the protection of the Mehen-serpent (the Great Encircler) with Osiris seen in the top register also protected by a Mehen-serpent.  Here Osiris views the beheading of his enemies by a deity with a cat’s head. 

      The tenth hour shows us again the beetle with his pellet which symbolizes the birth of Khepri.  In the
twelfth hour the beetle is now seen at the head of the solar barque and finally shown pushing the solar disk through the sand of the Eastern Mountain.  Moving along with the major stages of  formation of the new  becoming as seen by


12th Hour of Amduat, Tomb of Amenhotep II


the beetle, there are other symbolic ideas used to illustrate the rebirth process of the new and ‘ever-becoming’ sun god.  In the final stage of the actual birth, the sun god in his barque enter through the tail of a long serpent (seen in the twelfth hour), and the old ‘flesh’ form of the god is abandoned.  This serpent is actually the means of final rebirth and return to youthful form and so may be called ‘time snake’, as it serves to reverse the process of ageing.  The snake fulfills this role in many societies due to the fact that it sheds its skin, and thereby gives the impression of rebirth or a new becoming.  In the shape of the beetle, the new sun comes out of the serpent’s mouth.  The sun is thus born again for the benefit of the earth’s inhabitants.  In the lower corner of the scene we can see the discarded mummiform body of the sun god which is now no longer necessary.

The Book of the Amduat thus describes in symbolic form the process of birth out of death with the stress laid upon the formation of Khepri, the ‘Becoming One’, who brings the solar disk into the world.                                                                                                                             >>>