Text-building and Transmission of Pyramid Texts in the Third Millennium bce: Iteration, Objectification, and Change

In: Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions

The emergence of ancient Egyptian mortuary literature in the third millennium bce is the history of the adaptation of recitational materials to the materiality of different media. Upon a gradual development, the transformation of the oral discourse into writing began with the use of papyri for transcribing the guidelines of ritual performances as aide-mémoire, and culminated with the concealment of sacerdotal voices and deeds into the sealed-off crypt of king Wenis (ca. 2345 bce). The process of committing ritual and magical recitations into scriptio continua in the Pyramid Texts was subject to several stages of adaptation, detachability, and recentering. Investigating how the corpus emerged through the combination of recitations from different settings elucidates the transformation of oral written discourse into literary style, the traces of poetic and speech elements in the corpus, and its flexibility to disseminate and adapt to different mortuary practices, beliefs and contexts in the second millennia bce and beyond.

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  • 1

    Person 1998601.

  • 2

    Parry 1930. An important aspect of the transmission by oral composition-in-performance is that it did not imply the same techniques and values as memorization resulting in a larger degree of textual variation which might explain the heterogeneity of transmission mechanisms and venues.

  • 5

    Niditch 19969.

  • 6

    See also Niditch 20103–18where special emphasis is placed on the interplay of orality and literacy.

  • 9

    Altenmüller 1972278.

  • 11

    See Baines 200417–18who argues that oral performances accompanied rituals and when written down for first time around the late Second or Third Dynasty they were alluded in the form of fictionalized statements such as speeches of gods. In the same vein Strudwick 2005 1; Mathieu 2004 253; Allen 2001 97; Mathieu 1996 289; and Altenmüller 1984 20.

  • 14

    Hornung 19995; Barta 1981 71.

  • 16

    Barta 198166–69 (cf. Hays’ interpretation on the ramifications of Barta’s misinterpretation of the corpus as a kind of “treatise of beliefs” in Hays 2012 9–10).

  • 17

    See for example Hays 201280who points out that “prior to the innovation of inscriptional decoration in the tombs established sets of texts must have already existed within the body of literature from which the Pyramid Texts were drawn [. . .] Pyramid Texts were drawn from existing external rituals and collections of rites which had not been entirely canonized”.

  • 18

    I.a. Hays 2015217; Hays 2012 55–62; von Lieven 2012 249–267; and Wente 1982 161–179.

  • 20

    Mainly Oesterreicher 2005; 1998; and 1993.

  • 21

    Bauman and Briggs 1990.

  • 22

    Reintges 2011.

  • 23

    Baines 200416.

  • 25

    Hays 2006298: “After being inscribed in the tomb the role of a text was necessarily different. Sealed off from the eyes of any living priest it only represented the rite [. . .] Whereas the original efficacy of the text as ritual script included the vocalic dimension of its words being uttered by a priest after its inscription upon walls the efficacy of the text inhered to the hieroglyphs alone independently of any human voice or effort.”

  • 26

    See Oesterreicher 2005202–203; and Oesterreicher 1993 271–284. For the Pyramid Texts particularly see Hays 2015; and Reintges 2011 25–28.

  • 27

    Bauman and Briggs 199073 (in the quotation italics are the authors’ emphasis). For an example of the application of the entextualization phenomenon to explicit Pyramid Texts materials see Hays 2012 90–92 and 198–203 for a comprehensive explanation of the entextualization in the Pyramid Texts. As Greg Urban argues a given instance of a discourse is unique by virtue of its formal properties; the “transduction” or carrying over of parts of these formal attributes can help to discern the social and religious implications that in the case of the transmission of rituals and their texts such as the Pyramid Texts corpus were prominently preserved by a community (Urban 1996 21). For the alternative conceptualization as transcription into writing see n. 3.

  • 32

    See Oesterreicher 2005202–204; and Oesterreicher 1993 271–284. For the Egyptian materials specifically see Reintges 2011 28–31; and Assmann 2000 81–82. Again here one must distinguish between the approach of Baumann and Briggs which refers to the reification of oral materials into fixed ritual contents and the physical transfer of context from the oral-performative domain to the realm of writing and literature (Hays 2015 200).

  • 33

    Oesterreicher 199812; Oesterreicher 1993 273–275.

  • 34

    Reintges 201128. The interrelation between the second/third person and the “I” is in terms of linguistic universals treated by Emile Benveniste 1971 224–227. Here the transformation of “I” into a ritualist might still pose complicated interpretations such as the fact that ritualist and beneficiary might be the same person: Morales 2013 131 n. 352 following Willems 1998.

  • 35

    See Bakker 199929–47.

  • 37

    See Mercer 19565who refers to this phenomenon as both “recension” and “redaction”.

  • 39

    See Bauman and Briggs 199076–77 (i.e. “[t]o decontextualize and recontextualize a text is thus an act of control [. . .] legitimacy is one of being accorded the authority to appropriate a text such that your recentering of it counts as legitimate”).

  • 40

    Baines 200421. For the notion of transfer and its relationship with the transmission of religious texts mainly in scriptural form see Kahl 1996 11.

  • 42

    See Morales 201559fig. 4 for the rite qbḥw as present in the short ritual sequence attested in the Second Dynasty stela of Meru from Helwan (= Bankfield stela).

  • 43

    Smith 2013.

  • 44

    Smith 2013124–125.

  • 47

    Smith 20096–7 (referring to examples pt456 pt467 pt486 and pt571).

  • 48

    See for instance Mathieu 1996290figs. 2–3: pt23 (Pyr. §16a)w: Wsjr jṯ n=k msḏḏw nsw nbw mdw m rn=f ḏw has been modified to Wsjr jṯ n=k msḏḏw Wnjs nbw mdw m rn=f ḏw “Osiris take for yourself all those who hate the king/Wenis and anyone who speaks bad of his name”. In such cases the scribe skipped the non-explicit reference retaining the vague address to the beneficiary as extant in the original recitation on papyrus and leaving out any explicit reference to the king: n(j) kw mn nṯr pw “O whoever you belong to that god” (pt215 Pyr. §147a)w.

  • 49

    See Mathieu 1996292–293 (n. 18) and 311.

  • 50

    See Morales 2013.

  • 52

    Carr 2009292.

  • 53

    With exceptions such as Carr 2011who notes that the Ur-text would be impossible to reach or it never really existed.

  • 54

    Sanders 1979.

  • 55

    Carr 201137–48.

  • 56

    Carr 201117.

  • 57

    Morales 2015.

  • 58

    Sethe 1913126nn. 1–10 (pl. 63); and later in the same fashion Junker 1934 15 n. 1; and Firchow 1953 9.

  • 60

    See Hays 201281–92; Hays 2010a 127–130; and Smith 2009 8–9 in which the authors discuss the group of offering texts as a clear instance of Pyramid Text material pre-existing the corpus of Wenis. Unfortunately this is the only group that has been identified in the inscriptional repertoire predating Wenis.

  • 62

    Morales 201556fig. 1 table 1.

  • 65

    See Morales 201556fig. 2 table 2.

  • 66

    See Morales 201558fig. 3 table 3.

  • 69

    Tomb 2146 E: Hassan 1948fig. 15; and Quibell 1923 10 pls. 26–27.

  • 72

    Tomb G 2120false door west wall tablet: Manuelian 2009 fig. 7.68: mfa 06.1894.

  • 74

    Hays 2010a129–130; and Smith 2009 9.

  • 75

    Morales 2015.

  • 76

    For this tomb see Hassan 1944159–184n. 122; Junker 1938 50; and Junker 1934 85–96.

  • 77

    Hays 201286.

  • 79

    Morales 201563.

  • 80

    See Osing 1986132–136 (Gruppe A1: pt226–243; Gruppe A2: pt276–299); and Altenmüller 1984 20.

  • 81

    Following Hays 2012107–108and group K chart in 685. As indicated by Bernard Mathieu the second group in Wenis pt277–293 belongs to a larger set of apotropaic texts attested in other pyramids: pt276–299.

  • 82

    Ritner 2011ix. Although Ritner supports the original independence of particular series of the group (i.e. the anti-snake spells pt232–238 and pt281–287) as a proof for the embedment of earlier non-Egyptian material it might be the case that the distinction observed in these spells stemmed from the variegated Egyptian settings previous to the late Fifth Dynasty in which these materials were originally located. For the ‘Byblite’ origin of spells referring to “foreign snakes” that made it into Egypt „perhaps accompanying known timber shipments“ see idem xi; and Steiner 2011 8–14. Cf. the critical positions against this hypothesis in Bojowald 2012 236–242; and Breyer 2012 141–146. See further comments on the critical Egyptological positioning against this hypothesis in special by Thomas Schneider in Morales 2013 85 n. 224.

  • 88

    Hussein 2013278n. 14; and Topmann 2010 341–371.

  • 90

    Hays 200948fig. 1.

  • 91

    Hays 200647–54. However Hays 2015 217 opts for a non-magical function of the texts when he argues that “[t]hey became representations of ritual in their monumental environment rather than the instruments whereby rites were performed [. . .] ritual script had become a decontextualized expression of ritual something transformed into the visual medium of hieroglyphs.”

  • 92

    Carr 201165–72. Cf. Halverson 1992 301–317; Collins 1995 76–78; and Olson 1977 257–258 264.

  • 93

    Carr 20077.

  • 95

    Mathieu 201078.

  • 96

    Morales 201312.

  • 97

    Following Baines 200426–30.

  • 103

    Reintges 201136.

  • 105

    Sethe 1935212comments that some of these recitations such as pt236 (Pyr. §240) included “zunächst unverständliche Zauberworte die in ihrem hj.tj bj.tj schon äusserlich an unser Hokus-pokus erinnern”.

  • 106

    Steiner 20112377 and passim.

  • 107

    Steiner 201126nn. 4–6.

  • 109

    See Reintges 201116–18 (ex. 9: analysis of pt263); Kammerzell 2000 193; and Firchow 1953 217–220.

  • 110

    See the phenomenon discussed in Firchow 195312–20.

  • 111

    Cf. Rendsburg 200016n. 15 in which the author discusses the parallel issue of using red ink in manuscripts in order to mark a section for a pause in the same tone as scribes did with the system of setuma and petuḥa in Biblical manuscripts. In this case the use of epithets in oral-compositional styled texts might correspond to the same demand by the reciter who might need a short hiatus before continuing with the recitation.

  • 114

    Hays 2010a118–120; Wilson 1944 210.

  • 115

    Hays 2010a123; Hays 2010b 1; Altenmüller 1972 52 (mainly for the later transmission and usage of the Pyramid Texts in the Middle Kingdom private domain); and Wilson 1944 209–210.

  • 116

    Allen 2006b9.

  • 119

    Smith 20096–7.

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