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Das altagyptische "Zweiwegebuch": Studien zu den Sargtextspriichen 1029-1130.

Das altagyptische "Zweiwegebuch": Studien zu den Sargtextspriichen 1029-1130. By BURKHARD BACKES. Agyptologische Abhandlungen, vol. 69. Wiesbaden: HARRASSOWITZ VERLAG, 2005. Pp. xiv + 466, illus. [euro]98.

A composition of texts and images transmitted mainly on the bottom of several Middle Kingdom coffins from the Middle Egyptian Necropolis at Bershe is nowadays widely known as the Book of Two Ways. It is certainly one of the more intensively studied parts of the so-called Coffin texts, treated in two modern monographs, of which one (L. Lesko, The Ancient Egyptian Book of Two Ways [Univ. of California Press, 1972]) focuses on translation problems, and the other (E. Hermsen, Die zwei Wege des Jenseits: Das altagyptische Zweiwegebuch und seine Topographie, OBO 112 [Freiburg/ Gottingen, 1991]) on funerary religion. In addition, several journal articles discuss the material. Still, this new publication compares favorably with all of them, being philologically more precise than Lesko's work and more in-depth concerning the content than that of Hermsen. Besides, it has an obviously new focus, namely textual criticism.

Using methods mainly developed by German Egyptologists from Tubingen, Backes tries to establish the relationship of the different manuscripts to each other, and thus to arrive at a stemma which helps to come as close as possible to the hypothetical original of the composition. This reconstructed text is presented in transliteration and translation and is the basis for the commentary on the content. Fairly extended sections explain which divergent readings are considered as simple errors and which merit a bit more consideration as possible elements of the original, even though the author has chosen in the end to reject them. The effect of this procedure on the form of the text is noticeable, since quite a few passages are singled out as later accretions and delegated to a marginal position in the book, not being relevant for Backes' analysis of the original intent of the composition. In a number of cases, Backes has also rearranged the sequence of the sections in comparison to the edition of the hieroglyphic text by de Buck. The new montage of the textual elements of CT spells 1120, 1122, and 1123 (pp. 113-14, 413-15) is a case in point. The changes make for a rather interesting reading and will doubtless spur renewed discussion. Backes' approach to the study of the original text also means that he deals exclusively with the longer version of the Book of Two Ways, totally disregarding the later abbreviated version edited as CT VII 1131-1185.

The choices for the text and the translation are generally convincing although the reviewer would have had different preferences in some cases. For example, it should be noted that CT VII 465b is more likely to be read as m (wi).kw "I being renewed" (as given also in Barguet's translation). In CT VII 454b, the reviewer would prefer to read 'w.t=f iptf/iptn "these/those his limbs." The word 'ft.t attested in CT VII 278c and 468e is unlikely to mean "netherworld," given its determinative (the book-scroll). An interpretation as feminine of the rare demonstrative pronoun 'ft.i might be preferable, thus giving "yonder snakes."

The main emphasis of the commentary is on the details. I would like to have seen a fuller general explanation of what the Book of Two Ways finally is about--the very short remarks on points of more global interest (pp. 431-38) hardly satisfy expectations and will be rated as a disappointment by all those who will read the book quickly to gather a concise overall perspective. Completely absent is a discussion of the chronology. Although some remarks (e.g., p. 13) show that Backes has looked at the archaeological dates of the individual coffins, he leaves it to the reader to do the job again if he wants to place them chronologically. Even more disturbing is a lack of discussion of the date of the composition as such. After all, a famous passage contained in it has often been considered to be an intellectual response to the chaos and disorder of the First Intermediate Period. However, the state of language evidenced by the text points, at least in the eyes of the reviewer, unmistakably to an early date, probably still in the Old Kingdom.

The biggest problem I have with the book and its conclusions is not at all specific to it, but is rather a deep-seated doubt about some basic assumptions which have become almost a form of secondary trained reflex among most Egyptologists, that is, a preoccupation with the funerary. Backes automatically speaks of the "deceased" when it comes to the speaker of the text, and "regeneration" creeps quite automatically into his analysis when it comes to the content and aims of the composition. Even at the risk of being iconoclastic, I beg to disagree.

One of the most obvious points is that there are none of the characteristic funerary wishes in the original composition of the text. Those that crept into it are normally easy to recognize as late additions (e.g., CT VII 301i, attested only in B(1C). Regeneration is not mentioned as a wish for the speaker; he desires it only for the benefit of the solar god in CT VII 1029d, while the supreme solar deity claims it for himself in CT VII 465b. Rather, what we have here is originally a living speaker moving around in a ritual landscape. The tendency of many coffins to change the text from the first to the third person is likely bound up with the problems of actually adapting it as a funerary text where a dead person is not able to speak any longer for himself (see Bibliotheca Orientalis 57 [2000]: 57-59).

While many scholars have termed the Book of Two Ways a netherworld guide, placing it into a series with compositions positively attested since the New Kingdom (e.g., the Amduat and the Book of Gates), dissent must again be voiced. The Book of Two Ways is not a netherworld guide in the sense that it describes cosmography, and any attempt to connect it with such texts evolutionarily (and thus to argue that the "classical" netherworld guides must be later because they are more developed) only creates confusion. Basically and originally, the Book of Two Ways is a composition indicating the speeches of someone who must face guards and obstacles on his way to a well-defined goal. The real netherworld guides are all third-person descriptions relating the interactions of the sun-god with the denizens of another world within a cyclical framework.

The really appropriate comparison of the Book of Two Ways is with the Book of the Dead, chapters 144/145 and 147, where the journey of a first-person speaker passing guards and obstacles is likewise shown. Indeed many of the guards' names are identical in both texts. BD 144/145 is likely originally to have been a text used by a living ritualist doing service in the temple for Osiris, and also for a deceased person different from the actual speaker, as evidenced by the postscript of BD 144. (A more detailed analysis would have to take into account the way important parts are adapted in the burial liturgy transmitted in pMetropolitan Museum 35.9.21, col. 1-17); and I would assume a similar use for the Book of Two Ways.

However, the Book of Two Ways is more complex than the later BD sections in that it shows two different possible ways for a certain passage, and even more so insofar as it has not a single goal, but rather two different ones. One of these is Osirian. While Backes speaks of three different Osiris tombs in the composition, it is obvious from what the texts really say that there is only one area that might be considered as such. The first supposed tomb of Osiris is the area associated with CT spell 1051 and 1052. The texts make it plain that this is rather a place for denizens of a religious landscape who provide Osiris with offerings, while the presence of Osiris himself or parts of his body is not indicated at all. The second area, associated with CT spell 1080 and 1081, is a bit more to the point. Here, it is clearly stated that this is a location where containers that have received the efflux of Osiris are stored. This is a feature best known from the embalming cachettes of human burials, where wastes and material once in contact with the dead body are ritually disposed. We know textually of such places for Osiris (e.g., from papyrus Jumilhac), but it would be quite inappropriate to call such a cachette a tomb of Osiris, given that no complete body is deposited there. If there is an actual tomb of Osiris in the text, it is the one associated with CT spell 1118-1124, where a figure made of earth seems to be kept--even though one might still quibble whether it is really a tomb, given that it is shown pictorially as a barque.

Besides this, there is the second goal, namely a solar region associated with the barque of the sun, or rather several barques. While the parallelization of solar and Osirian goals is reasonable, it also creates problems and fault lines in the text. For example, Seth, the enemy of Osiris, is shown in the prow of the solar barque without any sign of conflict (CT VII 458g). This might point to a secondary combination of two originally different strands into one composition, and such a development (as equally seen by Backes, pp.431f.) might also explain why several individual sections are later attested as parts of the Book of the Dead, but never again in the unified state evidenced by the Middle Kingdom coffins. Already in the Middle Kingdom, sections dealing with the guards are attested outside of the composition, for instance in coffins from Beni Hassan and on a tomb wall at Kom el Hisn.

Even though I have differing ideas for some crucial points of general interpretation, it should be stressed that the publication reviewed here is undoubtedly the best treatment of its subject to date.

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Author:Quack, Joachim Friedrich
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Oct 1, 2006
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