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A: Giza Governorate, Egypt

The Pyramid Texts: The Oldest Known Religious Texts

Circa 2400 to 2300 BCE
Plate 69 from Alexandre Piankoff's 'The Pyramid of Unas'

Western Gable of the Sarcophagus Chamber. Plate 69 from Alexandre Piankoff's 'The Pyramid of Unas' 


 A collection of ancient Egyptian religious texts inscribed within royal tombs from the time of the Old Kingdom, the Pyramid Texts are the oldest known religious texts. Written in Old Egyptian, they were carved on the walls and sarcophagi of the pyramids at Saqqara (Sakkara, Saqqarah; Arabic: سقا ) during the 5th and 6th Dynasties of the Old Kingdom.

The Pyramid Texts provide the earliest comprehensive view of the way in which the ancient Egyptians understood the structure of the universe, the role of the gods, and the fate of human beings after death. Their importance lies in their antiquity and in their endurance throughout the entire intellectual history of ancient Egypt. In the Middle Kingdom, many texts were borrowed from the pyramid chambers and mingled with new spells; this new form, called Coffin Texts, were usually written inside coffins. These eventually gave way to what we now know as the Book of the Dead.

"The oldest of the texts date to between 2400-2300 BCE. Unlike the Coffin Texts and Book of the Dead into which parts of the pyramid texts later evolved, the pyramid texts were reserved only for the pharaoh and were not illustrated. The pyramid texts mark the first written mention of the god Osiris, who would become the most important deity associated with afterlife.

"The spells, or "utterances", of the pyramid texts are primarily concerned with protecting the pharaoh's remains, reanimating his body after death, and helping him ascend to the heavens, which are the emphasis of the afterlife during the Old Kingdom. The spells delineate all of the ways the pharaoh could travel, including the use of ramps, stairs, ladders, and most importantly flying. The spells could also be used to call the gods to help, even threatening them if they did not comply" (Wikipedia article on Pyramid Texts, accessed 01-20-2009).

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