Book of the Dead of Her-weben-khet
Her-weben-khet also known as Herytubekhet or Heruben, the Chantress of Amun, was daughter of Isetemkheb D, wife of the High Priest of Amun, Pinedjem II, and granddaughter of the High Priest of Amun, Menkheperra.
This papyrus is intended to be a part of her own abbreviated version of the Book of the Dead. It contains a set of spells to guide her through the underworld. It was written to be read from right to left, visually and textually. The papyrus shows the deceased with the deities in several scenes. In one, she presents offerings to Ptah-Sokar in his form as Osiris. In another she is purified by Re-Horakhty and Thoth.
Sokar is a deity which is mainly recalled for his distinctly funerary connotations. In fact he was originally, together with the god Ptah, patron of craftsmen, particularly blacksmiths. It was only at the end of the Old Kingdom that his range of action shifted, besides Memphis, to the burial places of the dead, i.e. to the city necropolises and more generally to the deserts.
Sokar could be depicted in different ways; however, his main appearance linked him mainly to the falcon: he is depicted as a falcon-headed man seated on a throne or standing, usually mummiform.
One scene shows her greeting the new sun of the morning, accompanied by a baboon, the animal most associated with the rising sun. The god Harpocrates or Horus the Child depicted within the sun disc, resting upon the Aker lions and surrounded by an Ouroboros.
Another scene shows her prostrates herself before the god Geb in the form of a crocodile and drinks from the waters that will unite her with the gods and assure safe passage to the afterlife.
Her-weben-khet is also shown in the Field of Blessing, sowing seed and gathering the harvest. In all these scenes, the deceased is wearing a white gown and a wig. The strongly built shape of the body of the deceased exemplifies a new image for the female figure in this period. It contrasts with the slender images that were in vogue earlier.
“From the 18th Dynasty until the 22nd Dynasty, the title chantress (Smayt) became the most popular religious title for women… Chantresses of Amun were the most common priestesses, because Amun had been elevated to a state god during the early 18th Dynasty, and his cult was widespread and powerful. Chantresses could, however, serve many deities and institutions.
The title chantress was very rarely used in the late Middle Kingdom, but during the reign of Hatshepsut in the middle of the 18th Dynasty many elite women began to use it, recording the title on their monuments and in the tombs of the Theban necropolis.
By the reign of Ramesses II, the title was held by women of middle-class status as well. This popularity continued into the Third Intermediate Period, particularly in the Theban area. The title chantress of Amun was so ubiquitous in Thebes that it has been noted nearly every woman in Thebes held the title.
While that is exaggerated, it does reflect a definite increase in the number of women who wanted to affiliate themselves with the cult of Amun. Given the power of the Amun priesthood in the New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period, it is not surprising and follows the general trend of women being associated with the most powerful and popular cults of their eras.”
— Women in Antiquity: Real Women Across the Ancient World, by Stephanie Lynn Budin, Jean Macintosh Turfa (#aff)
A Brief History of the Book of the Dead. According to scholar Erik Hornung:
“The Book of the Dead is the designation of a group of mortuary spells, written mostly on papyrus, from the New Kingdom, the Third Intermediate Period…Early examples of spells from the Book of the Dead are found on mummy cloths and coffins of the early New Kingdom, and somewhat later, they appear on papyri and on the walls of certain tomb chambers” p. 13.
The earliest version of the Book of the Dead was actually the Pyramid Texts, but the most widely accepted corpus by modern scholars comes mostly from texts in the New Kingdom. There is good reason for this:
“The Book of the Dead started to appear on the walls of royal tombs in the reign of Merneptah, beginning with spell 125, which deals with the judgment of the Dead; though it was supplemented by other texts in the royal tombs of Dynasty 20, the spell nevertheless remained the most important one” p. 13.
So, we see that the Judgement Scene continues to be the most important aspect of the texts. Continuing with Hornung, we see that the Book and its spells sometimes were not considered as important, but came back into use:
“After Dynasty 22, Books of the Dead fell into disuse for a time, but Dynasty 26 saw a revival of their employment, along with new spells and a canonization of their order. The spells also reappeared on tomb walls and coffins at this time and, beginning with Dynasty 30, on mummy bandages” p14.
The clearer incorporation on the Coffin Texts helped with the revival of the Book of the Dead, as we read: “…[with] a continuation of the Coffin Texts, this collection of spells was available to everyone, and it was in widespread use among royal officials and members of their families.” p. 14.
In more modern times there have been efforts by scholars to translate the Book of the Dead, first to German then English:
“In 1874, the publication of a complete edition was decided on at the Second Congress of Orientalists in London, and the project was placed in the hands of Edouard Naville of Geneva” p. 15.
However, because of the sheer volume of work, Naville stuck to what was in use in the New Kingdom. But effort was made by others tom make a more complete version, as we read:
“W. Willem Pleyte published additional spells from manuscripts of the Late Period in 1881, continuing, as did Naville, to use the numbering of spells introduced by Lepsius, with the result that spells 166 to 174 coincide” p. 15.
Hornung also speaks of attempts to force a correlation between the Tibetan Book of the Dead, but the doctrines were incompatible. Attempts continue, as they should, to find a better understanding of the Book of the Dead, as Hornung concludes this chapter,
“Once viewed as the Bible of the ancient Egyptians, the Book of the Dead lost a great deal of its interest to scholars with the discovery of the Pyramid Texts, though it continues to exercise great influence as witness to an esoteric Egypt” p.16.
Trans. by David Roscoe “Exploring the Beyond” in “The Quest for Immortality – Treasures of Ancient Egypt” Editors Office, National Gallery of Art, London. 2002
Third Intermediate Period, 21st Dynasty, ca. 1069-945 BC. Length 198 cm, height 23.5 cm. Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. SR 19325