A Stranger in the Land of Egypt

The oldest book in Firestone Library is now online. Pharaonic Roll no. 5 is an ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, dating from the New Kingdom, probably near the end of the 18th Dynasty (1550/1292 BC) or beginning of the 19th Dynasty (1292/1189 BCE). This papyrus roll is part of the Manuscripts Division’s extensive Garrett Collection, the gift of Robert Garrett (1875-1961), Class of 1897, one of the Library’s greatest collectors and benefactors. The roll contains more than two dozen spells, many fragmentary, written in black and red ink in a fine Hieroglyphic script, reading from left to right in columns, with a total length of nearly twenty linear feet and polychrome vignettes for several of the Transformation Spells, by means of which the mummy could assume other physical forms in the afterlife. Below is a vignette of a swallow perched on the mummy, lying down (spell no. 86). Other vignettes include birds and hybrid creatures atop mummies: a Gold Horus bird that resembles a falcon (no. 77); a thick-necked blue heron (no. 84); and a Ba-Bird with a human face (no. 85).

Click to view Pharaonic Roll no. 5 in the Digital Princeton University Library (DPUL); click again on Contents and then Index to see all images; and click on individual images to navigate and magnify details.

This Book of the Dead has been the focus of scholarly interest since it was unrolled and mounted in the Library’s Preservation Office nearly two decades ago as part of the APIS (Advanced Papyrological Information System) Consortium Project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Don C. Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts, directed the APIS project at Princeton, and Ted Stanley, Paper Conservator, was in charge of papyri conservation. The consulting Egyptologist for Princeton was Leonard H. Lesko, Charles Edwin Wilbour Professor of Egyptology at Brown University. His brief descriptions of Hieroglyphic and Hieratic papyri can be found in the Descriptive Inventory of the Princeton University Collections, accessible through the Princeton University Library Papyrus HomePage. Lesko was surprised to discover that the name of the mummy in roll 5 was Semitic rather than Egyptian. Subsequent academic interest by Egyptologists has focused on this name, as well as ususual aspects of the roll’s text and vignettes.

Barbara Lüscher, University of Basel, discovered some unusual details of the textual recension and images, which had been prepared in advance by professional scribes and artists in an Egyptian workshop specializing in funerary rolls. The workshop left blank space for the deceased’s name to be added later. Lüscher identified the name inserted in the roll as a man called Jtwnjr’yh, who she described as an “acculturated foreigner of Semitic (Asiatic) origin,” perhaps living in or near the ancient city of Memphis, in Lower Egypt. This area, about fifteen miles south of the city of Cairo, was known to attract many foreigners. Meanwhile, Thomas Schneider, University of British Columbia, identified the deceased’s name as a Northwest Semitic theophoric sentence (that is, including a divine name), written in Hieroglyphics. The term Northwest Semitic refers languages of the Levant, such as the Canaanite and Aramaic dialects, as well as Ugaritic. Schneider transliterated the name as ‘adōnī-rō’ē-yāh (meaning “My lord is the shepherd of Yah”) and argued that this personal name is the oldest known historical reference to the god Yahweh as a shepherd of the region called Yah.

There had been earlier New Kingdom toponymic references to Yah, a mountainous area in the Kingdom of Edom (southern Jordan), during the reigns of Pharaohs Amenophis III (1417-1379 BCE) and Ramses II (1279–1213 BCE). But roll 5 offers the earliest evidence of a particular divinity (Yahweh) being associated with that Edomite area. Of course, Yahweh is familiar to us from the Hebrew Bible as the name of God, also rendered as the ineffable four-letter Tetragrammaton (יהוה‬ in Hebrew and YHWH in Latin script). We can infer that the deceased man was an acculturated foreigner, perhaps Caananite, who was prosperous enough, either personally or through his family, to receive a traditional Egyptian burial with a professionally produced Book of the Dead, filled with religious and magical text and colorful images to help guide and protect him in the Netherworld. Indeed, the papyrus roll did guarantee the mummy a measure of immortality, though in a way that he never could have imagined.

For in-depth reading about Pharaonic Roll no. 5, see Barbara Lüscher, Der Totenbuch–Papyrus Princeton Pharaonic Roll 5: Mit einem Beitrag von Thomas Schneider, Beiträge zum Alten Ägypten, vol. 2 (Basel: Orientverlag, 2008), 57 pp., 18 color plates; Barbara Lüscher, “Princeton Pharaonic Roll 5: An Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead for an Asiatic,” Princeton University Library Chronicle, vol. 71, no. 3 (2010), pp. 458–60; and Thomas Schneider, “The First Documented Occurence of the God Yahweh? (Book of the Dead, Princeton ‘Roll 5’),” Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions, vol. 7, no. 2 (2007), pp. 113–20. In addition to Pharaonic Roll no. 5, two other rolls (nos. 4, 10) have been studied in monographs; and the Princeton University Library has digitized four rolls for study (nos. 1, 2, 7, 8). See blog posts from 2014 and 2017.

Swallow and Mummy, Pharaonic Roll no. 5