In the previous blog entry we told a story about a literary treasure of Americas – the Popol Vuh. Even today this famous manuscript presents a significant part in the belief system of many Quiche and Mayan people of Central America. They continue to blend Christian and indigenous beliefs. This sacred Book of Natives Americans spread far beyond our continent: it has been translated and published in English, Hungarian, Estonian Spanish and other languages.
Up to our days archeologists continue to discover classic Maya pottery shows some of the main characters of the Popol Vuh as the Hero Twins and the Howler Monkey Gods. There are different versions of the story that continue to influence modern Maya as folk legends. Anthropologists recorded many of them and noted that some stories preserve portions of the ancient tales even in greater detail than the book itself.
The Newberry Library in Chicago contains the single most important piece of Mesoamerican literature called Popol Vuh. The significance of the Popol Vuh is immense since it is one of a small number of early Mesoamerican mythological texts. It is a book created in the Classical Quiché language containing mythological narratives and a genealogy of the rulers of the old the Quiché kingdom of highland Guatemala. The original manuscript of the Popol Vuh written about 1550 has been lost to us. Luckily, a Spanish monk kept a handwritten copy in the early 18th century which survived and reached us.
The Popol Vuh is based on an original Maya codex written in the Mayan hieroglyphic script. It contains a creation myth followed by mythological stories of two Hero Twins: Hunahpu and Xbalanque. The second part of the book deals with details of the foundation and history of the Quiché kingdom, tying in the royal family with the legendary gods in order to assert rule by divine right.
Lindisfarne Gospels is a priceless illuminated manuscript that was created in the early 700s. It is an illustrated Latin copy of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We know the name of the manuscript creator. His name was Eardfrith, he was a monk whobecame Bishop of Lindisfarne in 698 and died in 721.
Between 1947 and 1956 almost 900 ancient documents were discovered in the eleven caves new the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. With a small exception of some papyrus documents, most of the manuscripts were written on parchment in three languages: Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. The manuscripts named by scientists the Dead Sea Scrolls, became the greatest manuscript discovery of all modern times.
In 1898 French egyptologist Victor Loret made an invaluable discovery in the Valley of the Kings. He found the remains of the ancient mausoleum and the tomb of the pharaoh Thutmose III and his vizier Useramun. Loret found complete funerary texts that were reserved only for the pharaohs and the highest nobility. For example, the vestibule of Thumose’s tomb was ornamented with the full ancient story of the Book of Amduat. And two pillars in the middle of the burial chamber contained another important Egyptian reference document called ”Book of Praying to Ra in the West, Praying to the United One in the West”. It was later abbreviated by scientists to the name “Litany of Ra”.
Throughout the years archeologists found Litany of Ra in the entrance of most royal tombs starting from the time of Seti I who like Thutmose III belonged to the 18th Dynasty. They all with the exception of rebellious pharaoh Akhenaten worshipped the solar cult of Ra.
The whole funerary text of the Litany of Ra consists of two parts, obviously written in different times. The first part of the Litany invokes the sun god Ra in no less than seventy five various forms. And the second part of the composition serves as the funerary reference for the soul of the deceased pharaoh. In this series of prayers the soul unties with parts of nature and gods, including Ra. The pharaoh is praised for his successful end of the journey in the underworld and his union with the sun god Ra.
Among funerary pieces of literature found by archeologists in the Valley of the Kings there is an ancient funeral text called Amduat. Specialists discovered many excerpts of it in the tombs of New Kingdom pharaohs. Until they found the complete ancient document in the tomb of Thutmose 3 in the Valley of the Kings.
For many centuries this ancient manuscript was reserved exclusively for pharaohs only. The story in Amduat follows the journey of the Egyptian sun god Ra, who travels through the underworld, from sunset till dawn. After his death, says the text, pharaoh is taking this same journey. And in the end of it dead pharaoh becomes one with Ra and live forever.
Amduat tells us in details about gods and monsters of the underworld. Some of them are allies of the pharaoh and some are great enemies. In order to achieve his objective and become one with Ra, dead pharaoh must know the names of all good and evil in the underworld which is divided into twelve hours of the night.
So, this is when the Amduat comes handy as a reference for the pharaoh: it names all of these gods and monsters. With the help of Amduat he can call upon them for help or use their name to defeat them.
One of the sacred funerary texts found in the tombs and pyramids along with the Book of the Dead is the famous Book of Gates. Overall, this secret and mysterious manuscipt appears in the times of the New Kingdom, somewhere between 16th and 11th centuries B.C. Book of Gates is accompanying the Book of the Dead which facilitates the passage of a newly deceased into the next world. It is also most famous for depiction of the human races. In fact, Book of Gates tells us what races are known to ancient Egyptians. They are presented as four men entering the next world and names them as Syrians, Nubians, Lybians and Egyptians races.
There are some mysterious texts in Book of Gates that we still don’t fully understand. In the Book of Gates a deceased soul is guided to follow the journey of the sun through the underworld during the night. The text explains that at different stages of the journey the soul must pass through a series of gates. Book of Gates tells us that each gate is guarded by a different goddess and that a soul has to recognize her and act according to the character of that goddess. If the soul does what it is supposed to do then it will pass unharmed. It it makes mistakes then it will wind up in a lake of fire and face eternal torment.
All goddesses have different titles and clothes but they all wear a five pointed star above their heads. The appearance of these goddesses is astounding and up to this day remains a mystery. They are not mentioned in any other texts of Egyptian mythology. They are completely unique as they are not depicted anywhere else in Egypt, except in the Book of Gates.
Another mystery that still bothers scientists is of another origin. Although Book of Gates was reserved only for pharaohs and aristocrats, archeologists found it in the tomb of a common man named Sennedjem. He was an ordinary worker in the ancient village of artists and craftsmen who built pharonic tombs in the New Kingdom.
The invasion of conquistadors to America resulted in almost total destroyal of documents and manuscripts of Mesoamerican rituals and life. One of a little few that survived the ordeal is located in the Apostolic Library of Vatican. Specialists call this famous manuscript Codex Borgia - it consists of 39 sheets of made of the animal skin. All sheets except one are painted on both sides. Up to this day Codex Borgia remains an enigma: nobody knows its origin, although many believe that it came from someplace on the territory of the modern Mexican state Puebla.
The dsicovery of the manuscript is interesting story by itself. It seems that the document was brought from America to Italy during early Spanish colonial period. The last owner of the manuscript was Italian cardinal Stefano Borgia (which explains the name of the codex). Borgia was a well-known theologian, antiquarian, and historian of the 18th century. When he died in 1804 he left the treasure of invaluable artifacts that he collected throughout his life. Alexander von Humboldt, extraordinary German naturalist and explorer, due to his greatness was allowed by Vatican to organize the artifacts in 1805. This is where Alexander discovered the enigmatic document and realized its importance, as he traveled so many times to America with research expeditions.
Even now specialists can not claim that they decoded every piece of the codex correctly because nobody can understand the ways of ancient Aztec priests. Thus, the largest part of the great manuscript contains the whole story with rituals, ball games and historical events that are not decoded. And up to this day the longest sequence in the document remains a mystery.
It seems that everything Google has instant first love attraction. Sometimes we even see things that don’t exist because of that kind of trust we have in the number 1 search engine company. I am talking about the recent “discovery” of Atlantis.
It all started when some Big Foot believer from United Kingdom was spending too much time on Google Earth. Mind you, the guy, whose name is Bernie Bamford, is an aeronautical engineer. While browsing the wondrous software, that recently added above and below ocean views, he observed a grid of lines near the coast of West Africa.
What would you do next? Probably, nothing. Well, Bernie called tabloid Sun paper and proclaimed that he just discovered lost Atlantis! Why, Atlantis? Because wise Plato mentioned its location somewhere nearby a couple of thousand years ago.
A number of other newspapers kept printing articles left and right about the discovery. Even after Google stated that the lines Bernie had seen, represented sonar data collected from boats. That lade to a new salvo of articles hinting that Google “hides” something from general public.
You just can’t please them all. Say no to Lemuria searchers, and you immediately have to deal with the fans of conspiracy theories. Why would Google hide Atlantis? After all, thanks to Google Earth, experts already discovered pristine forest in Mozambique and an ancient Roman villa.
In the middle of 19th century European learned about very complex and sophisticated concept of afterlife that existed in ancient Egypt. In 1842 when German Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius published the selection of texts that included Egyptian collection of funeral hymns, spells, and instructions to allow the deceased to pass through obstacles in the afterlife. The book became an instant bestseller and part of its fame belongs to the title that Lepsius gave to the selected manuscripts. He simply called them – “The Book of the Dead”, deriving the name from the one of the most important spells in the ancient texts.
The original texts that were included in the book of the dead were most commonly found in the coffin or burial chamber of the deceased ancient Egyptian. There were written on the papyrus scrolls. Archeologists learned that these “prequels” of funeral poems were created in advance with with spaces being left for the name of the deceased to be written in later. There were the product of collaboration of various scribes and artists whose work was pasted together and then produced in some kind of funerary workshops, that predate funeral homes. It seems that the book of the dead was extremely expensive and had to be prepaid before the persons’ death. It is interesting to note that the value of the book was so high not because of the spells pasted there but due to high value of the blank papyrus. No wonder, that some of the discovered papyrus funeral resolutions were reused.
When specialists started finding in quantities the book of the dead, they mistakenly assumed that it had extreme religious importance to ancient Egyptians. Some even proclaimed that it was the “Bible” of ancient Egypt. However, this was not the case. Ancients did not consider it a divine source, which led to the changes of some texts as the time went by. But it was popular reading for them because it remained an ancient bestseller until ancient Romans conquered Egypt.