Friday, June 8, 2012

Ra Was a Jerk!

Because I'm that nerd, I like to read translations of ancient manuscripts. If I was a real wonk, I'd be learning languages to get the real flavor of the text, but that's not going to happen. Except maybe with Old English.

Anyway, I've been reading the rather delightful Raymond Faulkner translation of the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead (or the Book of Coming Forth By Day, if you're more of an Egyptian nerd that I am). It's a pleasant translation, with color pictures of various papyrii makes it a pleasant read.

Raymond Faulkner's translation of the Ancient Egyption Book of the Dead

It's pretty common knowledge that the Egyptian Gods were pretty pleasant to the Egyptians. They had regular seasons, and the Nile's live-giving floods were mostly gentle. Unlike the Mesopotamians, whose gods were capricious at best, partially because the flooding of the Tigris and the Euphrates were highly variable, and could turn deadly without warning.

I'm beginning to question the Egyptian Gods' overall benevolence, as I read the Book of the Dead. It's is a collection of a hundred and eighty-nine spells intended to give the recipient a pass to the pleasant afterlife, as opposed to the bad one. There's a spell to ward off hostile crocodiles, one to transform the recipient into a heron should he so wish, and spells to demonstrate to the gods that the recipient is justified, and so should be able to go to the Field of Reeds.

However, there's a recurring theme that's more than a little disturbing. Spell 102, "For Going Aboard the Bark of Ra":
"O you who are great in your bark, bring me to your bark, so that I may take charge of your navigating in the duty which is alloted to one who is among the Unwearying Stars."

Sounds good so far, right? The Justified individual wants to get to be on Ra's boat, and help with the navigation. Which, hey, at least he's not asking to laze around and be a nuisance when everyone else is fighting off various demons of darkness. But there's a kicker in the very next line:

"What I doubly detest, I will not eat; my detestation is feces, and I will not eat it. I will not consume excrement, I will not approach it with my hands."

WOAH! Man, Ra is a jerk. Luxury all the way, taking control of the Bark that is the Sun, but if you don't say this spell, he's going to feed you shit for the rest of eternity? What kind of food service is there on that thing, anyway? It sounds suspiciously like one of those contracts written where anything not specified is supplied at absolute minimum. "Haw Haw!" laughs the God of the Sun. "You didn't say anything about provisions, so here's a big plate of poo!"

What a jerk.

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