It is 3,000 years old, it extends 17 meters, it is filled with magical spells for the afterlife and is in the Netherlands National Museum of Antiquities. Is he Book of the Deada papyrus scroll that belonged to Qennaa merchant from the old Egypt that he hoped, after passing away, to achieve an immortal life with the gods.
The art gallery, located in the Dutch city of Leiden, exposes it until September 4, after completing a large-scale conservation project. The Book of the Dead contains 40 magic spells and various symbols and was placed next to Qenna’s mummified body, inside her own tomb.
“It is a typical papyrus that we find in different periods of Egypt and includes magical spells, which have different objectives, but mainly that of turn a dead person into a being with almost divine powers so that they continue to exist after deathin the hereafter among the gods”, explains Daniel Solimancurator of the Egyptian and Nubian collection.
There are several types of spells and Qenna’s were meant to help him endure the trials of the afterlife, protect him against monsters, and transform him into a powerful immortal being. “They are written in hieroglyphics and contain illustrations. Many of the different spells are very elaborate, well-done, detailed illustrations in different colors,” he adds.
It is believed that Qenna worked in a great temple in Egypt and traded products to the rest of the country, but “not much is known about him, we know the name of his parents, we assume who his wife could have been, but he does not mention her in the Book of the Dead”, specifies the Dutch commissioner. “He lived approximately after the reign of Tutankhamunor perhaps early Ramses Imore or less around that period,” he says.
A British diplomat in Egypt and his team, who had permission to dig for antiquities, located the papyrus in the western hills of the city of Luxor: lay folded over the mummified body of Qennawho had lived around 1300-1275 BCy Caspar Reuvensthe first director of this museum, bought it at an auction in London in 1835.
Soon after, the papyrus was cut into 38 manageable sheets, a common practice in those days, but only a few of those sheets have ever been on display. However, this summer Leiden offers the unique opportunity to see the papyrus in its entirety for the first time since its acquisition and after three years of conservation work.
Although the papyrus sheets have been repaired several times in the last 200 years, the glue and layers of paper from older restorations were causing damage, so as much of the older repair material as possible was removed (using microscopic techniques and ultraviolet and infrared light photography) and new additions were kept to a minimum.
The exhibition also covers topics such as Qenna’s tomb and how papyrus was made. The art gallery follows Qenna in her metamorphosis and introduces visitors to the stories, spells, gods and symbols of the papyrus: it explains their meaning from right to left, the direction in which the papyrus should be read, from the veneration of the gods and the Lake of Fire, to the divine tribunal and the weight of Qenna’s heart (to show that he had lived a good life, his heart could not weigh more than an ostrich feather).
One of the magic spells summons Toththe god of magic and the moon, to come to Qenna’s aid, but there are also spells to defeat dangerous creatureslike the four crocodiles that threaten to take away his magical powers, and the snake Apep, the deadliest enemy of Rathe god of the sun.
The museum’s path through the papyrus begins with the daily cycle of the sun, in the form of the god Ra, who is reborn every morning on the horizon, and every night the sun unites with the god Osiris into the realm of the dead, as Qenna himself hoped to do.
Thanks to the papyrus, Qenna would know in the afterlife the names of all the guardians that she will find and they will only give way to the kingdom if she pronounces the correct names.
At the end of Book of the DeadQenna can begin her eternal life in the afterlife: the papyrus concludes with her tomb in the western mountains, where the arms of the goddess Hathor they push the sun over the horizon each morning, symbolizing a new beginning.