For years, scholars thought that the Pyramid Texts were merely a series of funeral prayers and magic spells intended to protect Egyptian royalty in the afterlife.
But renowned classicist and linguist Susan Brind Morrow has a different interpretation of this sacred literature. She said she believes it's proof of a complex religious philosophy, one that was less about mythology and more about the life-giving forces of nature. She also believes this ancient Egyptian philosophy influenced many of the spiritual traditions that came after it.
Morrow explains her research, and presents a new translation of the full text, in her latest book The Dawning Moon of the Mind: Unlocking the Pyramid Texts.
"These are not magic spells at all," Morrow told The Huffington Post about the Pyramid Texts. "These are poetic verses constructed just like poetry today, sophisticated and filled with word play and puns."
Instead of looking at the Pyramid Texts as something written by a primitive and superstitious people, as she claims many Egyptologists before her have done, Morrow put the texts in the context of Egypt's vibrant literary tradition and its cultural connections to nature.
What she said she saw in the ancient lines inscribed on the inner walls of the Pyramid of Unas was a "densely compounded but highly precise" map of the stars. The Egyptians studied the stars to determine what time of year the Nile would flood and make their land fertile again. In this earliest form of Egyptian philosophy, Morrow said she believes it's not a goddess or a spiritual personality that the Egyptians worshipped, but the sky itself. It was nature itself that was sacred, and that held the promise of eternal life.
She offers a new translation of the opening verse of the texts in her book, which she believes describes the soul rising up into the fire, or the dawn sky, beneath the holy ones, or the stars:
The sword of Orion opens the doors of the sky.
Before the doors close again the gate to the path
over the fire, beneath the holy ones as they grow dark
As a falcon flies as a falcon flies, may Unis rise into this fire.
"I realized I was looking at a very vivid, poetic description of the actual world," Morrow said.
But James P. Allen, an Egyptologist at Brown University who produced a 2005 translation of the texts, isn't convinced. He likened her translation to the work of "amateurs" and called it a "serious misrepresentation" of the Pyramid Texts.
"It is a translator’s job to be as faithful to the original as possible while using words and constructions that make sense to modern readers. Ms. Morrow has not done that," Allen told The Huffington Post. "Her 'translation' is basically a poet’s impression of what she thinks the texts should say, and not a reflection of what they actually say."
For her part, Morrow is convinced that the hieroglyphs aren't something that is only accessible to professionals. Her purpose in bringing this new translation to light was to encourage others to look at the text, and see what they find.
"Whenever people think of hieroglyphs, they see them as something that has to be deciphered, something archaic and ancient," Morrow said.
"But hieroglyphs are an absolutely vivid reading of nature that is very accessible to anybody today."
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