Examination of an ancient Egyptian religious text
used to solicit the gods for eternal survival.

I posted the following to the Internet Ancient Egyptian Language discussion list on August 17, 2002.

Hello Everyone:

I am new to the list, and also new to understanding the ancient scripts. I hope you will be patient with me.

In a post dated Sun Aug 11, Christine El Mahdy made several remarks that led me to be bold.

“cast any translations to one side. Many of them, as we have found, are highly inaccurate.”

“If you want a demonstration of what I mean, try examining a small section the Book of the Dead . . .”

I recently purchased a copy of the Papyrus of Ani (The Egyptian Book of the Dead), translated by Raymond Faulkner, with some emendation by Ogden Goelet, Jr., Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1994. James Wasserman conceived the project. It is a beautiful reproduction of an original papyrus from circa 1250 BC, in full color, but reduced in size about 40% from the original. Apparently this is the first reprint of the papyrus published in 1890 in full size by Wallis Budge under the sponsorship of the Trustees of the British Museum. At that time the interested reader was expected to purchase the text, transliteration and translation published in 1895 in a separate volume. Budge repeats all hieroglyphs in the latter to obtain his transliteration. ((Dover reprint, New York, 1967.)

My interest was a study of ancient Egyptian religious beliefs, and especially the role of Osiris. I wanted to use the most original and reliable sources I could find, without the intervening and possibly interpretative altering of the meaning of the text from that intended by the ancient scribes.

In an Introduction Wasserman states:

“Several issues regarding this edition need to be discussed. My original idea, developed in detail for several years, was to follow the Ani Papyrus word for word. I planned to use Budge's translation, and his excellent key to the hieroglyphics, to present the text and images on the same page. Dr. (Ogden) Goelet, however, made clear, first, that Budge's translation falls far short of modern standards, and second, that the hieroglyphic text of the Ani Papyrus itself is of uneven quality, often much inferior to the excellence of its vignettes. He proposed that we use Faulkner's translation below the images of the Ani Papyrus, supplemented by his own translations where necessary. Our text would then represent the best translation from the best Egyptological sources for the specific chapter illustrated in the Ani Papyrus.

“Thus this volume combines the finest modern scholarship with the most beautifully illuminated ancient papyrus.”

I question that this is an accurate statement.

This remark led me to examine Budge’s publication, and to compare translations. Certainly, over the past hundred years, much greater understanding of the ancient script has evolved. Since Budge’s translation is still used widely among interested laypersons I wondered what differences existed and were they important? How might they affect my understanding and that of others?

I went through the first 10 columns of text in conducting my comparisons, as a test sample. For convenience I use Budge’s translation to show the differences.

I discovered the following items:

1. Faulkner (Goelet) stripped two phrases completely. The first is in Column One in the opening remarks: “Behold Osiris Ani the scribe who records the holy offerings of all the gods.” This was reduced to “by Ani.” The second was in Column 5: “to the ka of Osiris, the scribe Ani, triumphant before Osiris.” This was reduced “to the Ka of Ani.” A third removal is in Column 8 where the attributes “Prince, Life, Health, and Strength” of Ra are ignored.

Why Faulkner should remove these phrases is puzzling if he intended to be faithful to the text. Did he  feel they did not carry significant meaning? How many phrases were removed through the rest of the text?

2. In Column 7 Faulkner translates “Enneads,” the Greek word for “Nine gods.” Apparently the idea of “nine” is common to the meaning of this glyph. Budge had trouble here, altering the first part of the glyph to mean “substance” when a group designation should be understood. I can see no reason why this glyph should not be read simply as “many gods.”

Can anyone offer suggestions?

3. In several cases Faulkner translated “sky” instead of the older word “heaven” found in Budge. This is a dramatic shift in understanding. All old people understood heaven as a realm populated by spirit personalities who expressed desire, will, and purpose. The Egyptians subscribed to just such belief. The word sky denotes the vault containing merely the stars, without significance of being populated by celestial personalities. Such translation betrays the intent of the scribes, who reflected their culture. Hence, it virtually obliterates our ability to penetrate their religious psychology. This alteration certainly is a considerable deterrent to understanding the old text.

4. A similar betrayal is seen when Faulkner in Column 9 translates “May Thoth and Maat write to you daily.” Budge has “Thoth and Maat both are your recorders.” The idea of celestial beings serving as recorders to the gods is again prevalent in the beliefs of many ancient people. They are personalities who preserve a record of the conduct of both mortals and immortals. This record then is used as a basis by which judgment may be made on subservient personalities. That judgment is the final determiner of survival in eternity. Egyptian religious belief is rife with such concept. In my opinion Faulkner here truly subverts the intent of the scribes.

5. Another interesting alteration is found in Column 6 where I would translate “givers of ka and celestial food.” The phrase follows the statement about the gods who pass judgment on the dead. Budge offered, “who provide food and abundance of meat.” Faulkner says, “who give food and provisions.” Clearly the context is celestial, not terrestrial. The glyph for ka is definitely present, without modifier as far as I can see. Why both these men should alter it to food I do not understand. These gods have the power to give a ka. The translations “provisions” and “abundance of meat” must then follow that sense but hopelessly lost by removing the significance of the scribal intent. (Budge became creative on this one.)

Other problems confront me but this should be sufficient to show why I view the translation as not faithful to the original purpose of the document.



The following continues exposition of the text, with details important to our understanding.

Budge was fully aware of, and described, the devolution of the Egyptian religious texts in the preface to his edition. He compared many papyrus scrolls with one another and with the pyramids texts of the Old Kingdom. I again offer full remarks in order to show how more recent views may be contributing to further confusion on our understanding of these important materials.

“Originally the text was the most important part of the work, and both it and its vignettes were the work of the scribe; gradually, however, the brilliantly illuminated vignettes were more and more cared for, and when the skill of the scribe failed, the artist was called in. In many fine papyri of the Theban period it is clear that the whole plan of the vignettes of a papyrus was set out by artists, who often failed to leave sufficient space for the texts to which they belonged; in consequence many lines of chapters are often omitted, and the last few lines of some texts are so much crowded as to be almost illegible. The frequent clerical errors also show that while an artist of the greatest skill might be employed on the vignettes, the execution of the text was left to an ignorant or careless scribe. Again, the artist at times arranged his vignettes in wrong order, and it is occasionally evident that neither artist nor scribe understood the matter upon which he was engaged. According to M. Maspero the scribes of the VIth dynasty did not understand the texts which they were drafting, and in the XIXth dynasty the scribe of a papyrus now preserved at Berlin knew or cared so little about the text which he was copying that he transcribed the LXXVIIth Chapter from the wrong end, and apparently never discovered his error although he concluded the chapter with its title. Originally each copy of the Book of the Dead was written to order, but soon the custom obtained of preparing copies with blank spaces in which the name of the purchaser might be inserted; and many of the errors in spelling and most of the omissions of words are no doubt due to the haste with which such " stock" copies were written by the members of the priestly caste, whose profession it was to copy them.”

In other words, preparation of these important religious documents later became strictly a commercial enterprise. We must deduce that both the later scribes and the purchasers did not understand the text, and were engaging is this exercise purely out of rote. The beauty of the vignettes took upper place, while the purpose of the original text was lost.According to Maspero this inversion of importance began as early as the VIth dynasty, circa 2300 BC. This fact implies that the text had a long history prior to that time. The remarks by Wasserman suggest that the vignettes hold the greater importance once again, in contrast to the text, regardless of its “uneven quality.” Hence, the current translations also suffer from casualness of treatment.

I shall offer first the translation of the first page of the papyrus as currently published, then the translation by Budge, and finally a transliteration to show a possible shift in scholarly attitudes over the past one hundred years.

I shall lay out the passages side by side. The numbers in Budge’s list are the column numbers in the papyrus, which read downward, and then from right to left. Budge’s hieroglyphic figures are all reversed from the original. To maintain sense I have sometimes rearranged the words of the literal order in the transliteration. I refer to notes with small case letters. The notes offer more detailed review than I showed in the Internet post above.

Refer to the photocopies of the Papyrus of Ani from Faulkner and from Budge. Click on pictures to obtain larger images.


Note that the highlighted footnote symbols are links back and forth from the text.




(from Budge with comparisons to facsimile volume)

Worship of Re when he rises in the eastern horizon of the ski by Ani.(a) (b)


Behold Osiris Ani the scribe who recordeth the holy offerings of all the gods,

Adoration of Ra when he rises in the eastern horizon of heaven.

Behold Awsar, the scribe of the holy offerings of all the gods, Ani.(c)

He says: Hail to you, you having come as Khepri, even Khepri who is the creator of the gods.

(2) who saith: Homage to thee, O thou who hast come as Khepera,Khepera, the creator of the gods.

He says: Homage to you who has come as Khepera, Khepera as the creator of the gods. (d)

You rise and shine on the back of your mother (the sky), having appeared in glory as King of the gods.

Thou risest, thou shinest, (3) making bright thy mother [Nut], crowned king of the gods.

You rise, you shine, making bright your mother, having appeared in glory as king of the gods. (e)

Your Mother Nut shall use her arms on your behalf in making greeting.

[Thy] mother Nut doeth homage unto thee with both her hands.

Mother Nut does to you her two hands in the act of worship. (f)

The Manu-mountain receives you in peace, Maat embraces you at all seasons.

(4) The land of Manu receiveth thee with content, and the goddess Maat embraceth thee at the twoseasons.

Manu receives you with content. Maat embraces you at the double season. (g)

May you give power and might in vindication

May he give splendour, and power, and triumph, and

May he give splendor and power with triumph and (h)

and a coming forth as a living soul to see Horakhty – to the Ka of Ani. (i)

(5) a coming-forth as a living Soul to see Horus of the Two Horizons to the ka of Osiris, the scribe Ani, triumphant before Osiris,

a coming forth as a living soul to see Heru of the two horizons to the ka of Awsar, the scribe Ani, triumphant before Awsar.

He says: O all you gods of the Soul-mansion who judge sky and earth in the balance, who give food and provisions.

(6) who saith: Hail all ye gods of the Temple of the Soul, who weigh heaven and earth in the balance, and who provide food and abundance of meat.

Who says: Hail all the gods of the Soul Temple, weighers of heaven and earth in the balance, givers of ka and celestial food. (j)

O Tatenon, Unique One, creator of mankind; O Southern, Northern, Western, and Eastern Enneads,

Hail Tatunen, One (7) creator of mankind and of the substance of the gods of the south and of thenorth, of the west and of the east.

Tatunen, One, maker of mankind and the many gods of the south, north, west, and east.


Give praise to Re, Lord of the Sky, the Sovereign who made the gods. Worship him in his goodly shape when he appears in the Day-bark.

Ascribe [ye] praise unto Ra, the lord of heaven, the (8) Prince, Life, Health, and Strength, the Creator of the gods, and adore ye him in his beautiful presence as he riseth in the atet boat.

Give praise to Ra, the Lord of heaven, Prince, Life, Strength, Health, creator of the gods. Adore him in his beautiful Presence, in his rising in the atet boat. (l)

May those who are above worship you, may those who are below worship you,

(9) Theywho dwell in the heights and they who dwell in the depths worship thee.

Shall worship you, the beings above, the beings below.

may Thoth and Maat write to you daily;

Thoth and Maat both are thy recorders.

Record for you Thoth and Maat every day. (m)

your serpent-foe has been given over to the fire and the rebel-serpent is fallen, his arms are bound, Re has taken away his movements

Thine enemy is given to the (10) fire, the evil one hath fallen; his arms are bound, and his legs hath Ra taken from him.

Your enemy is given to the fire. The rebel serpent is fallen, his arms are bound. Ra has removed his legs. (n)

and the Children of impotence are nonexistent.

The children of (11) impotent revolt shall never rise up again.

The sons of impotent revolt shall never rise.

(a) Over the past century an evolution of concept has taken place in the scholarly world, from views of God and heaven, with which the Egyptian works are replete, to new godless ideas that profoundly alter the meaning. Worship becomes merely a cult observance; heaven becomes the sky. According to the old views Heaven is populated by intelligent and purposeful beings; the sky has no population. (Faulkner substitutes sky three times in this short passage.) Thus we see an effort by modern scholars to transform the intent of the ancient texts to their views, not to express the intent of the ancient Egyptians. This is scholarly perversion.It denies the meaning of the texts. It violates intellectual integrity.

(b) An entire phrase is eliminated in the Faulkner translation. “Behold Awsar, the scribe of the holy offerings of all the gods.”

(c) The Egyptian name for the Creator God more recently became pronounced as Wasir among some Egyptologists, with an initial “W” instead of the guttural “a” we know from Hebrew aleph, understood in Greek and English as “O” or “Aw.” Many examples of the translation of guttural Semitic and Egyptian sounds to easier Greek or English vowels can be cited. A prominent example is the Hebrew El = God, but pronounced with the modern vowel.

In How to Read Egyptian, Mark Collier and Bill Manley, University of California Press, 1998, briefly mention this change, and the fact that the name is not written with individual letters, but merely with glyphs that have no direct sound equivalent.

Indeed there is still some dispute as to the exact reading — in this book we adapt the more recent suggestion to read asir rather than wsir, not least since this brings out the parallel with the writing of the name Isis, ast.


The evolution is not really hard to understand.

Since the Greeks knew the word as Osar, with their habitual practice of adding “s” on the end of words, this then became Osiris. Thus they understood the initial “Aw” or “O” vowel.

In transcribing Egyptian sounds it was common to write a “u,” as in “oo,” with a “w,” similar to what the Welsh do. We see this often in English as dew, two, pewter, and so on. The “w” can easily become a consonant by stressing the diphthong elements.The word endow, pronounced commonly more as endau, went into dowager, in mediaeval times as douagere, now stressing the “w” sound with the modern spelling. Thus representations of sounds take on a life of their own and cause linguistic evolution simply by the way we transcribe them.

Osiris was earlier written with this “W” as representing a vowel, oosir written as wsir. This then developed into the wasir with a distinct “w” sound.


(d) Budge Note:

The god Khepera is usually represented with a beetle; the scarab, or beetle, was sacred to him. The name means "to become, to turn, to roll," and the abstract noun kheperu may be rendered by "becomings," or "evolutions."

The god was self-created, and was the father of all the other gods; men and women sprang from the tears which fell from his eyes; and the animal and vegetable worlds owed their existence to him. Khepera is a phase of Tmu, the night-sun, at the twelfth hour of the night, when he "becomes" the rising sun or Harmachis (i.e., Horus in the horizon). He is also described as "Khepera in the morning, Ra at mid-day, and Tmu in the evening."

The representation as a scarab is due to the fact that the dung beetle of ancient Egypt would roll its dung in little balls, hide them, and use them as a depository of its eggs. This beetle then became sacred because it symbolized the "turning" or "rolling," as symbolic of the method of incubation for creation itself.

(e) Both Faulkner and Budge insert words to help the reader understand the allusion. Faulkner follows scholarly trends to interpret Nut as a mythological image of the sky rather than a celestial personality. He also alters the meaning by putting further mythological interpretation in the phrase “on the back of your mother” rather than “making bright your mother.” The idea of Osiris as King of the Gods is reflected in the religious traditions of many people who also had a King of the Gods. Note the biblical phrase, Ps 95:3:
For Yahweh is a great God, and a great King above all gods.

(f) In Faulkner’s translation Mother Nut merely greets Awsar, rather than worshiping him. Repeatedly we see Faulkner removing the religious meaning to reduce the text to conform to modern godless theories.

(g) Faulkner inserts the word mountain, Budge the word land, without textual support. We could question the use of the word Manu. Both Faulkner and Budge held to the popular conception that Manu is a geographical location, a mountain to the west. Egypt had no mountains to the north or to the west. Therefore the people could not assign the gods to a northern mountain, as did the Greeks in Mt. Olympus and the Hebrews to Mt. Zion. Further, assignment to the smaller eastern hills along the Nile would not provide the majesty that was required. Even more in objection, the east held an altogether different meaning, as the origin of creation (sun rising). The west was considered as the direction to which gods and departed human beings would travel. Thus Manu was the ancient Egyptian home of the gods, the regions of the west where the sun set. Some see the phrase "lord of Manu," as a Libyan mountain.

Hence, this confusion led to the question if Manu should be understood as a geographical location; perhaps it should be understood as a spirit entity. If the former, the phrase would not parallel the one about Maat. Further, the Manu name in celestial context is known from Hindu religious literature:

Manu was the Appointed One, author of the ancient Hindu holy law, progenitor of the human race and Creator of the Universe. According to Hindu tradition a succession of Manus recreated the earth anew at the end of each of the earth ages. In some traditions the Manus were known as rulers of the planets

An Indian Flood myth relates that Manu was washing in a river when a fish came into his hands. The fish warned him that a great flood would carry away all creatures, and that if Manu would rear him he would save Manu from the flood.

In other Hindu folklore the slope of the northern mountains are often called "Manu's descent." The flood swept away all creatures; only Manu was left.

Here we can see Manu associated with a northern mountain, as in the myths of other people. A more full account of the Indian Creation may be found in the Laws of Manu. See


Some question exists about the hieroglyph that Budge translates as “two seasons.” Faulkner may capture it better with “all seasons.”

(h) Faulkner changes the person to make sense according to his understanding. The “he” could refer back to Maat.

(i) This is the second case where Faulkner strips an entire phrase: “to the ka of Awsar, the scribe Ani, triumphant before Awsar.” Faulkner replaces it with “Horakhty – to the Ka of Ani.” Where Budge separates the hieroglyphs to translate “Horus of the two horizons” Faulkner combines them into Horakhty. This translation buries the literal expression of the original phrase.

(j) See comments at the beginning of the document.

Here we have one of the more difficult phrases within the document. Faulkner understands “who give food and provisions.” Budge offers “who provide food and abundance of meat.”However, the context clearly describes celestial powers. Literally the hieroglyphs show “givers of ka and celestial food.” Both Faulkner and Budge did not grasp the celestial significance and could only translate the certain ka into “food.” Then, in keeping with their approach must follow it with “provisions” or “abundance of meat.”

The word ka means image, genius, disposition, or spirit. It was used to denote spiritual and intellectual characteristics of man.

(k) See comments at the beginning of the document.

Budge attempted to interpret the phrase with the assumption that the hieroglyph was mistaken. With better understanding Faulkner now translates it as Ennead, Greek for Nine Gods. One can easily understand the phrase to mean simply “many gods.” Ennead is a modern scholarly substitution without textual foundation.

(l) Faulkner strips the words “Prince, Life, Strength, Health.” He reduces the phrase “beautiful presence” to “goodly shape.” Both of these changes reduce the spiritual significance of the celestial being who is the Father of all Creation. The meaning of the atet boat is uncertain; Faulkner gives it a more direct meaning.

(m) See comments at the beginning of the document.

Yet again Faulkner reduces the significance of celestial recorders who write in the “judgment book of life” the deeds are the deeds of the personalities of the universe, both celestial and terrestrial.

(n) These phrases reflect a very ancient symbolic designation for a rebel being, found in Sumeria, Hebrew legend, and many other places. In the Bible he is known as the serpent who betrayed Eve. Consignment to fire is also universal in the folklore of people around the world.


This brief review shows how modern scholarship will impose their understanding into the translations, rather than representing what the ancients believed.

This can only be regarded as a perversion of intent of the original authors.