An ancient Egyptian
text, found exclusively in the tombs of a few New Kingdom
Pharaohs. It is also called The Book of the Celestial Cow. Strangely, it is not a manual of spiritual instruction, or even a funerary text, but instead tells the story of how and why the sun god ended one age and began another.
The Book of the Heavenly Cow was first discovered in a shrine within the Tomb of Tutankhamun
. This copy was incomplete. In 1876 Henry Salt
found a complete version of the book in the Tomb of Seti I
, in the Valley of the Kings
necropolis. Subsequently, copies were found in the tombs of Rameses II
and Rameses III
. In each tomb the major scenes of the book are depicted in painting or bas-relief on the walls off of the main burial chamber.
The central theme of The Book of the Heavenly Cow is mankind's rebellion against the elder sun god, Re
, which resulted in the punishment of humans by the shining "Eye" of Re and the consequent restructuring of the world. Prior to the rebellion there was a peaceful Golden Age
, in which both gods and humans were under the sovereignty of Re. During this age the sun god had not yet begun his daily course through the sky; there was no cycle of day and night, there was no death
. When mankind rebelled against his rule, Re summoned to the Great House
the primeval deities, including Shu
, Hathor, and in particular the god Nun
. Re asked them for guidance, as the men he had created were mocking him.
Then Nun said "You oh my son Ra, are greater than the god who made you. You are the king of those who were created with you, your throne is established, and the fear of you is great. Let your mighty Eye attack those who blaspheme you."
Re answered "Even now fear is falling upon them and they are fleeing into the desert and hiding themselves in the mountains in terror at the sound of my voice."
And the other gods cried "Let your Eye go forth and destroy those who blasphemed you, for none can resist when it goes forth in the form of Sekhmet!"
So Hathor went out in the form of Sekhmet
, and began a feast of destruction by slaughtering the rebellious men at Hensu
. However, after three nights Re took pity on humans, and saved them by causing Sekhmet to become drunk on red beer, which she mistook for blood. Sekhmet returned to his side as Hathor, and he rose into the heavens on the back of the goddess Nut
, who was transformed into the celestial cow
. This imagery may account for the importance of the book to the dead pharaoh, who, as the son and successor of Re, was also believed to ascend into the sky. The Golden Age ended after the sun god withdrew to the sky. From there he restored and reordered the world. From that point on all of humanity would suffer from death
. To house the dead Re created a netherworld. He also set the moon in the sky, and appointed Thoth as the lord of the moon
and the deputy over creation. The final part of the Book of the Heavenly Cow is devoted to the power of magic; specifically to the magic of ba
. Additionally, the book contains a reference to a great Flood, which mirrors in many ways the biblical narrative, and has, for obvious reasons, garnered much interest from both inside and outside of Egyptology
In 1876, Edouard Naville
published the version of The Book of the Heavenly Cow found in the tomb of Seti I
, translating it first into French
, and later into English
. In 1885 he published the version found in the tomb of Rameses III. Heinrich Brugsch
published a German
translation in 1881. In 1941, Charles Maystre
published a version of the book that took into account the slightly different text found in the tomb of Ramesses II. In 1983, Erik Hornung
published an improved version, taking into account all existing versions of the book.
The Book of the Heavenly Cow does not appear after the New Kingdom. Most of its content was incorporated into the Book of the Fayoum
during the Roman Period