What are some books about ancient temples

The book of the temple

The story of a sensational reconstruction
by Joachim Friedrich Quack

Scientists struggle with the word sensation. And yet it fully applies to what patiently peeled out of a heap of ancient fragments after years of scavenger hunt around the world: a manual that was valid in ancient Egypt for many centuries and provides precise information about how that to build ideal temples and how to operate them. Such a text has never been discovered and edited before.

An original manual on the operation of an ancient temple? To have something like this would be a dream that any researcher would consider impossible. And yet it came true for ancient Egypt.

The story begins with the publication of a colleague who edited an Egyptian papyrus from the Berlin Museum. Although this papyrus came from the Roman Empire, the text named the names of two rulers of Egypt from a distant past. One was an obscure, otherwise hardly attested ruler of the second dynasty, while the other was none other than Cheops, the builder of the largest pyramid in Egypt. One thing was immediately recognizable in terms of content - it was about the construction of temples.

The relevance of the text was further increased by a special observation on my part: It could be shown that another papyrus, which had been edited about 15 years earlier, went directly parallel to it - not with the same wording, but as a translation from an older one into another younger language form of Egyptian. That made things even more exciting: Such a translation is rare and only occurs in compositions that have been considered particularly important in culture over a long period of time.

Regardless of the evident importance of the composition, its usefulness for modern research initially appeared to be limited: the two papyri published were relatively small fragments, and little was left of the original text. This changed with a research stay in Copenhagen, which in 1995 gave me the chance to look for other text witnesses for the first time.

The result of the extensive search in the collection was a pile of several hundred individual fragments. They belonged to a number of different manuscripts - but they were all copies of the same work. The assignment was not always easy: It was often necessary to distinguish the personal handwriting of scribes in order to correctly identify smaller fragments as belonging.

Further research trips brought further material to light in numerous other collections, so that today manuscripts from Aberdeen, Ann Arbor, Berlin, Florence, Heidelberg, Copenhagen, London, Manchester, New Haven, Oslo, Oxford, Paris, St. Louis and Vienna are known. It took a lot of time to sort the material, which ultimately belonged to around 45 different manuscripts. The Classical Egyptian language in hieratic script, in which the work was originally written, dominates the manuscripts. Several manuscripts are translations into
Demotic. And one more translation could be identified, namely that into Greek. Only remnants of a single copy of this translation have so far emerged. Translations of literary and religious texts from Egyptian into Greek are rare. They usually circulated mainly in Egypt itself, where in Roman times Greek gained importance as a medium over Egyptian and Greek immigrants showed considerable interest in the indigenous cults.

The conservation status of the fragments turned out to be a major challenge. If the papyrus had been completely preserved in its original state - i.e. as a long roll - it could be read and translated without any problems, and the work of the edition would have long been completed. But only scraps and fragments are left of the roll; only a small part of each individual manuscript has survived. These pathetic remains had to be picked out of a heap of equally small fragments of hundreds of other manuscripts. Ultimately, it was a kind of puzzle - with the complication that for this puzzle the pieces of a thousand different puzzles were thrown together, shaken together and then three-quarters of the pieces were thrown away. Nevertheless, it was possible to approximately reconstruct the work - it turned out to be a "Book of the Temple" valid over the centuries.

The book has a clearly structured structure. In general, it proves to be a carefully and precisely formulated manual that was edited with the aim of making it clear and unambiguous. It begins with a "historical" introduction. Accordingly, there was a seven-year famine in the early days of Egypt. During this time the temples fell into disrepair. In a dream, the ruler at that time was given the task of restoring and refurbishing the temples. A decree is issued for this purpose, which was later found by Prince Hardjedef, son of Cheops, in a dilapidated archive in Heliopolis. The entire rest of the text reflects the content of this decree.

It begins with a programmatic headline: "Regulation to be given to the Taiti Sab (an Egyptian title), chief reading priest and royal construction manager who directs construction throughout the country, when founding every temple in Upper and Lower Egypt, in order to protect all [ To put things] in their proper place in the temple, a prescription of correct behavior that everyone should be instructed in his service in every service of the temple, to establish purity, to abhor taboos and to obey the precepts of the first time by all, who enter the temple, from the high-ranking priests who enter before God to every respective ministry. "

At this point in the text, it is easy to see the double intention of the work. On the one hand, it is a matter of precisely carrying out the architectural layout when founding the temple and of correctly arranging the rooms. On the other hand, it is about the rules of conduct for all employees, from the highest to the lowest ranks.

The architectural section describes in detail what an Egyptian temple should theoretically look like. Since the text claims not to be written for a specific individual building, but to have nationwide validity, it hardly ever offers specific dimensions of the rooms. He is satisfied with naming the relevant components as such and describing their function, especially their relative position of the buildings to each other with information on the directions in which doors should open. Anyone interested in the history of architecture may be saddened to learn that the ancient author relied entirely on the power of the written word - there is not a single architectural drawing that would immediately visualize the conception.

The authors of modern travel guides may find it irritating that the description is exactly the opposite of what they are used to. While the perspective of a visitor or tourist is that from the outside in, the author of the "Book of the Temple" adjusts to the perspective of the deity: He describes, consistently from the inside, first the sanctuary and then the surrounding rooms.

In terms of its layout and function, an Egyptian temple cannot be compared with a church. The cult spaces are considerably more complex. In addition to the sanctuary of the mainly venerated deity, there are a number of other shrines for other gods who were also worshiped in this temple as "Ninths" (which by no means always had to consist of exactly nine members). There was a separate hall for the offering of the sacrifices, with a pronaos at the front. Stairs lead to the roof, where a special kiosk is used to expose the cult statues to the light of the sun on New Year's Day.

It is also significant that by no means every believer could approach the cult statue. The inner rooms and sanctuary were only accessible to the highest ranks, even within the priesthood. The normal population was only allowed to enter the open courtyards outside the temple, whereby the men were allowed to go one courtyard further inside than the women.

In addition to the architectural structure of the temple, there were other buildings of considerable religious importance. For example the birth house, in which the birth of the divine child was celebrated annually, which resulted from the union of the male and female main deities of the temple. There is also the "Osirian District" with a holy lake and a holy hill. Osiris is the god in Egypt who was killed by his evil brother Seth. Osiris ’wife Isis found the scattered body parts of her husband again and was able to revive him enough to conceive a son and avenger from him.

Annual festivals for which figurines of the god were made were used to ritually re-enact the events. The figurines were then stored in such a way that they were no longer exposed to profane access. They were either thrown into the water of the holy lake or the Nile, or they were deposited in special burials in the holy hill. Because of the sanctity of these places and the danger of misusing the power of divine substance for purposes of private gain, access here was strictly regulated and only a few priests were allowed. Anyone who was caught unauthorized in this area faced the same punishment as those who blasphemed the name of the king, namely death by fire.

The overall layout of the temple is not limited to spaces for cult in the narrower sense. Economic areas are also to a large extent part of the whole. The storage facility, cattle pen, goose pond, slaughterhouse and kitchen are precisely defined - including the space for the heap of rubbish, which is banned into a corner because of the unpleasant smell. There are also workshops, for example for the production of faience and statues, as well as living rooms for the priests during their service. The embalming workshop should not be missing. The respective sacred animal is kept in a special district, whereby the text expressly admonishes to allow the animals sufficient light and air. For the holy cattle, which are probably the norm, a species-appropriate herd structure with several cows is planned.

As an appendix to the architectural section, the text gives a list of the deities who are supposed to be present in the various rooms of the temple. Here, too, the author is faced with the challenge of harmonizing a text of nationwide claim with the regionally diverging real cults. He solves this by defining a series of "empty formulas". He writes for example: "the respective great god" or "the heavenly gods of the respective district and the heavenly gods that are not missing in any district". However, he also names a whole series of fixed characters that should be valid regardless of the regional cult establishment. Comparisons with actually preserved temples occasionally show striking similarities - here the theoretical-normative text often helps to better decipher the principle behind the concrete implementation.

This does not mean that theory has dominated and bound practice. Rather, it is already clearly recognizable that not a single one of the numerous preserved temples in Egypt can be regarded as a verbatim translation of the "Book of the Temple". All of them show significant deviations, mostly shortenings of the program. Even in the great temples of the late period, which are chronologically close to the surviving manuscripts, one can not see a 1: 1 adoption, despite many similarities.

The second part of the work is for the priests. At the beginning there is a section with general principles. They concern, for example, material supplies and the security of wives and children when the priest dies. Usually the son succeeds his father. If he is still too young to be able to perform the cult, a deputy must be appointed and paid accordingly. The text gives the wording of two oaths which priests must swear at the time of ordination. In this they affirm that they have never committed certain offenses, for example murder, and they swear to refrain from certain behavior, for example measuring land, in the future.

Part-time work is typical of the Egyptian social structure - and rather alien to our life today. A temple functioned according to the system of four rotating service units, so-called phyls. Each service unit served one month in the temple. The servants then went on to do other activities for three months, then their turn came again. The result was that there was a comparatively high participation of the population in the cult. Only a few specialists served full-time in the temple, especially those whose work required extended special training. Of the higher ranks there was usually only one member in each phyle, and often more for the lower ranks. The highest number received so far concerns simple workers who, among other things, had to grind the grain for bread every day. No fewer than 50 of them are on duty at the same time.

The text describes the duties of the staff hierarchically from top to bottom. He first names the governor and head of the prophets, who is also the link between the royal residence and the local administration of the temple. After various high-ranking priests who, among other things, served the cult of Osiris, the text names some intellectual specialists whose work consists of a remarkable mixture of modern-looking hygiene controls and magic. One learns, for example, that the magician had to chase the snakes out of the chapels every morning before the service.

The section on the head teacher of the temple is charming and has been almost completely reconstructed. It was his responsibility to hold basic instruction for all sons of priests and also a higher education specifically for the sons of the higher ranks. His duties also included assessing which student deserved to take over his father's office on the basis of performance. In this way, excellence and quality are preserved in the temple for a long time.

Such a text has so far not been known for Egypt. However, it should be possible to show structural parallels in other cultures. However, the cuneiform texts about the duties of officials and the services of the temple staff are usually less extensive and are not additionally connected with a building description. Texts such as the temple scroll of Qumran also provide important comparison material. In general, some rules on ritual purity invite you to compare them with Jewish rules on purity. It is planned to complete the annotated edition of this text in the next few years.
Photo: Friederike Hentschel
Prof. Dr. Joachim Quack studied Egyptology, Semitic Studies, Biblical Archeology, Ancient Near Eastern Studies and Prehistory and Early History in Tübingen and Paris. He did his doctorate on "The teachings of Ani", was a research assistant at the Egyptological seminar at the Free University of Berlin and obtained his habilitation with "Contributions to the Egyptian deans and their reception in the Greco-Roman world". The Heisenberg fellow has been Professor of Egyptology at Heidelberg University since 2005.
Contact: [email protected]