BMCR 2017.03.36

Résurrection d’Osiris – naissance d’Horus

, Résurrection d’Osiris - naissance d’Horus: les papyrus Berlin P. 6750 et Berlin P. 8765, témoignages de la persistance de la tradition sacerdotale dans le Fayoum à l’époque romaine. Ägyptische und Orientalische Papyri und Handschriften des Ägyptischen Museums und Papyrussammlung Berlin, 3. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter, 2015. xii, pp. 462. ISBN 9783110425093. $210.00.

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

If Publilius Syrus’ saying bis dat, qui cito dat were correct, then the book under review would be worth just a quarter because it is the eagerly awaited revised version of a PhD thesis submitted to the University of Geneva in 2002. However, scholarship does not work along those lines, and in particular an edition of an Egyptian text in the demotic cursive script, a cumbersome and arduous enterprise, is subject to other conditions. The kind of graphematisation of this text adds to the difficulties in deciphering that ‘most evil of all evil Egyptian scripts’1 by using non-etymological or phonetic writings almost throughout. I will come back to these unusual writings below, but mention them here to stress the enormous difficulty they pose to reading and understanding the text. Therefore, we must congratulate Ghislaine Widmer for this achievement.

The text is preserved on two papyri, pBerlin P 6750 and pBerlin P 8765, and I would date both to c. 100 CE.2 The manuscripts come from the village of Soknopaiou Nesos (modern Dimê) in the Fayum in Egypt. One of the two papyri, P 6750, has been known to scholars since W. Spiegelberg’s Demotische Papyrus in den Königlichen Museen zu Berlin (Berlin 1902), which contains collotype plates of a selection of demotic papyri in the Berlin collection accompanied by short descriptions but without transliteration, translation, or commentary. All this is now provided by the book under review for pBerlin P 6750, of which 10 columns survive more or less complete, and for pBerlin P 8765, which is in a more fragmentary state—not more than a third of one column and the major part of a second column have been preserved. In presenting her edition Widmer follows the model of one of her academic teachers, Mark Smith, in meticulously copying his system of editing and organizing the pertinent commentaries. This is not to the detriment of the book’s quality, rather to the contrary—except for the lack of indexes, which would have benefitted readers who want to find the wealth of information that Widmer offers in her commentary. There is a glossary of demotic words, which allows the reader to find a lot of important information in the commentary, but it does not indicate much of what she has to say about Egyptian religion. The reviewer fears that only a minority of readers, be it of this journal or Egyptologists in general, will indulge in reading an extensive commentary that combines discussion of demotic palaeography and lexicography with explaining issues of Egyptian religion.

The text comprises two parts, both liturgical in nature. The first one deals with the veneration of Osiris or Sokar(-Osiris) and covers the first seven preserved columns, whereas the second part, entitled ‘The writings of pampering(?; hlʿly) Horus, the son of Isis’ is addressed to Osiris’ son and successor, Horus (cols. x+VIII–X), and focuses on him. The two parts are not coherent texts, but consist of sections that are separated by rubricized headings labelled ‘other hymn’, ‘ritual of the night of seeking’ (a composition related to the well-known hourly vigil in the cult of Osiris), and ‘offering litany’, which is meant to accompany an offering cult for Horus, son of Isis, while also being part of the Osiris cult. On the basis of this composition, Widmer rightly suggests a use for this text in temple ritual. Although for us today the two parts seem to follow a coherent sequence of events—death of Osiris and succession of his son Horus—each part was used at two very different dates in the liturgical year, as the text itself details. The Osirian part accompanied rites during the month of Hathyr (according to ancient Egyptian tradition Osiris was murdered on Hathyr, 17th), the Horus part five months later during Pharmouthi.

The principal deity of Dimê, Soknopaios (the local form of Sobek), does not appear in the text at all. In earlier articles analysing the religious world of the text, Widmer tried to address that surprising fact by interpreting Soknopiais, a god attested in Dimê chiefly in Greek sources, as being the Osirian form, and Soknopaios as Sobek’s Horus form. However, neither Soknopaios nor Soknopiais appears in the text, just Sobek a few times. Therefore, it seemed to be an unnecessarily complicated theoretical construct.3 Now, though she does not seem to have completely given up that position, she downgrades it to one optional hypothesis. She does so in view of the increasingly richer corpus of attestations for an Osirian cult in Dimê which make it more likely that Dimê had a cult for Osiris in its own right, along with the well-known worship of Horus in his various forms. Thus pBerlin P 6750 and its parallels testify to the participation of the priesthood at Dimê in the religious discourse and practices of Egypt during Roman rule as do many other texts.

As the text is a composite, it follows that each section might have a different age and different linguistic forms. Therefore the texts of pBerlin P 6750 cannot easily be classified as ‘Demotic’, ‘archaic’ or ‘archaizing Demotic’ or ‘traditional Egyptian’. Rather they follow various idioms, i.e. Demotic with archaizing features or more purely traditional Middle Egyptian.

While the demotic script is well suited for writing Egyptian in its penultimate (Demotic) form, it is less good for writing earlier Middle Egyptian. To solve this problem, demotic scribes (and to a lesser degree, their hieratic predecessors/colleagues) used unusual orthographies. One method employs phonetic writings (chiefly using uniliteral signs). However, some words appear in a spelling that is even more baffling because, while keeping the original determinatives, they combine words into new ones if the words combined are homophonous to the syllables of the word to be expressed. Superficially such words look like two or (rarely) more distinct words. This second sort of notation is called non-etymological, and it is Widmer who first proposed the distinction between phonetic and non-etymological.4 In this nomenclature, the purpose of writing phonetically is to display the correct sound of the word, whereas the non- etymological graphematisation may often add a second layer of meaning to religious compositions. Are the original meanings of those constituent words that the scribe selected to serve as syllables of another word still valid? And if so, do they imply a further dimension? Such cases as ḫnṱ sȝ-ḥw.t-nṯr that appears to be ‘foremost of the phyle of the temple,’ but stands for ḫnty sḥ-nṯr ‘foremost of the god’s booth’, i.e. an epithet of Anubis, invite scholarly speculation that might come close to ancient Egyptian priestly speculation. The form ḫnṱ sȝ-ḥw.t-nṯr could be seen as stressing an intimate relationship of the priestly personnel to Anubis by incorporating itself into the epithet of that deity. Another example would be pȝ-wt tpy, which looks like ‘the first flourishing’, but is to be read pȝw.t tp.t ‘the beginning of time’. The former would then be a more metaphorical, poetic expression of the latter. Demotists do not agree on this issue, but the reviewer is inclined to follow Widmer’s assessment. Unfortunately, Widmer seems to have abandoned this distinction in her glossary, which is exemplary in giving each word in facsimile, transliteration, translation, and references to all occurrences in the papyri. There she uses the abbreviation ‘ENE’ (‘écriture non étymologique’) throughout but not ‘EP’ (‘écriture phonétique’) as opposed to her two lists on p. 45–6 where she still differentiates the two.

The two aforementioned examples give a sample of the enormous difficulty that the text poses to anybody who endeavours to decipher it. The uncertainty about whether an identically written word is always identical in meaning exacerbates the problem. Within one single line twȝ.t, ‘netherworld’ in a ‘normal’ Demotic text, could be ‘image’ (to display older tỉ.t), and also ‘netherworld’ in twȝ.t tsly.t ‘holy underworld’ while elsewhere in the text twȝ.t tsly.t stands for ‘holy land’ (in hieroglyphs and hieratic tȝ ḏsr),5 not to mention twȝ.t ‘hand’ (older ḏr.t), ‘time’ (older tr), and ‘here’ (older dy). Over other groups some demotists debated for quite a while, and these groups still remain difficult to explain but have now been solved. An example for this is snsn, which has been interpreted as ỉwỉw, kʿkʿ, and gsgs.6

It should be clear that reading the papyri is not an easy task. Consequently, the major part of the book (p. 127–328) is the commentary in which Widmer explains her readings. This requires diving into the palaeography of demotic, the lexicography of Egyptian, and also Egyptian religion, which often assists interpretation. The commentary is a great achievement, and the chapters discussing certain issues of Egyptian religion in a synthesis complement it. Those chapters will be welcome to readers of Bryn Mawr Classical Review who are interested in religion in Graeco-Roman Egypt.

It is daily use that proves the scholarly value of a book. Now the present reviewer is working himself on the Daily Ritual of the Temple of Soknopaios, a religious text from the same site, with manuscripts dating roughly to the same period, and its orthography being the same phonetic or non-etymological form of notation. The major difference is that the Daily Ritual has many more hieroglyphic and hieratic parallels than the texts of pBerlin P 6750 (cf. p. 8 where Widmer lists the few lines for which she could identify parallels). In many cases, the reviewer can confirm Widmer’s readings by the parallels in the Daily Ritual, and in other cases her commentaries are useful for the reviewer’s own research. Thus, the book has already proven to be useful in scholarly daily routine. Therefore, it may be safe to say that Widmer’s book is important and good. Unfortunately, it is also quite expensive, and one might expect more attention to the colour plates on the part of the publisher. The museum’s photographer, Sandra Steiss, always provides excellent images that rival the original, but here the photos appear too reddish and are reduced in scale, even if the page would have allowed for a larger reproduction.


Avant-propos xi
Avertissement xiii
1. Présentation des papyrus Berlin P. 6750 et Berlin P. 8765 1
2. Contenu et structure des papyrus Berlin P. 6750 et Berlin P. 8765 11
3. Écriture et paléographie des papyrus Berlin P. 6750 et Berlin P. 8765 23
4. La langue des papyrus Berlin P. 6750 et Berlin P. 8765 31
5. Les marques de remplissage et de ponctuation du papyrus Berlin P. 6750 49
6. L’univers géographique des papyrus Berlin P. 6750 et Berlin P. 8765 55
7. L’univers religieux des papyrus Berlin P. 6750 et Berlin P. 8765 63
8. Harpsenesis (Ḥr-pȝ-šr-n-Ỉs.t) 81
9. Translitération et traduction du papyrus Berlin P. 6750 87
10. Commentaire du papyrus Berlin P. 6750 127
11. Translitération et traduction du papyrus Berlin P. 8765 recto 303
12. Commentaire du papyrus Berlin P. 8765 recto 317
13. The Greek document on the verso of papyrus Berlin P. 8765 Preliminary description and translation (Nikos Litinas) 331
14. Conclusion 337
Traduction continue du papyrus Berlin P. 6750 345
Bibliographie 359
Index des papyrus Berlin P. 6750 et Berlin P. 8765 379
Planches 445


1. ‘Und zwar von allen bösen ägyptischen Schriftarten die böseste.’: H. Grapow, ‘Review of Erichsen, Demotische Lesestücke ’, OLZ 40 (1937), 487.

2. Widmer’s argument for dating the papyri is a bit puzzling because, following Lippert and Schentuleit, she uses the flesh determinative as criterion (p. 24) and thus implies roughly 100 CE as date of writing. At the same time, she classifies my dating of a papyrus that she herself deems to be very similar to pBerlin P 6750, as ‘less conclusive’ although I apply the same method (albeit not exposed in the preliminary report that she cites p. 23 n. 90). In the end she leaves the question unanswered.

3. Cf. M. A. Stadler, ‘Archaeology of Discourse: The Scribal Tradition in the Roman Fayyûm and the House of Life at Dimê’, in: M. Capasso and P. Davoli (eds), Soknopaios, the Temple and Worship: Proceedings of the First Round Table of the Centro di Studi Papirologici of Università del Salento Lecce – October 9th 2013 (Edaphos 1; Lecce, Rovato, 2015), 215–216.

4. G. Widmer, ‘Une invocation à la déesse (tablette démotique Louvre E 10382)’, in: F. Hoffmann and H. J. Thissen (eds), Res severa verum gaudium: Festschrift für Karl-Theodor Zauzich zum 65. Geburtstag am 8. Juni 2004 (Studia Demotica 6; Leuven, Paris, Dudley, 2004), 651–686.

5. The glossary inadvertently omits this translation, p. 425.

6. P. 165–6: Widmer cites M. A. Stadler, ‘Demotica aus Dime: Ein Überblick über die in Dime während der Kampagnen 2001–2009 gefundenen demotischen Texte’, in: M. Capasso and P. Davoli (eds), Soknopaiou Nesos Project I (2003–2009) (Pisa, Roma, 2012), 258, is mentioned but the wording does not make clear who proposed the reading snsn earlier on the basis of a hieratic parallel.