University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Earth, Wilbour Studies in Egypt and Ancient Western Asia, Vol.1

Joshua Roberson, Fellow Spotlight


Fellow Joshua Roberson had two books appear in 2012. Early in the year, The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Earth, Wilbour Studies in Egypt and Ancient Western Asia, Vol.1, was published by Lockwood Press and Brown University. The book stems from his dissertation research, and focuses on collections of scenes and texts inscribed on the walls of royal sarcophagus chambers throughout Egypt’s Ramessid Period (Dynasties 19–20) dated to ca. 1300–1100 B.C.E. Variously designated as the “Book of the Earth,” “Creation of the Solar Disc,” and “Book of Aker,” the scenes illustrate discrete episodes from the nocturnal voyage of the sun god, which functioned as a model for the resurrection of the deceased king. These earliest “Books of the Earth” employed mostly ad hoc arrangements of scenes united by shared elements of iconography, an over-arching, bipartite symmetry of composition, and frequent pairing with representations of the double sky overhead. From the Twenty-First Dynasty and later, selections of programmatic tableaux were adapted for use in private mortuary contexts, often in conjunction with innovative or previously unattested annotations. Josh’s study collects and analyzes all currently known royal and private “Book of the Earth” material, and discusses iconography, grammar, orthography, and architectural setting.

In addition, Josh co-authored Leparvis du temple D’Opet à Karnak, Exploration archéologique (2006–2007), Travaux du Centre franco-égyptien d’étude des temples de Karnak, Bibliothèque générale 41, Cairo: IFAO, with Guillaume Charloux and others. For this book he prepared a chapter on the analysis of the Middle Kingdom seal impression corpus associated with a temple dedicated to the goddess Opet. His contribution stemmed from his research as the chief sigillographer for the French-Egyptian expedition to the Opet precinct of the Karnak temple in Luxor, Egypt.

Since 2011, Josh has been an Assistant Professor of History at Camden County College in the Department of History, Philosophy, and Political Science. He teaches courses in World History and Egyptology. He is also a Consulting Scholar in the Egyptian Section at the Penn Museum. Josh is engaged in the public sector at the Center for Civic Leadership and Responsibility in Blackwood, New Jersey. In 2012 he presented the lecture series, “Beyond the Pyramids: An Introduction to the Religion and Culture of Ancient Egypt,” and “God’s Words: An Introduction to the Language of Ancient Egypt,” and continuing into the new year, he has organized the lecture series “Hidden Histories of Ancient Egypt” on their behalf. He has published numerous articles, including most recently “A New Nautical Idiom for Hoisting Sails (in the Underworld)?” Göttinger Miszellen 233 (2012), 43–50. Josh has lectured widely on the topics of his research. In 2012 he delivered the paper “The Awakening of Osiris: Interpretations and Observations on a Recalcitrant Sequence of Cryptographic Texts,” at the 63rd Annual Meeting of the American Research Center in Egypt in Providence, Rhode Island.

Josh is currently writing the final chapter for his next monograph, to be titled “The Awakening of Osiris and the Transit of the Solar Barques: Royal Apotheosis in a Most Concise Book of Underworld and Sky.” In this work he examines the representation of the awakening of the Egyptian god Osiris by his son, Horus. This scene appears directly beneath a vignette depicting the transit of the solar barques for the first time in the Nineteenth Dynasty cenotaph of Seti I at Abydos. The annotations to this bi-partite tableau appear in a mixture of standard, hieroglyphic Egyptian, and cryptographic scripts. Similar groups of scenes and texts occur in the Twentieth Dynasty royal tombs of Ramesses VI (KV9) and Ramesses IX (KV6), the Twenty-Second Dynasty tomb of Sheshonq III at Tanis (NRT5), and the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty private tomb of Mutirdis at Thebes (TT410). In addition, significant, albeit partial parallels occur on the Twenty-Second Dynasty sarcophagus of Psusennes and a Ptolemaic sarcophagus inscribed for a certain Khaf. Josh’s study offers a summary of the scenes’ iconography together with the first synoptic edition of the relevant annotations, taking into account all currently published exemplars. He translates many of the cryptographic texts for the first time, with improved or significantly expanded readings for other texts. Josh also considers the meaning and context of the paired scenes in both royal and private monuments, in order to demonstrate the status of the bi-partite tableau as a unified composition, which is identified as a concise representative of the cosmological genre usually referred to as the “Books of the Underworld and Sky.”

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