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What is the Book of Caverns?

During the days of the ancient Egyptian New Kingdom, the Book of Caverns served as an important text in regards to funerary practices and beliefs. In this article, you will learn some of the meaning behind the book, and how it differed from other ancient Egyptian funerary texts.

To serve as reference for the deceased, the words of the Book of Caverns were written on the inside of a tomb. The book focuses on the journey of the sun god Ra as he traveled through the six caverns of the underworld. Descriptions of the rewards and punishments that can take place in afterlife are also mentioned in the text.

The Book of Caverns dates back to the wall of the Osireion in Abydos , found at the rear of the temple of Seti I. The site is a significant part of the funeral complex belonging to Seti I and was constructed in an effort to look like the 18th Dynasty Valley of the Kings tomb. The Book was also found in the tomb of Ramesses IV.

There is no ancient title given to the book and it differs from other ancient Egyptian texts related to funerary beliefs because it is not separated into the hours of the night. With descriptions and references to the underworld, the Book of Caverns dates back to the Ramessid Period in ancient Egyptian times. It speaks of the dead who fail their judgment in the afterlife and also rewards those who pass the judgments. The Book is special because it is one of the best texts that refer to Egyptian views of Hell.

The Book of Caverns is divided into two halves consisting of six sections. Each half is divided into three other parts. The first half gives an explanation as to how the sun god invokes beings and groups of gods. The second half provides description of the earlier books. The overall book is written in a more literary tone than other texts of the same nature. Because of the depth of details and its length, there are fewer images that accompany the book.

In the Book, the journey of Re is shared , along with the tasks that he must complete before he reaches the Light. Re encounters many caverns during his life journey that are guarded by gods and goddesses. It is his task to take souls throughout these obstacles. Each cavern comes with a task that must be completed and if the soul does not pass, then it is sent to nonexistence. When a soul is condemned to nonexistence, it is beheaded and their hearts are ripped from their chests.

A few points regarding the different sections of the Book of Caverns include:

Section 1: The snakes of the first cavern located at the entrance greet Re, who must greet Osiris with his hand extended out to him. However, Osiris is sitting on a shrine surrounded by serpents.

Section 2: Serpents continue to guard various gods and goddesses that Re must reach.

Section 3 and beyond: Describes the damned and their punishment. On the walls of the caverns, the damned are on display shown on ovals.