The PJ Tatler

Oh-Oh: Ancient Egyptian Ms. Filled with Spells Rediscovered in Cairo

Cue The Mummy:

A leather manuscript more than 4,000 years old has been painstakingly reconstructed by a scholar after it was rediscovered in the Egyptian museum in Cairo. Containing religious spells as well as colourful depictions of divine and supernatural beings, predating those found in the Book of the Dead manuscripts, the leather roll is around 2.5 metres long, with text and drawings on both sides. It is both the longest surviving leather ancient Egyptian manuscript and the oldest, according to Egyptologist Dr Wael Sherbiny, who found the roll in a mix of small and large fragments on the Cairo Museum’s shelves and announced his discovery at the International Congress of Egyptologists in Florence in August.

“The document was completely forgotten, probably because those who had direct contact with it died during or right after the second world war. Since then, it was stored among hundreds of other manuscripts and ancient papyri in the Cairo Museum,” Sherbiny said. “The moment I laid my eyes on the manuscript, I was thrilled.”

Well, who wouldn’t be? And what can possibly go wrong with “colorful depictions of divine and supernatural beings”?

He dates the roll to between 2,300 BC and 2,000 BC, from the late Old Kingdom up to the early Middle Kingdom, and says it contains many new religious texts, including a large pictorial-textual segment from the so-called Book of Two Ways, known from the floorboard decorations of Middle Kingdom coffins, as well as religious spells formulated in the first-person singular, probably intended for recitation by a priest.

“In the segment that was used in the so-called Book of Two Ways, the speaker is approaching an elaborate architectonic structure with a highly restricted access,” said Sherbiny. “A certain holy place that is protected by multiple gates and their powerful guardians. These latter are characterised as supernatural beings with immense magical powers. The texts in the scroll contain this specific and magical knowledge that is required to pass safely by these dangerous beings and get access to the divine restricted area behind the gates.”