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Book of Caverns

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Amduat · Books of Breathing · Book of Caverns · Book of the Dead · Book of the Earth · Book of Gates · Book of the Netherworld


Atenism · Curse of the Pharaohs

Ancient Egypt

The Book of Caverns is an important Ancient Egyptian funerary text of the New Kingdom.[1] Like many funerary texts, it was written on the inside of tombs for reference by the deceased. It describes the journey of the sun god Ra through the six caverns of the underworld, focusing on rewards and punishments in the afterlife.

The earliest appearance of this work is in the left hand wall of the Osireion in Abydos.[1] It first appears in the Valley of the Kings, in the tomb of Ramesses IV, in place of Amduat, where it was recorded by Jean Francois Champollion in his letters from Egypt.

The book has no ancient title, and is not divided into hours of the night as other Ancient Egyptian funerary texts are.[2]

The Book of Caverns originated in the Ramessid Period. The book speaks of the deceased who fail their judgment in the afterlife, and also the rewards of those who pass the judgments. The Book of Caverns is one of the best sources of information about the Egyptian concept of Hell.[3] The Book of Caverns is divided into two halves of six sections, each half is divided into three other parts. The first half explains how the sun god Ra invokes beings and groups of gods. The other half is a descriptive text of the earlier books. The Book of Caverns is much more literary that other funerary books from the New Kingdom, such as The Book of Gates. The Book of Caverns does not have as many pictures as the other books, but instead it is much more descriptive and lengthy.[4] The book describes the journey and tasks Re must go through to eventually end up in the Light. Ra must take souls through the afterlife journey through many caverns guarded by gods and goddesses. Each cavern has its own task and if the soul does not pass then it is sent to nonexistence. If a soul is condemned to nonexistence it is beheaded and its heart is ripped out of its chest.[3]

Section 1

Section 1 of the book describes Ra and his mission to enter the darkness in order to defend and care for Osiris and direct the souls of the deceased. Snakes guard the entrance to the first cavern. Ra must greet Osiris with his hand extended to him; Osiris is sitting on his shrine surrounded by the serpents. Osiris’ beheaded enemies are below him; this is the Egyptian concept of Hell. Osiris and Ra then condemn the beheaded souls to nonexistence.[3]

Section 2

In Section 2 Ra must reach various gods and goddesses who are guarded by various serpents. Once he reaches Osiris more souls sent to nonexistence. Nonexistence is known as the Place of Annihilation where the souls are punished by guards with knives.[3]

Sections 3 through 6

Sections 3 through 6 is about the damned and their punishment. The damned are shown in ovals in the walls of the caverns.[3] In the caverns the gods make sure each and every soul continues to serve its punishment. For the first time the book refers to women being in nonexistence. In all other books dealing with the afterlife of souls, none state anything about women in Hell.[3] Women were always thought to have been pure, and could never have the option of being damned to Hell.

As all the souls are trapped for eternity in hell, Osiris is down there with them. However a sun disc protects him and serpents surround him. Since he is protected he is able to continue the process.[3]


The first known almost complete version of The Book of Caverns that only has its upper register damaged was located in the Osireion. It was first discovered by archaeologists Flinders Petrie and Margaret Murray who were excavating the site in 1902 through 1903. The Book of Caverns was found directly across from the Book of Gates within the entrance passage on the left wall. The Book of Gates was located near the Book of Caverns because it also deals with death. The Book of Gates is an Ancient Egyptian sacred text that also dates back to the New Kingdom Dynasty.[3] Both of the books are based upon funerary texts of the New Kingdom, however they did not show up until the 19th Dynasty and were not in any of the tombs within the Valley of the Kings, except that of Pharaoh Ramesses IV.[3]

Ramesses IV was the first to use one of the earliest passages from the Book of Caverns, rather than the traditional Amduat passages. Ramesses VI was the first to use the entire version of the book in his tomb, in the Osireion, with the Book of Gates in the front of the tomb. The passages of the book were written all over the walls of the tomb completely covering it in text. Ramesses VII went even further and had passages not only written on the walls but also on the ceilings and in the sarcophagus chamber.[3]


Jean Francios Champollion first wrote about the book from the tomb of Ramesses VI providing some translations. Scholars however were not greatly interested in the text until about a century later, when the second complete version of the book was discovered in the Osireion.[3] In 1933 Henri Frankfort tired to write the first complete translation of the book with the help of Adriaan de Buck. It was not completely translated into English until 1941.[3]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Hornung (1999) p.83
  2. Hornung (1999) p.84
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11


  • Hornung, Erik (1999) (in German). The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife. David Lorton (translator). Cornell University Press. 

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This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Book of Caverns. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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