P.Vindob. Aeg. 10.994-10.997

While I was stomping around in Vienna last spring, I paid a visit to the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek located in the Hofburg palace. Inside the library (which, after getting lost in more than once, my friends and I agreed is the most Kafkaesque library in existence) is a fabulous papyrus museum that houses Egyptian, Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic papyri spanning almost two millennia.

One splendid papyrus on display is P.Vindob. Aeg. 10.994-10.997. This papyrus contains a copy of the Book of the Dead that was owned by a scribe named Sesostris, who lived during the 18th dynasty (circa 1500 BC). One thing in particular stood out to me about this papyrus.

Click the image to enhance.
You’ll notice that while the hieroglyphic text comes from Utterance 43, the accompanying vignette has been misplaced, as it comes from Utterance 78.
So what gives? Why have the text and vignette been misplaced? Henk Milde explains that this sort of thing (misplacing text and vignette) could have arisen for any number of reasons, including:
1. “Spacial discrepancy of saying and vignette”
2. “False combination of saying and vignette in the original”
3. “False combinations of saying and vignette in Book of the Dead studies and editions”
4. “Unclear relationship between saying and vignette”
5. “Relocations or omissions of picture elements”
6. “Emendations of pictures”
7. “Combination and contamination of the picture elements of various vignettes”
8. “Conglomeration of texts under a vignette”
(Henk Milde, “Vignetten–Forschung,” in Totenbuch–Forschungen: Gesammelte Beiträge des 2. Internationalen Totenbuch–Symposiums 2005, ed. Burkhard Backes, Irmtraut Munro, and Simone Stöhr [Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2006], 221–232.)
I’ll let those with ears to hear and eyes to see figure out why this might be significant for the placement of the vignette in P. Joseph Smith I.  

Incidentally, here’s the explanatory placard accompanying the display.

Click the image to enhance.

It reads. 

The ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead is a collection of circa 200 sayings, which are to be found in differing selections of various text carriers [Textträgern]. Principally the texts – frequently seen with accompanying depictions (vignettes) – were given to the deceased in the grave on papyrus rolls; however, mummy-wrappings, corpse shrouds, grave and temple walls, and also coffins and other forms of grave goods were written with text of the Book of the Dead.

I am right now writing a paper with a friend of mine on the use of the Book of the Dead as a ritual text. Sufficient it to say for now that there is evidence that this so-called “funerary text” had more than just one “funerary” function. As Egyptologists like Alexandra von Lieven have noted, the Book of the Dead had a Sitz im Leben as much as it had a Sitz im Tod

That Sitz im Leben, it just so happens, was the temple.

(See Alexandra von Lieven, “Book of the Dead, Book of the Living: BD Spells as Temple Texts,” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 98 [2012]: 249–67.)

This same point, by the way, was raised by Nibley back in the 1970s. (Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment, 2nd ed. [Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2005], esp. 12-15.) 

Time, it seems, still vindicates Hugh Nibley.

I don’t know about you, but I think all of this stuff is pretty neat.