The Book of Gates is the principal guidebook to the netherworld found in 19th and part of the 20th Dynasty tombs of the New Kingdom, though it makes its first appearance to us with the last king of the 18th Dynasty. It was meant to allow the dead pharaoh to navigate his way along the netherworld route together with the sun god, so that his resurrection could be affected. It emphasizes gates with guardian deities who's names must be known in order to pass them. This is actually a very old tradition dating to at least the Book of the Two Ways in the Coffin Texts, where there are seven gates with three keepers at each.
The middle register in the third hour of the Book of the Dead from the burial chamber of Ramesses I
Sources of the Book of Gates
We are not sure exactly when the Egyptian afterlife text known as the Book of Gates was composed. While some authorities, such as Hartwig Altenmuller, believe that, because of its similarity to the Amduat, it sprang from a time prior to Egypt's New Kingdom, others think it may better be attributable to the Amarna period. Regardless, the first example Egyptologists are aware of is that incomplete version in the tomb of the last pharaoh of Egypt's 18th Dynasty, Haremhab, who had the text placed in the sarcophagus chamber where, until then, the Amduat had been customary. The founders of the 19th Dynasty also employed the Book of Gates. Ramesses I included it alone in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings on the West Bank at Ancient Thebes (Modern Luxor), while his successor, Seti I', decorated the sarcophagus chamber of his tomb with the Amduat, reserving the Book of Gates for his two great pillared halls. This version includes only the first half of the book. However, Seti I's alabaster sarcophagus is adorned with the earliest complete and continuous version of the book. The famous Ramesses II also used the text in the upper pillared halls, sarcophagus chambers and subsidiary rooms of his tomb and his son, Merneptah, decorated the right wall of the corridor of his grandfather, Seti I's cenotaph at Abydos with a complete Book of Gates. There, he also placed the Book of Caverns on the left wall.
From Merneptah, the following kings until the reign of Ramesses IV had the text recorded on the walls of their sarcophagus chambers. A number of kings, such as Ramesses III also had selected text from the book placed on their sarcophagus, and some commoners, such as Tjanefer, a priest of Amun under Ramesses III, were also allowed to use a selection of the scenes. Ramesses VI broke from this tradition, replacing the text with the Book of the Earth in the sarcophagus chamber, but included a complete Book of Gates in the upper part of his tomb. However, Ramesses VII was actually the last pharaoh to include any of the Book of Gates, using the first and second hours in a single corridor. By Ramesses IX, it disappeared entirely from royal tombs.
Research on the Book of Gates
Because, in the tomb of Seti I and the Judgement of the Dead in the tomb of Ramesses VI, the Book of Gates depicted foreigners, it aroused the interest of scholars at an early date. These particular text were frequently copied. However, it was Jean-Francois Champollion who provided the first description of the Book of Gates, along with some translations in his 13th letter from Egypt, dated May 26, 1829. He mostly relied on the tomb of Ramesses VI for this translation. Yet the standard publication for many years was from an 1864 documentation of the alabaster sarcophagus of Seti I by Bonomi and Sharpe. In the ancient Egyptian text, the book is not named, so it was Gaston Maspero who originally designated it Livre de Portes (Book of Gates). He also referred to it as the Livre des Pylones, or "Book of Pylons, and Eugene Lefebure called it Livre de l'Enfer, or "Book of the Netherworld". Lefebure also provided a brief survey of its contents for an essay in 1888. Previously, he had already published the first translation of the text on from the Seti I sarcophagus in 1878 and 1881. In 1905, Budge described and translated the sarcophagus version and made a comparison between its hours of the night and those in the Amduat. However, because by this time the lid of the sarcophagus had been destroyed, his analysis was erroneous. The incomplete version of the Book found in the tomb of Horemhab was published in 1912 (after having only been discovered in 1908). More recent editions of the Book of Gates include that published by Charles Maystre and Alexandre Piankoff, who created a broader textual basis with their work of 1939-1962. However, this version was replaced by that of Erik Hornung in 1979. Today, the complete English version of the text by Pankoff has been available since 1954, while the German translation created by Hornung has been around since 1972.
Structure of the Book
The Book of Gates portrays the gates of the netherworld far more visibly and systematically than other similar compositions. It compares most readily with the gates in the Book of the Dead, spells 144 and 145, which the Ramesside Period Egyptians considered a substitute for the Book of Gates in tombs that did not belong to pharaohs, such as that of Nefertari and others in the Valley of the Queens. In fact, gates in the Book of the Dead spells and elsewhere have caused some confusion with the Book of Gates even among some scholars. The concept of gates in the afterlife was a reoccurring theme amongst many of the books of the afterlife.
The Book of Gates encompasses a total of one hundred scenes, many of which fill an entire register, though the last two hours contain a number of brief individual scenes. The Middle Egyptian of dialect of the text displays hardly any influences from the Late Egyptian written language, though it has been established that this composition contains an especially rich vocabulary.
The structure of the Book of Gates is very similar to that of the Amduat, with twelve nocturnal hours each divided into three registers. As in the Amduat, the first hour of the night has a special position with a structure that differs from the remainder of the composition.
However, in the last three hours, the main figure (Atum or Horus) is omitted from the lower registers, which show only deities and not the blessed dead. Also absent are long concluding texts. Instead, we find depictions of the Judgment of the Dead and the course of the sun, not divided into registers, in the middle and at the end of he composition. Also absent are notations concerning the use of the Book, but are replaced by remarks about offerings, which as a rule are located at the end of a scene (though not in the final three hours).
The Book of Gates also differs from the Amduat by the means of the gates depicted at the end of each hour. In the Book of Gates, each gate has a guardian in the form of a serpent on its door, as well as two further guardians with scary names and fire spitting uraei. Also, in the solar barque, only two gods, Sia and Heka are found depicted together with the sun god, while there are many crew members in the Amdaut. In the Book of Gates, the cabin of the barque in each hour is protected by a mehen-serpent and four male figures are portrayed like hieroglyphs towing the barque. In the sarcophagus chambers of Haremhab, Ramesses I and Seti I, the clothing and beards of these figures clearly mark them as human, rather than divine beings.
More than a thousand deities and deceased persons, representing many more than in the Amduat, are depicted within the Book of Gates. However, they are more regularly combined into groups, and they bear fewer individual names. Many of these groups represent deceased persons rather than deities.
This text, like other netherworld compositions, is concerned with the nocturnal journey of the sun. Compared to the Amduat, the hours are somewhat displaced. For example, in the Book of Gates, the drowned appear in the ninth rather than the tenth hour. Also, because of the grouping of deities and deceased persons, they are more clearly distinguished from each other then in the Amduat, and the dead appear bound to their respective regions in the hours of the night. Here also, the dead king's special status is more clearly defined, as he accompanies the sun god to his rebirth in the morning. In fact, most versions contain additions to the texts and representations that refer directly to the king.
The Judgment Hall
Just before the sixth hour, we find the portrayal of the Judgment hall, empathized by its insertion as a special scene. This is the only representation of the Judgment of the dead in any of the Books of the Netherworld, and so it is distinguished by the use of cryptographic writing. In the earlier versions, Osiris is enthroned on a stepped dais while the personified scale in front of him, unlike that in the Book of the Dead, bears empty pans. Therefore, the blessed dead stand on the steps of the dais, while the enemies who are consigned to the "Place of Annihilation" lie beneath their feet. Here also, we see another mincing power in the form of a pig being driven off.
The final scenes are not divided into registers as elsewhere. Like many illustrations accompanying the solar hymns of the Amarna period, the entire course of the sun is condensed into a single picture. Half hidden by the primeval waters indicated by wavy lines, the god Nun raises the solar barque of its depths. In the Barque, Isis and Nephthys embrace the sun in the form of a souring scarab beetle, as he pushes the sun disk toward the sky goddess Nut. She is upside down, indicating the inversion of the sun's course, which will once again run in the opposite direction from its course through the netherworld which is here the embodiment of Osiris. He surrounds this dark world with his curved body. Therefore, all three areas of the cosmos are represented, including the primeval waters, the height of the heavens and the depths of the earth. From above and below, arms embrace the sun, holding it aloft as it moves through the day.