Recent discoveries of late hieratic and demotic Egyptian papyrus fragments from the 1st-2nd cents. C.E. have brought to light an important manual for the ideal Egyptian temple. It is attested also in one Greek manuscript from Oxyrhynchus which proves that at least parts of the composition were translated in a milieu which was still culturally attached to the Egyptian religion but preferred a different language. Up to now only preliminary information is available (e.g. Quack 2000; Quack 2004; Quack 2009), but practically nothing is published in English. The aim of this presentation will be to make this important source more accessible, since it can claim relevance beyond the narrow circles of Egyptology.
The text contains a historical introduction which uses the motif of seven lean years (like the biblical story of Joseph) as an explanation of how the text came about. Supposedly, the Egyptian king Neferkasokar—in reality, a very obscure figure of the early dynastic period—was ordered in a dream to restore all temples, and issued a decree to that effect. This decree was supposedly rediscovered by the famous prince Hardjedef during the reign of pharaoh Kheops. While clearly pseudepigraphic, this setting is itself of relevance, as it served the purpose of investing the document with great authority.
The main part of the text begins by treating the architectural layout of the temple. It is not a technical manual in the strict sense, given that it provides hardly any precise measurements, and not one illustrative sketch. What counts is the articulation of space in a topological perspective.
The second part of the text focuses on priests, with a general section at the beginning, followed by detailed descriptions of the individual rights and duties of all classes of temple employees. A much-debated passage is the one covered by the Greek fragments, which might shed new light on one of the most famous Egyptian works. This Greek portion contains oath formulae to be sworn on the occasion of the consecration of a high-ranking priest. Given their similarities with the "negative confessio" attested in the Book of the Dead, chapter 125, some scholars have proposed that the Egyptian funerary text goes back to a priestly ritual (Grieshammer 1974; Assmann 1990; 140-149; Gee 1998), while others have rejected the idea that a Greek text of the Roman period could be relevant for understanding a much older Egyptian composition (Griffiths 1991: 218-224; Lichtheim 1992: 127). The discovery of the Egyptian original and its context will help to propose a solution which, while recognising a relation between the manual of the temple and the Book of the Dead, does not derive the one from the other. Rather, the funerary composition should be seen as deriving from a manual of civil administration, given that the royal court is the crucial element in it.
The sections devoted to priests' individual duties are highly detailed, covering the amount of staff assigned for each specific job, the rank, the question of right for erecting statues and being put in the embalming workshop after death. Altogether, this composition is certainly one of the most detailed descriptions of priestly life transmitted from antiquity and thus of worthy of an interdisciplinary audience.