Neferkaptah and the Thoth

Neferkaptah and the Book of Thoth


THE mighty King User.maat.ra (Ra-meses the
Great) had a son named Setna Kha.em.uast who was
a great scribe, and very learned in all the ancient
writings. And he heard that the magic book of Thoth,
by which a man may enchant heaven and earth, and
know the language of all birds and beasts, was
buried in the cemetery of Memphis. And he went to
search for it with his brother An.he.hor.eru; and
when they found the tomb of the king's son,
Na.nefer.ka.ptah, son of the king of Upper

THE mighty King User.maat.ra (Ra-meses the
Great) had a son named Setna Kha.em.uast who was
a great scribe, and very learned in all the ancient
writings. And he heard that the magic book of Thoth,
by which a man may enchant heaven and earth, and
know the language of all birds and beasts, was
buried in the cemetery of Memphis. And he went to
search for it with his brother An.he.hor.eru; and
when they found the tomb of the king's son,
Na.nefer.ka.ptah, son of the king of Upper
and Lower Egypt, Mer.neb.ptah, Setna opened it and
went in.
Now in the tomb was Na.nefer.ka.ptah, and with him was the ka of his wife Ahura;
                                                             AHURA'S APPEAL.

for though she was buried at Koptos, her ka dwelt at Memphis with her husband, whom she loved. And Setna saw
them seated before their offerings, and the book lay

between them. And Na.nefer.ka.ptah said to Setna, "Who are you that break into my tomb in this way?" He said, "I
am Setna, son of the great King User.maat.ra, living for ever, and I come for that book which I see between you."
And Na.nefer.ka.ptah said, "It cannot be given to you." Then said Setna, "But I will carry it away by force."
Then Ahura said to Setna, "Do not take this book; for it will bring trouble on you, as it has upon us. Listen to what
we have suffered for it."

"We were the two children of the King Mer.neb.ptah, and he loved us very much, for he had no others; and
Na.nefer.ka.ptah was in his palace as heir over all the land. And when we were grown, the king said to the queen, 'I
will marry Na.nefer.ka.ptah

to the daughter of a general, and Ahura to the son of another general.' And the queen said, 'No, he is the heir, let him
marry his sister, like the heir of a king, none other is fit for him.' And the king said, 'That is not fair; they had better
be married to the children of the general.'
"And the queen said, 'It is you who are not dealing rightly with me.' And the king answered, 'If I have no more than
these two children, is it right that they should marry one another? I will marry Na.nefer.ka.ptah to the daughter of an
officer, and Ahura to the son of another officer. It has often been done so in our family.'
"And at a time when there was a great feast before the king, they came to fetch me to the feast. And I was very
troubled, and did not behave as I used to do. And the king said to me, 'Ahura, have you sent some one to me about
this sorry matter, saying, "Let me be married to my elder brother"? 'I said to him, 'Well, let me marry the son
of an officer, and he marry the daughter of another officer, as it often happens so in our family.' I laughed, and the
king laughed. And the king told the steward of the palace, 'Let them take Ahura to the house of Na.nefer.ka.ptah tonight,
and all kinds of good things with her.' So they brought me as a wife to the house of Na.nefer.ka.ptah; and the
king ordered them to give me presents of silver and gold, and things from the palace.
"And Na.nefer.ka.ptah passed a happy time with me, and received all the presents from the palace; and we loved one
another. And when I expected a child, they told the king, and he was most heartily glad; and he sent me many
things, and a present of the best silver and gold and linen. And when the time came, I bore this little child that is
before you. And they gave him the name of Mer-ab, and registered him in the book of the 'House of life.'
"And when my brother Na.nefer.ka.ptah

went to the cemetery of Memphis, he did nothing on earth but read the writings that are in the catacombs of the
kings, and the tablets of the 'House of life,' and the

                                                        READING THE INSCRIPTION.inscriptions that are seen on the monuments, and he worked hard on the writings. And there was a priest there
called Nesi-ptah; and as Na.nefer.ka.ptah went into a
AHURA'S TALE 93
temple to pray, it happened that he went behind this priest, and was reading the inscriptions that were on the
chapels of the gods. And the priest mocked him and laughed. So Na.nefer.ka.ptah said to him, 'Why are you laughing
at me?' And he replied, 'I was not laughing at you, or if I happened to do so, it was at your reading writings that are
worthless. If you wish so much to read writings, come to me, and I will bring you to the place where the book is
which Thoth himself wrote with his own hand, and which will bring you to the gods. When you read but two pages in
this you will enchant the heaven, the earth, the abyss, the mountains, and the sea; you shall know what the birds of
the sky and the crawling things are saying; you shall see the fishes of the deep, for a divine power is there to bring

them up out of the depth. And when you read the second page, if you are in the world of ghosts, you will become
again in the shape you were in on earth. You will

see the sun shining in the sky, with all the gods, and the full moon.'
"And Na.nefer.ka.ptah said, 'By the life of the king! Tell me of anything you want
                                                         SENDING THE SILVER.
done and I'll do it for you, if you will only send me where this book is.' And the priest answered Na.nefer.ka.ptah, 'If
you want to go to the place where the book is, you must

give me a hundred pieces of silver for my funeral, and provide that they shall bury me as a rich priest.' So
Na.nefer.ka.ptah called his lad and told him to give the priest a hundred pieces of silver; and he made them do as he
wished, even everything that he asked for. Then the priest said to Na.nefer.ka.ptah, 'This book is in the middle of the
river at Koptos, in an iron box; in the iron box is a bronze box; in the bronze box is a sycamore box; in the sycamore
box is an ivory and ebony box; in the ivory and ebony box is a silver box; in the silver box is a golden box, and in that
is the book. It is twisted all round with snakes and scorpions and all the other crawling things around the box in
which the book is; and there is a deathless snake by the box.' And when the priest told Na.nefer.ka.ptah, he did not
know where on earth he was, he was so much delighted.
"And when he came from the temple he told me all that had happened to him. And

he said, 'I shall go to Koptos, for I must fetch this book; I will not stay any longer in the north.' And I said, 'Let me
dissuade you, for you prepare sorrow and you will bring me into trouble in the Thebaid.' And I laid my hand on
Na.nefer.ka.ptah, to keep him from going to Koptos, but he would not listen to me; and he went to the king, and told
the king all that the priest had said. The king asked him, 'What is it that you want?' and he replied, 'Let them give

me the royal boat with its belongings, for I will go to the south with Ahura and her little boy Mer-ab, and fetch this
book without delay.' So they gave him the royal boat with its belongings, and we went with him to the haven, and
sailed from there up to Koptos.
"Then the priests of Isis of Koptos, and the high priest of Isis, came down to us without waiting, to meet
Na.nefer.ka.ptah, and their wives also came to me. We went into the temple of Isis and Harpokrates; and

Na.nefer.ka.ptah brought an ox, a goose, and some wine, and made a burnt-offering and a drink-offering before Isis
of Koptos and Harpokrates. They brought us to a very



                                                              THE PRIESTS' WIVES.
fine house, with all good things; and Na.nefer.ka.ptah spent four days there and feasted with the priests of Isis of
Koptos, and the wives of the priests of Isis also made holiday with me.
8

"And the morning of the fifth day came; and Na.nefer.ka.ptah called a priest to him, and made a magic cabin that
was full of men and tackle. He put the spell upon it, and put life in it, and gave them breath, and sank it in the water.
He filled the royal boat with sand, and took leave of me, and sailed from the haven: and I sat by the river at Koptos
that I might see what would become of him. And he said, 'Workmen, work for me, even at the place where the book
is.' And they toiled by night and by day; and when they had reached it in three days, he threw the sand out, and
made a shoal in the river. And then he found on it entwined serpents and scorpions and all kinds of crawling things
around the box in which the book was; and by it he found a deathless snake around the box. And he laid the spell
upon the entwined serpents and scorpions and all kinds of crawling things which were around the box, that they
should not come out. And he went to the deathless snake, and fought with

him, and killed him; but he came to life again, and took a new form. He then fought again with him a second time;
but he came to life again, and took a third form. He then cut him in two parts, and put sand

                                                            SLAYING THE SNAKE.
between the parts, that he should not appear again.
"Na.nefer.ka.ptah then went to the place where he found the box. He uncovered a box of iron, and opened it; he
found then a box of bronze, and opened that; then he found

a box of sycamore wood, and opened that; again, he found a box of ivory and ebony, and opened that; yet, he found
a box of silver, and opened that; and then he found a box of gold; he opened that, and found the book in it. He took
the book from the golden box, and read a page of spells from it. He enchanted the heaven and the earth, the abyss,
the mountains, and the sea; he knew what the birds of the sky, the fish of the deep, and the beasts of the hills all
said. He read another page of the spells, and saw the sun shining in the sky, with all the gods, the full moon, and the
stars in their shapes; he saw the fishes of the deep, for a divine power was present that brought them up from the
water. He then read the spell upon the workmen that he had made, and taken from the haven, and said to them,
'Work for me, back to the place from which I came.' And they toiled night and day, and so he came back to the place
where I sat by the river of Koptos; I had not drunk nor

eaten anything, and had done nothing on earth, but sat like one who is gone to the grave.
"I then told Na.nefer.ka.ptah that I wished to see this book, for which we had taken so much trouble. He gave the
book into my hands; and when I read a page of the spells in it I also enchanted heaven and earth, the abyss, the
mountains, and the sea; I also knew what the birds of the sky, the fishes of the deep, and the beasts of the hills all
said. I read another page of the spells, and I saw the sun shining in the sky with all the gods, the full moon, and the
stars in their shapes; I saw the fishes of the deep, for a divine power was present that brought them up from the
water. As I could not write, I asked Na.nefer.ka.ptah, who was a good writer, and a very learned one; he called for a
new piece of papyrus, and wrote on it all that was in the book before him. He dipped it in beer, and washed it off in
the liquid; for he knew that if it were washed off, and he

drank it, he would know all that there was in the writing.
"We returned back to Koptos the same day, and made a feast before Isis of Koptos and Harpokrates. We then went
to the haven and sailed, and went northward of Koptos. And as we went on Thoth discovered all that
Na.nefer.ka.ptah had done with the book; and Thoth hastened to tell Ra, and said, 'Now know that my book and my
revelation are with Na.nefer.ka.ptah, son of the King Mer.neb.ptah. He has forced himself into my place, and robbed
it, and seized my box with the writings, and killed my guards who protected it.' And Ra replied to him, 'He is before
you, take him and all his kin.'He sent a power from heaven with the command, 'Do not let Na.nefer.ka.ptah return
safe to Memphis with all his kin.' And after this hour, the little boy Mer-ab, going out from the awning of the royal
boat, fell into the river: he called on Ra, and everybody who was on the bank raised a cry. Na.nefer.ka.

ptah went out of the cabin, and read the spell over him; he brought his body up because a divine power brought him
to the surface. He read another spell over him, and made him tell of all what happened to him, and of what Thoth
had said before Ra.
"We turned back with him to Koptos. We brought him to the Good House, we fetched the people to him, and made
one embalm him; and we buried him in his coffin in the cemetery of Koptos like a great and noble person.
"And Na.nefer.ka.ptah, my brother, said, 'Let us go down, let us not delay, for the king has not yet heard of what has
happened to him, and his heart will be sad about it.' So we went to the haven, we sailed, and did not stay to the
north of Koptos. When we were come to the place where the little boy Mer-ab had fallen in the water, I went out
from the awning of the royal boat, and I fell into the river. They called Na.nefer.ka.ptah, and he came out from the
cabin of the royal

boat; he read a spell over me, and brought my body up, because a divine power brought me to the surface. He drew
me out, and read the spell over me, and made me tell him

                                                              READING THE SPELL.
of all that had happened to me, and of what Thoth had said before Ra. Then he turned back with me to Koptos, he
brought me to the Good House, he fetched the people to me, and made one embalm me, as great and noble people
are buried, and laid me in the tomb where Mer-ab my young child was.

"He turned to the haven, and sailed down, and delayed not in the north of Koptos. When he was come to the place
where we fell

                                                                   REMORSE.
into the river, he said to his heart, 'Shall I not better turn back again to Koptos, that I may lie by them? For, if not,
when I go down to Memphis, and the king asks after

his children, what shall I say to him? Can I tell him, "I have taken your children to the Thebaid, and killed them,
while I remained alive, and I have come to Memphis still alive"?' Then he made them bring him a linen cloth of
striped byssus; he made a band, and bound the book firmly, and tied it upon him. Na.nefer.ka.ptah then went out of
the awning of the royal boat and fell into the river. He cried on Ra; and all those who were on the bank made an
outcry, saying, 'Great woe! Sad woe! Is he lost, that good scribe and able man that has no equal?'
"The royal boat went on, without any one on earth knowing where Na.nefer.ka.ptah was. It went on to Memphis, and
they told all this to the king. Then the king went down to the royal boat in mourning, and all the soldiers and high
priests and priests of Ptah were in mourning, and all the officials and courtiers. And when he saw Na.nefer.ka.ptah,
who was in the inner cabin of the

royal boat--from his rank of high scribe--he lifted him up. And they saw the book by him; and the king said, 'Let one

hide this book that is with him.' And the officers of the king, the priests of Ptah, and the high priest of Ptah, said to
the king, 'Our Lord, may the king live as long as the sun! Na.nefer.ka.ptah was a good scribe, and a very skilful man.'
And the king had him laid in his Good House to the sixteenth day, and then had him wrapped to the thirty-fifth day,
and laid him out to the seventieth day, and then had him put in his grave in his resting-place.
"I have now told you the sorrow which has come upon us because of this book for which you ask, saying, 'Let it be
given to me.' You have no claim to it; and, indeed, for the sake of it, we have given up our life on earth."
And Setna said to Ahura, "Give me the

book which I see between you and Na.nefer.ka.ptah; for if you do not I will take it by force." Then Na.nefer.ka.ptah
rose from his seat and said, "Are you Setna, to whom
                                                     SETNA DEMANDING THE ROLL.
my wife has told of all these blows of fate, which you have not suffered? Can you take this book by your skill as a
good scribe? If, indeed, you can play games with

me, let us play a game, then, of 52 points." And Setna said, "I am ready," and the board and its pieces were put
before him. And Na.nefer.ka.ptah won a game from Setna; and he put the spell upon him, and
                                                            SETNA VANQUISHED.
defended himself with the game board that was before him, and sunk him into the ground above his feet. He did the
same at the second game, and won it from Setna, and sunk him into the ground to his waist.

He did the same at the third game, and made him sink into the ground up to his ears. Then Setna struck
Na.nefer.ka.ptah a great blow with his hand. And Setna called his brother An.he.hor.eru and said to him,
                                                      APPLYING THE TALISMAN.
"Make haste and go up upon earth, and tell the king all that has happened to me, and bring me the talisman of my
father Ptah, and my magic books."
And he hurried up upon earth, and told

the king all that had happened to Setna. The king said, "Bring him the talisman of his father Ptah, and his magic
books." And An.he.hor.eru hurried down into the tomb;
                                                                SETNA VICTORIOUS.
he laid the talisman on Setna, and he sprang up again immediately. And then Setna reached out his hand for the
book, and took it. Then--as Setna went out from the

tomb--there went a Light before him, and Darkness behind him. And Ahura wept at him, and she said, "Glory to the
King of Darkness! Hail to the King of Light! all power is gone from the tomb." But Na.nefer.ka.ptah said to Ahura,
"Do not let your heart be sad; I will make him bring back this book, with a forked stick in his hand, and a fire-pan
on his head." And Setna went out from the tomb, and it closed behind him as it was before.
Then Setna went to the king, and told him everything that had happened to him with the book. And the king said to
Setna, "Take back the book to the grave of Na.nefer.ka.ptah, like a prudent man, or else he will make you bring it
with a forked stick in your hand, and a fire-pan on your head." But Setna would not listen to him; and when Setna
had unrolled the book he did nothing on earth but read it to everybody.
[Here follows a story of how Setna, walking in the court of the temple of Ptah, met

Tabubua, a fascinating girl, daughter of a priest of Bast, of Ankhtaui; how she repelled his advances, until she had beguiled him into giving up all his possessions, and
                                                       SETNA READING THE ROLL.
slaying his children. At the last she gives a fearful cry and vanishes, leaving Setna bereft of even his clothes. This
would seem to be merely a dream, by the disappearance of Tabubua, and by Setna finding 9

his children alive after it all; but on the other hand he comes to his senses in an unknown place, and is so terrified as
to be quite ready to make restitution to Na.nefer.ka.ptah. The episode, which is not creditable to Egyptian society,
seems to be intended for one of the vivid dreams which the credulous readily accept as half realities.]
So Setna went to Memphis, and embraced his children for that they were alive. And the king said to him, "Were you
not drunk to do so?" Then Setna told all things that had happened with Tabubua and Na.nefer. ka.ptah. And the king
said, "Setna, I have already lifted up my hand against you before, and said, 'He will kill you if you do not take back
the book to the place you took it from.' But you have never listened to me till this hour. Now, then, take the book to
Na.nefer.ka.ptah, with a forked stick in your hand, and a fire-pan on your head."
So Setna went out from before the king, with a forked stick in his hand, and a fire-

pan on his head. He went down to the tomb in which was Na.nefer.ka.ptah. And Ahura said to him, "It is Ptah, the
great god, that has brought you back safe." Na.nefer.ka.ptah laughed, and he said, "This is the business that I told
you before." And when Setna had praised Na.nefer.ka.ptah, he found it as the proverb says, "The sun was in the
whole tomb." And Ahura and Na.nefer.ka.ptah besought Setna greatly. And Setna said, "Na.nefer.ka.ptah, is it aught
disgraceful (that you lay on me to do)?" And Na.nefer.ka.ptah said, "Setna, you know this, that Ahura and Mer-ab,
her child, behold! they are in Koptos; bring them here into this tomb, by the skill of a good scribe. Let it be
impressed upon you to take pains, and to go to Koptos to bring them here." Setna then went out from the tomb to
the king, and told the king all that Na.nefer.ka.ptah had told him.
The king said, "Setna, go to Koptos and bring back Ahura and Mer-ab." He

answered the king, "Let one give me the royal boat and its belongings." And they gave him the royal boat and its
belongings, and he left the haven, and sailed without stopping till he came to Koptos.
And they made this known to the priests of Isis at Koptos and to the high priest of Isis; and behold they came down
to him, and gave him their hand to the shore. He went up with them and entered into the temple of Isis of Koptos
and of Harpo-krates. He ordered one to offer for him an ox, a goose, and some wine, and he made a burnt-offering
and a drink-offering before Isis of Koptos and Harpokrates. He went to the cemetery of Koptos with the priests of
Isis and the high priest of Isis. They dug about for three days and three nights, for they searched even in all the
catacombs which were in the cemetery of Koptos; they turned over the steles of the scribes of the "double house of
life," and read the inscriptions that they found on them. But

they could not find the resting-place of Ahura and Mer-ab.
Now Na.nefer.ka.ptah perceived that they could not find the resting-place of Ahura and her child Mer-ab. So he
raised himself up as a venerable, very old, ancient, and came before Setna. And Setna saw him, and Setna said to the
ancient, "You look like a very old man, do you know where is the resting-place of Ahura and her child Mer-ab?" The
ancient said to Setna, "It was told by the father of the father of my father to the father of my father, and the father of
my father has told it to my father; the resting-place of Ahura and of her child Mer-ab is in a mound south of the
town of Pehemato (?)" And Setna said to the ancient, "Perhaps we may do damage to Pehemato, and you are ready
to lead one to the town for the sake of that." The ancient replied to Setna, "If one listens to me, shall he therefore
destroy the town of Pehemato! If they do not find Ahura and her child

Mer-ab under the south corner of their town may I be disgraced." They attended to the ancient, and found the
resting-place of Ahura and her child Mer-ab under the south corner of the town of Pehemato. Setna laid them in the
royal boat to bring them as honoured persons, and restored the town of Pehemato as it originally was. And
Na.nefer.ka.ptah made Setna to know that it was he who had come to Koptos, to enable them to find out where the
resting-place was of Ahura and her child Mer-ab.
So Setna left the haven in the royal boat, and sailed without stopping, and reached Memphis with all the soldiers
who were with him. And when they told the king he came down to the royal boat. He took them as honoured persons
escorted to the catacombs, in which Na.nefer.ka.ptah was, and smoothed down the ground over them.
This is the completed writing of the tale of Setna Kha.em.uast, and Na.nefer.ka.-ptah, and

his wife Ahura, and their Mid Mer-ab. It was written in the 35th year, the month Tybi.

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