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Rebirth as the sun arises in the morning.

This coffin fragment shows Khepri (the scarab beetle, representing the newly created sun) being embraced or held aloft by the sun-disk representing the solarized (reborn) Osiris.[i] It dates to the earlier Twenty-second Dynasty (c. 943–800 B.C.) and was bought by Henry Wellcome at auction in 1924 from the Hood collection.[ii]

The sun-disk was Khepri (meaning ‘he who comes into being’) in the morning, Re during midday and Atum in the evening. Khepri, was associated with Osiris’ creation and rebirth.[iii] He is first mentioned in Fifth Dynasty Pyramid Texts, and from the Middle Kingdom, the scarab amulet was produced in huge quantities.

On W648, the Otherworld is represented by the oval-shaped sky.[iv] On either side of the sun-disk is the hieroglyph for life, the ankh. Two kneeling divine beings, the one on the left with feather being the West, the one on the right, the East, sit on per-signs (indicating houses) and offer bread.[v] Between them is a sign of a hill over which are the rays of the rising sun.[vi]

The sun-disk embracing scarab features on several Third Intermediate Period coffins and papyri. For example, on the lid of a Twenty-first Dynasty (1069–945 B.C.) coffin in the British Museum, a winged sun-disk embraces a scarab between the two lions symbolizing the horizon.[vii] It is possible that in such instances the sun-disk represents Horus of Edfu (pp. 00). The disk usually had two uraei, here substituted for two arms to highlight the life-giving embrace of the newly born sun protecting the scene below. The motif is congruent with several funerary books, especially Spell 15 of the Book of the Dead, the final hour of the Amduat and the Book of Caverns.[viii]

On several New Kingdom illustrations of Book of the Dead 15, the sun is embraced by a female figure, her gender indicated by breasts or by the symbolism of the goddess of the west.[ix] The goddess of the West receives the deceased and takes various forms, often as Nut or sometimes as Hathor in cow form emerging from the mountains of Thebes.[x] In one New Kingdom example both the djed pillar, representing Osiris, and a goddess, both elevate or embrace, the sun-disk.[xi] However, from the New Kingdom onward, and with increasing frequency in the Third Intermediate Period, Book of the Dead Spell 15 is illustrated by Osiris as a djed pillar with arms welcoming the scarab as he ascends from the morning horizon.[xii]  

The scene on W648 is also paralleled in the Book of the Caverns, where, as in the Book of the Dead, there is increasing emphasis on Osiris as the embracing god. A scene of female embracing the sun occurs in a Book of Caverns representation from the tomb of Rameses VI (1145–1137 B.C.).[xiii]  However, in the earlier tomb of Tauseret (KV 14), the sun-disk, in association with scarab, emerges from the west (c. 1220–1188 B.C.).[xiv] The Book of Caverns motif alludes to the headless, solarised and sexually revitalised Osiris, the sun-disk head of Osiris.[xv] A variation of the motif with parallel meaning shows the male arms of Osiris raising up the sun-boat.[xvi] Such scenes occur in the New Kingdom Book of Caverns and the Book of Gates. Osiris is associated with Shu who raises the day boat of the solar god. [xvii]  The day boat could translate as the newborn disk or scarab.

Finally, the vignette of W648 is related to Amduat scenes where the night hours are divided according to the stages of the god’s rebirth. Depictions of the final hour often show Osiris as ithyphallic and mummiform.[xviii]  The earliest example is in the tomb of Tuthmosis I (c. 1526–1513 B.C.) where arms reach toward the scarab at the end of the night journey. The general use of Amduat scenes on coffins is particularly noticeable from the Third Intermediate Period

Thus, the scene on W648, represents the arms of the solarized Osiris (Re and Osiris combined) rising from the Otherworld and elevating the morning sun, Khepri.[xix] The idea was used in several funerary books from the New Kingdom onwards. Osiris and the scarab become increasingly connected, so that by the Twenty-first Dynasty the sun-disk embracing Khepri is particularly evident.[xx]

The act of embracing both unified and vivified Re and Osiris.[xxi] The deceased travelled through the Duat to be reborn in the morning, paralleling the rebirth of Re/Osiris. The procreative power of embracing arms is described in Coffin Texts.[xxii] According to one myth, Atum created Shu and Tefnut by embracing them and imparting his ‘vital force’ [ka]. The act of embracing transmitted the ka force and was a means of protection, procreation and sexual revitalisation. Kings are shown being embraced by gods. The scene parallels the concept represented on W1056.


[i]For Khepri see Martina Minas-Nerpel, Der Gott Chepri. Untersuchungen zu Schriftzeugnissen und ikonographischen Quellen vom Alten Reich bis in griechisch-römische Zeit. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 154 (Leuven, 2006).

[ii]William Frankland Hood visited Egypt several times between 1851 and 1861. These were kept by the family at Nettleham Hall, Lincolnshire after his death but sold at Sotheby’s auction on 11th November 1924.

[iii]Minas-Nerpel, Der Gott Chepri, pp. 152, 453–62.

[iv]Günther Lapp, Die Vignetten zu Spruch 15 auf Totenpapyri des Neuen Reiches (Basel, 2015), p. 5.

[v]For depictions of the East and West offering see Lapp, Die Vignetten zu Spruch 15, pp. 29–30. Lapp shows several other examples of the rising sun shown between symbols of the East and West.

[vi] Gardiner sign N28.

[vii]Accession number: EA229441: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?partid=1&assetid=409410&objectid=117259 accessed June 2015.

[viii] For its occurrence in the Book of the Dead see Lapp, Die Vignetten zu Spruch 15, p. 24. See this volume pp. 00–00 for a late depiction of Book of the Dead 15, though one which also stresses the importance of the sun in the vignette. For more typical illustrations of Late Period versions see Budek, ‘Die Sonnenlaufszene’. In these Osiris raises up the sun-disk flanked by ba-birds.

[ix]Rune Nyord, Breathing Flesh. Conceptions of the body in the ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts. (Copenhagen, 2009), p. 252.

[x]Éva Liptay, Coffins and Coffin Fragments of the Third Intermediate Period (Budapest: Museum of Fine Arts, 2011b). This Hathor cow motif has its roots in the Middle Kingdom with Coffin Text 486; Liptay, ‘Between Heaven and Earth’, p. 19.

[xi]The New Kingdom tomb of Nefersecheru (TT 296) shows Osiris and the deity Nut embracing the sun-disk. The caption states that Re and Osiris are joined. For the latter see Lapp, Die Vignetten zu Spruch 15, p. 26, fig. 37.

[xii]For example on the Eighteenth Dynasty Book of the Dead of Userhat (British Museum EA0009): John Taylor, Journey Through the Afterlife. (London, 2010), p. 239, fig. 20. For more New Kingdom vignettes see Lapp, Die Vignetten zu Spruch 15. Lapp shows two images of a sun-disk embracing a scarab (pp. 48, fig. 78 and 91, fig. 131) from a coffin and Ramesside stela respectively. Incidentally he also shows an image of the Egypt Centre coffin fragment on page 5. For a djed pillar holding sun-disk see p. 74. The example Lapp illustrates is of the 21st Dynasty (i.e. Chicago Field Museum 31759).

[xiii]For this examples, and other representation from the Book of Caverns see Joshua Roberson, The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Earth (Wilbour Studies in Egypt and Ancient Western Asia) (Atlanta, 2012).

[xiv]http://thebanmappingproject.com/database/image.asp?ID=14622&NZ=1 (accessed May 2015).

[xv]Colleen Manassa, The Late Egyptian Underworld: Sarcophagi and Related Texts from the Nectanebid Period. Ägypten un altes Testament 72 (Weisbaden, 2007), pp. 39-41; Darnell, Enigmatic Netherworld Books, pp. 114–7.

[xvi] Jan Assmann, Der König als Sonnenpriester. Ein kosmographischer Begleittext aur kultischen Sonnenhymnik in thebanischen Tempeln und Gräbern (Glückstadt, 1970), pp. 43–4, footnote 4.

[xvii]É. Liptay, ‘Between heaven and earth II/1. The iconography of a 21st Dynasty Funerary Papyrus. (Inv. No. 51.2547)’, Bulletin du Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts, 104 (2006), p. 42–3. This builds upon the connections made by Assmann, Der König als Sonnenprieste.

Budek sees the vignette of the Book of the Dead Spell 15 as being influenced by the Book of Gates. J. Budek, ‘Die Sonnenlaufszene. Untersuchungen zur Vignette 15 des Altägyptischen Totenbuches während der Spät- und Ptolemäerzeit’, Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur 37 (2008), 19–48.

[xviii]Liptay, ‘Between heaven and earth’ p. 38.

[xix]The daily raising of the sun and its link with the ba of Osiris is also evident in scenes of the separation of heaven and earth, as described in this volume pp. 00–00.

[xx]For changes from the New Kingdom to 21st Dynasty: Darnell, Enigmatic Netherworld Books, pp., 417–8. For an intermediate example on a papyrus see: Liptay, ‘Between heaven and earth II/1. The iconography of a 21st Dynasty Funerary Papyrus’.

For examples on coffins see Budapest 5096/1-2 in É. Liptay, ‘Between Heaven and Earth. The motif of the cow coming out of the mountain’, Bulletin du Musee Hongrois des Beaux-Arts, 99 (2003), pp. 54, 56-57, pl.11 (for the Hathor cow and mountain motif). The sun-disk with arms also appears on the coffin interior of Hennutawy in the Metropolitan Museum of Art illustrated in Erik Hornung, Idea into Image (translated into English by Elizabeth Bredeck), (New York, 1992), p. 137. On another 21st Dynasty coffin a clearly male god emerging from the akhet holds up the sun-disk, within which is the scarab: Piankoff, A. and Rambova, N., Mythological Papyri I (New York: Bollingen, 1957), p. 26, fig. 8. See also Darnell, Enigmatic Netherworld Books, p. 391–2, 402–5, 396 for Osiris lifting up the sun and holding his arms toward it.

For the motif of the sun-disk with arms on the Twenty-first Dynasty papyri see: Andrzej Niwiński, Studies on the illustrated Theban funerary papyri of the 11th and 10th centuries BC. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 86 (Freiberg, 1989), p. 140, figs. 26a, 41 and 76; Liptay ‘Between heaven and earth’ pp. 39–41, fig. 5. In the latter example the scarab is present.

[xxi]C. Desroches-Noblecourt ‘Poissons, tabous et transformations du mort. Nouvelles considérations sur les pélérinages aux villes saintes’ Kêmi 13 (1954), 33–42 and Shonkwiler, ‘The Behdetite’, p. 482, 494.

[xxii]Nyord, Breathing Flesh, p. 253.