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Göttinger Miszellen

Beiträge zur ägyptologischen Diskussion

Heft 260
Göttinger Miszellen is a refereed journal

Advisory Board:

Mohamed Sherif Ali, Kairo

Heike Behlmer, Göttingen
Ola El-Aguizi, Kairo
Louise Gestermann, Tübingen / Göttingen
Fayza Haikal, Kairo
Christian E. Loeben, Hannover
Boyo Ockinga, Sydney
Wolfgang Schenkel, Tübingen
Heike Sternberg-el Hotabi, Göttingen

recommended abbreviation: GM

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ISSN 0344-385X
I nhaltsverzeichnis

Technical Information............................................................... 5


Allen, James P.:  as dj . ................................................................ 7

Hohneck, Heimo: Kairo, Ägyptisches Museum JE 68685:
Fragment eines Naos?.............................................................. 9
Panov, Maxim: Der Sarkophag des Hor aus der
ehemaligen Sammlung Miramar................................................ 13


Arpagaus, Daniel: Ḥnsk – ein Hapax der Tombos-Stele

Thutmosis‘ I. beim Schopf gepackt............................................ 17
Attia, Amani Hussein: A Unique Scene of the opening of the
mouth ritual in Kha-em-hat (TT 57)........................................... 29
Beinlich, Horst: Ein Relief aus dem Arensnuphis-Tempel (Philae)
im Brooklyn Museum................................................................. 37
Castillos, Juan José: Peasants in Ancient Egypt.............................. 43
David, Arlette: Cupping the Chin in Amarna .................................... 53
Fischer-Elfert, Hans-Werner: Notizen zu den hieratischen Ostraka
und Namensteinen aus Dra‘ Abu el-Naga................................. 63
Koemoth, Pierre P.: La table d’offrandes de Nesinheret
du Musée royal de Mariemont................................................... 68
Metawi, Dina: The Superior of Clothing for Amun
(Cairo Museum JE 37973)......................................................... 81
Miatello, Luca: Finger-numbering in the Coffin Texts:
a Ritual with Rhymes, Puns, Parallels, and a Final Rebus........ 91
Nassar, Mohamed A. & Ewais, Marwa A.: El-Lahun Textile during
the Late Middle Kingdom through the hieratic Papyri................ 109
Panov, Maxim: Inscriptions on the Obelisk of Antinous.................... 127
Tiribilli, Elena: Disiecta membra: the naophorous statue of Wahibre,
Bologna Museo Archeologico KS 1840 +
Cairo Egyptian Museum JE 42880............................................ 145

Beiträge zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte

Moje, Jan: Die Grabstätte von Josef Passalacqua, dem

ersten Direktor des Ägyptischen Museums in Berlin................. 157

Notizen zur Literatur

Kuckertz, Josefine: Bibliographie Marianne Eaton-Krauss.............. 165


Ali Radwan (1941–2020).................................................................. 175

GM 260 (2020) 91

Finger-numbering in the Coffin Texts: a Ritual with

Rhymes, Puns, Parallels, and a Final Rebus

Luca Miatello

This paper presents a new interpretation of the ritual of finger-numbering, described in three spells of
the Coffin Texts. Explicative images of the count are proposed on the basis of two different
descriptions of this test of competence, which the deceased must accomplish to obtain the ferryboat for
the eastern sky. The ritual is based on two strictly connected symbolic meanings: one related to the
injured eye of Horus; the other to its healing and fullness. Rhymes, puns, parallels, and a final picture
puzzle, constitute layers of meaning to be unfolded.

Finger-numbering is a ritual, mentioned in the Pyramid Texts and described in detail in the
Coffin Texts, consisting in a test of competence, to be accomplished by the deceased to obtain
from the ferryman Mahaf (mȝ-ḥȝ⸗f,1 “Sees-behind-him”) the boat for the east side of the sky.
This paper proposes a new interpretation of this ritual. Kurt Sethe pointed out that the count
was referred to the eye of Horus, but, as Battiscombe Gunn asserted, the reason for numbering
the fingers remained unclear.2
As will be argued, a careful reading of the texts suggests that the deceased appears in front
of Mahaf wearing on each finger a ring inscribed on the bezel with the eye of Horus. The
identification of such an equipment is crucial to understand the symbolic significance of the
ritual of finger-numbering.
Figure 1 shows the hands with a ring on each finger in the middle coffin of the singer of
Amun-Ra Henattawy (F), from the Twenty-first Dynasty. This is a common feature on open
hands of females, in anthropoid coffins of this period.
In ancient Egypt, rings could be worn on several fingers by females and males, both in
everyday life and after death on their mummified body. They are commonly found under
mummy bandages.3 Occasionally, their bezel is inscribed with the eye of Horus. 4 Rings with
the scarab, or plain rings, were also common. Another common practice consisted in tying
with a thread to a finger of the mummy an eye of Horus,5 or a scarab.
The ritual of finger-numbering is mentioned in a spell of the Pyramid Texts as a test for
the king concerning the Horus eye, whose execution is necessary for his solar appearance in
the eastern sky and his acceptance among the deities.

Leitz 2012, 201-202.
Sethe 1918, 16-39; Gunn 1922, 71-72; Brunner 1977, 222-223.
For example, in the Eighteenth Dynasty mummies of Kha and Merit in the Egyptian Museum in
Turin: Bianucci, Habicht, et al. 2015, 8 fig. 3, 13-14.
Goff 1979, 111. An example from the Middle Kingdom: Petrie 1914, 32-33, pl. 24 (139p). A faience
ring from the New Kingdom: Bruxelles Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire E.7695 (Lefebvre and Van
Rinsveld 1990, 109).
E.g., the carnelian udjat-eye New York MMA 25.3.172a (Twenty-first Dynasty, from Deir el-Bahri),
which was tied with a thread to a finger of the left hand of Tiye: Goff 1979, 112; Aston 2009, 201.
92 GM 260 (2020)

Fig. 1. Rings on each finger in the Twenty-first Dynasty coffin of Henattawy,

New York MMA 25.3.183.

The test of finger-numbering in spell 359 of the Pyramid Texts

Utterance 359 of the Pyramid Texts is part of a group of spells concerning the exit of the king
from the netherworld. The king has reached the region of the mounds of Horus and the
mounds of Seth, where the Sun dawns, and in order to obtain the ferryboat for the day sky he
has to pass a test of competence. The spell can be divided into 3 parts:6

The first part alludes to the conflict between Horus and Seth: Horus complains about his eye,
Seth about his testicles. To save itself from Seth, the eye of Horus leaps up and falls on the
wing of Thoth on one side of the “Canal of the ḫȝ”,7 to the east side of the sky. The king is
also crossed on the wing of Thoth to one side of the “Canal of the ḫȝ”, to the east side of the
sky, where he argues with Seth about the eye of Horus.

In the second part, the ferryman of the “Canal of the ḫȝ”, Mahaf, awakes in the morning and
is asked to announce the king to the Sun. The Sun is invoked to commend the king to Mahaf,
so that he may concede the ferryboat to cross to the other side of the “Canal of the ḫȝ”, to the
eastern side of the sky. The king is in search of the eye of Horus that is endangered/damaged
(swj.t), and deals with the “numbering of the fingers” (ṯnw ḏbʿ.w).

In the third part, the gods take care of the king, washing his face, which is half Horus and half
Seth.8 The king takes the place of the Sun in his boat. One deduces that the test of finger-
numbering has been solved, and the boat to transport the king to the other side of the Canal of
the ḫȝ, where the Sun dawns, has been conceded.

Even if this spell of the Pyramid Texts does not explain exactly the symbolic meaning of
the finger-numbering, it suggests that it is a test of competence related to the endangered/
damaged eye of Horus. The test is described in detail in the Coffin Texts.

Cf. Allen 2005, 76-77 (181).
The translation “Winding canal” for mr n ḫȝ is doubtful. On ḫȝ “knife”: Leitz 2002, 397.
This image is presumably symbolic of the king’s authority in a region ruled by Horus and Seth.
GM 260 (2020) 93

Finger-numbering in spell 397 of the Coffin Texts

Utterance 397 of the Coffin Texts (V75-119), 9 entitled “Spell for bringing a ferryboat in the
realm of the dead”, begins with a condensed version of the first two parts of spell 359 of the
Pyramid Texts:
j mẖn.ty jn n⸗j nw jn n⸗j ḥr n jr.t⸗f jn n⸗j stš n ẖr.w⸗f sṯp jr.t ḥr ḫr.t m gs pf jȝb.ty n p.t nḏ⸗s ḏ.t⸗s
m-ʿ stš mȝw-ḥȝ⸗f srs n⸗j ʿqn ḥn⸗k m ʿnḫ m⸗kw
“O ferryman, bring me this (= the boat); bring Horus to me for his eye, bring Seth to me for
his testicles. There leaps up the eye of Horus which fell in the eastern side of the sky, so that it
may protect itself from Seth. (O) Mahaf, awaken Aqen for me, as you are endowed with life.
See, I have come”.10
Mahaf is reluctant to concede the boat, and asks the deceased a long series of questions:
– “Who are you?”, – “What will you do if you cross to the eastern side of the sky?”, …
– “Who is that god who knows me (…)?”.
– “He is Horus, who is with a seal ring (ḏbʿ.t)”.
After making numerous other inquiries, the ferryman remarks:
– “(As for) what you have said, that you would ferry over to the place where this noble god is,
this noble god will say: ‘Have you ferried over a man who does not know the number of his
– “I know the number of my fingers”.
– “Count, so that you may let me hear!”.
At this point, one would expect that the deceased begins counting, but it is Mahaf who
continues to speak, giving instructions for the count. Transcription of this part of text
(V115.h-V116.e) from the Theban coffin of Horhotep, seal bearer of Senusret I, Cairo CG
28023, is shown in Figure 2.11 Transliteration and translation are proposed in Table 1.12

Fig. 2. Transcription of CT 397, V115.h-V116.e, coffin Cairo CG 28023.

de Buck 1954, V75-V119; Faulkner 1977, 24-33.
Transliteration by the author from the text in the coffin of Horhotep, Cairo CG 28023. Transcription
in de Buck 1954, V75.d-V78.a (T1C).
de Buck 1954, V115.h-V116.e (T1C).
Cf. Sethe 1918, 19-23; Faulkner 1977, 28, 33 (n. 99-108).
94 GM 260 (2020)

Finger Formula Translation Pun

1 jṯ n⸗k wʿ.t Take the 1. -
2 jṯ n⸗k wʿ.ty Take the double 1 (= the 2). -
3 ʿḫm n⸗k s(y) j[ri] Annul it, [calculating]. ḫm.t-ʿḫm
4 fd n⸗k s(y) jrf Remove it! fdw-fd
5 jmi n⸗j Give to me. djw-jmi
6 snsn.t r-ḥr⸗j Joining before me. srsw-snsn
7 m sfḫḫ⸗k m⸗s Do not separate yourself from it. sfḫ-sfḫḫ
8 m ḫȝtb⸗k jm⸗s Do not have pity on it (= remove it). -
9 sḥḏ n⸗k jr.t Brighten the eye. -
10 jmi n⸗j jr.t Give to me the eye. -

Tab. 1. Finger-numbering in CT 397, V115.h-V116.e, coffin Cairo CG 28023.

There are 10 verses, referred to the deceased’s fingers. On each finger is a ring with the
eye of Horus inscribed on the bezel. In fact, “the one” and “the double one” are feminine
nouns with goddess determinative, being referred to the eye (jr.t), as indicated by the last
sentence. One by one, all rings with the eye are removed, but two (7th and 9th), which are
maintained on the left hand. The word wʿ.ty “double one”, instead of sn.t “two”, is used to
create a rhyme, as in the other sentences:13

1, 2: wʿ.t – wʿ.ty. 3, 4: j[ri] – jrf. 5, 6: n⸗j – r-ḥr⸗j. 7, 8: m⸗s – m⸗s. 9, 10: jr.t – jr.t.

Probably they started counting from the little finger of the right hand, with the palms up.14
The 3rd ring/finger is annulled in the calculation of the number of rings/fingers: ʿḫm n⸗k s(y)
j[ri], “Annul it, [calculating].15 In the Theban coffin Berlin State Museums 9, and Cairo JE
42947, from Meir, there is the variant: jḫm s(y) m-tp n ḥr “Annul it, in front of Horus”.16
Considering the 6th verse, the verb snsn “to fraternize”, “to associate with”, “to join”, is
often written with the nose determinative,17 as in the homophone meaning “to smell”.
The sentence m sfḫḫ⸗k m⸗s, at the 7th verse, appears also in spell 62 of the Pyramid Texts,
§43a, in a ritual of libation with the eye of Horus: “Osiris N., take to yourself the water in the
eye of Horus. Do not separate yourself from it”.18
Like that on the 7th finger, the ring with the eye on the 9th finger is not removed: the left
hand is presumably turned around for a moment to make it brighten by light. There may be a
reference to spell 70 of the Pyramid Texts, §48b, in which the Horus eye illuminates (sḥḏ) the
tip of Seth’s finger.19
Cf. Sethe 1918, 23-25; Brunner 1977, 222.
The thumb plays a special role in the verb “give”, which is used in the verses with reference to the
5th and 10th finger. Offering loaves are gripped in the palm with the thumb up: . Sethe (1918, 35-
37) indicated this logical connection for the 10th finger.
The damaged hieroglyph is probably an eye, and not the basket with handle. On the two possible
readings: de Buck 1954, V115.j (1*).
de Buck 1954, V115.j.
Erman and Grapow 1971, vol. 4, 172-173. Siblings often (but not always) inherit similar facial
features, as the nose.
Cf. Allen 2005, 318 (210).
Sethe 1918, 32; Allen 2005, 319 (217).
GM 260 (2020) 95

As indicated in the last column of Table 1, the verbs in the sentences referred to the fingers
from the 3rd to the 7th are characterized by puns with the corresponding finger number.20
When it is not specified to whom the “eye” is given, it is presumably kept by the deceased.
One after another, the amulets with the eye of Horus are removed: 4 are given to the
deceased, 3 to Mahaf, and 1 is annulled. The 7th and 9th eye are not removed.
The final picture of the ritual is illustrated in Figure 3.

Fig. 3 . Final picture of the ritual of finger-numbering in CT 397.

As the third sentence indicates, the test does not consist simply in numbering the fingers,
but also in calculating (jri) them. Since the third finger/eye of the right hand is annulled, the
fingers and the eyes add up to 9.
Spell 397 ends with the description of the ritual of finger-numbering and the implicit
consequence that the boat for the eastern sky has been conceded to the deceased.
Alternative formulae to obtain the celestial boat from the ferryman are presented in spell

Finger-numbering in spell 398 of the Coffin Texts

As occurs in spell 397, spell 398 (V120-V160)21 begins with the deceased invoking Mahaf to
bring him the eye of Horus and the ferryboat:
“O ferryman, bring Horus to me for his eye, bring Seth to me for his testicles. Bring me the
eye of Horus, which fled and fell in his garden and which was rescued from Seth. O ferryman,
bring me this (= the boat)”.22
Mahaf replies that the boat has not been built. Its building is hence invoked by paralleling
each part of it to a deity or to a part of a deity’s body. The deceased, who comes from the

Sethe 1918, 26; Faulkner 1977, 33 (n. 101-105).
de Buck 1954, V120-V160; Faulkner 1977, 33-41.
Faulkner 1977, 33.
96 GM 260 (2020)

Field of Offerings and the Field of Rushes, answers all the questions by Mahaf, who finally
concedes the boat:
“May you go aboard the ferryboat, because you know the number of your fingers”.
The ritual of the finger-numbering is then illustrated by Mahaf by means of 5 sentences,
instead of the 10 verses in spell 397. Transcription of these sentences (V154.f-155.c), from
the outer coffin of Hapiankhtefy (Twelth Dynasty), from Meir, New York MMA 12.183.11a,
is shown in Figure 4.23 Transliteration and translation is proposed in Table 2.24

Fig. 4. Transcription of CT 398, V154.f-V155.c, coffin New York MMA 12.183.11a.

Here the formulae of the ritual are not instructions for the deceased, as in spell 397, but
accounts of the actions that have been already executed by him. Mahaf makes reference to
pairs of fingers/eyes. It is an abbreviated formula, in which the first 5 numerals are associated
to the fingers of each hand, with a parallel identification. As in spell 397, the verbs present
puns with the numerals identifying the fingers (last column in Table 2).
In the present interpretation of the first sentence of the ritual, which is probably referred to
the little fingers, the deceased inherits one eye, and Mahaf is “satisfied” with the other.25
The 2nd eye of the left hand is not removed (is “passed by”), as the 4th eye of the left
hand. This latter, when its correspondent eye of the other hand is removed, “is in pain” (mr).

de Buck 1954, V154.f-V155.c (M2NY).
Cf. Faulkner 1977, 36, 40-41 (n. 76-81).
On ḥtp.y⸗j as passive sḏm⸗f: Gardiner 1957, 337 (§420).
GM 260 (2020) 97

Such an emotional characterization suggests a special significance for this eye kept on the
finger, which in spell 397 is the 9th and is “brightened”.

Finger Formula Translation Pun

wʿ[.w] [w]ʿ.w (j)wʿ.n⸗f ṯw 1, 1: he has inherited from you
1, 1 wʿ.w-(j)wʿ
ḥr ḥtp.y⸗j and I have been satisfied.
snn.t snn.t snn.n⸗f 2, 2: he has passed by (= not removed)
2, 2 snn.t-snn
sn-nwt sn.t the second (eye) of the two.
ḫm.t ḫm.twt ḫmw.t.n⸗f 3, 3: he has counted 3
3, 3 ḫm.t-ḫmw.t
ḥr sn-nwt⸗j on the second of my two (eyes).
fdw m fd.n⸗f wʿ(.t) 4, (4): after he has removed one (eye),
4, 4 fdw-fd
sn-n(w)t mr the second is in pain.
<dj>w wd n⸗f sn-nwt 5, (5): the second (eye) is placed for him;
5, 5 djw-wd/di
wʿ(.t)⸗j m-m ḫtm my one is among the (other) valuables.

Tab. 2. Finger-numbering in CT 398, V154.f-V155.c, coffin New York MMA 12.183.11a.

The sentence “he has counted 3 on the second of my two”, implies that the third eye/finger
of the right hand is not counted.
In the final sentence, one eye is placed (wd) for the deceased,26 while the other is among
the valuables (ḫtm) of the ferryman.27
Again, all eyes but 2 are removed from the fingers: 4 are given to the deceased, 3 to
Mahaf, and 1 is not considered in the count. The final picture of the ritual, in Figure 5, is
identical to that in Figure 3, excepting the different numeration of the fingers of the left hand.

Fig. 5. Final picture of the ritual of finger-numbering in CT 398.

Instead of wd, the inner and outer coffins of Iqer in Turin, from Gebelein, have di “give”: de Buck
1954, V155.c (G1T and G2T).
On ḫtm “valuables”: Erman and Grapow 1971, vol. 3, 352 (17). The determinative of the sealed
scroll appears also in the term ḫtm.t “treasure”: Erman and Grapow 1971, vol. 5, 636-638.
98 GM 260 (2020)

As shown in Table 3, there are only slight differences in the destination of the eye amulets
in CT 397 and 398.

Finger Eye destination, CT 397 Finger Eye destination, CT 398

1 Deceased 1 Deceased
2 Deceased 2 Deceased
3 Annulled 3 Mahaf and not counted
4 Deceased 4 Deceased
5 Mahaf 5 Mahaf
6 Mahaf 1 Mahaf
7 Finger 2 Finger
8 Deceased 3 Mahaf
9 Finger (brightened) 4 Finger (in pain)
10 Mahaf 5 Deceased

Tab. 3. Destination of the eye amulets in CT 397 and 398.

Unlike spell 397, which ends with the ritual of finger-numbering, spell 398 presents a final
part describing the admission of the deceased among the gods as a powerful spirit, and his
dominion of the sky.28 A third version of the ritual is attested in the Coffin Texts.

Finger-numbering in spell 396 of the Coffin Texts

An abridged version of the ritual appears at the beginning of spell 396 (V73.d-j), 29 inscribed
on the inner coffin of Imenemhat, Cairo CG 28091, and whose transcription is proposed in
Figure 6:

j ṯn jmj⸗k hȝw jw⸗k nḫn.t

(Mahaf:) O count and do not fall, for you are young.
ṯn [n]⸗j r[⸗k] [ḏbʿ.w⸗k] [ḫnf.n⸗f] wʿ.t sn-nwt snw.t⸗j
Count [your fingers for] me. (TEMPORAL BREAK). [He has taken away] 30 the one (= first
eye), the second, my (female) companion,
jmj ḫnt⸗j fd.n⸗f wd.n⸗f n⸗f wd.n⸗f n⸗f
which is in front of me. He has removed and placed for himself what was to be placed.31
srs.n⸗f <s>ḏrr m mḥ.ty sms.w.
He has awaken the sleeper with that which is filled of the elder.

The sleeper is presumably Aqen, the custodian of the ferryboat, awaken by the positive
solution of the test. In this version of the ritual of finger-numbering, the actions of the
deceased are illustrated by Mahaf with few sentences. After the imperative of counting the
fingers, the third person is used to describe how the fingers have been counted by the

Faulkner 1977, 36 (156-160).
de Buck 1954, V73.d-j; Faulkner 1977, 22.
Reconstruction of ḫnf is likely. For a facsimile of this damaged part: de Buck 1954, V73.g (4*).
Faulkner (1977, 22, 23 n. 4) leaves its reading undetermined.
As suggested by Faulkner (1977, 23 n. 5), the repetition wd.n⸗f n⸗f is probably a dittograph.
GM 260 (2020) 99

deceased, with an implicit temporal break. The removal of the first 2 eyes is indicated. There
is probably reference to a ritual described in the Pyramid Texts, in which the king takes the
Horus eye, which Seth took away (ḫnf.t.n⸗f).32
In front of Mahaf is the (female) companion (snw.t), that is, the eye on the middle finger of
the left hand. The sentence “He has removed and placed for himself what was to be placed”
makes reference to the eyes that have been removed and kept in front of the deceased.
In the final sentence related to the ritual, mḥ.ty, without determinative, is referred to the
filling of the eye of Horus.33 In fact, the term mḥ.t/mḥ.ty “north”34 can be translated literally
“what is filled”/“that which is filled”, deriving its meaning from the Nile’s floods in the Delta.

Fig. 6. Transcription of CT 396, V73.d-j, coffin Cairo CG 28091.

After the description of the ritual, the spell continues with the usual invocation by the
deceased to Mahaf, which in the other two spells is the incipit:
“(O) Ferryman, bring to me Horus for his eye and the Outcast for his testicles. There leaps up
the eye of Horus which fell in that eastern side <of the sky>, and there leap up the wings of
Thoth which fell in that eastern side of the sky. O Mahaf, awaken Aqen for me and bring me
this (= the boat), for see, I have come”.35

See PT 159 (§95a), 119 (§76a), 188 (§108a): Allen 2005, 26 (121), 24 (81), 257 (254).
See mḥ.t “complete eye” in Middle Kingdom coffins: Sethe 1922, 6, 7* (18); Faulkner 1991, 113.
Erman and Grapow, vol. 2, 125 (13-15).
de Buck 1954, V73.k-V74a; Faulkner 1977, 22.
100 GM 260 (2020)

Then the deceased responds to several questions by Mahaf, who, as in the other two spells,
is reluctant to concede the boat.36 This part follows the brief description of the ritual of finger-
counting, although this latter is to be considered temporally subsequent.
Clearly, the test of finger-numbering has nothing to do with the ability of the deceased to
count its fingers. Behind such an infantile count there is a complex ritual, with symbolic
meanings that find their roots in mythology, cosmography, and metrology.

Interpreting the calculation of 9 fingers/rings out of 10

As we have seen, in the ritual of finger-numbering the deceased counts 9 eyes/fingers, instead
of 10. There is presumably a reference to the moon phases, with the moon reaching 90% (=
9/10) of its full darkness in the last stage. In fact, spell 155 of the Coffin Texts, entitled
“Knowing the bȝ.w of the last crescent invisibility ”, at the paragraphs II 294-298 recites:37

jnk nṯr jr.j sjȝ m ʿ.t ẖr.t dbḥ.w

I am the god in charge of the knowledge (of the eye), in the room containing the dbḥ.w-
jw⸗j rḫ.kw jȝṯ.t m jr.t tb(j) jp r.w⸗s
I know what is missing in the eye of Tebi when its parts are counted,
wȝš ʿnḏw r wšȝ.w wḫ.w
and when the dawn is stronger than the darkness of the nights:
1/5 n gs t(w)t n jp r.w⸗s m-jmj.t mḥ.t r ẖqs.t
1/5 of half the entire, to count its parts between the complete eye and the injured one.
wn n⸗j bȝ.w psḏn.tjw jnk mḥ s(y) (…)
Open to me, bȝ.w of the last crescent invisibility, for I complete it (…).

Here the injured eye is healed by filling it with “1/5 of half the entire”, that is, with the
10th part of the entire eye. This is the difference between the complete eye and the injured
one. The terms mḥ.t “complete eye”, and ẖqs.t “injured eye”, are written with
the determinative of the corn measure, which in the Old and Middle Kingdoms was the heqat.
The 10th part of the heqat represented the eye restored to its fullness.
At the beginning of its last phase, the moon passes from an invisibility of 9 parts out of 10
to the complete invisibility, as indicated by the term psḏn.tjw, “last crescent invisibility”,
which is based on the root psḏ “nine”. In the last days of the lunar month the moon could be
seen in the east side of the sky as a small crescent. Before becoming a full dark circle, it has a
crescent of about 1/10 of its entire. 38 This phenomenon generated the idea that the lunar eye
was “injured” by evil forces. Myth and cosmography find here a point of contact: the eye of
Horus was injured in the east by Seth, before being magically restored by Thoth.
Kurt Sethe found major problems in identifying the first and second person in the 10 verses
of CT 397. He had reasons to believe that Seth spoke of his own fingers. 39 In the present

Faulkner 1977, 22-23.
Miatello 2015, 80-81.
In PT 43 §33a, “Horus’s two eyes” are black and white: Allen 2005, 20 (31). On the black eye as the
dark moon: Kees 1943, 423. On this question see also: Edwards 1995, 18-19.
Sethe 1918, 30-34.
GM 260 (2020) 101

interpretation, though, supported also by the translation of the ritual in CT 396 and 398,
Mahaf speaks of actions performed by the deceased.
Sethe identified parallels between some of the verses and sentences in the Pyramid Texts.
One parallel concerns PT 419, §746, in which “Horus has repelled the bad that was against N.
on his fourth day, Seth has negated (jḫm) what he had done to N. on his eighth day”.40 As
indicated by James Allen, this sentence makes reference to a ritual performed during the
process of mummification.41
A second parallel concerns PT 69, §48a, in which the king receives Seth’s finger, “which
causes Horus’s white eye to see”. In §48b, the eye of Horus illuminates (sḥḏ) the tip of Seth’s
finger.42 In this ritual, the finger that caused injury to the eye is exorcised.
In the 10 verses of CT 397 there are references to actions against the eye performed by
Seth, but also to the process of magical healing. As previously mentioned, the 7th verse of
finger-numbering in CT 397 finds a parallel in the ritual of taking to the deceased “the water
in the eye of Horus” (pyr. 43a), with the prescription of not separating from it (m sfḫ⸗k m⸗s).43
CT 155 indicates that the 10th part of the heqat, that is, the water contained in a vessel of 1
hin (hnw), represented the eye restored to its fullness. In the New Kingdom and later periods,
when the heqat will be replaced by the oipe (jp.t), corresponding to the quadruple heqat, the
filling of the eye will be performed by using vessels of capacity either 1/10 or 1/64 of the
There are indications that the volume of 1 heqat was defined already in the Third Dynasty
as the cube of 9 fingers and a cylinder of diameter 9 fingers (Figure 7). 45 This mathematical
concept could be also at the basis of the ritual of finger-numbering, since the vessel
representing the eye of Horus was associated to the measure of 9 fingers.

Fig. 7. Volume of 1 heqat: cube of side 9 fingers and cylinder of diameter 9 fingers.

Sethe 1918, 27-28; Allen 2005, 86 (225).
Allen 2005, 86, 95 n. 31.
Sethe 1918, 32. Allen 2005, 319 (216-217).
See also PT 144 §88a, with the prescription of accepting the Horus’s eye, “the waters of which he (=
Seth) caused to suffer”: Allen 2005, 26 (106).
Miatello 2015, 67-83.
See Miatello 2018, 128-135. The volume of the heqat is ca. 4,800 cm³. The finger corresponds to
1.87 cm.
102 GM 260 (2020)

The final picture of the ritual of finger-numbering as a rebus

We have seen that the count of 9 eyes/fingers out of 10 in the ritual is presumably referred to
the moon-eye injured by Seth. But why are 2 eyes/rings maintained on the left hand?
The full eye was symbolized by a vessel of capacity 1 heqat. Its volume was defined as 9
cubic fingers, that is, 729 cubic fingers. This number is the key to comprise completely the
ritual of finger-numbering, with some Horus-eye amulets that are removed and others that are
maintained on the fingers. Table 4 shows the groups of objects identified in the ritual. In the
final picture (Figure 3 and 5) there are 7 eyes removed and counted; 2 eyes maintained on the
fingers and counted; and 9 fingers counted.

Eyes removed and counted 7

Eyes kept on the fingers and counted 2
Fingers counted 9

Tab. 4. Number of objects in the final picture of the ritual.

Each ring removed from the fingers, in Figures 3 and 5, can be read as a šn-ring,46
which suggests a pun with šn.t “100”.
On the other hand, the rings on the two fingers, with the palm of the hand kept upward on a
table, indicate the hieroglyphs for 20: .
Two gold rings with scarab bezel, one of which inscribed with the cartouche of Hatshepsut
(Figure 8), were found on the “4th finger” of the left hand of the singer of Amun-Ra
Henattawy (F),47 from the Twenty-first Dynasty, whose coffin showing 10 rings on the hands
has been previously mentioned.48

Fig. 8. Gold rings with green glaze scarab bezel, one inscribed with Amun-Ra, the other with
Maatkare (Hatshepsut), New York MMA 25.3.192-3.

Erman and Grapow 1971, vol. 4, 488 (9). The type of ring depicted in Figures 3 and 5 is attested at
least as early as the Ninth Dynasty: London Petrie Museum UC 20704. For an example from the
Middle Kingdom inscribed on the bezel with the eye of Horus: Petrie 1914, 33, pl. 24 (139p).
According to Goff (1979, 112), perhaps the little finger; more likely, the ring finger.
Henattawy (F) was buried at Deir el-Bahri in MMA tomb 59, originally made for Minmose, an
official of Hatshepsut: Winlock 1924, 22-24; Aston 2009, 198-199.
GM 260 (2020) 103

The two rings on the fingers suggest also the pun between ḏʿ.ty “20” and ḏbʿ.ty “pair of
seal finger-rings”,49 as the eye can be considered the seal of Horus. As previously indicated, in
CT 397 Horus has a seal ring with him. It is interesting to note that Alan Gardiner suggested
conditionally the name ḏbʿ.ty for the number 20,50 probably on the basis of the pun ḏʿwy.ty, in
a New Kingdom text,51 and considering the similarity with the shape of seal rings.
As we have seen, the eyes/fingers in the ritual add up to 9, as the third eye/finger of the
right hand is not counted. Therefore, the final image with the hands in the ritual, shown in
Figures 3 and 5, can be interpreted as a rebus with the solution:

sfḫ šn.t – ḏʿ.ty – psḏ,
“729 (fingers)”.

It is noteworthy that the number 730 appears in P. Anastasi I with reference to the length in
cubits of a construction ramp. The dimensions of the ramp are proposed in a scribal test of
competence.52 Even if 730 in the papyrus expresses a length, and not a volume, the choice of
that number could have been inspired by the connection of the number 729 with the eye of
Horus. In fact, the dimensions of the ramp are preceded by a reference to the construction of
“great monuments for Horus”.

The invocation to obtain the ferryboat in spell 99 of the Book of the Dead

In the Eighteenth Dynasty, spell 397 of the Coffin Texts appears in the Book of the Dead
papyrus of Neferwebenef (Twri), Paris Louvre N 3092 (Book of the Dead spell 99A), 53 but
the part with the ritual of finger-numbering is missing.
Spell 99/99B of the Book of the Dead is a fully revised edition of spells 396-398 of the
Coffin Texts.54
- The invocation is not addressed to Mahaf, but to an unnamed ferryman and his attendant.
- Instead of Seth, Apophis is mentioned as a dangerous entity.
- The test of finger-numbering is not described.
- Each part of the celestial boat asks the deceased that its divine name be pronounced. This
is the new test to obtain the boat, similarly to the description of the divine parts of the boat
in CT 398, and other tests in the Book of the Dead, for example in spell 145, where the
deceased must know the name of a series of portals of the netherworld. The fingers of
Horus are mentioned in the name of the oars, “Fingers of Horus the first-born”.
- In the final part of the spell, the deceased goes forth by day from the Field of Rushes.

The Wörterbuch proposes ḏw.t: Erman and Grapow 1971, vol. 5, 552 (8). Cf. also: Westendorf 1986,
1309. I propose here the spelling ḏʿ.wy/ḏʿ.ty, derived from mḏ(ʿ).wy “pair of tens”. Such a name is
indicated also by the Coptic feminine Ϫοϓωτε: Crum 1939, 794 b.
Gardiner 1957, 192.
Erman and Grapow 1971, vol. 5, 552 (8); DZA 31.594.660.
P. Anastasi I, 13,8-14,8 = T 108-112: Gardiner 1911, 16*, 33*, 48-50; Fischer-Elfert 1986, 121-124.
See Allen 1974, 78-80; Totenbuchprojekt Bonn, TM 134308,
<>.Vignette of spell 99A: de Cenival 1992, 72.
See Allen 1974, 80-81.
104 GM 260 (2020)

The papyrus of Neferwebenef in Paris presents both spell 99A and 99B, with similar
vignettes of the deceased and the ferryman on the celestial boat. A facsimile of the vignette of
spell 99A is shown in Figure 9.

Fig. 9. Vignette of spell 99A of the Book of the Dead in P. Neferwebenef,

Paris Louvre N 3092. Facsimile by the author.

Returning to the finger-counting in the Coffin Texts, it is interesting to note that a symbolic
association between a finger and a number is attested also in the Roman Period.

The identification of the ring finger with the number 6 in the Roman period

A common belief in ancient Rome was that the Egyptians wore preferably a ring on the finger
next to the little finger of the left hand, and that they did it as they found that a nerve connects
it directly with the heart. Aulus Gellius, in the 2nd century AD, gives that account citing a
treatise on Egyptian history by Apion, a Hellenized Egyptian who lived in Alexandria in the
first half of the first century AD.55 Macrobius, in “Saturnalia” (ca. 400 AD), provides the
further account that the Egyptians associated the ring finger with the number 6:

“Horus replied:56 ‘Indeed it’s true, as you say, that the Egyptians hold that opinion: when I
saw in one of their temples that this finger on each of the god’s images was anointed with
specially prepared perfumes, I asked their priests, whom they call prophets, for an
explanation, and I learned from their leader the account you’ve already given about the nerve,
and also learned about the number that the finger signifies. For when it’s bent, it symbolizes

Aulus Gellius, “The Actic Nights”, X, 10: Rolfe 1927, 236-237.
Horus is one of the personages who discuss of various subjects in a house during the holiday of the
GM 260 (2020) 105

the number six, which is in every way complete, perfect, 57 and divine: he explained at length
why the number is complete, though I now pass over the reasons as unsuited to the present
conversation. This is the account I received in Egypt, the mistress of all divine branches of
learning, as to why the ring tends to be placed on that finger more often’”.58

It does not seem that a particular symbolism was attributed to the number 6 in ancient
Egypt, at least in Dynastic times. 59 If the ring finger of the left hand was associated to the
number 7, which was one of the main symbolic numbers, it is possible that in the Roman
period that association was adjusted to the number 6,60 in consideration of its expression with
the fingers to compose a rebus, by bending the ring finger (Figure 10).

Fig. 10. Rebus with the fingers in ancient Rome, to indicate the number VI.

It would be an example of adaptation of an Egyptian symbolism to the Roman culture. In

ancient Rome even larger numbers were expressed with the fingers. Statues of Janus
represented the number 300 with the fingers of the right hand, and the number 65 with the
fingers of the left hand, to designate the days of the year.61


As Sethe pointed out, each of the 10 verses of spell 397 of the Coffin Texts describing the
ritual of finger-numbering makes reference to the eye of Horus: “So scheint denn das Auge
des Horus in der Tat überall den Gegenstand unseres Textes zu bilden”.62

A “perfect number”, as defined already in Euclid’s “Elements”, is an integer that is equal to the sum
of its positive divisors, excluding the number itself. In the case of 6: “its half is 3, its third is 2, its
sixth is 1, and all together make 6” (Macrobius, “Commentary to the Dream of Scipio”, Book I, 6, 12).
Saturnalia, Book VII, 13, 9-10. Translation in Kaster 2011, 266-267.
On the numerical symbolism in ancient Egypt: Wilkinson 1994, 126-147.
Macrobius, describing the powerful features of the number 6, in his “Commentary on the Dream of
Scipio” (Book I, 6, 12) writes: Senarius uero, qui cum uno coniunctus septenarium facit, “In fact the 6,
when it joins 1 makes 7”.
Kaster 2011, 266 n. 111.
Sethe 1918, 30.
106 GM 260 (2020)

But this paper suggests that it is not Seth who speaks. Presumably the ferryman Mahaf
speaks of the deceased’s fingers. The verbs “take”, “remove”, “give”, etc., can be interpreted
as descriptions of ritual actions to be performed by the deceased, who wears on each finger a
ring inscribed on the bezel with the eye of Horus.
In the sentences there are references to other rituals concerning the eye of Horus mentioned
in the Pyramid Texts, in which both Seth and Horus are involved. With these parallels, evil
actions against the eye are exorcised, and its magical healing is accomplished. The deceased
removes, one after another, all eyes but two, and one eye that is removed is annulled/not
counted. While in CT 397 the fingers are identified with numerals from 1 to 10, in CT 398
there is a parallel identification, with the first 5 numerals associated to the fingers of each
hand. In both cases, the fingers/eyes that are actually counted are 9 out of 10, with probable
reference to the moon as injured eye, reaching 90% of its full darkness at the beginning of the
last phase.
In the present interpretation, the final picture of the ritual of finger-counting is a rebus,
with the solution “729” (fingers), referred to the complete eye. The heqat, whose volume was
defined as the cube of 9 fingers (= 729 cubic fingers), is taken as symbol of the complete eye
of Horus, as suggested also by the term mḥ.ty “that which is filled”, in an abridged version of
the ritual in CT 396. Rhymes, puns with the numerals identifying the fingers, parallels with
other rituals concerning the eye of Horus, and the final rebus, constitute layers of meaning to
be unfolded. Mahaf suggests or describes the ritual actions, creating the final picture puzzle.
Puns between šn-ring and šn.t “100”, and between ḏbʿ.ty “pair of seal finger-rings” and ḏʿ.ty
“20”, support further the identification of the rebus.
As in the Pyramid Texts, the ritual of finger-numbering in the Coffin Texts is a test that the
deceased must accomplish to appear with the deities in the eastern sky. With its successful
execution Mahaf’s reluctance to concede the ferryboat to exit the netherworld is dissipated. In
the eastern region ruled by Horus and Seth, magical rituals concerning the myth of the eye of
Horus injured by Seth and healed by Thoth must be known, in order to come forth by day.
In the New Kingdom, spell 99/99B of the Book of the Dead proposes in new forms the
themes of CT 396-398. The ritual of finger-numbering does not appear. To obtain the
ferryboat and come forth from the Field of Rushes, the deceased must pass a test derived from
CT 398, consisting in citing the divine names of each part of the celestial boat.
Numbers were associated to fingers in different periods and cultures. In the Roman period
the finger next to the little finger was apparently associated to the number 6, possibly as a
modification to its numbering as 7th finger.


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