The Temple as a Canon of Religious Literature in Ancient Egypt

By 332 BC Alexander the Great had conquered Egypt and in 306 BC his former general Ptolemy I founded the Ptolemaic dynasty. Throughout the country these two events triggered a flurry of temple construction activity the origins of which may in fact date back to the 30 th dynasty (380–342 BC). This activity was destined to continue until well into the 2 nd century AD. Whereas the religious texts gracing Egypt’s Pharaonic sanctuaries (late third millennium to approx. mid 3 rd century BC) are relatively brief, the new structures – temples, chapels, gateways – were adorned to a hitherto unprecedented extent with hieroglyphic inscriptions of sometimes considerable length. These late temple inscriptions are frequently difficult to decipher because of their extended and often specific hieroglyphic systems. They contain comprehensive, varied and often unique information on cults and festivities, the religious topography of the Nile delta, myths and divine constellations, construction history and spatial functions. For this reason many Egyptologists refer to them quite rightly as “bibles in stone”.

The aim of the project is to find a definition for what constituted the essential nature of an Egyptian temple in the Graeco-Roman era. The first step in this endeavour is to establish the fundamental text genres found in the temples by means of detailed analysis of their forms, motifs, structures and contents. The second stage is to investigate the functional purpose of the inscriptions and their positionings, in other words analysing the dependencies and interactions between decoration and architecture and discussing whether the Ptolemaic and Roman temple inscriptions may have had their roots in the traditional textual heritage of Egyptian religion. Finally, the project will propose the reconstruction of an encyclopaedia of priestly knowledge in which one of the essential concerns will be to clarify whether in fact such a canon of Egyptian literature providing (despite individual liberties and local idiosyncrasies) a binding framework for the decoration of these late temples ever actually existed.


Further information about the Project:


Chair of the Commission

Prof. Dr. Joachim Friedrich Quack

Head of the Research Unit

Prof. Dr. Christian Leitz


Stefan Baumann, M.A.
Dr. Emmanuel Jambon
Dr. Holger Kockelmann
Dr. Daniel von Recklinghausen
Alexa Rickert, M.A.
Jan Tattko, M.A.
Dr. Bettina Ventker


University of Tübingen
IANES – Department of Egyptology
Project “Egyptian Temple Texts”
Schloss Hohentübingen
Burgsteige 11
D-72070 Tübingen

phone: +49 70 71 | 2 97 85 40
fax:  +49 70 71 | 29 59 09

responsible: editorial office
Latest Revision: 2018-12-14