C r y p t o l o g y : K h n u m h o t e p   I I
I kept alive the name of my fathers, which I found obliterated upon the doorways, (making them) legible in [form]; accurate in reading, not putting one in the place of another. Behold, it is an excellent son, who restores the name of the ancestors; Nehri's son, Khnumhotep, triumphant, revered.

- From the inscription on the tomb of Khnumhotep II

Khnumhotep II
Khnumhotep II was an Egyptian noble who lived during the 12th Dynasty (1919 BCE to 1783 BCE). He was the hereditary nomarch of Menet Khufu and the Oryx nome of Upper Egypt.

A nome was a territorial division of Egypt, similar to a district or a province. Egypt was made up of 42 individual nomes, each governed by a nomarch. The nomarch was responsible for tax collection, judicial oversight, and supervision of land projects within the nome. According to the inscription in his tomb, Khnumhotep inherited his claim of Menet-Khufu through his mother, on the death of his predecessor, his uncle, Nakht'b.

According to David Kahn, it is in the tomb of Khnumhotep II that the earliest instance of encoded writing is found. It is posited that this was intended to be highly-stylized funerary language rather than secret communications.

A little backstory:

Beginning around the 4th Dynasty, Egypt was divided into nomes governed by nomarchs. Initially, the nomarchs were royal officials who travelled from post to post and had no local ties. The post of nomarch eventually became hereditary, and these officials evolved into a ruling class of landowners. From the middle of the 5th Dynasty, these nomarchs begin to accrue more power, especially in Upper Egypt.

When the central government collapsed in the late 6th Dynasty, a 150 years of civil war ensued. Absent a central authority, the nomarchs took control of their own nomes, and Egypt splintered into a number of feudal states. This period of decentralized rule and confusion lasted from the 7th through the 11th Dynasties.

The pharaohs of the 12th Dynasty reestablished a powerful central government. Nomarchs were allowed to retain some of their powers, and they received recognition of a place in the afterlife.

The first pharaoh of the 12th Dynasty, Amenemhat I, moved the capital north from Thebes to Amenemhet-itj-tawy near the Fayyum Oasis.
Location of Beni Hassan
Wall in Khnumhotep II's tomb
The painted tomb of Khnumhotep II is one of 39 Middle Kingdom tombs carved into the limestone cliffs of Beni Hassan.

The walls of the tomb are covered with rich depictions of Egyptian feudal life in the 12th Dynasty. Some of these paintings are unusually naturalistic for the period. Running along the base of the walls (below the wall paintings) are 222 vertical inscriptions that detail Khnumhotep's genealogy and life.

« A wall in Khnumhotep II's tomb.
Inscription in Khnumhotep II's tomb
« The final section of the vertical inscriptions.

Translations of the last 20 vertical inscriptions reveal that some uncommon hieroglyphic symbols were used in place of the more ordinary ones. There are also inconsistencies in the grammatical syntax.

Some egyptologists believe that particular passages in Khnumhotep II's funerary inscription were deliberately transformed in order to obscure the original meaning.

Why? Possible reasons for encoding the inscription:

  • To preserve the secrecy of certain religious rituals from outsiders. However, this form of symbol substitution provides very weak data protection. It is not difficult to figure out the unusual symbols.
  • To increase the mystery in the religious rituals and thereby excite interest.
  • To give a highly-stylized appearance to formal inscriptions.
Another possibility is this:

The era of Khnumhotep II followed a period of geopolitical change, including the reformation of the dominant religion. It is quite possible that these were factors in linguistic evolution. The "unusual symbols" are simply words that have newly entered the common vocabulary. The unusual artistic elements in the accompanying paintings may be secondaty indicators of cultural changes.

External Links
Inscription of Khnumhotep II English translation. Exerpt of James Henry Breasted's 1906 Ancient Records of Egypt, at nefertiti.iwebland.com.
Ancient Records of Egypt [PDF] James Henry Breasted's excellent 1906 book in PDF format, at Case Western Reserve University's website. The footnotes for Khnumhotep II's inscription show that there is some confusion about the syntax and meaning of some symbols.
Transliterated Inscription [PDF] Transcription and English translation by Mark-Jan Nederhof.
Inscription of Chnumhetep [PDF] Early English translation by Samuel Birch.
Tour of Khnumhotep's tomb Replica tomb tour at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum & Planetarium.
Beni Hasan Egyptian Monuments at www.egyptsites.co.uk has information and photos about the tombs at Beni Hasan, including the tomb of Khnumhotep (BH3).
Tomb of Khnumhotep A few photos at youregypt.com
Tomb of Khnumhotep Several photos at phouka.com
What Lies Beneath the Paint Article about the tombs at Beni Hassan with a few photos.
Ancient Egypt George Rawlinson's 1886 Ancient Egypt in various text formats at Project Gutenberg. Ancient Egyptian history, including information about Amenemhat.
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