The Legend of Khensu-Nefer-Hetep and the Princess of Bekhten

The Legend of Khensu-Nefer-Hetep and the Princess of Bekhten

The text of the Legend is cut in hieroglyphs on a large sandstone tablet which was discovered by J.F. Champollion in the temple of Khensu at Thebes, and was removed by Prisse d'Avennes in 1846 to Paris, where it is now preserved in the Biblioth¨¨que Nationale.

The form of the Legend which we have is probably the work of the priests of Khensu, about 1000 B.C., who wished to magnify their god, but the incidents recorded are supposed to have taken place at the end of the fourteenth century B.C., and there may indeed be historical facts underlying the Legend.

The text states that the king of Egypt, Userma¨¡tr¨¡-setepenr¨¡ R¨¡meses-meri-Amen, i.e. Rameses II, a king of the nineteenth dynasty about 1300 B.C., was in the country of Nehern, or Mesopotamia, according to his yearly custom, and that the chiefs of the country, even those of the remotest districts from Egypt, came to do homage to him, and to bring him gifts, i.e. to pay tribute.

Their gifts consisted of gold, lapis-lazuli, turquoise, and costly woods from the land of the god, and each chief tried to outdo his neighbour in the magnificence of his gifts.

Among these tributary chiefs was the Prince of Bekhten, who, in addition to his usual gift, presented to the king his eldest daughter, and he spake words of praise to the king, and prayed for his life.

His daughter was beautiful, and the king thought her the most beautiful maiden in the world, and he gave her the name of Neferu-R¨¡ and the rank of "chief royal wife," i.e. the chief wife of Pharaoh. When His Majesty brought her to Egypt she was treated as the Queen of Egypt.

One day in the late summer, in the fifteenth year of his reign, his Majesty was in Thebes celebrating a festival in honour of Father Amen, the King of the gods, in the temple now known as the Temple of Luxor, when an official came and informed the king that "an ambassador of the Prince of Bekhten had arrived bearing many gifts for the Royal Wife."

The ambassador was brought into the presence with his gifts, and having addressed the king in suitable words of honour, and smelt the ground before His Majesty, he told him that he had come to present a petition to him on behalf of the Queen's sister, who was called Bentresht (i.e. daughter of joy).

The princess had been attacked by a disease, and the Prince of Bekhten asked His Majesty to send a skilled physician to see her.

Straightway the king ordered his magicians (or medicine men) to appear before him, and also his nobles, and when they came he told them that he had sent for them to come and hear the ambassador's request. And, he added, choose one of your number who is both wise and skilful; their choice fell upon the royal scribe Tehuti-em-heb, and the king ordered him to depart to Bekhten to heal the princess.

When the magician arrived in Bekhten he found that Princess Bentresht was under the influence of a malignant spirit, and that this spirit refused to be influenced in any way by him; in fact all his wisdom and skill availed nothing, for the spirit was hostile to him.

Then the Prince of Bekhten sent a second messenger to His Majesty, beseeching him to send a god to Bekhten to overcome the evil spirit, and he arrived in Egypt nine years after the arrival of the first ambassador.

Again the king was celebrating a festival of Amen, and when he heard of the request of the Prince of Bekhten he went and stood before the statue of Khensu, called "Nefer-hetep," and he said, "O my fair lord, I present myself a second time before thee on behalf of the daughter of the Prince of Bekhten."

He then went on to ask the god to transmit his power to Khensu, "Pa-ari-sekher-em-Uast," the god who drives out the evil spirits which attack men, and to permit him to go to Bekhten and release the Princess from the power of the evil spirit.

And the statue of Khensu Nefer-hetep bowed its head twice at each part of the petition, and this god bestowed a fourfold portion of his spirit and power on Khensu Pa-ari-sekher-em-Uast. Then the king ordered that the god should set out on his journey to Bekhten carried in a boat, which was accompanied by five smaller boats and by chariots and horses.

The journey occupied seventeen months, and the god was welcomed on his arrival by the Prince of Bekhten and his nobles with suitable homage and many cries of joy.

The god was taken to the place where Princess Bentresht was, and he used his magical power upon her with such good effect that she was made whole at once. The evil spirit who had possessed her came out of her and said to Khensu: "Welcome, welcome, O great god, who dost drive away the spirits who attack men.

Bekhten is thine; its people, both men and women, are thy servants, and I myself am thy servant.

I am going to depart to the place whence I came, so that thy heart may be content concerning the matter about which thou hast come.

I beseech Thy Majesty to give the order that thou and I and the Prince of Bekhten may celebrate a festival together."

The god Khensu bowed his head as a sign that he approved of the proposal, and told his priest to make arrangements with the Prince of Bekhten for offering up a great offering. Whilst this conversation was passing between the evil spirit and the god the soldiers stood by in a state of great fear.

The Prince of Bekhten made the great offering before Khensu and the evil spirit, and the Prince and the god and the spirit rejoiced greatly.

When the festival was ended the evil spirit, by the command of Khensu, "departed to the place which he loved."

The Prince and all his people were immeasurably glad at the happy result, and he decided that he would consider the god to be a gift to him, and that he would not let him return to Egypt.

So the god Khensu stayed for three years and nine months in Bekhten, but one day, whilst the Prince was sleeping on his bed, he had a vision in which he saw Khensu in the form of a hawk leave his shrine and mount up into the air, and then depart to Egypt. When he awoke he said to the priest of Khensu, "The god who was staying with us hath departed to Egypt; let his chariot also depart."

And the Prince sent off the statue of the god to Egypt, with rich gifts of all kinds and a large escort of soldiers and horses.

In due course the party arrived in Egypt, and ascended to Thebes, and the god Khensu Pa-ari-sekher-em-Uast went into the temple of Khensu Nefer-hetep, and laid all the gifts which he had received from the Prince of Bekhten before him, and kept nothing for his own temple.

This he did as a proper act of gratitude to Khensu Nefer-hetep, whose gift of a fourfold portion of his spirit had enabled him to overcome the power of the evil spirit that possessed the Princess of Bekhten.

Thus Khensu returned from Bekhten in safety, and he re-entered his temple in the winter, in the thirty-third year of the reign of Rameses II.

The situation of Bekhten is unknown, but the name is probably not imaginary, and the country was perhaps a part of Western Asia.

The time occupied by the god Khensu in getting there does not necessarily indicate that Bekhten was a very long way off, for a mission of the kind moved slowly in those leisurely days, and the priest of the god would probably be much delayed by the people in the towns and villages on the way, who would entreat him to ask the god to work cures on the diseased and afflicted that were brought to him.

We must remember that when the Nubians made a treaty with Diocletian they stipulated that the goddess Isis should be allowed to leave her temple once a year, and to make a progress through the country so that men and women might ask her for boons, and receive them.

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