Monday,20 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1426, (17 - 23 January 2019)
Monday,20 May, 2019
Issue 1426, (17 - 23 January 2019)

Ahram Weekly

The family of Khufu

Much is known about the family of the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu, the builder of the Great Pyramid at Giza, underlining his remarkable achievements, writes Zahi Hawass

 

Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu
Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu

The ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu was a great king, not only because he built the Great Pyramid at Giza, the largest of all the 124 pyramids we have in Egypt, but also because he wrote, according to the third century BCE Egyptian priest Manetho, a sacred book.

We do not, unfortunately, know what was written in this book. However, we do know much about the family of Khufu and his sons Kawab, Djedefre and Baufra.

We have evidence of another prince, Djedefhor, the son of queen Meritites. It is possible that Djedefhor built his tomb, which we know about from its inscriptions to be Giza Tomb 7210-20 in the eastern field of the Great Pyramid, when he was still a young man, but that it was never used for burial because he took the throne after Khufu and changed his name to Djedefre and built his pyramid at Abu Roash.  

Prince Djedefhor became a legend at the end of the Old Kingdom and was known for his wisdom literature, a set of instructions addressed to his son. However, we also know of an inscription at Wadi Hammamat mentioning Djedefre and Djedefhor as the followers of Khufu. In this case, they must be two persons, not one as some scholars believe.

This is the same Djedefhor mentioned in the famous Westcar Papyrus, also known as “Khufu and the Magician” and dated to the Middle Kingdom. The Papyrus tells us that Khufu was sitting in his palace one day, contemplating how he could build his burial chamber. His son Hordjedef told him that he knew of a magician by the name of Djedi who had knowledge of the secret of the god Thoth, the god of wisdom. He could cut the head of a man off and then restore it.

Khufu asked him to hasten and bring this magician to him. Djedi came before Khufu, who instructed him to sever the head of a man. Djedi responded that he could not do this to another human being. Khufu said that a prisoner could be brought, but Djedi stated that a prisoner was also a human being. Then they brought a goose, and he magically took its head off its body and then restored it. Everyone was astounded by this miracle. Then the king asked Djedi about the secret of the god Thoth.

Djedi responded that this was not in Khufu’s hands, but was in the hand of others, mentioning children who would be born by a woman from Heliopolis called Redjedet. Khufu was upset, but Djedi told him, “do not worry, because you will be a ruler as well as your sons and your grandsons.” This story, even if it was written after the Old Kingdom, shows that Khufu was actively concerned with building his burial chamber.

We also know of a prince Khufukhaf, a son of an important queen whose name we do not know. There are also two other princes: Kha-ef-min, who held the title of “elder son of the king”, the same title that Kawab held, and Nefermaat II, the grandson of Senefru and not the son of Khufu.

We know that succession to the throne of Egypt in the Old Kingdom could be difficult. But in the New Kingdom, a son could become a co-regent with his father the king. We do not know how the king was chosen, but we can see that the eldest son of the king would take the throne after the death of his father.

In the case of the death of eldest son, the next one in line would be chosen instead, as was the case with Djedefre and Khafre. The idea of who could be the king after the main one died also reflects the story of Isis and Osiris. When the god Seth killed his elder brother and took the throne, Horus, the son of Osiris, came to conquer his uncle Seth and return the throne to his father.

The most famous daughter of Khufu was queen Mersyankh II, the daughter of Khufu by a queen called Mersyankh I. We also know of Hetepheres II, the daughter of the same queen, who was married three times: to her brother Kawab, by whom she bore princess Mersyankh III; to Ankhhaf, a son of Senefru; and to Djedefre. There is also queen Khamerernebty, the daughter of Khufu from an unknown queen and married to Khafre.

A UNIQUE KING: Khufu was a unique king who established the first religious revolution in Egypt.

We know that he ruled as the god Horus, and that when he died he became the sun god. But it seems that in year five of his reign, he also proclaimed himself the sun god. I have collected evidence to prove this theory. For example, if we look at all the pyramids of the kings, we see that that the burial chamber is always located underneath the pyramid, except in the case of Sneferu and Khufu.

We can now see that he started to construct his burial chamber under the pyramid, but that he left this room unfinished and built his burial chamber within the pyramid instead because he was the sun god. The name of the pyramid was also Akhet-Khufu, which means the “horizon of Khufu”, and the only entity known to be on the horizon is the sun god Re.

I have 14 other pieces of evidence to prove this theory, but I will explain here only one important element: that the Sphinx at Giza was created by Khafre to represent himself as Khafre-Horus, who worships his father Khufu-Re in the temple in front of the Sphinx.

In this temple, there is a niche in the east made for the ritual of the rising sun and another niche in the west for the ritual of the setting sun. There are 24 pillars to represent the 12 hours of the day and 12 hours of the night.

We even know that Khufu issued an order that no statue should be placed inside the tomb because he wanted to keep reserve heads in the tombs, thinking it fit to have statues only to the sun god in the temple. I believe that Khufu’s monuments were later destroyed because of the changes that he brought about in the sun cult, and even his statues were destroyed. The only statuette that we have from his reign is a small ivory statuette found in Abydos in the south.

We can see the conditions of the statues of his son Khafre that were found in the valley of the temple of Khafre. The ancient Egyptians smashed the statues into small pieces as a sign of revenge because Khafre had followed his father in the new cult.

Many people have tried to reveal the secrets of the Great Pyramid using sophisticated techniques. There are often claims of secret rooms found inside the Pyramid, but the only great discoveries have been of three secret doors. A robot designed by German scientist Rudolph Gantenbrink was sent into the Pyramid’s northern tunnel and found that after 20 metres the tunnel bent and unfortunately the robot could not be turned. The robot was then sent into the southern tunnel in the so-called queen’s chamber, and after 60 metres the robot stopped in front of a door with two copper handles.

The National Geographic magazine commissioned another robot, and after a 1cm hole had been drilled in the south door, a camera was sent in and found a second door with copper handles. The northern tunnel was found to be bending north and south for eight metres to avoid the grand gallery of the pyramid. The robot was able to go straight for a further 60 metres like the first one and found a door with two copper handles.

It is to be hoped that one day soon we will be able to reveal the secrets of the Great Pyramid. We can see that Khufu was really a unique king. He built a pyramid that people still wonder at today, asking themselves the question of how exactly it was built.

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