The best books about ancient Egyptian religion

Why are we passionate about this?

We are Egyptologists with over six decades of combined experience translating hieroglyphic and hieratic texts and exploring the deserts of Egypt. We are passionate about bringing ancient Egypt and its incredible religious beliefs to life, from translating the funerary compositions in the royal tombs of the Valley of the Kings to writing a new biography of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, often branded the "heretics” of their time. One of our most exciting recent discoveries was the earliest monumental hieroglyphic inscription, a five thousand two hundred and fifty-year-old billboard! We share our adventures on our Instagram @vintage_egyptologist—enjoy the vintage fashion and be enlightened by the Egyptological captions.


We wrote...

Egypt's Golden Couple: When Akhenaten and Nefertiti Were Gods on Earth

By John Coleman Darnell and Colleen Darnell,

Book cover of Egypt's Golden Couple: When Akhenaten and Nefertiti Were Gods on Earth

What is our book about?

Akhenaten has been the subject of radically different, even contradictory, biographies. The king has achieved fame as the world's first individual and the first monotheist, but others have seen him as an incestuous tyrant who nearly ruined the kingdom he ruled. Who are Akhenaten and his queen Nefertiti? What can we actually say about rulers who lived more than three thousand years ago?

Combining fascinating scholarship, detective suspense, and adventurous thrills, Egypt's Golden Couple is a journey through excavations, museums, hieroglyphic texts, and stunning artifacts. From clue to clue, we reconstruct an otherwise untold story of the magnificent reign of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. Akhenaten and Nefertiti became gods on earth by transforming Egyptian solar worship, innovating in art and urban design, and merging religion and politics in ways never attempted before.

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The books we picked & why

Book cover of Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and the Many

John Coleman Darnell and Colleen Darnell Why did I love this book?

Ancient Egyptian religion is so much more than royal pyramid burials and animal-headed gods, and Hornung’s book explains how. He dissects the notoriously complex topic by first defining terms, like the word netjer“god,” and then explores creation accounts, divine imagery, and how humans and gods interact. Along the way, Hornung pulls in a story by Edgar Allen Poe, the motto of the French Revolution, and even black holes. Any study of ancient Egyptian religion should begin with this erudite, witty, and accessible book. We always include this in the reading assignments for introductory courses on ancient Egyptian religion and magic.

By Erik Hornung, John Baines (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Osiris, Horus, Isis, Thoth, Anubis - the many strange and compelling figures of the Egyptian gods and goddesses seem to possess endless fascination. The renowned Egyptologist Erik Hornung here studies the ancient Egyptians' conceptions of god, basing his account on a thorough reappraisal of the primary sources. His book, now available in English for the first time, is the most extensive exploration yet undertaken of the nature of Egyptian religion.

Hornung examines the characteristics, spheres of action, and significance of Egyptian gods and goddesses, analyzing the complex and changing iconography used to represent them, and disentangling the many seemingly contradictory…


Book cover of The Search for God in Ancient Egypt

John Coleman Darnell and Colleen Darnell Why did I love this book?

Weaving together passages from key primary sources within a rich web of analysis, Assmann’s wide-ranging study tackles both the principles of Egyptian polytheism and its historical developments.  Assmann’s important and influential work (translated by David Lorton) does not shy away from intense vocabulary, but a close read repays the effort. By the end of the dense text, the reader will be familiar with both the diversity and beauty of ancient Egyptian religious texts. Assmann’s years of work with ancient Egyptian texts, and especially his encyclopedic knowledge of ancient Egyptian solar hymns, ensures that the reader is firmly grounded in primary sources, even in the most esoteric of discussions.

By Jan Assmann, David Lorton (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Search for God in Ancient Egypt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First English-language edition, with revisions and additions by the author.This classic work by one of the world's most distinguished Egyptologists was first published in German in 1984. The Search for God in Ancient Egypt offers a distillation of Jan Assmann's views on ancient Egyptian religion, with special emphasis on theology and piety. Deeply rooted in the texts of ancient Egypt and thoroughly informed by comparative religion, theology, anthropology, and semiotic analysis, Assmann's interpretations reveal the complexity of Egyptian thought in a new way.Assmann takes special care to distinguish between the "implicit" theology of Egyptian polytheism and the "explicit" theology that…


Book cover of The Cannibal Hymn: A Cultural and Literary Study

John Coleman Darnell and Colleen Darnell Why did I love this book?

Who doesn’t want to read about ancient Egyptian cannibalism? The title seems sensational, since no actual cannibalism is involved—at least as we might conceive of it in the world of the livingbut Eyre employs the standard designation for the specific spell in the Pyramid Texts, the oldest major corpus of religious texts to survive from antiquity. A reader new to ancient Egypt might well read the translation of the Cannibal Hymn at the beginning of the book and be utterly confused. By the end of the book, however, the secrets of this 4300 year old text, including its relationship to butchery rituals and the mundane aspects of animal husbandry, are revealed.

By Christopher Eyre,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Cannibal Hymn as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The text of the Cannibal Hymn is here examined in its performative and cultural context. In its verbal recreation of a butchery ritual, style and format are typical of the oral-recitational poetry of pharaonic Egypt. It poses questions about the nature of rites of passage and rituals of sacrifice.


Book cover of Living with the Dead

John Coleman Darnell and Colleen Darnell Why did I love this book?

Popular conceptions of ancient Egyptian tombs tend to present them as places sealed for eternity and protected by curses, macabre treasuries of the desiccated dead attempting to cling to earthly possessions—but Harrington’s book tells the true story of tomb chapels and ancestor shrines as sites of interaction between the living and the dead. The author also examines other contexts, including temples and houses, where people could communicate with their deceased ancestors. We believe that one of the most important lessons ancient Egypt can teach us is their healthy and thoughtful approach to death. This book presents that lesson with all of the primary sources and key artefacts to back it up. 

By Nicola Harrington,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Living with the Dead as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Living with the Dead presents a detailed analysis of ancestor worship in Egypt, using a diverse range of material, both archaeological and anthropological, to examine the relationship between the living and the dead. Iconography and terminology associated with the deceased reveal indistinct differences between the blessedness and malevolence and that the potent spirit of the dead required constant propitiation in the form of worship and offerings. A range of evidence is presented for mortuary cults that were in operation throughout Egyptian history and for the various places, such as the house, shrines, chapels and tomb doorways, where the living could…


Book cover of The Secret History of Hermes Trismegistus: Hermeticism from Ancient to Modern Times

John Coleman Darnell and Colleen Darnell Why did I love this book?

Even after the priests and temples of ancient Egypt ceased to function, Egyptian religion lived on through the mysterious figure of Hermes Trismegistus (literally, Hermes “thrice great”). Originally a form of the ancient Egyptian god Thoth, late Egyptian religious texts, Greek philosophy, Roman theology, and later Christian and Islamic authors would make of Hermes Trismegistus a magically potent entity. At first a god, by the late Middle Ages he had become an ancient sage, pagan counterpart to Moses as dispenser of wisdom and guide to the transcendental world. Ebeling unravels the mysteries and history of this fascinating literary figure, and how writings attributed to him continued to exert influence on authors during the Renaissance, the birth of Freemasonry, and German Romanticism.  

By Florian Ebeling, David Lorton (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Secret History of Hermes Trismegistus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Perhaps Hermeticism has fascinated so many people precisely because it has made it possible to produce many analogies and relationships to various traditions: to Platonism in its many varieties, to Stoicism, to Gnostic ideas, and even to certain Aristotelian doctrines. The Gnostic, the esoteric, the Platonist, or the deist has each been able to find something familiar in the writings. One just had to have a penchant for remote antiquity, for the idea of a Golden Age, in order for Hermeticism, with its aura of an ancient Egyptian revelation, to have enjoyed such outstanding success."-from the Introduction

Hermes Trismegistus, "thrice-great…


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By Amy T. Waldman, Peter Jest,

Book cover of We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

Amy T. Waldman

New book alert!

What is my book about?

This irreverent biography provides a rare window into the music industry from a promoter’s perspective. From a young age, Peter Jest was determined to make a career in live music, and despite naysayers and obstacles, he did just that, bringing national acts to his college campus atUW-Milwaukee, booking thousands of concerts across Wisconsin and the Midwest, and opening Shank Hall, the beloved Milwaukee venue named after a club in the cult film This Is Spinal Tap.

Jest established lasting friendships with John Prine, Arlo Guthrie, and others, but ultimately, this book tells a universal story of love and hope…

We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

By Amy T. Waldman, Peter Jest,

What is this book about?

The entertaining and inspiring story of a stubbornly independent promoter and club owner 

This irreverent biography provides a rare window into the music industry from a promoter’s perspective. From a young age, Peter Jest was determined to make a career in live music, and despite naysayers and obstacles, he did just that, bringing national acts to his college campus at UW–Milwaukee, booking thousands of concerts across Wisconsin and the Midwest, and opening Shank Hall, the beloved Milwaukee venue named after a club in the cult film This Is Spinal Tap.

This funny, nostalgia-inducing book details the lasting friendships Jest established…


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