Book of the Dead

All Sources -
Updated Media sources (1) About content Print Topic Share Topic
views updated


A body of Egyptian texts on death and the afterworld, written on papyrus and placed in the tombs. The name Book of the Dead is generally applied to the texts of the New Kingdom and later, but their origin can be traced back to the mortuary literature of earlier periods: the Coffin Texts and Pyramid Texts.

The Pyramid Texts are the oldest heterogeneous compositions inscribed on the walls of the inner chambers of the Fifthand Sixth-Dynasty pyramids for the benefit of the deceased kings. They include rituals, mythological allusions, incantations, and magical spells. Most of them are associated with the solar cult center at Heliopolis, but some reflect the basically different Osirian complex, and others can be explained only as remnants of predynastic fetishism. Some sections of the Pyramid Texts were later included in the mortuary texts of Egyptian nobility of the Middle Kingdom and were inscribed on coffins; hence they are known as the Coffin Texts. Through the Coffin Texts these sections made their way into the New Kingdom Book of the Dead, which was considered beneficial to anyone who could afford to purchase a copy and place it in his tomb.

The Book of the Dead contains, according to the different recensions, from about 150 to 190 chapters, not all of equal value, equal popularity, or equal length. They include: magical spells of much variety; prayers and hymn to the gods ra (re), Osiris, etc.; ritual recitations with instructions for priests; theological instructions; and a guidebook to the other world. Almost every chapter had its own title, such as, Chapters of Coming Forth by Day (ch. 12), Chapter of Opening of the Mouth (ch. 23), Chapter of Not Dying for a Second Time (ch. 44), Chapter of Not Being Tripped Up in the Underworld (ch. 51), Chapter of Changing into a Divine Hawk (ch. 78).

Among the most important and interesting are chapters 17 and 125. Chapter 17 consists of questions and answers on theological subjects, such as:

"I am the great god who came into being by himself." Who is he? "The great god who came into being by himself" is water; he is Nun, the father of the gods. Another version: He is Ra .

"I am yesterday, while I know tomorrow." Who is he? As for "yesterday," that is Osiris. As for "tomorrow," that is Ra on that day on which the enemies of the All-Lord are annihilated and his son Horus is made ruler . [Translation of J.A. Wilson.]

Chapter 125, which concerns the judgment of the soul before Osiris and 42 divine judges, includes the socalled Negative Confession or, more correctly, Declaration of Guiltlessness, containing statements such as these:

I have not made anyone weep . I have notkilled . I have neither increased nor diminished the grain measure . I have not takenmilk from the mouths of children . [Translation of J. A. Wilson.]

The Book of the Dead was primarily a book of rituals, as has been recently demonstrated; it often mentions the reciting priest and the ritual objects. The kind of ritual was generally indicated in the title of each chapter. However, it was apparently intended, not for the priests, but for the deceased, so that his soul could participate in his own funerary service. A large portion of these rituals had to be performed in front of the eternal gods by the soul itself in the netherworld.

Beyond the ritual requirements and overwhelming magic, employed here as a protective force, the Book of the Dead contains the fundamental belief in personal responsibility of each soul before the divine judgment and in ultimate justice in the afterlife.

Bibliography: Pyramid Texts. k. h. sethe, Die altägyptischen Pyramidentexte, 4 v. (Leipzig 190822); Übersetzung und Kommentar zu den altägyptischen Pyramidentexten, 6 v. (Hamburg 193562), no more pub. s. a. b. mercer, The Pyramid Texts in Transslation and Commentary, 4 v. (New York 1952). Coffin Texts. a. de buck, The Egyptian Coffin Texts, 7 v. (Chicago 193561), the Egyptian text without tr. Book of the Dead. e. a. t.w. budge, tr., The Book of the Dead: The Hieroglyphic Transcript of the Papyrus of Ani (London 1895; repr. New Hyde Park, N.Y. 1960), somewhat out of date. t. g. allen, ed., The Egyptian Book of the Dead: Documents in the Oriental Institute Museum (Chicago 1960). c. maystre, Les Déclarations d'innocence: Livre des morts, chap. 125 (Cairo 1937). j. a. wilson, The Burden of Egypt: An Interpretation of Ancient Egyptian Culture (Chicago 1951) 116118. j. b. pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (2d, rev. ed. Princeton 1955) 34, 1012, 3436.

[b. marczuk]

views updated

Book of the Dead

An arbitrary title given to a funerary work from ancient Egypt called pert em hru, the translation of which is "coming forth by day," or "manifested in the light." Several versions or recensions of this work are known, namely those of Heliopolis, Thebes, and Sais, differing only inasmuch as they were edited by the colleges of priests founded at these centers. Many papyri of the work have been discovered, and passages from it have been inscribed upon the walls of tombs and pyramids and on sarcophagi and mummy-wrappings. One very complete copy is on display at the Egyptian Museum in Turin, Italy.

It is undoubtedly of extremely early date; exactly how early it would be difficult to say, but in the course of centuries it was greatly added to and modified. It contains about 200 chapters, but no complete papyrus has been found. The chapters are quite independent of one another, and were probably all composed at different times. The main subject is the beatification of the dead, who were supposed to recite the chapters in order that they might gain power and enjoy the privileges of the new life.

The work abounds in magical references. The whole trend of the Book of the Dead is thaumaturgic, as its purpose is to guard the dead against the dangers they have to face in reaching the other world. As in most mythologies, the dead Egyptian had to encounter malignant spirits and was threatened by many dangers before reaching his haven of rest.

He also had to undergo judgment by Osiris, and to justify himself before being permitted to enter the realms of bliss. This he imagined he could in great part accomplish by the recitation of various magical formula and spells, which would ward off the evil influences opposed to him. To this end every important Egyptian of means had buried with him a papyrus of the Book of the Dead, containing at least all the chapters necessary for encountering the formidable adversaries at the gates of Amenti, the Egyptian Hades. These chapters would assist him in making replies during his ceremony of justification. First among these spells were the "words of power." The Egyptians believed that to discover the "secret" name of a god was to gain complete ascendancy over him.

Sympathetic magic was in vogue in Egyptian burial practice, which explains the presence, in tombs of people of means, of paintings of tables laden with food and drink, with inscriptions attached conveying the idea of boundless liberality. Inscriptions like the following are extremely common"To the ka [essential double or soul] of so-and-so, 5,000 loaves of bread, 500 geese, and 5,000 jugs of beer." Those dedications cost the generous donors little, as they merely had the objects named painted upon the wall of the tomb, imagining that their ka or astral counterpart would be eatable and drinkable by the deceased. This of course is merely an extension of the Neolithic conception that articles buried with a man had their astral counterparts and would be of use to him in another world.

Pictorial representation played a considerable part in the magical ritual of the Book of the Dead. One of the pleasures of the dead was to sail over Heaven in the boat of Ra, and to secure this for the deceased one must paint certain pictures and mutter over them words of power. Regarding this belief, E. A. Wallis Budge states in his book Egyptian Magic (1889): "On a piece of clean papyrus a boat is to be drawn with ink made of green abut mixed with anti water, and in it are to be figures of Isis, Thoth, Shu, and Khepera, and the deceased; when this had been done the papyrus must be fastened to the breast of the deceased, care being taken that it does not actually touch his body. Then shall his spirit enter into the boat of Ra each day, and the god Thoth shall take heed to him, and he shall sail about with him into any place that he wisheth. Elsewhere it is ordered that the boat of Ra be painted 'in a pure place,' and in the bows is to be painted a figure of the deceased; but Ra was supposed to travel in one boat (called Atet) until noon, and another (called Sektet) until sunset, and provision had to be made for the deceased in both boats. How was this to be done? On one side of the picture of the boat a figure of the morning boat of Ra was to be drawn, and on the other a figure of the afternoon boat; thus the one picture was capable of becoming two boats. And, provided the proper offerings were made for the deceased on the birthday of Osiris, his soul would live for ever, and he would not die a second time. According to the rubric to the chapter in which these directions are given, the text of it is as old, at least, as the time of Hesept, the fifth king of the 1st. dynasty, who reigned about 4350 B.C. , and the custom of painting the boat upon papyrus is probably contemporaneous."

The words of power were not to be spoken until after death. They were "a great mystery," but "the eye of no man whatsoever must see it, for it is a thing of abomination for every man to know it. Hide it, therefore, the Book of the Lady of the Hidden Temple is its name." This would seem to refer to some spell uttered by Isis-Hathor that delivered the god Ra or Horus from trouble, or was of benefit to him, thus was concluded to be equally efficacious in the case of the deceased.

Many spells were included in the Book of the Dead for the purpose of preserving the mummy against molding and for assisting the owner of the papyrus to become as a god and to be able to transform himself into any shape he desired. Painted offerings were also provided so the deceased would be able to give gifts to the gods. It is apparent that the Book of the Dead was undoubtedly magical in character, consisting as it did of a series of spells or words of power, which enabled the speaker to have perfect control over all the powers of Amenti.

The only moment in which the dead man is not master of his fate is when his heart is weighed by Thoth before Osiris. If it does not conform to the standard required for justification, he is cast out; except for this, an absolute knowledge of the Book of the Dead safeguarded the deceased in every way from the danger of damnation. A number of the chapters consist of prayers and hymns to the gods, but the directions as to the magical uses of the book are equally numerous; the concept of supplication is mingled with the idea of circumvention by sorcery in the most extraordinary manner.

views updated

Book of the Dead, term used to describe Egyptian funerary literature. The texts consist of charms, spells, and formulas for use by the deceased in the afterworld and contain many of the basic ideas of Egyptian religion. At first inscribed on the stone sarcophagi, the texts were later written on papyrus and placed inside the mummy case. The earliest collection, known as the Heliopolitan Recension, dates from the XVIII dynasty (1580–1350 BC). It also contains selections from the two previous collections of Egyptian religious literature—the Coffin Texts of the Middle Kingdom (c.2000 BC) and the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom (c.2600–2300 BC). The Theban Recension, a text that may be contemporary or slightly later, has a distinctive format. There are several noteworthy papyruses, valuable for their art. Among them are the Papyrus of Ani and The Book of the Dead of Hunefer. The two most celebrated English translations were made by Sir Peter le Page Renouf (1892–97) and Sir E. Wallis Budge (1895, repr. 1967).

views updated

Book of the Dead Collection of Old Egyptian texts probably dating from the 16th century bc. The papyrus texts, which exist in many different versions and incorporate mortuary texts from as early as 2350 bc, were placed in the tombs of the dead in order to help them combat the dangers of the afterlife.

views updated
views updated

Book of the Dead: see TIBETAN BOOK OF THE DEAD.