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Book Of The Dead

The great Egyptian funerary work called pert em hru properly
meaning "coming forth by day" or "manifested in the light." The work
consists of collections of spells which was believed to aid the dead
in the crossing to the next life. There are several versions or
renditions of the work, namely the Helipolis, Thebes, and Salis. Each
version is mainly the same except for the differences found in the
translations made by the colleges of priests at the various centers.

Its theme is thaumaturgic as its purpose is to protect the dead from
dangers which they face when attempting to reach the other world. The
spells were usually found on papyrus or leather in intimate
association with the corpse - - beside of it in the coffin, actually
inside the mummy wrappings, or inserted inside of a small statue of a
funerary deity. It is believed that many of the spells were recited
by priests at the funeral and also that their presence within the
reach of the deceased made them available to him when he needed them.
Many papyri of sections from the Book of the Dead as well as sections
themselves have been discovered inscribed on tombs, pyramids, and

Origin and Development

The earliest examples of the Book of the Dead are from the 18th
dynasty (1570-1304 BC). However some sections of these examples have
been found in earlier known Egyptian funerary texts. These were the
so-called Pyramid Tests inscribed on inner chamber walls of 5th, 6th,
and 8th dynasty rulers. These Pyramid Texts insured the survival only
of the pharaoh whose name they contained and his subjects over whom
he would rule in the Hereafter. Royal relatives and courtiers who
were granted favor to be buried in tombs surrounding the pyramid were
perhaps fortunate enough to reach the realms of the blessed through
the agency of the ruler.

Until the final era of the Old Kingdom (2664-2155 BC) there is little
knowledge of the funerary liturgy for the ordinary Egyptian. His hope
for survival is suggested by the fact from earliest times he was
buried in a substantial grave which his wealth would provide; and
accompanying his body would be ornaments, weapons, food and beverage,
clothing and cosmetics. It was in the period of to Old Kingdom that
the process of mummification was developed to improve the
preservation of the body itself.

The Coffin Tests, which are selections from the Pyramid Texts, were
found in coffins from the late 6th dynasty (2341-2181 BC) until the
Middle Kingdom (2051-1756 BC). When coffins became mummy-shaped at
the beginning of the 18th century it was more convenient to set the
incantations on papyrus, and the Book of the Dead proper began
developing. There are discovered copies from all sequential periods
of Egyptian history, with the latest being Roman in date.


Most of the texts of the Book of the Dead are arranged in vertical
columns and often are written in simplified linear hieroglyphs or in
old-fashioned hieratic script. A few late examples exist where the
lines are horizontal and in contemporary script. Sometimes plain
black ink was used, but frequently the titles of spells and important
words were written in red. Illustrations could range from few to
many, they varied from plain black-line drawings to beautiful
drawings in lavish color.

The number and order of the spells varied greatly in the 18th and 19
dynasty versions of the Book of the Dead apparently on the command or
wishes of the person commissioning the copy. By the Ptolemaic period
(320-322 BC) the number and order of the spells were standardized,
and during the publication of the papyrus in the same period a
consecutive numbering of the spells was applied. This consecutive
numbering continued as further spells were added. There are presently
over 200 spells, but not all are contained in any one discovered

Concepts of the Hereafter:

The various glimpses of the afterlife provided in Egyptian funerary
literature give a very complicated and confusing picture. A New
Kingdom book (1554-1075 BC) entitled the Book of What Is in the
Netherworld describes the Hereafter as a subterranean region
completely devoid of light during the day. An area divided into 12
regions, each called a "cavern" and ruled by a king whose subjects
are "spirits." The many sections are connected by a great river
similar to the Nile. Along this river during the night, sails a boat
of the sun god bringing light and joy to the dwellers of the
underground regions.

The illustrations in Chapter 110, depict the realm of Osiris, which
was believed to be the sixth region of the Hereafter. It was shown as
an agricultural area connected by canals. In one part were several
islands, and Osiris held court on one of them. It was in the "Hall of
the Two Truths" that the trails of the deceased were held. If the
deceased could prove his worthiness he was ferried across the waters
where he could pursue a peaceful existence of plowing, reaping, and
threshing, or having these things done for him by servants who was
bound to work for him at his request.

Selected Spells:

After death the Egyptian hoped to be free to return to the earth
during the day or be accepted as one of the blessed in the realm of
Osiris. The Book of the Dead contains a variety of hymns, magic
formulae, litanies, incantations, prayers, and words of power which
clearly was to be recited with the intent of helping the decease to
overcome obstacles which might prevent him from achieving the above
objectives. Spell 1b, for example, gives the body power to enter the
Hereafter immediately after burial. (Translations are from T. G.
Allen, The Egyptian Book of the Dead Documents in the Oriental
Institute Museum at the University of Chicago): "As for one who knows
this roll on earth or puts it in writing on his coffin, he goes forth
by day in any form he wishes and enters his place again unhindered.
There are given to him bread and beer and a chunk of meat from the
altar of Re. He arrives at the Field of Rushes, and barely and wheat
are given to him there. So he shall be thriving as he was on earth."

Spells 2-4 give the decease the power to revisit the earth, visit the
gods, and travel in the sky. Spell 6 binds the funerary statuette on
which it was painted or carved to "volunteer" to perform any labors
required of its master or mistress in the Hereafter. Spells 21-23
secured the help of several gods in "opening the mouth" of the
deceased, enabling him to perform such functions as breathing and
eating. Spell 25 restored the deceased's memory, 42 put every part of
the body under the protection of a god or goddess, 43 protected the
body from decapitation, 44, prevented the deceased from dying a
second time, and 130-131 enable to use the boats of sunrise and

Spell 154 has an address to Osiris by the deceased that partially
said: "I continue to exist, I continue to exist, alive, alive,
enduring, enduring. I awake in peace untroubled. I shall not parish
younder… My skull shall not suffer, my ear shall not become deaf, my
head shall not leave my neck, my tongue shall not be taken, my hair
shall not be cut off, my eyebrows shall not fall off. No harm shall
happen to my corpse. It shall not pass away, it shall not parish,
from this land forever, and ever."

Perhaps the best-known chapter in the Book of the Dead is 125
containing the episode of judgment. In the accompany vignette, Osiris
is enthroned, usually on the left, and facing four minor deities
including the underworld goddess Ammut, who is depicted with the head
of a crocodile, trunk and forelimbs of a lion, and the hind part of a
hippopotamus, and has the responsibility of devouring the dead who
are found unworthy. In the center is a great balance with the heart
of the deceased in one pan, and a feather representing truth in the
other. The gods Horus and Anubis check the balance and Thoth records
the result. To the right of the deceased is received by Maat, the
goddess of truth; 42 deities sit in judgment around the hall.

The deceased is required to make his own defense. He first addresses
Osiris in words that are part hymn and part spell. Then he recites a
general "declaration of innocence" which is a denial of various
evildoings and breaches of ritual customs. "I have not oppressed
dependents." "I have not caused anyone to go hungry." "I have not
caused anyone to weep." "I have not diminished the food offerings in
the temples…I have not taken the cakes set aside for the blessed." "I
am pure." He does this to assure Osiris that he has lived a
reasonably decent life on earth, (or he knows the litany for
declaring that he has) and that his body is complete and ritually

Next he begins addressing the 42 deities denying various faults to
each. It is at this point in his trial that he could really triumph
by speaking their secret names and places of origin, thus gaining
control over them. Here he needs the powerful magic of the knowledge
of the secret names and places of origin of Osiris and the other 42
deities. By such knowledge he could coerce their judgment in his

Lastly the dead person addresses his heart, beseeching it not to bear
witness against him. It is at this point in his trial that the
deceased loses all control of his defense. If the heart does not
confirm the person's innocence (which never happens in the vignette)
the person is lost. But when the heart confirms the person's
innocence, then Horus leads the individual before Osiris who assigns
the person a proper place in the realm of the blessed.


So it can be seen that according to the general outline of the Book
of the Dead that it was thought that even in the afterlife the person
still might scheme and coerce if he possessed the right knowledge.
Such knowledge laid in the spells and hymns of the book which a few
was along with him least he would not forget them. First he needed
the knowledge to fight off the dangers which he probably would face
along his journey to the realm of the blessed. As in most Egyptian
mythology the dead would combat malignant spirits and other dangers.
Also, he needed the knowledge to influence or coerce the deities
judging him at his trial in the Hall of Two Truths. The work abounds
with magical references. This is why many are of the opinion that the
material in the work gives the conception that stipulation is mingled
with the idea of circumvention by sorcery in the most extraordinary