The Book of the Dead
Book of the Dead is the common name
for ancient Egyptian funerary texts known as The Book of Coming or Going
Forth By Day. The name "Book of the Dead" was the invention of the
German Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius, who published a selection of
some texts in 1842.
The Books were text initially carved on
the exterior of the deceased person's sarcophagus, but was later written
on papyrus now known as scrolls and buried inside the sarcophagus with
the deceased, presumably so that it would be both portable and close at
hand. Other texts often accompanied the primary texts including the
hypocephalus (meaning 'under the head') which was a primer version of
the full text.
Books of the Dead constituted as a
collection of spells, charms, passwords, numbers and magical formulas
for the use of the deceased in the afterlife. This described many of the
basic tenets of Egyptian mythology.
They were intended to guide the dead
through the various trials that they would encounter before reaching the
underworld. Knowledge of the appropriate spells was considered essential
to achieving happiness after death. Spells or enchantments vary in
distinctive ways between the texts of differing "mummies" or sarcophagi,
depending on the prominence and other class factors of the deceased.
Books of the Dead were usually
illustrated with pictures showing the tests to which the deceased would
be subjected. The most important was the weighing of the heart of the
dead person against Ma'at, or Truth (carried out by Anubis). The heart
of the dead was weighed against a feather, and if the heart was not
weighed down with sin (if it was lighter than the feather) he was
allowed to go on. The god Thoth would record the results and the monster
Ammit would wait nearby to eat the heart should it prove unworthy.
The earliest known versions date from
the 16th century BC during the 18th Dynasty (ca. 1580 BC�1350 BC). It
partly incorporated two previous collections of Egyptian religious
literature, known as the Coffin Texts (ca. 2000 BC) and the Pyramid
Texts (ca. 2600 BC-2300 BC), both of which were eventually superseded by
the Book of the Dead.
The text was often individualized for
the deceased person - so no two copies contain the same text - however,
"book" versions are generally categorized into four main divisions - the
Heliopolitan version, which was edited by the priests of the college of
Annu (used from the 5th to the 11th dynasty and on walls of tombs until
about 200); the Theban version, which contained hieroglyphics only (20th
to the 28th dynasty); a hieroglyphic and hieratic character version,
closely related to the Theban version, which had no fixed order of
chapters (used mainly in the 20th dynasty); and the Saite version which
has strict order (used after the 26th dynasty).
It is notable, that the Book of the
Dead for Scribe Ani, the Papyrus of Ani, was originally 78 Ft, and was
separated into 37 sheets at appropriate chapter and topical divisions.