Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Book of the Dead
- This article is about the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. There are articles on Bardo Thödol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and H. P. Lovecraft's fictional Book of the Dead, the Necronomicon.
The Book of the Dead is the common name for the ancient Egyptian funerary texts known as The Book of Coming [or Going] Forth By Day. The name was invented by the German Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius, who published a selection of the texts in 1842.
The "book" was nothing like a modern book - the text was initially carved on the exterior of the dead person's sarcophagus, but was later written on papyrus or rolls and buried inside the mummy case with the deceased, presumably so that it would be both portable and close to hand. Other texts often accompanied the primary texts including the "hypocephalus" (meaning 'under the head') which was a primer version of the full text.
The Book of the Dead constituted a collection of spells, charms, passwords, numbers and magical formulas for use by the deceased in the afterlife, describing 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.
The Book of the Dead was 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. 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 (circa 1580-1350 BC). It partly incorporated two previous collections of Egyptian religious literature, known as the Coffin Texts (c. 2000 BC) and the Pyramid Texts (c. 2600-2300 BC), both of which were eventually superseded by the Book of the Dead.
The text was often individualized for the deceased person, but the texts are generally categorized into four main divisions - the Heliopolitan version which was edited by the priests of the college of Annu (used from 5th to 11th dynasty and on walls of tombs until about A.D. 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)
- Budge, E. A. Wallis, "Book of the Dead, The Papyrus of Ani". (sacred-texts.com)
- Online Readable Text, with several images and reproductions of the Egyptian papyri
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