The Egyptian Book of the Dead – sounds mysterious, magical and frightening – and in some respects it was!
But what exactly was the Egyptian Book of the Dead? What was the purpose of the Book of the Dead?
Definition of the Egyptian Book of the Dead
The Egyptian Book of the Dead was an ancient survival guidebook which contained magical spells and instructions to ensure safe passage through the dangers of the Underworld.
Funeral prayers were chanted to Egyptian Gods and protective spells were cast. A papyrus scroll containing sections and spells from the Book of the Dead was buried with the Ancient Egyptians to help them leave their tombs and through their perilous journey and the obstacles, they would face in the underworld.
The Book of the Dead was recorded by a royal Scribe called Ani. The Papyrus of Ani was originally 78 feet long and was divided into various chapters.
Origins of the Egyptian Book of the Dead
The Ancient Pyramid Texts contained rituals for the deceased. These texts were cut in hieroglyphs on the walls inside the pyramids of the kings of the 5th and 6th Dynasties of the Old Kingdom.
The ‘Pyramid Texts‘ were then painted on coffins (referred to as the Coffin Texts). These ancient Pyramid Texts and Coffin texts were gradually developed into the elaborate Book of the Dead.\
During the 18th Dynasty, the process of mummification was well established and papyrus texts were placed in the mummy case.
Contents of the Egyptian Book of the Dead
The Egyptian Book of the Dead was a sacred document studied by Egyptian elite such as well-educated Egyptians, Royalty, and Priests.
It provided an understanding of their religion and gave them a great advantage in the understanding of Underworld and the Afterlife and the trials that they would face.
The Egyptian Book of the Dead contained nearly 200 different spells. Each spell was designed to help with the tests and trials that would be met in the Underworld. The correct spells would need to be recited to pass each test.
Prior study of the spells contained in the Book of the Dead with reference to the papyrus that contained the spells guaranteed safe passage through the trials which led to the Hall of Two Truths where their actions in their mortal lives would be examined.
Papyrus containing excerpts from the Egyptian Book of the Dead
The papyrus contained a selection of appropriate spells from the Egyptian Book of the Dead which was an essential element to be entombed with an Ancient Egyptian.
The text contained in the papyrus was often individualized for the deceased person. The papyrus roll was enclosed in the tomb with the mummy and excerpts from the Book of the Dead, with beautiful colored illustrations, were also painted on the coffins.
Purpose of the Egyptian Book of the Dead – Ancient Egyptian Beliefs
The religion of the Ancient Egyptians encompassed the following fundamental beliefs which clarify the purpose of the Book of the Dead:
- Life and Death were seen as stages of progress to a better life in the next world
- Mummification – The Egyptians believed that preserving the body in death was important to keep their soul alive – without a physical body the soul had no place to dwell and became restless forever
- The Underworld – Definition: The Underworld, called Duat, was a land of great dangers through which every Egyptian would need to pass through after death according to the beliefs of the Ancient Egyptian religion
- Hall of the Two Truths – The God of the Dead Anubis would lead the dead through the dangers of the Underworld to the Hall of Two Truths and the ceremony of justification before Osiris and 42 judge deities. A set of scales where his or her heart was weighed against the feather of truth and their fate would be decided – either entrance into the perfect afterlife or to be sent to the Devourer of the Dead
- The Afterlife – A perfect existence in an ideal version of Egypt. Ancient Egyptians provided for their afterlives according to their earthly means. The Afterlife was referred to as the Field of Rushes or Field of Offerings
Anubis the God of the Dead and Embalming
The Egyptian Book of the Dead was, therefore, a set of instructions, prayers and helpful spells to assist in the journey through the Underworld to the Afterlife.
The dangers of the underworld included a variety of obstacles including fearful beasts, various traps, demons and a long series of tests.
Anubis, the God of the Dead and Embalming, played an important role in relation to the burial rituals of the Ancient Egyptians and he was also believed to help guide souls through the perils of the Underworld.
Egyptian Book of the Dead
Each section addresses all topics and provides interesting facts and information about the Golden Age of Pharaohs and the famous Gods and Goddesses of Egypt.
*This article was originally published at www.historyembalmed.org.