Book of the Dead

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For other uses, see Book of the Dead (disambiguation).

This detail scene, from the Papyrus of Hunefer (ca. 1375 B.C.), shows Hunefer’s heart being weighed on the scale of Maat against the feather of truth, by the jackal-headed Anubis. The Ibis-headed Thoth, scribe of the gods, records the result. If his heart is lighter than the feather, Hunefer is allowed to pass into the afterlife. If not, he is eaten by the waiting chimeric devouring creatureAmmut composed of the deadly crocodile, lion, and hippopotamus. Vignettes such as these were a common illustration in Egyptian books of the dead.[1]

The "Book of the Dead" is the usual name given to the ancient Egyptian funerary text called the "Spells of Coming (or Going) Forth By Day." The Book of the Dead was intended to assist the deceased in the afterlife and comprised a collection of hymns, spells and instructions to allow the deceased to pass through obstacles in the afterlife. The Book of the Dead was most commonly written on a papyrus scroll and placed in the coffin or burial chamber of the deceased.[2]

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The Book of the Dead was the product of a long process of evolution starting with the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom through the Coffin Texts of the Middle Kingdom. About one third of the chapters in the Book of the Dead are derived from the earlier Coffin Texts.[3] The Book of the Dead itself was adapted into The Book of Breathings in the Late Period, but remained popular in its own right until the Roman period.

Egyptian name

The name for the book in the Egyptian language was rw nw prt m hrw. This derives from the title of one of the most important spells, Spell 17, prt m hrw.[4]

Rw is the plural of r, meaning ‘mouth‘. R can also refer to a thing said, such as a piece of speech or, in this case, a ritual incantation.

Nw is a form of n, meaning ‘of’. This ‘genitival adjective’ grammatically agrees with the preceding noun. Nw is the masculine dual/plural form.

Prt is an action-noun derived from the verb prj, meaning ’emerge’, ‘arise’. It denotes the act of emerging or arising.

M is a preposition typically meaning ‘in’. When dealing with time, it can mean ‘during’.

Hrw means ‘day’, ‘daytime’.

Thus a literal translation is ‘utterances of emergence during daytime’. A slightly looser translation for sense could be ‘spells of going out in the daytime’.

The use of the word "rw" to describe the texts indicates that the intention was that they were spoken out loud or recited. For this reason some Egyptologists call the sections ‘spells’ while others use the more neutral term ‘chapters’.


Single spells of the Book of the Dead are already known from the late Middle Kingdom. Many spells on the coffins of Sesenebnef or queen Mentuhotep are identical to later chapters of the Book of the Dead. During the New Kingdom The Book of the Dead was not organized or standardized in a set order. The texts appear to reflect the preferences of the individual or their family. This is known as the ‘Theban Recension’. In the Third Intermediate Period leading to the Saite period, the Book of the Dead became increasingly standardized and organized into a set number of Spells or Chapters in a standard order and versions of this period are known as the ‘Saite Recension’.

Saite recension

The Books of the Dead from the Saite period tend to organize the Chapters into four sections:

  • Chapters 1–16 The deceased enters the tomb, descends to the underworld, and the body regains its powers of movement and speech.
  • Chapters 17–63 Explanation of the mythic origin of the gods and places, the deceased are made to live again so that they may arise, reborn, with the morning sun.
  • Chapters 64–129 The deceased travels across the sky in the sun ark as one of the blessed dead. In the evening, the deceased travels to the underworld to appear before Osiris.
  • Chapters 130–189 Having been vindicated, the deceased assumes power in the universe as one of the gods. This section also includes assorted chapters on protective amulets, provision of food, and important places.[3] There are 192 unique chapters known, and no single papyrus contains all known chapters.


This tableaux, from the Papyrus of Hunefer, shows Hunefer‘s heart being weighed as above. In the previous scene, Hunefer is led by Anubis to the judgement hall. In the panel after the weighing, the triumphant Hunefer, having passed the test, is presented by Horus to the shrine of the green-skinned Osiris, god of the underworld and the dead, accompanied by Isis and Nephthys. The 14 gods of Egypt are shown seated above, in the order of judges.

The weighing of the heart scene from the Papyrus of Ani, ca. 1200 B.C.

Books were often prefabricated in funerary workshops, with spaces being left for the name of the deceased to be written in later. They are often the work of several different scribes and artists whose work was literally pasted together. The cost of a typical book might be equivalent to half a year’s salary of a laborer, so the purchase would be planned well in advance of the person’s death. The blank papyrus used for the scroll often constituted the major cost of the work, so papyrus was often reused.[3]

Images, or vignettes to illustrate the text, were considered mandatory. The images were so important that often the text is truncated to fit the space available under the image. Whereas the quality of the miniatures is usually done at a high level, the quality of the text is often very bad. Scribes often misspelled or omitted words and inserted the wrong text under the images.

Publication history

The name "Book of the Dead" was the invention of the German Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius, who published a selection of the texts in 1842. When it was first discovered, the Book of the Dead was thought to be an ancient Egyptian Bible. But unlike the Bible, the Book of the Dead does not set forth religious tenets and was not considered by the ancient Egyptians to be the product of divine revelation, which allowed the content of the Book of the Dead to change over time.

The earliest manuscripts were published in the aftermath of the Egyptian expedition led by Napoleon Bonaparte in Description de l’Ėgypte (1821). Jean Francois Champollion was one of the early translators. In 1842 Karl Richard Lepsius published a version dated to thePtolomaic era and coined the name "Book of The Dead", a title not known or used by the Ancient Egyptians, as well as the chapter numbering system which is still in use. Samuel Birch published the first English version in 1867. Edouard Naville published what was to become the first full standard edition in three volumes (1886). Using the papyrus texts in the British Museum E. A. Wallis Budge published editions including the Papyrus of Ani, which Naville had not dealt with, in 1890. Peter le Page Renouf‘s English edition was published in parts beginning in 1892. Budge’s hieroglyphic edition was published in 1898 and is still widely used. Budge’s 1901 English translation is still in print. More recent translations in English have been published by T. G. Allen (1974) and Raymond O. Faulkner (1972).[5]

See also


  1. ^ The Hall of Maat at
  2. ^ Caroline Seawright The Book of the Dead at TourEgypt
  3. ^ a b c Goelet, Ogden (1998). A Commentary on the Corpus of Literature and Tradition which constitutes the Book of Going Forth By Day. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. pp. 139–170.
  4. ^ Allen, James P., Middle Egyptian – An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs, first edition, Cambridge University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-521-77483-7
  5. ^ "The Ancient Egyptian books of the Afterlife", Erik Hornung, translated by David Lorton, p15-16, Cornell University Press, 1999, ISBN 0801485150

Further reading

  • Thomas George Allen, The Egyptian Book of the Dead: Documents in the Oriental Institute Museum at the University of Chicago, Thomas George Allen, (University of Chicago Press, Chicago), c 1960.
  • Thomas George Allen, The Book of the Dead or Going Forth by Day. Ideas of the Ancient Egyptians Concerning the Hereafter as Expressed in Their Own Terms, Thomas George Allen, (SAOC vol. 37; University of Chicago Press, Chicago), c 1974.
  • E. A. Wallis Budge, The Egyptian Book of the Dead,(The Papyrus of Ani), Egyptian Text, Transliteration, and Translation, E.A.Wallis Budge, (Dover (Note: 240 pages of running hieroglyphic text. NB: Budge’s translations and transliterations are extremely outdated and are not generally cited by modern Egyptologists)
  • Raymond O. Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, translated by Raymond Faulkner, edited by Carol Andrews (University of Texas Press, Austin), c 1972.
  • Raymond O. Faulkner, The Egyptian Book of the Dead, The Book of Going forth by Day. The First Authentic Presentation of the Complete Papyrus of Ani translated by Raymond Faulkner, edited by Eva von Dassow, with contributions by Carol Andrews and Ogden Goelet (Chronicle Books, San Francisco), c 1994.
  • Gunther Lapp, The Papyrus of Nu (Catalogue of Books of the Dead in the British Museum), by Gunther Lapp, (British Museum Press, London), c 1997.
  • Andrzej Niwinski, Studies on the Illustrated Theban Funerary Papyri of the 11th and 10th Centuries B.C., by Andrzej Niwinski, (OBO vol. 86; Universitätsverlag, Freiburg), c 1989.
  • Kolpaktchy, Gregoire. Le Livre des Morts des Anciens Egyptiens. (France, 1954)
  • Kolpaktchy, Gregoire. Das Agyptische Totenbuch. (Switzerland, 1954)

External links

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Read more: Egyptian Book of the Dead – world, burial, body, funeral, life, history, beliefs, time, person

There is probably no text in the popular imagination more closely associated with the ancient Egyptian beliefs about life after death than the work popularly known as the Egyptian Book of the Dead, also referred to as The Book of Coming Forth by Day. This work received its name from the fact that many of the earliest specimens to reach Renaissance Europe—centuries before Champollion deciphered the hieroglyphs in 1824—had been found next to mummies in burials, a practice that also gave rise to the misconception that the Book of the Dead was an authoritative scripture equivalent to the Bible. However, the actual Egyptian title, The Chapters of Going Forth by Day, offers a more accurate picture of purpose and orientation of this composition. The Book was essentially a collection of prayers and magical speeches primarily intended to enable a deceased person to overcome the trials and dangers of the next world and emerge safely from the tomb in a spiritualized form. Although there is no one ancient Egyptian work that contains the complete range of Egyptian postmortem beliefs, let alone the totality of their complex and constantly changing religious ideas, the Book does offer the modern reader insights into the wide range of ancient Egyptian concepts involving both the afterlife and the afterworld—it is not, however, in any sense an Egyptian Bible.

The Book of the Dead assumed many forms. It occurs primarily on papyri, but it is found as well on tomb walls, coffins, scarabs, funerary stelae, and other objects. Perhaps the best-known Book is the famous papyrus that was inscribed for a certain Ani, "the Accounts-Scribe of the Divine Offerings of all the Gods," and his wife Tutu. This profusely and beautifully illustrated scroll was made during the early Ramesside period (c. 1300 B.C.E.) in Ani’s home town, the southern religious capital at Thebes, modern Luxor. It was purchased there by its curator, E. A. Wallis Budge, in 1888 for the British Museum where it is displayed today. Extending more than seventy-five feet, it is one of the best examples of the Book papyri of the New Kingdom and Ramesside periods. Ironically, for all its splendor, this scroll was actually a template papyrus roughly akin to a modern preprinted lease or standard will, with Ani’s name and titles being inserted into the appropriate blank spaces at the last minute. Ani, or his survivors, purchased what was deemed appropriate (and what they could afford) from a funerary workshop for his safe journey into the next world; then the sheets with those relevant spells were pasted together to form the final product.

The Book of the Dead represents the acme of the illustrated book in ancient Egypt. The text itself represents a continuation of an ancient tradition of afterworld guides that began with the royal Pyramid Texts in the Old Kingdom and continued with the more "democratized" Coffin Texts for wealthy individuals of the Middle Kingdom. These, in turn, provided the material on which many chapters of the Book of the Dead were based. This pattern of rewriting old religious texts and adopting them to new beliefs was to continue after the Book throughout pharaonic history. At no time did any group of texts become canonical in the sense of having a definitive text or a fixed sequence and number of chapters. The first spells that can be definitely associated with the Book of the Dead began appearing in the late Middle Kingdom, but it was not really until the Eighteenth Dynasty (c. 1500 B.C.E.) that this new work became the standard afterlife text for the Egyptian elite. In order to enhance its appeal to the conservative religious sense of Egyptians, the Book of the Dead preserves many archaisms in script, vocabulary, and dialect. The main innovations of the Book of the Dead were that nearly every spell was accompanied by a vignette—an illustration—and that the work, designed for the relatively cheap medium of papyrus, was affordable for a much wider audience of Egyptians.

Probably only a miniscule percentage of Egyptians had the means to include a Book papyrus among their burial equipment. In fact, because the Book describes a lavish funeral, an elaborate, well-outfitted tomb, and other expensive burial equipment, some scholars have surmised that these scrolls were partially intended to provide by magic various things that the average Egyptian official could not afford.

All Egyptian religious texts such as the Book were fundamentally collections compiled from several different sources or local traditions, so that the final versions often contained contradictory concepts and statements, occasionally within the same spell or sentence. Consequently, for modern readers, many of whom have been influenced by the uncompromising strictures of monotheism, reading the Book often evokes confusion, even shock. In the profoundly polytheistic environment of Egyptian religion, however, there was never was a need to reconcile differences or to compel uniformity; one should more properly speak of Egyptian religions in the plural rather than the singular. Yet, despite this seeming lack of consistency, the fundamental concepts concerning life after death remained essentially stable.

Above all, the Egyptians had an essentially optimistic conception of the afterlife. For them death may have been inevitable, but it was survivable. However, unlike the modern view of death as the great leveler that reduces all humanity to the same status before the deity, a profound class-consciousness permeated the Egyptian view of the next world. Earthly status was transferable into the world beyond. The chief objective of their vast

Departed souls make an offering to Horus in this illustration from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Such images have become more widely known than the text itself. CORBIS

Departed souls make an offering to Horus in this illustration from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Such images have become more widely known than the text itself.


mortuary culture was not only to ensure survival after death but to preserve one’s earthly station, presumably as a member of the elite. Therein lay the elaborate nature of Egyptian tombs and burials, which were intended to provide the deceased with a comfortable material existence in the next world, an existence that would in part be an idyllic version of earthly life, an Egyptian Elysian Fields. Egypt, the land of the living, was well ordered and governed under the principle of Ma’at, that is, roughly (rightful) order or universal guidance. Maat prevailed in the coherent, cosmic universe.

Consequently, travel through the world beyond the grave meant that the deceased would have to confront irrational, chaotic forces. The Book of the Dead joins together two views of the afterlife— a chthonic underworld where Osiris, a deity who had died and been resurrected, presided and a stellar-solar realm where the blessed dead eventually hoped for an eternal celestial existence in the company of the sun god Ra. Once one entered the next world in the West or traveled with the god Ra below the horizon into the netherworld, one encountered the forces of primordial chaos and irrationality prevailed. Magical spells such as those in the Book of the Dead were considered the appropriate means for protecting the traveling soul against these dangers.

The key afterlife trial that everyone faced took the form of a judgment of one’s soul on a set of scales like those the Egyptians used in their earthly existence. After the deceased had ritualistically denied a list of forty-two misdeeds, the so-called negative confession—his or her heart was put on one scale-pan, while a feather symbolizing the principle of Ma’at was placed on the other. According to this beautiful metaphor, one’s heart had to be as light as a feather in relation to sin. Thereafter, one was deemed "true-of-voice" and worthy of an eternal existence. Despite this, dangers remained. The chief purpose of the Book of the Dead was to guide the deceased through those afterlife perils; one might draw an analogy with a traveler’s guide to a foreign land. The Book provides for many eventualities yet not all of these would arise, nor was it expected that the various dangers would occur according to the sequence in which they appear on any given scroll.

Read more: Egyptian Book of the Dead – world, burial, body, funeral, life, history, beliefs, time, person

Book of the Dead  Timeline

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  1. 4000 BC

    4000 BC – The title of Book of the Dead has been usually given by Egyptologists to the Theban and Saite Recensions, but in this Introduction the term is intended to include the general body of religious texts which deal with the welfare of the dead and their new life in the

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  2. 3000 BC

    3000 BC – The Book of the Dead remained in use from 3000 BC, or perhaps earlier, until long after the beginning of the Christian Era, and though many additions were made from period to period, nothing that aided a man’s chances of safety in the other world seems ever to

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    From Man and His GodsRelated web pages

  3. 1600 BC

    1600 BC – We do not know the exact date of the queen, but she did not belong to the royal family of Seqenenra Taa and Ahmes I, and so can be set with her coffin at least a generation earlier, perhaps c.1600 BC."

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    From User:PericlesofAthens/Sandbox Ancient Egyptian literature3 – Wikipedia, …Related web pages …

  4. 1500 BC

    1500 BC – In Egypt in 1500 BC the Book of the Dead created an afterlife of chimeral gods and bureaucracies and rewards. Christ was asked by the Sadducees to teach about the life beyond, and he described a strange place where there is no marriage and no sex, and yet

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  5. 1280 BC

    1280 BC – Written in 1280 BC, the Egyptian Book of the Dead describes a god, Horus, the son of the god Osiris, born to a virgin mother. He was baptized in a river by Anup the Baptizer, who was later beheaded. Like Jesus, Horus was tempted while alone in the desert

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  6. 1250 BC

    1250 BC – 11 The most recent and complete edition, The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth by Day. Being the Papyrus of Ani (Royal Scribe of the Divine Offerings), Written and Illustrated circa 1250 BCE, by Scribes and Artists Unknown.
    From Angels, Demons & Gods of the New MillenniumRelated web pages …

  7. 1240 BC

    1240 BC – One of the best examples of the Book of the Dead is The Papyrus of Ani, created around 1240 BC, which, in addition to the texts themselves, also contains many pictures of Ani and his wife on their journey through the land of the dead.

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  8. 1300

    1300 – Fortunately, a series of flash backs reminds us that a certain Professor discovered theBook of the Dead, which disappeared in 1300 AD, and upon translating its hieroglyphics, re leased a bunch of supernatural de mons . Cut to the sequel and a guy named Ash

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  9. 1842

    1842 – The papyrus in question, which was found in the coffin of a priest named Auf Ankh, is now preserved at Turin. And a facsimile of it was published by Lepsius in AD 1842. That distinguished Egyptologist thought good to call it the Book of the Dead; a title

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  10. 1927

    1927 – In 1927, Oxford University Press published the first western-language translation of a collection of Tibetan funerary texts (the Great Liberation upon Hearing in the Bardo) under the title The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Since that time, the work has

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    From The Hidden History of the Tibetan Book of the DeadRelated web pages …