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Encyclopedia > Book of the Dead
This scene, from the Papyrus of Hunefer, shows the Hunefer's heart being weighed against the feather of truth. If his heart is lighter than the feather, he is allowed to pass into the afterlife. Vignettes such as these were a common illustration in Egyptian books of the dead.
This scene, from the Papyrus of Hunefer, shows the Hunefer's heart being weighed against the feather of truth. If his heart is lighter than the feather, he is allowed to pass into the afterlife. Vignettes such as these were a common illustration in Egyptian books of the dead.

'The Book of the Dead' is the common name for the ancient Egyptian funerary text known as 'The Book of Coming '[or 'Going']' Forth By Day'. The book of the dead was a description of the ancient Egyptian conception of the afterlife and 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.[1] The Book of the Dead is the common name for several ancient Egyptian funerary texts. ... The pyramids are among the most recognizable symbols of the civilization of ancient Egypt. ... Funerary texts or funerary literature feature in many belief systems. ... In Egyptian mythology, Duat (also called Akert or Amenthes) is the underworld, where the sun traveled from west to east during the night and where dead souls were judged by Osiris, using a feather, representing Truth. ... For other uses, see Papyrus (disambiguation). ...

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 Book of the Dead was thus the product of a long process of evolution from the Pyramid texts of the Old Kingdom to the Coffin Texts of the Middle Kingdom. About one-third of the chapters in The Book of the Dead are derived from the Coffin Texts.[2] The Book of the Dead itself was adapted to The Book of Breathings in the Late Period, but remained popular in its own right until the Roman period. The Great Sphinx of Giza against Khafres Pyramid at the Giza pyramid complex. ... Karl Richard Lepsius 1810 – 1884 Karl (or Carl) Richard Lepsius (December 23, 1810 – July 10, 1884) was a pioneering Prussian Egyptologist and linguist and pioneer of modern archaeology. ... 1842 was a common year starting on Saturday (see link for calendar). ... For other uses, see Bible (disambiguation). ... The Pyramid Texts are a collection of Ancient Egyptian religious texts from the time of the Old Kingdom, mostly inscriptions found in pyramids. ... The Old Kingdom is the name commonly given to that period in the 3rd millennium BC when Egypt attained its first continuous peak of civilization in complexity and achievement – this was the first of three so-called Kingdom periods, which mark the high points of civilization in the lower Nile... The Coffin Text, which basically superseded the Pyramid Texts as magical funerary spells at the end of the Egyptian Old Kingdom, are principally a Middle Kingdom phenomenon, though we have found examples as early as the late Old Kingdom. ... The Middle Kingdom is the period in the history of ancient Egypt stretching from the establishment of the Eleventh Dynasty to the end of the Fourteenth Dynasty, roughly between 2030 BC and 1640 BC. The period comprises two phases, the 11th Dynasty, which ruled from Thebes and the 12th Dynasty...



Although during the New Kingdom the book of the dead was not organized or standardized in any meaningful way, versions dating to this period are known as the 'Theban Recension'. In the Third Intermediate Period leading up to the Saite period, the book of the dead became increasingly standardized and organized, and books of this period are known as the 'Saite Recension'. The maximum territorial extent of Egypt (XVth century BC) The New Kingdom, sometimes referred to as the Egyptian Empire, is the period in ancient Egyptian history between the 16th century BC and the 11th century BC, covering the Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth Dynasties of Egypt. ... The Third Intermediate Period is a phrase used to refer the period of the history of Ancient Egypt from the death of pharaoh Rameses XI in 1070 BC to the foundation of the Twenty-sixth Dynasty by Psamtik I, following the expulsion of the Nubian rulers of the Twenty-fifth...

Saite recension

Early versions of the book of the dead were not standardized and were not organized by thematic content; however, this changed by the Saite period :

  • 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.[2] There are 192 unique chapters known, and no single papyrus contains all known chapters. Depending on the translation the verses are divided into Spell numbers as opposed to Chapter numbers.


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.[2]

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.

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.

E. A. Wallis Budge in his office at the British Museum around the turn of the 20th century Sir Ernest Alfred Thompson Wallis Budge (July 27, 1857 – November 23, 1934) was an English Egyptologist, Orientalist, and philologist who worked for the British Museum and published numerous works on the ancient... For other uses, see Papyrus (disambiguation). ... It has been suggested that Hieroglyph (French Wiki article) be merged into this article or section. ... Dr Raymond Oliver Faulkner, FSA, (26 December 1894 —- 3 March 1982) was an English Egyptologist and philologist of the ancient Egyptian language. ...


  1. ^ "Feature story: The Book of the Dead" by Caroline Seawright
  2. ^ 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, 139-170. 

External links

Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Papyrus of Ani
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Book of the Dead

  Results from FactBites:
The Egyptian Book of the Dead (358 words)
"Book of the Dead" is the title now commonly given to the great collection of funerary texts which the ancient Egyptian scribes composed for the benefit of the dead.
These consist of spells and incantations, hymns and litanies, magical formulae and names, words of power and prayers, and they are found cut or painted on walls of pyramids and tombs, and painted on coffins and sarcophagi and rolls of papyri.
The title "Book of the Dead" is somewhat unsatisfactory and misleading, for the texts neither form a connected work nor belong to one period; they are miscellaneous in character, and tell us nothing about the lives and works of the dead with whom they were buried.
Book of the Dead - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (539 words)
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.
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.
Books of the Dead were usually illustrated with pictures showing the tests to which the deceased would be subjected.
  More results at FactBites »



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