Dec 21, 2013

Book of the Dead

The name generally given to a large collection of funerary texts of various dates, containing magical formulas, hymns, and prayers believed by the ancient Egyptians to guide and protect the soul (Ka) in its journey into the region of the dead (Amenti). Egyptians believed that the knowledge of these texts enabled the soul to ward off demons attempting to impede its progress, and to pass the tests set by the 42 judges in the hall of Osiris, god of the underworld. These texts also indicated that happiness in the afterlife was dependent on the deceased's having led a virtuous life on earth. The earliest religious (funerary) texts known were found cut in hieroglyphs on the walls inside the pyramids of the kings of the 5th and 6th Dynasties of the Old Kingdom; these became known as the Pyramid Texts. A famous example is found in the pyramid of Unas (reigned about 2356-2323 BC), the last king of the 5th Dynasty. In the first Intermediate Period and in the Middle Kingdom private individuals had these texts painted on coffins, from which the alternate name Coffin Texts is derived. By the 18th Dynasty the texts were inscribed on papyri placed in the mummy case; these papyri were frequently from 15 to 30 m (50 to 100 ft) long and illustrated in color.

This vast collection of mortuary texts has survived in three critical revisions, or recensions: the Heliopolitan Recension, edited by the priests of the College of Anu (Heliopolis), and containing texts in use between the 5th and the 12th Dynasties; the Theban Recension, used from the 18th to the 22nd Dynasties; and the Saite Recension, used from the 26th Dynasty, about 600 BC probably to the end of the Ptolemies, 31 bc. The title “Book of the Dead” is misleading; the texts do not form a single connected work and do not belong to one period. Egyptologists have usually given this title to the last two Recensions. Translations of some sections (chapters) were made under various titles; one celebrated English translation of the Book of the Dead was made by Sir E. A. Wallis Budge in 1895. (Encarta Encyclopedia)