The Book of the Dead

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Contents

  1. The Egyptian Book of the Dead
  2. Listen to the Egyptian Book of the Dead here:
  3. Egyptian Book of the Dead
  4. Book of the Dead - Ancient Egypt Facts for Kids

Now it is clear they were an essential piece of funerary kit and were produced by specialist scribes who toiled in workshops attached to temples. Sometimes, the scribes worked at speed, perhaps leaving the images sketched out in crude black ink, like a modern film storyboard. But if the client was rich and there was time, the papyri were ornate and colourful.


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Taylor, who taught himself the rudiments of hieroglyphics at school, is by now so steeped in the ancient art he can spot the styles of specific scribes. Sometimes, there is an odd gap in the text. These blanks spaces were left deliberately for the name of the customer. In one place, a name has clearly been added in a thicker stroke: a form filled out in a hurry. Ani's elaborate papyrus, thought to be among the best surviving examples in the world, was But even here a mistake is visible at the join between two sheets of papyri because the job was being done by a variety of hands across a workshop floor.

The Egyptian Book of the Dead

The script of a papyrus is read from one side across to the other, depending on which way round the depicted animal heads are facing. The spells and incantations appear alongside the images they evoke and they commonly deal with the sort of problems faced in life, such as the warding off of an illness. They are usually rather straightforward: prose rather than poetry. For the ancient Egyptians, the act of simply writing something down formally, or painting it, was a way of making it true. As a result, there are no images or passages in The Book of the Dead that describe anything unpleasant happening.

Setting it down would have made it part of the plan.

There was, however, always a heavy emphasis on dropping the names of relevant gods at key points along the journey. The British Museum exhibition will twist and wind like the route taken by dead souls and visitors will have to negotiate gateways at each stage. In one section, the ceilings will narrow to the height of the tomb, but it will not be necessary, as it was for a dead Egyptian, to offer the name of a god as a kind of magic password.

The best-known stage in this journey through the afterlife is the weighing of the heart. Scales watched over by Anubis are used to balance the heart of the dead soul against a feather, which represents truth. If the heart passes the test, then the way forward is clear. If not, the unseen threat is that the Devourer who hovers below will snap up the organ in its crocodile jaws. Other stages of the journey are just as fascinating, if less perilous. A board game called Senet, which looks a little like a cross between chess and backgammon, is an allegory of the journey to paradise.

Listen to the Egyptian Book of the Dead here:

Depicted elsewhere is the ritual of the opening of the mouth, which involves a series of macabre tools that were often buried inside a tomb with the dead body. At a pivotal moment, the dead soul also has to satisfy the demands of 42 separate judges, saying each one of their names out loud to please them. It makes The X Factor look easy. And this is where the papyrus crib sheet came in.

Egyptian Book of the Dead

It carefully listed each god in the correct order for the recently deceased client. If all else failed, at the final hurdle there was a handy spell designed to conceal all sins and mistakes from the gods by making them invisible. And then, when a dead soul finally completed the journey, there waiting for them at the end, so the papyri all promised, would be an ancient Egyptian version of Heaven: full of reeds and water and looking very much like the Nile Valley in the year of a good harvest, replete with grain and food and drink.

The point of the whole experience for the moribund traveller was a vital reunion with their dead ancestors. They could communicate with you and had power over you. So people wrote letters to the dead asking things like, 'Why are you still punishing me? Death, he adds, was a familiar part of daily life and ancient Egyptians felt closely connected to it, if not quite comfortable with it.

Most people died before they were 40 and so mapping out a plan for the afterlife was a way to handle this unpalatable probability. Mummies disinterred down the ages are usually found to belong to those who were between 25 or 30 years old when they died, and these would have been the bodies of the elite, people who lived in comparative wealth.

A few ancient Egyptians survived until they reached 70 or 80 and they were then revered because the gods had so favoured them. Intriguingly, evidence reveals that there were some sceptics who were prepared to question the likelihood of a paradisal "field of reeds" waiting for everyone on the other side of death. Taylor confirms that documents have been found in which these sceptics, the Richard Dawkins of their day, seem to query the point of The Book of the Dead. Most, however, seem to have decided that buying a papyrus was a useful insurance policy in case it all turned out to be true.

Being a scribe at a temple was regarded as a relatively good job because they were well fed and respected. This sense of self-worth among scribes is clear in the frequent appearance of Thoth, the god of writers, within the papyri. He is shown holding his pen and palette, just as the scribes themselves did.

The scribes also liked to sneer at manual workers, like potters, and they also looked down on the class of foreign slaves that carried out much of the hard labour, breaking rocks and constructing buildings.


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    Book of the Dead - Ancient Egypt Facts for Kids

    Although there is no evidence that it was actually performed, the ritual is full of theatrical elements. It describes the journey of a soul, brought after death by the jackal-headed…. The ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead , which contained texts intended to aid the deceased in the afterlife, is a superb example of early graphic design.

    Hieroglyphic narratives penned by scribes are illustrated with colourful illustrations on rolls of papyrus. Words and pictures are unified into a cohesive…. Subsequently, and especially in the Late period, pure line drawing was increasingly employed. In particular, they contain negative confessions in which the dead person justifies himself before the court of Osiris god of the dead. Pyramid Texts, collection of Egyptian mortuary prayers, hymns, and spells intended to protect a dead king or queen and ensure life and sustenance in the hereafter.

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    Sign up here to see what happened On This Day , every day in your inbox! By signing up, you agree to our Privacy Notice. Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox. More About Book of the Dead 9 references found in Britannica articles Assorted References expression of prayer In prayer: Ancient civilizations graphic design In graphic design: Manuscript design in antiquity and the Middle Ages history of book publishing In history of publishing: The Egyptian papyrus roll relationship to Coffin Texts In Coffin Texts repository of Egyptian art In Egyptian art and architecture: Relief sculpture and painting significance in Egyptian religion In Middle Eastern religion: Views of basic values and ends of human life In Middle Eastern religion: The role of magic theatrical elements In Western theatre: Ancient Egypt views on salvation In salvation: Time.

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