Category: Ancient Egyptian literature

3. The Egyptian Book of the Dead c.1250 BC

Content : A collection of spells which would be inscribed on scrolls, tomb walls or inside coffins, to assist the deceased Egyptian (and not necessarily just Pharaohs) to enjoy the Afterlife.
My thoughts: I must admit defeat on this title. I read the first 60 spells and found many of them obscure to the point of meaninglessness. I skimmed the rest of the book and must admit that it would require long-term intense research for a layman such as myself to gain meaning from it. I get the basics : the ritual of judgement by weighing the heart of the deceased with Ammut the half-hippo, half-crocodile waiting to devour the sinful; the opening of the mouth to allow the deceased to regain speech and freedom of movement; the spells to allow changing into birds, snakes, crocodiles, etc.
The spells are full of contradictions and assertions that the deceased is this god or that god. The whole is so far removed from modern context and logic that it makes no sense – certainly not to me.
Favourite lines/passages : I did enjoy some of the spells and ideas, and in particular Spell 32 : Spell for repelling a crocodile which comes to take away a spirit’s magic from him in the realm of the dead.
Get back, you crocodile of the West, who lives on the Unwearying Stars! Detestation of you is in my belly, for I have absorbed the power of Osiris, and I am Seth. …… Get back, you crocodile of the South, living on faeces, smoke and want! Detestation of you is in my belly, and my blood is not in your hand, for I am Sopd. ….. Get back you crocodile in the North! A scorpion is in my belly, but I will not give it birth.
Diversions/digressions : I did consider reading more about the Egyptian pantheon of gods. I looked through Egyptian mythology by Veronica Ions, and whereas the last chapter on Life after death assured me I had understood some of the rituals and purposes of the spells, again the contradictions/multiple aspects and behaviours attributed to each god made my head spin more. Life is short and without much faith in the effectiveness of these spells to my own Afterlife, I will move on. Good luck with your own attempt.
Personal rating : 2/10
Next : The Rig Veda. My copy is the Penguin edition translated by Wendy O’Flaherty (ISBN 0140444025)


Next : The Egyptian Book of the Dead

book of the dead

The Book of the Dead, or more correctly, The Chapters of Coming-forth by day, are a collection of spells left in the tomb of the ancient Egyptians containing directions to ensure their passage to the afterlife. There are numerous copies available, each seemingly with a different assortment of extant spells. Perhaps not surprising as it is believed that each set of scrolls was individually requested and created. I have several copies available at my library, and the particular copy I have settled for is a nice glossy illustrated copy titled The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, translated by Raymond O. Faulkner and published by the British Museum (ISBN 0714109460)