The Book of the Dead

Ancient Egypt for kids - The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead

The religious beliefs of ancient Egyptians, the Book of the Dead and the Papyrus of Ani

The Book of the Dead
Discover interesting facts and information about the Ancient Egyptian 'Book of the Dead'. Enter the ancient world of Egypt and learn about how the beliefs of ancient Egyptians and their preparation for death, the journey through the perils and terrifying dangers of the underworld (a hellish purgatory called Duat) the judgement of their earthly lives  and their ultimate entry into the glorious afterlife (paradise). Ancient Egyptians were habitually preoccupied with death.

This involved preparing for the event and providing for their protection on their journey by supplying the knowledge of religious myths, ritual recitations, incantations and magical spells. These were detailed in a 'guide to the underworld' referred to as the Book of the Dead.

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Book of the Dead Fact Sheet
The Book of the Dead is the name given to collection of funerary texts and spells, inserted with the name of the deceased, that were often placed with an Egyptian mummy at the time of burial. The most famous Book of the Dead was commissioned by a scribe called Ani, which housed in the British Museum and called the Papyrus of Ani.

Book of the Dead
Fact Sheet

Definition: An ancient Egyptian funerary text consisting of incantations, recitations and spells that was documented on papyrus and placed in a tomb at the time of burial

Evolution: The protective 'guide' and collection of 'spells' evolved from the Pyramid texts of the Old Kingdom to the Coffin Texts of the Middle Kingdom (c2000 BC) and was fully evolved in the New Kingdom

Purpose: The text was intended to be read by the deceased during their journey to help combat the dangers of the perilous underworld and safely reach a perfect existence in the afterlife.

Personalized: A wealthy ancient Egyptian might commission a scribe to create a personalized version of the 'Book of the Dead' in which his name could be inserted

'Off the Peg' versions: Ready-written copies were also available in which blank spaces were left for the insertion of the names of the deceased persons for whom they were purchased

The Book of the Dead - Ancient Egyptian Religious Beliefs
The Religion of the Ancient Egyptians was totally different to those in modern civilisations with totally alien concepts. Their religion allowed for an unlimited number of gods and goddesses, there was not a ‘Holy Book’ in which the doctrine of the religion was based and there were subsequently different versions of creation myths. Additional facts and information are detailed in the Concept of the soul, the Ka and Ba.

The Book of the Dead - The Underworld and the Afterlife
The Ancient Egyptians were preoccupied with death and preparing for the event, the Book of the Dead was essential for this purpose.  Their preoccupation with death and the supernatural included the use of magic charms or amulets and magic spells. These beliefs permeated to all levels of society, rich or poor and encompassed the following beliefs.

  • The Egyptians believed that preserving the body in death, by the process of mummification, was essential to keep the soul alive and for eternal life
  • That things required in life would also be needed in death
  • That the dead would need to travel through the Underworld, led by Anubis the god of the dead
  • That the Underworld, called Duat, was a land of great dangers
  • That their actions in their earthly life would judged by Osiris and 42 other deity judges
  • If they were judged to have led a bad life they would be given to the 'Devourer of the Dead'
  • If they were judged to have led a good life they would gain entrance into the beautiful afterlife, a perfect existence in an idealized version of Egypt

The ancient Egyptians believed that the content of the Book of the Dead would help them to reach the perfect afterlife.

The Book of the Dead provided a Guide and Protection in the Underworld
Magic spells were believed to help the Ancient Egyptians through the perilous journey through the Underworld and the 'Book of the Dead' contained nearly 200 protective, magic spells. The Book of the Dead contained many references to Ra, the Supreme Solar God:

  • Information on how to address the gods of the Underworld
  • Spells to preserve of their spiritual being
  • Spells to empower the ability to breathe and drink
  • Spells for protection from peril and dangers
  • How to navigate the Underworld
    • Journeys in the Duat and on the Barque of Ra
    • Navigating gates, caverns, mounds and guardians
  • The appropriate words to use during the Judgement process

Interesting Information and Facts about the Book of the Dead
The Fact Sheet details many fascinating pieces of interesting facts, information, history, mythology and legends about ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead and also the famous 'Papyrus of Ani'.

Facts about the Book of the Dead

Book of the Dead Fact 1: The content of the Book of the Dead contained spells from the Pyramid Texts and the Coffin Texts:

  • Pyramid texts of the Old Kingdom: 2980 to 2475 B.C.
  • Coffin Texts of the Middle Kingdom: 2160 to 1788 B.C.
  • Book of the Dead in the New Kingdom about 1580 to 1150 B.C.

Book of the Dead Fact 2: The beliefs of the Ancient Egyptians survived for 3000 years

Book of the Dead Fact 3: "Book of the Dead" is the title now commonly given to the collection of funerary or mortuary texts which the ancient Egyptian scribes composed for the benefit of the dead.

Book of the Dead Fact 4: The creation of the scrolls was a highly profitable business for the Egyptian scribes

Book of the Dead Fact 5: The content included spells and incantations, litanies and hymns, magical formulae and names, words of power and prayers

Book of the Dead Fact 6: Excerpts from the Book of the Dead are found cut or painted on walls of pyramids, tombs, coffins, sarcophagi and rolls of papyrus

Book of the Dead Fact 7: The most text spells were illustrated with pictures called vignettes. Some were displayed as a row of pictures, with texts placed beneath them.

Book of the Dead Fact 8: The original Egyptian name for the text is translated as "Book of Coming Forth by Day" or as "Book of emerging forth into the Light".

Book of the Dead Fact 9: The texts equipped the owner with the mystical names of many of the gods and entities he would encounter in the afterlife, giving him power of them

Book of the Dead Fact 10: The text was organized into four sections with 189 Chapters which contained the words of various spells

Book of the Dead Fact 11: The text was intended to be read by the deceased during their journey into the underworld (Duat)

Book of the Dead Fact 12: This knowledge empowered the dead to overcome obstacles presented in the underworld by providing instructions, passwords and clues that would allow questions to be answered correctly

Book of the Dead Fact 13: The content of the Chapters in the Book of the Dead are as follows:

  • 1–20: Funerary and mythological texts
  • 21–30: Preservation of the parts of being
  • 31–53: Protection from peril
  • 54–63 :Empowering to breathe and drink
  • 64–89 :Coming Forth by Day
  • 98–112: Navigating the Underworld
  • 125-6: Judgement
  • 127–137: Journeys in the Duat and on the Barque of Ra
  • 144–150: Gates, caverns, mounds, and guardians
  • 151–189: Protective spells

Book of the Dead Fact 14: The dangers and perils of the underworld included a variety of obstacles including terrifying beasts and creatures, various traps, demons and a long series of tests.

Book of the Dead Fact 15: The correct magic spells would need to be recited to pass each test to guarantee safe passage through the fearful trials which led to the Hall of Two Truths where their actions in their mortal lives would be examined, the Egyptian equivalent to the Day of Judgement.

Book of the Dead Fact 16: Spells: Magical spells were contained in different chapters and related to burial rituals, the safety of the heart and soul of the deceased, a spell to open the tomb for the soul and to let a man return to see his house on earth, spells relating to safety in the Underworld (for not dying again, for not rotting, for preventing a man's head be cut off) and spells of transformation into the forms of a snake, phoenix, hawk, swallow etc.

Book of the Dead Fact 17: The journey through the Underworld, guided by Anubis, culminates in the ceremony of justification in the Hall of the Two Truths witnessed by Osiris and 42 judge deities

Book of the Dead Fact 18: In the Hall of the Two Truths the heart was weighed on a set of scales against the feather of truth and their fate would be decided - either entrance into the perfect afterlife or to be sent to the Devourer of the Dead

Book of the Dead Fact 19: Spell 125: Spell 125 is the most famous spell for entering the Hall of Truth. Spell 125 was the 'Declaration of Innocence' which consisted of denials such as "I have not killed, I have not robbed and I have not lied" that were made to Osiris and the 42 judges of the court

Book of the Dead Fact 20: Spell 125 has led to speculation that these were the basis of the Ten Commandments contained in the Holy Bible. Moses was raised in Egypt and would have been familiar with the Egyptian magic spells

Book of the Dead Fact 21: No single papyrus contains all known chapters, the ancient Egyptians chose the texts and spells they thought would be of the most help to them

Book of the Dead Fact 22: The most famous Book of the Dead was commissioned by a royal scribe and accountant called Ani. It is undated, and no facts are given in it concerning the life of Ani

Book of the Dead Fact 23: The 'Papyrus of Ani' was to be used when he or his wife, whose name was Thuthu, died

Book of the Dead Fact 24: Ani's wife, Thuthu, was described as "the lady of the house

Book of the Dead Fact 25: Ani and his wife were high ecclesiastical dignitaries connected with the famous confraternity of the priests of the sun god Amun Ra (Amen).

Book of the Dead Fact 26: The 'Papyrus of Ani' contains a number of chapters of the Book of the Dead, nearly all of which are accompanied by vignettes (meaning illustrations)

Book of the Dead Fact 27: The text appears to have been written by three or more scribes but only one or two artists worked on the vignettes (meaning illustrations)

Book of the Dead Fact 28: The vignettes were drawn before the text was written as the scribe has been obliged to crowd the text at times had to write in the borders

Book of the Dead Fact 29: Not all of the different sections of the papyrus were originally written for Ani, his name has been added in several places by a later hand. The papyrus of Ani is made up of six distinct lengths of papyrus, which vary in length from 26 feet 9 inches to 5 feet 7 inches

Book of the Dead Fact 30: The papyrus of Ani was originally purchased by E. A. Wallis Budge. Budge cut the priceless rolls of papyrus into 'manageable' pieces.

Book of the Dead Fact 31: The papyrus of Ani, was found at Thebes, and was purchased by the Trustees of the British Museum in 1888

Book of the Dead Fact 32: In the beautiful afterlife the deceased were promised:

"Cakes and ale and joints of meat from those which are on the altar of Ra shall be given to him, and his homestead shall be among the fields of the Field of Reeds,
and wheat and barley shall be given to him therein,
and he shall flourish there even as he flourished upon earth."

Book of the Dead Fact 33: The Romans conquered Egypt in 30 BC Egypt when the country became a province of the Roman Empire (30BC - 641 AD). Within one hundred years the Egyptians were writing in Latin, hieroglyphics were forgotten and shortly after the old beliefs and the text of the Book of the Dead was also became a 'thing of the past'.

Facts about the Book of the Dead

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