THE BOOK OF THE DEAD
Comments by Anthony Holmes
Later similar information was carved inside the coffins of the Middle Kingdom (2,000BC). By the time of the
Most people desired to have a Book of the Dead interred with them. We are fortunate to have several examples that have survived to modern times. Each papyrus was hand written in hieroglyphs and illustrated by the scribes. The longer and more decorative the version, the more it would “cost” in terms of offerings of goods and time to the temple. If the prospective owner of a Book was wealthy and his death not untimely, he might commission a scribe to write a text based on his personal choice of spells and chapters.
The papyrus scroll compiled for the Royal Scribe of the Divine Offerings who name was Ani was originally 78ft (23.8m) long, separated into 37 sheets. The scroll is now in The British Museum. We will examine this Book in more detail later. Less wealthy clients would have to make do with a ready made text, turned out in funerary workshops, with spaces being left for the name of the deceased to be inserted later.
Egyptian religion was based on the worship of up to 2000 gods and goddesses. The two chief gods were Amun-Ra and Osiris. Amun the “king of gods” and Ra the “sun god” were combined into a single deity. Osiris was the “god of the netherworld” who ultimately decided on the fate of the deceased’s spirit. The dead were given the title “Osiris” to indicate their deceased status.
Extracts below are taken from “The Egyptian Book of the Dead” [The Papyrus of Ani – Royal Scribe of the Divine Offerings] translated by Dr Raymond O. Faulkner (printed in 1994) with illustrations based on the facsimile volume produced in 1890 under the supervision of P. le Page Renouf and E.A.Wallis Budge. Printed by The
What did Ani’s spirit expect to find and what did he have to do as he stepped through the False Door of his tomb into the world of the dead?
The spirit’s first activity was to recite a hymn of praise to the Sun-god Ra, often depicted as being raised above the horizon by the scarab beetle god called Kheper. The hymn commences with the words “Hail to you, you having come as Kheper, even Kheper who is the creator of the gods,” and continues with fulsome praise of Ra in all its forms. Ani then requests to be permitted to journey with Ra on the Night-bark (through the underworld) and on the Day-bark (across the sky). “May he grant that I see the sun-disk and behold the moon unceasingly every day.” The hymn ends with the words “may I be received into the presence of Osiris in the
The second hymn is to Osiris. The god of the dead is lauded with titles such as “Great God”, “King of Eternity” and “Lord of Everlasting” and ends with the plea for the pleasures of the afterlife, “May there be given to me bread from House of Cool Water and a table of offerings from Heliopolis, my toes being firm-planted in the Field of Reeds. May the barley and emmer which are in it belong to the Ka of the Osiris Ani.”
An important aspect of the final judgement of the spirit of the dead is the ‘declaration of innocence’ . In a form of “negative confession”, the spirit recites a list of all the transgressions he has not made. He calls on the names of each of the 42 assessor gods (one for each nome or province of the ancient land). The declaration states such things as:-
O Wide-strider who came forth from
O Fire-embracer who came forth from Kheraha, I have not robbed...
O Swallower-of-Shades who came forth from Kernet, I have not slain people...
O He-who-sees-what-he-has-brought who came from the house of Min, I have not (wrongly) copulated…
And so forth. Some of the sins do not seem particularly serious to our eyes 3,500 years later, but they must have had relevance in their day.
O Ihy who came forth from the Primordial Waters, my voice was not loud…
O Possessor of Faces who came forth from Nedjefet, I have not been impatient…
O Upraised of Head who came forth from the shrine, I have not stolen the Khenef-cakes from the Blessed.”
”The most important chapter occurs early in Ani’s Book. Straight after the hymns of praise comes a Chapter known as the ‘Chapter for not letting Ani’s heart create opposition against him in the God’s Domain.’ This chapter contains “The weighing scene” and “The introduction of Ani to Osiris”. Ani’s heart is placed on one pan of the balance and a feather (the symbol of Ma’at the goddess of justice and order) is placed on the other. Anubis, the canine god of embalming controls the balance while Thoth, the god of wisdom stands by to record the outcome. A horrible beast called Ammit waits hopefully, because if the heart fails the test it is thrown to the beast to consume. Geb the earth god, his daughters Isis and Nephthys and other gods are present. Ani pleads that his own heart will not let him down “Oh my heart I had from my mother!....do not make my name stink to (the) Entourage who make men. Do not tell lies about me in the presence of the god,”
Ani says, “Here am I in your presence, O Lord of the West. There is no wrong doing in my body, I have not wittingly told lies; there has been no second fault. Grant that I may be like the favoured ones who are in your suite, O Osiris, one greatly favoured by the good god, one loved of the Lord of the Two Lands (the Pharaoh), Ani, vindicated before Osiris.”
With the blessing of Osiris, the Royal Scribe Ani passes into the Field of Reeds to enjoy eternity in the afterlife.
This short article cannot hope to present a full appreciation of the beauty and depth of content of the Book of the Dead. My recommendation for further study would be to obtain a copy of Dr. Faulkner’s translation of the Papyrus of Ani and, if possible, to visit the special exhibition of The Book of the Dead in the British Museum to be held from 4 November 2010 to 6 March 2011. This short article cannot hope to present a full appreciation of the beauty and depth of content of the Book of the Dead. My recommendation for further study would be to obtain a copy of Dr. Faulkner’s translation of the Papyrus of Ani and, if possible, to visit the special exhibition of The Book of the Dead in the British Museum to be held from 4 November 2010 to 6 March 2011.