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Ancient Egyptian Text: What is the Book of the Dead?

The Book of the Dead has much older origins than the 1500 BC date that we typically attribute, evolving from earlier texts, including the Pyramid

Alessia - Thu, 18 May 2023 19:49:51 +0100 1057 Views
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The Book of the Dead, which is also known as the Papyrus of Ani, is a well-known text from ancient Egypt. The book contains several spells, prayers, and details to help the reader carry out rituals that were said to guide the dead during their journey to the afterlife. Dating all the way back to the New Kingdom, which was around 1,500 BC, it was first written on papyrus parchment and would be placed in the burial chamber itself, close to the deceased.


In this article, we'll tell you everything there is to know about this ancient text, including its origins, contents, and how it can still be found in modern pop culture. If you want to learn more about ancient Egypt and have some fun at the same time, you could try reading up on the subject or playing a Book of Dead game, which will surely keep you entertained for hours.


Origins


The Book of the Dead has much older origins than the 1,500 BC date that we typically attribute, evolving from earlier texts, including the Pyramid and Coffin Texts, which originate from the Old Kingdom and Middle Kingdom periods, respectively. For context, The Pyramid Texts were inscribed on the inner walls of the ancient pyramids, while the Coffin Texts were written directly on the interior and exterior walls of the burial coffins.


Later, during the New Kindom period, these texts were compiled into a single text, which became known as the Book of the Dead. This not only standardized what was included but also made it much more accessible to the average ancient Egyptian. The texts would be written and tailored to suit the deceased person, as specific spells and prayers would be picked depending on their social status, life achievements, and beliefs.


Contents

 

There's a common misconception that the Book of the Dead is a single book, but instead, it's actually a collection of many different spells and prayers, serving as more of a resource than a binary text to use in full. It contains around 200 spells, but there may be more that were not recorded in time to be included in modern editions, with different versions having slightly different spells. The text itself was organized into different chapters, each relating to a different aspect of the ancient Egyptian afterlife and the journey one would take to get there.


As well as containing written spells and prayers, you can also expect to find many different illustrations in the Book of the Dead, providing extra guidance to those helping the deceased reach the afterlife. As we said, the text was treated more as a resource, rather than a book with a rigid start and finish point. These illustrations were highly symbolic and often centered around the gods and animals, essential aspects of ancient Egyptian culture and rituals.


The Book of the Dead in Pop Culture


The Book of the Dead has impacted film and television, captivating audiences thanks to its ancient mysticism and allure. It's the perfect plot device for movies that center around the supernatural, ancient peoples, and archaeology, especially in Egypt.


As you may have guessed, a great example of this is the 1999 film The Mummy, starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. In the film, the Book of the Dead is a key plot device, being used by the antagonist as he tries to bring himself back from the dead and resurrect his lost love, causing havoc and destruction along the way.

 

 

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