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The Egyptian Book of the Dead

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Author Topic: The Egyptian Book of the Dead  (Read 8696 times)
Josie Linde
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« on: December 21, 2008, 09:54:58 pm »

Early forms of the Book of the Dead.

The Book of the Dead.

The earliest inscribed monuments and human remains found in Egypt prove that the ancient Egyptians took the utmost care to preserve the bodies of their

{p. xi}

dead by various processes of embalming. The deposit of the body in the tomb was accompanied by ceremonies of a symbolic nature, in the course of which certain compositions comprising prayers, short litanies, etc., having reference to the future life, were recited or chanted by priests and relatives on behalf of the dead. The greatest importance was attached to such compositions, in the belief that their recital would secure for the dead an unhindered passage to God in the next world, would enable him to overcome the opposition of all ghostly foes, would endow his body in the tomb with power to resist corruption, and would ensure him a new life in a glorified body in heaven. At a very remote period certain groups of sections or chapters had already become associated with some of the ceremonies which preceded actual burial, and these eventually became a distinct ritual with clearly defined limits. Side by side, however, with this ritual there seems to have existed another and larger work, which was divided into an indefinite number of sections or chapters comprising chiefly prayers, and which dealt on a larger scale with the welfare of the departed in the next world, and described the state of existence therein and the dangers which must be passed successfully before it could be reached, and was founded generally on the religious dogmas and mythology of the Egyptians. The title of "Book of the Dead" is usually given by Egyptologists to the editions of the larger work which were made in the XVIIIth and following dynasties, but in this Introduction the term is intended to include the general body of texts which have reference to the burial of the dead and to the new life in the world beyond the grave, and which are known to have existed in revised editions and to have been in use among the Egyptians from about B.C. 4500, to the early centuries of the Christian era.

Uncertainty of the history of its source

The home, origin, and early history of the collection of ancient religious texts which have descended to us are, at present, unknown, and all working theories regarding them, however strongly supported by apparently well-ascertained facts, must be carefully distinguished as theories only, so long as a single ancient necropolis in Egypt remains unexplored and its inscriptions are untranslated. Whether they were composed by the inhabitants of Egypt, who recorded them in hieroglyphic characters, and who have left the monuments which are the only trustworthy sources of information on the subject, or whether they were brought into Egypt by the early immigrants from the Asiatic continent whence they came, or whether they represent the religious books of the Egyptians incorporated with the funeral texts of some prehistoric dwellers on the banks of the Nile, are all questions which the possible discovery of inscriptions belonging to the first dynasties of the Early Empire can alone decide. The evidence derived from the

{p. xii}

Its antiquity.

enormous mass of new material which we owe to the all-important discoveries of mastaba tombs and pyramids by M. Maspero, and to his publication of the early religious texts, proves beyond all doubt that the greater part of the texts comprised in the Book of the Dead are far older than the period of Mena (Menes), the first historical king of Egypt.[1] Certain sections indeed appear to belong to an indefinitely remote and primeval time.

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