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No one papyrus can be cited as a final authority, for no payprus contains all the Chapters, in number, of the Theban Recension, and in no two papyri are the selection and sequence of the Chapters identical, or is the treatment of the vignettes the same. His words were almighty and once uttered never remained without effect. He framed the laws by which heaven, earth and all the heavenly bodies are maintained; he ordered the courses of the sun, moon, and stars; he invented drawing and design and the arts, the letters of the alphabet and the art of writing, and the science of mathematics.

And every follower of Osiris relied upon the advocacy of Thoth to secure his acquittal on the Day of Judgment, and to procure for him an everlasting habitation in the Kingdom of Osiris. The Egyptians were not satisfied with the mere possession of the texts of Thoth, when their souls were being weighed in the Great Scales in the Judgment Hall of Osiris, but they also wished Thoth to act as their Advocate on this dread occasion and to prove their innocence as he had proved that of Osiris before the great gods in prehistoric times.

According to a very ancient Egyptian tradition, the god Osiris, who was originally the god of the principle of the fertility of the Nile, became incarnate on earth as the son of Geb, the Earth-god, and Nut, the Sky-goddess. Geb set Osiris on the throne of Egypt, and his rule was beneficent and the nation was happy and prosperous.

Set marked this and became very jealous of his brother, and wished to slay him so that he might seize his throne and take possession of Isis, whose reputation as a devoted and loving wife and able manager filled the country. By some means or other Set did contrive to kill Osiris: according to one story he killed him by the side of a canal at Netat, near Abydos, and according to another he caused him to be drowned.


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Isis, accompanied by her sister Nephthys, went to Netat and rescued the body of her lord, and the two sisters, with the help of Anpu, a son of Ra the Sun-god, embalmed it. They then laid the body in a tomb, and a sycamore tree grew round it and flourished over the grave. A tradition which is found in the Pyramid Texts states that before Osiris was laid in his tomb, his wife Isis, by means of her magical powers, succeeded in restoring him to life temporarily, and made him beget of her an heir, who was called Horus.

After the burial of Osiris, Isis retreated to the marshes in the Delta, and there she brought forth Horus. In order to avoid the persecution of Set, who on one occasion succeeded in killing Horus by the sting of a scorpion, she fled from place to place in the Delta, and lived a very unhappy life for some years. But Thoth helped her in all her difficulties and provided her with the words of power which restored Horus to life, and enabled her to pass unharmed among the crocodiles and other evil beasts that infested the waters of the Delta at that time.

Scene from the Book of the Dead

At length they met and a fierce fight ensued, and though Set was defeated before he was finally hurled to the ground, he succeeded in tearing out the right eye of Horus and keeping it. Even after this fight Set was able to persecute Isis, and Horus was powerless to prevent it until Thoth made Set give him the right eye of Horus which he had carried off. Thoth then brought the eye to Horus, and replaced it in his face, and restored sight to it by spitting upon it. Horus then sought out the body of Osiris in order to raise it up to life, and when he found it he untied the bandages so that Osiris might move his limbs, and rise up.

Under the direction of Thoth Horus recited a series of formulas as he presented offerings to Osiris, and he and his sons and Anubis performed the ceremonies which opened the mouth, and nostrils, and the eyes and the ears of Osiris. He embraced Osiris and so transferred to him his ka, i. As soon as Osiris had eaten the eye of Horus he became endowed with a soul and vital power, and recovered thereby the complete use of all his mental faculties, which death had suspended. Osiris became the type and symbol of resurrection among the Egyptians of all periods, because he was a god who had been originally a mortal and had risen from the dead.

The Greater and the Lesser Companies of the Gods assembled in the celestial Anu, or Heliopolis, and ordered Osiris to stand up and defend himself against the charges brought against him by Set. Set seems to have pleaded his own cause, and to have repeated the charges which he had made against Osiris. The defence of Osiris was undertaken by Thoth, who proved to the gods that the charges brought against Osiris by Set were unfounded, that the statements of Set were lies, and that therefore Set was a liar.

After this Set was bound with cords like a beast for sacrifice, and in the presence of Thoth was hacked in pieces. When Set was destroyed Osiris departed from this world to the kingdom which the gods had given him and began to reign over the dead. He was absolute king of this realm, just as Ra the Sun-god was absolute king of the sky. The original home of the cult of Osiris was in the Delta, in a city which in historic times was called Tetu by the Egyptians and Busiris by the Greeks, and it is reasonable to assume that the Tuat, over which Osiris ruled, was situated near this place.

Wherever it was it was not underground, and it was not originally in the sky or even on its confines; but it was located on the borders of the visible world, in the Outer Darkness. There is neither water nor air here, its depth is unfathomable, it is as dark as the darkest night, and men wander about here helplessly.

But in very early times, certainly in the Neolithic Period, the Egyptians believed in some kind of a future life, and they dimly conceived that the attainment of that life might possibly depend upon the manner of life which those who hoped to enjoy it led here. As time went on, and moral and religious ideas developed among the Egyptians, it became certain to them that only those who had satisfied Osiris as to their truth-speaking and honest dealing upon earth could hope for admission into his kingdom.

When the power of Osiris became predominant in the Under World, and his fame as a just and righteous judge became well established among the natives of Lower and Upper Egypt, it was universally believed that after death all men would appear before him in his dread Hall of Judgment to receive their reward or their sentence of doom.

The writers of the Pyramid Texts, more than fifty-five centuries ago, dreamed of a time when heaven and earth and men did not exist, when the gods had not yet been born, when death had not been created, and when anger, speech? Meanwhile death had come into the world, and since the religion of Osiris gave man a hope of escape from death, and the promise of everlasting life of the peculiar kind that appealed to the great mass of the Egyptian people, the spread of the cult of Osiris and its ultimate triumph over all forms of religion in Egypt were assured.

Under the early dynasties the priesthood of Anu the On of the Bible strove to make their Sun-god Ra pre-eminent in Egypt, but the cult of this god never appealed to the people as a whole. It was embraced by the Pharaohs, and their high officials, and some of the nobles, and the official priesthood, but the reward which its doctrine offered was not popular with the materialistic Egyptians.

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A life passed in the Boat of Ra with the gods, being arrayed in light and fed upon light, made no appeal to the ordinary folk since Osiris offered them as a reward a life in the Field of Reeds, and the Field of Offerings of Food, and the Field of the Grasshoppers, and everlasting existence in a transmuted and beautified body among the resurrected bodies of father and mother, wife and children, kinsfolk and friends.

But, as according to the cult of Ra, the wicked, the rebels, and the blasphemers of the Sun-god suffered swift and final punishment, so also all those who had sinned against the stern moral Law of Osiris, and who had failed to satisfy its demands, paid the penalty without delay. The Judgment of Ra was held at sunrise, and the wicked were thrown into deep pits filled with fire, and their bodies, souls, shadows and hearts were consumed forthwith. The Judgment of Osiris took place near Abydos, probably at midnight, and a decree of swift annihilation was passed by him on the damned. Their heads were cut off by the headsman of Osiris, who was called Shesmu, and their bodies dismembered and destroyed in pits of fire.

There was no eternal punishment for men, for the wicked were annihilated quickly and completely; but inasmuch as Osiris sat in judgment and doomed the wicked to destruction daily, the infliction of punishment never ceased. The oldest religious texts suggest that the Egyptians always associated the Last Judgment with the weighing of the heart in a pair of scales, and in the illustrated papyri of the Book of the Dead great prominence is always given to the vignettes in which this weighing is being carried out.

The heart, ab, was taken as the symbol of all the emotions, desires, and passions, both good and evil, and out of it proceeded the issues of life. It was intimately connected with the ka, i. The first part contains the following, which was said by the deceased when he entered the Hall of Maati, in which Osiris sat in judgment:.

I know thee, and I know thy name, and the names of the Forty-Two who live with thee in the Hall of Maati, who keep ward over sinners, and feed upon their blood on the day of estimating characters before Un-Nefer [7] … Behold, I have come to thee, and I have brought maat i. I have destroyed sin for thee. I have not sinned against men. I have not oppressed [my] kinsfolk. I have done no wrong in the place of truth.

I have not known worthless folk. I have not wrought evil. I have not defrauded the oppressed one of his goods. I have not done the things that the gods abominate. I have not vilified a servant to his master. I have not caused pain. I have not let any man hunger. I have made no one to weep.

I have not committed murder. I have not commanded any to commit murder for me. I have inflicted pain on no man. I have not defrauded the temples of their oblations. I have not purloined the cakes of the gods. I have not stolen the offerings to the spirits i. I have not committed fornication. I have not polluted myself in the holy places of the god of my city. I have not diminished from the bushel. I did not take from or add to the acre-measure. I did not encroach on the fields [of others]. I have not added to the weights of the scales. I have not misread the pointer of the scales.

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I have not taken milk from the mouths of children. I have not driven cattle from their pastures. I have not snared the birds of the gods. I have not caught fish with fish of their kind. I have not stopped water [when it should flow]. I have not cut the dam of a canal. I have not extinguished a fire when it should burn.

I have not altered the times of the chosen meat offerings. I have not turned away the cattle [intended for] offerings. I have not repulsed the god at his appearances. I am pure. I am pure….


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  4. Each of the Forty-Two gods represents one of the nomes of Egypt and has a symbolic name. When the deceased had repeated the magical names of the doors of the Hall, he entered it and saw these gods arranged in two rows, twenty-one on each side of the Hall.

    The Sacred and Secret Rituals in the Egyptian Book of the Dead

    The deceased advanced along the Hall and, addressing each of the Forty-Two gods by his name, declared that he had not committed a certain sin, thus:. The names of most of the Forty-Two gods are not ancient, but were invented by the priests probably about the same time as the names in the Book of Him that is in the Tuat and the Book of Gates, i. Their artificial character is shown by their meanings. In the third part of the CXXVth Chapter comes the address which the deceased made to the gods after he had declared his innocence of the sins enumerated before the Forty-Two gods. I know you and I know your names.

    Let me not fall under your slaughtering knives. Bring not my wickedness to the notice of the god whose followers ye are.

    Egyptian Book of the Dead

    Let not the affair of my judgment] come under your jurisdiction. Speak ye the Law or truth concerning me before Neb-er-tcher, [8] for I performed the Law or, truth in Ta-mera i. I have not blasphemed the God. No affair of mine came under the notice of the king in his day. Homage to you, O ye who are in your Hall of Maati, who have no lies in your bodies, who live on truth, who eat truth before Horus, the dweller in his disk, deliver ye me from Babai [9] who liveth upon the entrails of the mighty ones on the day of the Great Reckoning APT AAT. Behold me! I have come to you without sin, without deceit?

    I have not done an [evil] thing. I live upon truth and I feed upon truth. I have performed the behests of men, and the things that satisfy the gods. I have given bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, raiment to the naked, and a boat to him that needed one. I have made holy offerings to the gods, and sepulchral offerings to the beautified dead. Be ye then my saviours, be ye my protectors, and make no accusation against me before the Great God. I have purified myself with washings in water, my back hath been cleansed with salt, and my inner parts are in the Pool of Truth.

    There is not a member of mine that lacketh truth. At all events, after questioning him about the performance of certain ceremonies, they invited him to enter the Hall of Maati, but when he was about to do so the porter, and the door-bolts, and the various parts of the door and its frame, and the floor, refused to permit him to enter until he had repeated their magical names.

    When he had pronounced these correctly the porter took him in and presented him to Maau? Who is he? The most complete form of it is given in the Papyrus of Ani, and may be thus described: At one end of the Hall of Maati Osiris is seated on a throne within a shrine made in the form of a funerary coffer; behind him stand Isis and Nephthys. By these stands the Great Balance, and on its pillar sits the dog-headed ape Astes, or Astenu, the associate of Thoth.

    The pointer of the Balance is in the charge of Anpu. Behind Anpu are Thoth the scribe of the gods, and the monster Amemit, with the head of a crocodile, the forepaws and shoulders of a lion, and the hindquarters of a hippopotamus; the duty of the last-named was to eat up the hearts that were light in the balance.

    My heart of my mother! My heart of my being! Make no stand against me when testifying, thrust me not back before the Tchatchaut i. Thou art my Ka, the dweller in my body, uniting?

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    Thou shalt come forth to the happiness to which we advance. Make not my name to stink with the officers [of Osiris] who made men, utter no lie against me before the Great God, the Lord of Amentt. No wickedness hath been found in him. He did not filch offerings from the temples. He did not act crookedly, and he did not vilify folk when he was on earth. The Osiris, the scribe Ani, true of voice, hath testified. He hath not sinned and [his name] doth not stink before us; Amemit i. Let there be given unto him offerings of food and an appearance before Osiris, and an abiding homestead in the Field of Offerings as unto the Followers of Horus.

    His heart is righteous [and] hath come forth from the Balance. It hath no sin before any god or any goddess. Thoth hath set down his judgment in writing, and the Company of the Gods have declared on his behalf that [his] evidence is very true. Let there be given unto him of the bread and beer which appear before Osiris. The soul would live in an image of the home they had always known with the exact same yard, same trees, same birds singing at evening or morning, and this would be enjoyed for eternity in the presence of the gods. There were quite a number of slips the soul might make, however, between arrival at the Hall of Truth and the boat ride to paradise.

    The Book of the Dead includes spells for any kind of circumstance but it does not seem one was guaranteed to survive these twists and turns. Egypt has a long history and, as with any culture, beliefs changed in time, changed back, and changed again. Not every detail described above was included in the vision of every era of Egyptian history.

    In some periods the modifications are minor while, in others, the afterlife is seen as a perilous journey toward a paradise that is only temporary. At some points in the culture the way to paradise was very straightforward after the soul was justified by Osiris while, in others, crocodiles might thwart the soul or bends in the road prove dangerous or demons appear to trick or even attack.

    In these cases, the soul needed spells to survive and reach paradise. The spells of transformation have become known through popular allusions to the book in television and film productions which has resulted in the misguided understanding that The Book of the Dead is some kind of magical Harry Potter type of work which ancient Egyptians once used for mystical rites. The Book of the Dead , as noted, was never used for magical transformations on earth; the spells only worked in the afterlife.

    The claim that The Book of the Dead was some kind of sorceror's text is as wrong and unfounded as the comparison with the Bible. The Tibetan Book of the Dead actual name, Bardo Thodol , "Great Liberation Through Hearing" is a collection of texts to be read to a person who is dying or has recently died and lets the soul know what is happening step-by-step.

    The similarity it shares with the Egyptian work is that it is intended to comfort the soul and lead it out of the body and on to the afterlife. The Tibetan Book of the Dead, of course, deals with an entirely different cosmology and belief system but the most significant difference is that it is designed to be read by the living to the dead; it is not a manual for the dead to recite themselves. Both works have suffered from the labels "Book of the Dead" which either attracts the attention of those who believe them to be keys to enlightened knowledge or works of the devil to be avoided; they are actually neither.

    Both books are cultural constructs designed to make death a more manageable experience. The spells throughout the Book of the Dead, no matter what era the texts were written or collected in, promised a continuation of one's existence after death. Just as in life, there were trials and there were unexpected turns in the path, areas and experiences to be avoided, friends and allies to cultivate, but eventually the soul could expect to be rewarded for living a good and virtuous life. For those left behind in life, the spells would have been interpreted the way people in the present day read horoscopes.

    Horoscopes are not written to emphasize a person's bad points nor are they read to feel badly about one's self; in the same way, the spells were constructed so that someone still living could read them, think of their loved one in the afterlife, and feel assured that they had made their way safely through to the Field of Reeds. Editorial Review This Article has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards prior to publication.

    We're a small non-profit organisation run by a handful of volunteers. Become a Member. Mark, J.

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    Egyptian Book of the Dead. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Mark, Joshua J. Last modified March 24, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 24 Mar Written by Joshua J. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon this content non-commercially, as long as they credit the author and license their new creations under the identical terms. Please note that content linked from this page may have different licensing terms. Mark published on 24 March Remove Ads Advertisement. Having a Book of the Dead in one's tomb would be the equivalent of a student in the modern day getting their hands on all the test answers they would ever need.

    Bibliography Bunson, M. The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. Gramercy Books, Faulkner, R. The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. British Museum Press, Pinch, G.

    Oxford University Press, Trungpa, C. The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Shambhala, Wilkinson, R. About the Author Joshua J. Mark has lived in Greece and Germany and traveled through Egypt. He has taught history, writing, literature, and philosophy at the college level. Related Content Filters: All. Articles Art is an essential aspect of any civilization. Once the basic Ever since European archaeologists began excavating in Egypt in The ancient Egyptians understood that their gods had prevailed To the ancient Egyptians, death was not the end of life but only The ancient Egyptians believed that life on earth was only one The concept of the afterlife changed in different eras of Egypt's Help us write more We're a small non-profit organisation run by a handful of volunteers.

    Chronicle Books 20 January Dover Publications 01 June The Egyptian Book of the Dead. Penguin Classics 25 November Sema Institute 09 November Crestline Books 28 August The Osiris Legend.