THE EGYPTIAN BOOK OF THE DEAD

"THE COMING INTO DAY"

INTRODUCTION


   The Coming into Day , or what we call The Egyptian Book of the Dead , is a set of spells, incantations, and mummification techniques designed to help the dead person resurrect into a glorious afterlife in "heaven," or "The Hall of the Two Truths." The work is a New Kingdom text and is similar to many texts found in the pyramids (from the old Kingdom) and coffins (from the Middle Kingdom) which outline the rituals performed at the burial of a important person. Imagine it in the following way: think about how church rituals are run. You go to church, and rituals and holy texts are read out to you from a book. In Ancient Egypt, these burial rituals aren't read from a book. At first, they are read directly off of the walls of the inner chambers of a pyramid; later they are read directly off the sides of the coffins. The Coming into Day was read off of papyrus sheets, much as religious rituals today are read out of books. Like a modern day bible, the book was meant to be relatively easy to purchase (it's, like, real expensive buying a pyramid and coffins ain't none too cheap neither), so that any fairly well-off person could secure a hand-written copy of it and use it on a loved one or whatever. As a well-off Egyptian in the New Kingdom, you would buy a copy that would have blanks where the names go, and you would hire a scribe to insert your name in all those blank spots. In the text you have, the blank spots where the name of the deceased is to go, is indicated by the letter "N," an "Insert Name Here" instruction. When you died, or when your loved one died, you would be buried with your papyrus scroll of The Coming into Day . As a result, quite a few of these texts survive. In addition to The Coming into Day , several scribes wrote what you might call travel guides to the afterlife; these, too, were buried with the dead.

   The work is not divided into chapters; this is a modern invention to make it easier to read. The longest and most famous chapter is "The Judgement of the Dead," chapter 125, which we are reading here. In it, the dead person appears before Osiris and a council of the gods; the heart of the dead person is weighed on the scales in full view of the council.

   As you read, ask yourself the following questions:

   1. Ethical principlesL: In part, the work is an exposition of what a proper led life consists of; the text is unique in ancient literature in that it shows an elaborate and ritualistic judgement of the dead by the divinities. What are the principles of a sinless life? Why is it important for the deceased to declare his innocence? The primary ethical responsibility is to live one's life according to maat , or truth. Are the ethics of the work social or personal? What is the role of humility? Why is the ability to name the gods so vital to success? How does the conception of the afterlife in this work contrast with that in Gilgamesh? How does that affect principles of ethical conduct?

   2. Divinity: Look carefully at the names of the gods (don't worry about place names); the names of the gods describe their characteristics. What are these characteristics? What do you think these gods do to human beings? Why is it important, do you think, to appease them?






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1997, Richard Hooker
Updated 4-8-97