The Book of the Dead, by E. A. Wallis Budge

The Book Per-t em hru, or [The Chapters of] Coming forth by (or, into) the Day, commonly called the “Book of the Dead.”

The spells and other texts which were written by Thoth for the benefit of the dead, and are directly connected with him, were called, according to documents written under the XIth and XVIIIth dynasties, “Chapters of the Coming Forth by (or, into) the Day," . One rubric in the Papyrus of Nu (Brit. Mus. No. 10477) states that the text of the work called “PER-T EM HRU,” i.e., “Coming Forth (or, into) the Day,” was discovered by a high official in the foundations of a shrine of the god Hennu during the reign of Semti, or Hesepti, a king of the Ist dynasty. Another rubric in the same papyrus says that the text was cut upon the alabaster plinth of a statue of Menkaurā (Mycerinus), a king of the IVth dynasty, and that the letters were inlaid with lapis lazuli. The plinth was found by Prince Herutataf, , a son of King Khufu (Cheops), who carried it off to his king and exhibited it as a “most wonderful” thing. This composition was greatly reverenced, for it “would make a man victorious upon earth and in the Other World; it would ensure him a safe and free passage through the Tuat (Under World); it would allow him to go in and to go out, and to take at any time any form he pleased; it would make his soul to flourish, and would prevent him from dying the [second] death.” For the deceased to receive the full benefit of this text it had to be recited by a man “who was ceremonially pure, and who had not eaten fish or meat, and had not consorted with women.” On coffins of the XIth dynasty and on papyri of the XVIIIth dynasty we find two versions of the PER-T EM HRU, one long and one short. As the title of the shorter version states that it is the “Chapters of the PER-T EM HRU in a single chapter,” it is clear that this work, even under the IVth dynasty, contained many “Chapters,” and that a much abbreviated form of the work was also current at the same period. The rubric that attributes the “finding” of the Chapter to Herutataf associates it with Khemenu, i.e., Hermopolis, and indicates that Thoth, the god of this city, was its author.

Scenes and texts from the Sixth Section of the Book of him that is in the Other World.

Scenes and texts from the Sixth Section of the Book of him that is in the Other World.

From the sarcophaugus of King Nekht-Heru-hebt, B.C. 378.

[Southern Egyptian Gallery, Bay 28, No. 923.]

The work PER-T EM HRU received many additions in the course of centuries, and at length, under the XVIIIth dynasty, it contained about 190 distinct compositions, or “Chapters.” The original forms of many of these are to be found in the “Pyramid Texts” (i.e., the funerary compositions cut on the walls of the chambers and corridors of the pyramids of Kings Unas, Teta, Pepi I Meri-Rā, Merenra and Pepi II at Sakkârah), which were written under the Vth and VIth dynasties. The forms which many other chapters had under the XIth and XIIth dynasties are well represented by the texts painted on the coffins of Amamu, Sen, and Guatep in the British Museum (Nos. 6654, 30839, 30841), but it is possible that both these and the so-called “Pyramid Texts” all belonged to the work PER-T EM HRU, and are extracts from it. The “Pyramid Texts” have no illustrations, but a few of the texts on the coffins of the XIth and XIIth dynasties have coloured vignettes, e.g., those which refer to the region to be traversed by the deceased on his way to the Other World, and the Islands of the Blessed or the Elysian Fields. On the upper margins of the insides of such coffins there are frequently given two or more rows of coloured drawings of the offerings which under the Vth dynasty were presented to the deceased or his statue during the celebration of the service of “Opening the Mouth” and the performance of the ceremonies of “The Liturgy of Funerary Offerings.” Under the XVIIIth dynasty, when the use of large rectangular coffins and sarcophagi fell somewhat into disuse, the scribes began to write collections of Chapters from the PER-T EM HRU on rolls of papyri instead of on coffins. At first the texts were written in hieroglyphs, the greater number of them being in black ink, and an attempt was made to illustrate each text by a vignette drawn in black outline. The finest known example of such a codex is the Papyrus of Nebseni (Brit. Mus. No. 9900), which is 77 feet 7½ inches in length and 1 foot 1½ inches in breadth. Early in the XVIIIth dynasty scribes began to write the titles of the Chapters, the rubrics, and the catchwords in red ink and the text in black, and it became customary to decorate the vignettes with colours, and to increase their size and number. The oldest codex of this class is the Papyrus of Nu (Brit. Mus. No. 10477) which is 65 feet 3½ inches in length, and 1 foot 1½ inches in breadth. This and many other rolls were written by their owners for their own tombs, and in each roll both text and vignettes were usually, the work of the same hand. Later, however, the scribe wrote the text only, and a skilled artist was employed to add the coloured vignettes, for which spaces were marked out and left blank by the scribe. The finest example of this class of roll is the Papyrus of Ani (Brit. Mus., No. 10470). which is 78 feet in length and 1 foot 3 inches in breadth. In all papyri of this class the text is written in hieroglyphs, but under the XIXth and following dynasties many papyri are written throughout in the hieratic character; these usually lack vignettes, but have coloured frontispieces.

Vignette and text of the Theban Book of the Dead from the Papyrus of Nu.

Vignette and text of the Theban Book of the Dead from the Papyrus of Nu.

[Brit. Mus., No. 10477.] XVIIIth dynasty.

Vignette and text of the Theban Book of the Dead from the Papyrus of Ani.

Vignette and text of the Theban Book of the Dead from the Papyrus of Ani.

[Brit. Mus., No. 10470.] XVIIIth dynasty.

Vignette and Chapter of the Book of the Dead written in hieratic for Heru-em-heb.

Vignette and Chapter of the Book of the Dead written in hieratic for Heru-em-heb.

[Brit. Mus., No. 10257.] XXVIth dynasty, or later.

Under the rule of the High Priests of Amen many changes were introduced into the contents of the papyri, and the arrangement cf the texts and vignettes of the PER-T EM HRU was altered. The great confraternity of Amen-Rā, the “King of the Gods,” felt it to be necessary to emphasize the supremacy of their god, even in the Kingdom of Osiris, and they added many prayers, litanies and hymns to the Sun-god to every selection of the texts from the PER-T EM HRU that was copied on a roll of papyrus for funerary purposes. The greater number of the rolls of this period are short and contain only a few Chapters, e.g., the Papyrus of the Royal Mother Netchemet (Brit. Mus. No. 10541) and the Papyrus of Queen Netchemet (Brit. Mus. No. 10478). In some the text is very defective and carelessly written, but the coloured vignettes are remarkable for their size and beauty; of this class of roll the finest example is the Papyrus of Anhai (Brit. Mus. No. 10472). The most interesting of all the rolls that were written during the rule of the Priest-Kings over Upper Egypt is the Papyrus of Princess Nesitanebtashru (Brit. Mus. No. 10554), now commonly known as the “Greenfield Papyrus.” It is the longest and widest funerary papyrus1 known, for it measures 123 feet by 1 foot 6½ inches, and it contains more Chapters, Hymns, Litanies, Adorations and Homages to the gods than any other roll. The 87 Chapters from the PER-T EM HRU which it contains prove the princess’s devotion to the cult of Osiris, and the Hymns to Amen-Rā show that she was able to regard this god and Osiris not as rivals but as two aspects of the same god. She believed that the “hidden” creative power which was materialized in Amen was only another form of the power of procreation, renewed birth and resurrection which was typified by Osiris. The oldest copies of the PER-T EM HRU which we have on papyrus contain a few extracts from other ancient funerary works, such as the “Book of Opening the Mouth,” the “Liturgy of Funerary Offerings,” and the “Book of the Two Ways.” But under the rule of the Priest-Kings the scribes incorporated with the Chapters of the PER-T EM HRU extracts from the “Book of Ami-Tuat” and the “Book of Gates,” and several of the vignettes and texts that are found on the walls of the royal tombs of Thebes.

Her-Heru, the first priest-king, and Queen Netchemet standing in the Hall of Osiris and praying to the god whilst the heart of the Queen is being weighed in the Balance.

Her-Heru, the first priest-king, and Queen Netchemet standing in the Hall of Osiris and praying to the god whilst the heart of the Queen is being weighed in the Balance.

[Southern Egyptian Gallery, No. 758.]

Presented by His Majesty the King, 1903.

XXIst dynasty, about B.C. 1050.

One of the most remarkable texts written at this period is found in the Papyrus of Nesi-Khensu, which is now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. This is really the copy of a contract which is declared to have been made between Nesi-Khensu and Amen-Rā, “the holy god, the lord of all the gods.” As a reward for the great piety of the queen, and her devotion to the interests of Amen-Rā upon earth, the god undertakes to make her a goddess in his kingdom, to provide her with an estate there in perpetuity and a never-failing supply of offerings, and happiness of heart, soul and body, and the [daily] recital upon earth of the “Seventy Songs of Rā” for the benefit of her soul in the Khert-Neter, or Under World. The contract was drawn up in a series of paragraphs in legal phraseology by the priests of Amen, who believed they had the power of making their god do as they pleased when they pleased.

The Ceremony of "Opening of the Mouth" being performed on the mummy of the royal scribe Hunefer at the door of the tomb.

The Ceremony of “Opening of the Mouth” being performed on the mummy of the royal scribe Hunefer at the door of the tomb.

[From Brit. Mus., Pap. No. 9901.]

The journey of the Sun-god through the Third Section of the Other World.

The journey of the Sun-god through the Third Section of the Other World.

From the sarcophagus of Nekhut-Heru-hebt, king of Egypt, B.C. 378. [Bay 25, No. 923.]

Little is known of the history of the PER-T EM HRU after the downfall of the priests of Amen, and during the period of the rule of the Nubians, but under the kings of the XXVIth dynasty the Book enjoyed a great vogue. Many funerary rolls were written both in hieroglyphs and hieratic, and were decorated with vignettes drawn in black outline; and about this time the scribes began to write funerary texts in the demotic character. But men no longer copied long selections from the PER-T EM HRU as they had done under the XVIIIth, XIXth and XXth dynasties, partly because the religious views of the Egyptians had undergone a great change, and partly because a number of Books of the Dead of a more popular character had appeared. The cult of Osiris was triumphant everywhere, and men preferred the hymns and litanies which dealt with his sufferings, death and resurrection to the compositions in which the absolute supremacy of Rā and his solar cycle of gods and goddesses was assumed or proclaimed. Thus, in the “Lamentations of Isis” and the “Festival Songs of Isis and Nephthys,” and the “Litanies of Seker,” and the “Book of Honouring Osiris,” etc., the central figure is Osiris, and he alone is regarded as the giver of everlasting life. The dead were no longer buried with large rolls of papyrus filled with Chapters of the PER-T EM HRU laid in their coffins, but with small sheets or strips of papyrus, on which were inscribed the above compositions, or the shorter texts of the “Book of Breathings,” or the “Book of Traversing Eternity,” or the “Book of May my name flourish,” or a part of the “Chapter of the Last Judgment.”

A copy of a Book of the Dead entitled "May my name flourish!"

A copy of a Book of the Dead entitled “May my name flourish!”

[Brit. Mus., No. 10,304.]

Roman Period.

Ancient Egyptian tradition asserts that the Book PER-T EM HRU was used early in the Ist dynasty, and the papyri and coffins of the Roman Period afford evidence that the native Egyptians still accepted all the essential beliefs and doctrines contained in it. During the four thousand years of its existence many additions were made to it, but nothing of importance seems to have been taken away from it. In the space here available it is impossible to describe in detail the various Recensions of this work, viz., (1) the Heliopolitan, (2) the Theban and its various forms, and (3) the Saïte; but it is proposed to sketch briefly the main facts of the Egyptian Religion which may be deduced from them generally, and especially from the Theban Recension, and to indicate the contents of the principal Chapters. No one papyrus can be cited as a final authority, for no payprus contains all the Chapters, 190 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.

1 The longest papyrus in the world is Papyrus Harris No. 1 (Brit. Mus. No. 9999); it measures 133 feet by 1 foot 4½ inches.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31