Egyptian Book of the Dead

(ca. 1569–1315 BCE)


Spells belonging to the collection known as the Book of the Dead are first attested in the early New Kingdom in Egypt. The tradition of burying the deceased with texts began with Unas, the last king of the Fifth Dynasty (ca. 2404–2374 BCE). These earliest religious texts, which scholars call the Pyramid Texts because they were inscribed on the walls of the pyramids of the kings (and some queens) of the late Old Kingdom (ca. 2404–2206 BCE), were copies of the texts that had been recited during the rituals accompanying the death and burial of the king. With the collapse of the central government at the end of the Old Kingdom, we find some of these texts, which were previously used only by royalty, inscribed on the coffins of nonroyal noblemen. This is one indication of the process known as the “democratization of the afterlife,” during which the type of afterlife previously available only to royalty became available to nonroyal Egyptians. In addition to the Pyramid...

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Osiris (Yale University Art Gallery)

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