Book of the Dead

Book of the Dead
   See also Egyptian Creation Legends and Egyptian Religion.
   An aspect of early religious thought peculiar to the Egyptians was the custom of furnishing the dead with detailed instructions, with the aid of which they could overcome all difficulties on their way to the Elysian Fields, the Sekhet-Aaru (See Sad El). At first these instructions were painted on the inner walls of pyramids and on sarcophagi and coffins, being known as pyramid texts, but by the eighteenth dynasty the formulae had become so large that it became necessary to put them on papyrus rolls, extant copies of which range between 50 and 135 feet in length. The Arab tomb robbers called these rolls ‘Kitab al Mayit’, meaning ‘Book of the Dead Man’, a name which is now generally applied to them.
   The earliest texts were taken from the Pertemhru or ‘Coming forth by Day’, which seems to have been evolved in the earliest dynastic or even pre-dynastic period. Although it was in use for over three thousand years, nothing appears to have been taken from it, the only changes being in the nature of increases. There were three main recensions, at Helipolis, Thebes, and Sais, differing mainly in the naming of Amon Ra or Osiris as chief god. These collations of prayers, religious texts, magical spells, hymns, evocations, and detailed instructions faithfully reflected the religious feeling of their time, but with the general decline in Egyptian religion the meaning of many of the texts had obviously been forgotten. The author of the Pertemhru was generally assumed to be Thoth, the scribe of the Ennead, the Great Company of the Gods, and the recording angel of paradise, and it was upon his advocacy that the Egyptian counted for the securing of his acquittal on the Day of Judgment, so that he might enjoy the fruits of a virtuous life. The underlying assumption of the whole work, as was the case for the whole religion of Osiris, was that the dead came up for moral judgment, before a tribunal of the gods.
   The accused entered the antechamber, and repeated an affirmation of his good conduct during life, and was then admitted for trial before Osiris. Near him were the scales, watched over by Anubis, and in a state of expectant waiting was Amemait, the devourer of the hearts of the wicked. After addressing the assembled gods, the heart of the accused was weighed by Thoth balanced against the Maat or feather of truth. If the balance was exact the heart became as the heart of Osiris, and he was admitted into the other world, or Amenti, the Land of the West, as a Sahu or spirit body.

Who’s Who in non-classical mythology . . 2014.

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