THE early history of the great collection of religious texts which has now become well known throughout the world by the names “Das Todtenbuch,” “Das Aegyptische Todtenbuch,” “Le Livre des Morts,” “Rituel Funeéraire,” “II Libro dei funerali degli antichi Egiziani,” and “The Book of the Dead,” is shrouded in the mists of remote antiquity, and up to the present no evidence has been forthcoming which will enable us to formulate it in an accurate manner. The very title “Book of the Dead” is unsatisfactory, for it does not in any way describe the contents of the mass of religious texts, hymns, litanies, etc., which are now best known by that name, and it is no rendering whatever of their ancient Egyptian title REU NU PERT EM HRU , i.e., “Chapters of Coming Forth by Day.”The name “Book of the Dead” is, however, more satisfactory than that of “Ritual of the Dead,” or “Funeral Ritua,” for only a very small section of it can be rightly described as of a ritual character, whilst the whole collection of compositions does certainly refer to the dead and to what happens to the dead in the world beyond the grave.
Of the home and origin also of the Book of the Dead but little can be said. Now that so many of the pre-dynastic graves of Egypt have been excavated, and their contents have been so fully described and discussed, we find no evidence forthcoming that would justify us in assuming that the aboriginal inhabitants of the country possessed any collection of religious texts which might be regarded as the original work from which, by interpolations and additions, the Recensions of the Book of the Dead now known could have descended, or even that they made use of any collection of religious texts at the burial of the dead. That there are references in the various Recensions to the funeral customs of the aborigines of Egypt is fairly certain, and it is evident from the uniform manner in which the dead were laid in their graves in the earliest pre-dynastic times that the aborigines possessed tolerably well defined general ideas about the future life, but we cannot regard them as the authors even of the earliest Recension of the Book of the Dead, because that work presupposes the existence of ideas which the aborigines did not possess, and refers to an elaborate system of sepulture which they never practised. Whether we regard the aborigines of Egypt as of Libyan origin or not it is certain that they employed a system of sepulture which, in its earliest forms, was quite different from that in use among their latest pre-dynastic and their earliest dynastic descendants. If the known facts be examined it is difficult not to arrive at the conclusion that many of thebeliefs found in the Book of the Dead were either voluntarily borrowed from some nation without, or were introduced into Egypt by some conquering immigrants who made their way into the country from Asia, either by way of the Red Sea or across the Arabian peninsula; that they were brought into Egypt by new-comers seems most probable. Who those new-comers were or where they came from cannot be definitely said at present, but there are good grounds for thinking that they first adopted certain of the general customs which they found in use among the dwellers on the Nile, and then modified them, either to suit the religious texts with which they were acquainted, or their own individual views which they evolved after they had arrived in Egypt. The excavation of pre-dynastic cemeteries in Egypt has revealed the fact that its aboriginal or predynastio inhabitants disposed of their dead by burial and by burning; the bodies which were buried were either dismembered or cut up into a considerable number of pieces, or buried whole. Bodies buried whole were laid on their left sides with their heads to the south, and were sometimes laid in the skins of gazelles and sometimes in grass mats; no attempt was made to mummify them in the strict sense of the term. This seems to be the oldest method of burial in the Nile Valley. The dismembering or cutting up of the body into a number of pieces was due probably both to a wish to economize space, and to prevent the spirit of the deceased from returning to his old village; in such cases the head is separated from the body, and the limbs are laid close together. Chronologically, the disposal of the dead by burning comes next; usually the bodies were only partially burnt, and afterwards the skull and the bones were thrown into a comparatively shallow pit, care being, however, taken to keep those of the hands and feet together. Speaking generally, these two classes of burials are well defined, and the cemeteries in which each class is found are usually quite separate and distinct, lying ordinarily some distance apart. Whether we are to distinguish two distinct peoples in those who buried the bodies of their dead whole, and in those who burnt them first and buried their remains, it is almost too early to decide, but there is abundant evidence to show that both of these classes of the inhabitants of Egypt had many funeral customs in common. They both used covered pits for tombs, both buried their dead in the valleys, both oriented the dead in the same direction, and both made funeral offerings to the dead. The offerings prove beyond all doubt that both those who buried and those who burnt their dead held definite views about the future life, and these can hardly have existed in their minds without some perception, however dim, of a divine power being there also. It is idle to speculate on the nature of such a perception with our present limited knowledge, but it must not be forgotten that the widespread custom of burying the dead with the head to the south, and the presence of funeral offerings, indicate the existence of religious convictions which are not of a low order, and are not common among savage or semibarbarous tribes.
It has been said above that the people who buried their dead whole made no attempt to mummify the bodies in the strict sense of the term, still, as Dr. Fouquet found traces of bitumen in some of the skeletons to which he devoted an exhaustive examination, and as many bodies have been found wrapped in skins of animals, and grass mats, and even rough cloths, we may rightly assume that they would have taken far more elaborate precautions to preserve their dead had they possessed the necessary knowledge. These early inhabitants of Egypt embalmed their dead either because they wished to keep their material bodies with them upon oarth, or because they believed that the future welfare of the departed depended in some way upon the preservation of the bodies which they had left behind them upon earth. Whatever the motive, it is quite certain that it must have been a very powerful one, for the custom of preserving the dead by one means or another lasted in Egypt without a break from the earliest pre-dynastic times almost down to the conquest of the country by the Arabs, about A.D. 640.
Meanwhile, however, we may note that the graves of those who were buried whole, and of those who were burnt, or dismembered, contain no inscriptions, and it is evident that the habit of writing religious texts upon the objects laid in the tombs, a habit which became universal in the times of the historical Egyptians, was not yet in existence. Still, it is impossible to think that people who evidently believed in a future life, and who tried to preserve the bodies of their dead from religious motives, would bury their beloved friends and relatives without uttering some pious wish for their welfare in the world beyond the grave, or causing the priest of the community to recite some magical charm or formula, or repeat certain incantations, which had been composed for such occasions, on their behalf. It is more than probable that, if prayers or formulae were recited at the time of burial, the recital was accompanied by the performance of certain ceremonies, which must have partaken of a magical character; both prayers and ceremonies must have been traditional, and were, no doubt, primarily designed to protect the dead from the attacks of wild animals, damp-rot, dry-rot, and decay. Now although we may not regard a collection of such funeral prayers, however large, as the earliest Recension of the Book of the Dead, there is little doubt that many of the formulae found in the Heliopolitan Recension of the Book of the Dead, which was in use during the IVth and Vth Dynasties, date from a very early pre-dynastic period, and that they are as old as, or older than, the civilization of the historic Egyptians and their immediate predecessors. Such formulæs are directed against snakes and scorpions, and other noxious reptiles, and the forms in which they were written by the scribes about B.C. 3500, and the mistakes which occur in them, prove that the copyists were dealing with texts that were at that remote time so old as to be unintelligible in many passages, and that they copied many of them without understanding them. In any case such formulae date from a period when the banks of the Nile were overrun by wild beasts, and when they formed the home of creatures of all kinds which were hostile to man, and which the early dwellers on the Nile sought to cajole or frighten away from their dead; indeed, there is little doubt that before the forests which lined the river banks were cut down for fuel Egypt must have resembled in many respects certain sections of the Nile Valley much further south, and that river monsters of all kinds, and amphibious beasts which are only now to be found on the upper reaches of the Blue. Nile and near the Great Lakes, lived happily in the neighbourhood of Memphis, and even farther to the north.
Towards the close of the period when the bodies of the dead were burnt, or dismembered, the objects found in the graves vary in character considerably from those which occur in the graves wherein the bodies are buried whole, and whereas in the older graves weapons of flint occur in abundance, and stone jars and vases are rare, in the later flint weapons are the exceptions, the hard stone vases become more numerous, and objects in metal are found in comparative abundance. To what cause these-changes are due cannot exactly be said, but the presence of bronze and other metal objects most probably indicates the appearance of some foreign influence in the Valley of the Nile, and that that influence proceeded from immigrants is tolerably certain. Whether these immigrants belonged remotely to a Semitic stock, or whether they were descendants of a people akin to the nation which is now by common consent called Sumerian, are questions impossible to answer at present; for, while the presence in the earliest hieroglyphic inscriptions of grammatical usages, and verbal forms, and idioms, and pronouns which are certainly identical with many of those in use in all the Semitic dialects indicates Semitic influence, or kinship with Semitic peoples to a considerable degree, the religious beliefs of the pre-dynastic and early dynastic Egyptians have few parallels with those of the Semitic peoples of antiquity known to us. But, whether the immigrants were of Semitic origin or not, they seem to have come originally from the East, and, whether by force of arms or otherwise, they certainly effected a permanent settlement in the Nile Valley; a people armed with metal weapons conquered those who relied upon weapons of flint and stone, and having made themselves masters of the country these men ruled it according to their own ideas and methods, as far as its climate and natural conditions permitted. Conquest was followed by intermarriage, which was an absolute necessity if the immigrants came from the East and wished their descendants to abide in the land, and thus it comes to pass that the historic Egyptians are the descendants of an indigenous north-east African people, and of immigrants from the East, who having settled in Egypt were gradually absorbed into the native populations. It is easy to see that the debt which the indigenous peoples of Egypt owed to the new-comers from the East is very considerable, for they learned from them the art of working in metals (although they continued to make use of flint weapons, i.e., knives, axe-heads, spear-heads, arrow-heads, scrapers, etc., without a break down to the time of the dynastic Egyptians), and the art of writing. M. de Morgan declares that the knowledge of [working in] bronze is of Asiatic origin, and he thinks that the art of brickmaking was introduced into Egypt from Mesopotamia, where it was, as we learn from the ruins of early Sumerian cities, extensively practised, with many other things which he duly specifies.1
With the art of writing the new-comers in Egypt undoubtedly brought certain religious beliefs, and funeral customs, and literature, and gradually the system of burial which was universal in Egypt up to the time of their arrival in the country became completely changed. The covered pits and troughs which served for graves, and which were dug almost anywhere on the banks of the river, were replaced by crude brick buildings containing one or more chambers; graves were no longer dug in the valley but in the hill sides; dead bodies were neither burnt nor dismembered, and the head was not separated from the body; bandages systematically wound round the body took the place of skins of animals and grass mats and rough cloth wrappings; and dead bodies were laid on their backs in coffins, instead of being bent up and laid on their side on the ground. The change in the character of the offerings and other objects found in the graves at this period was no less marked, for pottery made on a wheel took the place of that made by hand, and maces and more formidable weapons appeared, together with a large number of various kinds of amulets of a new class. It is, unfortunately, impossible to assign a date to this period of change, and it cannot be said how long it lasted, but it is certain that at this time both the indigenous peoples and the new-comers modified their burial customs, and that the foundations of the sepulchral customs and of the system of mummification which were universal among the historical Egyptians were then laid. The indigenous peoples readily saw the advantage of brick-built tombs and of the other improvements which were introduced by the newcomers, and gradually adopted them, especially as they tended to the prsservation of the natural body, and were beneficial for the welfare of the soul; but the changes introduced by the new-comers were of a radical character, and the adoption of them by the indigenous peoples of Egypt indicates a complete change in what may be described as the fundamentals of their belief. In fact they abandoned not only the custom of dismembering and burning the body, but the half savage views and beliefs which led them to do such things also, and little by little they put in their place the doctrine of the resurrection of man, which was in turn based upon the belief that the god-man and king Osiris had suffered death and mutilation, and had been embalmed, and that his sisters Isis and Nephthys had provided him with a series of amulets which protected him from all harm in the world beyond the grave, and had recited a series of magical formulae which gave him everlasting life; in other words, they embraced the most important of all the beliefs which are found in the Book of the Dead. The period of this change is, in the writer’s opinion, the period of the introduction into Egypt of many of the religious and funeral compositions which are now known by the name of “Book of the Dead.” Whether the primitive form of the doctrine of Osiris included the view that his body was hacked to pieces after death and his head severed from it is not known, but it is quite certain that many influential people in Egypt objected to the decapitation of the dead, and their objection found expression in the XLIIIrd Chapter of the Book of the Dead, which, according to its title, provides expressly that “the head of a man shall not be cut off in the underworld.” The text of this remarkable Chapter is of great interest; and reads, “I am the Great One, the “son of the Great One; I am Fire, the son of “Fire, to whom was given his head after it had been “cut off. The head of Osiris was not taken away from “him, let not the head of (here follows the name of the “deceased, who is also called Osiris) be taken away “from him. I have knit myself together; I have “made myself whole and complete; I have renewed “my youth; I am Osiris, the lord of eternity.” The title of this Chapter is definite enough, but the text seems to indicate that for a man to be certain of possession of his head in the next world it was necessary to have it first removed from his body after death, and then rejoined to it. The historic Egyptians seem to have abandoned any such belief, however, and there is no doubt that they viewed with dismay any mutilation of the body, although they preserved in their religious texts frequent allusions to the collecting of the members of the body, and the gathering together of the bones. The LXIIIrd Chapter, which existed in two versions in the XVIIIth Dynasty, also seems to allude to certain funeral practices of the pre-dynastic Egyptians, for one version was written to protect a man from being burnt in the underworld, and the other to prevent him from being scalded or boiled. In historic times the Egyptians neither burned nor scalded nor boiled their dead, but we have seen above that the pre-dynastic Egyptians partly burned their dead, and it is probable that they often removed the flesh from the bones of the dead by boiling as well as by scraping them. There are numerous passages in the various Chapters of the Book of the Dead which seem to contain allusions to pre-dynastic funeral customs, and many of the Chapters refer to natural conditions of the country which can only have obtained during the period that preceded the advent of the immigrants from the East. It is clear that those who introduced the Book of the Dead into. Egypt claimed to be able to protect the dead body from calamities of every kind, either by means of magical names, or words, or ceremonies, and that the indigenous peoples of the country accepted their professions and adopted many of their funeral customs, together with the beliefs which had produced them. They never succeeded wholly in inducing them to give up many of their crude notions and fantastic beliefs and imageries, and more and more we see in all ages the ideas and notions of the semibarbarous, North African, element in the Book of the Dead contending for recognition with the superior and highly moral and spiritual beliefs which it owed to the presence of the Asiatic element in Egypt. The Chapters of the Book of the Dead are a mirror in which are reflected most of the beliefs of the various races which went to build up the Egyptian of history, and to this fact is due the difficulty of framing a connected and logical account of what the Egyptians believed at any given period in their history. But there is reason for hoping that, as the texts become more studied, and more information and facts concerning the pre-dynastic peoples of Egypt become available, it will be possible to sift such beliefs and to classify them according to their source.
To assign a date to the period when the Book of the Dead was introduced into Egypt is impossible, but it is certain that it was well known in that country before the kings of the 1st Dynasty began to rule over the country. In the first instance the prayers and petitions, which in later days were grouped and classified into Chapters, were comparatively simple, and probably few in number, and their subject matter was in keeping with the conditions under which the dead were buried in the home of those who brought them into Egypt. At first also they were recited from memory, and not from written copies, and they were, no doubt, preserved by oral tradition for a very long time. Meanwhile the prayers, and petitions, and formulae increased in number and in length, and were in other particulars made applicable to the conditions under which men were buried in Egypt, and at length they were done into writing; but this only took place when the priests began to be in doubt about the meaning of their contents, and when they found that certain of them were becoming forgotten. It is scarcely likely that at that remote period any effective supervision of the accuracy of the written copies by a central authority was attempted, and though the copyists in their copies adhered in the main to the versions of the prayers, etc. which they had received, variations, additions, and mistakes, that were often due to the misreading of the characters, soon crept into them. Experience has shown that it is extremely difficult to preserve, even in these days of printing and stereotype, the text of a work in an accurate and genuine state, and when copies of a text have to be multiplied by hand the difficulty is increased a thousand-fold. For, besides the mistakes due to the carelessness and ignorance, and to the fatigue of the eye and the hand of the copyist, there remain to be considered the additions and interpolations which are always made by the scribe who wishes the text he is copying to represent his own views. It was such tendencies as these on the part of scribes and copyists which made it necessary for Talmudic sages to resort to the means of “casuistic exegesis” for the preservation not of the original text of the Hebrew Bible but even of that text which had become authoritative in their time; and it is a well known fact that, within a few years after the death of Muhammad the Prophet the notables of the Muhammadan world were alarmed at the variations which had already crept into the Suras of the Kur’ân, and that one of them warned1 his master to “stop the people, before they should differ regarding their Scripture, as did the Jews and Christians!” In this case the variant readings of a national religious book, which was held to be of divine origin, were disposed of in a most effectual manner, for, as soon as the four authorities who had been appointed to make a final recension of the Arabic text began work, they collected copies of the Kur’ân from all parts of the Muhammadan dominions, and having decided what readings were to be retained, they burnt all the manuscripts containing those which they rejected. It seems almost a pity that some such drastic method was not employed in the formation of a textus receptus of the Book of the Dead.
The graves of the pre-dynastic dweliers in Egypt contain no religious inscriptions, and it is not until we come to the time of the dynastic Egyptians that the tombs afford much evidence of the existence of the Book of the Dead; it is, however, certain that parts of the Book of the Dead were in general use before the period of the rule of the kings of the 1st Dynasty. The numerous tombs of priestly officials, and the inscriptions in them, testify that the men for whom they were made performed during their lifetime offices in connexion with the burial of the dead, such as the reading of texts and the performance of ceremonies, which we know from the rubrics of the recensions of the Book of the Dead of a later period were regarded by the Egyptians as essential for salvation; now if the official lived and read the texts and performed the ceremonies of the Book of the Dead, that work must certainly have existed in one form or another, for priests were not appointed to read religious books which did not exist. The Egyptians themselves have not left behind any very definite statement as to their belief about the existence of the Book of the Dead in pre-dynastic times, but they had no hesitation in asserting that certain parts of it were as old as the 1st Dynasty, as we may see from the following facts. The oldest copy of the Book of the Dead now known to exist on papyrus is that which was written for Nu, the son of “the overseer of the house of the overseer of the seal, Åmen-hetep, and of the lady of the house, Senseneb;” this extremely valuable document cannot be of later date than the early part of the XVIIIth Dynasty.1 Of the Sixty-fourth Chapter it gives two versions, one much longer than the other, and to each version is appended a rubric which assigns a date to the text which it follows; the rubric of the shorter version declares that the “Chapter was found in the “foundations of the shrine of Hennu by the chief “mason during the reign of his Majesty, the king of “the South and North, Semti” (or, Hesepti), and that of the longer version that it” was found in the city of “Khemennu (Hermopolis, the city of Thoth) upon a “block of iron of the south, which had been inlaid [with “letters] of real lapis-lazuli, under the feet of the god “(i.e. Thoth) during the reign of his Majesty, the king “of the South and North, Men-kau-RĀ (i.e. Mycerinus), “by the royal son Heru-tā-tā-f.” Here then we have two statements, one of which ascribes the “finding” of the Chapter to the time of the 1st Dynasty, and the other to the IVth Dynasty; and it is probable that both statements are correct, for it is clear that the longer version, which is ascribed to the IVth Dynasty, is much longer than that which is ascribed to the 1st Dynasty, and it is evident that it is an amplified version of the shorter form of the Chapter. The meaning of the word “found” in connexion with the Chapter is not quite clear, but it is probable that it does not mean “discovery” only, and that the performance of some literary work on the text, such as revision or editing, is intended. The mention of king Semti in the rubric to the shorter version of the Chapter is of interest, especially when we consider the representations which are found upon the ebony tablet of the royal chancellor Hemaka;1 this tablet appears to have been dedicated to the honour of Semti, for his Horus name Ten appears upon it side by side with that of his royal chancellor Hemaka. To the right of the name is a scene in which we see the god Osiris, wearing the white crown, and seated in a shrine set upon the top of a short flight of steps; before him is a figure of king Semti, who is dancing away out of the presence of the god, and he wears the crowns of the South and North on his head, and holds in one hand the object , and in the other a staff or paddle. That the god in the shrine is Osiris is beyond doubt, for he occupies the position at the top of the staircase which in later days gained for Osiris the title of “the” god at the top of the staircase;”1 on sarcophagi and elsewhere pictures are sometimes given of the god sitting on the top of the staircase.2 Other examples are known of kings dancing before their god with a view of pleasing him, e.g., Usertsen danced before the god Åmsti or Min, and Seti I. danced before Sekhet, and the reference in the text of Pepi I.3 to the king dancing before the god, i.e., Osiris, like the reference to the pigmy, proves that the custom was common in Egypt in early dynastic times; that the custom was not confined to Egypt is certain from the passage in the Bible (2 Samuel vi. 14, ff.), where we are told that David danced before the ark of the Lord. Below the dancing scene on the tablet are a number of hieroglyphics, the meaning of which is very doubtful, but in the left hand corner is one which must represent the boat of Hennu, and as we are told that the earliest form of the LXIVth Chapter was found in the foundations of the shrine of Hennu, it seems as if king Semti was in some way specially attached to the service of this god, or to the performance of ceremonies in which the boat of Hennu was a prominent feature; it must also be noted that the figure of Osiris seated in his shrine on the top of a short staircase is the oldest representation of the god which we have. From the fact that the chancellor Hemaka depicts the dancing scene on the tablet, and also the boat of Hennu, we may assume that the king’s connexion both with the god and with the boat was of such a special nature that the loyal servant, regarding it as one of the most important features of the king’s life, determined to keep it in remembrance. There remains another point to notice about the LXIVth Chapter. The version of it to which the name of Semti is attached is entitled, “The Chapter of Knowing the Chapters of Coming Forth [by Day] in a single Chapter.” Now, we have said above that the Egyptians called the Chapters of the Book of the Dead the “Chapters of Coming Forth by Day,” and judging from the title it would seem that as early as Semti’s time these Chapters had become so numerous that it was all-important to compose, or edit one of the Chapters which then existed, in such a way that it should contain all the knowledge necessary to the dead for their salvation; if this view be correct, and there is no reason to doubt it, we have here an extraordinary proof of the antiquity of certain parts of the Book of the Dead. The contents of the LXIVth Chapter are of a remarkable nature, and there is no doubt that in all periods of Egyptian history it was believed to contain the essence of the Book of the Dead, and to be equal in value to all its other Chapters, and to have a protective power over the dead which was not less than that of all the other Chapters taken together. That some important event in the history of the Book of the Dead happened during the reign of Semti is certain, and that this event had a connexion with the doctrine and worship of Osiris is certain from the representation of the god and of the boat of Hennu, which are given on the contemporaneous tablet of Semti’s chancellor Hemaka.
Of the history of the Book of the Dead during the IInd, IIIrd, and IVth Dynasties we know nothing, and no copy of any part of the Recension of it then in use has come down to us. During the reign of Men-kau-RĀ (Mycerinus), a king of the IVth Dynasty, it is said that Chapters XXXB., LXIV., and CXLVIII. were “found” by Heru-tā-tā-f, the son of Khufu, a man to whom in later ages the possession of great learning was ascribed, and it is very probable that, like King Semti, he revised or edited the Chapters to which his name is attached in rubrics; for the numerous funeral inscriptions of the period prove that at that time a Recension of the Book of the Dead was in general use.
During the period of the Vth and VIth Dynasties a great development took place in the funeral ceremonies that were performed for Egyptian Kings, and Unås, Tetå, Pepi I., and others covered the greater part of the chambers, corridors, etc, of their pyramid tombs with series of texts selected from the Book of the Dead in the earliest Recension of that work known to us.1 We possess five selections of texts from this Recension, to which, on account of its containing the views held by the priests of the colleges of Ånnu, or Heliopolis, the name Heliopolitan has been given, but we have no reason for assuming that the Chapters supplied by the five selections constitute the entire work. It is impossible at present to indicate exactly all the changes, modifications, and additions which the priests of Ånnu made in the work, but scattered throughout their Recension there is abundant evidence to show that the Recension upon which they worked was based upon two, or perhaps three, earlier Recensions. In their Recension also will be found religious ideas and beliefs which belong to entirely different strata of civilization and religious thought, and it is clear that some of them came down from the North African section of their ancestors, who at the time when they formulated them must have stood but little higher on the ladder of civilization than the semi-barbarous tribes of Western Africa and the Sûdân.
Between the VIth and the XIth Dynasties we know nothing of the history of the Book of the Dead, and it is not until we come to some period in the XIth Dynasty that we find other selections from the work. But little is known of the events which happened in the interval between the VIth and the XIth Dynasties, and although in Upper Egypt tombs of considerable size and beauty were built, yet no striking development in funeral ceremonies took place, and we may assume in consequence that no new Recension of the Book of the Dead was made; if it was, we certainly have no record of it. Belonging to the XIth and XIIth Dynasties, however, we have a number of coffins and tombs which are inscribed with selections of texts from the so-called Heliopolitan Recension; such texts differ in extent only and not in character or contents from those of the royal pyramids of Sakkâra of the Vth and VIth Dynasties. Coffins at this period were made to represent the main funeral chamber or hall of a tomb of an older period, and are covered inside with lengthy texts traced in hieratic characters in black ink upon the wood, while the outside is plain except for a few short inscriptions, which record the name and titles of the deceased, and short prayers. Above the perpendicular lines of text on all four sides inside the coffin are painted pictures of the objects which it was customary in those days to present as funeral offerings, and above these is a horizontal line of hieroglyphics which contains the name of the deceased and usually a prayer that funeral offerings may be made to him for ever. The texts in such coffins are rarely identical, and they have no fixed order, and it seems as if individual fancy either of the deceased or of the funeral scribe dictated the selection. As no pyramids were inscribed with extracts from the Book of the Dead at this period it is clear that economy prescribed the custom of burying the dead in inscribed wooden coffins, which were far cheaper than stone pyramids.
Between the XIIth and XVIIIth Dynasties there comes another break in the history of the Book of the Dead, and with the beginning of the XVIIIth Dynasty that work enters a new phase of its existence; from pyramids the transition was to coffins, and now the transition is from coffins to papyri. And here again economy probably played an important part. Inscribed pyramids, and sarcophagi, and coffins would, necessarily, be only made for royal personages and for great and wealthy folk, but a roll of papyrus was, in comparison with these, an inexpensive thing, especially if the services of an ordinary scribe were employed in transcribing it, or if a man wrote his own copy of the Book of the Dead. The greater number of the papyri inscribed with selections of texts from the Book of the Dead have been found in the tombs of Thebes, where they were copied chiefly for the priests and their wives and families, the majority of whom were attached to the service of “Åmen-RĀ, the king of the gods, the lord of the thrones of the world,” the seat of whose worship was at Thebes; and for this reason the Recension of the Book of the Dead which we find in common use from the XVIIIth to the XXIInd Dynasty is generally called the Theban Recension. The texts which the priests of Åmen copied were, of course, those of Ånnu, or Heliopolis, and during the earlier centuries of the existence of the great brotherhood of the priests of Åmen they did little more than adopt the religious views and doctrines of the sages of that place. As time went on, however, and the brotherhood obtained greater power, they slowly but surely made their god Åmen to usurp the attribute of the oldest goda of Egypt, and at length, as we may see from Chapter CLXXI. (infra, p. 580), his name is included among theirs. Fine copies of papyri of the Theban Recension vary in length from 15 to 90 feet, and in width from 12 to 18 inches. In the early part of the XVIIIth Dynasty the text is always written in black ink in vertical columns of hieroglyphics, which are separated from each other by black lines; the titles and initial words of the Chapters, and the rubrics and catch-words are written in red ink. At this period the scribes began to ornament their papyri with designs traced in black outline, but such designs, or “vignettes,” were not wholly invented by the priests of Åmen, for on some of the finest coffins of the XIth Dynasty we find painted a number of vignettes which illustrate the texts, and in the case of such a vignette as that which represents the Elysian Fields we find that the scribe of the XVIIIth Dynasty copied the design of the scribe of the XIth Dynasty in all essentials. It is possible that the scribe of the earlier period possessed an archetype which was their ultimate authority for their vignettes, but if they did, no remains of it have up to the present been found. In the XIXth Dynasty the vignettes were painted in very bright colours, and the texts were, little by little, driven into the subordinate position which the vignettes occupied at the beginning of the XVIIIth Dynasty, when they were traced in black outline. In the Papyrus of Hunefer (Brit. Mus. No. 9901) almost everything has been sacrificed to the beautifully coloured vignettes which it contains, and as a result its text of the XVIIth Chapter is so full of mistakes that many parts of it have no meaning at all. At first the “setting out” of a papyrus was done by the scribe, and the artist, if one was employed, filled in his vignettes in the spaces which had been left blank by the scribe; but subsequently the artist seems to have painted his vignettes first and the scribe had to be content with the spaces which had been allotted to him by the artist. Long copies of the Theban Recension were made in sections, which were afterwards joined together, and sometimes several scribes and artists, who seem to have been ignorant or careless of what each other was doing, were employed upon them. Thus fine papyri which have been made in sections contain duplicates, and even triplicates of some Chapters, and in some cases where duplicates occur the arrangement, both of texts and vignettes, is quite different in each. One of the finest illustrated papyri in existence, the Papyrus of Ani, omits a large section of the text of the XVIIth Chapter, a result which is probably due to the scribe, who omitted to copy what seems to be the contents of a whole sheet of the text. Vignettes, however, have at times a peculiar value, for they often supply descriptions of mythological scenes, names of gods, etc., which occur nowhere in the texts; of special importance in this connexion are the Judgment Scenes and its accompanying texts, and the long vignette to the XVIIth Chapter. In the XXIst and XXIInd Dynasties we note a gradual falling off in the skill exhibited in the artistic work on the papyri of the Book of the Dead, and many changes take place in respect of the form as well as their contents. In the first place they are shorter and narrower, especially those which were made for the priests of Åmen, and texts are inserted in them which belong to a great funeral composition entitled “The Book of that which is in the Underworld.” Some papyri, however, preserve many of the characteristics of those of the best period, but it almost seems as if the work of both scribes and artists had greatly deteriorated, and it is certain that the views of the priests of Åmen with reference to the Book of the Dead had changed. Thus in the Papyrus of Ånhai, of the XXIInd Dynasty (Brit. Mus. No. 10,472), we find a vignette representing the Creation, and others which have no connexion with the Book of the Dead in the strict sense of the term; the artist’s work is good of its kind, and the use of gold in it for purposes of illumination is instructive The texts are fragmentary and incomplete, and often have no connexion whatsoever with the vignettes which accompany them. About this period texts are copied in which the scribe has read from the end of the composition instead of the beginning; omissions of whole sections of texts are frequent; vignettes are frequently assigned to Chapters with which they have no connexion; and what appears at first sight to be a Chapter frequently consists of nothing but a series of fragments of sentences, copied without break merely to fill up the space which the artist had left blank for the text. In short, showy papyri with inaccurate texts are common at this period. It is interesting too to note how great had become the influence of the priests of Åmen in the XXIInd Dynasty, and how they gradually made their god to usurp the attributes of the older gods of Egypt. In the Papyrus of the Princess Nesi Khensu which is preserved in the Cairo Museum, the hieratic text opens with a long detailed list of the titles of Åmen-RĀ, and instead of a selection of Chapters from the Theban Recension we find a series of statements, couched apparently in legal language, in which Åmen-RĀ swears that he will confer every possible favour upon the deceased lady. About the same period it became customary to write copies of the Book of the Dead in hieratic, and to illustrate them with vignettes traced in outline in black ink; some of these papyri measure about 50ft. by 1ft. 6in., but in others the dimensions are considerably less. As in the old days, the scribes who wrote such papyri observed no rule in the order of the Chapters, to which, however, they gave special titles; these were, of course, like the texts which followed them, copied from the Theban Recension.
Of the history of the Book of the Dead in the period which lies between the end of the XXIInd and the beginning of the XXVIth Dynasty we know nothing, but this is not much to be wondered at when we consider that the period was one of trouble and tumult. The priests of Åmen-RĀ, having made their god to usurp the position of RĀ and the other gods in the religious system of Egypt, next usurped the kingdom on behalf of themselves; but they were unable to maintain the authority of Egypt in the countries which had been conquered by the great kings of the XVIIIth and XIXth Dynasties, and as an inevitable result the subject nations and tribes refused to pay the tribute which had been imposed upon them. The failure in tribute spelt failure in offerings to the temples, and consequently loss of temporal power by the priests, and when the people of Egypt realized that they were losing their position among the nations they brought the rule of the priests of Åmen to an end. The loss of income of both priests and people resulted promptly in the curtailment of expense in connexion with funeral ceremonies, and thus it happens that the burials of the priests were attended with less pomp, and the custom of making copies of the Book of the Dead fell into abeyance; indeed, a time came, about B.C. 700, when no copies at all were made, and it seems as if this time corresponded with the period of the final failure of the priests of Amen to rule the country.
With the rise to power of the kings of the XXVIth Dynasty, a general revival of ancient religious and funeral customs took place, and the temples were cleansed and repaired, and ancient and long-forgotten texts were unearthed and copies of them taken, and artists and sculptors took the models for their work from the best productions of the masters of the Early Empire. In such a revival the Book of the Dead was not forgotten, and there is no doubt that those who were the principal authors of the movement became fully aware of the fact that the texts which formed their old national and religious work sorely needed re-editing and re-arranging, and measures were accordingly taken to put some system into them. How and when exactly this was done cannot be said, but it is probable that it was carried out by an assembly or college of priests, and the result of their labours was the Saïte Recension of the Book of the Dead. The papyri extant which may be rightly assigned to this period show that in this Recension the Chapters have a fixed order, and that although some selections of texts may be smaller than others, the Chapters common to all papyri have always the same relative order. Each of the early Recensions of the Book of the Dead exhibits peculiarities which reflect the religious views of the time when it was written, and the Saïte Recension is no exception to the rule, for included in it are four Chapters (CLXII.-CLXV.) which have no counterparts in the papyri of the older period. These Chapters contain many foreign words and unusual ideas, and it is much to be wished that the circumstances under which they were introduced into the Book of the Dead were known. The characteristics of the papyri containing the Saïte Recension are:—1. The text is written in long, vertical columns of hieroglyphics of purely conventional form, separated by black lines; 2. The vignettes are traced in outline in black, and generally occupy small spaces at the top of the text to which they refer, the usual exceptions being those which represent the Sunrise or Sunset, the Judgment Scene, the Elysian Fields, and the Seven Cows and their Bull which illustrates the text of Chapter CXLVIII.
The Recension of the Book of the Dead in use in Ptolemaïc times was the Saïte, but before the rule of the Ptolemies had come to an end a number of short religious works intended to be written upon funeral papyri had been composed, and it became customary to make copies of these for the benefit of the dead, and to lay them in the coffin or tomb, rather than selections from the older work. It appears as if an attempt was made by the scribes to extract from the texts of a bygone time only such parts as were believed to be absolutely necessary for the salvation of the deceased, and they omitted the hymns of praise and the addresses to the gods, and the compositions which were the outcome of beliefs and of a mythology which had long been forgotten. Many things in papyri of the period show that the scribes were quite ignorant of the meaning of the texts which they were copying, and also of the correct arrangement of the vignettes which they added. Of special interest among the works which were popular in the Ptolemaïc and Græco-Roman periods, and probably later, is the “Shai en Sensen,” or “Book of Breathings.” In this composition we find ideas and beliefs which were derived from the Book of the Dead, and which show that the fundamental conceptions of the future life were the same as ever in the minds of the people; as a summary of all the ideas and beliefs that appertain to the immortality and happiness of the soul of the deceased and of his dead body it is remarkable, and considered from this point of view contains scarcely an unnecessary word.1 In the Roman period small rolls of papyrus were inscribed with series of asseverations concerning the piety of life of deceased persons and their happiness in the world beyond the grave, and were buried with them, the writers’ aim being not so much to glorify the gods of Egypt as to secure for the dead the happiness and blessings of immortality in the next world at the least possible expense in this. But the knowledge of the old Recensions of the Book of the Dead was not quite dead in the early centuries of the Christian era, for on a coffin in Paris, which probably dates from the second century after Christ, are written a number of texts which are certainly as old as the Pyramids at Sakkâra, a fact which proves that, when such were needed, originals from which to copy them could be found, even at that late period. The various Recensions of the Book of the Dead may be thus aummarized:—
1. THE HELIOPOLITAN RECENSION: (a) That which was used in the Vth and VIth Dynasties, and is found inscribed in hieroglyphics upon the walls and chambers of the Pyramids at Sakkâra; (b) That which was written in cursive hieroglyphics upon coffins in the XIth and XIIth Dynasties.
2. THE THEBAN RECENSION: (a) That which was written upon papyri and painted upon coffins in hieroglyphics from the XVIIIth to the XXIInd Dynasties; (b) That which was written in the hieratic character upon papyri in the XXIst and XXIInd Dynasties.
3. THE SAÏTE RECENSION, which was written upon papyri, coffins, etc., in the hieroglyphic, hieratic, and demotic characters during the XXVIth and following Dynasties; this was the Recension which was much used in the Ptolemaic period, and which may be regarded as the last form of the Book of the Dead.
In the Graeco-Roman and Roman periods extracts from the last Recension were written upon papyri a few inches square and buried with the dead, and we see that the great religious work of the ancient Egyptians, which had been in existence for at least 5000 years, and mere selections from which would fill the walls of the chambers and passages of a pyramid, or which would fill several scores of feet of papyrus, or would cover a whole coffin, ended its existence in almost illegible scrawls hastily traced upon scraps of papyrus only a few inches square.
From first to last throughout the Book of the Dead, with the exceptions of Kings Semti and Men-kau-RĀ, and Heru-tā-tā-f, the son of Khufu, the name of no man is mentioned as the author or reviser of any part of it. Certain Chapters may show the influence of the cult of a certain city or cities, but the Book of the Dead cannot be regarded as the work of any one man or body of men, and it does not represent the religious views and beliefs of any one part only of Egypt; on the contrary, the beliefs of many peoples and periods are gathered together in it. As a whole, the Book of the Dead was regarded as the work of the god Thoth, the scribe of the gods, and thus was believed to be of divine origin; it was Thoth who spoke the words at the Creation which were carried into effect by Ptah and Khnemu, and as advocate and helper of the god Osiris, and therefore of every believer in Osiris, the ascription of the authorship to him is most fitting This view was held down to a late period, for in the Book of Breathings,1 in an address to the deceased it is said, “Thoth, the most mighty god, the lord of “Khemennu (Hermopolis), cometh to thee, and he “writeth for thee the Book of Breathings with his own “fingers.” Copies of the Book of the Dead, and works of a similar nature, were placed either in the coffin with the deceased, or in some part of the hall of the tomb, or of the mummy chamber, generally in a niche which was cut for the purpose. Sometimes the papyrus was laid loosely in the coffin, but more frequently it was placed between the legs of the deceased, either just above the ankles or near the upper part of the thighs, before the swathing of the mummy took place. In the XXIst Dynasty the custom grew up of placing funeral papyri in hollow wooden figures of the god Osiris, which were placed in the tombs, but in later times, when funeral papyri were much smaller, they were laid in rectangular cavities sunk either in the tops or sides of the pedestals to which such figures were attached. At first the figure was that of the god Osiris, in his character of god of the dead and judge of the underworld, but the attributes of the triune god Ptah-Seker-Åså, the god of the resurrection, were subsequently added to it, and suitable variations in the texts written on the papyri which were placed in or beneath them were made accordingly.