The Afterlife: ‘Coffins Texts’

The ‘Coffin Texts’ are a collection of religious spells that derive from the ‘Pyramid Texts’ of the Old Kingdom. These texts were already found at the end of the Old Kingdom and were used extensively throughout the Middle Kingdom (c. 2066 B.C.). Unlike the ‘Pyramid Texts’, they were available for all the deceased no matter what class they came from. The ‘Coffin Texts’ are found inscribed mostly on coffins of officials and their subordinates, though they could appear on tomb walls, stelae, canopic chests, mummy masks and papyri.

Not all the spells in the ‘Pyramid Texts’ are found in the ‘Coffin Texts’, though new spells have been added. Very popular during the Middle Kingdom was the set of spells that ensure the reunion of deceased family members in the Afterlife. These texts also include protection spells against any danger that the deceased might encounter in the Underworld, as well as transformation spells to transform into a bird or into various deities. The growing importance of the Afterlife is demonstrated through the numerous ‘Coffin Texts’ that are found in many tombs.

During the New Kingdom the ‘Coffin texts’ were replaced by the famous ‘Book of the Dead’. The ‘Book of the Dead’ consists of religious spells, some that originated from the previous texts, and were written mainly on papyri, though early examples of these spells have been found on mummy cloths and coffins. The most illustrated and complete copy of this book is known as the Papyri of Ani, dated from the 18th Dynasty (c. 1400 B.C), and is found today in the British Museum.

The ‘Book of the Dead’ consists of religious spells that help the dead, royal or commoner, to find their way to the ‘Field of Reeds’. According to this text, everyone has a place in the Afterlife, not just the pharoah. Also, unlike the ‘Coffin Texts’, there is a clear decline in the use of the wish to reunite between dead family members in the Afterlife.

Parallel to the ‘Book of the Dead’ there is another set of texts known as the ‘Books of the Netherworld’. The content of these books vary from period to period, but they mainly deal with the description of the Netherworld and the journy of the gods during the twelve hours of night. These books also describe the eternal nightly struggles that erupts between Ra and the other gods against the demons that threaten the balance. The most powerful enemies are in the form of a snake, the most famous of them is Apophis.

During the Greco-Roman period another set of texts emerged known as the ‘Books of Breathing’. There are two such texts, the first was supposedly written by the goddess Isis for her husband Osiris and the second was written by the god Thoth. Both these books are manuals that deal with the importance of breath for the deceased (i.e. the preservation of the body after death), and most importantly to prevent the soul from dying a second time. There are descriptons of how to keep the body purified and intact, and formulas of answers that need to be given to the gaurdians of the Underworld in order to pass them and reach the ‘Field of Reeds’.

One of the books that deal with these texts is ‘The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife’ by Erik Hornung (trans. David Lorton). This book gives a nice short description of the different books and gives a fuller explanation of what each text consists of. Regarding the ‘Papyri of Ani’, there is a beautifully illustrated book that translates the spells by one of the prominent Egyptologists. ‘The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth by Day’, trans. Dr. Raymond Faulkner (intro. Dr. Ogden Goelet).

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Mummies II « Orit Kaye's Blog
  2. Trackback: The Mummy « Orit Kaye's Blog

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