It is indeed no exaggeration to say that no other civilisation devoted as much care and attention to their dead as did the ancient Egyptians. Their magnificent tombs, their elaborate funeral rites, their painstaking mummification technology, and their voluminous literature concerned with after-life existence, all stand as mute witness to this fact.
The literature itself can be divided into three periods, according to its mode of inscription. First were the Pyramid Texts (ca. 2500-2300 B.C.E.), so called because they were inscribed on the interior walls of pyramids, which date to the fifth dynasty. Then came the Coffin or Sarcophagus Texts (ca. 2300-2000 B.C.E.), of the sixth and the succeeding short dynasties of the First Intermediate Period. Finally, the great eighteenth dynasty, with which commenced the New Kingdom period in the sixteenth century B.C.E., down to the end of the last remnants of Egyptian civilisation in the early Christian era, Papyrus scrolls were used, a copy of which was usually interred with the deceased to guide him the after-life; these were the famous "books of the dead". It should be pointed out that the title "Book of the Dead" is a modern scholarly one; the actual title usually translates as some-thing like "Book of the Coming Forth into Day, to Live after Death".
For the earlier period of Egyptian civilisation, it was apparently believed that only the Pharoah and his family continued after death, and became gods. Hence the massive pyramids constructed during the fourth and fifth dynasties. By the end of the Old Kingdom (sixth dynasty), post-mortem existence had been expanded to include nobles as well. Finally, with the cult of Osiris, the slain and resurrected god, and a figure equivalent in many ways to the Christian Christ, which appeared during the upheavals of the First Intermediate Period, the democratisation of post-mortem existence was complete, and all were assured of an after-life existence. During this period, the deceased were first given the title "Osiris", a term which meant both the "soul" or surviving consciousness principle, and simply the departed person, like "the Late Mr Smith". Thus the custom-made "Book of the Dead" papyri address themselves to Osiris So and So (e.g. "Osiris Ani").
The Egyptian Conception of the Soul | The Egyptian After-Life
|Books, DVDs and Web Links|
Papyrus of Ani; The Egyptian Book of the Dead (240 bce) Translated by E.A.Wallis Budge (264 kb) - Amazon Page
The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead by Carol Andrews (Editor), Raymond Oliver Faulkner
The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth by Day by Dr. Faulkner Raymond, Ogden Goelet (Editor), Eva Von Dassow, James Wasserman
Awakening Osiris : The Egyptian Book of the Dead by Normandi Ellis (Translator), Gary Robertson (Illustrator), Robert Kelley
The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife by Erik Hornung, David Lorton (Translator)