A Handbook of Egyptian Religion

By Adolf Erman; A. S. Griffith | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV

BELIEFS REGARDING THE DEAD, OF THE EARLY PERIOD AND OF THE NEW KINGDOM

IF there was a point on which the Egyptians differed from every other nation it was in their excessive care for the dead. Other nations have erected buildings for the worship of the gods, or for practical purposes, which may vie with the colossal temples of Egypt, but such graves as the Great Pyramids, or the rock tombs of Thebes, exist nowhere else in the world.

This must also strike any one who observes in our museums the immense variety of objects that were laid in the graves for the use of the deceased in his future existence. The Egyptians would not have persisted in these strenuous efforts during three thousand years had they not possessed very special views as to the future destiny of the dead, views which we can comprehend to-day, thanks to their ancient literature which has come down to us in almost immeasurable abundance.

It is true that it is not literature in the exact meaning of the word, or only in the slightest degree. At best it consists only of short or long formulae, which from the earliest times were recited at the graves. Of these formulae there are two great collections, from which we gather most of our knowledge of the subject; the so-called Pyramid texts, and the so-called Book of the Dead. The Pyramid texts is the name given by us to the long inscriptions in certain pyramids of the end of the Old Kingdom, which supplied the deceased kings with something approaching a library of ancient writings bearing on their future destiny. The greater part of these are extremely ancient, and were formulated at the earliest stages of Egyptian civilization. By the Book of the Dead we mean another group of texts which from the time of the New Kingdom were constantly written on papyri. Among them there is much that is undoubtedly

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