The Book of the Dead is a series of written spells that the Ancient Egyptians believed helped them in the afterlife. It isn't one giant book, but is more of a bunch of individual chapters.
Where were the spells written?
The spells from the Book of the Dead were written on papyrus sheets or on the walls of the tomb. Scribes used hieroglyphics to write down the spells. They also illustrated the stories of the Book of Dead with colorful pictures.
How many chapters were there?
There were at least 190 different chapters of the Book of the Dead. Earlier chapters and spells had no structure. They were just a bunch of individual spells. Later, the chapters began to be more organized. The first 16 chapters described the dead person entering the tomb and then the underworld. The next section explained how the gods could help the person in the afterlife. This was followed by chapters describing the travels of the person in the underworld. The final section described how the person could become powerful during the afterlife.
How old is the Book of the Dead?
Book of the Dead chapters and spells were first written down on papyrus around 1600 BC. However, it is likely that some of the spells were much older than this.
Did everyone have a Book of the Dead in their tomb?
Not every Book of the Dead was the same. The wealthy could afford to hire a scribe to make a special Book of the Dead for them with specific spells they thought they would need in the afterlife. Poorer people could buy pre-written versions where the scribe would enter their name into the blanks. Either way, it was a big expense to have a Book of the Dead and not everyone could afford one.
Why did the Egyptians want this in their tomb?
Preparing for the afterlife was a big part of the Egyptian religion. They spent a lot of time and money on preparing their tombs and making sure they would have all the stuff they needed in the afterlife. They felt that the spells contained in the Book of the Dead would help protect them from demons, give them strength to travel in the underworld, and even win them a place in heaven.
Examples of Chapters from the Book of the Dead
Chapter 1 - Used on the day of burial for the funeral procession.
Chapter 5 - A formula that prevented the person from having to work in the afterlife.
Chapter 30 - A spell that prevented the heart of a man from being taken from him in the afterlife.
Chapter 33 - A spell that helped to fight against snakes.
Chapter 63 - A spell that helped the person to get drinking water in the underworld.
Chapter 88 - A spell that would turn the person into the form of a crocodile.
Chapter 125 - Perhaps the most famous chapter, chapter 125 describes the judging of a person's soul by the god Osiris. The person's heart was placed on a scale and weighed against the feather of Maat, which represented the truth.
Chapter 185 - A hymn to the god Osiris.
Interesting Facts about the Book of the Dead
Some versions of the Book of the Dead were over 100 feet long.
The Egyptian name for the Book of the Dead is translated as "The Spells of Coming Forth by Day".
The text was usually written in black ink with the titles written in red.
The book describes creatures guarding the underworld with scary names like "He who lives on snakes" and "He who dances in blood".
One of the most famous examples of the Book of the Dead is the Papyrus of Ani which you can see in the British Museum in London.