Book of the Dead: Becoming God in Ancient Egypt

The ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead needs no introduction. It is one of the most iconic objects from the ancient world. Millions of people have seen examples on display in collections all over the globe. Literary plots have been written around it, and movies have climaxed with dramatic readings of its mysterious spells. It continues to have profound influences throughout music, art, mysticism, and the occult. Without question, it deserves a prominent place among the most important religious compositions in human history. Like so much of human culture and religion, the ancient Egyptians  developed the Book of the Dead as a means to cope with their mortality and ultimately their immortality. Despite the celebrity of the Book of the Dead, its surprises are far from exhausted. If so much is known about the Book of the Dead, why do we need another exhibit about it? It turns out that many popular notions about the Book of the Dead are misleading or entirely false. For example, the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead neither was a book in our modern conception, nor was it really about death. It was truly about eternal life, or what the ancient Egyptians called “not dying again,” a reference to the final destruction of an individual if they died a second death by having a hybrid monster named “devourer” consume their spirit in the netherworld. A new special exhibit with
an accompanying catalog at the Oriental Institute seeks to cast our common assumptions about the Book of the Dead in a new light. By presenting the latest research results, Book of the Dead: Becoming God in Ancient Egypt attempts to provide a foundation for our knowledge of this ancient work by exploring what it is, what it does, how it works, how it was made, how it was used, and what happened to it.

Download and read the entire article for free from the Oriental Institute’s website.

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