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Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt

Page: 50

A bas-relief of the Second Dynasty bears an inscription dedicating to the shade of a certain priest the formula of the "thousands of loaves of bread, thousands of jugs of ale," and so forth, so common in later times. We thus see that 4000 years B.C. it was regarded as a religious duty to provide offerings of meat and drink for the dead, and there seems to be good evidence, from the nature of the formula in question, that it had become fixed and ritualistic by this period. This passage would appear to justify the text on the sarcophagus of the wife of Mentu-hetep. A few centuries later, about the time of Seneferu (c. 3766 B.C.), the cult of the dead had expanded greatly from the architectural point of view, and larger and more imposing cenotaphs were provided for them. Victorious wars had brought much wealth to Egypt, and its inhabitants were better able to meet the very considerable expenditure entailed upon them by one of the most expensive cults known to the history of religion. In the reign of Men-kau-Ra a revision of certain parts of the text of the Book of the Dead appears to have been undertaken. The authority for this is the rubrics attached to certain chapters which state that they were found inscribed upon a block of alabaster in letters of lapis-lazuli in the time of that monarch.

We do not find a text comprising the Book of the Dead as a whole until the reign of Unas (3333 B.C.),[Pg 113] whose pyramid was opened in 1881 by Sir G. Maspero. The stone walls were covered with texts extremely difficult of decipherment, because of their archaic character and spelling, among them many from the Book of the Dead. Continuing his excavations at Saqqarah, Maspero made his way into the pyramid of Teta (3300 B.C.), in which he discovered inscriptions, some of which were identical with those in the pyramid of Unas, so that the existence of a fully formed Book of the Dead by the time of the first king of the Sixth Dynasty was proven. Additional texts were found in the tomb of Pepi I (3233 B.C.). From this it will be seen that before the close of the Sixth Dynasty five copies of a series of texts, forming the Book of the Dead of that period, are in evidence, and, as has been observed, there is substantial proof that its ceremonial was in vogue in the Second, and probably in the First, Dynasty. Its text continued to be copied and employed until the second century of the Christian era.

It would appear that each chapter of the Book of the Dead had an independent origin, and it is probable that their inclusion and adoption into the body of the work were spread over many centuries. It is possible that some of the texts reflect changes in theological opinion, but each chapter stands by itself. It would seem, however, that there was a traditional order in the sequence of the chapters.


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