An Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Papyrus of Sobekmose
In ancient Egypt, the surest way to guarantee safe passage into the afterlife was to include a Book of the Dead with the deceased. Part handbook for the world beyond, part spellbook, and part personalized register of one’s accomplishments in life, the Book of the Dead encompassed past, present, and future like few artifacts ever could, revealing a lost culture’s acceptance of (and fascination with) death.
The Papyrus of Sobekmose is one of the most complete and lavishly detailed Books of the Dead available to modern scholars, offering a firm basis of comparison for other Books of the Dead (which appear in all sorts of formats and configurations).
And reading The Papyrus is a bit like exploring Shakespeare or The Canterbury Tales; knowledge that would be common or even conversational back then has to be explained through copious footnotes, making for a challenging yet intriguing reading experience. The language is like obscure poetry, the metaphors sometimes impenetrable.
But it reveals a world you cannot imagine, full of threats to avoid (like snakes and crocodiles), incantations to use, and goals to achieve (like a solar trek with Re to pass the Ring of Fire). It’s a wondrous journey with hidden depths galore.
Paul F. O'Rourke
Thames & Hudson