Egyptian Book of the Dead


Egyptian Book of the Dead  [ edit ]

Perhaps the best known ancient Egyptian religious text, the Book of the Dead is a modern appellation for the compilation of recitations that aimed to guide the ancient Egyptians in the afterlife. Comprising of almost 200 spells and statements, the Books of the Dead were primarily written on papyri for non-royal members of society from the New Kingdom through the Ptolemaic Period, and placed in their tombs to assist them through trials and tribulations in the afterlife. Modern Egyptologists refer to the individual spells by number, initially assigned by Richard Lepsius in 1842, with each spell or “chapter” a discrete unit. The spells were inscribed on long rolls of papyrus, some in excess of 78 feet long, often leaving blank spaces for the deceased’s name. In this manner, scribes could prepare the Book of the Dead in advance and customize the scroll at a later date.

Written in hieratic script, and read from right to left, P.CtYBR inv. 2755 fol was probably part of a much longer scroll that was cut down prior to acquisition by Yale University. Beginning with the phrase “recitation for opening the mouth,” this papyrus represents a version of spell 23 designed to give the deceased power over his mouth and speech. The use of the symbol representing a mouth, in the first line, highlights the elegance and complexity of the Egyptian language. The symbol is used as a logogram (the noun “recitation, utterance, spell”), and pictogram (“mouth”), stressing the connection between mouth and speech.


Third Intermediate Period


H. 25.5cm, W. 59.5cm




Beinecke Rare Book Library

Accession Number

P.CtYBR inv. 2755 fol

Allen, T.G. The Book of the Dead: Or, Going Forth by Day: Ideas of the Ancient Egyptians
Concerning the Hereafter as Expressed in Their Own Terms. Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 1974.

Forman, W., & S. Quirke. Hieroglyphs and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt. London: British
Museum Press, 1996.

Hornung, E. The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife, translated by David Lorton. Ithaca:
Cornell University Press, 1999.