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Your Passport To The Next Life,
This review is from: The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth by Day (Paperback)
What an absolute miracle we have these texts today, some four millennia after many of them were first conceived of in an ancient desert land! The story of the re-discovery in the nineteenth-century, after the last known copies were believed destroyed in Alexandria, is the recounting of an archeological miracle, and the fact that they survived the circumstances of their discovery at all amid corruption and mistrust in the black markets of Cairo is even more amazing.
The Egyptian Book of the Dead is both a how-to tome for making the journey from the physical world to the eternal lands, and also an invaluable record of the belief system and psychology of a remarkable ancient people. Unlike the Tibetan Book of the Dead with its (apparent) universal application, the information in its far-older Egyptian counterpart is peculiar to the culture of Pharonic times. A highly devout, ritual-embracing, death-oriented civilization, ancient Egyptians were instructed via this information in the use of proper spells, attitudes, and the location of the paths to take as they faced the arduous and daunting trek from their burial sites to the "Land of Reeds" an unending paradise in the world beyond.
Unlike most cosmologies, the ancients of the Nile valley did not view the arrival after death at a final destination as an automatic event. They held that it was but the start of a long process, a too-often failed journey undertaken toward an end-point of a spectacular judgment that determined the worthiness of their souls. Egyptian religion taught that all human beings initially survived death, but that only those of purity and worth (and those educated in the lore of the Book of the Dead) would in fact enjoy long-term postmortem consciousness. Hell to Egyptians was an ending, not an ongoing torment. The fate of the `damned' was the cessation of being, and it was arrived at in the form of being devoured by a frightening creature that was part hippopotamus and part crocodile.
After making the arduous journey from tomb to place of judgment, the pilgrim on the voyage toward eternity, having passed a series of tests, arrived at a last evaluation. In the presence of the great jackal-headed god Anubis, the deceased would hand over to a goddess a sacred heart-stone he had carried with him on his journey from the tomb, and this heart-stone would be weighed on a scale against a single white feather. If the stone outweighed the feather, then the person in question would be ripped to pieces by the hippo-croc monster, and cease to be (ultimate horror to ancients) but if the stone was found to balance out equal to the feather, as the heart-stone of a righteous soul would, then that person passed on into a the Land of Reeds, where eternal bliss awaited.
The Egyptian Book of the Dead is translated in such a way that its already ancient phrases, incantations, and prayers sound deliberately archaic in a sort of King James Bible fashion, and it is not a downstream type of read. For those who persevere to the work's conclusion, though, the experience of reading these sacred texts, which by all rights should long ago have been lost to knowledge, will find the scholarly experience to be rewarding. Plus, if we happen to one day find ourselves in the Egyptian afterlife, we'll know what to do, right?