The masterpiece of classical Ancient Egyptian literature
The Book of the Dead is the modern name for an Ancient Egyptian funerary text that was in use from the beginning of the New Kingdom, around 1540 BC, until 60 BC, after the fall of Egypt.
Some of the chapters that made up the book continued to be inscribed on the walls of tombs and sarcophagi, just as the spells had been from their origin. The Book of the Dead was inserted into the sarcophagus or burial chamber of the deceased.
There was no single, canonical Book of the Dead.
The surviving papyri contain a varied selection of religious and magical texts and differ markedly in their illustrations.
Some people commissioned their own copies of the book, perhaps with a selection of the spells they considered most important for their own progression in the afterlife.
The Book of the Dead was commonly written in hieroglyphic or hieratic script on papyrus scrolls, and often illustrated with vignettes depicting the deceased and their journey to the afterlife
Magical and Religious Texts
The Hunefer Papyrus is one of the best known and most famous Books of the Dead.
This spectacular piece originally measured 5.50 m long by 39 cm wide, but is now divided into eight pieces for preservation purposes.
It was written during Egypt’s 19th Dynasty between approximately 1310 and 1275 BC and is now preserved in the British Museum in London under the inventory code EA 9901.
It is notable for being a classic example of the Book of the Dead, with highly illustrative vignettes from the Book of the Dead.
Notable and very illuminating are those corresponding to Chapter 125 of the Book of the Dead, which depicts the Psychostasis presided over by Osiris and the ceremony of the Opening of the Mouth and Eyes
History: Pyramid and Sarcophagus Texts
This papyrus was made specifically for Hunefer, who was “Royal Scribe west of Thebes”, “Scribe of the divine offerings”,
“Overseer of the royal livestock” and butler to Pharaoh Seti I. These titles indicate that Hunefer occupied an important place in the state administration and was probably a member of the royal court. His wife Nasha was a priestess of Amun at Thebes.
Although his tomb has not been located, it is likely that he was buried at Luxor or Memphis.
The Hunefer papyrus is one of the best known and most famous Books of the Dead that have survived to the present day.
The so-called Books of the Dead are large parchment scrolls that have been found inside sarcophagi or burials with inscriptions, psalms, hymns, prayers, illustrations about the belief in life after death.
Undoubtedly, the belief in an afterlife has been present in all cultures since the origins of humanity, but in Egypt it is even more remarkable since its entire culture and society is structured around this belief.
The Hunefer papyrus depicts with magnificent quality the most important scene of the transition to the new life, the Judgement of Osiris, which corresponds to passage 125 of the Book of the Dead.
In this trance the deceased is judged by a rigorous tribunal in order to prove that he is worthy of a peaceful eternal life.
According to documentary sources, the deceased on trial is a scribe of Pharaoh Seti I. During this period, scribes were among the most prominent bureaucrats, being highly educated and working under the direct orders of the Pharaoh.
The image we are concerned with here should be interpreted from the area on the left: in the lower register we find Hunefer together with Anubis, the jackal-headed god who leads him towards the judgement holding the famous key of life. Below is the psychostasis, a ceremony in which the heart of the deceased was weighed with his good deeds; if Hunefer failed the judgement he would be devoured by the goddess Ammit, depicted as a hybrid of lion, hippopotamus and crocodile, so that Hunefer would disappear forever.
In the upper register we find the deceased before the fourteen judges who were to intercede for him in the trial in order to win his favour.
After the trial the deceased is guided by the falcon-headed god Horus to Osiris, the god of the Afterlife, who appears seated on a throne and whose skin is depicted in a striking greenish colour. Osiris was one of the most important divinities in Egypt, as evidenced by his bearing the symbols of Upper and Lower Egypt, a god who reigned over the entire territory. Behind the figure of the god we find the representation of two female figures, the Ururty divinities. The representation shows that Hunefer has successfully passed the judgement of Osiris, so that his spirit can now meet his mummified body and live eternally in the Field of Aaru
The Book of the Dead is divided into four sections, each tracing a unique spiritual journey:
Chapters 1-16: The deceased penetrates his tomb and undertakes a descent into the abysses. During this process, his body regains mobility and the ability to communicate.
Chapters 17-63: The origins of the gods and the heavenly places are revealed. The summons to rebirth is established, allowing them to emerge at dawn with the resurrection of the sun.
Chapters 64-129: He undertakes a journey through the heavens, integrating himself as one of the blessed departed. As night approaches, he descends to the underworld to appear before Osiris.
Chapters 130-189: Having been validated and vindicated, he acquires a role in the cosmos as one of the gods.
Includes chapters detailing the importance of protective amulets, the provision of food, and the places of significance on this new existential plane.
Hunefer’s grave goods
The only known element of Hunefer’s grave goods is a polychrome wooden statuette bearing the name of the deceased and representing the god Osiris – Sokar.
At funerals, the papyrus would be rolled up and placed in a secret compartment built for the purpose at the back of the sarcophagus, and then deposited in the tomb, probably at Luxor or Memphis.
The statuette was discovered by tomb raiders in the mid-19th century and then purchased by the Frenchman Antoine Clot (1793-1868), a physician employed by the Egyptian government at the time. In 1852, this collector gave the papyrus to the British Museum where it was cut into eight pieces, which were placed under glass for protection
How could they afford a Book of the Dead?
The commissioning of the Book of the Dead was exorbitantly expensive; only a minority could afford to include a few chapters, occasionally without decoration.
Thus, this large, highly ornamented papyrus offers us a glimpse of Hunefer’s social position and wealth.
Only a scribe of the highest rank could afford such a treasure.
Both the papyrus and the drawings were commissioned by Hunefer. This indicates an active participation in the choice of artists. Furthermore, the fact that he was married to a priestess of Amun lends veracity to his position as a member of the royal court.
Given its extensive length and profuse ornamentation, its financial value must have been considerable, a display of Hunefer’s patronage in this work, a tangible testimony to his status and the wealth he amassed during his lifetime
An ancient masterpiece at your fingertips
The Hunefer Papyrus is one of the most iconic texts in history. It has been central to Egyptian religious life, spanning over 3,000 years of history and deep-rooted beliefs.
Our fine facsimile is a tribute to the cultural heritage of Ancient Egypt, carefully crafted to capture the essence of the original.
Each of its chapters, along with its illustrations, has been faithfully reproduced in its most authentic form: using papyrus and the care of the human hand, thus conveying the same artistic dedication that the ancient Egyptians brought to their monumental works of art.
The quality of the reproduction of each of the 8 original fragments is such that it is impossible to distinguish between the 666 unique, numbered, worldwide limited fine facsimile edition copies and the original held by The British Museum.
This makes this identical replica an unmissable choice for bibliophiles, art lovers and lovers of unique, refined and exquisite objects