What exactly is the “The Book of the Dead?” Basically, these were writings consisting of Egyptian texts and multiple spells created between 1550 BCE and 50 BCE. Initially, these writings were put on pyramid walls and on coffins to assist the dead through the journey of the underworld and then into the afterlife; a tradition of funerary texts. This ideology was in great use during this time in history, and was mainly used for the wealthy as the poor could not afford to be buried in lavish extravagance. These traditions were thought to have developed as far back as the Old Kingdom Period.
When papyrus was discovered (First Dynasty) by the ancient Egyptians for use in writing and also for other things, many of these tomb inscriptions were then converted to this writing form.
Overtime, these writings were redone to incorporate newer text that was discovered along the way.
The pyramid texts consisted of religious texts written on walls and the coffin texts were spells written on tombs. These religious texts are some of the oldest religious writings known to man. In addition, some of the spells that were found on coffins, are thought to date back to the First Intermediate Period in Ancient Egypt. More texts that were found in the Third Intermediate Period were later included.
By the 19th Dynasty, these funeral traditions (“Book of the Dead”), had become so widespread and accepted among the populace that other people began to incorporate them into their family burial traditions. Some of the texts began to be inscribed on the linen shrouds used to bury an individual; whereby, it became more affordable to the masses.
These writings had great importance for the ancient Egyptians; hence, why they were initially inscribed on tomb walls. Without these writings, it was thought that a person could not effectively navigate through the trials of the afterlife.
During the New Kingdom, the “Book of the Dead” was so widespread. In addition, other more new texts were incorporated into this manual. One such spell that was added, Spell 125, was called the ‘Weighing of the Heart.’ This appears to have come on the scene during the time that Hatshepsut and Tuthmose III reigned. It was during this time that funeral papyrus writings had also became the norm for burials. In addition, vignettes started to be included. Vignettes were lavish art work designs.
By the Third Intermediate Period, the burial writings were so much ingrained into the society, that they began to be included in the traditional hieroglyphics of that time.
In the 25th and 26th centuries, the book became more standardized and was written in a more logical fashion which incorporated a numbering system that made it easier to use. Other writings were eventually added to the book in the Late Period. It appears that this funerary practice of sending your loved one into the afterlife with texts from the “Book of the Dead” stopped around the 1st century BCE.