Coffin Texts

Coffin Texts is the collective term used for a group of writings from Ancient Egypt. These Coffin Texts were primarily used as funeral spells and rites. They grew out of the Pyramid Texts from the Old Kingdom, which were spells carved into the sarcophagus. The oldest known Pyramid Texts are believed to date back to around 2400 BC; whereas, the Coffin Texts are believed to have developed around 2100 BC. However, the majority of Coffin Texts are dated back to the Middle Kingdom.

The Pyramid Texts were reserved only for the Pharaohs, and although the Coffin Texts changed this to some degree, the Coffin Texts were still used mostly for the burial of Pharaohs. Egyptians who had accumulated enough wealth could get a coffin with some of the spells derived from the Coffin Texts, though, this was a rare case. Because these writings were primarily inscribed on coffins, the term Coffin Texts was coined. However, there have been some Coffin Texts found on tomb walls and canopic chests among other locations. Some of these spells were also abbreviated to allow for more information to be written. Many of these abbreviations can be found within the Book of the Dead.

Unlike the Pyramid Texts, which focused on a celestial realm, the Coffin Texts focused on Duat, or the underworld. This underworld region was said to be ruled by Osiris and was filled with traps and dangerous beings. Due to the nature of Duat, the funeral spells were meant to provide protection from the dangers the deceased would face in the afterlife.

There are a vast number of these spells which total over 1,180. These spells are based on various topics related to the afterlife. For example, Ancient Egyptians believed that they would be judged during the afterlife and is referenced in the Coffin Texts. The Coffin Texts indicated that the deceased person would be judged by Osiris and a tribunal to see if they followed the laws of Ma’at. If it was found that they did not uphold the laws of Ma’at, the Ancient Egyptians were granted life in Duat. In addition, if they were deemed still unworthy, their heart was then fed to Ammit. Ammit was a female demon who was part lion, crocodile and hippopotamus. If this happened, they would also die in the afterlife which constituted an eternal death feared by most Ancient Egyptians.

Other spells provided a description of Duat and its inhabitants to help prepare the deceased for what they could encounter in the afterlife. Others provided protection so that the deceased would be exempt from certain tasks such as manual labor. Manual labor was looked down upon and was not something a Pharaoh should ever do. Some spells were presented in a speech format that supposedly came from a god or goddess and then followed by a spell that was to be repeated by the deceased.

In one instance, the spells were accompanied by a visual representation. This is referred to as the Book of Two ways, as it shows two ways of the underworld and afterlife. The Book of Two Ways, alongside the Coffin Texts, both are a precursor to the Book of the Dead, which further elaborates upon the spells. These spells were an essential part of the burial process. It was strongly believed, that without these spells, the deceased could fall victim to the dangers of Duat and this had to be prevented.