Book Review: The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife

Ancient Egyptian Books of the AfterlifeThe Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife by Erik Hornung (Translated by David Lorton)
Cornell University Press
ISBN-13: 978-0801485152

Originally written in German, this book is such a valuable source of information about ancient Egytian funerary texts that it was translated into English by David Lorton for publication by Cornell University Press.

The funerary texts dealt with include the Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts, the Middle Kingdom Coffin Texts and, from the New Kingdom, the Book fo the Dead (more properly known as the Book of Going Forth By Day), the Book of Caverns, the Book of the Earth, the Book of Gates, the Amduat and a number of other less well known texts.

Each of the funerary texts is organized under the following headings – Sources, Research, Structure and Content. Additional headings for some of the texts are Illustrations and Structure and Language. These sections ensure that the reader understands where the funerary texts have been found and when they date to, the main researchers that have analysed each text, how the texts are usually compiled and what can be found within them.

Anyone who has taken a look at a funerary papyrus or seen funerary texts inscribed into the walls of royal tombs will understand how complicated they are. This book takes the texts apart, describing them section by section (by spell, chapter or hour), discussing the significance of the events taking place, and explaining the most siginficant (and often bewildering) motifs and illustrations.

The emphasis is placed on the New Kingdom texts, of which there are many, so these take up the greater part of the book.

No attempt is made to translate the texts, which would be impossible in a book this size, but there is an immensely useful guide to the availablity of English translations of the texts mentioned at the start of the book.

The text is supported by lots of illustrations and a few black and white photographs, and concludes with a glossary, bibliography (organized by funerary text) and an index.

If you are interested in the funerary texts of Egypt and how they evolved from the Old Kingdom to the end of the New Kingdom, this is an invaluable and unique book.