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Egyptian funerary literature

The principal purpose of ancient Egyptian funerary literature was to help the deceased pass through the dangers of the Underworld and be reborn into new life. The books consist of a series of magical texts ('spells') which deal with different areas and events in the next world (such as the judgement of the dead). The texts are often accompanied by pictures, usually termed vignettes, which illustrate the spells.

The development of the Book of the Dead can be traced as far back as the Pyramid Texts, the Old Kingdom (about 2613-2160 BC) spells for the well-being of the king inscribed in pyramids from the end of the Fifth Dynasty (around 2345 BC) onward. The intermediate stage was the so-called Coffin Texts, spells written on coffins of the Middle Kingdom. Many spells in the Book of the Dead come from the Coffin Texts, but there are also many new compositions. About 200 spells are known, though the spells written on individual papyri vary widely.

The earliest texts of the Book of the Dead appear on mummy shrouds of members of the Seventeenth-Dynasty royal family (about 1650-1550 BC); they then appear on those of high officials of the early New Kingdom (after about 1550 BC). The appearance of vignettes followed, and then the texts appear on papyrus and leather rolls. Papyrus rapidly became the main medium, and remained so for more than 1,000 years.

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