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In Our Time Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas. Related Content You may also like. Similar programmes By genre: The nature of the afterlife which the dead person enjoyed is difficult to define, because of the differing traditions within Ancient Egyptian religion.
In the Book of the Dead , the dead were taken into the presence of the god Osiris , who was confined to the subterranean Duat.
There are also spells to enable the ba or akh of the dead to join Ra as he travelled the sky in his sun-barque, and help him fight off Apep.
There are fields, crops, oxen, people and waterways. The deceased person is shown encountering the Great Ennead , a group of gods, as well as his or her own parents.
While the depiction of the Field of Reeds is pleasant and plentiful, it is also clear that manual labour is required.
For this reason burials included a number of statuettes named shabti , or later ushebti. These statuettes were inscribed with a spell, also included in the Book of the Dead , requiring them to undertake any manual labour that might be the owner's duty in the afterlife.
The path to the afterlife as laid out in the Book of the Dead was a difficult one. The deceased was required to pass a series of gates, caverns and mounds guarded by supernatural creatures.
Their names—for instance, "He who lives on snakes" or "He who dances in blood"—are equally grotesque. These creatures had to be pacified by reciting the appropriate spells included in the Book of the Dead ; once pacified they posed no further threat, and could even extend their protection to the dead person.
If all the obstacles of the Duat could be negotiated, the deceased would be judged in the "Weighing of the Heart" ritual, depicted in Spell The deceased was led by the god Anubis into the presence of Osiris.
There, the dead person swore that he had not committed any sin from a list of 42 sins ,  reciting a text known as the "Negative Confession".
Then the dead person's heart was weighed on a pair of scales, against the goddess Maat , who embodied truth and justice.
Maat was often represented by an ostrich feather, the hieroglyphic sign for her name. If the scales balanced, this meant the deceased had led a good life.
Anubis would take them to Osiris and they would find their place in the afterlife, becoming maa-kheru , meaning "vindicated" or "true of voice".
This scene is remarkable not only for its vividness but as one of the few parts of the Book of the Dead with any explicit moral content.
The judgment of the dead and the Negative Confession were a representation of the conventional moral code which governed Egyptian society.
For every "I have not John Taylor points out the wording of Spells 30B and suggests a pragmatic approach to morality; by preventing the heart from contradicting him with any inconvenient truths, it seems that the deceased could enter the afterlife even if their life had not been entirely pure.
A Book of the Dead papyrus was produced to order by scribes. They were commissioned by people in preparation for their own funeral, or by the relatives of someone recently deceased.
They were expensive items; one source gives the price of a Book of the Dead scroll as one deben of silver,  perhaps half the annual pay of a labourer.
In one case, a Book of the Dead was written on second-hand papyrus. Most owners of the Book of the Dead were evidently part of the social elite; they were initially reserved for the royal family, but later papyri are found in the tombs of scribes, priests and officials.
Most owners were men, and generally the vignettes included the owner's wife as well. Towards the beginning of the history of the Book of the Dead , there are roughly 10 copies belonging to men for every one for a woman.
The dimensions of a Book of the Dead could vary widely; the longest is 40m long while some are as short as 1m. The scribes working on Book of the Dead papyri took more care over their work than those working on more mundane texts; care was taken to frame the text within margins, and to avoid writing on the joints between sheets.
The words peret em heru , or 'coming forth by day' sometimes appear on the reverse of the outer margin, perhaps acting as a label.
Books were often prefabricated in funerary workshops, with spaces being left for the name of the deceased to be written in later. The text of a New Kingdom Book of the Dead was typically written in cursive hieroglyphs , most often from left to right, but also sometimes from right to left.
The hieroglyphs were in columns, which were separated by black lines — a similar arrangement to that used when hieroglyphs were carved on tomb walls or monuments.
Illustrations were put in frames above, below, or between the columns of text. The largest illustrations took up a full page of papyrus.
From the 21st Dynasty onward, more copies of the Book of the Dead are found in hieratic script. The calligraphy is similar to that of other hieratic manuscripts of the New Kingdom; the text is written in horizontal lines across wide columns often the column size corresponds to the size of the papyrus sheets of which a scroll is made up.
Occasionally a hieratic Book of the Dead contains captions in hieroglyphic. The text of a Book of the Dead was written in both black and red ink, regardless of whether it was in hieroglyphic or hieratic script.
Most of the text was in black, with red ink used for the titles of spells, opening and closing sections of spells, the instructions to perform spells correctly in rituals, and also for the names of dangerous creatures such as the demon Apep.
The style and nature of the vignettes used to illustrate a Book of the Dead varies widely.