Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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6 / Death

Kha and His Wife Meryt Before Osiris (detail) from the Book of the Dead
Kha and His Wife Meryt Before Osiris (detail) from the Book of the Dead
Artist / Origin Unknown artist, Egypt
Region: Africa
Date New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, ca. 1567 BCE–320 BCE
Material Pigment on papyrus
Medium: Painting
Location Egyptian Museum, Turin, Italy
Credit © Gianni Dagli Orti/CORBIS, The Picture Desk Limited

expert perspective

Deborah VischakLecturer of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University

Kha and His Wife Meryt Before Osiris (detail) from the Book of the Dead

» Unknown artist, Egypt

expert perspective

Deborah Vischak Deborah Vischak Lecturer of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University

The Egyptians certainly had a sense of an afterlife. They thought there was something after this world. The Book of the Dead is something that has very deep roots in Egyptian religious and cultural traditions. It’s one part of this larger body of texts that relate to the experience of death and ideas about the afterlife. The first example of these texts appear in the Old Kingdom, they are called the Pyramid Texts, and these texts were inscribed on the walls of the burial chambers of pharaohs, starting with the last pharaoh of the Fifth Dynasty, and then through the Sixth Dynasty. Over the course of Egyptian history, these texts were developed and expanded, both in their content and in who could use them. The kings had their own set of texts that weren’t used by elite people. But the Book of the Dead was used by elite, traditionally painted on papyri roles and buried with the individual. And the idea of the Book of the Dead was, in essence, a guidebook to the netherworld, with these kind of cues and helpful little hints to get you through an obstacle that you might confront or a scary beast of some kind, what you would need to say or do to get past him.

Elite people were responsible for preparing their tomb and all of the goods that would be buried while they were still alive. The elite had it pretty good here, so they were happy to have it continue that way in the next world and they perceived a continuation of the sort of best parts of the world that they had lived in.” 


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