The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth by Day - The Complete Papyrus of Ani Featuring Integrated Text and Full-Color Images Paperback – Mar 1 2008
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ROBERT S. BIANCHI, ARCHAEOLOGYThe Egyptian Book of the Dead is a remarkable volume. It is based on the Papyrus of Ani, which, with the exception of the Rosetta Stone, is the most famous Egyptian object in the collections of the British Museum. Its fame is due in no small part to the quality of the illustrated vignettes that rank among the masterpieces of ancient Egyptian painting. . . I, for one, would hope that readers will henceforth refrain from relying on Budge\'s outdated editions and turn to this volume instead. The price, under $25 dollars paperback; the quality of the large-format plates, several of which include foldouts; the authoritative translation based on that of R.O. Faulkner, which is considered in the opinion of many experts to be one of the best translations, and commentary by Ogden Goelet make this book a must for all libraries.
About the Author
Carol Andrews is a former curator of the Deapartment of Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum.
James Wasserman is an author and book designer whose innovative vision shaped this unique book.
Dr. Ogden Goelet is a professor of Egyptian Language and Culture at New York University.
Dr. Raymond Faulkner (1894-1982) was a renowned British Egyptologist, the translator of many key Egyptological texts, and author of numerous scholarly publications.
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I love its arrangement but a number of the images have been so computerized that they almost look cartoonish. While a book of pictures and text is no substitute for the originals, this is about as close as one can get for the price.
And, the price is not bad. The great thing is that those readers who cannot read Egyptian will find in this text a window to ancient Egypt. Even for those who can read the text for themselves without the English translation will find this work of use in beefing up their skills in reading Egyptian due to the fact that most of the images are so clear as to allow actual reading of the Egyptian text from the photos and then checking their work by the translation below.
But, beware! The English text does not match up with the Egyptian text in all places. Faulkner's English translation of an "ideal text" concatinated from a number of texts as the result of textual criticism is what is used in the book throughout. This "ideal text" does not, of course, really exist and so there are places where there will be no English translation representing parts of the Egyptian text and other places where there will be English translation for which there is no Egyptian text.
Yes, there will be differences of opinion in how certain of the passages have been rendered, and certainly we know more about the language than was known at the time this volume was originally released. But, these do not really matter in light of the fact that one can conveniently look over this text without having to travel to the British Museum to do it, and one does not have to rely on the works which transcribe the text of the Payrus of Ani and render them into English.
Although I prefer to look at the originals of texts (because sometimes photos can obscure certain elements of the texts and the medium beneath), this book forms a prized possession on my shelf of things Egyptian.
If you do check it out, you can probably skip my review there, since I am providing an edited, and, I hope, improved version here. (Or at least more up-to-date on available editions and translations.)
It seems to me that it would be helpful to make a few things clear to those not familiar with the Egyptian "mortuary literature" (the Pyramid Texts, the Coffin Texts, the Book of Coming Forth By Day, and various "Books of What is in the Netherworld"). "The Book of Going Forth By Day," otherwise known as "The Book of the Dead" is not, as some reviewers have called it, a (not very good) encyclopedia of Egyptian life. Nor is it a compendium of mythology (the narrative content is remarkably small). Nor is it (an early but durable misconception) "the Egyptian Bible".
The name applies to a number of collections of spells, prayers, hymns, and instructions (the contents varying from copy to copy, and over time), which were included in tombs. They were intended to assist the deceased in achieving a happy existence (and avoiding destruction) in the afterlife. The contents are, in this context, quite utilitarian. Some copies include bits and pieces of the Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts, and some of the core "Chapters" (or "Spells") can be found as Middle Kingdom Coffin Texts.
To the Egyptians of the New Kingdom, the "new, expanded, and improved" collection was, as mentioned, "Coming Forth by Day" (as a glorified spirit), and those who could afford it commissioned beautifully executed copies as essential equipment for their long-term future. Strictly speaking, it didn't matter if the deceased could read; the mortuary texts were magically "self-reading". (Magic having a respected place in Egyptian religion, of course.)
The Book of the Dead texts were generally written in the cursive, or hieratic, version of the familiar, more pictorial, hieroglyphic script used on temple walls and other monuments. Many copies, including the Papyrus of Ani, included numerous illustrations (sometimes exquisite, sometimes charmingly naive) of major and minor gods, the intended owner and his family, and scenes of the (very earthly) Next World. Once the collection had emerged from earlier bodies of tomb and coffin literature during the New Kingdom, both longer and shorter versions, and variants like the "Book of Breathings," continued to be produced into Roman times; sometimes reduced to a few illustrations suggesting key "Spells" on a single sheet of papyrus ("Mythological Papyri"), which carried the whole self-reading business to its logical extreme.
This particular edition reproduces (beautifully) the color edition of the New Kingdom "Papyrus of Ani" published by the British Museum in 1890. (The owner's name is variously transcribed; I give the most common version). That version was edited by the British Egyptologist, E.A.W. Budge -- who had purchased the scroll in Egypt -- in collaboration with another Victorian-era Egyptologist, Le Page Renouf. Budge was a great popularizer of Egyptology, with a cavalier attitude toward "antiquities" -- his habit of walking off with them in defiance of laws and regulations has to be balanced against his usually prompt publication of interesting texts. He was also behind the times in his approach to ancient Egyptian, paying little attention to the work of both the German grammarians and several younger English colleagues.
This modern presentation of the Papyrus is actually an improvement, since computer manipulation has allowed the rejoining of material which Budge arbitrarily separated when preparing the brittle papyrus for shipment by pasting sections on wooden blocks. (The papyrus has, inevitably, deteriorated since it was unrolled. The few modern reproductions of images from it which I have seen were a letdown after the early descriptions. James Wasserman's Preface, which mentions this problem, refers to photographs in an Egyptological series, which I have not seen.)
That first edition was always rare and expensive, and hardly ever available today, and then at a very high price indeed. It was followed in 1895 by a popular edition, prepared by Budge, containing the text in a hieroglyphic transcription, interlinear transliterations and translations, a more polished translation, and an elaborate introduction and other apparatus, including supplementary material from roughly contemporary texts, and some black and white line-drawing versions of the illustrations. This latter edition has been reissued for decades by Dover Publications, and at first glance it looks like a wonderful bargain. The arrangement looks promising, and the hieroglyphic font was a brilliant example of nineteenth-century design. (Pdf versions of both the first edition, in three volumes, the last containing the color plates, and the 1895 edition, are presently available; see the Library of Congress site, archive.org.)
Unhappily, Budge was not only writing in the nineteenth century, he was, as noted, already behind the times even then. His transliteration is utterly obsolete, and his smooth translation misleading (although the interlinear translation is sometimes helpful figuring out the original word order when comparing translations by others). His introduction and commentary are full of errors (or then-current misconceptions), and he devotes a lot of space to almost-forgotten controversies (useful to the serious student, a waste of time to most readers). I enjoy looking at it, but have never trusted it. (There are also other print editions of the 1895 version of the Papyrus of Ani, with less lavish layout.)
Budge went on to edit a "complete" Book of the Dead, the hieroglyphic text of which is still cited, and a translation of that text, still (or recently) in print (under the Arkana and other imprints) and also misleading; there are on-line versions of the translation as well. Penguin has shifted its edition from the Arkana imprint to Penguin Classics, with an excellent introduction by the Egyptologist John Romer to the full three-volume edition. This is available in Kindle and print formats. Romer offers it as a classic contribution to English literature, rather than as a reliable guide to ancient Egyptian religion; which seem to me a fair historical perspective.
Pdf versions of the text edition also are available on-line, for those who need, or want, its pages of hieroglyphs; it is apparently still found useful by students of ancient Egyptian, although my impressions on the subject may be way out of date.
Also available in pdf, from its original publisher, the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, is a very full modern translation by the late Thomas George Allen, "The Book of the Dead or Coming Forth By Day: Ideas of the Ancient Egyptians Concerning the Hereafter as Expressed in Their Own Terms" from 1974 -- not to be confused with his earlier edition of Book of the Dead texts in the Oriental Institute's collection, which has black-and-white reproductions as well as translations (representing the corrupt and fragmentary states of their originals). The full Allen translation, based of the "best texts" principal, may be available in print when you read this; this is subject to change. The free pdfs of both volumes are intended to be available permanently. The Oriental Institute also offers pdf versions of transcription-only volumes of the Coffin Texts; not to be confused with the translation of these texts by a British Egyptologist, the late Raymond O. Faulkner, who also translated the Pyramid Texts.
Allen's work is to be distinguished from another notable modern, and similarly eclectic, translation, also by Raymond Faulkner, several editions of which (with or without illustrations) have gone in and out of print. A version of it, with additions as necessary, is included in the volume under review.
However, for anyone who has longed for the color plates of Budge's original edition, and dreamed of a modern translation of what it says, this edition will meet most demands. It does not (alas!) have a modern transliteration, but that is its only real lack. It contains a limited, but useful, commentary. There are translations, based on critically edited versions of those "Chapters" found in the Papyrus of Ani, on the same pages as the facsimiles. Like Budge's popular edition, it also contains translations of important material from other copies of the collection from the same period (known in the scholarly literature as "The Theban Recension"). The translations are (to repeat) based on those by Faulkner.
So, if you are looking for an outstanding example of Egyptian funerary literature and art from the New Kingdom, you will probably want this book. If you are looking for a general introduction to ancient Egypt, you might try John A. Wilson's old-reliable "The Culture of Ancient Egypt." For a comprehensive anthology of ancient Egyptian literature, see Lichtheim's three volumes of "Ancient Egyptian Literature" (available in Kindle editions), or Simpson, et al., "Literature of Ancient Egypt" . There are a number of reference books available; you might try a library for the three volumes (600 articles) of Redford's "The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt." published in 2000.
You will probably want to return to the "Book of the Dead" if what you find there interests you, but that is another matter.
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