Mummies for Dummies


Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, translated by Raymond O. Faulkner – The Book of the Dead, more accurately translated “Book of Going Forth by Day,” is a collection of spells used in ancient Egyptian funerary rites. It isn’t really one book, but several, with this volume collecting all known spells from different versions of the book. The afterlife was apparently a dangerous place for Egyptians, but also quite interesting. This wasn’t some ill-defined concept of Heaven, but a world all its own, full of monsters and adventures. Some of the spells were used to ward off snakes, beetles, and crocodiles. One of my favorites is a spell for repelling songstress-snakes. I really couldn’t tell you what they are, but they sound pretty cool. Another spell is used “for repelling him who swallowed an ass,” probably a reference to Set, but that doesn’t make the title any less amusing.

My copy of this book, which I bought from the discount rack at Barnes & Noble, comes with a scarab figure. Kind of tacky, perhaps, but an interesting accessory. The text itself is really rather difficult to follow, but interesting from a historical perspective.

While there were many beliefs about the Egyptian afterlife, the idea of the lumbering mummy that appears in B-movies does not appear to have been one of them. If not an invention of Hollywood, the zombie wrapped in bandages is certainly a more recent invention, seemingly based on a misinterpretation of burial rites.

The body was preserved in order to allow the dead person to live on in a new spiritual body, not so that the old body could actually come back to life. Even today we usually preserve the bodies of the dead long beyond any possible use we might have for them; it’s basically a cultural thing. The book of Daniel does say that there will be a general resurrection of the dead in the end times, but I think God is going to have to do a lot of repairs, unless it means we’ll have a bunch of skeletons walking the Earth. Actually, that would be pretty cool, wouldn’t it?

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3 Responses to Mummies for Dummies

  1. halinabq says:

    Misinterpreting beliefs about life after death seems to be the stock in trade of the Christian religion. One of the central tenets of Christianity is belief in “the resurrection of the body”. Well, if you read the gospel accounts of Jesus reappearing after his death, it’s pretty clear that it was not Jesus’ BODY that had come back to life, since he would just appear out of nowhere, and depart just as readily, walk through walls, didn’t look like Jesus (otherwise his disciples would surely have recognized him), and so on. Rather, it was his SPIRIT that had come back to life, or perhaps had never died. I’m always amused by folks who claim to believe “every word of the Bible,” then ignore these descriptions when they formulate their religious beliefs.

    Happy Easter!

    • Nathan says:

      It’s in John, the last and in any many ways least realistic of the Gospels, that Thomas feels the holes in Jesus’ hands.

      • halinabq says:

        The Book of John is a beautiful work of art, literature, and theology. But, as you point out, it is virtually devoid of what we would consider to be historical “facts”.

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