In partnership with the British Museum, we've just published a North American edition of John H. Taylor’s Journey Through the Afterlife: Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. The book is the companion to a major exhibition of the same name, curated by Taylor and running at the British Museum through early March 2011. As Taylor explains in a British Museum blog post, “Book of the Dead” is a term we use now for “a collection of magical spells that the Egyptians used to help them get into the afterlife. They imagined the afterlife as a kind of journey you had to make to get to paradise – but it was quite a hazardous journey so you’d need magical help along the way.”
The video below explains the exhibition:
There was no one standard Book of the Dead. Rather, countless customized variations existed, elaborately decorated and filled with different spells. Though the British Museum has one of the world’s largest collections of artifacts related to the Book of the Dead, many of the items included in this exhibition have actually never before been displayed. “This is an extremely ambitious exhibition because we've never been able to look at this subject in such a comprehensive way,” Taylor told the Guardian. “We've wanted to, but so much of this material is so light-sensitive. It's also a question of space – you do need a lot of it to do it properly.”
The exhibition has been a very hot ticket since opening in early November, but a couple of representatives of HUP managed to gain entry while in town for meetings at our London office last month. HUP Director William Sisler was among those visiting the exhibition, and he reports that it drew him into a world unfamiliar to most of us in the West: “In a way, both the exhibit and the book demonstrate that there was in ancient Egypt a continuity between life on earth and life ‘after death.’ The spells inscribed in the Book of the Dead represent maps to guide the departed along the path toward eternal joy and happiness, and away from the risk posed by having one’s heart weighed in the balance and possibly found wanting, subject to destruction by the Devourer, a beast composed of elements from the lion, crocodile, and hippopotamus.”
Our book, like the exhibition, affords a greater understanding of ancient Egyptian belief systems and reveals the hopes and fears of mortal man about the world beyond death. Journey Through the Afterlife contains contributions from leading scholars and detailed catalog entries that interpret the spells and painted scenes of these ancient treasures. It’s illustrated in full color throughout, with specially commissioned photographs of these exceptional papyri and an array of contextual funerary objects—painted coffins, gilded masks, amulets, jewelry, tomb figurines, and mummy trappings.
To accompany the exhibition, and as a fitting teaser for the book, the British Museum has even produced an app on the Book of the Dead, available for free from the Apple App Store. In the app you are led by Anubis, ancient Egyptian god of embalming, through the netherworld, and asked 7 questions. Answer correctly and you'll reach paradise, but get them wrong and you'll meet the Devourer, who’ll gladly eat your soul. Rest easy, though: Journey Through the Afterlife has the answers.