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Death and Afterlife in Ancient Egypt Essay

Throughout the ancient world, it was commonly believed that individuals survived in some form after death. From earliest times, people laid out and drink for dead relatives and performed rituals on their behalf. In many places, people shared communal meals with the dead. These practices were meant to ensure the well-being of the deceased and also to soothe the spirits of the dead and to protect the living from their displeasure (Taylor). The great exception to common ancient beliefs about the afterlife was provided by ancient Egypt. Here life was imagined to follow the cyclic pattern of nature.

The sun-god Re and the god Osiris exhibited a pattern of death and resurrection. The transition to the afterlife required certain rituals. The body had to be preserved through mummification, to serve as the basis for the life of the spirit. To reach the realm of the dead, the deceased required special knowledge. From a relatively early period, there was also a judgment, symbolized by the weighing of the heart in a balance. In Egypt we find what are probably the earliest foreshadowings of hell: a place where unrighteous people are subjected to torments and “the second death (Johnston).

” Death The Egyptian approach to the problem of death and the afterlife was the most optimistic solution ever elaborated until their time. The end of life, death, was simply unacceptable. This reflected their optimistic nature, their love of the body and the joys it procured, a contrario to the Hindu solution to the problem of death which reflected a pessimistic nature and the rejection and destruction of the body. Death was intolerable for the Egyptians; it was desirable for the Hindus.

Perhaps, above all, the Osirisian revolution represented the highest point of optimism and hope reached in the ancient world the evolution (from the sixth century BC) of Zoroastrian/Hebrew/Christian resurrection/afterlife concepts. Death posed such difficult problems for man that it took over 60,000 years or more, the interim between the Neanderthals and the Egyptians, to come up with radically new ideas and launch a new trajectory of wishful thinking and illusion which would eventually lead to the inventions of Paradise and Hell based on morality and the final judgment and final destiny of all mankind.

Egypt, probably largely independently and right from the start of the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3100-2868 BC), innovated, made major breakthroughs and may have exercised significant influence on other peoples in the search for the solution to the problem of death. What had somehow occurred in Egypt was a fabulous bringing to fruitition of all of man’s imaginative efforts and abstract reasoning concerning death. The Egyptians sketched out and invented a new type of afterlife aimed at permanently defeating death (Najovits).

Mummies of Ancient Egypt In the modern mind no single type of artifact from the ancient world excites more interest that the Egyptian mummy and no other kind of object is considered more typically Egyptian. The very word mummy brings to mind a host of associated ideas – the Egyptian belief in life after death, the seemingly pervasive concern with the notion of death, and the elaborate preparations that were made for it.

It is well to state at the outset that religious beliefs made it necessary to preserve the dead, and what it seems a preoccupation with death was actually the outgrowth of a love of life and an attempt to prepare for a continuation in the next world of life as it is known in this. A considerable literature, much of it of a speculative nature, has grown up around the modern interest in the process of mummification. In recent decades the progress of science has done much to dispel earlier misconceptions, but many of these have become firmly fixed and die hard.

The process of mummification is still considered to be a ‘lost art’ by many who would rather remain content with an intriguing mystery than be disappointed with a simple explanation. The process was the result of a continuous development based on trial and error and observable results. The details of technique can now be discussed with some confidence and accuracy (Taylor). Through the use of various physical/surgical and chemical processes, the Egyptians devised artificial means to preserve corpses.

The process of mummification was introduced very early in Egypt’s dynastic history, in the first half of the 3rd millennium BC. Even before then, the Egyptians must have noticed that the hot, dry sand of the desert often desiccated and preserved bodies without any artificial processes. A variety of techniques evolved over many centuries to conserve the bodies of Egypt’s nobility; these included removing the internal organs, soaking the body in natron, and wrapping it tightly in linen.

When Herodotus visited Egypt in the 5th century he documented the mummification methods that were still known, even though the art and science of embalming was not important as it had been earlier (Monet). Afterlife The origins of an afterlife, Paradise and Hell are enveloped in considerable obscurity. At least sixty thousand years ago, the Neanderthals imagined phenomena which did not necessarily exist or certainly did not exist. Perhaps based on their experience of dream life, they seem to have imagined the existence of an afterlife, invented ritual burial for entry into the afterlife, and possibly believed in the existence of the soul.

Even if we can have no exact idea of what the afterlife meant for the Neanderthals, the decoration of some dead bodies and the inclusion of foods, goods, weapons and ornaments in their graves, clearly indicate that they believed that life somehow did not end with death that as aspect of life, or a spirit, continued. The seeds of Paradise, the concepts of immorality or consolation, or paradisiacal reward, for the first life, are already at least potentially contained in such a view. However, the Neanderthals and all other peoples at least until Egyptian times seem to have sought solutions to death which were not explicit (Najovits).

The Pyramids of Ancient Egypt If you say the word “pyramid,” most people will think of ancient Egypt. The ancient Egyptians built many famous pyramids. The pyramids were created by the ancient Egyptian civilization, which began about 5,000 years ago. The pyramids were built to serve in the afterlife. These serve as staircases for the dead pharaoh to ascend in the sky, funerary practices involving rituals, spells and amulets and techniques designed to facilitate entry into the afterlife and protection and well being once there.

Ancient Egyptians believed that each person had a spirit, or ka, that lived on after the person died. A person’s most important task during their lifetime was to prepare for life after death. Rulers and wealthy people built tombs to be homes for their kas. The earliest tombs were simple structures that resemble large benches. Then, around 2750 B. C. , King Zoser built the first pyramid. It was not a true pyramid. It looked like giant steps, so it became known as the Step Pyramid. King Snefru built the first true pyramid about 150 years later.

The Great Pyramid of Giza, the largest of the Egyptian pyramids, was built nearly 4,500 years ago and stands 481 feet (147 m) high. It is located in northern Egypt near the city of Cairo. The Great Pyramid of Giza was built to be the grave for King Khufu. Pyramids provided a place where a king’s body could safely pass into the afterlife. Many great riches were held rooms within the pyramids. The ancient pyramids are engineering marvels. We still don’t know exactly how they were built. We do know that their construction required impressive knowledge of math.

We can learn more about the pyramids and the people who built them by using our math skills to study the most famous Egyptian pyramid – the Great Pyramid (Down). From the Old Kingdom to the beginning of the New Kingdom, kings were buried in pyramid tombs, comprising a massive superstructure of stone or mudbrick with adjacent mortuary temple or chapel. In the New Kingdom, the pyramid ceased to be a royal prerogative, and small brick pyramids were incorporated into private tombs (Taylor). Works Cited: Down, David. “The Pyramids of Ancient Egypt. ” Creation Magazine 26. 4 (2004): 44-49 pp.

November 13, 2007 <http://www. answersingenesis. org/creation/v26/i4/pyramids. asp>. Johnston, Sarah Iles. Religions of the Ancient World: A Guide. Harvard USA: Harvard University Press, 2004. Monet, Jefferson. “An Overview of Mummification in Ancient Egypt. ” Tour Egypt (2005). November 13, 2007 <http://touregypt. net/featurestories/mummification. htm>. Najovits, Simson R. Egypt, Trunk of the Tree: A Modern Survey of an Ancient Land. New York: Algora Publishing, 2004. Taylor, John H. Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt. Chicago, USA: University of Chicago Press, 2001.


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