Written in black and red hieroglyphs in a confident 18th Dynasty scribal hand and illustrated with polychrome painted vignettes at either end, this papyrus manuscript features significant sections of a few of the most important chapters of the Book of the Dead, the paramount ancient Egyptian collection of funerary texts. Mounted on paper in modern times to create the effect of a continuous scroll with painted borders, intact sections of several chapters of the Book of the Dead have been spliced together, often with smaller fragments of ancient papyrus used out of place or upside-down to fill in gaps and form sections of decoratively arranged but unconnected text. Although the name of the owner is not preserved, two titles mentioned in the text undoubtedly reflect the high status of the owner: he is described as “Scribe and Reckoner of Cattle” and “Overseer of the Fowlers of Amun,” titles which are attested for owners of elaborately decorated Theban tombs, perhaps indicating a Theban provenance for the scroll.
To the left, a restored figure of the deceased stands with arms raised in adoration. The bearded profile of the adoring figure as well as his raised hands, front arm and front leg are original; over his kilt he wears the long diaphanous overskirt with a pointed end typical of the mid-18th Dynasty. Immediately in front of the figure of the deceased are several vertical columns of text in retrograde orientation (facing to the right, but to be read in columns from left to right) deriving from the introduction of Chapter 125a: “[Hail to you, great god, lord of the Two Truths.] I have come unto you that you may bring me to see your beauty. I know you, [I know your name, I know the names of the] 42 gods that are with you in the broad hall of the Two Truths, who live on [keeper(s) [of evil and] sip of their blood on that day of taking account of character(s) in the presence of Unnofer. [Behold, His Two Daughters, Lord of the Two Truths, is your name. Behold, I know you, lords of the Two Truths. I bring you truth; [I do away with sin for you].”
Although the Book of the Dead is largely composed of religious texts of much older composition collected under the modern names of Pyramid Texts and Coffin Texts, new chapters were added in the New Kingdom and later. P.F. Dorman (p. 39 in F. Scalf, ed., Book of the Dead: Becoming God in Ancient Egypt) notes that “The formal judgment of the dead contained in BD spell 125 is an entirely new addition to the mortuary corpus and involves the deceased supplicant making a ‘negative confession’ asserting his or her faultless behavior on earth in the presence of forty-two gods assembled in the Hall of the Two Truths, while the heart is weighed against the feather of Maat. Another large vignette, showing the tomb owner and often his wife in adoration of Osiris or another deity, frequently opens the papyrus scroll.”
The following section features parts of the “Negative Confession”: “[I have not lied or sinned against anyone.] I have not oppressed dependents. I have not done crookedness [instead of truth.] I know not sin; I have not done anything evil. I have not made any man work any day on account of anything he has done... I have not known the nonexistent, I have not done evil… I have not stolen, I have not committed an abomination…I have not slandered a servant to his superior. I have not caused pain, I have not made anyone hungry, I have not made anyone weep, I have not killed. . .”
Portions of the theological treatises of Chapters 17 and 18 form the majority of the next section, featuring phrases highlighted in red. These often contain rhetorical questions and answers, for example, “Who is he? As for Khepri who resides in his bark, he is Re himself.”
J. Taylor states that “Spell 17 was one of the most important texts in the Book of the Dead…In the New Kingdom it was given special prominence and often found near the beginning of papyri…Spell 17 is a particularly obscure text and many passages were open to different interpretations. Included within the body of the text are glosses (indicated by some words in red) – alternative versions of phrases, and explanations of the symbolic meaning of names and expressions” (see p. 51 in Journey Through The Afterlife: Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead). Chapter 18 is similar in content, and only partially represented in these sections of papyrus.
Another long section of Chapter 125 written in black ink follows; the final 11 lines of the chapter are written in rubric, with only the words for “King” and “Kings of Upper and Lower Egypt” written in black. While many papyri present the content of Chapter 125 in a table-like format, this example is exclusively written in vertical columns of retrograde text. On the far lower right, a polychrome vignette of the Lake of Fire is partially preserved. Usually accompanying Chapter 126 of the Book of the Dead, this depicts a watery section of the Underworld surrounded by seated baboons and stylized flames. The lake’s waters were meant to provide water to the virtuous, but the flames surrounding it could burn the evildoer.