In some of the texts, the king boards the sun-boat of Re and passes through different regions in the sky, encountering many gods. In other texts, the king reaches the sky by flying up as a bird, such as a falcon or a goose. At other times the king climbs up the ladder of the sky. What all these texts have in common is an emphasis on the eternal existence of the king and the location of the sky as the
realm of the Afterlife, which is dominated by the sun-god Re. The night sky is also described,
particularly the imperishable stars.
Generally, the text is supposed to provide services to the deceased king in
his ascent into the sky and with his reception in the world of the divine. Every
possible means is given for this assistance, including a ladder or ramp leading
to the sky, clouds, storms hail, incense and sunlight. The god, Shu,
who holds up the sky is there for his assistance, while the text communicates
knowledge to the pharaoh of the customs and places in the hereafter. It also
warns him of dangers. There are dialogues with gatekeepers and ferryman where
the king is given the specific knowledge that he will need in order to name the
correct names and answer all the questions needed to prove his legitimacy and
make his way though the afterlife.
Many of the locations remain unclear to us, but the Field of Reeds, the Field
of Offerings, the Lake of the Jackal and the Winding Waterway are clearly
important. The waterways of the heavens are navigated by boat, so the king is
dependent on the efforts of his ferryman. Though the afterworld is celestial in
nature, it does not seem to be all that desirable of a place to stay. Not even Re
is happy here, only seemingly able to bear out the time before sunrise when he
could be freed. The king arrives in this realm violently, and then is repeatedly
identified with the creator god Atum.
There are many references to various problems such as repelling the attacks
of various supernatural beings and we find, for example in spell 244, the
"smashing of the red pots" specifically intended to annihilate one's
enemies. But more mundane topics are also approached. On earth, the king had needed a boat to travel throughout Egypt along the Nile; in the next world, he would need a boat as well. Some of the prayers call for food and provisions; some assert that the king will not lose the power of his limbs, that he will still move, breathe, eat, and copulate in the next world.
We find an expressed plea for the king to overcome death by entering the
eternal course of the cosmos together with the sun god in his solar barque, but
we also find the king with a strong, general association with Osiris.
Here, we find the earliest known reference to Osiris as the ruler of the
underworld. In spell number 239 this relationship is especially evident, and we
find considerable reference to the Osiris legend. Almost all of the myth's
elements may be found within this text. Osiris' son, Horus, along with Osiris' two sisters, Isis
and Nephthys, search for the murdered god (Osiris). Horus finds his father and revives him. It also provides a version of the contention of Horus and Seth.
A number of specifically ritualistic text stand out, such as the 'Opening
of the Mouth' ceremony, which to the best of our knowledge is here presented
for the first time. There are also offering and statue rituals.
The Coffin Texts - The Book of Two Ways
The Coffin Text, which basically superseded the Pyramid Text as magical funerary spells at the end of the Old Kingdom, are principally a Middle Kingdom phenomenon, though we may begin to find examples as early as the late Old Kingdom. In effect, they democratized the afterlife, eliminating the royal exclusivity of the Pyramid Text.
Mostly, as the modern name of this collection of spells implies, the text was found on Middle Kingdom coffins of officials and their subordinates. However, we may also find the spells
inscribed on tomb walls, stelae, canopic chests, papyri and even mummy masks.
Though many are unique to individual coffins, de Buck
divided the coffin text into 1,185 spells, with some being
assigned to larger compositions such as the Book of the Two
Ways. These spells, which always refer to the deceased in the
first person singular, attempt to imitate the language of the
Old Kingdom, though they are actually produced in the
classical language of Middle Egypt. They are inscribed using
hieroglyphs, or occasionally early hieratic. Unlike the
Pyramid text, they are almost always titled, though at times
the title may come at the end of the text.
Usually written in vertical columns, the columns are
sometimes split in order to save space. Red ink is utilized
for emphasis and as divisions between the spells. However,
some important spells are completely written using a red
For the first time in funerary literature, the coffin text
use graphic depictions, though very infrequently. In both the
Book of the Two Ways and in spell 464 known as the Field of
Offerings, we find detailed plans. At other times (spells 81
and 100) there are textual descriptions of figures that were
meant to strengthen the magical results of the text.
Yet the ancient Egyptians were cautious of graphic
depictions. One holdover from the Pyramid Texts that we find
at least in the early Coffin Text is the mutilation of most of
the hieroglyphic signs representing animate objects. Sometimes
the glyphs are actually carved as two separate pieces divided
by a blank space. At other times, snakes, other animals and
various other creatures are inscribed with knives in their
backs. This was all intended to ensure that the intact figure
would not be able to somehow threaten the deceased person