Final Section, Completing Rare Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, To Go on View September 28, 2011
Following a three-year-long conservation project, the final section of the rare, thirty-five-centuries-old Egyptian Book of the Dead of the Goldworker of Amun, Sobekmose will go on long-term view on September 28. One of the most important funerary texts of the New Kingdom, in part because it is an early version of The Book of the Dead and casts light on the development of all later manuscripts, the papyrus is about twenty-five feet long. In an unusual feature, it is inscribed on both sides.
The Book of the Dead is a present-day name for ancient Egyptian texts containing a number of magic spells intended to assist the deceased in the afterlife, and which were placed in the coffin or burial chamber. The Book of the Dead of Sobekmose, created during the Eighteenth Dynasty, probably during the reign of Thutmose III or Amunhotep II (circa 1479-1400 B.C.E.), contains nearly one hundred "chapters," almost half of the total known group of Book of the Dead texts. Several of the chapters are close in content to those found in the Coffin Texts, the collection of funeral texts used in the previous historical period.
The texts on the front are written in approximately 530 columns of hieroglyphs reading down and from right to left. English translations are provided in the gallery for certain key passages. Although portions of these funeral texts have been translated, understanding them is often challenging even to Egyptologists, who do not yet know the meaning of certain phrases and sentences.
The final third of The Book of the Dead of Sobekmose will join the previously completed sections, which have been on view in the Mummy Chamber installation in the Egyptian galleries since May 2010. That installation marked the first time the object had been on view in Brooklyn. It entered the collection in 1937 as a part of a purchase from the New-York Historical Society but had never previously been displayed because it was in poor condition.
The conservation project, supported by the Leon Levy Foundation, has made it possible for this exceptionally rare object to be put on public view.