Whew! My wild and woolly semester at Cherry Hill Seminary just ended (yes, I'm a student, as well as staff). A real treat was to get to write about my favorite ancient Egyptian religious texts for a final paper in Psychology of Religion, taught by Vivianne Crowley. I thought readers here might enjoy a bit of that paper. Please excuse the stuffy language, and any Egyptologists among you, please write me if you see a glaring error.
Pyramid Texts Overview
A king called Unas ruled Egypt at the end of the 5th Dynasty (2375 – 2345 B.C.E.); he built for himself a large temple and pyramid complex at the royal burial grounds of Saqqara, near Cairo. The walls of the interior are covered with hieroglyphs, the body of which has come to be known as the Pyramid Texts. They are the oldest known religious writings in the world, comprising a liturgy which is assumed to be conducted upon the death of the king. (The title “pharaoh” was not used by Egyptian rulers until the New Kingdom (1550–1070 B.C.E.), after the reign of Hatshepsut.)
The Pyramid Texts are a liturgical treatment of the afterlife journey of the soul, first through the Duat, then through transfiguration and ascent to the sky as an “imperishable star.” In this specific context the texts apply this journey, also made by the sun, the mythical embodiment of Ra-Horus-Osiris, to the afterlife journey of the king’s soul. Section III of this article describes the Duat, a sort of “world-between-the-worlds” which is the location of the afterlife journey.