Abstract: Pyramids, Mummies, and Magic: An Introduction to Ancient Egyptian Funerary Beliefs and Practices


An examination of the way the ancient Egyptians faced the all-too-familiar problem of death reveals that, rather than being obsessed with death, they were obsessed with life.  They were reconciled to death as a natural process: life is a terminal condition.  They enjoyed their earthly existence, comfortable with being both in and of the world—there was no body/soul dichotomy of the sort that decrees everything involving the physical is evil, while everything associated with the spirit is good.  They were complete beings only when body and soul were united in them.  At the same time they looked forward to an eternal existence based on this model; death was the portal to rebirth into a new kind of life.  The lecture presents the Egyptians’ preparations for death—revealing their attitudes toward death and the dead—in terms of the association of three fundamental characteristics of ancient Egyptian culture: pyramids, mummies, and works of art deposited as grave goods.  The material presented ranges primarily from the time before the Old Kingdom (2675-2175 BCE) through the New Kingdom (1570-1070 BCE, an era of highly developed theological speculation).   

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