Ancient History & Civilisation








The subject of undertaking (and I wonder how that euphemism ever originated?) seems to have a macabre fascination for many people—witness the success of such books as Jessica Mitford’s classic The American Way of Death. Ms. Mitford was not the first commentator to criticize that earnest craftsman, the American undertaker, or to wonder at the position he has come to hold as arbiter of a mortuary etiquette which often contradicts traditional religious dogma. Mark Twain, who missed few of the follies of which men are capable, was roused to sardonic comment on the same subject over a century ago. In Life on the Mississippi, he created a mortician—who, we devoutly hope, was purely fictitious—and had this personage make the following remarks:

“Why, just look at it. A rich man won’t have anything but your very best; and you can just pile it on, too—pile it on and sock it to him—he won’t ever holler. And you take a poor man, and if you work him right, he’ll bust himself on a single lay-out. Or especially a woman.” He goes on to explain how he got Mrs. O’Flaherty, widow of a poor workman, to “bust herself” on her husband’s funeral.

The morality of this sort of thing is beyond the scope of our present discussion; it hardly requires comment in any case. What interests us as students of ancient Egypt is the ironic fact that we seem to see, today, the survival of a concept which was once believed to be limited to primitive heathens back in the dawn of civilization—the idea that the dead body, the corpse, must be: (a) preserved, and (b) treated as if it retains the individuality of the deceased. The parallelism of our cult with those of some ancient cultures is embarrassingly close—the painting of the dead person’s face, the burial of jewelry and trinkets in the coffin, the ornate and expensive coffin itself.

Modern embalmers would claim, no doubt, that the motivation underlying their activities destroys the apparent parallels. They are not assisting the dead by means of magic, they are comforting the survivors by “psychology.” We may reasonably doubt whether the embalmer’s psychology is any more valid than the sympathetic magic of the witch doctors. But most suggestive of all is the fact that, beneath all the psychological claptrap, we can discern an extremely ancient, dichotomous attitude toward death and the dead—an ambivalence which may be found even in the graves of the wandering hunters of Paleolithic Europe.

Throughout the inhabited world, and far back beyond written history, there runs the unifying thread of agreement on one idea—survival after death. It is as old as man, older than Homo sapiens; it existed among Australian aborigines and African bushmen. We may find it hard to believe that the brutish Neanderthal hunters shared this same faith, and yet there is no other reasonable explanation for the skeletons carefully buried in the caves in which they had lived, laid to rest with their weapons beside them and their ornaments still resting on their crumbling bones. In these humble graves we see the beginning not only of a belief in some sort of life after death but of the careful tending of the physical remains.

Now any savage with two eyes in his unkempt head knows that the body is corruptible. After passing through changes which are perturbing to contemplate, the corpse is reduced, within the span of one observer’s lifetime, to a state which bears little resemblance to the human form. We will not be crediting primitive man with too much insight if we assume that he knew the body itself did not survive. Whence, then, did he derive the immense concept of immortality?

At first the visible signs of death resemble those of other phenomena, such as coma or sleep. “Sleep is a little death,” and Thanatos and Hypnos, to many men, are brothers. But the sleeper awakes. And sometimes, in his waking state, he remembers adventures he had while his physical body lay unresponsive and inert on his bed. In his unconscious travels the sleeper is not limited by physical time or space; he may even see friends who no longer exist in the waking world. From such experiences there might arise the concept of a Dweller within the House of the Flesh who can leave the sleeping body to venture abroad and who, at the time of death, abandons its former dwelling forever.

This is not an answer to the question of how the notion of immortality began; it is only a suggestion of a possibility. But most people who have left us any statements of belief imagine a dweller within the body—one or more. They call it by various names; we call it the soul.

The soul outside its body is, of course, invisible, and it is only seen by the living under special conditions. Unseen, it may linger near its old home or it may join other spirits in another place—a place which can be visited by the living in dreams. The views of the dreamland where the dead live vary considerably; sometimes they go down below, sometimes up above. The hereafter may be visualized as a Paradise where the soul enjoys all the pleasures it cherished on earth, only more so, and experiences none of the pain. Sometimes the regions of the dead are sad and gloomy; sometimes they are etherealized and utterly removed from the gross activities of the body.

Blissful Paradise or melancholy Hades, in no culture do the living really look forward to the time when they will go there. The attitude of the living toward death is not ambivalent; they are most heartily against it. But there is an ambivalence to be observed in the attitude of the living toward the dead.

When Mark Twain’s unpleasant undertaker described his exploitation of his customers, he ascribed his success to the application of an unworthy old principle—“keeping up with the Joneses.” But this is only the superficial explanation of why people will beggar themselves to buy equipment which is not only superfluous but slightly obscene. What the undertaker is really exploiting is the ancient ambivalence of the living toward the dead.

On the one hand, there is grief and love which cries out for expression. But mingled with grief and love is a complex of contradictory emotions which people do not so readily admit. Reactions to the corpse itself range from mild distaste to superstitious horror; and since the dead flesh was once the habitation of the beloved soul, the living relatives feel guilty about their repugnance. Another reaction of the living—though few of them will own it—is relief. “Whoever is dead, it is not I. Thank God!” Or, to paraphrase St. Augustine: “Lord, let me join my dear one in Paradise—but not just yet!” This sense of guilty relief has to be paid for—nowadays, apparently, with copper-sheathed, satin-lined coffins.

In The Golden Bough, James Frazer has said—very cogently, I think—that the fear of the dead arises out of the fear of death. If the living rejoice in the fact that they still breathe and eat and love and walk abroad under the sun, they can assume the corollary: that the dead hate not being alive. The malignancy of the dead is a logical next step—a blind malignancy, directed against all the living.

We do not have to leave our own supposedly rational culture to find evidence of the fear of the dead. Few of us would care to spend the night with a dead body as sole company, and we still shun graveyards after dark. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I prefer not to read Poe or Lovecraft when I am alone in the house at night. The ghost story itself specializes, not in kindly spirits, but in malignant specters; its wide appeal testifies to its probing of a deep-seated human emotion. And the principles of the modern ghost story, now relegated to folklore, were part of the tenets of the church not many centuries ago. Indeed, I believe there is still a formula for exorcism in some rituals.

We can jump back over ten thousand years and find the same belief. Among the oldest of all surviving burials, those of prehistoric man, there are a few unusual graves. The skeletons found in them had been laid in painfully cramped positions, knees drawn up against the chest and legs tightly flexed. Such a position could only have been maintained by binding the limbs of the corpse with cords, and it has been suggested that this was done in order to keep the dead man from wandering around and annoying the living.

There is a theory that burial itself did not originate from love or sanitary motives, but from fear. The very notion of inhumation, pinning the body down under earth and stones, may have arisen out of a desire to keep it confined. A more drastic method of restraint is dismemberment, and this too is found occasionally in prehistoric graves. Perhaps cremation was the most effective defense of all; there is no more thorough way of rendering a man powerless than by reducing him to ashes. If cremation and dispersal of the ashes was practiced by prehistoric man, we would naturally have no evidence of it; the partially burned bodies in some ancient graves were not cremated, and in these cases the fires may have been accidental. We cannot recognize cremation burials as such until the ashes are preserved in pots or urns, and by this time the fear of the dead has been superseded, consciously at least, by other motives.

Another method of defense against the dead is propitiation: if you keep them happy and well tended they will not harm, and may even help, you. They will be more favorably inclined, perhaps, if you keep your hands off their property. So, to be on the safe side, you bury it with them, including their women, horses, and slaves. This would explain the “grave goods” which, from earliest times, were buried with the dead. An alternative explanation is that such objects as jewelry, weapons, and wives were sent along with the dead man to be of use to him wherever he was going.

Propitiation has one advantage over violence and destruction as a method of rendering the dead harmless to the living: it does not offend the often simultaneous emotion of grief. The old argument as to whether burial of the dead was first motivated by fear or by affection is pointless; there is no reason why both should not have operated. They are contradictory emotions, perhaps, but they are not mutually exclusive.

One howling inconsistency still stands out. Whether we love them or whether we fear them, we all agree that the dead are dead—that the body is corruptible. Repugnance for the corpse and terror of the bodiless ghost are not the same, and attempts to control the ghost by binding the corpse seem senseless. So does the opposite technique: furnishing the unresponsive, insensible body with elegant tombs and dead slaves.

Yet there is a good deal of sense in the attentions paid to the dead body if we believe in sympathetic magic. Since the soul was once part of the body or intimately associated with it, then the soul can be affected by that which is done to the flesh. This principle is at the basis of many sorceries, those practiced for the benefit of the living as well as the dead. Many of the rituals in honor of the dead are explicable in these terms, including the effort to preserve the corpse and give it, at least temporarily, the appearance of life.

While the principle of sympathetic magic may account for dismemberment or mummification with equal facility, it does not have any bearing on the American way of death. We do not believe in magic. There must be some other reason for our desire to preserve the dead clay and to surround it with comforts which it cannot sense.

Some Christian sects include among the articles of their creeds the phrase: “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” If these words are taken literally, they would account for embalming—indeed, they would justify far greater efforts than the ones we put forth. However, ministers and priests of all sects have been vehement in opposing the ostentation of American funeral customs, and the problems involved in the literal resurrection of the physical body are rationally insoluble. Some of these problems seem rather funny to us, but they were not at all amusing to the medieval theologians who propounded them so earnestly. Take the classic case of the cannibal who is converted to Christianity. He is assured of a resurrection in the flesh if he joins the right church; but whose flesh is it? What about the Christian missionaries whom he absorbed, in his unregenerate days, into that now-hallowed flesh of his? They are entitled to a resurrection in the body too, but someone is going to be missing a part when the Day of Judgment comes around.

When I put the problem of the cannibal to a Jesuit friend, he gave me an answer suited to my simple mind: “But it is not the same body.” The God who made man out of the dust of the earth, and woman out of one of his least important bones can, if He wills it, restore to the blessed any body He wants them to have—“the same body,” if necessary—the cannibal’s body and those of the missionaries, all complete and original. The somber words of Ecclesiastes, “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was,” are resolved by the magnificent paradox of Job: “And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.”

In these terms the preservation of the body is irrelevant, and the American mortuary cult is inexplicable by the words of the very creed which is read over the coffins of the painted and embalmed dead.

I sometimes amuse myself by wondering whether archaeologists of a future day would be able to find our credo in the coffins of our dead. Suppose that by the year A.D. 5000 all written records of our culture are destroyed (not necessarily such a fantastic assumption), but that some of our frail bones do survive. Jones’s guaranteed, lead-lined, moisture-proof coffins may, by pure accident, live up to their claims, and a few bodies may be found in all the bravery of tuxedos, toupees, and plastic surgery. How will the learned scholars of the intergalactic empire of A.D. 5000 interpret the mortuary beliefs of the primitive earthmen of our era? Sympathetic magic is the obvious answer; and perhaps, fantastically, the intergalactic experts may be right. How many of the people who submit to the witch doctors of the modern American mortuary cult do it because they still harbor, deep down in their livers and bowels, some seed of their primitive ancestors’ faith in magic? Is it in the undying superstition of the human race that we must ultimately seek the reason for the American way of death, rather than in the overt appeals to pride, or misapplied piety, or love?

Let us turn now, with some relief, to a simpler cult—that of the ancient Egyptians. It, at least, makes sense in terms of its own expressed premises. Complex and bizarre as it seems, the Egyptian way of death is comprehensible on the basis of a few simple assumptions. The first assumption is that a man, or one aspect of him, can survive physical death. The second is that his postmortem existence is affected by what is done with, and to, his body. Neither of these assumptions is peculiar to Egypt; both form part of a very ancient and very widespread system of belief. In the light of this general background, we will begin with the first premise and ask how, where, and in what form the ancient Egyptian expected to live on after death.


The road which led from Memphis and Thebes to Paradise was beset with perils, and the dead man could not even set foot upon it until he had fulfilled a number of ritual obligations. The fact of death did not make man immortal. A soul was made, not born.

Strictly speaking, there is no concept in ancient Egypt which corresponds to our idea of the soul: an invisible, nonmaterial dweller within the flesh which animates the body during life and leaves it after death to seek what ever fate its owner’s deeds and beliefs have destined it for. The Egyptian texts refer to many nonmaterial aspects of a man as having some sort of existence apart from his body, including his shadow and his name. But there are only three entities which have a consistent application to life after death.

The ba is the easiest of these to describe; it took the form of a bird with a human head, sometimes preceded by a small lighted lamp. Its normal environment was the tomb or its vicinity. We see it perching solicitously on the breast of the mummy or flying down the tomb shaft to rejoin the mummy after a short trip outside. The word “ba” is often translated as “soul” but as a rule it did not come into existence until after death, and even then only as a result of special ceremonies which were designed to “make a man into a ba.”

Another candidate for the word “soul” is the ka. When the creator god Khnum shaped the body of a new child on his potter’s wheel, he also made the child’s ka in its exact image; in relief and in painting the ka is the double of the man to whom it belongs. But the ka is not quite the same as the soul, since it did not necessarily dwell within the body. When a man died, he joined his ka in the hereafter. The ka needed to be nourished; offerings were made to it, and it seems to have been a helper in insuring postmortem existence. It had roles to play in life too, exerting a generally beneficent and protective influence. The concept of the ka is extremely difficult; the variety of ways in which it has been translated shows the lack of agreement as to its precise nature: “double,” “guardian spirit,” “personality,” “vital essence,” “will or power.” However we translate it—and Egyptologists usually prefer not to translate it at all—it was, among other things, one aspect of a man before and after death.


The god Khnum shaping the child and its ka

The third of the trio, the akh, is the most abstract of all. It had no pictorial form. The word is written, in the texts, with the crested ibis, just as “ba” was written with another long-legged bird and “ka” was written with the two upraised arms. But unlike the ba and ka, the akh was never shown in relief or painting. The word can, like ka, mean a number of things, from “effective” and “beneficial” to “glorious.” Sometimes it is rendered as “spirit,” or “transfigured spirit.” Often the word is used in the plural, as we use “the dead” or “the blessed” to refer to an impersonalized group. It is at once the vaguest and the most spiritualized of all the Egyptian words for the dead.

There is no point in trying to distinguish between these three forms of the spiritual man in logical terms. We cannot say that under condition A he might become a ba, while conditions B and C necessitated his appearance as ka and akh, respectively. There is considerable overlap in the way the words are used.

We will not be surprised to discover that the Egyptians were no more consistent in their views of the hereafter than they were about the soul. We find almost the complete range, from a subterranean to a heavenly paradise; and the god of the dead may be celestial or chthonic.

Many of the gods and goddesses of Egypt had parts to play in the mortuary ritual, but some of them are specifically connected with the dead. Anubis the jackal-headed was the guide of the dead and the patron of cemeteries and embalming; he was a kindly deity despite his predatory head. Wepwawet of Assiut and Khentiamentiu of Abydos were also mortuary gods. Chief of them all, ruler of the regions of the dead, was Osiris. Plutarch has given us the oldest complete version of his story. The Egyptians never wrote it down, but they referred to it constantly, and despite minor discrepancies, the Greek and the Egyptians agree on the main points.

Osiris was an ancient king of Egypt who brought his people out of savagery, teaching them the arts of civilization and ruling them with benevolent kindness. Everyone loved him, including his sister-wife, Isis, with one exception. His brother Set grew jealous and decided Osiris must die. Set and his adherents tricked the good king into lying down in a chest, which they promptly covered, nailed up, and threw into the water. The grieving wife, Isis, set out on a long and arduous search for her husband’s body. Finally she found the chest at Byblos, where the sea had carried it, and brought it back to Egypt. In a lonely spot in the marshes she opened the chest and threw herself on her husband’s body, weeping bitterly. The gods, pitying her grief, sent for Anubis to come and embalm the corpse. But first they revived Osiris sufficiently to impregnate his wife, so that she gave birth to a son called Horus. One day Set, out hunting, found the chest and its contents. This time he tore the body into fourteen pieces and scattered them up and down the length of Egypt. Patiently Isis set out again to collect them. She buried each piece of the body in the place where she found it; according to some versions of the story the head was buried in Abydos, hence this city became particularly sacred to Osiris. Other versions say that the god’s entire body was buried there. Resurrected by the mercy of the gods, Osiris was set to rule over the dead in the Land of the Westerners, and his son, Horus, grown to manhood, fought his wicked uncle and regained his father’s throne. The second sister of Osiris, Nephthys, often joined Isis in her search and in her mourning, despite the fact that she was the wife of Set.

Osiris belongs to a class which is well known, particularly in the Near East—the dying gods. His spiritual cousins are Tammuz and Adonis and Attis, fine young men whose premature deaths symbolize the annual death of vegetation, and whose resurrection is seen in the young green sprouts of the new crop. The appeal in the stories of Osiris and the other dying gods is obvious; here was a man who died, and who lived again. In his story there was hope for all men.

Osiris was not, however, the only king of the dead in Egypt. The withering of the grass suggests death, and so does the daily progress of the sun, which vanishes each night behind the western horizon. If the region of death is the west, then the east is, inescapably, the place of resurrection; for with the dawn comes the rebirth of the dying sun god, Re.

Two supreme gods of the dead, and two afterworlds governed by them, are not so terribly inconsistent in themselves. Different elements of the population might have held different beliefs. But knowing the Egyptians as—I hope—we have come to know them, we will not expect to find the situation so clear. And it is not.

We can only guess about the prehistoric religion of Egypt; by the time we get a fairly coherent picture of the cult of the dead we find the Osiris faith and the solar faith existing side by side. Not only is there official acceptance of two gods of the dead, but any inner consistency is missing. The heavenly realm governed by Re is somewhere up in the sky, but he also passes through the underworld, which ought to be Osiris’s sole responsibility. Re dies in the west each night, but he is not “Lord of the Westerners” that title belongs to Osiris, who borrowed it from an even older mortuary god.

There are hints in the Pyramid Texts, the oldest body of mortuary texts known, that Re and Osiris were not always so compatible. A few puzzling passages in that great compilation of magico-religious spells speak of Osiris as an enemy; other passages reject the east, the region sacred to Re’s resurrection. But these elusive hints are the only evidence we have of what may have been, at one time, a battle royal between two opposing cults, and it is impossible to attribute one cult to one part of the population and one to another. Some scholars believed that the solar faith was that of the king and the court, while the religion of Osiris belonged to the people. Neat as this theory is, it cannot be proved. Osiris and Re together were guardians of the king and of his people. Either or both could guarantee eternal life in the west—or the east—or the underworld.

All three regions are mentioned as locations for the realm of the dead. Another possible direction is north; for here lie the circumpolar stars, which never set, and one fate the dead may anticipate is to join these starry immortals. This concept is rather remote and etherealized; the Egyptians enjoyed the pleasures of life as much as, if not more than, we do, and they were just as susceptible to a super-earthly heaven, well supplied with tasty haunches of beef, foaming jugs of beer, sweet northern breezes, and a nice little house with a garden.

All these pleasant things could be found in the most comprehensible of the Egyptian versions of Paradise, a place called the Field, or Marsh, of Reeds. It seems to be a swampy region, rather like the scenery of the ancient Delta. Some texts contain little maps of the Field of Reeds, with rivers and islands and towns. In this happy land the grain grew ten cubits high and other supplies were equally lavish.

Then there was a region known as the Dat, or Duat. Eventually this came to be located under the earth, but originally it was a typical Egyptian paradise in that it could have been almost anywhere. Water is a frequent feature of the afterworlds, in the form of rivers or lakes; the Lily Lake, in the eastern sky, had to be crossed by the dead before they could reach the court of Re, if that was their destination. Names for the next world were as numerous as they were poetic—the Land of the Westerners, the Beautiful Roads of the West, the Field of Offerings, the Land of Eternity.

Perhaps the Egyptian was not so much concerned with where he lived as with living itself. He would accept any place, any position, so long as he could win life thereby. The celestial circuit of the sun, which was sometimes viewed as a boat sailing the heavens, presented many possibilities for the dead man. He might become a rower in this boat of Re’s, or carry a spear in order to fight the enemies of the god. If he was particularly fortunate, he would be invited to sit beside Re while other, less well-equipped spirits toiled at the oars. If he journeyed to join the gods in their abodes, east or west, he would take any job that was open—he would be the god’s secretary or servant.

The Egyptians were generally cheerful souls; their versions of the hereafter, divergent as they are in geography, generally agree on one thing. The Land of Eternity is “just and fair, without troubles.” The dead are the “transfigured spirits,” whom their mourning relatives expect to join in everlasting bliss.

Now and again, though, we detect a sour note in the hymns of praise. The regions of darkness under the earth, where the dead are sometimes thought to dwell, are illumined by the sun god when he passes through them on his way to the eastern horizon to be reborn in glory; but his light gives no comfort to these dead, and they weep pitifully to see the waning of his splendor. In these dark realms the sun god’s boat encounters fearful dangers—hideous serpents attack it, and demons must be fought off by force of arms. Here too, according to some references, there is a river of fire, where the souls of the enemies of Re burn in everlasting torment. And one text gives a discordant, and very poignant, picture of the land of the “happy and just”:

Deep and dark is the dwelling place of the inhabitants of the West. It has no door and no window, no light to brighten it, no north wind to refresh the heart. The sun does not rise therein; each day they lie in darkness…. Those who are in the West, they are set apart and their existence is misery. One is loath to go and join them.

One is loath indeed. “As I love life and hate death” is a common adjuration in ancient Egyptian; it is a candid expression of the fear and doubt that must have lurked, skull-like, under the bright face of faith. Nowhere, I think, are these doubts expressed more eloquently than in one brief sentence from an Egyptian text: “None has returned from there, to tell us how they fare.” These simple words have always epitomized, for me, the doubts which are surely as universal as the belief, founded in desperate desire, in eternal life.

One interesting facet of the Egyptian language, which I suppose we could interpret as a psychological trait if we wanted to, is its reluctance to mention death. Ancient Egyptian had a word which meant “to die,” but it was usually avoided in favor of any one of a dozen different euphemisms. When a king died he “went to join his father the sun,” or “mingled with the gods,” or “rested from life.” In a land so dependent on water transportation, an image involving boats came readily to mind. Death was the time when “the mooring stake was driven in”—the final landing.

The ultimate proof of the Egyptians’ fear of death is the mortuary cult itself—not only the time and money spent on tombs, coffins, and other paraphernalia, but the fantastically imaginative attention to detail, which anticipated any possible—and some impossible—dangers that might prevent the resurrection so urgently desired. Death was an enemy, to be fought and conquered. And sometimes the dead too were hostile.

The prayer we quoted at the beginning of this book is a prayer against malevolent spirits. Sickness, as all Egyptian physicians knew, could be caused by the hatred of a dead man or dead woman, as well as by other hostile agencies. Most fascinating of all our sources are the texts called “letters to the dead.” Scribbled on rough pots, they were “mailed” by being deposited in a tomb. Here are excerpts from one of them, written by a man to his deceased wife:

To the excellent spirit, Ankhere. What evil thing have I done to you, that I should have come into this wretched state in which I am? What have I done to you? What you have done is that you have laid hands on me!…I made you a married woman, when I was a youth; I was with you, and I did not put you away. I did not cause your heart to grieve…. When you became ill, of the illness which you had, I [sent for] a master physician…. I wept exceedingly, with all my retinue, before all my neighbors. And I gave you linen cloths to wrap you, and I caused many cloths to be made, and I neglected no good thing that could be done for you. And now, look, I have spent three years living alone…. And, look, I did it because of you. But, look, you don’t know good from bad. It will be decided between you and me! And, look, the sisters in the house, I have not entered into one of them!

The writer’s extreme mental anguish even affected his spelling; the original is full of careless mistakes. The poor fellow reminds his wife of his many kindnesses to her, including the services of a good doctor during her last illness. As is common in Egyptian texts, the unpleasant fact of death is never explicitly stated; but the husband says he grieved publicly for his wife and gave her a good burial. Furthermore—and this obviously preys on his mind—not only has he remained unmarried for three long years, but he has not even had relations with any of the women in the house. Yet in spite of his kindness to his wife, she has afflicted him with some unnamed but awful fate; and he threatens to call her up for judgment in the tribunal of the gods.

Obviously this man regards his dead wife as living on and as capable—in every sense of the word—of doing him an injury. They may have been as happy together as his letter implies; but catastrophic, undeserved bad luck could only be explained by the malice of some spirit.

It has been claimed that the Egyptians were not really afraid of the dead as a group. They feared only particular people who, having been unpleasant during life, might be equally nasty after they were dead. Yet the letters to the dead do not really bear out this theory. The afflicted husband, in the letter we have quoted, is outraged precisely because he had never given his wife cause to harm him and had no reason to expect her to do so. The argument that Egyptian tombs would not have been desecrated in such an efficient, wholehearted fashion if the robbers had been afraid of their occupants is not conclusive either; there are always people in any culture whose greed, or need, gives them enough intestinal fortitude to risk the sanctions the society sets up against antisocial behavior. We are supposed to have a healthy respect for the law and for policemen, but our jails are full of people who managed to rise above this inhibition. In many of the rifled tombs the mummies have been brutally hacked apart in a manner as shocking as it was unnecessary; but this ferocity is understandable if we assume that the robbers believed they could protect themselves against the revenge of the violated dead by dismembering their bodies.

So in the Egyptian faith we find, in addition to the inconsistency we have come to expect, a wide range of attitudes toward death and the dead. But we also find a unifying theme: the desire for survival in some, perhaps any, form. Let us go on to see how this survival was attained, and what a man had to do and possess in order to be “made into a living ba.”

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