The written materials on hell that survive from the Egyptian period (c. 27051070 BCE) generally belong to a body of work prepared as guidebooks for the dead in the otherworld and inscribed on their tombs, sarcophagi or coffins, so that they would be close at hand in the afterlife.
They include descriptions of what the dead might find and various spells to be used throughout the journey. What we now regard as texts, however, are various elements gathered together through the circumstances of their inscription and discovery. These fragments have been compiled and treated as independent and integral texts, but they do not necessarily originate from the same period and were probably often combined and recombined and sometimes lost throughout a long history that we can only guess at. These were very popular works throughout this long history and are the largest body of surviving Egyptian texts.
THE OLD KINGDOM (26642155 BCE). These are known as the Pyramid Texts and comprise rituals and spells inscribed on the subterranean walls and sarcophagi from nine Old Kingdom royal tombs.
THE MIDDLE KINGDOM (21541845 BCE). These are often reworkings and expansions of the spells found among the Pyramid texts. Despite the fact that they are referred to as the Coffin Texts, besides being inscribed on over 200 coffins, they were inscribed on many other objects from various sites, including papyri, masks, chests, biers, statues and stelae, at any time between the Old Kingdom and the New Kingdom (21551750). There are over 250 manuscripts and 1185 spells, which bedevil any organization. During this period the belief in a Judgment of the Dead and in the possibility of an afterlife for those outside the royal family became widespread.
1. The Book of Two Ways (or Book of the Ways of Rosetau) dates from at least early Middle Kingdom and probably earlier. It derives from inscriptions discovered in Barsha (Bersheh, Middle Egypt) on 22 non-royal coffins probably prepared for high officials and their wives. But these distinctions are problematic, since some texts originally used by royalty had more general usage in later periods. Although the Book of Two Ways does not describe hell specifically, it does describe the seven demons who are the gate keepers of the netherworld: the one who stretches out the prow-rope; the one who cuts them down; the one who eats the excrement of his rear; the opposed-face, noisy; the upside-down-face, numerous-of-forms; the one-who-lives-on-worms; and Ikenty. Their names and the brief description of their mission reveals the dangers that the dead face when they travel through these gates.
THE NEW KINGDOM (17501070 BCE). These texts often survive on papyrus, although papyrus texts are found in all periods. The necropolis of Thebes (modern Luxor) yielded many of the best examples of these texts.
2. The Book of Amduat (or Am-Tuat; also known as the Book of the Hidden Room or the Book of That Which Is in the Underworld) (Eighteenth Dynasty, 15521306 BCE). Two registers of this book address the fate of the damned in the region of the dead. In register 3, the damned are separated from the rest of the dead and barred from continuing their journey along the River of Tuat. In register 5, Ra exhorts the gods of the underworld in their duty to annihilate the damned.
3. The Book of Gates (Nineteenth Dynasty, 13151201 BCE). This book is probably the most important source for our knowledge of the fate of the damned in the Egyptian land of the dead. In registers 2, 8 and 9, the dead are denounced, and the creatures of these realm inflict its torments and horrors restraining, imprisoning, confining, and fettering until finally fire and dismemberment render the deceased non-existent, extinguishing all hope of resurrection from Aduat with the morning sun.
4. The Book of the Dead (or of Going Forth by Day), (Nineteenth Dynasty, 13151201 BCE). As with the Book of Two Ways, but even more vividly, the Book of the Dead cryptically conjures up the demons who might be encountered in the otherworld. This book, also named the Papyrus of Ani, after its scribe, is a collection of approximately 192 spells to be used in the netherworld to avoid evil. Since even mentioning hell might bring misfortune down on the deceased, there are no specific references to it in the Book of the Dead. Spell 125, however, presents a negative confession for the deceased to use in addressing all of the creatures of Tuat who might possibly inflict punishment. Just in its manner of addressing these creatures, the spell reveals their evil natures and powers.
5. The Book of the Earth (12131152 BCE).The pieces that form this work describe a place of darkness, shadow and flame. Here the condemned are slaughtered and annihilated by being bound, dismembered and decapitated, before being cast into boiling cauldrons and pits of fire.
6. The Book of Caverns (11861069 BCE). Six registers describe the dark place of annihilation where the condemned encounter their non-existence. Here, where they are depicted variously as upside-down, bound, kneeling or plunging headlong, their heads are cut off and their hearts are cut out and both are cast into cauldrons over flames. In this book the first condemned females appear and suffer similar fates to those of their male counterparts.