The Book of the Dead is an ancient Egyptian text that gives instructions regarding the afterlife. There is no single definitive version, but rather a number of texts that may be referred to by this name, often customized for a particular decedent. "The Book of the Dead" is not a translation of the text's Egyptian title, but an invention of German Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius, who published translated portions of the book in 1842. The Egyptian name for the texts is The Book of Coming Forth By Day.
The texts contained spells intended to help the decedent in the afterlife. Some were meant to please the gods, while others were meant to prevent certain misfortunes from befalling the dead person as he or she entered the afterlife. The Book of the Dead also provided an overview of what would happen after death according to Egyptian religious belief. One of the best known images associated with the book is one in which the god of the dead, Anubis, places the heart of the deceased in a scale to weigh it against a feather of truth.
Many portions of the Book of the Dead are common to nearly all versions, but most texts in this genre are customized for a specific funeral. The appropriate spells to include differed according to the deceased's wealth and social status, for example. There are four main categories used to classify the texts, though each extant version is unique. These categories are the Heliopolitan version, the Theban version, a third version with no fixed order of chapters that is closely related to the Theban texts, and the Saite version.
The earliest known versions of the Book of the Dead date from the beginning of the 18th Egyptian Dynasty, in the 16th century BCE. Portions of earlier funerary texts, the Coffin Texts and the Pyramid Texts, were incorporated into these early versions. The book became more standardized over the centuries, and the latest versions, dating from after the 26th Dynasty of the 7th and 6th centuries BCE, show a stricter and more consistent order.