American “Book of the Dead”

Although ancient Egyptian and modern American societal values differ in many ways, the Egyptian “Book of the Dead” contains truths that stand even in modern times.  Through the Egyptian “Book of the Dead,” the important aspects of Egyptian culture are made apparent. The Egyptians inadvertently created a list of societal values through their Book of the Dead, leaving a transcript for later cultures to create their own set of values and principles. Although Americans express their values in different ways, the underlying concept between the Egyptian “Book of the Dead” and American forms of societal expression are the same.

The Egyptians were unique in many ways in how they formatted their qualifications of a good afterlife. For example, in the “Book of the Dead” translation by E.A. Wallis Budge, he mentions that two of the qualifications to live a good afterlife in ancient Egypt were to state that “I have not caught fish with the bait of their bodies” and “I have not cheated in measuring of grain.” These examples show the strong value that the Egyptians placed on conserving their resources and food sources so that their people were insured healthy and prosperous lives.  In another sense, several qualifications such as “I have not oppressed (or wrong) [my] kinsfolk” or “I have not taken away the milk from the mouths of the babes” exemplifies the importance that Egyptians placed on nurturing and respecting the family unit. Furthermore, the Egyptians listed several pleas in their “Book of the Dead” that related to religion. Tenants such as “I have not stolen the offerings of the spirits” or “I have not done the things which the gods abominate” recount that Egyptians were focused on religion and pleasing the gods throughout their everyday lives. 

Modern American values, although similar in some regards, mostly take on different forms within its society. One of the biggest differences between Egyptian societal standards and American societal standards comes from the discrepancies in value placed upon resources.  Egyptians, in their agricultural based society, were extremely keen on maintaining and utilizing resources to their full potential. However, in the capitalistic and consumer-crazed American culture, the average person over consumes and generally is not focused on conserving resources and their environment.  Additionally, Egyptian and American values placed on family are quite different. Egyptians built a strong case on the importance of respecting the family, nurturing your children, and providing for their needs. Conversely, there is a standard in American culture that parents tend to focus a lot of time in their respective careers, children are more independent, and stereotypical gender roles are not always met.

By looking at American culture as a whole, one could create an American version of the Egyptian “Book of the Dead” that similarly shows values within modern society. For example, “I did not drop out of college, so as to ruin my chances of a good career” shows the value that Americans place on education and work life. In regards to the American values of sports and competition, “I did not skip out on watching the Titans beat the Ravens” would be a tenant used in the American “Book of the Dead.” Similarly, “I did not forget to exercise my right to vote” demonstrates the value of citizenship, “I have not forgotten to share my wealth with others” shows the value of giving back to the community, and “I did not live as a close-minded individual” demonstrates the values of tolerance and acceptance. 

—Xavier Evans

Word Count: 578

The Book of the Dead, translated by E.A. Wallis Budge. 

https://www.internationalstudent.com/study_usa/way-of-life/american-culture/

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