The Egyptian Book of the Dead is not, in fact, a single book, but a collection of scrolls and other documents which include rituals, spells, and prayers found in the ancient Egyptian religion. Because this was a funerary text, copies of the various spells and prayers were often entombed with the dead at the time of burial. Often, they were commissioned by kings and priests to be customized for use at death. The scrolls which survive today were written by a variety of authors over the course of several hundred years, and include the Coffin Texts and the earlier Pyramid Texts.
Documents which are included in the Book of the Dead were discovered in the 1400s, but were not translated until the beginning of the nineteenth century. At that time, French researcher Jean Francois Champollion was able to decipher enough of the hieroglyphics to determine that what he was reading was in fact a funerary ritual text. A number of other French and British translators worked on the papyri over the next hundred or so years.
In 1885, E.A. Wallis Budge of the British Museum presented another translation, which is still widely cited today. However, the Budge translation has come under fire by a number of scholars, who state that Budge’s work was based on flawed interpretations of the original hieroglyphics. There is also some question about whether Budge’s translations were actually done by his students and then passed off as his own work; this tends to imply that there may have been a lack of accuracy in some portions of the translation when it was first presented. In the years since Budge published his version of the Book of the Dead, great advances have been made in the understanding of early Egyptian language.
Today, many students of Kemetic religion recommend Raymond Faulkner’s translation, entitled The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth by Day.