The Lafayette College Papyrus has been identified as an example of the “First Book of Breathings,” a funerary ritual dating from the Graeco-Roman period in Egypt. The Book of Breathings was used in burials and served to identify the deceased in the afterlife, while also ensuring the deceased’s continued life after death. Placed in the hands of the deceased before burial, the text described the significance of breath and helped plead the case that the deceased has led a good life, thus assisting him with journey into the next world.
The late professor Jan Quaegebeur of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium has linked the Lafayette Papyrus to another papyrus at the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung in the Neues Museum in Berlin. According to Professor Quaegebeur: “The style of the vignettes and the handwriting of the hieratic text show that this papyrus was written by the same scribe who wrote the papyrus Berlin 3135, also a ‘First Book of Breathings.’ From the genealogical information provided by papyrus Berlin 3135 and the Lafayette papyrus, I conclude that the owners of the papyri were closely related. Probably the owner of the Lafayette papyrus is the father of the person to whom papyrus Berlin 3135 belongs. All this information makes it possible to date the Lafayette papyrus in the 1st cent. BC -1st cent. AD.”
Acquired in Thebes in 1858, the Lafayette Papyrus was donated to the college by an alumnus in the 1870s. It now resides in the Kirby Art Study Center at the Williams Center for the Arts.