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Ancient Egypt: The judgment of the dead
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The Judgment of the Dead

    The tradition of the Judgment of the Dead was introduced after the collapse of the Old Kingdom, during which the king as son of Horus had been immortal and as god beyond reproach. In the Pyramid Texts it was the king who was acting rather than being acted upon, and the role of the gods was to protect and not to judge him [5]:
Teti will decide matters,
Will judge between two,
Teti will command one greater than he!
Re will purify Teti,
Re will guard Teti from all evil!
M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol.1, p.44
    But, as ordinary mortals began to hope and prepare for eternal life, "deification" was made conditional on the moral conduct of the deceased when he had still been alive. It became possible for all righteous people to attain immortality in their own right - after successfully passing the examination of the gods.
    The Coffin Texts speak of the day of judgement when you enter the further world [4], and the 6th dynasty Instruction of Merikare contains the following warning to the living:
The Court that judges the wretch,
You know they are not lenient,
On the day of judging the miserable,
In the hour of doing their task.
It is painful when the accuser has knowledge,
Do not trust in length of years,
They view a lifetime in an hour!
M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol.1, p.101
    Once the deceased had been justified in the eyes of the immortals he became worthy of divine protection and guidance:
May Isis kneel over you and wash your newborn form, may she set you
on the good path of those who are judged innocent
in the face of any enemies who'd accuse you before the judges of Tomb-world,
on the blessed day you pass beyond.
Coffin Texts, CT 6
Jacob Rabinowitz, Isle of Fire, Invisible Books, p.90
and he became a judge of men himself:
I shall see lightland! I shall dwell in it. I shall judge the poor and the wealthy.
I shall do the same for the evil-doers; for mine is life, I am its lord, and the scepter will not be taken from me.
Coffin Texts, CT 1030
M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol.1, p.132
    During pre-historic times and the Old Kingdom there had been attempts at preserving - mainly royal - corpses. The practice became more common during the First Intermediate Period and the Middle Kingdom as the concept of immortality was developed. Mummification through embalmment reached a technical peak during the New Kingdom when it was still available to small numbers of people only. The spells protecting the deceased, one could almost speak of technical literature or manuals, had at first been inscribed on the tomb walls of kings (Pyramid Texts), later on the coffins of commoners (Coffin Texts) and finally, during the New Kingdom, been gathered and expanded in illustrated scrolls commonly known under the title Going Forth by Day or popularly as Books of the Dead, which were buried with the deceased.
The folowing is based on such a Book of the Dead, the Papyrus of Ani.


    The deceased has been mummified, his heart and other organs removed and placed into the appropriate canopic jars. Incense has been burnt and offerings of food and drink made. The use of his mouth has been returned to him by the opening of the mouth ceremony: He can and must defend himself successfully, otherwise he will be destroyed for ever.
Homage to you, Great God, the Lord of the double Ma'at!
I have come to you, my Lord,
I have brought myself here to behold your beauties.
I know you, and I know your name.
                                                The Book of the Dead, Chapter 125 [1]
    There is nobody at whose mercy he can throw himself, confessing transgressions, expressing repentance and performing acts of contrition. Wrongdoings must therefore be denied, as in the not very aptly named negative confessions, and through the magic of denial become as if they never have happened:
- - The deceased facing the gods
- -  

The negative confessions

    He has to confront a formidable array of gods: Bone-Crusher, Shining-Tooth, Blood-Consumer, Flint-Eyes, Entrail-Consumer [1] and many others with less frightening names assembled here from many places all over Egypt. He declares himself innocent of wrong-doing towards the gods and his fellow men.
    These protestations of guiltlessness of trespasses against society and cultic rules remained remarkably unchanged during the course of history. They, and similar passages in the Instructions literature, are accepted as being the standard of ancient Egyptian ethical behaviour.[7]
    The writing down of these declarations and the knowledge of the gods' names was powerful magic, forcing the gods to accept his protestations of innocence, above all when they were repeated:
I am pure.
I am pure.
I am pure.
I am pure.
                The Book of the Dead, Chapter 125 [1]

The weighing of the heart

Anubis leading the deceased     Anubis, master of ceremonies, leads the deceased by his hand to the scales in the Hall of Maat. In his left hand he holds the ankh, the symbol of life.
Pay good heed to the weighing in the Balance of the heart of the Osiris, the singing-woman of Amen, Anhai, whose word is truth, and place thou her heart in the seat of truth in the presence of the Great God.
The Papyrus of Ani [2],
from the speech of the dweller in the embalmment chamber (Anubis)
Scales weighing the deceased's heart-     The scales are topped by Maat, goddess of Justice, Truth and Order, wearing a feather on her head. Ammut, Devourer of the Dead, whose
... forepart is like that of a crocodile, the middle of her body is like that of a lion, her hind quarters are like those of a hippopotamus
The Papyrus of Ani [2],
from the description of the beast Am-mit
is ready to destroy the deceased if his heart should be full of sin and consequently too heavy.
    The deceased, well aware that he has not led a life as completely blameless as one might have hoped, implores his heart not to give him away, reminds it that their fate is intertwined, promises bliss in the hereafter, and even appeals to its altruism: a judge is happiest when his decision is favourable to the deceased.
O my heart of my being!
Do not rise up against me as witness,
Do not oppose me in the tribunal,
Do not rebel against me before the guardian of the scales!
You are my
ka within my body,
The Khnum who prospers my limbs.
Go to the good place prepared for us,
Do not make my name stink before them,
The magistrates who put people in their places!
If it's good for us it's good for the judge,
It pleases him who renders judgment.
Do not invent lies before the god,
Before the great god, the lord of the west,
Lo, your uprightness brings vindication!
The Papyrus of Ani [2]
M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol.2 p.121
    A jar containing the heart is placed on one of the pans, while the other is weighed down by the feather of Maat. Anubis does the weighing, giving the scales a nudge in the right direction with the ankh.

The recording of the judgment

Thoth recording the findings     Thoth, god of wisdom who had given mankind the hieroglyphs, writes down the decision. Just as the Egyptians in this world liked to document everything, so did their gods in the next.
"Come," says Thoth, "why have you come?"
"I have come and I press forward so that I may be announced."
"What now is your condition?"
"I am purified from evil things, I am protected from the evil deeds of those who live in their days: I am not among them."
"Now I will announce you. But who is he whose heaven is fire, whose walls are cobras, and whose floor is a stream of water? Who is he, I say?"
"He is Osiris."
"Come forward, then, you will be announced to him. Your cakes will come from the Eye of Ra, your beer from the Eye, your meals of the dead from the Eye. This has been decreed for the Osiris the overseer of the house of the overseer of the seal, Nu, triumphant."
The Book of the Dead, Chapter 125 [1]
Horus leading the justified deceased before Osiris-     Horus leads the way, holding an ankh. The deceased follows him freely to meet Osiris, with whom he will be identified as one of his followers.
His heart is righteous, and it hath come forth from the Balance; it hath not sinned against any god or any goddess. Thoth hath weighed it according to the decree pronounced unto him by the Company of the Gods, and it is most true and righteous. Grant thou that cakes and ale may be given unto him, and let him appear in the presence of the god Osiris, and let him be like into the Followers of Horus for ever and ever.
The Papyrus of Ani [2],
from the speech of Horus to Osiris introducing Ani to him
Osiris, Isis, Nephthys, the sons of Horus     He is received by the god of the Duat, the Realm of the Dead, and his two sisters, Isis and Nephthys. The four sons of Horus stand on a lotus flower growing out of the waters over which stands the throne of Osiris.
Behold, I am in thy presence, O Lord of Amentet (the West). There is no sin in my body. I have not spoken that which is not true knowingly, nor have I done anything with a false heart. Grant thou that I may be like unto those favoured ones who are in thy following, and that I may be an Osiris greatly favoured of the beautiful god, and beloved of the Lord of the Two Lands, I who am a veritable royal scribe who loveth thee, Ani, whose word is true before the god Osiris.
The Papyrus of Ani [2],
from the speech of Ani

    And now begins the dangerous journey of the new Osiris through the Underworld. Thanks to the Opening of the Mouth ceremony he is capable to utter the spells necessary to complete his journey
Behold, I will gather together to myself this charm from the person with whom it is [and from the place] wherein it is [and it shall come to me] quicker than a greyhound, and swifter than light.
Hail, thou who bringest the Ferry-Boat of Ra, thou holdest thy course firmly and directly in the north wind as thou sailest up the river towards the Island of Fire which is in Khert-Neter (the necropolis, i.e. the realm of the dead).
Behold, thou shalt gather together to thee this charm from wheresoever it may be, and from whomsoever it may be with [and it shall come to me] quicker than a greyhound, and swifter than light. It (the charm) made the transformations of Mut; it fashioned the gods [or] kept them silent; by it Mut gave the warmth [of life] to the gods. Behold, these words of power are mine, and they shall come unto me from wheresoever they may be, or with whomsoever they may be, quicker than greyhounds and swifter than light.
The Papyrus of Ani [2],
from the Chapter of bringing words of power to the Osiris Ani


[ ] The pictures on this page are excerpts, courtesy Jon Bodsworth
[3] The fourteen gods whom Ani faces in the top picture are: Ra , Atem, Shu, Tefnut, Geb, Nut, Horus, Isis, Nephthys, Nourishment, Knowledge, Southern Path, Northern Path, Western Path
[4] Coffin Texts 4, Jacob Rabinowitz, Isle of Fire, Invisible Books, p.82
[5] The Place of Annihilation already exists in the 5th dynasty Unas Pyramid Texts (Utterance 307), but its doors should not be opened for Unas who does not need judging. Just to make sure, a long line of gods are told:
He has not been judged, this Unas has not been judged! He judges, this Unas judges!
Utterance 219
J.D. Degreef after texts from translations by Faulkner, Piankoff and Speleer [6]
In Utterance 260, line 316, it appears as if the king wished to be justified for having lived a blameless life. But his wanting to be justified could refer to the court case in line 317 adjudicated by the Two Truths which is not a judgment of the dead.
(316) To say the words : 'O Geb, Bull of Nut, Horus is Unas, the heir of his father. Unas is he who went and came back, the fourth of these four gods who have brought the water, who have made a purification, who jubilate over the strength of their fathers. He wishes to be justified in what he has done himself. (317) Unas, the small orphan, went to law with the sister (Tefnet). The Two Truths judged, while Shu was a witness. The Two Truths have decreed that the thrones of Geb should come to him and that he should raise himself to what he wanted.
J.D. Degreef after texts from translations by Faulkner, Piankoff and Speleer [6]
[7] Stadler, Martin A., 2008, "Judgment after Death (Negative Confession)" in Jacco Dieleman and Willeke Wendrich (eds.), UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, Los Angeles.

- The Opening of the Mouth CeremonyThe Opening of the Mouth Ceremony
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Offsite links(Opening in a new window)
These are just suggestions for further reading. I do not assume any responsibility for the availability or content of these websites
The Coming into Day[1] The Coming into Day, Chapter 125
The Papyrus of Ani[2] The Papyrus of Ani, translated by Budge
Le payrus d'Ani[6] Texts From the Pyramid of Unas
Le payrus d'AniLe payrus d'Ani

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© October 2001
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