Ancient Egypt: The judgment of the dead
For best results save the whole web page (pictures included) onto your hard disk, open the page with Word 97 or higher, edit if necessary and print.
Printing using the browser's print function is not recommended.
The Judgment of the DeadThe 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 :
Teti will decide matters,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 , and the 6th dynasty Instruction of Merikare contains the following warning to the living:
The Court that judges the wretch,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 youand he became a judge of men himself:
I shall see lightland! I shall dwell in it. I shall judge the poor and the wealthy.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.
PreliminariesThe 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!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 negative confessionsHe has to confront a formidable array of gods: Bone-Crusher, Shining-Tooth, Blood-Consumer, Flint-Eyes, Entrail-Consumer  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.
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.
The weighing of the heartAnubis, 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 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 hippopotamusis 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!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 judgmentThoth, 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?"
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.
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.
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.
[ ] The pictures on this page are excerpts, courtesy Jon Bodsworth
 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
 Coffin Texts 4, Jacob Rabinowitz, Isle of Fire, Invisible Books, p.82
 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!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. 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 Ceremony|
|Index of topics|
|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, Chapter 125|
| The Papyrus of Ani, translated by Budge|
| Texts From the Pyramid of Unas|
|Le payrus d'Ani|
|Feedback: please report broken links, mistakes - factual or otherwise, etc. to me. Thanks.|