Funerary Arts

Photo courtesy of Roemer und Pelizaeus Museum
A set of four canopic jars
Late Period, Dynasty 27-30, 656-332 B.C.
Limestone, from Abusir el-Melek

One assumes that the first thing an ancient Egyptian pharaoh did after his coronation was to begin work on his tomb. Indeed, the tombs of the ancient Egyptians with their lavishly decorated chambers and sumptuous furnishings have prompted some moderns to remark that the ancient Egyptians really believed that they could "take it all with them." Such a characterization of the materialism of the ancient Egyptians is so prevalent that few stop to ask about the religious basis for such funerary practices.

On the basis of their preserved religious papyrus documents, one learns that the ancient Egyptians were among the most moral and ethical peoples of the ancient world.

In order for an ancient Egyptian to enjoy the benefits heaped up in the tomb in the Hereafter, they first had to convince the Assessor Deities in the Hall of Judgment that they had been genuine human beings on earth and had acted in socially responsible ways.

They were obliged to testify in accordance with the spells of The Negative Confession in the Book of the Dead, that they had "not abused the orphan, had not taken advantage of the widow and had not deprived the thirsty of water, the hungry of food, the naked of clothing." If the ancient Egyptians did not live up to these high standards of behavior, their hearts would be thrown to the Great Devourer, who would gobble them up.

The deceased was then utterly destroyed forever. The lavish tomb and its furnishing would be of no avail. The right to resurrection in the Hereafter was, consequently, linked to qualities of highest social concerns.

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