The judgement of the dead

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Illustration

by Trustees of the British Museum
published on 26 April 2012

From Thebes, Egypt
19th Dynasty, around 1275 BC

The judgement of the dead in the presence of Osiris

This is an excellent example of one of the many fine vignettes (illustrations) from the Book of the Dead of Hunefer.

The scene reads from left to right. To the left, Anubis brings Hunefer into the judgement area. Anubis is also shown supervizing the judgement scales. Hunefer's heart, represented as a pot, is being weighed against a feather, the symbol of Maat, the established order of things, in this context meaning 'what is right'. The ancient Egyptians believed that the heart was the seat of the emotions, the intellect and the character, and thus represented the good or bad aspects of a person's life. If the heart did not balance with the feather, then the dead person was condemned to non-existence, and consumption by the ferocious 'devourer', the strange beast shown here which is part-crocodile, part-lion, and part-hippopotamus.

However, as a papyrus devoted to ensuring Hunefer's continued existence in the Afterlife is not likely to depict this outcome, he is shown to the right, brought into the presence of Osiris by his son Horus, having become 'true of voice' or 'justified'. This was a standard epithet applied to dead individuals in their texts. Osiris is shown seated under a canopy, with his sisters Isis and Nephthys. At the top, Hunefer is shown adoring a row of deities who supervise the judgement.

R.O. Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Book of t, (revised ed. C. A. R. Andrews) (London, The British Museum Press, 1985)

R.B. Parkinson and S. Quirke, Papyrus, (Egyptian Bookshelf) (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)

S. Quirke and A.J. Spencer, The British Museum book of anc (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)

© Trustees of the British Museum

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