Ancient Perspectives on Egypt

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Ancient Egypt's BIGGEST Inexplicable Mysteries

As a result, the elaborate belief system that had grown up around the deity was replaced by a much simpler one. The deceased were buried in their tombs, they slept in them at night, and awakened at dawn.

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Each day their bas would leave these resting places in order to participate in the cult performed in the temples in Akhetaten. The one who provided the deceased with the means to do this was Akhenaten himself, who was the only guarantor of the afterlife. We even know of cases where his name and image were left intact but those of Amun erased. The lecture surveyed a number of examples. So evidently belief in the god and his relationship with the dead was preserved.

Some think that this was only a marginal phenomenon surviving alongside the dominant official cult of the Aten or solar disk. Specifically, Akhenaten identified himself with Osiris as the son of the Aten. Several of these were presented and analysed in the lecture. It was argued that in cases where an unambiguous representation of Akhenaten is involved, it is not actually in the form of Osiris, while in cases where we have an unambiguous representation of Osiris, there is no obvious connection with Akhenaten.

Other problems with their theory were identified as well, not least the fact that the dating of many of the objects that they cite in support of it to the Amarna Period is questionable, and it was concluded that there is no basis for thinking Akhenaten ever identified himself with Osiris. References in contemporary texts, some in inscriptions from tombs of high-ranking officials at Amarna itself, show that the underworld as a distinct realm of the dead remained an important concept.

The evidence for continued belief in Osiris as a god of the dead during this time is more abundant than one might have expected. Was he aware of this survival and, if so, was it a matter of concern to him? The Egyptians imagined that the sun god Re entered the western horizon and passed through the underworld each night. This union had a positive effect on both participants. As a result, Re emerged newly born from the eastern horizon while Osiris, who remained behind in the underworld, was revivified.

The conception of this nightly union becomes especially prominent in the New Kingdom, when it figures in both guides to the underworld and the Book of the Dead, although some would trace its existence as far back as the Old Kingdom. According to this view, the nocturnal union of Re and Osiris ceased to be regarded as a temporary merger of the two gods, and was seen instead as something more substantial and permanent, resulting in a completely new type of composite deity, the giant, cosmos-spanning figure of Re-Osiris, described in texts as the great god.

It was this new divinity who emerged from the eastern horizon at dawn, and it was with this figure that the dead were now associated. Thus the traditional relationship between Osiris and the deceased changed dramatically as a result of this new conception. In particular, the idea that a group of compositions preserved in the tombs of Tutankhamun, Ramesses VI, and Ramesses IX illustrates the new doctrine of the solar-Osirian unity did not stand up to close scrutiny.

Joachim Quack has demonstrated convincingly that the main theme of these compositions is not the union of Re and Osiris. Rather, they are concerned with the beings the solar deity encounters in the underworld and how he interacts with them. The sun god is all-important, and Osiris much less so. The texts never speak of the union of the two divinities. A number of passages that have been interpreted as references to this union are simply references to the sun god. It has been claimed that the end of this text describes how Osiris leaves the underworld merged with Re in the form of the great god.

In fact, this does not happen. Re and Osiris are clearly distinguished throughout the Book of Caverns. The former is said to perform various services for the latter. Osiris is in the following of Re and adores him. At the conclusion of the text, Osiris requests and is given a place in the bark of the sun god, just as the deceased hoped they would be given one.

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But his position is clearly that of a dependent. Those who tow the bark acknowledge only Re as their passenger. They make no reference to Osiris or to any composite form involving him and the solar deity. He is very much the dominant figure, the main actor, and features in every scene. Osiris is important but he is only one of a number of beings that the sun god encounters in the underworld.

Ancient Perspectives on Egypt

Osiris continues to exercise his traditional functions in relation to the dead in these texts, but the solar deity seems to act in a supervisory capacity, with Osiris subordinate to him. It is this emphasis upon the primacy of Re, rather than any new conception of the nightly union between him and Osiris, that characterises the underworld guides and other sources of the New Kingdom. As a result, he is not just the ruler of the underworld and judge of the dead, but a deity on whose continued well-being and daily rejuvenation the entire cosmos is dependent.

Is this concept an innovation of the New Kingdom? We are unable to say, mainly owing to uncertainty over the original date of composition of the underworld guides. What does seem innovatory is the fact that they begin to be inscribed in tombs at this time, and references to the concept start to appear in other sources like the Book of the Dead. So perhaps what is new is that these texts begin to be linked with the deceased more regularly.

How do they benefit from the link between Osiris and the sun god? In the lecture, four benefits were identified. First, the fact that the cosmos continues to function is obviously a precondition for the continuity of the afterlife. Second, the relationship between Re and Osiris provides a model for that between the ba and the body of the deceased. The ba alights upon the body and regenerates it each night just as Re meets with Osiris. Fourth and finally, knowledge of what happens in the underworld is important.

What is beneficial for the deceased is not just that this cycle takes place, but that they know about it as well, since such knowledge is a means of gaining admittance to the entourage of Osiris. But the connection between Osiris and the sun god does not affect the basic relationship between Osiris and the deceased. What happens instead is that this relationship, like every other aspect of life in the underworld, is placed under the supervision of the sun god.

This focused upon the consequences of the establishment of the Ptolemaic dynasty at the end of the fourth century BC. In connection with the second question, particular attention was devoted to the introduction of a new god, Sarapis, who was sometimes identified with Osiris. Did this influence ideas about Osiris and the dead and, if so, how? Osiris was still regarded as the ruler of the underworld.

The judgement of the dead remained an essential rite of passage. Mummification and its attendant rituals continued to be important for the posthumous well-being of all. Egyptian conceptions of the various aspects in which the dead were supposed to continue their existence in the next world, akh , ba , and ka , stayed the same as well. There was also a significant amount of continuity in terms of the texts used to ensure a happy afterlife for the dead. Several works composed prior to the beginning of the Ptolemaic Period remained in use.

Although a large number of new texts were introduced at this time, many of these were clearly based on earlier models. In terms of how tombs were provisioned to supply the needs of the dead in the next world, there was little change, if any, between the Late Period and the Ptolemaic Period, so much so that it is sometimes difficult or impossible to determine whether a particular burial belongs to the end of the former or the beginning of the latter.

In the sphere of funerary art, some innovations do begin to appear, for example, the dead are sometimes depicted in a more naturalistic way, or with non-Egyptian modes of dress and adornment. But these do not represent a new way of conceptualising life after death so much as the adoption of new artistic conventions to express an older symbolism. How an individual chose to be portrayed on items of burial equipment or how relatives chose to have that individual portrayed had nothing to do with the nature of his or her hopes and expectations for the next world.

Some have argued that this reflects belief in a closer connection between the god and the deceased than before, which arose under Greek influence. As noted in the first lecture, this designation identifies the deceased as a follower of Osiris in the afterlife. The Osirian form of each individual is unique, just as each individual is unique. It has been argued that this may have been introduced as a result of Hellenistic influence. According to one view, the use of this designation reflected a desire to create a closer relationship between deceased and divinity. Linking a deceased woman with a goddess rather than a god supposedly made it possible to avoid the barrier that gender imposed between her and the male deity.

Another view is that this was done to maintain in the afterlife the gendered role, identity, and body that individuals assumed in Egyptian society. Both continued to be used side by side, in some instances even interchangeably within the same manuscript to refer to the same person. The real function of the former was to identify the deceased as followers of Hathor, just as the latter identified them as followers of Osiris.

One could be a follower or devotee of more than one divinity, which explains why the two statuses were not mutually exclusive. This deity was sometimes identified with Osiris. Some think that, as a result of this identification, Osiris acquired new attributes and characteristics which had an impact on how his relationship with the deceased was envisaged. In the lecture it was noted that most of the Ptolemaic evidence for the identification of Sarapis with Osiris comes from the middle or late Ptolemaic Period, not the early part.

In fact, the bulk of the evidence actually comes from the Roman Period, and only then do we find for the first time texts that record what the dead wished for or expected from Osiris in this form. We no longer see a passive Osiris, one who needs to be protected from his foes, but an active deity, a king who exerts himself in defence of others. Since Sarapis is himself a royal god, some think this image of Osiris and what he was expected to do for the deceased was influenced by his association with the Greek divinity.

As noted by scholars like Laurent Coulon and Didier Devauchelle, the concept of Osiris as a royal god became increasingly prominent during the first millennium BC, even before the Ptolemaic Period, and there was a growing tendency at this time to portray him not just as the ruler of the underworld but the ruler of this one as well. Connected with this was an increased tendency to see in Osiris as much a god of the living as of the dead.

Thus, it was not so much that in the Ptolemaic Period Osiris was identified with Sarapis and acquired new powers and attributes as a result. It was rather that the new image of Osiris which arose in the first millennium BC, itself building upon earlier ideas, and the powers and roles that were attributed to him as a consequence, facilitated and led to his identification with Sarapis.


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To be sure, in fostering the association between Osiris and Sarapis as symbols of kingship, the Ptolemies were exploiting this for political purposes, but as Coulon has pointed out, many earlier rulers of the first millennium did the same. The first was the need to look at all the evidence pertaining to a particular phenomenon. When we fail to do so, we may overlook precedents for what otherwise appears to be an innovation.

Far from being an invention of the Ptolemaic Period, it can be traced back as far as the Coffin Texts of the Middle Kingdom. The second point was that political change does not invariably bring about change in other spheres. As we saw, the imposition of Ptolemaic rule over Egypt does not seem to have resulted in fundamental changes in Egyptian conceptions of the afterlife.

The third point was that we should not think of the Graeco-Roman Period as a cultural unity.

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Ancient Perspectives on Egypt includes both archaeological and documented evidence, which ranges from the earliest writing attested in Egypt and Mesopotamia in the late fourth millennium BC, to graffiti from Abydos that demonstrate pilgrimages from all over the Mediterranean world, to the views of Roman poets on the nature of Egypt.

This book presents, for the first time in a single volume, a multi-faceted but coherent collection of images of Egypt from, and of, the past. Skriv anmeldelse. Betal med gavekort her. Om Ancient Perspectives on Egypt The discipline of Egyptology has been criticised for being too insular,with little awareness of the development of archaeologies elsewhere. ARKs anbefalinger. Det finnes ingen vurderinger av dette produktet. William Peck. Journal of the American Oriental Society 2 Edit this record. Mark as duplicate. Find it on Scholar.

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Ancient Perspectives on Egypt

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