Monday, October 27, 2008

The Egyptian Book of the Dead


When God speaks, He speaks not from the lofty realms of His heaven.
He speaks in a down-to-earth way that man understands. He uses the language and customs of the current society.
While the cultures that existed at the time God dictated the scriptures have long since disappeared, we today have , via the Internet , information at our fingertips that would even a few short years ago been difficult , if not impossible, to find.

Yesterday, I came across some interesting information that shed new light on my understanding of a couple of Scripture passages.
I was reading a translation of the Egyptians' Book of the Dead. The oldest copy we have is from about 1900 BC. That is before the time of Joseph in Egypt.

I became interested in the detailed , deeply religious rituals they carried out as part of the 70 day embalming process.
I want to focus on two of them and how they surprisingly enlightened my understanding of scripture.

1. The ritual concerning the heart ...

The rituals regarding the heart were regarded as extremely important.

The Egyptians believed in an afterlife but only if their heart was judged sinless would they be allowed to enter a joyful eternity.
They believed that they would be met by many gods who had the power to judge them worthy to enter eternity or to condemn them to torment.

The judgement depended on the weighing of their heart. It would be placed on a scale .....and weighed against a feather.
It was believed that a heart was made heavy by sin and only if it was sinless could it weigh less than a feather ! If it weighed more - the person was condemned to torment and then to being devoured by a beast.
Facing judgement, the deceased Egyptian was called upon by the gods to make what was called a Negative Confession.
Here is the Negative Confession he was required to confess.
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"I haven't committed sin.
I haven't committed robbery with violence.
I haven't stolen.
I haven't slain men and women.
I haven't stolen grain.
I haven't purloined offerings.
I haven't stolen the property of god.
I haven't uttered lies.
I haven't carried away food.
I haven't uttered curses.
I haven't committed adultery - I haven't lain with men.
I have made none to weep.
I haven't eaten the heart.
I haven't attacked any man.
I am not a man of deceit.
I haven't stolen cultivated land.
I haven't been an eavesdropper.
I haven't slandered any man.
I haven't been angry without just cause.
I haven't debauched the wife of any man.
I haven't polluted myself.
I have terrorized none.
I haven't transgressed the law.
I haven't been wroth.
I haven't shut my ears to the words of truth.
I haven't blasphemed.
I am not a man of violence.
I haven't been a stirrer up of strife.
I haven't acted with undue haste.
I haven't pried into matters.
I haven't multiplied my words in speaking.
I have wronged none - I have done no evil.
I haven't worked witchcraft against the Pharaoh.
I have never stopped the flow of water.
I have never raised my voice.
I haven't cursed god.
I haven't acted with arrogance.
I haven't stolen the bread of the gods.
I haven't carried away the khenfu cakes from the Spirits of the dead.
I haven't snatched away the bread of a child, nor treated with contempt the city god.
I haven't slain the cattle belonging to the god."
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Obviously there were not many Egyptians who could die unafraid to recite the Negative Confession.
So man being man and the Egyptians being rather resourceful, they came up with a safety net plan.
The Egyptians believed that the heart , because it was always truthful , would witness against them when they recited the confession before the gods.
So to avoid being betrayed by their own heart, they cut the heart out of the deceased Egyptian and replaced it with a heart carved out of stone on which were written magic incantations.
Then when the Negative Confession was recited - the heart , being stone, could not speak and therefore could not witness against the Egyptian. He would be saved by his hard stone heart and be found innocent by silence !!
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We read the story of Pharaoh. We read the verses that speak of Pharaoh's hard heart!
The Israelites at that time very clearly understood what a hard heart was. They were familiar with the Egyptians' rituals for the dead and also their religious beliefs.
When God said "Pharaoh's heart is hard..." (Ex.7:14) the Israelites would have had the picture in their mind of the 'stone heart' that replaced the flesh heart of the dead Egyptian.
But it is interesting that while the Egyptians believed that a 'hard' stone heart would save them, God showed it turned about. It was the hard heart that rejected God and therefore suffered eternal punishment.
A stone heart does not turn God's eyes away from the man whose heart bears witness of the sin he committed.
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2. The ritual of the opened mouth ....
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The other ritual that I found interesting was the very last one that was performed on the mummified body before it was laid in the tomb. This was an extremely important ritual , in fact it was considered the most important.
Using a forked tool, the mouth of the deceased was pried open. (If you want to see a rather frightening photo you may find it here... http://www.flickr.com/photos/mscheltgen/103608381/ )
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It was the open mouth that restored all the senses and body faculties to the deceased enabling him to enjoy to the fullest all the delights and joys of the afterlife !
The Israelites understood this Egyptian ritual.
With their mind set read this this verse in Psalm 81:10......

"I am the LORD your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt; Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it."
Notice that God does not pry your mouth open...He invites you to open it ! and He promises to fill it !! Not only with the good things of this life but also the wonderful things pertaining to the life to come !
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photo credit ( http://www.flickr.com/search/?l=4&q=Egyptian+mummies+&m=text)

7 comments:

Lovella said...

Julie, these parts of history are so important for us to understand why scipture was written the way it was. I so enjoy these tidbits. Our new lead pastor .. .just get sooooo excited by all these historical details and nearly every message begins with .. .in those days. .
It brings the Bible to a whole new clarity.
Thanks for your history lesson today.

charlotte said...

julie
you must ahve been a teacher. you just bring such understanding to things, or raise questions which i have never even thought of (which is the sign of a good teacher by the way) i am glad that i have an understanding that is much more grace filled and a repentive heart is better than a stone heart. wouldn't you agree.

Kathy said...

Wow - that sure sheds a lot of light on some heart passages. Thanks.

Demara said...

Wow, interesting! I'm not sure I'll look at another open mouth the same again!

James Janzen said...

Comparing ones heart to the weight of a feather would not many passing hearts make eh?? All those confessions still apply today. If one wasn't born in sin he might have a chance if totally isolated from birth till death. Only by Gods grace do we have any hope of eternal life with God. Interesting post!

Thoughts on Life and Millinery. said...

I want to read that book! Facinating, and you are right, it does give a clear picture of what was going on with the Egyptians and why God chose certain phrases to speak to His people.

Keeping my heart from becoming like stone as the cares and stings of world settle upon it is a difficult task. I often long for the stony parts to vanish and become childlike soft again...and find that it is only grace that does such a miracle. Thanks Julie...you are such an interesting reader/researcher.

Thoughts on Life and Millinery. said...

I want to read that book! Facinating, and you are right, it does give a clear picture of what was going on with the Egyptians and why God chose certain phrases to speak to His people.

Keeping my heart from becoming like stone as the cares and stings of world settle upon it is a difficult task. I often long for the stony parts to vanish and become childlike soft again...and find that it is only grace that does such a miracle. Thanks Julie...you are such an interesting reader/researcher.