Maat

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Maat
Goddess of truth, justice, wisdom, the stars, law, morality, order, harmony, the seasons, and cosmic balance
Maat.svg
Maat was both the goddess and the personification of truth and justice. Her ostrich feather represents truth.
Major cult centerAll ancient Egyptian cities
Symbolscales, ostrich feather
Consort Thoth
Offspring Seshat
Parents Ra and Hathor

Maat or Maʽat (Egyptian mꜣꜥt /ˈmuʀʕat/) [1] refers to the ancient Egyptian concepts of truth, balance, order, harmony, law, morality, and justice. Maat was also the goddess who personified these concepts, and regulated the stars, seasons, and the actions of mortals and the deities who had brought order from chaos at the moment of creation. Her ideological opposite was Isfet (Egyptian jzft ), meaning injustice, chaos, violence or to do evil.

Ancient Egypt ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa

Ancient Egypt was a civilization of ancient North Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in the place that is now the country Egypt. Ancient Egyptian civilization followed prehistoric Egypt and coalesced around 3100 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under Menes. The history of ancient Egypt occurred as a series of stable kingdoms, separated by periods of relative instability known as Intermediate Periods: the Old Kingdom of the Early Bronze Age, the Middle Kingdom of the Middle Bronze Age and the New Kingdom of the Late Bronze Age.

Truth In accord with fact or reality

Truth is most often used to mean being in accord with fact or reality, or fidelity to an original or standard. Truth is also sometimes defined in modern contexts as an idea of "truth to self", or authenticity.

Law System of rules and guidelines, generally backed by governmental authority

Law is a system of rules that are created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It has been defined both as "the science of justice" and "the art of justice". Law regulates and ensures that individuals or a community adhere to the will of the state. State-enforced laws can be made by a collective legislature or by a single legislator, resulting in statutes, by the executive through decrees and regulations, or established by judges through precedent, normally in common law jurisdictions. Private individuals can create legally binding contracts, including arbitration agreements that may elect to accept alternative arbitration to the normal court process. The formation of laws themselves may be influenced by a constitution, written or tacit, and the rights encoded therein. The law shapes politics, economics, history and society in various ways and serves as a mediator of relations between people.

Contents

Pronunciation

Cuneiform texts indicate that the word m3ˤt was pronounced /múʔʕa/ during the New Kingdom of Egypt, having lost the feminine ending t. [2] Vowel assimilation of u to e later produced the Coptic word ⲙⲉⲉ/ⲙⲉ "truth, justice". [3]

New Kingdom of Egypt period 1550 to 1070 BC in ancient Egypt

The New Kingdom, also referred to as the Egyptian Empire, is the period in ancient Egyptian history between the 16th century BC and the 11th century BC, covering the 18th, 19th, and 20th dynasties of Egypt. Radiocarbon dating places the exact beginning of the New Kingdom between 1570 BC and 1544 BC. The New Kingdom followed the Second Intermediate Period and was succeeded by the Third Intermediate Period. It was Egypt's most prosperous time and marked the peak of its power.

History

The earliest surviving records indicating that Maat is the norm for nature and society, in this world and the next, were recorded during the Old Kingdom of Egypt, the earliest substantial surviving examples being found in the Pyramid Texts of Unas (ca. 2375 BCE and 2345 BCE). [4]

Old Kingdom of Egypt period of Ancient Egypt in the 3rd millennium BC

In ancient Egyptian history, the Old Kingdom is the period spanning c. 2686–2181 BC. It is also known as the "Age of the Pyramids" or the "Age of the Pyramid Builders", as it encompasses the reigns of the great pyramid builders of the Fourth Dynasty— among them King Sneferu, who perfected the art of pyramid-building, and the kings Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure, who constructed the pyramids at Giza. Egypt attained its first sustained peak of civilization during the Old Kingdom—the first of three so-called "Kingdom" periods which mark the high points of civilization in the lower Nile Valley.

Pyramid Texts literary work

The Pyramid Texts are the oldest known corpus of ancient Egyptian religious texts dating to the Old Kingdom. Written in Old Egyptian, the pyramid texts were carved onto the subterranean walls and sarcophagi of pyramids at Saqqara from the end of the Fifth Dynasty, and throughout the Sixth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom, and into the Eighth Dynasty of the First Intermediate Period.

Later, when most goddesses were paired with a male aspect, her masculine counterpart was Thoth, as their attributes are similar. In other accounts, Thoth was paired off with Seshat, goddess of writing and measure, who is a lesser-known deity.

Thoth egyptian deity

Thoth is one of the ancient Egyptian deities. In art, he was often depicted as a man with the head of an ibis or a baboon, animals sacred to him. His feminine counterpart was Seshat, and his wife was Ma'at. He was the god of wisdom, writing, hieroglyphs, science, magic, art, judgment, and the dead.

Seshat Egyptian deity

Seshat, under various spellings, was the ancient Egyptian goddess of wisdom, knowledge, and writing. She was seen as a scribe and record keeper, and her name means she who scrivens, and is credited with inventing writing. She also became identified as the goddess of accounting, architecture, astronomy, astrology, building, mathematics, and surveying.

After her role in creation and continuously preventing the universe from returning to chaos, her primary role in ancient Egyptian religion dealt with the Weighing of the Heart that took place in the Duat. [5] Her feather was the measure that determined whether the souls (considered to reside in the heart) of the departed would reach the paradise of the afterlife successfully.

Ancient Egyptian religion was a complex system of polytheistic beliefs and rituals that formed an integral part of ancient Egyptian society. It centered on the Egyptians' interaction with many deities believed to be present in, and in control of, the world. Rituals such as prayer and offerings were provided to the gods to gain their favor. Formal religious practice centered on the pharaohs, the rulers of Egypt, believed to possess a divine power by virtue of their position. They acted as intermediaries between their people and the gods, and were obligated to sustain the gods through rituals and offerings so that they could maintain Ma'at, the order of the cosmos. The state dedicated enormous resources to religious rituals and to the construction of temples.

Duat in Egyptian mythology, the realm of the dead

Duat is the realm of the dead in ancient Egyptian mythology. It has been represented in hieroglyphs as a star-in-circle: 𓇽. The god Osiris was believed to be the lord of the underworld. He was the first mummy as depicted in the Osiris myth and he personified rebirth and life after death. The underworld was also the residence of various other gods along with Osiris. The Duat was the region through which the sun god Ra traveled from west to east each night, and it was where he battled Apophis, who embodied the primordial chaos which the sun had to defeat in order to rise each morning and bring order back to the earth. It was also the place where people's souls went after death for judgement, though that was not the full extent of the afterlife. Burial chambers formed touching-points between the mundane world and the Duat, and the ꜣḫ "the effectiveness of the dead", could use tombs to travel back and forth from the Duat.

The afterlife is the belief that the essential part of an individual's identity or the stream of consciousness continues after the death of the physical body. According to various ideas about the afterlife, the essential aspect of the individual that lives on after death may be some partial element, or the entire soul or spirit, of an individual, which carries with it and may confer personal identity or, on the contrary, may not, as in Buddhist nirvana. Belief in an afterlife is in contrast to the belief in oblivion after death.

Pharaohs are often depicted with the emblems of Maat to emphasise their role in upholding the laws and righteousness. [6]

Pharaoh Title of Ancient Egyptian rulers

Pharaoh is the common title of the monarchs of ancient Egypt from the First Dynasty until the annexation of Egypt by the Roman Empire in 30 BCE, although the actual term "Pharaoh" was not used contemporaneously for a ruler until Merneptah, c. 1200 BCE. In the early dynasty, ancient Egyptian kings used to have up to three titles, the Horus, the Sedge and Bee (nswt-bjtj) name, and the Two Ladies (nbtj) name. The Golden Horus and nomen and prenomen titles were later added.

As a principle

Winged Maat Winged Maat (KV11).jpg
Winged Maat

Maat represents the ethical and moral principle that every Egyptian citizen was expected to follow throughout their daily lives. They were expected to act with honor and truth in matters that involve family, the community, the nation, the environment, and the gods. [7]

Maat as a principle was formed to meet the complex needs of the emergent Egyptian state that embraced diverse peoples with conflicting interests. [8] The development of such rules sought to avert chaos and it became the basis of Egyptian law. From an early period the king would describe himself as the "Lord of Maat" who decreed with his mouth the Maat he conceived in his heart.

The significance of Maat developed to the point that it embraced all aspects of existence, including the basic equilibrium of the universe, the relationship between constituent parts, the cycle of the seasons, heavenly movements, religious observations and fair dealings, honesty, and truthfulness in social interactions. [8]

The ancient Egyptians had a deep conviction of an underlying holiness and unity within the universe. Cosmic harmony was achieved by correct public and ritual life. Any disturbance in cosmic harmony could have consequences for the individual as well as the state. An impious king could bring about famine, and blasphemy could bring blindness to an individual. [9] In opposition to the right order expressed in the concept of Maat is the concept of Isfet: chaos, lies and violence. [10]

In addition to the importance of the Maat, several other principles within ancient Egyptian law were essential, including an adherence to tradition as opposed to change, the importance of rhetorical skill, and the significance of achieving impartiality and "righteous action". In one Middle Kingdom (2062 to c. 1664 BCE) text the Creator declares "I made every man like his fellow". Maat called the rich to help the less fortunate rather than exploit them, echoed in tomb declarations: "I have given bread to the hungry and clothed the naked" and "I was a husband to the widow and father to the orphan". [11]

To the Egyptian mind, Maat bound all things together in an indestructible unity: the universe, the natural world, the state, and the individual were all seen as parts of the wider order generated by Maat.

A passage in the Instruction of Ptahhotep presents Maʽat as follows:

Maʽat is good and its worth is lasting.
It has not been disturbed since the day of its creator,
whereas he who transgresses its ordinances is punished.
It lies as a path in front even of him who knows nothing.
Wrongdoing has never yet brought its venture to port.
It is true that evil may gain wealth but the strength of truth is that it lasts;
a man can say: "It was the property of my father." [12]

The law

Maat wearing feather of truth Maat.jpg
Maat wearing feather of truth

There is little surviving literature that describes the practice of ancient Egyptian law. Maat was the spirit in which justice was applied rather than the detailed legalistic exposition of rules. Maat represented the normal and basic values that formed the backdrop for the application of justice that had to be carried out in the spirit of truth and fairness. From the Fifth Dynasty (c. 2510–2370 BCE) onwards, the vizier responsible for justice was called the Priest of Maat and in later periods judges wore images of Maat. [13]

Later scholars and philosophers also would embody concepts from the Sebayt, a native wisdom literature. These spiritual texts dealt with common social or professional situations, and how each was best to be resolved or addressed in the spirit of Maat. It was very practical advice, and highly case-based, so few specific and general rules could be derived from them. [14]

During the Greek period in Egyptian history, Greek law existed alongside Egyptian law. The Egyptian law preserved the rights of women, who were allowed to act independently of men and own substantial personal property, and in time, this influenced the more restrictive conventions of the Greeks and Romans. [15] When the Romans took control of Egypt, the Roman legal system, which existed throughout the Roman Empire, was imposed in Egypt.

Scribes

Scribes held prestigious positions in ancient Egyptian society in view of their importance in the transmission of religious, political, and commercial information. [16]

Thoth was the patron of scribes who is described as the one "who reveals Maat and reckons Maat; who loves Maat and gives Maat to the doer of Maat". [17] In texts such as the Instruction of Amenemope the scribe is urged to follow the precepts of Maat in his private life as well as his work. [18] The exhortations to live according to Maat are such that these kinds of instructional texts have been described as "Maat Literature". [19]

As a goddess

Maat
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orMaatMaat
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Goddess Maat [20] [21]
in hieroglyphs

Maat was the goddess of harmony, justice, and truth represented as a young woman. [22] Sometimes she is depicted with wings on each arm or as a woman with an ostrich feather on her head. [21] The meaning of this emblem is uncertain, although the god Shu, who in some myths is Maat's brother, also wears it. [23] Depictions of Maat as a goddess are recorded from as early as the middle of the Old Kingdom (c. 2680 to 2190 BCE). [24]

The sun-god Ra came from the primaeval mound of creation only after he set his daughter Maat in place of Isfet (chaos). Kings inherited the duty to ensure Maat remained in place, and they with Ra are said to "live on Maat", with Akhenaten (r. 1372–1355 BCE) in particular emphasising the concept to a degree that, John D. Ray asserts, the king’s contemporaries viewed as intolerance and fanaticism. [25] Some kings incorporated Maat into their names, being referred to as Lords of Maat, [26] or Meri-Maat (Beloved of Maat).

Maat had an invaluable role in the ceremony of the Weighing of the Heart. (See below: "The Weighing of the Heart").

Temples

The earliest evidence for a dedicated temple is in the New Kingdom (c. 1569 to 1081 BCE) era, despite the great importance placed on Maat. Amenhotep III commissioned a temple in the Karnak complex, whilst textual evidence indicates that other temples of Maat were located in Memphis and at Deir el-Medina. [27] The Maat temple at the Karnak complex was also used by courts to meet regarding the robberies of the royal tombs during the rule of Ramesses IX. [23]

The afterlife

The Weighing of the Heart

In the Duat, the Egyptian underworld, the hearts of the dead were said to be weighed against her single "Feather of Maʽat", symbolically representing the concept of Maat, in the Hall of Two Truths. This is why hearts were left in Egyptian mummies while their other organs were removed, as the heart (called "ib") was seen as part of the Egyptian soul. If the heart was found to be lighter or equal in weight to the feather of Maat, the deceased had led a virtuous life and would go on to Aaru. Osiris came to be seen as the guardian of the gates of Aaru after he became part of the Egyptian pantheon and displaced Anubis in the Ogdoad tradition. A heart which was unworthy was devoured by the goddess Ammit and its owner condemned to remain in the Duat. [28]

The weighing of the heart, pictured on papyrus in the Book of the Dead typically, or in tomb scenes, shows Anubis overseeing the weighing and Ammit seated awaiting the results so she could consume those who failed. The image would be the vertical heart on one flat surface of the balance scale and the vertical Shu-feather standing on the other balance scale surface. Other traditions hold that Anubis brought the soul before the posthumous Osiris who performed the weighing. While the heart was weighed the deceased recited the 42 Negative Confessions as the Assessors of Maat looked on. [28]

In funerary texts

Weighing of the Heart Book of the Dead written on papyrus showing the Weighing of the Heart in the Duat using the feather of Maat as the measure in balance BD Weighing of the Heart.jpg
Weighing of the Heart Book of the Dead written on papyrus showing the Weighing of the Heart in the Duat using the feather of Maat as the measure in balance

Egyptians were often entombed with funerary texts in order to be well equipped for the afterlife as mandated by ancient Egyptian funerary practices. These often served to guide the deceased through the afterlife, and the most famous one is the Book of the Dead or Papyrus of Ani (known to the ancient Egyptians as The Book of Coming Forth by Day). The lines of these texts are often collectively called the "Forty-Two Declarations of Purity". [29] These declarations varied somewhat from tomb to tomb as they were tailored to the individual, and so cannot be considered a canonical definition of Maat. Rather, they appear to express each tomb owner's individual practices in life to please Maat, as well as words of absolution from misdeeds or mistakes, made by the tomb owner in life could be declared as not having been done, and through the power of the written word, wipe particular misdeed from the afterlife record of the deceased. Many of the lines are similar, however, and paint a very unified picture of Maat. [29]

The doctrine of Maat is represented in the declarations to Rekhti-merti-f-ent-Maat and the 42 Negative Confessions listed in the Papyrus of Ani. The following are translations by E. A. Wallis Budge. [29]

42 Negative Confessions (Papyrus of Ani)

From the Papyrus of Ani .

  1. I have not committed sin.
  2. I have not committed robbery with violence.
  3. I have not stolen.
  4. I have not slain men and women.
  5. I have not stolen grain.
  6. I have not purloined offerings.
  7. I have not stolen the property of the gods.
  8. I have not uttered lies.
  9. I have not carried away food.
  10. I have not uttered curses.
  11. I have not committed adultery.
  12. I have made none to weep.
  13. I have not eaten the heart [i.e., I have not grieved uselessly, or felt remorse].
  14. I have not attacked any man.
  15. I am not a man of deceit.
  16. I have not stolen cultivated land.
  17. I have not been an eavesdropper.
  18. I have slandered [no man].
  19. I have not been angry without just cause.
  20. I have not debauched the wife of any man.
  21. I have not debauched the wife of [any] man. (repeats the previous affirmation but addressed to a different god).
  22. I have not polluted myself.
  23. I have terrorized none.
  24. I have not transgressed [the Law].
  25. I have not been wroth.
  26. I have not shut my ears to the words of truth.
  27. I have not blasphemed.
  28. I am not a man of violence.
  29. I am not a stirrer up of strife (or a disturber of the peace).
  30. I have not acted (or judged) with undue haste.
  31. I have not pried into matters.
  32. I have not multiplied my words in speaking.
  33. I have wronged none, I have done no evil.
  34. I have not worked witchcraft against the King (or blasphemed against the King).
  35. I have never stopped [the flow of] water.
  36. I have never raised my voice (spoken arrogantly, or in anger).
  37. I have not cursed (or blasphemed) God.
  38. I have not acted with evil rage.
  39. I have not stolen the bread of the gods.
  40. I have not carried away the khenfu cakes from the spirits of the dead.
  41. I have not snatched away the bread of the child, nor treated with contempt the god of my city.
  42. I have not slain the cattle belonging to the god. [30] [31]

Assessors of Maat

The Assessors of Maat are the 42 deities listed in the Papyrus of Nebseni, [32] to whom the deceased make the Negative Confession in the Papyrus of Ani . [33] They represent the 42 united nomes of Egypt, and are called "the hidden Maati gods, who feed upon Maat during the years of their lives;" i.e., they are the righteous minor deities who deserve offerings. [29] As the deceased follows the set formula of Negative Confessions, he addresses each god directly and mentions the nome of which the god is a patron, in order to emphasize the unity of the nomes of Egypt. [32]

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References

Citations

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  16. Black, p. 130
  17. Black, p. 131
  18. Black, p. 132
  19. Black, p. 157
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Bibliography

Further reading