Brooke Hoff: Gods of The Book of the Dead of Hunefer

INTRODUTION:  In my exhibition I have decided to focus on the gods relating to the ancient Egyptian “Book of the Dead of Hunefer: Weighing of the Heart.” This page from the “Book of the Dead of Hunefer” features some of ancient Egypt’s most important gods: Osiris: Judge of the dead and ruler of the underworld, Horus: Son of Osiris, Isis: Wife of Osiris and mother of Horus, Anubis: Guardian of the underworld, and finally Thoth: The record keeper. After studying the picture of “The Book of the Dead of Hunefer: Weighing of the Heart” shown in the textbook, Janson’s History of Art (Davies 78), I have been very intrigued with how the ancient Egyptian culture depicted the afterlife and the judgment of the soul. Like many non-Christian cultures and religions, the Egyptians believed in an afterlife that must be earned, but I personally find the Egyptian’s belief of works and judgment more intriguing than most cultures’. The ancient Egyptians believed that, in order to have a pleasurable afterlife one must live according to what they called ma’at, or harmony and order. Ma’at was also believed to be a goddess (the goddess of justice and order) who was commonly depicted as an ostrich feather, as she was in “The Book of the Dead of Hunefer” (Davies 52).  Summarizing the description of the page from "The Book of the Dead of Hunefer" from Janson’s History of Art (Davies 52), Anubis is shown weighing Hunefer’s deeds (his heart) against an ostrich feather (representation of ma’at), while Thoth keeps record. Ammut is the beast watching the judgment of the Scales of Ma’at and will devour Hunefer if the scale shows he did not live according to ma’at. Passing the test, Hunefer is presented by Hunefer to Osiris, who is accompanied by Isis and Nephthys, for the final judgment (Davies 78,79). In other words, the good or bad deeds of an individual would be the deciding factors of the individual’s afterlife; if he did not live a life of ma’at, he will not move on to the afterlife and will be devoured by the beast Ammut.  This exhibition features ancient statues of Osiris, Horus, Isis, Anubis, and Thoth that share similar characteristics. All the statues are slender with a small array of colors (two major colors used), and each statue’s pose echoes of another’s. I purposely sought after artwork of the gods of “The Book of the Dead of Hunefer: Weighing of the Heart” with so many shared features because I wanted this exhibition to have a feel of order and unity, or ma’at. Although it is a pagan one, and I am in no way ashamed of my faith with the One God, Yahweh, I have deep respect and fascination in the ancient Egyptian culture, law, art, religion, and their undying strive for harmony and order. Everything the Egyptians created echoed unity, even in the style of their different artworks which had not changed for thousands of years. Proving that, as Davies put it, “Religion permeated every aspect of Egyptian life” (52), and living according to ma’at was key in everything they did.  WORKS CITED:  Davies, Penelope J. E., et al. Janson’s History of Art: The Western Tradition, Volume 1, 8th Edition. Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc., (2011). MBS Direct: Vital Source. Web. 15 April 2016.

Artist: Unknown Title: Unknown (Votive statue of Osiris) Date: 664 – 525 BC Country: Egypt Size: approx. 41.3"x9.6"x10" Osiris was one of the most important gods of ancient Egyptian times. He was believed to be the “Ruler of the underworld, god of death, resurrection, and fertility, and associated with the king” (Davies, 52). It was also believed that Osiris was murdered by his brother, Seth; god of chaos and destruction, and the pieces of Osiris’ body Seth scattered throughout Egypt. Osiris’ role in “Book of the Dead of Hunefer” was to give the final judgement of the dead. The ancient Egyptians believed that after a person died, his ka (soul) would be transported into the underworld where he would have his heart weighed on the Scales of Ma’at by the gods of the dead. If he was declared “true of voice” by the gods and passed the judgment of the scales, Horus would bring the deceased person to his father, Osiris, for the final word. Osiris is usually depicted as a mummy with his arms crossed in front of his chest because, after being dismembered by his brother, Osiris’ wife, Isis with her sister; Nephthys (sister and wife of Seth), located all of Osiris’ missing body parts and reattached them with mummy wrappings. From the corpse of Osiris, Isis conceived her only son, Horus. This votive statue is made out of bronze and is actually hollow (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden). Remnants of fine jewels are still visible on the sculpture, particularly on Osiris’ eyes and eyebrows. Due to the statue’s large size of approximately 41 inches tall, and the remnants of precious stones that once embellished the statue, it is reasonable to assume that it may have been an offering to the gods, or god Osiris, and according to Google Cultural Institute (2016), there was “[…] a great demand for votive figures, statuettes offered to gods in temples” around 664 BC.
Artist: Unknown Title: Unknown (Figurine of god Horus) Date: 700 - 332 BC Country: Egypt Size: Approx. 11.6” The ancient Egyptians believed that Horus was the god of the sun and the sky, and was in association with the living pharaoh. Horus is not to be confused with god Ra (who was also god of sun and sky, and depicted as a falcon or hawk), which were two separate gods. However, sometime in the ancient Egyptian culture, Horus was at times “merged” with god Ra and was referred to as Ra-Horakhty (Houlton, 2009). Horus was the son of Osiris and Isis, and nephew of Seth, god of violence, who Horus bested in a series of contests and trials to avenge the death of this father, Osiris. Horus had a relatively minor role in “Book of the Dead of Hunefer.” After the ka’s first judgment of the gods, and the weighing of the heart against the ostrich feather of ma’at, Horus would lead the dead to Osiris for Osiris’ approval of the ka’s passage into the afterlife. Very much like sun god Ra, Horus is depicted as a hawk or a man with a hawk’s head. However, there is a distinctive difference between the representations of hawk Horus from hawk Ra: hawk Horus is commonly seen wearing a tall crown and sometimes with the ostrich feather of ma’at in his talons, while hawk Ra usually has a sun-disk above his head. Nonetheless, one is usually confused with the other, hence their “merge” in later Egyptian culture (Houlton, 2009). The statue of Horus featured here is made of a very dark, almost black, bronze, and is very lacking in decorative embellishment. Not much about the purpose of the figurine was revealed, it could have been an offering or, because of its humble size, it could have served a funerary purpose (Art Encyclopedia). There is an inscription of “Nehemsoehorwer” on the base of the figure (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden), which has not been explained. It is possible this could be a name (i.e. the name of the sculptor or the person the figure is dedicated to). Of course, that is simply a guess.
Artist: Unknown Title: Unknown (Statuette of Isis as mother and protector of Horus) Date: Around 200 BC Country: Egypt Size: Approx. 5.9” x 2.6” Isis is the most recognizable goddess of the ancient Egyptian world, and even one of the most recognized of all the Egyptian deities. She is the goddess of the cosmos, protector of the dead, mother of Horus, and wife of Osiris, who is also apparently his sister. Meaning brothers Osiris and Seth married their sisters, Isis and Nephthys. Isis was always a human woman. She was never depicted as an animal, sun, star, or object like many other Egyptians gods and goddesses were, “Usually represented as a woman crowned with the hieroglyphic throne sign, or with horns and a sun-disk” (Davies, 52). Isis does not seem to take any part in the judgment of the dead and the afterlife. Her role in “Book of the Dead of Hunefer” appears to simply be to have her inclusion as important goddess, and wife and supporter of Osiris, and mother Horus (i.e. her association and relationships with Osiris and Horus), along with Isis’ sister; Nephthys, who is standing next to her. The statuette of Isis (holding infant Horus in her arms) is made of black steatite (or black pipestone, also called soapstone) which is a “soft metamorphic rock rather than a mineral […] mainly composed of the mineral talc” which has a rather “soapy” texture and is naturally a light gray, but when polished smooth and fired it turns a lovely black ( The statuette of Isis is seated on a throne and she wears a headdress with a very tall crown that contains a sun-disk on the front. The statuette is very small at only approx. 6 inches tall. Not much else was revealed about the figure. As shown in this statuette, Isis is commonly shown holding or suckling an infant Horus in her arms, emphasizing her role as “Mother and Protector of Horus.”
Artist: Unknown Title: Unknown (Figurine of god Anubis) Date: 700 – 332 BC Country: Egypt Size: Approx. 5.9” Anubis: The god and supervisor of embalming, god and protector of the dead, and guardian of the underworld. Anubis is one of the oldest recorded Egyptian gods and is the most recognized of all the Egyptian gods in the modern world. The name “Anubis” is actually a Greek dub. His name in the Egyptian culture was actually “Anpu” (Hill, 2010). Anubis had arguably the most important role in “Book of the Dead of Hunefer.” Not only was he in charge of guiding the soul to the Halls of Ma’at, but he was also entrusted with the task of accurately weighing one’s heart on the Scales of Ma’at and protecting souls the scales have deemed innocent, but allowing beast Ammut to devour the guilty. Anubis is depicted as either a jackal (or other black canine) or a man with a jackal’s head who wears a traditional Egyptian headdress. The Egyptian believed dogs were guardians of the dead because wild dogs would commonly linger around tombs (due to the smell of rot), and this led the Egyptians to believe the dogs were guarding the ka and the tombs of the dead (Hill, 2010). The figurine of Anubis featured here is made of a dark bronze, the same used for the statue of Horus shown earlier but with a green hue, and is about the same size. It is reasonable to guess this statue was used for funerary reasons, due to its small size, along with god Anubis’ strong association with the dead and his involvement in the soul’s passage into the afterlife in Egyptian culture (Art Encyclopedia, 2008). This statue is posed the same way as the figurine of Horus, in a very traditional Egyptian posture in ancient artworks which is very stiff and rigid, with usually the left foot stepping forward (Davies, 60).
Artist: Unknown Title: Unknown (Amulet of the god Thoth) Date: 1075 – 525 BC Country: Egypt Size: Approx. 4.5”x1.3”x1.2” Thoth was believed to be the god of the moon, the god and inventor of writing, language, and knowledge, and the keeper of the records of history (Hill, 2010). Thoth was also believed to be the census keeper of both the living and the dead. He also kept a log of all the deeds of mankind, making him a rather important asset to “The Book of the Dead of Hunefer.” Because Thoth was both the census keeper of mankind and the record keeper of deeds, he was present during the weighing of the heart, and recorded the outcome of the judgment of the Scales of Ma’at (Davies, 77). His records would assure the accuracy of judgment and a rightful fate of one’s ka, while keeping log of those who passed into the afterlife, and those who were ingested by Ammut (Hill, 2010). Thoth is usually depicted as an ibis or an ibis-headed man with a writing tablet. Sometimes he is also shown as a baboon, usually without his tablet for unknown reasons. Because the judgment of the dead partially relies on Thoth’s records, this is possibly why he is always shown as an ibis-headed man in the Papyrus Scrolls and “The Book of the Dead.” Unlike the statues of Isis, Horus, and Anubis, the amulet of Thoth is very lightly colored; almost white, while the other three are almost black. The amulet is made of a material called faience, which was “a glassy substance [commonly] manufactured […] by ancient Egyptians” made of various earth minerals and was often used to create pottery or jewelry (Mark, 2010). The amulet had its left foot forward like the statues of Horus and Anubis, and part of Thoth’s face has been broken. Because the Merriam-Webster dictionary’s definition states that an amulet is, “a small object worn to protect the person wearing it against bad things,” and the very small size, it is possible this amulet may have been a “good-luck charm” of sorts.
Artist: Unknown Title: "The Weighing of the Heart and Judgment by Osiris," from "The Book of the Dead of Hunefer." Date: 1285 BC Country: Egypt Size: Approx. 15.6" This entry is included for the convenience of referencing while viewing the other entries in the gallery. This page of “The Book of the Dead of Hunefer” shows Anubis guiding Hunefer to the Halls of Ma’at where he will weigh the deeds Hunefer's heart on the Scales of Ma'at. As guardian and protector of the dead, Anubis will give the assurance that the there is no false testimonies against the dead, and first judgment will be just and has been executed correctly. Thoth, who kept record of Hunefer's deeds all throughout his life, keeps a log of the outcome of the weight of Hunefer’s heart against the ostrich feather of ma’at on the scales. If Hunefer passes the judgement, Thoth as census keeper, with add Hunefer as another soul who will enter the realm of the afterlife. However, if Hunefer is guilty, Thoth will add Hunefer’s name to the list of those who did not pass judgment, and Hunefer’s soul will be surrendered into obliteration. Ammut, the beast and devourer of souls, watches the judgment. She, no doubt, hopes for the deeds of Hunefer and the Scales of Ma’at to deem him sinful, and unworthy of a grant into the afterlife, but Hunefer passes the judgment of the scales. Horus takes Hunefer to see Osiris. Osiris, who is joined by his sisters, Isis and Nephthys, casts final judgment on Hunefer. The Eye of Horus can be seen above Osiris. The Eye of Horus, believed to be the eye Seth ripped out in his struggle with his nephew; Horus, is symbolic of royal power and used as an emblem of protection. It is usually seen in artworks containing gods, goddesses, pharaohs, and/or other members of royalty (Hill, 2010). The figures at the top of the page are all the gods that Hunefer must confess to (Davies, 70). References used in this GAP tour: Davies, Penelope J. E., et al. Janson’s History of Art: The Western Tradition, Volume 1, 8th Edition. Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc., (2011). MBS Direct: Vital Source. Web. 8 May 2016. ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ANCIENT ART “Egyptian Sculpture: History & Characteristics of Statues, Reliefs of Ancient Egypt”, (2008). Web. 8 May 2016. <> Google Cultural Institutes. Google Inc., (2016). Web. 8 May 2016. <> Haywood, Carl and Linda, Renee L. Klinger. Rocks and Minerals. N.p., (1995). Web. 8 May 2016. <> Hill, Jenny. Ancient Egypt Online. N.p., (2010). Web. 8 May 2016. <> Mark, Joshua J. “Faience,” Ancient History Encyclopedia, VOX (2009-2016). Web. 8 May 2016. <> Moulton, Halas. “Archeology in Ancient Egypt.”, (2009). Web. 8 May 2016. <> Rijksmuseum van Oudheden. National Museum of Antiquities, Leiden, (2008). Web. 8 May 2016. <>
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