06 September, 2012

Once to Die, and then The Judgment

Picture a young, impressionable man in Egypt about 2500 years ago. He cheated a customer of his, and now he's facing the man in the market. He knows his thumb was on the scale, even as he lies straight to his customer's face, and he knows the man cannot prove a thing. He's scot-free.

His customer knows as much himself, and that he cannot press this young man any harder. But before he leaves he whispers, "Would I could see you in the Hall of Maat!"

The young man, let's call him Thoth, smiles and throws the man a sugared date as he leaves. When the man throws it back, he catches it and pops it in his mouth, thinking for just a moment how it look so very much like a heart.

He bites down on the heart in his mouth, and remembers Ammut.

His mouth becomes very dry.

His mind travels to that day, be it tomorrow or a generation away, when he will appear in the Hall of Maat. Every man dies, and every man appears before the forty-two gods in the Hall of Maat. In that hall, a man makes one profession of innocence before each god. The sixth confession before the Lion and Lioness god is that I have not made light the measure of corn. The seventh before Merti-f-em-tes is that I have not deceived. The twenty-forth before Nekhem that I have not been deaf to the truth.

Maat is "balance", and in the Hall of the Balance Thoth's heart will be weighed against a feather. His heart will be weighed after he has made forty-two negative confessions ("I have not...") to the forty-two gods in the presence of merciful Osiris. If he has told no lies during his confessions, his heart will be lighter than a feather.

Ammut, crocodile, lion, and hippopotamus, will watch the scales on that day. When his heart remembers this day, and it is heavy as a stone, Ammut will devour his heart and he will die forever.

Osiris was once human, and he pleads the cause of the humans who appear in Maat, but Osiris would have nothing to say for him unless he makes his crimes right again. But even then, what hope is there? Thoth would need to be ritually buried, mummified, and buried with the scrolls of the prayers of the dead to even know what to say to Osiris to persuade him to defend his cause. Burial was expensive beyond Thoth's wildest dreams and the books of the prayers he could never afford. Without the scrolls by his side as he entered the afterworld, he would never know what to pray to the gods. And what merchant could afford a book of the prayers?

Thoth was the god who recorded the trial of each human. Our young Thoth could write the divine Thoth's transcript already.

There was no hope.


This story was not given at the museum the other day, when I viewed the bodies of Egyptians who'd spent fortunes preserving their bodies. The stories I did read, though, stirred me deeply. These men and women were desparate to live forever, and willing to spend any amount of money to have that chance.

The bodies I saw were those of the rich, but all Egyptians shared the same fears and the same hopelessness. They lived as good lives as they could, and still went to their graves without certainty their many works and prayers could turn Ammut away. They hoped, but their hope was based on nothing more than the stories their priests told.

And that's the last line of questioning. Where did the priests get their stories? And before you answer that question, remind yourself the bible tells how the priests of Egypt were able to turn their staffs to snakes, call lice, and call frogs from nowhere. Would you believe a man who could do these things? Would you fear the stories he told you?

This story is something I imagined as I wondered what a laborer like myself would do in Egypt. I was raised Assemblies of God here in twentieth-century America and I cried myself to sleep many a night wondering whether God would reject me for my sins in the end. What if I knew the decision were in Anubis' hands and only my perfections could keep my heart from Ammut's maw.


I've often wondered whether the ancients could really believe the things our scholars say they believed. The three thousand year old bodies I saw this weekend declare the passion of the people whom they were.

I praise the Lord Jesus for the kind and gentle mercy He shows to us all.