As of Friday 19 February, the Allard Pierson Museum will be hosting the exhibition The Judgment of the Dead. A Journey through the Egyptian Afterlife. The exhibition examines ancient Egyptian beliefs about death in the context of modern Christian and Islamic ideas.
The ancient Egyptians were the first people to commit the details of their elaborate ideas regarding the afterlife to paper. This exhibition has been compiled on the basis of written documents dating back to ancient Egyptian times. The account revolves around the Book of the Dead papyrus scrolls from our own collection and several scrolls on loan from the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden. Visitors to the exhibition are invited to follow the path of the deceased in ancient Egypt, from the Court of the Gods all the way to the heavenly Reed Fields, experiencing this exciting and dangerous journey through the afterlife for themselves. It provides fascinating insight into Egyptian beliefs about death and life, and looks at old ideas from the perspective of two of today's major world religions.
The judgment of the dead
If they could afford it, the deceased in ancient Egypt first arranged for their bodies to be mummified. Before placing a mummy in the tomb, the so-called 'mouth-opening ritual' was carried out. This restored the deceased's ability to breathe, eat, speak, hear and see. Only then was the deceased ready to embark on his journey. But before setting out on this dangerous passage through the Underworld leading to the Reed Fields, he first had to account for himself before two courts of gods.
The first court comprised 42 gods sitting in judgment. The deceased had to hail every god by name and proclaim that he had not committed a particular sin. The sins had clear similarities to Christian and Islamic morals. In the second court of gods, the heart of the deceased was weighed against the feather of Maat, the goddess of truth. If the feather and the heart were not in equilibrium, the deceased fell prey to the voracious monster Amnet. The sarcophagus of the distinguished lady Teuris depicting this scene is given a prominent position in the exhibition. Judgment of the dead is also a well-known concept in Christianity and Islam.
The journey to Paradise
After having passed through both sessions of court, the deceased embarked on a long and dangerous journey. If he survived, he would ultimately enter Paradise, also known as the Reed Fields. Paradise was an idealised version of Egypt. There were never any problems and the deceased could finally take it easy, assisted by an army of ushabtis (figurines of servants), who took on all the work. Various unusual ushabtis are on display here.
Publication and education
A special illustrated edition of APM (the magazine for the Friends of the Allard Pierson Museum) has been published in honour of the exhibition. Educational material for students in years 3 and 4 of secondary education has also been compiled. It is entitled Reisgids naar de Rietvelden (Traveller's guide to the Reed Fields).