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Author Topic: The Declaration of Innocence (or Negative Confessions)  (Read 6556 times)
Bastemhet
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« Topic Start: June 19, 2009, 10:11:34 pm »

Here's a list in case anyone needs a refresher. 

Supposedly when we go before the judge after death to have them determine our fate, and it is favorable if we would be able to recite this list as true in order to be considered a good follower of Ma'at.

I've seen someone else interpret any transgression against this list as not a fatal wrong that cannot be undone, but a lapse in following Ma'at which can be corrected by continuing to live in Ma'at, or doing more just actions to right the wrong.  This comes from the idea that the world is in constant danger of Isfet and that by living Ma'at we combat it daily. 

But what I'm wondering is, are we to understand the confessions literally?  Should we really not do these things, ever?  If we do, will it be counted against us permanently?  Should we hope to have at least a C+ rate with these confessions?

Another theory I was thinking of is that of heka.  We know that in many recordings of Egyptian history, even if there were resounding defeats, it was never recorded as such, because to say that they are triumphant is to affirm their victory and this mattered more than actual occurance.  Could it be the same in the case of the confessions?  Could our merely saying these things work in our favor when before the judge, regardless of how we acted? 
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« Reply #1: June 20, 2009, 12:06:03 am »

Another theory I was thinking of is that of heka.  We know that in many recordings of Egyptian history, even if there were resounding defeats, it was never recorded as such, because to say that they are triumphant is to affirm their victory and this mattered more than actual occurance.  Could it be the same in the case of the confessions?  Could our merely saying these things work in our favor when before the judge, regardless of how we acted? 

It seems to me that this is obviously the case here.  However, as in the case of all workings of heka, one must be able to affirmatively state that one is not the sort of person who would do such a thing truthfully, even if one did in fact do that in the past.

Also, keep in mind that there are different confession lists from different texts, with a variety of emphases; it's hardly a revealed scripture.
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« Reply #2: June 20, 2009, 01:23:49 am »

It seems to me that this is obviously the case here.  However, as in the case of all workings of heka, one must be able to affirmatively state that one is not the sort of person who would do such a thing truthfully, even if one did in fact do that in the past.

What makes you draw the distinction between "sort of person" that does the actions from the actions themselves?
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« Reply #3: June 20, 2009, 02:28:52 am »

What makes you draw the distinction between "sort of person" that does the actions from the actions themselves?

It's perfectly coherent with the rest of heka performance.

Consider another part of the Book of Going Forth By Day: the confrontations with the guardians of the gates.  TO pass each gate, the deceased must identify the guardians, the gate, and so on by name, and then must demonstrate the authority to go through the gate -- which means, in frequent practice, claiming to be a god.

Now, obviously, the deceased wasn't Heru (or Whoever) yesterday, and probably won't be tomorrow.  But at the moment of passing the gate, the deceased must be able to fully embody and be the god, or else the guardians won't let them through.  At the moment of speech, one must be able to truthfully embody that speaking, even if it wasn't true yesterday.
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Allati
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« Reply #4: June 20, 2009, 06:27:54 am »

Another theory I was thinking of is that of heka.  We know that in many recordings of Egyptian history, even if there were resounding defeats, it was never recorded as such, because to say that they are triumphant is to affirm their victory and this mattered more than actual occurance.  Could it be the same in the case of the confessions?  Could our merely saying these things work in our favor when before the judge, regardless of how we acted? 

This is the way I've been led to understand it. Zep-Tepi + heka = when you're saying it there, in front of the judge, it is true. As noted above, there's a fair amount of being liberal with the 'truth' in Egyptian practice, claiming to be a particular God for a certain prayer or ritual being the big example. To say it with meaning and belief makes it true.


I think, at the time, they were very literal. But like a lot of Old Testament laws they can be a little outdated. I see them very much as guidelines for the *kind* of actions we should try to avoid. And I don't think we have 'sinned' and had it marked against us if we fail to live up to them.
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Henytenwepwawet
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« Reply #5: June 20, 2009, 03:35:30 pm »

It's perfectly coherent with the rest of heka performance.

Consider another part of the Book of Going Forth By Day: the confrontations with the guardians of the gates.  TO pass each gate, the deceased must identify the guardians, the gate, and so on by name, and then must demonstrate the authority to go through the gate -- which means, in frequent practice, claiming to be a god.

Now, obviously, the deceased wasn't Heru (or Whoever) yesterday, and probably won't be tomorrow.  But at the moment of passing the gate, the deceased must be able to fully embody and be the god, or else the guardians won't let them through.  At the moment of speech, one must be able to truthfully embody that speaking, even if it wasn't true yesterday.

Thanks for the clarification, Darkhawk.  I admit I haven't read the funerary texts as I've heard that it would be very difficult to understand what passes if one has not had at least some prior experience with the social and philosophical context, and that's what I've been focusing on as my primary area of research.  I've heard the Faulkner translations were the best but would be open to suggestion.

Your last sentence is very interesting to me and makes me think a lot about existentialist philosophy.  Its idea is that there is no human nature and we can only be judged by our actions and those actions' intents.  For example, even if a murderer were sitting in the chair about to be electrocuted, if they at that moment decide they will take responsibility for their actions and look at their life authentically, that my somewhat redeem them from their past mistakes.  So I suppose in this light if we look back at what we did and try to present ourselves authentically, the gods and/or judges might look upon that favorably.
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« Reply #6: June 25, 2009, 03:40:30 am »

But what I'm wondering is, are we to understand the confessions literally?  Should we really not do these things, ever?  If we do, will it be counted against us permanently?  Should we hope to have at least a C+ rate with these confessions?

The Negative Confessions are a very interesting theme in Kemetic literature.  I say "theme" because there is no definitive list- each occurrence of this chapter has its own set, which seem to follow along similar lines but do vary in their specifics.  I think that the Negative Confessions are a wonderful tool for meditations on ma'at- and to this end I once strung together a simple line of 42 beads and carried them with me to remind me of one such list throughout the day.  

However, these "confessions"- or Declarations of Purity as I really prefer to call them- seem to be both a reflection on ma'at as understood by the person by whom they were commissioned and an act of heka on behalf of the deceased to help them in the afterlife.  I base this statement primarily on a lecture by a former curator of one of our local Egyptian museums- Lisa Schwappach-Shirriff.  In that seminar, she described two different types of entries in these lists- there were general descriptions of moral principles (such as "I have not murdered, I have not stolen, I have not lied, etc."), and tucked among these general principles there were also some extremely specific descriptions (for example, "I have not built a home so unstable that it collapsed and killed my neighbor's daughter.").  This latter seems to have been a magical purgative- with the power of the written word and the activation of these words by the priests at the funerary service, the regrettable incident would be stricken from the record and the deceased could begin his or her new life with a clean slate.  The more general principles may have had a similar effect in the purification of the deceased, but they do seem to reflect moral principles which were held to be important by the deceased in general.

Therefore, the Declarations of Purity should not be read as an extended version of the Ten Commandments.  They are not holy writ, nor does stumbling over them make a person irredeemable- ma'at is a scale, after all, not a checklist.  However, they can be inspirational, and are valuable tools in the study of ma'at today.

Hope that helped answer your question!
« Last Edit: June 25, 2009, 03:43:21 am by WebenBanu » Logged

Em ma'at,
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« Reply #7: June 25, 2009, 04:29:36 pm »

However, these "confessions"- or Declarations of Purity as I really prefer to call them- seem to be both a reflection on ma'at as understood by the person by whom they were commissioned and an act of heka on behalf of the deceased to help them in the afterlife.  I base this statement primarily on a lecture by a former curator of one of our local Egyptian museums- Lisa Schwappach-Shirriff.  In that seminar, she described two different types of entries in these lists- there were general descriptions of moral principles (such as "I have not murdered, I have not stolen, I have not lied, etc."), and tucked among these general principles there were also some extremely specific descriptions (for example, "I have not built a home so unstable that it collapsed and killed my neighbor's daughter.").  This latter seems to have been a magical purgative- with the power of the written word and the activation of these words by the priests at the funerary service, the regrettable incident would be stricken from the record and the deceased could begin his or her new life with a clean slate.

Oh, cool!  Does she have any published material on this stuff, or are there references you know of?
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« Reply #8: June 28, 2009, 11:33:52 am »

Oh, cool!  Does she have any published material on this stuff, or are there references you know of?

I wish that I'd asked for a bibliography of her talk, but no- I don't know where to find further reading. Sad
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