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Coffin fragement, about 3000 years old showing Egyptian ideas about the afterlife. The square object of the left is the Lake of Fire which was used to make sure the evil deceased died a second death. It was also used to purify the good dead. To the right is the judegement hall in which the gods will decide if the deceased is good or bad.

The top band of hieroglyphs recite the titles of Osiris: ‘Osiris, foremost of the westerners, the great god who dwells in Abydos, Wenen-nefer, ruler of those who live, The King of eternity, lord of everlasting, go….’. ‘Foremost of the Westerners’ is a common title of Osiris. ‘The westerners’ were the dead who were buried in the west. ‘Wenen-nefer’ was also a name of Osiris and was applied to him after his resurrection and may mean ‘He who has become youthful’ (Donohue 1978). Osiris is also frequently known as Lord of ‘Eternity and Everlastingness’. Everlastingness and Eternity (both nouns are often translated simply as ‘Eternity’ and are transliterated Dt and nHH in ancient Egyptian). It is sometimes said that Dt represents the linear time of people on earth, the second the cyclical time of the gods, or that Dt is associated with the past and Osiris and nHH with Re and the future. However, the two are often used interchangeably (Kadish 2001, 408). The most important cult centre of Osiris was as at Abydos, where he was thought to have been buried.   

On the right is Nut, standing behind the enthroned Re with an elaborate crown on his head. Immediately in front of him is Isis and behind Isis the deceased. The deceased wears a ‘perfume cone’ on her head and shakes a sistrum as an act of adoration. Behind her is a snake-headed deity. The deity is labelled Hnwt ‘mistress’. 

A similar figure, sometimes depicted carrying knives or snakes, also appears on the 21st Dynasty coffin of Iwesumhesetmwt, which is also in the Egypt Centre. Sometimes she is called ‘Embracing of Horus’ and appears in procession toward the throne of Re or Osiris in the afterlife as well as the scene showing the enthronement of Osiris above the great snake. However, our figure, being mummiform, also bears some resemblance to the snake-headed judges of the Judgement Hall (Seeber 1976, 138, fig. 50). 

Behind her and facing in the opposite direction is Isis. She is adoring an ‘object’. The ‘object’ is Nefertum here depicted as a lotus plant with a menet necklace hanging from it and surmounted by two sw feathers coloured green. Facing Isis is Nephthys also adoring Nefertum. Then comes a figure of Osiris, the Lake of Fire and then another figure of Osiris. 

The Lake of Fire was used to purify the deceased to be reborn, as Re was reborn. At each corner of the lake is a baboon. 

The inscription in vertical columns above this scene reads ‘The great god, lord of the secret mound which is in the midst of the Duat. Nut, mistress of the beautiful west. Isis, the great one, mother of the god. Re. The mistress. Isis. Nefertum, protector of the lands, the great god. Nephthys. Osiris, lord for ever and ever, the great god. Osiris, lord of eternity’.


Further Reading 

Donohue, V.A. 1978. ‘Pr-nfr’, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 64, 143-148. 

Ikram, S. and Dodson, A. 1998. The Mummy In Ancient Egypt. Thames and Hudson. 

Kadish, G.E. 2001. Time. In Redford, D.B. The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Ancient Egypt, The American University in Cairo Press, 405-409. 

Seeber, C. 1976. Untersuchungen zur Darstellung des Totengerichts im Alten Ägypten. München: Deutscher Kunstverlag.

Taylor, J.H. 1989. Egyptian Coffins. Shire Publication.


Related items:

Shroud showing the Book of the Dead Spell for the Lake of Fire

Other Third Intermediate Period coffin fragments