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Work Fragment of the Book of the Dead on Papyrus: Djedhor Working in the Fields of the Afterlife

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Religious and funerary beliefs

Djedhor au travail dans les champs de l'au-delà

© Musée du Louvre/C. Décamps

Egyptian Antiquities
Religious and funerary beliefs

Author(s):
Cenival Jean-Louis de, Pierrat-Bonnefois Geneviève

After death, Egyptians hoped to reach a sort of paradise they called the Fields of Offerings - a land of abundance where barley was five cords (2.5 meters!) high, and wheat seven cords (3.5 meters) high. Chapter 110 of the Book of the Dead, a papyrus scroll, is illustrated with a map of this ideal countryside; the right to enter guaranteed prosperity and protected against hunger.

An Illustrated Fragment of the Book of the Dead

In antiquity, a papyrus book was a scroll that was unrolled on one side and rolled up on the other as it was read. The museum exhibits fragments that were once divided in this way. The Book of the Dead, a collection of formulae, was placed in the tomb of the deceased as a means of protection. It is illustrated with more or less standard illuminated drawings and paintings. Most of these vignettes are small and placed at the top of the page or within the body of the text. Some, like the work in the Fields of Reeds (or Fields of Offerings) from Chapter 110, are full-page illustrations.

Obtaining Food by any Means

The book is known in Egyptian as the "Book of the Coming Forth by Day." By leaving his tomb - through the use of magic spells or formulae - the deceased was able to enjoy the food placed in his tomb by his heirs or could sample the food on the altars of sanctuaries, where he was a protégé and guest of the gods. Finally, he could go to the Fields of Offerings, where he had his own personal homestead and payments in kind. Chapter 110 begins with these words: "Here begin the spells for the Fields of Offerings, the spells for coming forth by day, to enter and leave the world of the dead, to travel to the Fields of Reeds, to meet in the Fields of Offerings, the great place of winds, and there to be powerful, blessed, to work, to harvest, to eat, to drink, to make love, to do everything one does on earth." We can see that these fields constitute a land of plenty, a paradise and a second way, after coming forth by day, for the deceased to continue to live as if death had not occurred.

An Elysian Egyptian Landscape

The spell is illustrated by a sort of geographic plan of these fields, complete with the primary places of interest and activities, as on some of our tourist maps. During the Late Period, it was divided into three registers. The main deities are enthroned at the top, where the deceased pays them homage. The fields are represented in the middle; and at the bottom, a meandering of canals irrigates the fields, while boats and cities are depicted along the banks.
The deceased could avoid agricultural work in the collective interest by paying replacement workers, thereby shunning such chores (Chapter 6, the funerary servants). Yet he seems to take pleasure in the same tasks here. Dressed in his Sunday best, he digs, plants, and harvests grains in the land granted to him (although the text guarantees that Horus's servants will perform the work for him). The work must have been highly profitable, as the barley is five cords (2.5 meters) high, with sheaves two cords high, and stalks reaching to three cords. The wheat is seven cords high (sheaves three cords highs; stalks four). Land ownership in an essentially agricultural country - with no system of currency and virtually none of trade - represented the ultimate wealth, providing the best protection against famine.

Bibliography

CENIVAL Jean-Louis de, Le Livre pour Sortir le Jour, Éditions de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris, 1992, pp. 74-77.

Technical description

  • Djedhor au travail dans les champs de l'au-delà

    Basse Epoque, 664 - 332 avant J.-C.

  • papyrus

    H. 46 cm

  • N 3079 (feuille 13)

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Field work
    Room 4
    Vitrine 7 : Les travaux agricoles dans l'au-delà

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