IX : A typical offering formula
Ancient Egyptian society was a very traditional one. This
explains the love of the Ancient Egyptians for repetition
and stereotypes. Quite often, many texts that have been discovered
thus far are variations on texts that have been discovered
before. This makes it easier to fill in the gaps, or to read
words that have been written with different or previously
is this love for stereotypes more obvious and present than
in religious texts. This is not surprising, as religion in
general tends to be conservative and traditional. This lesson
will use the knowledge acquired in the previous lessons to
explain the standard structure of a funerary offering formula
known as Hetep-di-nesu. As it was a funerary formula,
it can be found in tombs, on lintels of doorways, on false
doors, on stelae, ... Most museums with an Egyptian collection
at least have a couple of objects with this formula.
formula consists of different parts:
introduction is invariably ,
to be read Htp di nsw, "an offering which the king
gives". Note how the abbreviation for king, ,
(n)sw(.t), is moved to the front of the group for honorific
reasons. This word is not necessarily abbreviated.
The triangular sign representing the word (r)DI, "to
give", is sometimes written at the end of the group,
which is grammatically correct, or just after the abbreviation
for king. In the latter case, the scribe has preferred to
move the sign to the front for esthetic reasons.
This phrase is of great antiquity and has been found from
the Old Kingdom on. It suggests that, at least at its origin,
this type of funerary offering was a special favour from
the king for the deceased, in that it is the king and not
the deceased who presents the offering.
the names and sometimes titles of one of more gods are given.
Typically, funerary gods such as Osiris or Anubis can be
invoked, although gods that do not have a direct relationship
with the funerary cult may also be prominent. The latter
indicates a special relationship between that god and the
The meaning of the presence of this list of gods can vary.
Either the king presents the offerings to these gods, in
which case the preposition ,
n, "to" may or may not be written; or the gods
also participate in presenting the offering. As a rule of
thumb, texts from the Middle Kingdom on usually have the
king as sole actor making the offering to the gods, whereas
during the Old Kingdom, the gods actively participated in
can be followed by a conjugated form of the verb "to
give". If only the king gives the offering, then the
DI=f, "that he may give" is used. If the gods
also play an active part in the offering, then
DI=sn, "that they may give", is used.
When this part of the formula is lacking, it is safe to
assume that only the king presents the offering if the text
dates from the Middle Kingdom or later.
actual list of offerings is then given. This list is very
variable and would probably depend on the wealth of the
deceased, his or her personal preferences and perhaps even
on the gods that are mentioned. Typical offerings that are
pr.t-xrw, "invocation-offerings" (literally: "the
coming out of the voice")
kA.w, "(meat of) bulls"
Apd.w, "(meat of) birds"
x.t nb.t nfr.t, "every good thing", sometimes
with the additional adjective ,
wab.t, "pure". This part of the offering can be
followed by the phrase ,
anx.t nTr im, "in which the god lives".
A mention of the amount of these offerings is sometimes
also provided; e.g. ,
Apd.w 1000, "a thousand birds".
last part of the formula usually starts with ,
n kA n, "to the Ka of" or "on behalf of the
Ka of", followed by the titulary and name of the deceased.
In some cases, n kA n, "to the kA of" is not mentioned
and the formula proceeds with the identification of the
Often, this will start with ,
imAxj, "venerable", an honorary title used for
deceased people. This can sometimes be followed by ,
xr, "by" or "with", and the name of
a god such as Anubis.
The name of the deceased itself can be followed by the indication
mAa xrw, "true of voice" or "justified",
yet another way of expressing that the person is deceased.
In some cases, this may be followed by the mention of the
name of the mother or father of the deceased.
Despite the traditional nature of the Ancient Egyptian society,
it is clear that this formula allowed for many variations:
the list of gods that were included, the choice of their titulary,
the list of actual offerings and the titles of the deceased
can all be used to create individual instances of the Hetep-di-nesu