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Lesson IX : A typical offering formula

The 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 unknown signs.

Nowhere 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.

The formula consists of different parts:

  1. The 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.

  2. Next, 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 deceased.
    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 the offering.

  3. This can be followed by a conjugated form of the verb "to give". If only the king gives the offering, then the form , 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.

  4. The 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 mentioned are:
    , pr.t-xrw, "invocation-offerings" (literally: "the coming out of the voice")
    , t, "bread"
    , H(n)q.t, "beer"
    , 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".

  5. The 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 deceased..
    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 formula.





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