Ancient Egyptian Letters to the Dead

The Realm of the Dead through the Voice of the Living


In Ancient Egyptian Letters to the Dead: The Realm of the Dead through the Voice of the Living Julia Hsieh investigates the beliefs and practices of communicating with the dead in ancient Egypt through close lexical semantic analysis of extant Letters. Hsieh shows how oral indicators, toponyms, and adverbs in these Letters signal a practice that was likely performed aloud in a tomb or necropolis, and how the senders of these Letters demonstrate a belief in the power and omniscience of their deceased relatives and enjoin them to fight malevolent entities and advocate on their behalf in the afterlife. These Letters reflect universals in beliefs and practices and how humankind, past and present, makes sense of existence beyond death.

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Julia Hsieh, Ph.D. (2019), Yale University, has published articles on topics ranging from ancient Egyptian toponyms and grammatical constructions to vessel repair. Her research interests include the evolution of the Egyptian language, comparative religion, and bioarchaeology. She is the Assistant Editor of Near Eastern Archaeology, and Campaign Director & Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Yale School of Management.
"This book is beautifully illustrated and includes a chart of extant letters to the dead and a glossary. All the texts quoted are translated, with full explanatory notes. While intended for specialists, it is by no means esoteric, providing us with a variety of perspectives on the ancient Egyptians."
- Wilfred G.E. Watson, in The Society for Old Testament Study Book List 2022
List of Figures

 1 What Are the Letters to the Dead?
 2 What Can We Infer from the Letters to the Dead?

Part 1 The Senders

1 Orality and Intertextuality
 1 Orality
 2 Intertextuality

2 Where Were the Letters Composed, Performed, and Deposited?
 1 Geospatial Indicators
 2 The Use of Bowls and the mnṯꜣ.t Vessel

Part 2 The Recipients

3 Characteristics and Abilities of the Akh
 1 The Akh in the Letters to the Dead
 2 Akh as Advocate
 3 Adversaries and Malevolent Akh

4 Literacy in the Afterlife

Part 3 Textual Analysis of the Letters to the Dead

5 Transliteration, Translation, and Text Notes
 1 Cairo Linen
 2 Qau Bowl
 3 Chicago Jar Stand
 4 Letter N3737
 5 Letter N3500
 6 Hu Bowl
 7 Boston Jar Stand
 8 Stela of Nebetitef and the Misplaced Letter to the Dead
 9 Louvre Bowl
 10 Berlin Bowl
 11 Cairo Bowl
 12 Qubbet el-Hawa Bowl
 13 Papyrus Berlin 10481 and 10482
 14 Horhotep Ostracon
 15 Oxford Bowl
 16 Moscow Bowl


Supplementary Texts
Summary Chart of Extant Letters to the Dead
Higher education institutes, academic libraries, professional academics, graduate students, and specialists of the ancient world, but also interested laypersons.
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