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Ancient Egypt
Introduction > Religion in the Lives of the Ancient Egyptians

Maat, the king, and his subjects
Central to Egyptian religion and thought is the concept of maat, the embodiment of truth and the universal balance of the universe. This sense of order, personified as a goddess named Maat, intertwined all aspects of correct daily behavior and thought with cosmic order and harmony. Individuals were personally responsible for the maintenance of the universal order. If one transgressed against the forces of order, chaos — a state antithetical to everything the Egyptians knew and valued — would ensue and in this frightening realm the sun would not rise, the Nile would not flood, crops would not grow, and children would abandon their elderly parents.

One of the most fundamental duties of the king was to maintain maat through his intercession with the gods and especially through the cult actions performed in the temples each day in his name. Yet each of his subjects, through their correct behavior, shared that responsibility. What constituted proper morality is illustrated by the negative confession that the deceased recited at his or her judgment before the gods. This litany, Spell 125 of the "Book of the Dead," stipulated what was considered sinful such as: "I have not done wrong; I have not slain people; I was not sullen; I have not caused anyone to weep; I have not had intercourse with a married woman." Protestations such as "I have not disputed the king" indicate how closely religion was tied to the state, and that political obedience was an important part of the individual's religious duty.

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Figure 3: The Sacred Boat.  »

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