Banu (fyrekat) wrote,

Book review: Maat Revealed- Philosophy of Justice in Ancient Egypt

I purchased Maat Revealed after seeing it mentioned as a new acquisition by another LJ user, although I was never able to get her thoughts on the book. I don't know if she's even read it yet- but if she hasn't, then perhaps this review can serve as forewarning. Although the title sounds very promising, and the author is apparently now in possession of a PhD, the book itself does not deliver on any of that promise and appears as though it could very likely have been written by a particularly angsty 10 year old. Weighing in at 80 pages of text, 33 pages of footnotes, and 7 pages worth of works cited (which were apparently cited solely to decry the failings of modern egyptology), it displays many of the same traits as an uninspired grade school paper. Complete with slightly larger than usual print, double spaced lines, endless consecutive repetitions of the same assertions and phrases in slightly reworded versions (but with very little or incredibly shallow supportive reasoning), the author also regales us with that old, familiar last ditch effort of scholarly desperation: the use of the "Conclusion" paragraph as a means of rehashing the same tired complaint which made up much of the preceding chapter while slipping in some odd little deductions which seem to have little to do with the material already covered, but give you the illusion that you're actually progressing through a theory. As you can probably tell, I wasn't very impressed with the book.

Here's the main theme of Maat Revealed: modern people are so overly materialistic that we are blind to see the obvious truth embedded in the mystical symbols of the ancient papyri which are right before our very eyes. In fact, modern people- particularly scientists- have apparently done away with symbols altogether, and have no clue as to how they're used anymore. We need to rediscover our own dream language. Some people understand the dream language. Others do not understand the dream language. Many have no concept of the dream language. Particularly egyptologists. But the dream language is absolutely vital for understanding the symbols which egyptologists blatantly refuse to see because they are so thoroughly devoid of any capacity for recognizing the dream language.

Instead, they're distracted by the accompanying texts- which obviously have nothing to do with the illustrations- and that draws them away from the hidden truths of the SCENE (as the author likes to refer to the "weighing of the heart"). Egyptologists are particularly afflicted by this deplorable sense of rational study, and are way, way too literalistic and materialistic in their interpretations of this SCENE. Besides, how could anybody possibly think that the SCENE has anything to do with dead people when there are no corpses lying about in it? And a heart balancing on a scale with a feather? C'mon- muscle is much too heavy for that, so obviously the scale has nothing to do with any concept of "weighing." Those egyptologists are way too literal.

The author also claims that the ancient Egyptians were in no way religious, but entirely scientific- although she caveats that the ancient Egyptian concept of science was in no way the same as our own. She cites overtly religious overtones in temple rituals as signs of the corruption of the pure Egyptian scientific understanding of the rites (and points out that the priests in these time periods clearly had no idea what they were doing), dismisses immediately anything with magical significance, and then evidences the lack of any sort of energy exchange left in the rubble of her dissected ritual remains as "proof" that egyptian "religion" had suffered a complete break down.

And so it continues through about 53 pages of text before the author initiates us into her own concept of what maat is- which has something to do with solar energy and migrating birds. Admittedly a pretty analogy, but by that point she had so impressed me with her disgust for modern egyptological theories that I was expecting her own to be a little more insightful, or intelligible, or supported by contextual evidence, or at least something more than a rehash of the same concepts which many egyptologists have expressed in their own metaphors of the weighing of the heart.

Mancini does have some beautiful and poetic ideas about the expression of ma'at in ancient Egypt, and the nature of its flow through the human community. The first chapter presents an interesting history of our developing understandings in the concept of maat, and the last chapter proposes an equally interesting new theory for how maat is received and transmitted through human interaction. It is greatly unfortunate that what contribution this author may have made to the field is almost entirely drowned out in her tirade against scholars who have not come to the same conclusion as herself.

Rating was a tough decision here- I feel very strongly that it is a rare thing to find a book without any redeeming qualities, and to me that's what a one scribe rating really means. That being said, this one barely scraped by the two scribe mark. I advise skipping it- you won't miss much, and you're probably better off reading the Maxims of PtahHotep anyway.

Rating: Two scribes (Mostly unhelpful and bitter, but inexpensive with a few interesting concepts)

  • Mancini, Anna. Maat Revealed: Philosophy of Justice in Ancient Egypt. New York: Buenos Books America, 2004.

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