In this talk, Alex will focus on questions of orality in Egyptian justice in the longue durée (c.2700-1100BCE).
About this Event
This profoundly diachronic talk focusses on the array of ways in which concepts around orality – exemplified by the terms wḏo-mdw (‘dividing words’) and sḏm (‘hearing’) were employed in the ancient Egyptian justice system, and how this changed over the longue durée of the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms. The Old and Middle Kingdom evidence is to a large extent, although not exclusively, prosopographic, yielding insights into the lives and duties of officials charged with ‘dividing words’ or ‘hearing’, whereas the New Kingdom material allows for greater discussion of what the processes and practicalities of ‘dividing words’ and ‘hearing’ may actually have entailed. In attempting to chart the development of these concepts over vast temporal expanses, this talk will draw together sources as diverse as the Autobiography of Weni, the El-Lahun letter corpus, the inscriptions from the Tomb of Rekhmire, the Nauri Decree of Seti I, and many others. Alongside texts where ‘dividing words’ and ‘hearing’ are mentioned, the talk will also highlight certain judicially significant texts in which they are not – including the Turin Judicial Papyrus and the Tomb Robbery Papyri. Some preliminary ideas on the overall shape of the evolution of these concepts – and their applicability – will then be offered. In doing so, the talk will illustrate the flexibility of the spoken word as a tool of justice across almost two millennia of Egyptian judicial process, while also wrestling with the present-day irony of studying that which was said through that which was written.