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Mummification - Coptic Wiki


There is evidence for mummification in Egypt from the beginning of historical times. Herodotus and Diodorus report on the different ways of mummifying. The practice arose from the idea that preservation of bodily integrity is the presupposition for life after death. This idea is evidently also the reason for statements in martyr legends of the “Coptic consensus” (Baumeister, 1972, pp. 146ff.). After the torture but before the death of the martyr, an archangel comes down from heaven and removes any bodily mutilations arising from the martyrdom, so it can be affirmed that “there was no kind of injury to his body, and no damage was done to him at all.”

As late as 450 SHENUTE, in a sermon on the resurrection, came to terms with such ideas: “Even if your eyes are torn out, you will not arise in the resurrection without eyes. . . . Even if your head is taken off, you will rise again with it on you. Even if every member is cut off, you will not only arise without having the little finger of your hand cut off, or [the little toe] of your foot, but you will also arise as a spiritual body.” Hence it is not surprising that no criticism of mummification was voiced by the church. Only Arsenius, who lived in the fifth century, was, according to the opinion of H. G. Evelyn-White (1932, Vol. 2, p. 163 n. 7), against mummification. For Augustine (sermo 361, De resurrectione mortuorum) mummification is proof that the ancient Egyptians believed in the resurrection of the dead. In the story of Joseph, deriving from the fourth century, Jesus is brought into association with mummification.

After the death of his father, Joseph, he lays his hands on the body like a magus and says, “The stench of death shall not be master over thee, nor shall thine ears decay, nor shall the festering matter ever flow from thy body, nor shall thy burial-cloth pass into the earth nor thy flesh which I have laid upon thee, but it shall remain fast to thy body until the day of the thousand-year banquet.” This is the literary parallel to mummification in practice. It is further reported that when the Jews came to lay Joseph to rest after their manner of burial, they found him already prepared for burial, “with the burial [cloth] clinging to his body as if it had been attached with iron clasps” (chap. 27, 1f.; Morenz, 1951, p. 23). This is intended to demonstrate that Joseph had been mummified by Jesus’ utterance.

Although so far only a few Coptic have been systematically excavated, mummies of Christians have been authenticated beyond dispute, particularly in Karara, Antinoopolis, Akhmîm, Thebes, and Aswan. From the funerary equipment in the graves, these cemeteries are to be dated from the fifth to the eighth century.

The examination of Coptic mummies (Dawson and Smith, 1924, pp. 127ff.) showed that down to the sixth century the usual method of mummifying in the Greco-Roman period was retained. The skin and internal and external organs were generally preserved, and could be investigated. The mummies of the seventh and eighth centuries excavated at Thebes, on the other hand, were poorly preserved, which can probably be traced back to a change in mummification: no incision was made in the body, nor was it embedded in soda; rather, it was surrounded with large quantities of coarse salt, wrapped in cloths, and swathed with mummy bands. In addition salt was scattered in the mummy bands. The use of juniper berries was also established (Dawson and Smith, 1924, pp. 130ff.).

Mummies were depicted in book illustrations. In the Alexandrian Chronicle the patriarch I (d. 385) is represented as a mummy ( Kunst, p. 450, no. 623). This illustration does not, however, prove that he was mummified, for Lazarus also is represented as a mummy in early Christian and medieval art, although he was not mummified (Hermann, 1962).

On the evidence of his testament (in Greek Papyri in the , I.77.57ff. [London, 1893]), bishop ABRAHAM OF HERMONTHIS (beginning of the seventh century) was to be mummified. He also promoted the mummifying of Christians of his diocese; on the evidence of his correspondence (Crum, 1902, no. 68), he arranged for the provision of mummy bands and shrouds for the faithful of his see.

In several monasteries under his jurisdiction on the west side of Thebes mummified monks were exhumed—for instance, in Dayr al-Madinah, in the monastery of DAYR EPIPHANIUS, and in those of Phoibammon and of Mark. In the monasteries of the Wadi al-Natrun and in churches in Middle Egypt, well-preserved mummies are in safekeeping. They are said to be Coptic and patriarchs of the Middle Ages (Schmitz, 1930, 11 and lit.).

On the evidence of papyri, it appears that as early as about 300 the priest Apollo kept the mummy of a Christian woman, who was sent there for burial, in the township of Dush, situated in the Khargah Oasis.


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