Dispute between a man and his Ba

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Merged photos depicting a copy of the ancient Egyptian papyrus "The Dispute Between a Man and His Ba", written in hieratic text. Thought to date to the Middle Kingdom, likely the 12th Dynasty.

The Dispute between a man and his Ba or The Debate Between a Man and his Soul[1] is an ancient Egyptian text dating to the Middle Kingdom about a man deeply unhappy with his life. It is part of the Wisdom literature and takes the form of a dialogue between a man and his ba. The beginning of the text is missing, there are a number of lacunae, and translation of the remainder is difficult. The only copy to survive, consisting of 155 columns of hieratic writing, is on the recto of Papyrus Berlin 3024.[2] Further fragments were published in 2017.[3]

Synopsis (following the translation of M. Lichtheim)[edit]

The man accuses his ba of wanting to desert him, of dragging him towards death before his time. He says that life is too heavy for him to bear, that his heart would come to rest in the West (i.e. the afterlife), his name would survive and his body would be protected. He urges his ba to be patient and wait for a son to be born to make the offerings the deceased need in the afterlife. His ba describes the sadness death brings and retorts to the man's complaints about his lack of worth, his being cut off from humanity and the attractiveness of death by exhorting him to embrace life and promises to stay with him.

There appears to be no hint in the text that the man is considering taking his own life,[2] although Pritchard's rendition[4] strongly suggests the opposite.


In the translation of Miriam Lichtheim the text is presented as a mixture of styles: prose, symmetrically structured speech, and lyric poetry.


The papyrus was bought by the German Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius in Egypt in 1843[5] and is now in the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung belonging to the Berlin State Museums.[6]

The first edition was published during 1859,[7] and subsequently numerously translated, with sometimes widely differing interpretation.[8]



  • Allen, James P. (2011). The Debate between a Man and His Soul: A Masterpiece of Ancient Egyptian Literature. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-19303-1
  • M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, vol.1, University of California Press 1973
  • James B. Pritchard ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, Princeton University Press 1950


  1. ^ Allen, 2011, p.1
  2. ^ a b Lichtheim, 1973, p.163
  3. ^ Marina Escolano-Poveda: New Fragments of Papyrus Berlin 3024, in: ZÄS 2017, 144(1), p. 16–54
  4. ^ Pritchard, 1950, pp.405-407
  5. ^ Winfried Barta, Das Gespräch eines Mannes mit seinem BA: (papyrus Berlin 3024), 1969, p.9
  6. ^ Bulletin no. 24, Spring 2006, Association des diplômées et des diplômés en théologie et en sciences des religions de l'Université de Montréal
  7. ^ James P. Allen, The Debate between a Man and His Soul: A Masterpiece of Ancient Egyptian Literature Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-19303-1
  8. ^ Roland Edmund Murphy, The Tree of Life: An Exploration of Biblical Wisdom Literature, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing 2002, ISBN 0-8028-3965-7, p.170