Isfet (Egyptian mythology)

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Isfet (Egyptian mythology) in hieroglyphs
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Isfet or Asfet (meaning "injustice", "chaos", or "violence"; as a verb, “to do evil”[1]) is an ancient Egyptian term from Egyptian mythology used in philosophy, which was built on a religious, social and political affected dualism.[2]

Principles and ideology[edit]

Isfet was thought to be the counterpart of the term Ma'at (meaning “(world-) order” or “harmony”). According to ancient Egyptian beliefs, Isfet and Ma'at built a complementary and also paradoxical dualism: one could not exist without its counterpart. Isfet and Ma'at balanced each other. An Egyptian king (pharaoh) was appointed to “achieve” Ma'at, which means that he had to keep and protect justice and harmony by destroying Isfet. The principles of the contrariness between Isfet and Ma'at are exemplified in a popular tale from the Middle Kingdom, called "the moaning of the Bedouin":

Those who destroy the lie promote Ma'at;
those who promote the good will erase the evil.
As fullness casts out appetite,
as clothes cover the nude and
as heaven clears up after a storm.[3]

In the eyes of the Egyptians the world was always ambiguous; the actions and judgments of a king were thought to simplify these principles in order to keep Ma'at by separating order from chaos or good from evil.[4][5][2][6] Coffin Text 335a asserts the necessity of the dead being cleansed of Isfet in order to be reborn in the Duat.[7]


  1. ^ a b Erman, Adolf, and Hermann Grapow, eds. 1926–1953. Wörterbuch der aegyptischen Sprache im Auftrage der deutschen Akademien. 6 vols. Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs'schen Buchhandlungen. (Reprinted Berlin: Akademie-Verlag GmbH, 1971).
  2. ^ a b Donald B. Redford: The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt: A-F (= The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, volume 1). Oxford University Press, 2001, ISBN 019513821X, page 485.
  3. ^ Jan Assmann: Ma'at. Gerechtigkeit und Unsterblichkeit im Alten Ägypten (= Beck'sche Reihe. Bd. 1403). 1. Auflage, Beck, München 1990, ISBN 3-406-45943-9. page 58.
  4. ^ Jan Assmann: Ma'at. Gerechtigkeit und Unsterblichkeit um Alten Ägypten (= Beck'sche Reihe. Bd. 1403). 1. Auflage, Beck, München 1990, ISBN 3-406-45943-9. page 58, 59 & 213–216.
  5. ^ Anja Berendine Kootz: Der altägyptische Staat: Untersuchung aus politikwissenschaftlicher Sicht (= Menes. Band 4). Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2006, ISBN 3447053194. page 71–73.
  6. ^ Karenga (Maulana.): Maat, The Moral Ideal in Ancient Egypt: A Study in Classical African Ethics. Routledge, London 2003, ISBN 0415947537, page 363.
  7. ^ Rabinovich, Yakov. Isle of Fire: A Tour of the Egyptian Further World. Invisible Books, 2007.