The harper songs from the tomb of Neferhotep (Ecclesiastes 1)

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Illustrasjon: Neferhotep I

Dating from the late fourteenth through the early thirteenth centuries B.C., three funerary banquet songs have been discovered on the walls of a tomb near Thebes, Egypt. The tomb belonged to a certain Neferhotep, the deceased whom the songs honour. Two of them offer somewhat contradictory attitudes regarding death and the afterlife. In Song I the harpist sings of the passing generations in which children are born, breathe life and begins moving inexorably toward the grave. The sun deity rises and sets continuously, but death is inevitable. The singer urges Neferhotep to forget the evil past and to remember only joyous occasions, for death is the great equalizer – inscriminately claiming those with full granaries and those with nothing.

Song III has a more positive tone. Although it, too, declares that death is inescapable, it asserts that people are not equal after this event. Neferhotep’s devotion to the Egyptian gods will be rewarded in the afterlife; he will be remembered both by his god and by his people for his religiosity. Because of his piety, Neferhotep’s enemies will be eternally defeated and his soul declared justified. In fact, he will be happier in the afterlife than he ever was on earth.

Parallels for both songs can be found in Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes 1-4 speaks of generations coming and going and of the continual cycle of the rising and setting of the sun. Surely death is inevitable and overtakes us all (2:14, 16, 9:2-3). Indeed, it equalizes humanity, since no one can take his or her achievements into the afterlife, but must leave them to the next generation (cf. 2:18-19). In his summary statement, however, the teacher concludes that a person should honour God and obey His commandments, because every action will be judged by Him (12:13-14). Unlike Neferhotep’s Song III, the teacher does not suggest that outward religiosity and cultic piety will be rewarded: God sees the hidden things as well as the obvious, and living a life of true wisdom begins with a proper unerstanding and fear of the Lord (cf. Proverbs 1:7).


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