Brian Alm

Brian Alm,, M.A., University of Chicago, is a retired magazine editor and former university instructor, and now an amateur Egyptologist and adjunct professor in Rock Island, Illinois, U.S.A., where he lectures on Egyptology as an independent scholar.

The shape of this libation vessel imbues the offering with the power of its symbols, ankh (life, living) and ka (spiritual essence), reflecting its religious purpose. 1st Dynasty (3100-2900 B.C.). Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA), New York.

Read Like an Egyptian — Art in Ancient Egypt, Part 1

Probably only one percent of the ancient Egyptians were literate, and those literate few were royalty, nobility, upper-crust managers and administrators, at least some of the top military people, full-time priests and scribes. But many people could “read” what they were seeing, and understand it without knowing how to read hieroglyphs. The ideas and symbolic iconography were grounded in their culture; the art spoke to them even if their knowledge of the written text was, for the vast majority of the public, rudimentary at best — no doubt limited to a few basic glyphs. [more…]

Brian Alm's decoder for Greek terms

Brian Alm’s decoder for Greek terms

Further to his previous article, Brian Alm has very kindly responded to a number of requests for a decoder for Greek terms by sending the following tables for readers. [more…]

In the 18th Dynasty, Akhenaten posed the only real challenge to Egyptian religion with his Aten heresy

Ancient Egyptian Religion, Part 7 — Roots Too Deep to Dislodge

We have been watching the force and flow of three concepts in the stream of Egyptian culture and religion through the course of this series — order, duality, and divine magic — which informed Egyptian thought and practice for more than 3,000 years. The business of this article is to go back into the deep past and look at the roots of Egypt’s religious and socioeconomic culture, and then to test the durability of those formative ideas by examining the only major departure — the 18th Dynasty heresy of Akhenaten — which, by threatening the ancient heritage, actually reconfirmed it. [more…]

Figure 2. Thutmes III imposing order over chaos, the enemies of Egypt, on the seventh pylon at Karnak

Ancient Egyptian Religion, Part 6 — Art for Eternity

Part 1 of this series set forth the foundation principles of Egyptian religion as cosmic order (maat), duality, and divine magic (heka), which we saw expressed in tomb architecture in Part 5. Now in Part 6 we will continue our exploration of the tomb, looking for evidence of those concepts as they are expressed in art.  [more…]

Fig. 5. The tip of the pyramid, the pyramidion, was apparently a model of the benben stone of Heliopolis, a sacred symbol of the solar religion founded on the sun god Ra; benben comes from the verb wbn, “to rise.” The pyramidion of Khafra’s pyramid, like the others, is gone, but some of the white Tura limestone casing remains.

Ancient Egyptian Religion, Part 5 — The Mansion of Millions of Years

A series of articles like this, or a book, lecture or Egyptology course, could be focused on Egyptian art, architecture, history, culture, politics, sociology, medicine or virtually anything, and still be about Egyptian religion. Conversely, this series on religion is likewise about everything else. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and in ancient Egypt, the tree is religion. In this installment, we will follow the deceased king into his his eternal home, the “Mansion of Millions of Years,” and begin to explore the meanings there — the ideas expressed in architecture. In Part 6, we will continue with a look at the grave goods, art and words that perpetuate life in the world beyond. The immediate purpose is to see the correspondences between Old Kingdom and New Kingdom tombs as they reflect religious ideology. [more…]

Figure 15. The Opening of the Mouth ceremony put the power of spoken magic at the command of the deceased.

Ancient Egyptian Religion, Part 4 — Preparing for Eternity

Ultimately everybody has to deal with the final fact of life: death. How the Egyptians dealt with it was so profound in its cultural breadth and depth that it gives rise to the biggest misconception about them: that they were fixated on death. It was just the opposite: they were fixated on life. But we have to understand that for them, death was neither final nor fact.  [more…]

Osiris with Nephthys and Isis. Photograph by on Bodsworth

Deities of the underworld in the New Kingdom

This article looks at the most important scene in a funerary text that the Egyptians called the Book of Going Forth by Day, better known today as the Book of the Dead. It consists of a series of spells to help the deceased tackle the challenges of the Afterlife. The subject of this article is the vignette (illustration) accompanying Spell 125, the scene in the Court of Judgment [more…]

Edition - January, 2012

Painted Vessel 3

Exhibition spotlight: ‘Before the Pyramids’ at the Oriental Institute

The following short article provides a virtual tour of some of the items on show in the recent exhibition from the Oriental Institute Museum’s 2011 exhibit, Before the Pyramids: The Origins of Egyptian Civilization, at the University of Chicago.  [more…]

Figure 8. Hieroglyphic writing: medu-netjer, "the words of god"

Ancient Egyptian Religion, Part 3 – Temples, Festivals and Personal Piety

By Brian Alm Published on Egyptological, Magazine Edition 3, December 7th 2011   Introduction Thus far we have covered the fundamental concepts and ideologies that informed the religion of ancient Egypt — cosmic order (maat), the duality of paired principles, and divine magic (heka) — and how theology explained Creation and equipped humankind with the […] [more…]