A 1900-year-old ancient Egyptian papyrus was recently deciphered by two researchers. It contains stories of mystical rituals that included sex, drinking and singing of hymns in honor of the goddess Mut. The two researchers believe that the fictional story is an attempt at discussing the ritual sex acts among priests.
Richard Jasnow, from John Hopkins University and Mark Smith, from Oxford, believe that such evident cases of ritual sex in ancient Egypt are extremely rare and it is possible that such practices were controversial even at that time.
„Our text may represent a new and hitherto unrecognized Egyptian literary genre: ‘cult’ fiction, the purpose of which was to allow controversial or contentious matters pertaining to the divine cult to be scrutinized in this way,“ wrote the two professors in the latest edition of the journal Enchoria.
„There is surprisingly little unequivocal Egyptian evidence for the performance of the sex act as such in ritual contexts,“ Jasnow and Smith wrote.
Furthermore, they explain that discussion of such complex questions through stories or tales was precisely in the nature of ancient Egyptians.
The papyrus was written in Demotic language and refers to the period of Roman rule and most likely originates from the Fayum village of Tebtunis. The ancient artifact is now being kept in the Istituto Papirologico „G. Vitelli“, Florence, Italy.
There are numerous mentions of ritual sex acts in the deciphered text. In one passage it is said: „Drink truly. Eat truly. Sing“ and to „don clothing, anoint (yourself), adorn the eyes, and enjoy sexual bliss.“
The author added that Mut would not let you be „be distant from drunkenness on any day. She will not allow you to be lacking in any (manner).“ He defends his views with the following statement: „As for those who have called me evil, Mut will ‘call’ them evil.“
Researchers are positive that the story is fictional because of a noun used only in fiction to mark the separate chapters. Reconstruction of the whole narrative was really difficult since the text is damaged and fragmentary.
„Conceivably, we have here the remains of an account of how an adherent of the goddess Mut persuaded another individual to devote himself to her worship or join in her rites,“ the two researchers explain.
Interpretation of the papyrus as “cult fiction” is based on the words of Greek historian, Herodotus, who lived more than 2400 years ago. “It was the Egyptians who first made it a matter of religious observance not to have intercourse with women in temples, nor enter a temple after such intercourse without washing.“
It is possible that sex in religious rituals was unacceptable in ancient Egypt and priests were trying to discuss this problem through fictional tales. Smith added for LiveScience that there are some more undeciphered fragments of the papyrus which may help put all the pieces of the puzzle together.