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Shaping Identities in the Context of Crisis: The Social Self Reflected in 21st Dynasty Funerary Papyri

  • Author(s): Stevens, Marissa Ashley
  • Advisor(s): Cooney, Kathlyn M
  • et al.

This dissertation examines the social functions of funerary papyri in Egypt in the 21st Dynasty (c. 1070-945 BCE), focusing on the construction and maintenance of the social identity of the Theban priesthood. The aim of this dissertation is to study funerary papyri not just as religious and ritual texts but as objects of use, display, competition, and ownership. These documents can be read as a reflection of the social self, with the identity of the deceased embedded in the illustrated content of each papyrus. To that end, there are four main research perspectives of this study that, while self-contained, are entangled and build upon one another in increasingly complexity to represent the deceased. The four research lenses are gender, temple titles, family relationships, and reuse.

The first perspective – gender – analyses the usage of papyri among women associated with the Theban priesthood. Due to the political and economic crisis of the 21st Dynasty, burials became singular and discrete, allowing women equal access to funerary materiality as compared to their male counterparts for the first time in Egyptian history. With women’s papyri being a comparable dataset to men, this perspective explores the specific choices that women made regarding their funerary assemblages.

Temple titles are the focus of the second research perspective. With the individuals owning the papyri all belonging to the Theban priestly class, the content of papyri is also a direct reflection of priestly status and rank. The exclusivity of certain texts and vignettes coupled with the specific titles for each person can illustrate their position and relative importance in society.

Third, family relationships inform our knowledge of papyri production, acquisition, and usage. With references to family members preserved on many of the papyri, similarities and differences in the construction and composition of the documents reflect kin groups and close associations to other family members. These relationships, in turn, reveal much about social organization and hereditary temple titles in Thebes.

The fourth research perspective focuses on the complicating issue of coffin reuse as it relates to funerary papyri. Because these reused coffins oftentimes did not reflect the social identity of their new owners – sometimes retaining old names, being of the wrong gender for the new owner, or clearly evoking an earlier funerary style – papyri were used in part to fill this void in representation. This last perspective explores the choices made by owners of reused coffin sets regarding the usage of their funerary papyri.

Combining these perspectives, this dissertation aims to understand how material culture can reflect, shape, sustain, or change the social identity of both the individual and the group when faced with disruptive decentralization and social turmoil.

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