British Museum

The balance of truth renders judgment on the dead in ancient Egyptian religion, as illustrated in this detail from the papyrus of Hu-nefer, a work dated to the New Kingdom (1550–1090 B.C.). At left, the dog-or jackal-headed Anubis, originally chief god of the dead, leads the deceased to the balance. Anubis then weighs the heart of the deceased, in the pan at the left end of the balance, against a feather, in the right-hand pan. Beneath the balance on the right sits Amenit, the Devouress, who will eat the deceased if the heart outweighs the feather (the sign of a sinner). To the right of the balance, Thoth, the recorder, writes the results of the judgment.

The Exodus story uses three Hebrew terms interchangeably to describe Pharaoh’s heart. Although these terms usually appear as “harden” or “stiffen” in translations, the author suggests that the best translation would be “to make his heart heavy,” an event that would doom Pharaoh to be devoured by Amenit in the afterlife. By making Pharaoh’s heart heavy, Yahweh was judging him to be a sinner, thereby contradicting Egyptian belief in Pharaoh’s perfection. Moreover, by this action, Yahweh demonstrated his supremacy over Pharaoh.