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The Brooklyn Oracle Papyrus

Egyptian, Classical, Ancient Near Eastern Art

On View: 19th Dynasty to Roman Period, Martha A. and Robert S. Rubin Gallery, 3rd Floor

The Brooklyn Oracle Papyrus records the petition of a man named Pemou on behalf of his father, Harsiese. Harsiese was an ordinary priest in the service of the god Amun-Re at Karnak, but he wished to leave that god's service and join the priesthood of the neighboring temple of Montu-Re-Horakhty. Because temple personnel were seen as the property of the divinity, the god had to be consulted about any change in staff. Pemou asked for the god's advice on behalf of his father, and the god responded favorably. To record the verdict, Pemou had this papyrus drawn up and decorated.

The papyrus shows the procession of a image of Amun-Re, the fragments of whose shrine can be seen above the carrying poles borne by the priests. Above the shrine appear two ostrich-feather fans shading the god from the sun. In front of the priestly file stand the highestranking members of the Theban priesthood, all dressed in leopard-skin costumes with their respective names and titles written on their shoulder sashes.

The figure closest to and facing the shrine is Montuemhat, Fourth Prophet of Amun-Re. Although Montuemhat did not hold the highest title of the Theban pffesthood, he was Mayor of Thebes, thus serving in one of the highest posItions of power in southern Egypt. He had many exceptionally fine sculptures of himself made and built one of the largest tombs in the Theban necropolis. Some of the reliefs from Montuemhat's tomb are shown in a nearby vitrine.

The figure with the ostrich plumes on his head is the chief lector priest, reading aloud the processional ritual written on the papyrus roll he holds before him. The next-to-last figure on the right is the vizier Nespeqashuty, the highest official in the land, wearing the costume of his office, a high skirt with halter straps. Many reliefs from his tomb can be seen in the installation Temples, Tombs, and the Egyptian Universe. The figure behind him is most likely the petitioner Pemou or his father Harsiese.

After the papyrus was drawn up, fifty priests who had witnessed the events signed it. The fragment here contains the signatures, titles, and genealogies of six of those officials, including those of Montuemhat and Nespeqashuty. Each of the officials penned his own entry, as the variety of handwriting in this section of the papyrus attests.

MEDIUM Papyrus, pigment, ink
  • Possible Place Made: Thebes (Karnak), Egypt
  • DATES October 4, 651 B.C.E.
    DYNASTY Dynasty 26
    PERIOD Late Period, Saite Period
    DIMENSIONS Overall: 10 15/16 × 210 5/16 in. (27.8 × 534.2 cm) a: Frame: 17 1/8 x 50 3/8 in. (43.5 x 128 cm) a: Largest Fragment: 11 1/4 x 12 11/16 in. (28.5 x 32.3 cm) 1.frag.47.218.3a: Frame: 1 1/8 x 6 1/8 in. (2.9 x 15.5 cm) 1.frag.47.218.3a: Largest Fragment: 13/16 x 1 1/2 in. (2.1 x 3.8 cm) 2.frag.47.218.3a: Small Box of Fragments: 1 3/4 x 4 1/16 x 4  (show scale)
    ACCESSION NUMBER 47.218.3a-j
    CREDIT LINE Bequest of Theodora Wilbour from the collection of her father, Charles Edwin Wilbour
    PROVENANCE Archaeological provenance not yet documented, probably from the Temple of Karnak, Egypt; by 1896, collected in Egypt by Charles Edwin Wilbour; by 1896, gift of Charles Edwin Wilbour to Charlotte Beebe Wilbour, by inheritance; 1914, gift of Charlotte Beebe Wilbour to Evangeline Wilbour Blashfield, Theodora Wilbour, and Victor Wilbour, by inheritance; 1947, gift of Theodora Wilbour to the Brooklyn Museum.
    Provenance FAQ
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Hieratic papyrus inscribed, in black ink, on recto only. The papyrus contains a single large vignette, text description and fifty witness entries. The painting of procession of shrine of Re (?) preceded by priests and officials (A and B). Seventeen of the witness entries are written in “normal” hieratic, twenty-seven in abnormal hieratic, and six in what appears to be a mixture of the two. The text and witnesses entries extend over fifteen columns of text. Condition: Incomplete.
    CAPTION The Brooklyn Oracle Papyrus, October 4, 651 B.C.E. Papyrus, pigment, ink, Overall: 10 15/16 × 210 5/16 in. (27.8 × 534.2 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Bequest of Theodora Wilbour from the collection of her father, Charles Edwin Wilbour, 47.218.3a-j (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 47.218.3a-j_SL1.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 47.218.3a-j_SL1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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    RIGHTS STATEMENT No known copyright restrictions
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