The ideological Basis for Social Justice/Responsibility in Ancient Egypt
SCOTT N. MORSCHAUSER
The Egyptian word most often translated into English as "justice" is the term "ma'at." It is used in connection with the promulgation and execution of laws; the suppression of criminal activity; and the correction of official abuses. Ma'at, however, also had a far wider application than reference to legal practices alone; but denotes the basic "ordering" of Egyptian life ( Helck 1980: 1110-19).
Ma'at defined the divine ordinances by which the universe was originally set into motion and properly maintained, manifested in the rhythms of the natural world: the rising and the setting of the sun, the annual inundation of the Nile, the recurring seasons of planting and harvest.
In the immanent realm, ma'at fixed the parameters of Egyptian society itself, setting out the limits for the proper and discretionary exercise of power by those who ruled toward those over whom they had authority.
As attested by the literature that has survived from ancient Egypt, ma'at encompassed specific ethical requirements, characterized as both the official and personal responsibilities of the socially advantaged toward their inferiors, as well as the obligations of subjects toward the state--which was embodied in the figure of the king.
The image or metaphor most frequently encountered in ancient Egyptian texts