W. M. Flinders Petrie's Researches in Sinai
Chapter VII, History and Purpose of the Temple
(complete chapter, pages 96 - 108)
«p.96:» HAVING now described the actual remains and architectural facts of the temple, we will turn to describe its history and purpose.
Figure 98 Figure 126
The oldest trace of occupation here is the hawk of Sneferu, the last king of the IIIrd dynasty, about 4750 B.C.; this is shown in fig. 126, and the workmanship of the hieroglyphs marks it as a contemporary carving. Certainly such forms of signs, and the thin, severe style of them, would not be paralleled in the XIIth or XVIIIth to XXth dynasties; nothing else here at all resembles it. That the later knowledge and traditions about the place agreed with this is evident from the other remains. The throne of a statuette of Sneferu (fig. 129) was dedicated by Senusert I. In the XIIth dynasty group of four kings seated at a table, made by Senusert I (fig. 128), we see his father, Amenemhat I, of the XIIth dynasty, next to him; then Mentuhotep Neb.hapu.ra, of the XIth dynasty; and then another king earlier than the XIth dynasty, which is probably Sneferu. A stele of the 27th year of Amenemhat III says that he is beloved by the deceased King Sneferu. A stele of an official of the XIIth dynasty says that he had obtained more turquoise than any one since the time of Sneferu. In the XVIIIth dynasty Shrine of the Kings, carved by Hatshepsut, we see Sneferu as the only king figured earlier than the XIIth dynasty (see fig. 98). On the dark red sandstone stele before the portico, the upper part of which has «p.97:» fallen, the style and the figures are like those of the neighbouring stele of Tahutmes III, but it commemorates King Sneferu. Thus, from the history of the place known to later ages, and from the hawk found here, we must credit Sneferu with having opened these mines. That he should do so is only an enterprise to be expected of him, when for several centuries before his time the mines of Magháreh had been worked, and he had put two large tablets there himself.
How much of the shrine existed here in his time is not known. But we may conclude that probably the cave was begun then. The condition of the figure of the hawk, which is of limestone, and yet is not at all weathered, points to its having been in some permanent shelter.
The next trace of a date here is the honouring of King Mentuhotep Neb.hapu.ra of the XIth dynasty, about 3500 B.C., who is figured by Senusert I, as we have noticed above. Soon after him we find Amenemhat I, the founder of the XIIth dynasty, leaving the base of a statuette here, and having also a statuette for which a regular place was appropriated in the temple. But Senusert (or Usertesen) I was the first king (3400 B.C.) of whom any pieces of construction remain. His lintel is of fine limestone and unusually long; two or three other pieces of his sculpture were found, and a very interesting slab has come from the wall of his shrine, marking the places where the statuette of Senusert I was kept, the statuette of Amenemhat I, and the hawk of Senusert I. This hawk in sandstone, much weathered and broken, was actually found by us in the temple. The inscription mentions also Khent, the queen of Senusert, Sebat his daughter, and the overseer of the north land, Ankh.ab. This shows that Senusert I arranged the shrine, and left a permanent building of some solidity here. The first of the Egyptian Bethel-stones was also put up in his reign.
«p.98:» Of Senusert II there is the base of a kneeling statuette; of Senusert III there is a squatting figure, with the names of his officials who dedicated it, now in the British Museum. Of Amenemhat II there is one great Bethel stele and part of another, three mine and quarry inscriptions, a statuette of Hat.hor dedicated by his ship-master named Sneferu, and other remains. His name appears also on the altar in the cave. These show that the shrine was maintained all through the dynasty, and that each king worked here and honoured the "Mistress of Turquoise."
When we come to Amenemhat III we find incessant activity here all through his long reign, the first date being in his 4th year and the last in his 45th year. The cave was enlarged to its present size by him, as on the walls are the names of an official, Ameny, and his family; and the same official dedicated the altar in the cave in the name of Amenemhat III. The other altar in the cave was also inscribed by the same king. Some of the steles set up in front of the portico are of this reign, in the 8th, 13th, and 30th years. And it seems very probable, therefore, that the building of the portico was at least begun now, although inscribed under the next king. The essentials of the sacred cave of Hat-hor and its front were what constituted the shrine in this reign. The greater part of the steles of the mining expeditions also belong to this time.
The inscriptions on the portico, and a large stele at the side of it, are due to Amenemhat IV. He also showed continued activity here. The stele of Set found in the.Shrine of the Kings (fig. 116), a Bethel stele, a stele of his 6th year on the road to the mines, and a private stele of the same year, all belong to this reign. No small offerings of this dynasty remain, such as dishes, vases, or ornaments; but the large number of statuettes of the kings and of the goddess show how much attention was given to the shrine.
«p.99:» Of this period a very interesting result was found beneath the later temple. Over a large area a bed of white wood-ashes is spread, of a considerable thickness. In the chamber O there is a mass, 18 in. in thickness, underlying the walls and pillars, and therefore before the time of Tahutmes III. In chamber N it varies from 4 to 15 in. thick; west of the pylon it is from 3 to 12 in.; and it is found extending as far as chamber E or F with a thickness of 18 in. Thus it extends for over a hundred feet in length. In breadth it was found wherever the surface was protected by building over it. All along the edge of the hill, bordering on the road of the XIIth dynasty past the steles, the ashes were found, all across the temple breadth, and out as far as the building of stone walls of chambers extends on the south, in all fully fifty feet in breadth. That none are found outside the built-over area is to be explained by the great denudation due to strong winds and occasional rain. That large quantities of glazed pottery have been entirely destroyed by these causes is certain; and a bed of light wood-ash would be swept away much more easily. We must, therefore, suppose a bed of ashes at least 100 x 50 ft., very probably much wider, and varying from 3 to 18 in. thick, in spite of all the denudation which took place before the XVIIIth dynasty. There must be now on the ground about fifty tons of ashes, and these are probably the residue of some hundreds of tons. The age of these ashes is certainly before the XVIIIth dynasty. And on carefully searching a part of this stratum for pottery embedded in it, I found pieces of thin, hemispherical cups, of thick, large, drop-shaped jars, and of rough white tube-pots, all of which belong to the XIIth dynasty. We have just seen that the XIIth dynasty was the most flourishing time in the early history of the place, and this agrees with the date of these remains.
What, then, is the meaning of this great bed of ashes? One suggestion was that it was the remains of smelting «p.100:» works. But smelting elsewhere does not leave any such loose white ashes; on the contrary, it produces a dense black slag. Also, there is no supply of copper ore at that level, nor within some miles' distance, and the site is very inaccessible for bringing up materials. Moreover, there is no supply of fuel up on the plateau; whereas the ore has been elsewhere transported to valleys and plains where fuel could be obtained, as at the Wady Nasb, Wady Gharándel, and El Márkha. The statement of Lepsius and others that there are beds of slag near the temple is an entire mistake, due to ignorance of mineralogy ; the black masses are natural strata of iron ore, and not artificial copper slag. Another suggestion was that they were like the beds of ashes near Jerusalem, which were supposed to have originated from the burning of plants to extract alkali. But, again, this is the most unlikely place for obtaining a supply of plants. Neither of these suggestions can be an explanation. Again, these ashes were supposed to be from workmen's fires; but if workmen continually burnt great fires in front of the shrine, we must suppose some religious motive for it.
The locality itself shows the meaning. In front of the sacred cave, on the high place above the valleys around, there was a great burning, continually repeated on thousands of occasions. The connection of this with the worship here is evident. This was a type of worship well known in later times as the popular worship of Palestine, which all the efforts of the priestly party could not suppress for centuries. Under Jehoash, "the high places were not taken away: the people still sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places" (2 Kings xii. 3). The same account is repeated reign after reign (xiv. 4; xv. 4, 35); and Ahaz "sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills " (xvi. 4). In Samaria, also, "they set them up images and Asherim in every high hill . . . and there they burnt incense in all the high places" (xvii. 10, 11). It was not till about «p.101:» 700 B.C. that this worship was overcome, even under Jewish rule (xviii. 4; xxiii, 13, 15). It is clear that there was in Palestine from early times a regular worship upon the high places, with sacrifices and burnt incense. On this hill we see great evidence of burnt sacrifices; and in the cave itself were many altars for burning incense, see figs. 142 and 143. The popular worship of Palestine is here before us.
What was sacrificed we do not know. The normal Semitic sacrifice was the libation of blood, which "was all that fell to the god's part" (R. SMITH, Relig. of Semites, 213), and "originally all sacrifices were eaten up by the worshippers" (p. 370). Though I carefully searched the ashes in various parts, and though my men would have preserved anything noticeable, we did not find aught but pottery. The absence of bones would not at all imply that there were no animals sacrificed, for the scarcity of food in this region brings hyaenas and dogs to devour every fragment that they can find. Although our men killed a goat or sheep every week, I never saw a single bone lying about our camp; every one was carried off and eaten. The same would be the case if animals were sacrificed in these burnt offerings, and we could not expect to find any bones left here. Further, we must bear in mind that the Amorites of Palestine were akin to the prehistoric Egyptians; and among the latter in Upper Egypt an immense burnt offering took place at funerals, the white ashes of which were laid by in jars placed in the tombs. Sometimes as much as a ton of ashes were so preserved. Though I carefully searched these ashes in dozens of instances, winnowing them in a breeze, I never found a fragment of bone, or anything beyond clean ash. These were not similar burnings to those before the sacred cave at Serabít, as they were entirely funerary, like the burnings for the Jewish kings (2 Chron. xvi. I4, xxi. 19; Jer. xxxiv. 5); but they show that it was common for a people, kindred to those of Palestine, to make great «p.102:» burnt sacrifices without leaving any trace of animal remains. We shall refer to this subject more fully in Chapter XIII.
We must, then, picture to ourselves the shrine of the XIIth dynasty as a cave in a knoll of rock, with a portico before it. Many tall steles stood in front of this, hedging in the portico from open view. The road to the shrine led past the head of a valley up to the cave, with a line of steles along the way; while many shelters for visitors who came to dream at the holy place were scattered along the roadside farther off, with tall steles standing in them. At the side of the road, on the hill in front of the sacred cave, was the place of sacrifice, piled over with heaps of the ashes far and wide, where fires often smouldered with offerings to the great goddess.
After a long period of neglect, during which no expeditions were sent to Sinai, we find offerings made by Aahmes I, about 1570 B.C., of an alabaster vase with the name of his queen, Aahmes Nefertari (fig. 144, no. 2), menats of glazed pottery for that queen (fig. 148, no. 3), and for his daughter, Merytamen (no. 4), and a handle of a sistrum which was probably for Nefertari (fig. 151, no. 17). In the next reign we find that Amenhotep I, about 1550 B.C., repaired the sacred cave, the lintel and portico of which were broken down, and put in a fresh lintel, and a new architrave to the portico; he also sent offerings to Hat.hor, of which we have parts of menats with his name (fig. 148, no. 1), and a sistrum-handle (fig. 151, no. 16). Tahutmes I, about 1520 B.C., continued to send offerings here; his activity is shown by an alabaster vase (fig. 144, no. 3), glazed pottery vases (fig. 146, no. 1), menats of himself and his queen, Aahmes (fig. 148, nos. 5, 6), and wands (fig. 150, no. 1).
The greatest builder of the place was Queen Hatshepsut, associated with her nephew Tahutmes III. From the 5th to the 22nd year we find work done here «p.103:» in which the two rulers are always named in unison. In one case, even, we read, "Suten bati Maat.ka.ra, Si.ra, Tahutimes," one cartouche of each ruler being put together to express their joint rule. There is not a single erasure of the name of either ruler, and no trace of that alternation of power which has been erroncously supposed. What changes they made in front of the portico we cannot now trace, as Ramessu II rebuilt the sanctuary, and Ramessu IV altered it. That the long walls of the court are due to them, or on their lines, is shown by the Hat.hor hanafiyeh, and the certainty that their work extended as far as the pylon, which is of the same date. The side-door of the temple seems to be a survival of the old line of approach, past the steles, up to the cave, a way which continued in use until the new buildings in the line of the pylon established another direction.
It may be asked why the great bend should have been made in the direction of the temple, and why the new buildings did not continue in line with the axis of the cave. The form of the ground prevents any building being carried much to the north of the sanctuary. The head of a branch of the Wady Dhába comes so close to the cave that any continuation along the axis would have run steeply down hill. The path led along a fairly level line, contouring the slope at the valley-head; and the new building was bound to follow that direction. No doubt some persons will seek for a meaning of these directions in astronomical settings of sun or stars. The axis of the cave was 308¼º magnetic, in 1905, or probably 304½º true azimuth. This is beyond the range of sunset, which does not exceed 297º at this latitude. As the cave was the sole work at the time when its direction was established, its wide entry in proportion to its length is very unlikely to have a reference to any star setting. Regarding the new axis established by Tahutmes III, and rather irregularly continued to a greater length by his successors, the obvious fact that it is parallel to the «p.104:» older path of approach is a sufficient cause to determine its direction. We may state, however, that its azimuth in the parts of 1500 B.C. may be 253½º magn., 250º true, in parts of 1200 B.C. may be 252¼º magn., 249º true, extremes possible: 253½º magn., 250º true, 251½º magn., 248º true — and these directions would correspond to sunset between January 23rd and 31st, and between November 12th and 20th. But it would be very unlikely that there should be any meaning in a direction which was already fixed by natural causes centuries before the building was even anticipated.
The chambers 0 and N, the pylon, and the steles before it are all of Tahutmes III and Hatshepsut, and must all have been finished by the 5th year of his reign, as that is the date on the steles which were the final adornment of the pylon. Of this reign of Hatshepsut is also the Shrine of the Kings, which was constructed at the side of the pylon. In every part we see that so long as a stele was legible it was respected and left unmoved. The steles before the portico have many of them the altar slabs of the XIIth dynasty still in place. The steles of the old approach have not had their old irregularities of position rectified; on the contrary, the new constructions have even been skewed to meet them. The steles that have been reused, for cutting into architraves or tanks, or for re-inscribing, were almost entirely obliterated by weathering before they were thus appropriated. There was far more careful conservation than we are accustomed to find in the merciless scourge of the thefts of Ramessu II in Egypt.
We now turn back to the east end, and see a fresh work of Hatshepsut and Tahutmes III. The old Sacred Cave belonged to the "Mistress of Turquoise," Hat.hor, and she alone was worshipped there. But later the devotion to other gods came forward, and Sopdu, the god of the East, had a cave-shrine carved for him, side by «p.105:» side with that of Hat.hor. How early this was done we cannot say, as the present construction is all of Hatshepsut; but the door from the portico court leading southward is inscribed by Ameny, who carved the cave of Hat.hor in the XIIth dynasty. No doorway would be required leading out against the rising hill-side, unless there were some other construction of importance on this side. So it seems as if there had been an earlier shrine of Sopdu, which was entirely remodelled during the XVIIIth dynasty. This god was worshipped in the Arabian nome — that is, the desert east of the middle of the Delta. His emblem was the zodiacal light, that great cone of brilliancy which in Egyptian skies rivals the Milky Way, and which rises in the East long before the sun.
The Cave of Sopdu, the Hall, and the Approach were all constructed in this reign; and the pair of sphinxes of Tahutmes III adorned the way thence to the shrine of Hat.hor. The lesser hanafiyeh must have also existed, as it lies between these works and the Hat.hor hanafiyeh. But there is only a private inscription on it earlier than that of Ramessu II.
The Hat.hor hanafiyeh is the most imposing part of the whole temple. Four great pillars wiih heads of Hat.hor stand around the central basin, as seen in the view in fig. 111. The faces of the great goddess are full of dignity and strength; and the wall-sculptures were among the best here, see fig. 110. Two great steles of the XIIth dynasty were incorporated in the eastern wall, serving to flank the jambs of the doorway. But they had been so weathered as to be mostly illegible; and Tahutmes inscribed the western face of the worst of them in the 27th year of his reign, after the death of Hatshepsut (see fig. 123).
In these courts of the Hat.hor hanafiyeh and the lesser hanafiyeh we see what great importance belonged to the ceremonial ablutions. At the north door of this temple stood a large tank, presumably for a preliminary «p.106:» cleansing. Then, crossing the court, the worshipper entered the Hat.hor hanafiyeh. There a circular basin in the midst was set for the next ablution. Yet a third tank stood by the door for another ablution before entering the lesser hanafiyeh; and there a fourth tank supplied the final cleansing before approaching the shrine. Such a series of ablutions must have belonged to a complex ritual; each applying to a different part of the body. We do not find this multiplication of washings defined in the early Jewish ritual, where it is only said that the priests were washed before the door of the tabernacle, at the laver (Exod. xl. 7, 11, 12), and that they always washed their hands and feet there (31), But the later Jewish ordinances are more detailed, and washing of the mouth and nose, of the arms to above the elbows, and other parts is obligatory. The Muslim washings are better defined. The Quran ordains washing the face, the hands to the elbows, and the feet. And the later customs are well given in the four hundred and fortieth night, by the damsel Tawaddud, in her valuable outline of Muslim life. The Wudu, or minor ablution, includes (1) washing the face, (2) washing the hands to the elbow, (3) wiping part of the head (round the back of the crown, at present usual), and (4) washing the feet and heels; while the traditional statutes of the Wudu include (1) washing the hands (preliminary), (2) rinsing the mouth, (3) snuffing up water to rinse the air-passages, (4) wiping the whole head, (5) wetting the ears in and out, and (6) parting through the beard with wet fingers. Each of these actions is familiar to any one who has lived with present-day Muslims. The private ablutions, after excretion before prayers, are taken for granted in the ordinances, but are always performed. Which of these various ablutions were appropriated to the four tanks here provided we cannot now say; but it is clear that such a series of ablutions as we have mentioned might well be appropriated to the four successive tanks that are found here.
«p.107:» It is noticeable that only one of these tanks is before the outer door of the temple, while three of them are in the finest buildings of the temple, and belong evidently to its fixed ritual. The ablutions were not a preliminary cleansing before any religious ceremony could be worthily performed; but they were part and parcel of the acts of religion in the temple itself. This is parallel to the Jewish arrangements, where the laver stood before the door of the tabernacle, even nearer than the altar of burnt-offering. And there, inside the court of the tabernacle, close before the door of the sanctuary, the washings of the whole body before robing, or of the hands and feet at every ceremony, were constantly performed. The same observances were in the temple, where the great brasen sea for the priests to wash in stood in the court before the door of the holy place (2 Chron. iv. 6). The same Semitic system is seen in every mosque. The principal court of a mosque is that of the hanafiyeh, which is an octagonal basin in the midst of the court, usually surrounded with pillars. Here also the ablutions are a part of the religious service, performed in a court that may only be trodden by bare feet (or in side lavatories with water from the court), and following a very precise ritual, full of detail, which is essential to its efficacy. The system was evidently the same at Sinai in 1500 B.C., in the Jewish worship of 1000 B.C., and in the Muslim worship down to the present day.
The next stage of the building was that Tahutmes III added a court, M, along the line of the steles, and a chamber, L, in front of that. To this, Amenhotep II added chamber K. Tahutmes IV finished the door of this, and added chamber J. This formed a definite front to the temple, and it seems likely that his work stopped here; but it may have included the group G and F. These two chambers evidently were built at the same time, and had steles placed before the entrance, of which one remains. Next were added the fencing of the steles by means of «p.108:» court E, and the chamber D, which formed a front. After this Amenhotep III added the chamber C, Placing two steles in front of it in the last year of his reign, the 36th. At the same time the rough stone wall was built around the whole temple, running to right and left on either side of the entrance. Lastly, the steles were enclosed in a court, B, and another chamber, A, was added by Sety I. This ended the growth of the temple.
Later kings made various reconstructions on this plan. Ramessu II rebuilt the sanctuary wall, and erected several steles, one on the north of the entrance. Merenptah inscribed the doorway to chamber J, and put in a stele. Sety II re-inscribed the pylon, adding his name across some of the carving of Tahutmes III. Ta.usert made many offerings of glazed pottery here. Set.nekht erected the last of the steles, on the south of the entrance. Ramessu III re-inscribed two steles of an older time, which were weathered. Ramessu IV built the porch, altered the door of the sanctuary, and built the roof over the south side of the sanctuary. Ramessu V left some offerings here of glazed bracelets. And lastly, Ramessu VI inscribed the pillars of chamber 0, as shown in fig. 112. After that no trace of any later construction or offerings is found here; and only a piece of Roman pottery in the cave supplies a single point of history until we come to the graffiti of modern travellers.
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