W. M. Flinders Petrie's Researches in Sinai
Chapter XIII, The Worship at Serabít El Khadem
(complete chapter, pages 186 - 193)

«p.186:» IN the previous chapters we have noticed the evidences of the nature of the worship in the temple, but it will be desirable to place these together, and compare them with similar customs elsewhere.

The earliest form of ritual that we find here is the burnt sacrifice. I have already described the great bed of ashes far and wide before the sacred cave, amounting to about fifty tons even now, and far more before denudation. As there are but a very few bushes, and those of small size, to be found at the level of the temple, it seems that the fuel must have been brought up from the plain or valleys below, a climb of a thousand feet. To bring up such quantities of fuel, and to burn it away from the habitations and the places of work, shows that some important meaning was attached to these fires, and that they were not merely intended to serve a utilitarian purpose. As the ashes are on the hill in front of the sacred cave, we are bound to conclude that the motive of those who thus came here was religious.

The nature of this fire sacrifice we may gather from the remains. The fires were not large, as the ash is all white, and no charcoal of smothered fires remains. No whole burnt sacrifice was offered, as no calcined bones were found; and some kind of feeding at the place is suggested by the finding of a few pieces of pottery jars and of thin drinking cups. These belonged to the age of the XIIth dynasty.

«p.187:» The principles of sacrifices have been carefully studied by Robertson Smith in The Religion of The Semites, and we must compare his conclusions with what we find. He states that, "Originally, all sacrifices were eaten up by the worshippers. By-and-by certain portions of ordinary sacrifices, and the whole flesh of extraordinary sacrifices, ceased to be eaten. What was not eaten was burned" (R. S., 370). He also writes of "the zebahim or shelamim — that is, all the ordinary festal sacrifices, vows, and free-will offerings, of which the share of the deity was the blood and the fat of the intestines, the rest of the carcase (subject to the payment of certain dues to the officiating priest) being left to the worshipper to form a social feast. . . . The holocaust, again, although ancient, is not in ancient times a common form of sacrifice, and unless on very exceptional occasions occurs only in great public feasts, and in association with zebahim. . . . When each local community had its own high place, it was the rule that every animal slain for food should be presented at the altar, and every meal at which flesh was served had the character of a sacrificial feast" (R. 5., 219-20). It is evident that the nature of the offerings here to the "Mistress of Turquoise" would be festal sacrifices, vows, and free-will offerings, as they were for the purpose of honouring the goddess, with prayers and offerings before the work, and the payment of vows after it. And this is exactly what we find; the fat and blood were burnt and perished, and the ashes remain with the pottery from the social feast of the worshipper.

There might also have been larger sacrifices here. In the celebrated account by Nilus of the Sinaitic sacrifice of the 4th century A.D., the camel was slain and eaten in haste between the rising of the morning star and the sun, "the entire camel, body and bones, skin, blood, and entrails, is wholly devoured" (R. 5., 320). "Nilus's Saracens at least broke up the bones and ate the marrow, «p.188:» but the solid osseous tissue must from the first have defied most teeth, unless it was pounded, and so it was particularly likely to be kept and used as a charm" (R. S., 362). Thus we need not expect that any remains of the actual sacrifice, even of large animals, would be found here. If any bones were left about they would be quickly consumed by the hyaenas and dogs, as were all the bones of the animals which were killed for food by our workmen. These offerings were made on the top of the hill in front of the sacred cave, which occupied the highest knoll of rock. This was the essential place of offering in Palestine. The pre-Jewish inhabitants always offered upon high places or hills, and the Jews followed the same custom, which was only enfeebled during the monarchy and not abolished until after the Captivity, as we have noticed in the reference to it by Jeremiah (p. 101). This worship on hills was rarely known in Arabia. "That the high places or hill sanctuaries of the Semites were primarily places of burnt sacrifice cannot be proved by direct evidence, but may, I think, be made probable. . . . In Arabia we read of only one sanctuary that had a 'place of burning,' and this is the hill of Cozah at Mozdalifa. Among the Hebrews the sacrifice of Isaac takes place on a mountain, and so does the burnt sacrifice of Gideon. . . . It is to offer burnt sacrifice that Solomon visits the high place at Gibeon, and in general, 'to burn sacrificial flesh' is the usual word applied to the service of the high places" (R.S., 471). The instances are thus almost entirely Palestinian; but we must remember that the position of the bed of turquoise on the hill-top would fix the shrine of the "Mistress of Turquoise," and this would naturally cause the offerings to be made here, so that this position scarcely indicates a link with Palestine rather than with Arabia.

It need hardly be said that hill temples are unknown in Egypt. Not only so, but burnt sacrifices on high places are utterly unknown there. The only instances of «p.189:» burnt sacrifice are (i) the burnt sacrifice of an ox by Ramessu III (Hist. Eg., iii, I53) at a time when Syrian influence was very strong; (2) the revolution in Egyptian worship by Khufu, when "he forbade them to offer sacrifice," and substituted burnt offerings of clay models (PETRIE, Abydos, ii, 9); and (3) the representation of an altar with flames, in the reign of Akhenaten. The burnt sacrifices when found in Egypt are thus essentially foreign, and the system is Syrian and not Egyptian. A paper by DR. KYLE (Bibliotheca Sacra, April, 1905) points out how the Egyptian sacrifices were presented on altars, but were never burned in the normal ritual.

The many small altars found inside the shrine were used for burning, as one was deeply burnt on the top; this burnt altar is also quite flat, so that no liquid or semi-fluid could have been placed on it. Such a form must have been for incense, as the small size of it would preclude the offering of anything non-inflammable which required a fire beneath it. This agrees with the Jewish custom of having a separate small altar expressly for the offering of incense. The tall pillar altar in fig. 142 is also a Semitic form (R. S., 186, 469). In Egypt such an altar was unknown; and though incense was offered very frequently, it was always burnt in a metal shovel held in the hand before the god.

Another specially Semitic feature at Serabít was the dedication of cones of sandstone (fig. 143, nos. 10, 11), of which two were found in the Sacred Cave or the Portico. The sacred cone was the central object of worship and impersonation of the deity in Syrian temples. It is shown on the coins of Paphos in the midst of the temple. At Emesa was the sacred conical stone, the high priest of which, when he became Emperor of Rome, signalised his devotion by taking the name of Elagabalus, and brought his stone and his ritual with him to the capital; and other less obtrusive instances «p.190:» are known. No such sacred stone occurs in Egyptian worship.

The specially prominent system of ablutions, the basins for which occupied the principal courts outside the shrines, we have already dealt with in describing the temple (pp. 105-7). The similarity to the ritual importance of ablutions in the Jewish and Muhammadan systems is obvious. One objection has been raised, that the modern Muslim does not wash in the hanafiyeh court, but in side lavatories attached to the courts. We see, however, that the Jew was familiar with the idea of the washing being at the water-tank, as it is written, "Thou shalt bring Aaron and his sons unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation [that is, inside the court, and nearer than the altar], and wash them with water. And thou shalt put upon Aaron the holy garments ... and thou shalt bring his sons, and clothe them with coats. . . . And he set the laver between the tent of the congregation and the altar, and put water there, to wash withal. And Moses and Aaron and his sons washed their hands and their feet thereat; when they went into the tent of the congregation" (Exod. xl. 12-4, 30-2). With such explicit statements as a parallel, we must suppose that the hanafiyeh tank in the middle of the great court of a mosque was originally the actual place of washing; while the retiring to private recesses was a later modification. In old days before Muhammad the circuit of the Kaaba might have been performed naked by the Bedawvyn, much as they go naked into battle at the present time; whereas Muhammad ruled that from the navel to the knee the body must be clothed, and the separation of the private washing from the public tank follows naturally on this change of ideas.

The system of visiting sacred places for the purpose of obtaining oracular dreams we have already noticed (pp. 67-70) in connection with the shelters for such visitants; these were at the side of the road leading to «p.191:» the temple, as a substitute for which the cubicles were built in front of the temple at a later age. The placing of memorial stones or steles in these shelters was also closely parallel to the erection of a stone by Jacob after his dream. There are no such shelters in Egypt, and no such steles placed at a distance before a temple in Egypt, so far as is known. Nor are these steles like those which the Egyptians placed inside temples or tombs. Those are hardly ever inscribed on more than one face; these are inscribed on all sides. Those were descended from the false door of a tomb; these are descended from stones visible on all sides as memorials. The only perfect inscription on one of these (fig. 80) is an oblation to Hat-hor by the ka, or soul, of the chief of the expedition. This is not of the usual Egyptian type of steles, as they always desire offerings for the benefit of a deceased person's ka; this is simply an adoration of the goddess by the living ka.

The chambers or cubicles prefixed to the temple were certainly holy places, and not mere lodging for officials. The walls were all carved with scenes of offerings and adoration of the gods, of which traces remain, and the position of the chambers joined in one with the temple, and leading up to it along its main access, stamp them as sacred buildings. These would not have been provided for the mere secular use of shelter, and those who slept there evidently did so with religious intent.

The shrine was that of Hat-hor, the "Mistress of Turquoise," as she is always called here (figs. 103, 104, 140, 151-3). To suppose that this was an Egyptian imported worship would be a crude misunderstanding. All the ritual that we can trace is Semitic and not Egyptian; and the Egyptians used the name of Hat.hor for strange goddesses, as readily as the Italian worships his old goddesses as Madonnas of various places and qualities. She was worshipped under 24 different names in Egypt at various places ; and there is a list «p.192:» of different Hat-hors for each of the 42 nomes of Egypt. That a goddess should be the deity of turquoise accords with the primitive importance of women in the Semitic system, as we have noted on p. 33. "Goddesses play a great part in Semitic religion, and that not merely in the subordinate role of wives of gods" (R. S., 52). The greatest Semitic goddess was Ashtaroth or Ishtar, and it is easy to see how she might come to be called Hat.hor. She was the horned goddess, as Hat.hor wears the cow's horns; she was the "goddess of flocks and herds, whose symbol and sacred animal is the cow" (R. S., 336), and Hat.hor is shown in the form of a cow. Indeed, some have supposed that the name Hat.hor originated in Ishtar. If, then, the "Mistress of Turquoise" was Ishtar, the Egyptian would naturally term her Hat.hor.

After two or three thousand years of worship at the primitive shrine, the Egyptians introduced side by side with it the worship of the god of the East, Sopdu. He was closely associated with Hat-hor, or rather, probably his symbol, the zodiacal light, was identified with the goddess, as she is called Sopdu at Elephantine and Abydos (LANZONE, Diz. Mil., 863). A smaller shrine and cave for him was carved at the side of the older shrine; and on the later steles he appears worshipped as well as Hat.hor.

We have here before us, then, a Semitic cave-shrine, older than the Mosaic system or any other worship known to us in Syria or Arabia. We see in it a great goddess, probably Ishtar, worshipped alone, and later on associated with a god. Her ritual was that of burnt sacrifices and incense offerings; many ablutions were required of the worshipper; sacred conical stones were dedicated in her temple; and oracular dreams were sought, and memorial stones were erected where the devotees slept. The essential features of Semitic worship are here shown in use earlier than in any other instance. «p.193:» And we see how much of Mosaism was a carrying on of older ritual, how that movement was a monotheistic reformation of existing rites, and how the paganism of the Jews was but the popular retention of more than was granted in the state religion.

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