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Les Inscriptions coptes et grecques du temple d'Hathor a Deir al-Medina.

Les Inscriptions coptes et grecques du temple d'Hathor a Deir al-Medina. By CHANTAL HEURTEL. Bibliotheque d'etudes coptes, vol. 16. Cairo: INSTITUT FRANCAIS D'ARCHEOLOGIE ORIENTALE, 2004. Pp. 206, illus. (paper).

Near the ruins of the desert village at Deir el-Medina across the Nile from Luxor and Karnak, where the workers who decorated the rock-tombs of the Pharaohs of the New Kingdom (ca. 1500-1000 B.C.E.) once lived, a small temple dedicated to the goddess Hathor was built in Ptolemaic and Roman times. E. Baraize and B. Bruyere restored and excavated it in the first half of the twentieth century. The temple is fairly well preserved. Its walls bear graffiti written in hieroglyphic, demotic, Greek, and Coptic. The task of publishing these graffiti was entrusted to the late P. du Bourguet, whose distinguished efforts did not come to fruition. L. Gabolde and L. Menassa have meanwhile completed du Bourguet's work on the hieroglyphic and demotic inscriptions. The result appeared in 2002 as vol. 121 of the IFAO's Memoires publies par les Membres. Chantal Heurtel now finishes what Bourguet began for the Greek and Coptic texts inscribed on the temple's walls and on the entrance gate of its enclosure wall. Heurtel credits several earlier students of the texts (including R. Lepsius, who published thirty-one of the Coptic inscriptions in his Denkmaler, at III.ii: 117 and VI: 102-3) for valuable contributions. But this book is clearly hers.

Like so many structures dating to Pharaonic times, the temple was reused in Late Antiquity for Christian ends. The mere name Deir el-Medina, "Monastery of the Town," as designation of a Pharaonic site signifies how Christianity supplanted the native Egyptian religion from the third and fourth century C.E. onward. The author notes (p. 2) that the IFAO's preferred spelling has changed from Deir el-Medineh to Deir al-Medina. But while making the second component more Classical, then why not also the first, namely as Dair or Dayr?

The Greek and Coptic graffiti are Christian in inspiration. Their authors presumably included both locals and pilgrims. The graffiti reveal that the temple was transformed into a sanctuary (topos in Greco-Coptic) dedicated to a certain martyr named Isidore (probably by the sixth century C.E.), the author suspects by the Theophilus mentioned in inscriptions nos. 3 and 22. None of the graffiti contains year dates, which would have been counted by the Era of Diocletian, that is, from 284/85 C.E. Owing to the informal nature of their application to the wall, the texts are almost all better described as graffiti than as inscriptions. Yet some of the larger texts appear to have been executed with greater care, having been painted first before being incised in order to guarantee a better appearance. In inscription no. 37 (pp. 35-37), the incised version breaks off soon after the beginning of the text. The painted version has mostly been washed away.

The inscriptions are mostly short. Only ten to fifteen are longer than one or two lines. Only one is Greek, namely no. 3 (p. 5). The texts consist almost entirely of basic information about individuals, such as self-identification by name (anok [name] "I am ..."), title (anakhorites "reader," arkhi-presbuteros "archpriest," lashane "mayor" [or the like], monakhos "monk," oikonomos "econome," presbuteros "priest") and other epithets (elakhistos "most humble," pistos "faithful" [that is, "novice"], rfrnobe "sinner," psuros "the Syrian," sakho [from sak-ho "dignified"(?), that is, "gathered of face," thus the author at pp. 46-47, following J. Cerny), sem "small" [that is, "humble"]), filiation (psere n-"son of ..."; probably always in the spiritual sense), and date of death (afmton mmof nsou ... "he rested on day ..."), as well as of formulaic expressions such as slel ecoi "pray for me."

The only text that truly departs from the usual template is no. 25 (pp. 20-23), a carefully carved "list" (logos) of measurements by width (pock), length (saie), and collar size (kotf) of three types of liturgical garments (labite [from Greek lebiton] "tunic," thalis ouo "large shirt" [literally, "large sack"], and thalis sem "small shirt"), as quantified in palms (sop) and fingers (tebe). Among other remarkable graffiti are outlines of pairs of feet found on the roof, mostly accompanied by a name identifying their owners (pp. 70-78). Presumably, one placed one's feet on the floor or low on a wall and carved a line around them. Such foot graffiti are found all over Egypt. Moved to nostalgia at the sight of some specimens at El-Kab, Gustave Flaubert described them as "trop beau comme temoignage, rien que la marque d'un pied" (p. 78; see his Voyages I: 131).

I found this book to be wanting in not a single respect. Yet, at times I felt that one comprehensive plan of the site, including the entrance gate of the enclosure, placed at a prominent location in the book and marking the cardinal points and the locations of all the inscriptions might have been convenient. It is difficult for anyone who has spent much time on a site to imagine the state of mind of someone who has never been there and needs to check a reference quickly. After a brief preface setting the stage (pp. 1-2), the graffiti and inscriptions are edited, translated, and discussed in chapter one. Excellent photographs inserted into the text greatly facilitate instant double-checking. Chapter two is an essay on the relative chronology of the inscriptions. A first appendix (pp. 89-99) concerns a figure carved on the entrance gate of the enclosure wall, identified by V. Rondot as Harpocrates, that is, Hr p3 hrd "Horus the Child." The figure raises his right hand and points a long and prominent finger straight at his mouth, presumably in the gesture so characteristic of the depiction of children in ancient Egypt. But in a communication to the author, G. Roquet interprets the gesture alternatively as conveying adoration. In this connection, the author gathers and discusses all kinds of representations and descriptions of hand-to-mouth gestures, including one denoting silence.

The second appendix surveys saints named Isidore, like the one who took up residence in the Hathor temple at Deir el-Medina and whose identity otherwise remains unknown (pp. 100-101). Indices of names of people and places, mentions of Jesus Christ, and Greek words follow (pp. 103-12), as do a bibliography (pp. 113-16) as well as exquisite plates (pp. 117-35).

The last third of the book consists of a reproduction of the extensive and careful notes recorded on site in 1946-47 by F. Daumas (pp. 141-204) and brought to light by D. Devauchelle after the author's manuscript had been deposited at the IFAO press in 2002 (p. 1). A concordance to the author's treatments precedes (pp. 137-39).

This book is the definitive publication of an important set of sources described and analyzed piecemeal by many distinguished visitors and Coptologists ever since the earliest scientific explorations of the remnants of ancient Egyptian civilization. It is a fine accomplishment, yet another pearl in the long string of publications of the French Institute of Archaeology in Cairo.


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Author:Depuydt, Leo
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Apr 1, 2006
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