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HOME : Egyptian Antiquities : Archive : Green Stone Heart Scarab of Nesptah, the Priest of Bastet
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Green Stone Heart Scarab of Nesptah, the Priest of Bastet - X.0134
Origin: Egypt
Circa: 1250 BC to 1000 BC
Dimensions: 2.375" (6.0cm) high x 1.75" (4.4cm) wide
Collection: Egyptian Antiquities
Medium: Stone

Additional Information: SOLD

Location: Great Britain
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By far the most important amulet in Ancient Egypt was the scarab, symbolically as sacred to the Egyptians as the cross is to Christians. Based upon the dung beetle, this sacred creature forms a ball of dung around its semen and rolls it over the sand, creating a larger ball. Eventually, the scarab drops the excrement ball into its burrow where the female lays her eggs on the ground and covers them with the ball. In turn, the larvae consume the ball and emerge in the following days from the ground as if miraculously reborn. In the life cycle of the beetle, the Ancient Egyptians envisioned a microcosm of the daily rebirth of the sun. They imagined the ancient sun god Khepri was a great scarab beetle rolling the sun across the heavens. The scarab also became a symbol of the enduring human soul as well, hence its frequent appearance in funerary art.

Sculpted in a fine green stone, perhaps to be identified as greywacke, and exhibiting a matte- polished surface, this scarab is characterized by fine linear details present on its top side which articulate the component parts of its body. Of particular note among these details is the presence of a double line separating the thorax from the elytra, or wing covering, and the pendant triangles near its outer corners. These pendant triangles are first encountered on scarabs created during Dynasty XVIII and continue in popularity into Dynasty XXVI of the Late Period. The flat surface on the bottom of the scarab provides a convenient surface for the inscription in hieroglyphs which is divided into twelve rows, the last row of which is, in fact, inscribed, and this feature provides the dating criterion for our scarab to the Late Period. Earlier scarabs of this type contain a lesser number of horizontal rows and generally avoid inscribing the bottom-most register.

The inscriptions in hieroglyphs, derived from spells preserved in Chapters 30 and 30B of the so-called ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, permit one to identify this object as a heart scarab, which played a fundamental role in the aspired resurrection for the elite members of Egyptian society. It was widely believed that the heart was the seat of one’s conscience and, as such, could reveal the true nature of an individual’s character. It is for this reason that the culminating ceremony in the Book of the Dead was the last judgment in which the heart of the deceased was weighted against the feather of truth in order to determine whether the deceased’s testimony was accurate. The heart was believed to be an independent witness, capable of contradicting the deceased’s testimony. The prayer inscribed on our example is an appeal to the heart not to bear witnesses against the deceased. It may be translated, in part, into English, as, “Oh my heart which I obtained from my mother…do not bring up anything against me in the presence of the great god of the West…”

Our example is inscribed for an individual named Nesptah, a very popular name during the Late Period which may be translated into English as, “The-one-who-belongs-to-the-god-Ptah-of- Memphis.” Nesptah was a priest in the cult of Bastet, the cat goddess, whose cult centre was in the Delta city of Bubastis.

Daphna Ben-Tor, The Scarab (Jerusalem 1993), pages 54-55, numbers 6-11.

See, Michel Malaise, Les scarabées de Coeur dans l’Egypte ancienne (Brussels 1978), for a concise study of these heart scarabs.

- (X.0134)


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