In Islam, and wherever there are Muslims, Friday is the day for prayers par excellence.
So, although not of the Muslim faith ourselves, the present entry goes out as a prayer for the memory of the Honorary President of the International Society for Nubian Studies, Jean Leclant, whose funeral took place earlier this afternoon in Paris.
It would be impossible to summarize the achievements of this eminent scholar whose researches on the Nile Valley were ground breaking. His contributions to both Egyptological and Nubiological studies are simply immense.
There is one instance, though, that we would like to refer to, and it is meaningful enough both because it concerns a name for God – the minimum prerequisite for addressing the divine realm during a prayer – and because this name is found in a place that all the academic world would easily understand as a sacred landscape that needs protection from any sort of threats endangering its perennial existence: the temple at Soleb.
The New Kingdom reliefs of the people subjugated by Pharaoh Amenophis III depict prisoners accompanied by cartouches where a name identifies them with their locality of origin. Jean Leclant commented upon one of these names, as follows (the translated to English quotes have been found at www.divinename.no. For the link and some of the ideas in this blog entry, we thank Dr. Dobrochna Zielińska): “It is evident that the name on the name-ring in Soleb that we discuss corresponds to the ‘tetragram’ of the god of the Bible YHWH … The name of God appears here in the first place as the name of a place.” (cfr. Jean Leclant, “Le ‘Tétragramme’ à l’époque d’Aménophis III”, [in:] Near Eastern Studies dedicated to H.I.H. Prince Takahito Mikasa on the Occasion of His Seventy-Fifth Birthday [=Bulletin of the Middle Eastern Center in Japan 5], Wiesbaden 1991: 215-219, 1991)
Irrespectively of the exactitude of the interpretation, and beyond the common identification between divinities and localities in the epigraphic record, there is confidence in the idea that the localities where temples are built, are the localities where the Gods venerated with these temples used to “live”. This was best phrased, in our opinion, by the Greek poet, Giorgos Seferis, awarded with the Nobel Prize in 1963: ΠΑΝΤΑ ΠΛΗΡΗ ΘΕΩΝ…
If we destroy a temple we do not destroy the divine element of the locality; but if we destroy the locality we expel its divine inhabitant(s) and we cancel the possibility that we had to come in contact with the beyond through the veneration of some understandable by human standards form – like a temple or a statue…
Therefore, to trap a prisoner with the name of a God of a group of people – be that in the Middle East or elsewhere – means to trap the essence of their power, their authority over their territory, their self-determination so to speak. This is the magical dimension of such representations, i.e. in Pharaonic art.
But what sort of magic is in play when a temple is removed to another locality than the one in which it was originally built, or when this locality ceases to exist because, let’s say, it is flooded by the waters of an artificial lake created by a dam on the downstream Cataract, like it is the case with the planned Dal Dam downstream from Soleb, from Sedeinga, from Sesibi, from Sai? That kind of magic is evil…
Thus, a prayer this Friday for the memory of Jean Leclant, and for his intercession to the beyond for what he left behind, should bring our thoughts to Soleb and the rest of the – monumental or not, little it matters – sites that constitute the Nubian past among the present of the Nubian communities.
The same prayer goes to the wish unanimously expressed on Wednesday by the Norwegian Egyptological Society for a better future for “The Nile in the 21st century”, the title of Henriette’s talk, about which we will write in the coming entry.