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Title: The role of the lector (Xry-Hbt) in Ancient Egyptian society
Author: Forshaw, Roger
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2013
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The lector priest (Xry-Hbt) - literally ‘he who carries the festival (papyrus) roll’- has been considered in previous studies to be one of several categories of the ancient Egyptian priesthood. There is a perception that he was responsible for the correct performance of rites, that he recited invocations during temple and state ritual, and that he carried out recitations and performed ritual actions during private apotropaic magic and funerary rites. Textual and iconographic evidence demonstrate his presence at rituals and frequently refer to the title of Xry-Hbt, but these sources do not provide an explicit explanation of his role. Previous treatments of the lector have rarely considered the full extent of his activities, either focusing on specific aspects of his work or making general comments about his role. This present study challenges this selective approach and explores his diverse functions in a wide ranging review of the relevant evidence. The lector is first attested during the 2nd Dynasty (c. 2890-2686 BC) and is predominately portrayed with an unrolled papyrus scroll in his hand, a broad strap from his shoulder across his chest, and is recognised throughout ancient Egypt history. The many titles that were appended to Xry-Hbt suggest a wide rang of functions and operating spheres from that of funerary workshop to particular temples and deities. The lector is closely associated with ‘magic’ where his knowledge of spells and performative ritual define him as a leading protagonist in this field. At funerary ceremonies his delivery of the ‘transfigurations’ enabled the deceased to become an akh, and in the Opening of the Mouth ceremony, along with the sem-priest, he would perform the rite of animation. In the temple he not only performed recitations and executed a variety of ritual actions but he directed ritual practices. He had a role in the royal palace as attested by titles such as ‘lector of the king’, and he is seldom absent from scenes representing the royal Sed-festival. The lector had an involvement in healing but less clear is the reason for his presence on the various mining expeditions that were a feature of Pharaonic Egypt. There is some limited evidence of his role sitting on legal assemblies, both temple-based and in the community. Much of the literature relating to ancient Egypt translates the Xry-Hbt title as ‘lector-priest’, but the evidence reviewed suggests him to be more of a ritualist rather than a ‘priest’. In contrast to the Hm-nTr and the wab-priest who served the gods and were associated primarily with temples - temple activity was merely one of the operating areas of the lector. Based upon a common definition of a priest as ‘one who is authorised or ordained to perform religious rites’, I suggest that the title of ‘lector priest’ incorrectly describes this officiant and a more appropriate definition would be limited to that of ‘lector’.
Supervisor: David, Rosalie ; Price, Campbell ; Chamberlain, Andrew Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available