(also called Behbeit el Hagara or Higara), a site in the province of Gharbieh, district of Talkha (31°02′N, 31°17′E). The ruins of a temple dedicated to the Osirian family by the last Egyptian pharaoh, Nektanebo II, (r.360–343 BCE), and by the early Ptolemies (Ptolemy II and Ptolemy III; r.282–222 BCE) remain at the site. The collapse of this temple could not have taken place after the end of the first century CE, since a Behbeit block has been found in a temple dedicated to Isis and Serapis in Rome, where it might have been placed either at the time of the temple's foundation in 43 BCE or when renovated under the emperor Domitian (r.81–96 CE). Behbeit, then, seems to have been abandoned and used as a quarry.

The site was discovered in the early eighteenth century by European travelers. Some of its inscriptions were copied and published at the end of the nineteenth century. A few decades later, Pierre Montet dug out some new blocks in the southeastern corner of the temple. In 1977, an epigraphic and photographic survey was made by Christine Favard and Dimitri Meeks. This documentation completed Montet's archives and gave the basic information on which a reconstruction has been proposed, with the help of a database, taking into account the essential iconography and texts.

According to textual information, it is fairly certain that a prior construction was undertaken by the last kings of the Saite dynasty (the twenty-sixth), with the cult of their statues being attested in place. Besides, from the New Kingdom onward, external sources mention Per-hebite(t), the name of the site (pr-hb.t), or Hebit, the name of the temple. Since both names recurred in other parts of Egypt, to equate all the testimonies with the site remains to be confirmed. In any case, the first mention of Per-hebite(t) is not older than the reign of Amenhotpe III (1410–1372 BCE); that of Hebit also dates from the New Kingdom. Scholars have supposed that the site was also named Netjery, but this name is only certain for the foundation of Nektanebo II, and it might only describe a chapel.

In fact, the history of the site remains poorly known, since extensive excavations have never been undertaken. Nevertheless, a description of the surface ruins can be made. Within brick walls, which survived on three sides—the southern, western, and northern—and from the large and small granite blocks spread over the ground, a dromos can be distinguished (evidenced by a single sphinx), leading to a western façade that shows Ptolemy III making offerings to various aspects of Osiris protected by Isis. After a columned hall, the facade of the Sanctuary of Isis can be seen, where Ptolemy II is shown introduced to the goddess by Horus Behedety. A large door led to the sanctuary of Isis, well evidenced by the blocks of the southern wall. Behind the sanctuary are chapels, dedicated to the cult of various aspects of Osiris. These were identified as the Prince-(Ser) chapel, and Res-wedja chapel, the High House, the Divine-(Netjery) chapel, and the Hemag chapel. This last chapel is important as the only one decorated under Nektanebo II (who probably also built the greater part of the temple). The presence of a huge staircase, whose ruins can be seen from the columned hall, suggest that some of the Osirian chapels were located on the roof.

All the chapels were devoted through specific rites to the rebirth of Osiris as a young child or to his transformation into a falcon. In Behbeit, the cult of Osiris-Andjety, dressed as a living deity, made no allusion to his death, his permanent survival was assured through the fabrication of annual clay statues, which benefit from the exclusive cultual activity of Isis and her son Horus. This activity can be inferred from the offering scenes at the temple and the other name of Behbeit: “The Place Where Offerings Are Laid Down.”

Bibliography

  • Favard-Meeks, Christine. "Un temple d'Isis à reconstruire." Archeologia 263 (1990), 26–33. A summary of the architectural reconstitution proposed for the temple.
  • Favard-Meeks, Christine. Le temple de Behbeit el-Hagara: Essai de reconstitution et d'interpretation, pp. 1–523. Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur, Beiheft, 6. Hamburg, 1991, The first part of the thesis is devoted to the reconstruction of the various parts of the temple, with all the hieroglyphic texts available, translation, and commentary; the second part deals with the history of the site, based on study of the sacred names mentioned in the temple inscriptions.
  • Favard-Meeks, Christine. "Le site de Behbeit el-Hagara et son temple." Dossiers d'Archéologie 213 (1996), 82–85. The history of the site and of the cults of the temple.
  • Favard-Meeks, Christine. "The Temple of Behbeit el-Hagara." In The Temple in Ancient Egypt: New Discoveries and Recent Research, edited by Stephen Quirke, pp. 102–111. London, 1997. In English, a condensed version of the 1996 paper, with additional information on cults and rites.
  • Porter, Bertha, and Rosalind Moss. Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Reliefs and Paintings, vol. 4: Lower and Middle Egypt. Oxford, 1934. Offers the basic bibliography for some of the texts copied from scattered blocks in situ and those in museums.

Christine Favard-Meeks