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Great Pyramids of Giza

Ancient Wonders of Earth


The Great Sphinx



The Great Sphinx was believed to stand as a guardian of the Giza Plateau, where it faces the rising sun. It was the focus of solar worship in the Old Kingdom, centered in the adjoining temples built around the time of its probable construction. Its animal form, the lion, has long been a symbol associated with the sun in ancient Near Eastern civilizations. Images depicting the Egyptian king in the form of a lion smiting his enemies appear as far back as the Early Dynastic Period of Egypt. During the New Kingdom, the Sphinx became more specifically associated with the god Hor-em-akhet (Greek Harmachis) or Horus at the Horizon, which represented the Pharaoh in his role as the Shesep ankh of Atum (living image of Atum). A temple was built to the northeast of the Sphinx by King Amenhotep II, nearly a thousand years after its construction, dedicated to the cult of Horemakhet.

Origin and identity
The Sphinx against Khafra’s pyramidThe Great Sphinx is one of the world’s largest and oldest statues, yet basic facts about it such as the real-life model for the face, when it was built, and by whom, are debated. These questions have collectively earned the title “Riddle of the Sphinx,” a nod to its Greek namesake, although this phrase should not be confused with the original Greek legend.

Many of the most prominent early Egyptologists and excavators of the Giza plateau believed the Sphinx and its neighboring temples to pre-date the fourth dynasty, the period including pharoahs Khufu (Cheops) and his son Khafre (Chephren). British Egyptologist E. A. Wallis Budge (1857–1934) stated in his 1904 book Gods of the Egyptians:

This marvelous object [the Great Sphinx] was in existence in the days of Khafre, or Khephren, and it is probable that it is a very great deal older than his reign and that it dates from the end of the archaic period.

French Egyptologist and Director General of Excavations and Antiquities for the Egyptian government, Gaston Maspero (1846–1916), surveyed the Sphinx in the 1920s and asserted:

The Sphinx stela shows, in line thirteen, the cartouche of Khephren. I believe that to indicate an excavation carried out by that prince, following which, the almost certain proof that the Sphinx was already buried in sand by the time of Khafre and his predecessors.

Later researchers, though, concluded that the Great Sphinx represented the likeness of Khafre, who also became credited as the builder. This would place the time of construction somewhere between 2520 B.C.E. and 2494 B.C.E.

Attribution of the Sphinx to Khafre is based on the "Dream Stela" erected between the paws of the Sphinx by Pharaoh Thutmose IV in the New Kingdom. Egyptologist Henry Salt (1780–1827) made a copy of this damaged stela before further damage occurred destroying this part of the text. The last line still legible as recorded by Salt bore the syllable "Khaf," which was assumed to refer to Khafre, particularly because it was enclosed in a cartouche, the line enclosing hieroglyphs for a king or god. When discovered, however, the lines of text were incomplete, only referring to a “Khaf,” and not the full “Khafre.” The missing syllable “ra” was later added to complete the translation by Thomas Young, on the assumption that the text referred to “Khafre.” Young’s interpretation was based on an earlier facsimile in which the translation reads as follows:

… which we bring for him: oxen… and all the young vegetables; and we shall give praise to Wenofer … Khaf … the statue made for Atum-Hor-em-Akhet.

Regardless of the translation, the stela offers no clear record of in what context the name Khafre was used in relation to the Sphinx – as the builder, restorer, or otherwise. The lines of text referring to Khafre flaked off and were destroyed when the Stela was re-excavated in the early 1900s.

In contrast, the “Inventory Stela” (believed to date from the twenty-sixth dynasty 664-525 B.C.E.) found by Auguste Mariette on the Giza plateau in 1857, describes how Khufu (the father of Khafre, the alleged builder) discovered the damaged monument buried in sand, and attempted to excavate and repair the dilapidated Sphinx. If accurate, this would date the Sphinx to a much earlier time. However, due to the late dynasty origin of the document, and the use of names for deities that belong to the Late Period, this text from the Inventory Stela is often dismissed by Egyptologists as late dynasty historical revisionism.

Traditionally, the evidence for dating the Great Sphinx has been based primarily on fragmented summaries of early Christian writings gleaned from the work of the Hellenistic Period Egyptian priest Manethô, who compiled the now lost revisionist Egyptian history Aegyptika. These works, and to a lesser degree, earlier Egyptian sources, such as the “Turin Canon” and “Table of Abydos” among others, combine to form the main body of historical reference for Egyptologists, giving a consensus for a timeline of rulers known as the “King’s List,” found in the reference archive; the Cambridge Ancient History. As a result, since Egyptologists have ascribed the Sphinx to Khafre, establishing the time he reigned would date the monument as well.

This position regards the context of the Sphinx as residing within part of the greater funerary complex credited to Khafre, which includes the Sphinx and Valley Temples, a causeway, and second pyramid. Both temples display the same architectural style employing stones weighing up to 200 tons. This suggests that the temples, along with the Sphinx, were all part of the the same quarry and construction process.

In 2004, French Egyptologist Vassil Dobrev announced the results of a twenty-year reexamination of historical records, and uncovering of new evidence that suggests the Great Sphinx may have been the work of the little known Pharaoh Djedefre, Khafre’s half brother and a son of Khufu, the builder of the Great Pyramid of Giza. Dobrev suggests it was built by Djedefre in the image of his father Khufu, identifying him with the sun god Ra in order to restore respect for their dynasty. He supports this by suggesting that Khafre’s causeway was built to conform to a pre-existing structure, which he concludes, given its location, could only have been the Sphinx.

These later efforts notwithstanding, the limited evidence giving provenance to Khafre (or his brother) remains ambiguous and circumstantial. As a result, the determination of who built the Sphinx, and when, continues to be the subject of debate. As Selim Hassan stated in his report regarding his excavation of the Sphinx enclosure back in the 1940s:

Taking all things into consideration, it seems that we must give the credit of erecting this, the world’s most wonderful statue, to Khafre, but always with this reservation that there is not one single contemporary inscription which connects the Sphinx with Khafre, so sound as it may appear, we must treat the evidence as circumstantial, until such time as a lucky turn of the spade of the excavator will reveal to the world a definite reference to the erection of the Sphinx.

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October 13, 2006

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Great Pyramid of Giza. (2009, March 29). New World Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:59, May 15, 2009 from http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Great_Pyramid_of_Giza?oldid=939476. Link to this site---Terms of Service---Privacy policy---Contact Us

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