The Last Song

On January 25, 2011, tens of thousands of protestors flooded Cairo’s Tahrir Square, demanding the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime.  Others had an entirely different desire:  “A team of archaeologists of the University of Basel in Switzerland was about to make one of the most significant discoveries in the Valley of the Kings in almost a century (Archaeology, July/August 2012).”

“The valley lies on the west bank of the Nile, opposite what was once Egypt’s spiritual center-the city of Thebes, now known as Luxor.  The valley was the final resting place of the pharaohs and aristocracy beginning in the New Kingdom period (1539-1069 B.C.), when Egyptian wealth and power were at a high point.” (Ibid)

At first the Basel team came across a tomb which they deemed unremarkable.  They discovered “a dusty black coffin carved from sycamore wood and decorated with large yellow hieroglyphs on its sides and top.” (Ibid)  The hieroglyphs described the casket’s occupant, a ‘lady’ of the upper class named Nehemes-Bastet who was a ‘chantress’; in modern language she was a ‘praise singer.’

Singing is popular today in churches, taverns, sporting events, and many other activities.  A song is a brief composition written or adapted for singing.  Humans sing to express emotion, to unite communities and to pledge allegiances, especially to a deity.

Nehemes-Bastet was about five feet tall and was stuck to the bottom of the coffin by sticky fruit-based syrup used in the mummification process.  Details of her daily life can be drawn from a wealth of paintings, texts, and reliefs carved on statues and stele of the time.  “As a chantress, or singer, in the temple of Amun, she probably lived in the 250-acre Karnak temple complex located in Thebes.  Her name, translated as “may Bastet save her,” indicates that she was under the protection of the feline goddess and “divine mother” Bastet, the protector of Lower Egypt.  Nehemes-Bastet’s occupation, however, was to worship Amun, the king of ancient Egyptian gods.” (Ibid)

Scholars have debated what kind of music but there’s no musical notation left, and people are not sure how they tuned the instruments or whether they sang or chanted.  Some have suggested it may have sounded like an ancient ancestor of rap.  The emphasis was definitely on percussion and images show people stamping their feet and clapping.  Some song lyrics are recorded on temple walls.  One in Luxor was: “Hail Amum-Re, the primeval one of the two lands, foremost one of Karnak, in your glorious appearance amidst your (river) fleet, in your beautiful Festival of Opet, may you be pleased with it.” (Ibid)

Was this the last song Nehemes-Bastet sang?  Were her last words a plea for her god to be pleased with her song, with her singing?  This last sentence could be written for any of us today.  “Thou art worthy to take the book and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood (Revelation 5:9).”  O that such a song could emanate from our lips; the last thoughts we composed in praise to our Savior, Jesus the Christ.

Rev. Raymond Parnell is Pastor Emeritus of Christ Memorial Temple in Lafayette, Indiana.

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