A beetle and its conventionalized representation that was widely used as a talisman and seal in ancient Egypt. The scarabaeus sacer, a large black beetle, became almost a personification of ancient Egypt, so common was its association with Egyptian culture. This beetle owed its prominence to the fact that it was connected with the Egyptian sun-god ra (re), though the reasons for such a connection remain obscure. One explanation is that the sun rolling across the sky suggested the practice of some beetles of rolling balls of dung. Another is that the beetle was venerated as a symbol of life after death, since the offspring seemed to emerge from decaying matter; only in a later time was the identification made with Ra. Still another is that there is merely a verbal connection between Khopri, one of Ra's appellations, and Khopirru, the Egyptian name for the scarab.
The image of this beetle and related species was used in such abundance on amulets and signet rings by the Egyptians that Egyptian influence can be detected in any country where these artifacts are found. The beetle's image when used as an amulet was regarded as having some prophylactic power. In rings, one side of the image was often used as a seal. The engraved portion carried a design and personal name. Some scarab rings bear the name of the pharaoh or local officials and thus provide a terminus a quo for dating purposes. The shape of the image also is a dating aid, since it changed in the course of centuries. Such scarab seals provide, in addition, useful information on the art and religious practices of Egypt. Caution, however, must be exercised in interpreting the data. Scarabs were often copied and mass-produced by men who in their ignorance or lack of skill distorted the originals.
Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, translated and adapted by l. hartman (New York, 1963) 2140–41. j. beckerath, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65); suppl., Das Zweite Vatikanische Konzil: Dokumente und kommentare, ed. h. s. brechter et al., pt. 1 (1966) 9:816. m. pieper, Paulys Realenzyklopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, ed. g. wissowa, et al. 3A.1 (Stuttgart 1927) 3A.1 (1927) 447–459. f. bodenheimer, Animal and Man in Bible Lands (Leiden 1960) 80–81.
[t. h. weber]
scar·ab / ˈskarəb; ˈsker-/ • n. (also scarab beetle or sacred scarab) a large dung beetle (Scarabaeus sacer) of the eastern Mediterranean area, regarded as sacred in ancient Egypt. Family Scarabaeidae (the scarab family) also includes the smaller dung beetles and chafers, together with some very large tropical kinds such as Hercules, goliath, and rhinoceros beetles. ∎ an ancient Egyptian gem cut in the form of this beetle, sometimes depicted with the wings spread, and engraved with hieroglyphs on the flat underside.