Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Temple of Alexander the Great
in the Bahariya Oasis

For some years, Egypt was under the control of the Persian King, and while other outside forces had ruled Egypt over the years, the Persians seem to have had few friends in Egypt. In fact, Egyptian elements had already mounted revolts, weakening the Kings hold over the country when Alexander the Great arrived at Egypt's border in the Sinai during October of 332 BC. The Egyptians, apparently seeking any relief from the Persian ruler, seem to have almost welcomed Alexander with open arms, so his armies met little resistance. Soon, he arrived with his army in Memphis, where he made an offering to the Apis bull and was crowned king of Egypt. He took as his Egyptian throne name, Setp n Ra Mery Amun.

his mother olympias------------------------------------his father philip

Alexander's visit to the Western desert Siwa Oasis to consult with the Oracle of Amun, where his kingship was made divine as the son of Amun, is well documented. But apparently, this great warrior who was also one of histories grandest politicians, gained considerable respect in other areas of the Western Desert as well. Some Egyptologists believe that he may very well have traveled through the Bahariya Oasis on the way back to his new capital, Alexandria, on Egypt's northern coast. This oasis prospered considerably during his rule, and counted among its population many Greeks.

The temple of Alexander the Great located in the Bahariya Oasis has the distinction of being the Macedonian ruler's only known temple in Egypt. The temple was built during Alexander's lifetime and dedicated to Amun and Horus.
Ahmed Fakhry never found the stela of Tuthmose II that he was searching for when he stumbled across the temple in 1938, but this discovery, very near the (then unknown) Valley of the Golden Mummies, most certainly made up for that failure. It was to be Fakhry's last day in the Bahariya Oasis and he was exploring a spring called Ain el-Tabinieh, about three miles west of El Qasr (Bawiti), that had been mentioned by Sir Gardner Wilkinson in 1837. Here, he discovered a mound surrounded by stones that he thought might be a New Kingdom temple.

He recorded the location of the ruins, but with his funds depleted, he was forced to leave the Oasis. He would return in 1942 with enough resources to complete the excavation, and it was not until then that he discovered the true nature of his find from blocks carved with the cartouches of Alexander the Great. Later, from 1993 to 1994, Zahi Hawass, the current chairman of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), re-excavated the site, including several rooms that had never been cleared. Some excavation of the temple appears to be ongoing, though it is now open to the public1.

The temple proper is fairly large by any standard, and certainly one of the largest in the Bahariya Oasis, with at least 45 chambers built of mudbrick and encased in sandstone. Located only three hundred yards from the Valley of the Golden Mummies, a necropolis that was probably situated purposefully near the temple, the entrance to the temple was on the south end of the structure, accessed through a gate.

Just outside the temple, a red granite altar was discovered. It should be noted that red granite is not found in any of the western oasis, so it must have been carried a great distance to the temple through the vast desert, presumably by donkeys.

Just to the right of the entrance to the temple is a scene that depicts, unfortunately, only the lower half of two individuals facing each other. It is probable that one of these individuals is Alexander the Great, dressed as a traditional Egyptian pharaoh, making offerings to a principle Egyptian deity.

However, on the lower register on the north wall of the second room which was covered by debris, Alexander is revealed. This relief, which retains some of its original colors, depicts Alexander offering two vessels that may contain Bahariya wine as an offering to Horus and Isis. The god, Horus, and the goddess, Isis, both hold a scepter on one hand an the ankh symbol in the other. In the background a priest wearing a long robe stands, holding incense and an unknown tool, and an offering table bearing bread, meat, cucumbers, pomegranates and other fruits, along with vessels for ointments is also displayed.

In another carved relief, Alexander makes an offering of incense to the god, Amun, who is followed by various goddesses, one of which is probably Mut, Amun's consort. In this scene, the governor and high priest of the Oasis stand behind the pharaoh with offerings of incense. Just visible in the depiction is an offering table laden with bread, meat, vegetables, wine and flowers.

Surrounding the temple complex were auxiliary storage rooms and houses that were probably used by guards and priests. There is, on the east side of the temple, a building that was possibly used for administrative purposes. Only two of the buildings chambers were roofed with large limestone blocks, originally inscribed with Greek graffiti which is now lost.

One of perhaps the most interesting artifacts found in the temple complex is a bronze statue of a royal lady who Zahi Hawass believes may have been the wife of Alexander the Great. A small statue of a priest of Re was also discovered in one of the temple corridors. but a number of smaller artifacts were discovered in and about the temple, including Greek, Roman and Coptic pottery shards, painted vases, fragments of bronze statues, Greek amulets, and coins from the 5th and 6th centuries, AD. Some of the pottery discovered with rectangular marks and human figures appear to be of Semitic origin from Asia, while other shards and lamps are from the Coptic Period and later. These discoveries have led Egyptologists to believe that Christians probably inhabited the temple until about the 12th century AD, and some chambers may have been occupied as dwellings into the Middle Ages.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Columns
of Ancient Egypt

When we think of Egyptian temples, one of the principle architectural elements that comes to mind is the column. In fact, it is difficult to imagine a temple such as Karnak without thinking of its columned halls, and what many visitors will take away with them is visions of pylons, obelisks, statues and columns. Column shafts were often decorated with colorful depictions in painted, carved relief, and remain some of the most interesting architectural elements in Egyptian structures.

Most people who have any familiarity with ancient Egypt will immediately recognize the form of Lotus and Papyrus style columns, but actually no less the about 30 different column forms have been isolated from temples of the various periods. Most of the time, the columns shafts were copies in stone of supports made from plants, resembling either a trunk or a bundle of stems of smaller diameter. Also the shape of the capital, the top of the column, also had a plant theme, and at the transition of the capital to the shaft, five bands might be found representing the lashing which held together the bundle of stems of which the earliest columns were made. Above the capital a low abacus usually connected the column to the architraves placed above it. However, there are exceptions to all of this. At least prior to the Graeco-Roman Period, we also find columns with tent pole and the goddess Hathor and other god or goddess motifs.

Actually, the type of column was usually, but not always dictated by its placement within the temple, and therefore most temples actually employ more then one design. Most of the time, "Bud" style columns were used in the outer temple courts, particularly away from the central axis of the inner temple. "Open" style capitals were most often found in the temples central areas. However, as time passed, into the late antiquities period, there was considerably more variation in these themes. In the Graeco-Roman period, column styles became especially varied, and many Egyptian designs were exported to Greece and Roman, where they underwent further evolutionary changes.

Tent Pole style columns in the Festival Temple of Tuthmosis III at Karnak

In the very earliest of Egyptian history, columns were often made from one large monolithic block. However, in all later periods columns were usually built up in sectional blocks that were then first shaped and then smoothed from the top down. They were then normally painted, and afterwards, were difficult to tell that they were not cut from a single piece of stone.

Major Types of Columns and/or Capitals:

Plant Style Columns:

Fluted Column:

This early form of column first appears in the Step Pyramid enclosure of Djoser, but the form died mostly died out by the New Kingdom. However, their use continued in Nubia. These columns resembled and represented bundled reeds or plant stems, but during later periods, sometimes took the form of a polygonal column shaft.

What is probably most interesting about fluted columns in Egypt is that they very probably represent the first columns made from stone in the world. While the fluted columns may have lost their popularity as an independent style many of the future columns incorporated design elements from them, in effect, simply incorporating a more complex capital.

Palmiform Columns:

The Palmiform Columns were also one of the earliest styles of columns in Egypt temple architecture. Example of this type of column were found, for example, in the 5th Dynasty pyramid mortuary complex of Unas. However, after the 5th Dynasty, these types of columns are rare, but continued to occasionally be used. Mostly we find examples during later periods at the Taharga temple in Kawa in Upper Nubia, and in some temples dating to the Graeco-Roman Period. However, they may also be found in the Ramesseum. There, at the inner side of the court, are two rows of ten columns. The four middle columns in each row are Papyriform columns while the others are Palmiform. These columns obviously had a palm tree motif, but did not actually represent the tree itself, but rather eight palm fronds lashed to a pole.

Lotiform Columns:

Lotiform columns were perhaps used in non-secular buildings then in the temples. However, this is not to say that they were not also sometimes employed in religious architecture. The simple, lotus bud form of the column is enjoyed widespread use in the Old and Middle Kingdom temples. Its use declined during the New Kingdom, but again found popularity during the Graeco-Roman Period. This column usually has ribbed shafts representing the the stems of the Lotus, and capitals in the form of a closed (bud) or open lotus flower.

Just as a side note, Lotus plants specifically are not present in the earlier times of Egyptian antiquity. What we so often refer to as "Lotus" was in fact a type of water lily.

Papyriform Columns:

There are several variations in this type of column. Some have circular shafts representing a single plant, while others have ribbed shafts that represent a plants with multiple stems. The capitals could be closed (buds) or open in a wide, bell-shaped form. During the New Kingdom, the shafts of most papyriform columns taper upwards from bases decorated with triangular patterns representing stylized stem sheaths. The earliest examples we know of the circular shaft style columns can be found in Djoser's Step Pyramid enclosure at Saqqara. However, these are not free standing columns, but incorporated into other structures. Though the circular shaft form of the column seems to have been used throughout Egyptian history, they saw widespread use during the New Kingdom, along with both open and closed capital styles.

We first find the multi-stemmed form of this column employed during the 5th Dynasty, but it was also frequently used during the New Kingdom. 18th Dynasty columns are particularly fine, with considerable artistic detail. They became more stylized by the 19th Dynasty.

Coniform Columns:

This column style apparently quickly died out after their use in Djoser's Step Pyramid enclosure wall. It has not been found in later temples. The style is characterized by a fluted shaft surmounted by a capital representing the branches of a conifer tree.

Tent Pole Columns:

Though we probably know of other applications of this style from documentation, apparently the only surviving, known examples are found in the Festival Temple of Tuthmosis III at Karnak. It is possible that very early examples of the style were also constructed of brick. There is little doubt that this type of column made of stone was rare. The column is basically a representation in stone of the wooden "poles" used to support light structures such as tents, and sometimes shrines, kiosks or ships cabins.

Why this tent pole design was used is perhaps somewhat of a mystery, though they certainly reflect back on the earliest of Egypt's structures and their wood counterparts. It is sometimes believe that the specific columns in Tuthmosis III temple were modeled after actual wooden poles of his military tent.

Campaniform Columns:

Considerable variety existed in this style of columns. They sometimes took the shape of a floral column or pillar. Some had circular, ribbed or square shafts (pillars). They all had some form of flower shaped capital. Two of the best known of these are located in the Hall of Annals of Tuthmosis III at Karnak. At this temple, the, the structures take the shape of a pillar. They including two style of column, with one representing the heraldic plant of Lower (northern) Egypt, the Papyrus, and the other type representing the symbolic plant of Upper (southern) Egypt, the Lotus. They are positioned symbolically on the northern and southern sides of the hall. Such placement was not unusual, and we see many examples of columns positioned in the north and south of courtyards with northern and southern motifs. This specific types of column is rare, but their more stylized forms appeared most frequently in the Graeco-Roman Period.

Composite Columns:

These columns were common during the Graeco-Roman Period. Composite Columns were probably an evolutionary extension of the campaniform columns with capitals decorations including floral designs of any number of real, or even imagined plants. There variation could be endless, and they became so utterly stylized that the original floral motifs could hardly be recognized. In fact, this type of column continued to evolve in Greece and Rome, becoming very different then the Egyptian variety.

None Plant Style Columns:

While natural plant columns were the most common in Egypt, other column and pillar types could represent deities or their attributes. Examples of these include:

Hathoric Columns:

This type of column never appeared prior to the Middle Kingdom, and was probably originated in that period. They are usually instantly recognizable by their capital in the shape of the cow headed goddess, Hathor. They often had a simple, round shaft. All considered, they were fairly common, and examples may be found in the temple of Nefertari at Abu Simbel and within the hypostyle hall of the Ptolemaic (Greek) temple at Dendera. The Dendera columns are probably the best known, where all twenty four columns have the head of this goddess on all four sides. We also know of several other temples with Hathor columns, including the temple of Nekhebet at el Kab. Sistrum columns are also associated with Hathor, but represent in the capitals and shafts the handles and rattles of the sistrum.

Osiride Pillars:

All examples of this type of pillar are engaged, meaning that they are part of another architectural element. They appear to also have originated in the Middle Kingdom, and and take the form of a statue of the god Osiris on the pillar's front surface.

Hathor Columns at Dendera

Lotiform Columns

A Closed (bud) Style Capital

An example of Open Capital engaged Columns

Osiride Pillars, normally identifiable by the crossed arms

An Open Papyrus Column

Court of Amenhotep III .


Hypostyle Hall in the Temple of Amun at Karnak.



Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Temple of the Oracle
(Temple of Amun)
at the Siwa Oasis in Egypt

The Oracle:

In the mostly abandoned village of Aghurmi in the Siwa Oasis is a most famous temple of Amun, now more known as the Temple of the Oracle because of Alexander's visit when he conquered Egypt. It is actually one of two temples dedicated to Amun at Siwa, the other being Umm Ubayda. It sits atop a flat rock, and is a spectacular sight. Built during the 26th Dynasty (though the Oracle's origin is reputed to be much, much older), this temple and its Oracle flourished well into the Greek and Roman periods.
There are a number of myths about the founding of this temple. One of them tells of two black priestesses from the Temple of Amun at Thebes (modern Luxor) who were banished to the desert. In this tell, one of them founded the Temple of Dodona in Greece, where she became the voice of the Oracle. The second, after a time in Libya, came to Siwa where she became the Oracle's sibyl.

Another tell maintains that the temple existed as early as 1385 BC, and was built in honor of Ham, the son of Noah, by Danaus the Egyptian, while yet another legend relates the founding of the temple to the Greek god Dionysus. While lost in the Western Desert, Dionysus was perishing of thirst when a man appeared and guided him to the spring at Aghurmi. In gratitude, Dionysus erected the temple.
Oracles, manifestations of the gods, were very revered in the ancient world and their existence in Egypt dates back for beyond the Temple of the Oracle at Siwa. Able to see into the future, they were consulted regularly prior to important decisions. Other important Oracles of the ancient world were located at Persia, Libya, Delphi, Cumae, Samos, Cimmeria, Erythrae, Tibur, Marpessa (on the Hellespont) and at Phrygia. Their abodes were typically close to a natural phenomenon. At Siwa, the temple was located at the spectacular Spring of the Sun. Sibyls, priestesses who spoke the Oracle's message, were believed to be endowed with prophetic powers often called upon to intercede with the gods.

Various ancient sources, including Quintus Curtius and Diodorus, report that the original form of the Oracle at Siwa was the bezel of a ring, which was embellished with gems including the elusive Siwan emeralds. Later, the form became the head of a ram, a symbol of Amun. We are told that, unlike the great complex at Karnak, wealth was not important, and in fact, the Oracle at Siwa strove to maintain its primitive simplicity.
Today, we think of the Oracles most famous visitor as Alexander the Great, but legend says there were others.

The Oracle at Siwa was held in such high favor in Greece that an Athenian galley was commissioned solely to convey envoys to Mersa Matruh, then called Ammonia, where they would begin their desert trek to the oasis. The Greeks probably learned of the Oracle after they invaded the northern coast and established Cyrene (now Libya) in 637 BC. Afterwards, the Oracle was absorbed into Greek religion and associated with Zeus, who became associated with the Egyptian Amun. The Oracle is reputed to have cursed Andromeda and she was tied to a rock to be devoured by a sea-serpent. Perseus is said to have stopped off to visit the Oracle prior to beheading Medusa, and Hercules is though to have visited it before he fought Bursiris.

Cambyses, who ruled Egypt between 525 and 522 BC, wanted to destroy the Oracle, but he lost his army somewhere in the vast outreaches of the Western Desert. Pliny tells us that this was because the sacred stone at the temple was touched by sacrilegious hand, which caused a dreaded sand storm to rage.

There is a legend that Pindar, the famous Greek poet who lived between 522 and 443 BC, wrote a poem about the Oracle that was kept under the alter for six centuries.

Prior to Alexander the Great, Cimon, the Athenian general, stood at Cyprus in 449 BC awaiting word from the Oracle before attacking Egypt. It is said that when his emissaries reached the Temple, the Oracle spoke, "Cimon is already with me!". When they returned to Cyprus, the discovered that Cimon had died as they were speaking to the Oracle.
Eubotas, the famous Cyrene athlete also stopped by, perhaps sometime around the year 409 BC. Around the same time, Lysander, the Spartan general, came to Siwa twice to consult with the Oracle.

We are told that Alexander the Great, in 331 BC) consulted the Oracle in order to seek confirmation that he was the son of Zeus (Amun), and therefore a legitimate ruler of both Egypt and other lands that he conquered. When he and his entourage arrived after capturing Egypt, a manifestation of the Oracle was paraded through the city accompanied by eighty priests. After his visit to the Oracle, whenever his image appeared on coins, Alexander was shown with the horns of the ram, symbolic of the god Amun. We know that Alexander consulted the Oracle at least once, and probably more than one time.

After Alexander, Hannibal is reported to have visited the Oracle and the Elians were so deeply influenced by the Oracle that they kept a list of all their questions and answers provided by the Oracle, which they engraved in stone upon a temple wall.

The Temple:

The ruins of the Temple of the Oracle still exits, but for how long is questionable. The rock upon which it sits is cracking, and from time to time parts of it, sometimes large pieces, slide down. Fissures are seen on all side and we know that in ancient times, the rock was much larger. There is considerable evidence of treasure hunters at work in the temple area. Nevertheless, the Temple remains fairly well-preserved, all considered.

The temple is reached by climbing a well-marked path up the side of the rock it surmounts. The temple does not occupy the entire area. It sites within the village that was abandoned for the most part in 1926 after a heavy rainstorm. Until very recently, at least some families actually lived in the temple.

The entrance is through the village gate. The ruins of an old mosque stand over the gate, its minaret still dominating the skyline. In front of the mosque is the ancient well with several niches that may lead to storage areas or subterranean passages. The temple is in the northwest corner of this area. Its walls abut the cliff at the edge of the rock and are in danger of falling into the precipice below.

The area in front of the temple was cleared of its mudbrick houses by Ahmed Fakhry in 1970. The court in which the processions of the god took place stretches in front of the temple proper, but only the foundations of its northern and eastern walls still exist. The court is only a small distance from the edge of the rock, and therefore we have to suppose either that this area of the rock at its edge was filled in during ancient times, or that visitors had to climb a staircase if, as we might expect, the entrance of the court was in the axis of the temple. However, it is possible that the entrance to the court was on the east side and that it was reached as it is today by climbing the slope.

The facade of the temple is easily distinguished. It stands about eight meters high. the entrance has a cornice measuring 2.22 meters wide, with no inscriptions. Later builders, apparently during the Ptolemaic period, attempted to make it look like a Greek temple, adding a wall in front on which they build a half-column of the fluted Doric type to each side of the entrance.

The facade leads to an interior of two large halls and a sanctuary with an entrance on the main axis. The first hall measures 7.74 by 4.95 meters. Its entrance is not precisely in the middle of the wall. The western side is slightly longer. there are two niches in the southern wall, one in each of the two corners. At floor level in the west wall there is an entrance to a crypt. The second court is almost the same size as the first, but built a little higher. There are three entrances int he north wall of the second court, of which the middle and larger one leads to the sanctuary. The small entrance to the right of it, only 80 centimeters wide, leads to a narrow corridor which might have been used as an annex for storing the temple equipment or to assist in delivering the oracles. In the left wall of the corridor are three niches about 66 centimeters higher than the floor, and near the ceiling are two apertures for light. Fakhry wondered whether this might have been a secret area from which the priests could speak the words of the Oracle.

Only the sanctuary has walls that are inscribed. The sanctuary measure 3.3 meters wide by 6.1 meters deep. Like the other rooms, it was once roofed over, and we even find near the top of the east and west walls tone projections on which the rafters rested. Unfortunately, the walls have been badly damaged by treasure hunters.

The inscriptions being at the two sides of the entrance to this chamber, and continue on the side walls, though it seems that the back wall may never have been inscribed. To the right of the entrance is the figure of King Amasis, in whose reign the temple was built and decorated, though his head and body have been chiseled out. The crown of the North upon his head was left intact. The king's name is written inside a cartouche in front of him. He offers rounded vases of wine to eight deities who stand facing him in a row, preceded by Amun, who are represented on the east wall. Other gods on the wall include Amun's consort, Amenre, Mut, Khonsu and Mahesa. The last deity is a female who wears the double crown, but her inscription is completely destroyed. The accompanying text reads, "I give life to the Chief of the desert-dwellers, Sutekh-irdes".

To the left of the entrance of the sanctuary is depicted a governor of Siwa, completely destroyed except for the feather which was stuck in his hair and denotes his Libyan origin. While under Egyptian control, Herodotus tells us that its governors were called kings, perhaps because of its isolation. Hence, He is represented on the opposite side of the chamber, in the same position as the king of Egypt, and like him, he makes offerings to eight gods. The inscription tells us that this was Sutekh-irdes, who was "Chief of the Desert-dwellers". Among the eight deities on this wall are Amenre, Mut, Dedun-Amun, the goddess Tefnut, Harsaphis, with a human body and ram's head, Nut, Thoth, depicted with the head of an ibis, and Hebenu of the Two Lands, Nehem'awa, the consort of Thoth. Behind the last deity, the wall is blank, because at one point a door here lead to the adjacent chamber. It was walled up at a later date.

There was at least one chamber on the roof the temple. The staircase that led to the terrace roof was at the west side of the corner which fell down when this part of the rock slid off.

There is a narrow corridor at the right (east side of the sanctuary) that leads around behind the back wall. Another large chamber is on the west side of the temple. The temple has apparently never been properly excavated, and without such work, it cannot be determined whether other parts of the temple are still hidden under the surrounding debris. Remains of walls southwest of the court are visible, and we can distinguish the outlines of some chambers built of stone. There are also stone walls among the remains of the falling houses at the east side of the temple, but without proper study, we do not know if any of these constructs are a part of the temple proper.


Sunday, October 7, 2007

Re (Ra) and Re-Horakhty

Re (Ra) was the Egyptian sun god who was also often referred to as Re-Horakhty, meaning Re (is) Horus of the Horizon, referring to the god's character. The early Egyptians believed that he created the world, and the rising sun was, for them, the symbol of creation. The daily cycle, as the sun rose, then set only to rise again the next morning, symbolized renewal and so Re was seen as the paramount force of creation and master of life. His closest ally is Ma'at, the embodiment of order and truth.

Re-Horakhty (right) and Osiris (left)
Re was also closely connected to the Pharaoh, Egypt's king. While the king ruled earth, Re was the master of the universe so they were of the same nature and were in effect a mirror image of each other. Interestingly, up until the 2nd Dynasty, there is an absence of references on Re, but his development began in the late 2nd Dynasty and matured through the 5th Dynasty. Re became more and more associated with the king, who was both human and a god at once, embodied in the falcon named Horus and by the 4th Dynasty, referred to as the son of Re. Hence, a relationship also developed between Horus and Re as they were merged in the symbol of a winged sun disk, an icon that remained constant in Temples and religious monuments through the end of Egyptian history.

Re's early worship really became very significant during the 5th Dynasty, when kings not only erected pyramids aligned to the rising and setting sun, but also built solar temples in honor of Re. This sort of temple must have been a difficult conception for the Egyptians, because Re never had a sanctuary with a cult statue. Instead, his image was the sun itself, so the sun temples were centered upon an Obelisk over which the sun rose, and before the obelisk would be an alter for his worship. However, the most significant early solar temple was probably erected at Heliopolis, where a pillar resembling an obelisk made up part of the hieroglyphs for the city's name, Iwn. Unfortunately, that structure is now completely destroyed.

These 5th Dynasty rulers were also responsible for the first Pyramid Texts during the Old Kingdom, a collection of spells describing the journey of the dead pharaoh through the underworld. These texts were some of the first decorations inscribed in Pyramids, and are an important source of information on the sun god.

For example, one hymn states:

"Homage to thee, O thou who risest in the horizon as Ra,"thou restest upon law unchangeable and unalterable. Thou"passest over the sky, and every face watcheth thee and thy"course, for thou hast been hidden from their gaze. Thou dost"show thyself at dawn and at eventide day by day. The Sektet*"boat, wherein is the Majesty, goeth forth with light; thy beams"are upon all faces; the [number] of red and yellow rays"cannot be known, nor can thy bright beams be told. The lands"of the gods, and the lands of Punt* must be seen, ere that which"is hidden [in thee] may be measured. Alone and by thyself thou"dost manifest thyself when thou comest into being above Nu*."May I advance, even as thou dost advance; may I never cease to"go forward as thou never ceasest to go forward, even though it be"for a moment; for with strides thou dost in one little moment"pass over the spaces which would need millions and millions of"years [for men to pass over; this] thou doest and then thou dost"sink to rest. Thou puttest an end to the hours of the night, and"thou dost count them, even thou; thou endest them in thine"own appointed season, and the earth becometh light. Thou"settest thyself therefore before thy handiwork in the likeness of"Ra [when] thou risest on the horizon."

The story of creation related in the Pyramid Text explains that Re, as Atum, rose in the beginning of creation as a benben stone, an obelisk-like pillar, in the temple of the Benu-Phoenix in Heliopolis. He then spit forth Shu and Tefnut, who became the first godly couple, and who respectively, symbolized air and moisture. To them, Geb and Nut, were born, symbolizing the earth and sky. Geb and Nut, in turn, begot two divine couples consisting of Osiris - Isis and Seth - Nephthys. Called the Ennead of gods, the combined attributes of this divine group were needed in order for the world to function.

However, while Re is never paired with a goddess, he also bears several other off springs including, among others, his son the king, who becomes one with his father in death and the Goddess Hathor, who is often depicted with the solar disk in her headdress.

The story continues with Osiris, who is murdered by his brother Seth. In this version of the story, Re resurrects Osiris to rule over the dead. The deceased pharaoh identifies with both Re and Osiris, thus forming a link between them. Though Re and Osiris might be seen as complete opposites, death was not seen by the ancient Egyptians to be the end of life, but rather its original source.

Thus, in the Pyramid Text, Re is perpetually resurrected in the mornings in the form of a scarab beetle, Khepri, which means the Emerging One. He rides on the primordial waters, called Nun, in his sacred bark (boat) along with a number of other deities across the sky, where at sunset he becomes Atum, the "All Lord". At sunset, he is swallowed by the goddess Nut, who gives birth to him each morning again as Khepri. Therefore, the cycle continued with birth, life and death.

By the Middle Kingdom (about 2055 BC - 1759 BC), Re's character evolved and now several hymns tell us that he created the earth solely for mankind, who are made in his image. Now, evil, the opposite of Ma'at, comes from mankind's own deeds. While in life, it is the king who controls humans, rewarding the obedient and destroying the disobedient and evil, in death, it is Re who fills this role.

Furthermore, we find a newly defined relationship between Re and Osiris. Mortals now become Osiris in death, a concept that would make Osiris very popular with common Egyptians who were rather excluded theologically from the prior myths. Re and Osiris travel through the underworld together at night, and the sun god's birth in the morning is symbolized by an amulet in the form of a scarab beetle that becomes very popular among Egyptians of this period.

It is also at this time that Re takes on additional attributes by his combination with other gods. This is often seen as a political move to unite important gods of different regions, and so we see Re, who was most prominent in the north combined with another creator god, Amun of southern Egypt into Amun-Re. He was also combined with a number of other creator gods.

By Egypt's New Kingdom (about 1539 BC - 1069 BC), Re's reverence was at its peak. Now, the tombs of kings such as those in the Valley of the Kings on the West Bank of modern Luxor (ancient Thebes) contained complex decorative themes depicting the various books of the underworld describing the sun's nightly journey. Here, Re is depicted with the body of a human and the head of a ram. These books record the sun god's nocturnal voyage hour by hour. In the fifth hour, Re suffers death and is united with his corpse, Osiris. Yet at the same time, new life springs forth. In the twelfth hour, when the sun rises once more, Re is newly born as a scarab. Another text, called the Litany of Re, describes how the king is identified with some 75 different underworld figures of Re.

We know much more of the theology of Re during the New Kingdom because of Papyri recounting his myths. Actually, there are two forms of the myth, with the first focusing on Re as an elderly and tired deity. In this theme, he organizes the world so that he is no longer required to intervene in human affairs and transfers his powers to Horus, the King, thus conceding the throne to his physical son.

However, some New Kingdom temples were built with an open courtyard with an alter for Re, where the priests, or theoretically the king himself, would recite one of twelve poetic hymns predicting the victorious course of the sun, each our of the day. In these temples, the rising sun is sometimes depicted as a squatting human infant, while the full, daylight sun takes on the form of a human adult.

During this period, the king is very directly identified with Re. H Amenhotep III, for example, calls himself "the dazzling sun", while Amenotep IV, the heretic king who later called himself Akhenaten, even went so far as to make the cult of the solar disk, called Aten, a semi-monotheistic religion. And while Akhenaten's efforts were reversed after his death, Amun-Re nevertheless became a universal god, all encompassing, who maintained life for the sky, earth, the other gods and humans. However, it should be noted that at times, so powerful was the cult, particularly of Amun-Re, that the priests of the cult threatened the kingship.

Towards the end of the New Kingdom, what was now Re-Horakhty-Atum became more closely associated with the mummiform shape of Osiris, who was generally seen as the nocturnal manifestation of Re. By now, Osiris had become a god of the people so that anyone could make the journey in Re's nocturnal bark, so we see in this merger a democratization of Egyptian religion.

Hence, we find magical papyri from different social strata intending to protect both the living and the dead, which relies on solar symbolism, in order to assure the believers resurrection. We also find many amulets placed on the mummies of both royalty and non-royalty to protect the dead. These solar symbols include the sun in the horizon, the sun disk, the celestial bark, the double lion and the obelisk. There was also a disk showing Re with four ram's heads, a nocturnal form called a hypocephalus.

Though Re lived on in various forms into the Greco-Roman period, his worship gradually deteriorated during the fist millennium. This decline was probably due to the weakening of the kingship under various foreign rulers. Though he continued to be a part of Egyptian theology, he was no longer a part of the peoples living faith. Devotion to Re became more and more limited to priests of the temple.