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Icons of the Bible: Heliopolis - The City of the Sun

Updated: Sep 3, 2023

Heliopolis - The City of the Sun | Full Documentary

Video from Get.factual

Icons of the Bible

"Cairo, March 2017: Construction workers make a spectacular discovery beneath metres of rubble. At the bottom of a deep pit, buried in mud and debris, lies an enormous crowned stone head. Nearby the torso and plinth. These are the remains of a colossal quartzite statue, 9 metres high and weighing several tons. It’s an archaeological sensation, a clear indication that this was once the heart of an ancient, legendary metropolis: Heliopolis. The battle to secure the site for archaeological exploration and excavating the ancient city’s remains is ongoing: it’s a race against time to save a key part of what remains of ancient Egypt’s heritage." from video introduction

Heliopolis in the Bible

"HELIOPOLIS (Gr., meaning "city of the sun"; Egyptian, Iunu; Heb., On), ancient city of lower Egypt situated about six miles N. of Cairo on the site of the modern village of El Matariyah. From earliest times Heliopolis was the cult center for the worship of the sun god, usually in his manifestation as Re, but also as Re-Horakhty and Atum. Although some form of sun worship existed from the beginning of recorded Egyptian history, it was not until the Fifth Dynasty (c. 2480–2340 B.C.E.) that the Helipolitan cult of Re achieved its preeminent position in the cosmogony of the Egyptians, a position which it retained well into the third century B.C.E.

Heliopolis is specifically mentioned four times in the Bible: Genesis 41:45, 45:50 and 46:20, where Joseph is given as wife Asenath, the daughter of Poti-Phera, the priest of On (who must have been the high priest of Re of Heliopolis); and Ezekiel 30:17, where the prophet foretells the destruction of Egypt by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, and mentions Heliopolis among the great cities to be destroyed. The prediction of the destruction of Beth-Shemesh, "the House of the Sungod," in Jeremiah 43:13 is also probably a reference to Heliopolis. Another possible reference to the city is Isaiah 19:18, where, in view of the Egyptian context of the passage, the reading ir ha-ḥeres, or "city of the sun," as attested by Symmachus and Vulgate, is preferred by many scholars to the present masoretic text ir ha-heres, or "city of destruction." from the article: Egypt: Heliopolis

Who Were the Priests of On?

In Genesis 41, we read that Joseph married the daughter of the priest of On. Verse 45 says, “Pharaoh . . . gave [Joseph] Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, to be his wife.” The priest of On led the worship of the Egyptian sun god. Joseph’s marriage to his daughter seems to go against the Old Testament directive not to intermarry with pagans (Deuteronomy 7:3; Nehemiah 13:27). Was Joseph sinfully embracing Egyptian culture? Or is there more to the story? Here are some considerations:

First, it is clear that Joseph was a godly man, full of faith (Hebrews 11:22). He was not hesitant to give glory to God in Pharaoh’s presence (Genesis 41:25, 32), and Pharaoh recognized the power of God in Joseph (verse 38). Given Joseph’s staunch, lifelong commitment to do what was right, it’s unlikely that he would accept a sinful union to a pagan wife. There must be more to the story.

Second, Joseph was given his wife by Pharaoh. Joseph had just interpreted a prophetic dream for Pharaoh, and the king responded by honoring Joseph with a high-ranking office in Egypt and placing him in charge of preparing for a future famine. Joseph’s rewards included a new position, a new Egyptian name (“Zaphenath-Paneah”), and an Egyptian wife from a high-profile family. The marriage of the daughter of the priest of On to a foreigner just out of prison was, in all likelihood, shocking to the Egyptian people. But the marriage cemented Joseph’s place in Egyptian society and removed all doubt as to Pharaoh’s approval of him.

Third, God permitted Joseph to take this wife. Scripture says nothing negative about the marriage to Asenath, even though she was the daughter of the priest of On. Through Asenath, Joseph had two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, who became the ancestors of two tribes in Israel. It could be that Asenath embraced the God of Israel who had so blessed Joseph. It could also be that, in giving Asenath to Joseph, the Pharaoh sanctioned Joseph’s religion, allowing Joseph to raise his family in the faith of his fathers. Certainly, Joseph did not become an idolater himself.

Fourth, God used this marriage to strengthen Joseph’s new position as a national leader. The city of On was also known as Heliopolis, “The City of the Sun.” It was the center of worship of the sun god, Ra, and was located 10 miles northeast of modern Cairo. The priests of On were considered to be among the most intelligent and cultured persons in Egypt, and their erudition was second to none. The ancient historian Herodotus reported that “the men of Heliopolis are said to be the most learned in records of the Egyptians” (History 2:3, trans. by G. Macaulay). The high priest in On held the title of “Greatest of Seers.” When Joseph married into this family, he joined a social class befitting a national leader. Also implied in the marriage arrangement was Pharaoh’s confidence that Joseph, too, was a “seer,” or prophet, of the highest caliber.

The Mosaic Covenant later forbade intermarriage between the people of Israel and the people of Canaan in order to avoid idolatry (Exodus 34:15–16). But Joseph lived before the law was given, he was not marrying a Canaanite, and he did not fall into idolatry. God used Joseph’s marriage to the daughter of the priest of On to accomplish His will and provide for His people, the family of Jacob.

In short, Joseph did not sin by taking Asenath as his wife. The union could have been, in fact, a sign of Asenath’s adoption of her husband’s faith. In any case, God allowed Joseph to marry into the high-profile family of a respected priest, and He worked through that marriage to bless many.' from the article: Who were the priests of On?

Heliopolis: A City of Two Tales

The ancient Egyptian city of Heliopolis can be discerned today only by its scattered and buried remains on the northeastern outskirts of Cairo. Its cultural and intellectual influence has been significant; yet from the biblical perspective, the city also claims a connection to a story that has been little told—a story that affects us all.

The city of Heliopolis, suggest archaeological excavations and ancient writings, was once one of the major cities of Egypt, with a history spanning from the Old Kingdom to the Hellenistic period—that is, from the third millennium BCE to shortly before the time of Christ. The storied city was known by several names. In most translations of the Hebrew Scriptures, or Old Testament, it is called On. The better-known Greek name is more colorful: Heliopolis, meaning “city of the sun”; the city was in fact the cult center for the worship of the sun gods Atum and Ra.

Priests worshiped Atum as the creator who, according to various myths, had risen here from a state of nonbeing to a state of being; such myths served to enhance the reputation of Heliopolis as a place of origins. Egyptians viewed the other god, Ra, as the primary sun god and at times even considered the physical sun to be the eye of Ra. So closely linked were the ideas of these sun gods that they were sometimes merged together as Ra-Atum or Atum-Ra.

The pharaohs adorned the temple of Ra at Heliopolis with many obelisks—tapering columns with a square base, rising to a pyramidal point. They were designed to catch the first rays of dawn and represented what Egyptians referred to as “the creation mound.” This mythical mound is itself linked to the sun and also ties to the city’s Egyptian name, Iunu, which means “pillar.” Thus Heliopolis was known as the “city of the pillar.”

As the purported site of the advent of “being” and the beginning of all existence, it is not surprising that Heliopolis gained notoriety as a community of priests who studied philosophy and astronomy, becoming the main center in Egypt for ancient learning and theology prior to Alexandria’s rise.." from the article: Heliopolis: A City of Two Tales

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