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RE , the ancient Egyptian sun god, was, for most of the pharaonic period, the chief god or at least among the chief gods. His cult center was at Heliopolis, where he seems to have displaced Atum as universal god during the fifth dynasty, and at the same time he also achieved some supremacy over Horus. In the Pyramid Texts the deceased king, who becomes identified with Osiris, joins Re in the solar bark and serves as a guide on the voyage through the day and night skies. By the First Intermediate Period (c. 2181 bce), local monarchs and other nobles were having these same texts copied on the interior of their coffins, and thus the right to become Osiris (or join him) and the right to join Re was extended. The theology of the Re religion is known not only from mortuary literature but also from the tenth-dynasty Instruction for King Merikare and the later solar hymns.

Re is combined with the old Heliopolitan creator god, Atum, as Re-Atum, the supreme god of the later Old Kingdom, and he is assimilated to the Theban god Amun as Amun-Re, "king of the gods," in the Middle and New kingdoms. Representations of Re in his combined forms are very common, but Re does occur individually on Memphite stelae as a human with hawk head surmounted by a sun disk. This is also his regular appearance in the late New Kingdom, when as Pre-Ha-rakhty (the Re-Horus of the Horizon) he is universal lord. The sun disk itself is known as Aton, and in the eighteenth dynasty this became the object of Akhenaton's devotion at the expense of Amun-Re's cult temple at Karnak. The old Heliopolitan priesthood may have persuaded Akhenaton to transfer his allegiance, but his movement failed and he was later regarded as a heretic.

Hathor is the consort of Re and personification of the entire ennead of gods, and in this way she is also mother of Horus, the king. "Son of Re" was one of the major titles of the king beginning in the fourth dynasty. The great temple of Re at Heliopolis has not survived, but there are separate chapels to the sun god in New Kingdom mortuary temples. The great rock-cut temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel was dedicated to the sun god in his two aspects, Re-Harakhty and Amun-Re. Re's central position in the early mortuary literature continued in the New Kingdom, when papyri of the Book of Going Forth by Day were available to anyone who could afford them and kings used new books that described the underworld of Sokar of Memphis, through which the deceased ruler was to guide the solar bark. The solar hymns acknowledge Re's involvement with creation and with sustaining and overseeing what he created. Other gods are described as coming from his sweat, and humankind from the weeping of his eye.


The best single source of further information is Hans Bonnet's article "Re" in the Reallexikon der ägyptischen Religionsge-schichte (Berlin, 1952), pp. 626630.

Leonard H. Lesko (1987)

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