Sun God . Re was the Egyptian god of the sun par excellence. His primary cult center was the city of lunu (Biblical On), called Heliopolis by the Greeks. Re was worshipped as a falcon, or as a human with a falcon head, or simply as a human. Re was most often shown with a sun-disk on his head, surrounded by a protective uraeus serpent. At night, while in the underworld, Re is shown as a ram-headed human.
Royal Title . Re first rose to prominence in Dynasty 4 (circa 2625-2500 b.c.e.), when Redjedef became the first king to add the title “son of Re” to his titulary. From this time on, every king of Egypt took a name that symbolized his descent from Re. The Middle Kingdom (circa 1980-1630 b.c.e.) tale of King Khufu and the Magicians relates how the first three kings of Dynasty 5 (circa 2500-2350 b.c.e.), Userkaf, Sahure, and Neferirkare Kakai, were the sons of Re and the wife of one of his priests.
Temples . Some of the greatest architectural remains of ancient Egypt are related to Re. The pyramid was a solar symbol. It was a physical representation of the sun’s rays, as seen streaming down through the clouds. As such, these rays were thought to form a path on which the deceased king could ascend to the sky to join Re in his voyage across the sky. In addition to building their own pyramids, the Dynasty 5 kings constructed temples specifically for the worship of Re. These structures, called sun temples, consisted of an open-air altar for sacrifices, a huge stone whose top was shaped like a small pyramid (the precursor of the obelisk), called a benben, and a large, brick model of the solar boat. The benben represented the first hill to emerge
from the waters of Nun at the time of creation. This benben-stone served as a model for the later obelisks erected by Egyptian kings.
Regeneration . Re was considered to be the creator and sustainer of the universe. Every morning, Re was reborn from the waters of Nun and began his voyage through the sky. He was thought of as sailing across the sky in his solar bark, called Mandjet. Re assumed a different form at various periods of the day. At dawn, the newly born Re was thought of as the scarab-form god Kheperi. Kheperi took the form of a dung beetle. His name meant “he who has come into being.” The dung beetle rolling his ball of dung across the desert floor served as a symbol of the sun crossing the sky. The fact that the ball of dung served as an incubator for the beetle larva, and that out of the ball emerged new beetles, demonstrated to the Egyptians that the beetle was a symbol of regeneration. As such, Kheperi represented the powers of creation, which kept the cosmos functioning.
Apophis . At midday the sun god took the form of Re, a man in his prime. As such, Re was the ruler of the universe, the provider of justice for all his creation. In this form he was closely associated with the Egyptian king. At midday the sun was thought to come to a brief standstill (the Egyptian word for midday means standstill), brought on by the serpent Apophis. Apophis was the enemy of Re and of all creation. He represented the power of chaos to overcome creation. He makes his first appearance in Egyptian texts during the instability of the First Intermediate Period. At noon he was thought to swallow up the waters of the celestial river, grounding Re’s bark on the “sandbank of Apophis.” Seth forces Apophis to regurgitate the water by stabbing him with his spear, thereby allowing Re to continue on his journey. At times Isis is said to use her magic to defeat Apophis. In order to insure that the sun continued on its daily journey and to aid in the overthrowing of chaos, in temples throughout Egypt, priests would perform hymns hourly during the day and night to keep the sun moving.
Nocturnal Voyage . At sunset the sun was visualized as Atum, an old man, symbolizing the potential of regeneration, because at night the sun descended into the underworld, where he was regenerated by the waters of Nun, to be reborn again the next day as Kheperi. This nightly, rejuvenating journey of the sun became a symbol of the regeneration of the dead. The New Kingdom (circa 1539-1075 b.c.e.) underworld books depict in graphic detail the dangers and denizens the sun faced during his nocturnal voyage, which took place in the Meskett bark. This journey could also be thought of as taking place within the body of Nut, the goddess representing the sky. At night, Nut swallowed Re and he passed through her body, to be reborn from between her thighs at dawn. This journey took twelve hours, and at midnight Re was thought to join with Osiris in the depths of the underworld, bringing about his regeneration.
Negative View. Not all descriptions of Re cast him in a positive light. In a magical spell designed to provide relief from the pain of a scorpion’s sting, Re is described as an old man whose limbs trembled and who drooled. Isis took some of Re’s saliva that had fallen to the ground and mixed it with clay to form a serpent. She then hid the snake near the path frequented by Re daily, and when Re passed by, it bit him. When he asked Isis to help relieve his suffering, she replied that she could only aid him if he told her his true name. Re hedged, revealing many of his names and epithets, but not his true name. To do so would grant Isis power over him. Finally, when the pain became unbearable, he revealed his true name to Isis, and she healed him of his affliction. In the Book of the Heavenly Cow Re is described as an old man against whom his subjects, meaning mankind, plot. When he learns of their treachery, Re sends his fiery eye, as Hathor, down to destroy them. In this instance the eye represents the searing heat of the sun. After many have died, Re relents, and in order to save mankind he tricks Hathor into getting drunk and falling asleep, thereby ending her rampage.
Jan Assmann, Egyptian Solar Religion in the New Kingdom: Re, Amun and the Crisis of Polytheism, translated by Anthony Alcock (London & New York: Kegan Paul International, 1995).
J. F. Borghouts, Ancient Egyptian Magical Texts (Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1978).
Manfred Lurker, The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Egypt (New York: Thames & Hudson, 1980).
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. 626–630.
Leonard H. Lesko (1987)
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Re 1 / rā/ variant spelling of Ra1 .Re2 • symb. the chemical element rhenium.
[Latin, In the matter of; in the case of.]
A term of frequent use in designating judicial proceedings, in which there is only one party. Thus, "Re Vivian" signifies "In the matter of Vivian," or "in Vivian's Case."