III. A. The Nature of Amun and the Mysteries of Jebel Barkal
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It is clear from a complex surviving iconographic and textual record that from early Dynasty 18 the Egyptians assigned Jebel Barkal an outsized religious and political significance because of its peculiar shape.  It is perhaps the unique Egyptian religious site that allows us to perceive how Egyptian religious beliefs were influenced by the natural landscape.  The isolated hill evoked in the Egyptian mind the Primeval Mound of popular myth, on which Creation was thought to have taken place.  “Proof” of the presence here of Amun as Creator was evident to ancient onlookers in the towering, statue-like pinnacle on its south corner (fig. 23), which, when viewed from different angles at different times of the day, suggested to them the forms of many different divine beings or aspects, all of which combined to confirm the presence and protean nature of the god, whose very name meant “Hidden.”

Fig. 23: Jebel Barkal and its pinnacle, seen from the air.  (Photo: Enrico Ferorelli)


In Egypt Amun was normally depicted in two ways: as a man with blue skin, crowned with a sun disk and twin plumes, or (in his procreative role) as a mummiform figure, similarly-crowned, often with black skin, with erect phallus and one arm upraised supporting a flail (fig. 24a).  In Nubia he was also conceived in the same two ways, except that here his procreative aspect seems to have merged with the figure of a ram-headed man (fig. 24b).  Since Amun incorporated Re (the sun god), his nature was thought to change as he passed through his daily and yearly cycles; his changing forms in art, thus, seem to have evoked time and direction.  As we will see, the human-headed Amun seems to have suggested the concepts of east (=sunrise), north (=Egypt), resurrected life, and present time.  The ram-headed Amun seems to have suggested the concepts of west (=sunset), south (=Nubia), after-life, and primeval time.  Such stock images, however, actually belied a much more complex being believed to be at once Creator of the Universe, Sun in the sky, King of the Gods who combined within himself all gods and goddesses, god of fertility and the cyclical resurgent life force within the Nile, and god of water and mountains.  He was also the generative force of eternal kingship, who imparted the so-called “royal ka” to each living king, and he was the immortal solar essence (ba) of Osiris and all deceased kings.  Amun’s strange polymorphic nature is perfectly expressed in Taharqo’s prayer to Amun at Karnak:

“[Oh] Amun-Re, lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands, who is before Karnak, the noble ba that rises in heaven, [whose imag]es [are secret], whose appearances are numerous, whose (true) form is unknown, who made the sky…through whose manifestations all manifestations manifest themselves, great solar disk that darts forth [its rays, who crosses the heavens] tirelessly early in the morning… great elder, the soverign who lives in Ma’at (i.e. “Order”), … the great one who is greater than the other gods…who was the first to come into existence…father of fathers, mother of mothers… the oracle who forsees the future before it happens, whose work is to assure cyclical eternity and infinite duration, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Amen-Re, Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands, lord of heaven, earth, water, and mountains…” (FHN 1994 [I], 181-183)

Fig. 24a: The dual aspects of Amun as he normally appears in Egypt:  left, as “Maintainer of the Universe,” and right, as“Creator of the Universe.”  From a relief of Seti I in his Osiris temple at Abydos.  (Calverley 1933)


Fig. 24b:  The dual aspects of Amun as he typically appears on monuments from Jebel Barkal:  left, Amun of Karnak; right, Amun of Napata.  From the lunette of the Stele of the Napatan king Harsiotef, mid-fourth century BCE.  Cairo, Egyptian Museum.