III. F. The Jebel Barkal Pinnacle as “Hidden” Royal Statue: Osiris; Atum; and Royal Ka
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If the pinnacle simultaneously manifested the divine father and mother, it must also, to have completed the concept of Kamutef, have manifested the royal child, the king, as well as the eternal essence of kingship, the royal ka.  Newly recognized evidence indicates that the monolith indeed was conceived as a gigantic, standing figure of a king wearing the White Crown (figs. 63a, b, c) (Kendall 2008).  This particular identity of the rock, however, seems to have been kept deliberately “hidden” in public art – perhaps because “hidden” was the very essence of Osiris, and the word was synonymous with the name of Amun (Piankoff 1954, 58, 62, 64 passim; Herodotus II: 61). 

Fig. 63 a, b, c:  The pinnacle as the vague form of a standing Osiris (Photos: T. Kendall), shown with comparable statues of Thutmose III and Osiris, wearing the White Crown, at Karnak.

The association of the pinnacle with Osiris is made convincing by a fragmentary hymn to the god, found in temple B 700, which was recently published by Priese (2005).  This text, which seems to be describing a figure in the rock, refers to Osiris “in his name as Pillar,” and says of him that he wears the White Crown, resides “in the primordial water,” was “born on the first of the year” and presided over the fertility and the Nile flood.   The pinnacle certainly does evoke the form of a standing Osiris, and his “White Crown” would have indicated the direction from which, as a personification of Fertility, he came:  that is, the South, the source of the Nile waters.  A late Hellenistic Nubian tradition about the source of the Nile states that Osiris was a native Kushite (“Aithiopian”), who, like the river, came north into Egypt in prehistoric times and brought with him Egyptian civilization (FHN 1998 [II], 638 ff).  The text goes on to explain that that was why both Kushite and Egyptian kings wore “tall pointed felt hats ending in a knob, with the snakes that they call asp coiled round them.” (Ibid., 645).  (In historical times, the kings traveled from Jebel Barkal to Thebes after the New Year ceremony to guide the inundation down to Egypt.  Either they were re-enacting this myth, or the myth evolved from the memory of this royal custom [cf. Török 1997, 159]).

I have recently been able to demostrate that Taharqo chose the site of Nuri for his pyramid because its location, about 10 km northeast of Jebel Barkal on the opposite bank and visible from its summit, was the point on the horizon where the sun rose on the ancient Egyptian New Year’s Day (modernly July 31; anciently August 7), when that sunrise was observed from the summit of Jebel Barkal (Kendall 2008). Egyptian New Year’s Day – the day when the star Sirius first appeared above the horizon just before dawn at Thebes - was considered to be the birth and resurrection day both of Osiris and Re because it coincided with the moment when the Nile began its annual rise.  In other words, New Year’s Day was the anniversary of the “first moment” (sep-tepy) of Creation.  Because the rising waters brought fertility and renewed life, and because both Re and Osiris (as day/night, or “ba,” aspects of each other) personified fertility, the rising Nile proved that both gods had been reborn.  Since all deceased kings were thought to become Osiris when they died, Taharqo’s placement of his pyramid at the point of sunrise on the day of Osiris’ “resurrection” would surely have been thought to guarantee his own annual “rebirth” and resurrection as the “ba” of Osiris, which was Re, or as the Nile inundation.  Taharqo's subterranean tomb was designed as an "Osireion" (that is, a tomb of Osiris), which was planned so that the floor was at the level of ground water and flooded, and so that his coffins would actually be immersed in water - in order to actualize the words of the B 700 hymn:

“Greetings to you, Osiris, Lord of Eternity
King of the Two Lands, Chief of both banks…
Youth, King, who took the White Crown for himself…
Who makes himself young again a million times…
What he loves is that every face looks up to him…
Shining youth, who is in the primordial water, born on the first of the year…
From the outflow of his limbs both lands drink.
Of him it is arranged that the corn springs forth from the water
In which he is situated….
Who causes to be established [the years?] of eternity in this, his name as ‘Pillar’(iun).”

Taharqo’s efforts to ensure his posthumous union with both Osiris and Re through his tomb’s special form and placement probably also explain his interest in uniting himself with the Jebel Barkal pinnacle (=Osiris/Amun/Kamutef/Divine Mother/Royal Ka), thus making real the words of the hymn that he (Osiris) is “Chief of both banks.” At his order, Taharqo’s engineers erected, at dizzying height and colossal labor, a complex scaffolding of wooden beams set between the mountain cliff and the back side of the pinnacle shaft.  This structure enabled them to scale the inaccessible apex of the pinnacle, on whose precipitous forward side, overlooking the temples, they cut an alcove near the top of the “White Crown.”  By means of a crane erected on top of the pinnacle, they hoisted a small statue (now lost, probably representing the king) from the ground and set it in a socket within the alcove, so king (ka) and “god” would be merged (fig. 64).  On the rock face above, they created a smooth rectangular panel, 3 m wide and 1.5 m high, and carved an inscription there, now almost completely obliterated, commemorating Taharqo’s victories over enemies east and west (which also included a reference to the White Crown).  They then covered this panel with gold sheet, which was fastened to the stone by means of numerous small nails. This gold panel with statue below – now both lost - was probably the most conspicuous feature of the mountain (See B 350; Kendall 2004).

Fig. 64:  Artist’s rendering of the contruction undertaken at the summit of the pinnacle by Taharqo in order to raise a small statue of himself(?) into a niche near the peak of the “crown” and thus merge himself with “the god.”  (Painting by James Gurney for National Geographic Nov. 1990).


Taharqo’s pyramid and the Jebel Barkal pinnacle worked together as a giant calendar circle. If the king’s pyramid, when observed from the mountain top, marked the point of sunrise on the supposed birthday of Osiris/Re about August 7 in 664 BCE (fig. 65), then three and half months later, on November 21 (presently November 13), when Jebel Barkal was observed from the summit of the pyramid, the pinnacle marked the point of sunset on the approximate death-day of Osiris, which was celebrated at the Feast of Khoiak (Torok 1997, 319) – when the Nile began to fall and the end of fertility indicated the god’s demise.   On that evening, when viewed from the pyramid, the sun set behind the pinnacle and momentarily silhouetted “the god” (fig. 66).  Since the setting sun was not only a metaphor for death but also a manifestation of the primeval sun god Atum, the silhouetted “god” (now Osiris and Atum) symbolically “died,” thus renewing the cycle (fig. 67).  When, we view the same sunset from the summit of Jebel Barkal, we see that the pinnacle shadow, as the sun goes down, gradually moves and lengthens, to point precisely to Taharqo’s pyramid at the moment of sunset (figs. 68a, b, c, d).  This can only be understood as the “dying god” casting his shadow to “his” tomb. It stands to reason, therefore, that on New Year’s Day, the pyramid of Taharqo, when standing at its full height of about 63 m, would have cast a similar shadow to the pinnacle across the river, thus “waking the god” on New Year’s Day -  the day of his “rebirth,” when the river began its rise.

Fig. 65:  Sunrise over the Nuri pyramids, as viewed from the summit of Jebel Barkal, July 29, 1997.  Two days later, the sun would have risen directly over Taharqo’s pyramid (visible as the low mound at left), duplicating the sunrise of the ancient New Year’s Day, which, in the mid-seventh century BCE, would have occurred August 7.

Fig. 66:  View to Jebel Barkal from the summit of Taharqo’s pyramid, showing the sun setting behind the pinnacle on Nov. 13, 2005.  Here the rock spire is silhouetted in the disk like the “dying god” Atum.  (Photo: T. Kendall).

Fig. 67:  The god Atum as the setting sun as depicted in the Book of the Dead, Spell 17; Papyrus of Ani, British Museum. (Faulkner 2005, 45)

Fig. 68 a-d: A series of photos taken from the summit of Jebel Barkal, Nov. 11, 2005, between 5:20 and 6:15 PM. As the sun sinks in the west, the pinnacle casts an ever longer shadow to the east. At the moment of sunset, it points directly to Taharqo’s pyramid on the horizon (indicted by black arrow). (Photos: T. Kendall).

Although the conception and execution of Taharqo’s tomb and his pinnacle monument, and their astronomical relationship, reveal a level of ingenuity and virtuoso engineering that puts their construction on a par with the most sophisticated building projects of antiquity, the ideas that lay behind them seem to have been those that had already been fully developed by the Egyptians around Jebel Barkal as early as the Eighteenth Dynasty.