III. H. Jebel Barkal and Luxor Temple
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Luxor Temple (Ipet-resyt = "Southern Sanctuary"), built largely between the reigns of Amenhotep III and Ramses II, lies approximately 2.9 km south of Karnak on the east bank at Thebes (fig. 77).  Its precise ritual function has always remained somewhat obscure, but research carried out over the past thirty years has done much to elucidate it.  During the early 1980's, Lanny Bell and the Chicago Epigraphic Survey studied it extensively and concluded that it was a shrine dedicated primarily to the cult of the royal ka - "the unique divine spirit handed down from ruler to ruler from before the dawn of history and shared by all Egyptian kings" (Bell 1997, 157).  As described above (III.D), the royal ka was thought to have been transmitted to each king at his birth by Amun-Kamutef, the primeval self-generating creator god and embodiment of eternal kingship (Bell 1985, 258-259).  It was a form of this god - an alter ego of Amun of Karnak - who dwelt in Luxor Temple.

Bell imagined that the king's ka power (i.e. the strength of his divinity), as well as the divine powers of Amun of Karnak, had to be annually renewed, which required a joint visit by both of them to the god of Luxor.  Their restoration to full divinity, Bell believed, was achieved during the annual festival held at Luxor, which was known as the“Ipet/Opet” (=”Luxor”), which was celebrated about the middle or end of September, about the time of the arrival at Thebes of the peak Nile flood some six to eight weeks after New Year’s Day (anciently about August 7) (Murnane 1981; Bell 1997, 158; Kendall 2008, 122-124).

Fig. 77:View of Luxor Temple from the Opet causeway, looking south.  (Wilkinson 2000, 168)


Wolfgang Waitkus, who has re-analyzed the temple anew, casts doubt on Bell's interpretation (Waitkus 2008, 264-267).  De-emphasizing the importance of the royal ka in the temple, he interprets the Opet festival rather as an important seasonal ritual that allowed the king symbolically to travel back to the place of Creation, where both he and the god Amun of Karnak were born at the beginning of time, in order to unite with their progenitor, the Luxor demiurge, so as to seize control of the Nile at its source, to assume the personification of the river as Hapy, and to bring the fertilizing waters down to Egypt.

The Luxor Opet festival was one of the greatest events of the Egyptian ritual calendar and lasted two to three weeks.  Its central event was a grand procession of the bark of Amun of Karnak (accompanied by those of Mut and Khonsu) together with the king and queen (and their barks) from Karnak to Luxor and ultimately back again.  The barks were either carried on the shoulders of priests via the sacred way connecting the temples (fig. 78a), which was lined with Osiride statues, sphinxes, and periodic rest stations, or they were carried to the Nile, placed aboard real barges, and towed by water in one or both directions (fig. 78b) (Epigraphic Survey 1994).  However one interprets the significance of the event, this journey of the barks simulated a cosmic voyage of Amun of Karnak and his son the king to their mythical birthplace at the Primeval Mound.  After their mystical reunion with the Amun of Luxor, both Amun of Karnak and the king were thought to have been renewed  - a transformation which was immediately followed by a coronation in which the king received a crown affixed with ram horns (fig. 79) (Bell 1997, 170; Montagner 2008-2009).

Fig. 78a:The bark of Amun being carried on the shoulders of priests during an Opet-festival of Queen Hatshepsut, from her Red Chapel at Karnak.  (Photo: T. Kendall)


Fig. 78b: Plan of Karnak and Luxor Temples, showing the land and river routes of the Opet-festival procession that connected them (also indicating the festival interconnections with the temples of the west bank). Drawing by Carol Meyer, from Bell 1997, 159, fig. 65.

Fig. 79: Amenhotep III receives his crown from Amun in coronation at Luxor.  His Atef crown is affixed with curling ram horns.  Photo by Lanny Bell, from Bell 1997, 141, fig. 48.


The god of Luxor was called Amun-ipet or Amun-em-ipet (“Amun of/in the Ipet”), in which the word Ipet (now commonly rendered “Opet” in the literature) suggested the meanings “place of seclusion; conjugal chamber; harem” (Wilkinson 2000, 166; Pamminger 1992, 93-95).  It is now simply translated "Sanctuary."  In one of the innermost rooms of the temple there are scenes discreetly depicting the divine conception of Amenhotep III, in which his mother is impregnated by Amun, and he is born as a dual being:  one aspect mortal and the other (his royal ka) divine. These chambers are those in which each year during the Opet festival the king was symbolically reborn.  The god of Luxor was the procreative aspect of Amun of Karnak and was normally represented inside the temple in ithyphallic form, symbolizing the eternal source of kingship and the royal ka. The temple symbolized the place of universal Creation, and its sanctuary was conceived as the locus of the Primeval Mound.

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