III. I. Jebel Barkal as True Destination of the Luxor Opet festival
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Within the texts and reliefs at Luxor Temple there are clear indications that when the king and god arrived inside the sanctuary during the Opet festival, they were thought to have arrivied at their mythological birthplace, as at the beginning of time.  The bark procession from Karnak simulated their boat journey through heaven to get there – which probably explains why in most of his images at Luxor, Amun is simply called “Lord of Heaven” (Brunner 1977, 75).  Other clues are explicit.  For example, at the base of the western obelisk of Ramses II the king is called “beloved like Atum;” at the base of the eastern obelisk, he is called “beloved like Amun,” indicating that the king, on entering Luxor from Karnak, shared the body of a dying sun god, setting in the west, and on leaving, shared the body of a reborn sun god, rising in the east (Walker 1992, 55).  In the colonnade hall, the towing of the divine barges from Karnak to Luxor is depicted on the west wall, while the return voyage to Karnak is depicted on the east wall.  On the west wall, the men holding the towropes of the barges sing a song that includes the following words:

“The ruler of glorious appearances [Amun] appears in his bark like Re in heaven,  All the earth is united, jubilating at seeing his excellence in his river bark like Re in his night bark….. All the land is in joy at his arrival at the noble Opet, his place of the sep-tepy (‘first occasion’=Creation)” (Walker 1992, 56; cf. Epigraphic Survey 1994, 7, pl. 18))

The comparison of Amun to the sun god Re “in his night bark” reveals that the entrance of the barks into Luxor was thought to simulate the Sun’s arrival into the depths of the Underworld.  The god’s entrance into the Luxor sanctuary marked his arrival at the place where he achieved his daily resurrection as Khepri.  This is made even clearer inside Room XVII of the inner temple (just south of the bark room, which was the final destination of Amun’s bark). Here the evening and morning barks of Re are represented on the west and east walls respectively (Brunner 1977, pls. 12, 16).  In the chamber of the Luxor cult statue (Room XIX), the western wall depicted offerings that appeared to be those associated with the cult of the dead, while on the eastern wall there are those otherwise typical in the daily feeding of Amun (Pamminger 1992, 96, quoting Barta).  When the king greeted the morning bark of Re in Room XVII, the text beside him states that “the people make praises (henu) to (the king) in his form of a child, the coming forth of Re as Khepri” (Walker 1991, 58) (see below, fig. 111b).

On his Victory Stela, Piankhy alludes to the mythological significance of the Opet when he says of his planned visit to Luxor: “I shall cause (Amun) to appear in his sacred image (on his way) to Southern Opet (=Luxor) in his beautiful festival of the “Feast of Opet by Night” and on the festival “Abiding-in-Thebes”, which Re made for him at the sep-tepy…” (FHN 1994 (I): 77).

Given the king’s reference to the “Opet by Night,” we should probably assume a heightened reality:  that the outward journey of Amun’s bark from Karnak to Luxor commenced about sunset and proceeded under moonlight or torchlight (cf. FHN 1996 [II], 412-413; ).  This is further suggested by texts indicating that the Opet festival began following the "evening offerings/meal" (ikhet khawy) (Waitkus 2008, 26-28, 266). We may also guess that the rest stations along the 3 km route symbolized the hourly divisions or gates of the night.  As revealed by Hatshepsut’s reliefs in her Red Chapel at Karnak, her Opet bark stations were numbered, and six are known (Bell 1997, 162, fig. 66).  A text on the Aspelta sarcophagus states specifically that the Sun God is reborn in the Underworld at the sixth hour of the night (Doll 1978; Assmann 1995, 24; Parker, Leclant and Goyon 1979, 46, n. 11).  The arrival of the barks at Luxor would thus likely have been timed to occur around midnight (Hour 6), so that the rituals surrounding the reunion of Amun and the king with the Luxor demiurge could take place during the hours between then and dawn.  The re-emergence of the god and king from the sanctuary, and the ceremony of the king’s “appearance in glory” (i.e. his coronation as newborn sun) would probably have been timed to coincide with actual sunrise.  The culmination of the celebration for the king and god would have been their triumphal morning return to Karnak.

The Opet bark procession seems to have actualized the drama described in the great royal mortuary texts: the Book of the Amduat (“What is in the Netherworld”), the Book of Gates, and the Book of Caverns and others (Piankoff 1954) - but especially the first.  The Amduat documented the nightly bark journey of the Sun God from sunset, through the twelve hourly divisions of the Underworld, to his reunion with the body (“flesh”) of Osiris, to his rebirth and rising as Khepri, all the while battling the forces of Chaos, which surged and seethed all around him.  The texts and their vignettes, which trace the perils faced by the god during the night and his victorious conquest of death and return to life, were used to decorate the walls of many royal tombs because the divine solar protagonist was actually a personification of the deceased king.  As Osiris, of course, the deceased king was relegated to the Underworld, but he was also one who, upon his death, merged with the Sun and traveled in the heavens as Osiris’ resurrected ba.  In other words, he was the immortal “soul” of Osiris, who traveled the sky by day as Re and who rejoined his mummy (“flesh of Osiris”) by night in order to achieve his own daily resurrection as the newborn sun (figs. 102a, b).  His form, as we have seen, was that of a ram-headed god, crowned with disk and ba horns (See also III, G).

Fig. 102a: The god Re as the divine entity in whom both Re and Osiris unite in the Underworld so that the Sun will be reborn.  His ram head and sun disk symbolically link him with primeval time and the Primeval Mound (=Jebel Barkal/western Thebes:  see figs. 93-95); the horizontal horns identify him as a “ba” - the living “soul” of the deceased Osiris.  Tomb of Nofretari (Thausing and Goedicke 1971, pl. 41)

Fig. 102b: The god Re (in the guise of Osiris’ ba; see fig. 102a), traveling through the Underworld by night aboard his night bark, protected by the great serpent Mehen.  Detail from the Amduat papyrus of the Priest of Amun Amenhotep.  Berlin, Egyptian Museum, P 3005 (Hildesheim 1987, 328, no. 281)  

The journey of Re to the west at sunset was thought to parallel the living king’s journey south on the Nile as a reflection of Re-Horakhty.  Conversely, the sun’s rise in the east symbolically matched the king’s return north.  This is made explicit in Coffin Text 1: 184-185, which states: “May you sail southward on your night bark and northward in the day bark” (Walker 1992, 57-58) (which may already suggest an awareness of the cultic importance of Nubia in the Middle Kingdom).  The same directional paradigm is evident from the appearance - only in western Thebes - of all the primeval forms of Amun which reappear in the south, at Jebel Barkal (figs. 92-95b).  The parallel voyages of Re (as deceased king) and Re-Horakhty (as living king) may have been conceived as taking place in different directional and temporal dimensions – west to east vs. north to south, past-time vs. present-time, mythological geography vs. real geography - but they took place together, fused in the being of the one god Amun-Re.  Their destination was the same; and they also arrived and returned together.

Strangly, there seems to have been no contradiction here.  The only way to explain how the god achieved rebirth by voyaging west, and how the king achieved rebirth by voyaging south, is to recognize that if one travels far enough up the Nile, into Upper Nubia, the west bank (“land of sunset and ‘death’ ”) literally becomes the south, and as one rounds the Dongola Reach, it becomes the east (“land of sunrise and rebirth”).  By following the river, in other words, the king ends up at the same place as the Sun God – which would be Napata.  And since we find in this region the Primeval Mound, the source of the Nile, the ideal venue for the celebration of the New Year (i.e. the anniversary of the moment of Creation), we would seem to have arrived at the true destination of the Opet:  the place of Creation, the source of the primordial waters of life, the place where all gods become One in the mysterious being of the Creator, the place where all kings, dead and alive, united in the ka with Kamutef, and where the Sun God united with the body of Osiris to be reborn as Khepri and child king.

That Nubia was the actual destination of the king and god in the Opet procession is implied by the text written over the barge of Mut in the Colonnade Hall:

“…I am your mother, who created your beauty.  I did suckle you when you were a nursling prince.  I have placed the fear of you among the nine bows and the awe of you among the Nubian tribesmen, your mace being upon their heads and the dread of you in their bodies altogether, as a reward for this perfect monument which you made for me…” (Epigraphic Survey 1994, 29, pl. 82) (Note that there are no comparable remarks about Libyan or Asiatic enemies)

At this point we need to take a second look at B 700 at Jebel Barkal.  In Part III, H, we observed that when the bark of Amun of Napata (from B 500) visited this temple, the god entered a place in which all aspects of himself were present, as suggested by their names on the column inscriptions.  In 703 the walls also incorporated a large false door, picturing canopic jars, and were inscribed with a text stating that Atlanersa had made it “as a monument for my father Osiris-Dedwen” (Priese 2005).  Scattered about within rooms 702 and 703 were also eighteen blocks bearing sections from a long hymn to Osiris, which seem originally to have been installed in 703 (See poem section quoted above, III, F).  This suggests that B 700 was not only the place where all the terrestrial Amuns merged, but also where Re of the Underworld, in his “night bark,” physically joined with the body of Osiris to achieve rebirth as a “living ba,” and thus rise as the newborn sun Khepri.

The bark chamber 703 also preserves fragmentary scenes from the coronation of Atlanersa (Török 2002, 170-171).  Although these are still largely unpublished, they include the king’s “baptism” with ankh and was; his running before the god; and his being crowned under an ished tree.  Furthermore, one relief block depicts a stand of lettuce, indicating that here there had also been an image of the ithyphallic Amun – rare at Jebel Barkal.  In the small Meroitic sanctuary (704), Reisner recovered a granite statue of a ram-headed Amun, a statue of Amenhotep III wearing the White Crown, a Meroitic sandstone statue of a king, a small bronze uraeus with ram head (See fig. 55, Part III, D) two fragmentary sandstone statues of baboons, and twelve small bronze Osiris figures (Reisner 1918, 101-102, pl. XIII; Dunham 1970, 67, 69, pls. 61-62).  All these unusual details suggest a temple in which occurred the union of the Sun God with Osiris and the king, and the union of the king (Horus) with all deceased kings (Osiris) – that is, all forms of the royal ka within the body of Kamutef.  The baboon figures indicate the celebration of sunrise and solar rebirth, as does the god’s bark stand, which pictures the ba’s of Pe and Nekhen, led by the king, all making “praises” (henu) to the god, as if at his rising (fig. 103) (Walker 1991, 22; Török 2002, 167; Merzeban 2008, 56-57).

Fig. 103: The bark stand of Amun of Napata from B 700, dedicated by Atlanersa, about 640 BCE.  Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA 23.728).


B 700 at Jebel Barkal, in other words, seems to have had the same purpose as Luxor Temple.  Room XVII at Luxor featured the same details of decoration that appeared in 703; this was the room in which, presumably, took place the fusion of Amun of Karnak with Amun of Luxor (Brunner 1977, pls. 10-16).  Here we find oblique references to the ‘death’ and rebirth of Re and the king, revealing that it also symbolized their place of Creation and re-creation.  Whether by exiting Luxor Temple or by exiting B 700, king and god realized the final hour of the Amduat:  they rose together victorious as new Suns, and the king was crowned with ram horns (fig. 104).  At Jebel Barkal, the king probably ascended the steps of the adjacent structure, B 600, sat on his throne (the leg emplacements for which are still there!), where he was acclaimed by the multitudes as a god (See B 600) - just as had been his "forebear" Thutmose IV!

Fig. 104: Statue of Anlamani wearing the Double Crown with ram horns, found at Kerma/Doukki Gel (ancient Pnubs) in 2003.  Kerma Museum, Sudan. (Bonnet and Valbelle 2006, 110-113)


That the sun’s bark journey each night through the Underworld was thought to be a nightly round-trip journey from Egypt to Kush, around the great bend of the Nile, may never have been stated explicitly by the Egyptians, but we have ample indication that this is what they thought, even though their application of the names of all Creation sites to all the others (even in Nubia) allowed them freely to transfer the same meaning to all of them.  There is, for example, the famous line from Homer (Iliad 1.423 f), quoted by Diodorus:  “For Zeus went to the blameless Aithiopians by the Ocean yesterday for a meal, and all the gods went with him” (FHN 1996 [II], 644).  “Ocean,” in this case, would have been a Greek rendering of the Egyptian concept of “Nun” – the watery Abyss of primeval time, from which “Zeus” (as Re-Atum) had come forth at the beginning of time at the Primeval Hill of “Heliopolis” – in this case Jebel Barkal – and flowed down to Egypt as the Nile (cf. Part III, H, above).  (Note that the modern Arabs still refer to the Nile as bahr ["Sea"]).

A more direct allusion to the overnight journey of the Sun God to Kush is preserved in the late Demotic tale of Prince Setme Khaemwas (Griffith 1900: 40-66, 142-207), about a Kushite sorcerer who appeared at the Egyptian court and challenged King Ramses to read the text of a letter he held without breaking the seal. Setme’s young son Si-Osiri, blessed with exceptional wisdom, came forward on the king’s behalf and successfully read the concealed text, which told the story of another Kushite sorcerer, named Hor son of Nehes (“Nubian”), who, long before, humiliated another Egyptian king, resulting in that king’s being whisked to Nubia during the night, beaten with 500 blows in front of its ruler (“Kore”) and returned to Egypt by morning (“within six hours”).  To confront this powerful magic, an Egyptian sorcerer, named Hor son of Paneshe, then stepped forward and cast a similar spell - sending a litter of animated wax figures to Nubia by night, seizing the Kore, and flying him overnight to Egypt, where he, too, was flogged and returned home by morning – an action repeated on three successive nights.  The enraged Kore then threatened to kill his own magician for his inability to block the magic of the Egyptian.  Hor son of Nehes then traveled to Egypt together with his mother Nehes (both of whom took animal form) in order to inflict greater harm upon Egypt.  They were, however, unmasked by Hor son of Paneshe, who forced them to make an oath, promising that they would not return for 1500 years.  At this point the Egyptian prepared an “aerial boat,” which flew them home to the “land of Nehes, their city.”  When Si-Osiri finished reciting the story contained in the sealed document, he exposed the present Kushite sorcerer as the same Hor son of Nehes, now returned to do further mischief after 1500 years.  Si-Osiri then announced that he, in fact, was really the resurrected Hor son of Paneshe, come back from the dead (“West”) to counteract the former, so that the “humiliation of Egypt” would not be taken to “the land of Nehes.”   After causing the Kushite to be consumed by fire, he then “passed away as a shade, out from the hand of Pharaoh and Setme his father, nor did they see him (again).”

In this story we surely hear echoes of the overnight journeys of the Sun God into the Underworld, through Kush, and his battles with the forces of Chaos along the way. The transformations of the Kushite magician and his mother from human to animal form and back again also recall the transformations of Amun and the "Eye of Re" during their passages between Egypt and Nubia.

The royal mortuary texts of the New Kingdom are generally completely abstruse, but close examination reveals that at least the Book of the Amduat preserves several indications that the Sun traveled to Nubia by night for union with Osiris and rebirth.  This composition was first used to decorate the tomb of Thutmose I (Piankoff 1954, 227), and it is probably no coincidence that this same king was also the conqueror of Kush and the first of the pharaohs to visit Jebel Barkal.  Like all religious writings of the period, the Amduat is so full of obscure imagery and so deficient in direct references to any real place, that it is extremely difficult to associate it with any real geography.  It was, after all, secret knowledge.  But there are subtle indications that the story, at least in its first drafts, may have been written as an Osirian allegory of the king’s own unprecedented journey around the great bend of the Nile.  The best preserved versions of the manuscript exist in the tombs of Thutmose III and Amenhotep II, where their text and vignettes fully decorate the walls of the burial chambers (Richter 2008).

The introductory text of the Amduat confirms that the Sun God’s destination, as he embarked in his night bark, lay in the far south, but that he got there by traveling to the west:  “The god enters into the western Gate of the Horizon, while Seth stands on the bank of the river (which is) 120 iteru in length” (Piankoff 1954, 230).  In the first and second divisions/hours four other river distance measures are given, but there are none elsewhere in the text, showing that the author was not consistent in their use.  The river distance cited in the introduction, therefore, may have been the only one inserted in the original composition.  From the context it would seem to have been the only one of importance.  An iteru is 20,000 cubits in length; a cubit is .523 m in length; hence 1 iteru is 10,460 m., and 120 iteru is 1,255,200 m or 1255.2 km.  Is it pure coincidence that this is precisely the river distance from Thebes to Jebel Barkal?  The measurement is so exact that it is difficult for me, with my maps, even to determine an error!

When the god passed into the Underworld, his journey from sunset to dawn was thought to take twelve hours.  Thus the Amduat has twelve divisions, one for each hour.  As the god progressed on his journey, he traveled on a bark that, strangely, changed form from one hour to the next, as did its crew (Piankoff 1954, 227).  We have already noted above that the union of the god with Osiris - and his transformation - was thought to have commenced in Hour 6 of the night.  Of special interest for us here is the sudden change taken by the bark in Hour 7, when the Sun God, standing on deck, appears for the first time enshrouded by a giant serpent, who arches over the god’s body and rears his head to protect him from the enemies that threatened from all directions (see fig. 102b).  But where did this serpent come from?  He is called Mehen (“Enveloper”), and from this hour until dawn he protects the god on his journey.   In the same seventh hour we also see a god named “Flesh of Osiris,” crowned with the shuty plumes of Amun, sitting under a similar serpent, which arches over him like a mound (figs. 105a, b). 

Fig. 105a: Vignette from Hour 7 of the Amduat, from the tomb of Amenhotep II.  (Piankoff 1954, fig. 80, opp. 277)


Fig. 105b:  Vignette from Hour 7 of the Amduat, from the tomb of Ramses VI.  (Piankoff 1954, pl. 91)

"Flesh of Osiris" within his serpent mound is preceded by three kneeling, bound figures whose heads have been cut off, who are said to be the “enemies of Osiris,” and before them are the prostrate bodies of more slain enemies.   Behind the serpent-mound is a huge uraeus (in variant copies shown human-headed), who is also called “Mehen.”  Mehen therefore simultaneously protects the god Re in his bark, and the god “Flesh of Osiris” in his mound – the two gods being ba’s of each other (fig. 102a).  In BD 15 B 1 2, the enveloping serpent on the god’s boat is even referred to as a “mound” (Allen 1974, 12), and it seems likely that after Hour 6 these two gods were thought to have been united within this mound, which I suggest was also symbolized by Taharqo's Luxor statue of "Kamutef," which subtly indicates that Luxor was this "mound" (fig. 112).  Figs. 111a and b, picturing Re and Atum as similar serpents, probably indicates in the same way that Jebel Barkal was this mound (and it is in this manner that Jebel Barkal is actually represented in two surviving late images [figs. 106a, b]).  "Mehen," I would suggest, was simply the generic name of the god who symbolized and represented the process and place of resurrection.  

Fig. 106a: Jebel Barkal represented in the impression of one of the gold signet rings from the treasure of Queen Amanishakheto, Pyramid 6, North Cemetery, Meroë.  (Lepsius 1842-45, V, pl. 42, 103)

Fig. 106b:  Graffito picturing Amun inside Jebel Barkal, from Jebel Suweigat (about 10 km upstream of Jebel Barkal on the right bank; drawn on a rock face from which there is a clear view of the same profile of Jebel Barkal).  (Abdul Rahman and Rilly 2008.)

The allegorical landscape in the Amduat vignette is strongly reminiscent of that of Jebel Barkal, which, as we know from the decor of B 700 and the content of BD Spells 162-165, had exactly the same meaning, which it shared with Luxor Temple.  It was the “Pure Mountain” of Napata, fronted by a uraeus and a “statue” suggesting the form of Osiris that marked the border with earthly Chaos in the New Kingdom; it lay on a frontier eternally threatened by hostile Nubian tribesmen, whose dark skin may also have suggested to the Egyptians that here in Upper Nubia they were in another sort of “Underworld.”  We have only to compare figs. 105a, b with Ramses’ scene of his southern frontier in the Great Temple at Abu Simbel to recognize that we are viewing the same place – where a great god sits inside a mountain protected by a snake, and the sun-god-as-king vanquishes his enemies prior to “appearing in glory” at his coronation/rebirth (fig. 107).  Furthermore, on the same wall - a bit to the left of the details shown in fig. 107 – there stands a lion-headed goddess, just as in the Amduat vignette (105a, b).  Here she is called “Ipet,” and would seem to personify Jebel Barkal itself as the Ipet, parallel to Luxor.  The goddess Ipet was also venerated in Thebes as the mother of Osiris.  In the Abu Simbel relief, she stands behind a ram headed god with ba horns, who is named "Mermutef" (“He who loves his mother”) – indicating that he must be Osiris in ba form, and that his true name was not written for religious reasons!  (See Herodotus II: 61)

Fig. 107:  The southern frontier of Ramses II, pictured in relief on the south wall of the great hall of the Great Temple at Abu Simbel.  (Martini 1964, 15)


We can verify in yet another extraordinary way that the Egyptians of the New Kingdom equated Upper Nubia with the Luxor sanctuary and the place of solar and royal rejuvenation.  In the Pyramid and Coffin Texts, the serpent god Mehen was recognized as a protector of the Sun god, but his shape was circular and coiled.  During the First Intermediate Period, this god became the focus of a body of secret knowledge, known in the Coffin Texts as the “Mysteries of Mehen,” by which those privy to them were thought to be able, after death, to become one with Mehen, to vanquish the enemies of Re, to attain victory over their enemies below, and ultimately to achieve safe passage through the Underworld in company with Re, achieving their own resurrection and rebirth (Piccione 1990b; Kendall 2007, 41).

In the Old Kingdom, Mehen was the patron deity of a board game which bore his name and which was played on a circular board surface in the shape of a coiled snake (Kendall 2007, and cf 1989, 711-715). During the Middle Kingdom, however, the Mehen game completely disappeared, and by the beginning of the Eighteenth Dynasty, we find Mehen now the patron deity of another board game: Senet (“Passing”), which was then already very old but which had taken on a new funerary significance (Piccione 1990a; 2007; Kendall 1982b).  By early Dynasty 18, the Senet game had been reconceptualized as the struggle of the deceased to achieve immortality after death in the Underworld, to vanquish the enemies of the Sun God, to accompany the god on his boat, and “to go forth by day as a living ba.”  The Book of the Dead itself was called “Going Forth by Day,” and the Senet game, under the protection of Mehen, had became an important symbol of resurrection for the Egyptian common man.  As a tool for attaining eternal life, the game was pictured in the vignette accompanying BD Spell 17 (fig. 108).

Fig. 108:  The deceased and his wife playing Senet, who, victorious, “come forth as living ba’s” (at right). Vignette from BD Spell 17, Papyrus of Ani. London, British Museum. (Faulkner 2005)


Senet was played on a board surface marked with three rows of ten squares, but the players did not move their pieces from one row to another, as in checkers; they moved them along a single winding path of thirty squares, which took the form of a flattened backwards-S.  In other words, the Senet board surface assumed exactly the shape of the serpent Mehen as he appeared in the Amduat, either protecting the Sun God on his night bark or protecting the god “Flesh of Osiris” in his mound. The winner of the Senet game was apparently he who first carried his pieces safely off the board, which earned him eternal life as a ba (fig. 109) (Kendall 1982b; Piccione 2007).

Fig. 109:  Faience Senet board with pieces, Dynasty 18 or 19. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.  From texts it is known that the playing surface represented a pathway of thirty steps in the form of a backwards-S.  Players moved their pieces from the upper left to the lower right corner, fighting each other for position, and trying to be the first to exit the board, which earned them resurrection.  The first goal of each player was square 26, which in this example featured an image of Osiris and the words “Beautiful House” – the place of mummification where Osiris (or the deceased) was prepared for burial.  Once players reached this square, they next had to pass safely over Square 27, which symbolized the Nile/Hapy.  Failure to pass it meant that they “drowned.” The last three squares customarily bore the numerals 3, 2, and 1 (or blank), probably indicating the dice throw necessary to carry a piece from the board.  On this board the same squares bear images of gods:  3=Osiris, Horus, and Isis, 2=Re and Atum, and 3=Horus/Re-Horakhty.  The last square would have symbolized imminent rebirth and union with the sun.  (Kendall 1982b, 268)

Fig. 110:  Serpent replicating the form of Mehen - and the path of the pieces in the Senet game - used as an illustration for BD Spell 87.  From the papyrus of Ani, British Museum.  (Faulkner 2005, 98)

If the game of Senet became a magic symbol of the struggle of the dead to achieve resurrection, so did the the S-shaped snake itself, as evidenced by the vignette of Spell 87 (fig. 110), the text for which states:

“I am a long-lived snake.  I pass the night and am reborn every day.  I am a snake which is at the limits/boundaries (djeru) of the earth; I pass the night and am reborn, renewed and rejuvenated every day.”

Here the serpent not only symbolizes resurrection, but also the “limits/boundaries of the earth.”  In the vignettes accompanying BD Spells 163 and 164 (see Part III, G), which make specific reference to Jebel Barkal, we find Re and Atum curiously represented as serpents of just this type (figs. 111a, b).  Re, the serpent, can be identified by his crown, which is that worn by the god as Osiris’ ba as he travels through the Underworld on his boat (cf. fig. 102a, b); the Atum serpent is identified by his label, and, to make his meaning clear, he holds in his hands the newly risen sun, in whose face is the figure of a child king.  These gods, like Taharqo’s statue of Kamutef from Luxor (fig. 112), are shown not as the occupants of the Primeval Mound but as the very Mound itself (figs. 106a, b).  To bring this motif closer to Jebel Barkal, we note a large faience pylon-shaped amulet, which depicts an enthroned Osiris accompanied by Isis and Horus (fig. 113).  Here Osiris, seated beneath two eyes/uraei, wears a Hemhem crown with curling ram horns on the side, and behind him rises a huge uraeus in S-shape.  Since the amulet was found at el-Kurru, the subject must be Osiris, or a deceased kiing as Osiris, within Jebel Barkal - but the scene is also very closely related to that in the vignette of Hour 7 in the Amduat (See figs. 105a, b), suggesting that the two compositions must reflect the same meaning.  Finally, we must note that the twin uraei on the top of the Kushite crown coil in just the same way (fig. 113).  If, as I have shown in Part III, C, the Kushite cap crown was thought to manifest the shape of Jebel Barkal, then the S-coiled uraei here must not only evoke the pinnacle and all of its meanings but must also symbolize the place where solar and kingly regeneration takes place.

Fig. 111a:  The god Re in the form of a Mehen serpent wearing the sun disk crown and horns of the nocturnal solar ba (see figs 102a, b).  Papyrus BM 10257 (Faulkner 1972, 163)

Fig. 111b:  The god Atum in the form of a Mehen serpent, from BD 164.  Brooklyn Museum. (Mysliewiec 1978, fig. 62)
Fig. 112:  Granite statue of Kamutef as a uraeus serpent in the form of Mehen, dedicated by Taharqo to the god of Luxor and found in the Luxor cache.  Courtesy of Luxor Museum.

Fig. 113: Large pylon-shaped amulet from the tomb of a minor queen of Piankhy, el-Kurru, tomb Ku 51.  Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA 21.304).  Dunham 1950, 78, pl. 55. (Photo: T. Kendall) 
Fig. 114:  Bronze statuette of Shabaqo, seen from the top, showing the coils of his uraei.  National Archaeological Museum, Athens.  (Photo:  Bernard V. Bothmer)

The compressed S-shape – the very form of these serpent deities and the Senet game - was also the hieroglyphic determinative (Gardiner sign list F 49), used for the word kabu, which means both “bends of a river” and “coils of a snake.” In BD Spell 17, we are told again that the Creator god “is water; he is the Deep, the Father of the gods.”  In other words, he was Water before he was Mound, and that, as the River, he also assumed the shape of a winding serpent.  We may wonder why Mehen, serpent god of solar protection and resurrection, changed his form in early Dynasty 18 from circular-coiled to S-shape.  I would suggest that he did so when the Egyptians discovered Jebel Barkal and recognized that the sun’s place of resurrection must lie in Upper Nubia, where the Nile reversed its direction, and its banks acquired opposite meanings from those they had in Egypt:  where west (=”death”) became east (=”new life”).  Mehen’s new S-shape simply pictured the Nile’s great bend!  This may explain why Mehen appears first in Hour 7 of the Amduat.  It is a cryptic indicator that the god has traveled a long distance in his boat to get to the great bend, and that it is there where the god united with “Flesh of Osiris,” inside his mound (=Luxor Temple/Jebel Barkal/Karnak/”Southern Heliopolis”), in order to be reborn as Khepri.  But how, we may ask, did the Nile, the Primeval Mound and the Serpent come to represent the same thing simultaneously?  To understand, we need only look at the world as the Egyptians would have mapped it.

If the reference to “120 iteru” in the introduction to the Amduat is a rare insertion of explicit information into a religious text – that is, the true distance by Nile from Thebes to Napata - then we can be certain that the Egyptians were able to make very accurate maps of the Nile.  They would have drawn these maps with south up, and during the New Kingdom the known Nile Valley would have extended upstream all the way from Egypt to Kurgus/Hagar el-Merwa, which had been visted by Thutmose I, III, and possibly Ramses II.  Thus mapped, the river  - the source of life to Egypt - would have appeared exactly in the shape of the Mehen serpent ("Protector of the Sun God"), with his head upstream at Kurgus directed left and his tale arching over the Dongola Reach and curving down (north) to Egypt with the flow of the current.  The location of Jebel Barkal on this map, indicated by a point just under the “arching coil” of the serpent river, would have replicated images of Amun seated or standing under the sheltering coil of the serpent mountain (fig. 115).  The snake in winding S-shape, I would suggest, symbolized both the source of creation - the source of the Nile waters and the primeval Nun - as well as the place of creation, the Primeval Mound, where the Sun and kingship were born.  The snake thus became a discreet symbol for Upper Nubia ("the limits of the earth") - a land only sometimes within Pharaoh's political grasp - but nevertheless well-known to every Egyptian. 

Fig. 115:  Map of the Nile shown with south up - in the form of the "serpent of resurrection." 


A glance at the map will reveal that the only other stretch of the Nile in Egypt where the river makes a comparable curve is just north of Thebes.  Thebes itself was situated on the Nile at a place where the stream flowed NE, while Napata was located on the Nile at a place where it flowed SW.  Priests and mapmakers alike would have been intrigued by this, for it gave Theban “Karnak” and Napatan “Karnak” precisely opposite symbolic meanings - both, no doubt, requiring as "Ipet-resyt."