God Amun

  The supreme deity of ancient Egypt during the New Kingdom (1550–1069 b.c.), Amun is one  of the most ancient gods in the Egyptian pantheon.  Amun was the principal god of the city of Thebes,  along with his wife, Mut, the lion-headed goddess,  and their son, Khonsu, the moon god. Egyptian gods  frequently came in threes, or triads. Over Egypt’s long  history, Amun gained many titles: Amun Kematef;  “He Whose Time is Over”; “Lord of the Throne  of the Two Lands”; and “Eldest of the Gods of the  Eastern Sky,” to name a few.

Amun’s name meant the  “hidden one” or “that which is concealed,” implying  that his nature was unknowable. A possible origin of his name is the ancient Libyan  word aman, or “water.” In one creation myth, a group  of eight gods lived in the Ogdoad, or primordial  water, and they were the first gods to come into existence. Amun and his first wife, Amunet, were the  gods of the Ogdoad, representing “hiddenness.” In statues and paintings, Amun is personified as a  man, either standing or seated on his throne, wearing  a kilt and a round, flat crown with a sun disk and two  tall ostrich feathers on top. His skin is often blue,  perhaps a symbol for water or lapis lazuli, a highly  prized stone worthy of the gods.

The animals sacred to Amun were the goose and  a special breed of ram with large, curling horns. The  ram became the symbol of Amun, as did the ram’s  horns, and sometimes Amun was depicted as a ram  or as a ram-headed man. Amun probably was first worshipped as an agricultural god who assured abundant crops and fertility  in animals. Over time he evolved from a minor local  god to the supreme deity in the Egyptian pantheon.  Amun is mentioned in the Pyramid Texts, where he  is said to “protect the other gods with his shadow.”  The earliest known temple for Amun was built in the  Eleventh Dynasty (2125–2055 b.c.) in Thebes. In ancient Egypt, religion and politics went hand  in hand, and when the Theban princes in the south  won a battle with the north, they united the country  and started the Twelfth Dynasty (1985–1795 b.c.).

 The powerful southern kings paid special homage  to Amun, in thanks for his divine help, by taking the  god’s name as their own. King Amenemhet I (Amun- em-het) took the name “Amun is Supreme,” as did  his immediate successors. Their patron deity became  “the king of the gods.” As the cult of Amun became  powerful, Waset (later called Thebes by the Greeks),  grew in power and wealth and was called the City of  Amun. During the New Kingdom (1550–1069 b.c.),  when Egypt was at the height of its Golden Age,  Waset was named the capital of Egypt and the most  important religious center in the land. Amun’s most important religious celebration was  the Festival of Opet in Thebes. Cult statues of  Amun, Mut, and Khonsu were carried from Karnak  Temple to Luxor Temple once a year, and the whole  city celebrated the joyous event. Amun was often credited by the queens of Egypt  as having fathered their children.

When Queen  Hatshepsut came to power, she inscribed the story  of her divine birth, from the union of Amun and her  mother, Queen Ahmose, on the wall of her mortuary  temple at Deir el Bahri. The queen is visited by  Amun in the guise of her husband; the god and the  queen sit on a bed, with hands touching. Amun holds  an ankh, the sign of life, to the queen’s nose, and  in due time she gives birth to Hatshepsut. Carvings on the walls of Luxor Temple show how Amun  visited Queen Mutemwiya in the same fashion, and  their union produced her son, Amenhotep III.

The  clear portrayal of this myth helped to strengthen  Hatshepsut’s and Amenhotep’s right to the throne of  Egypt, and Hatshepsut boasted that she erected her  obelisk at Karnak “for her father Amun.” Thebes (modern Luxor) was the center of the  Egyptian universe, and Amun was its most powerful  god. By elevating Amun to the position of supreme  god, the Egyptian priests came close to the idea  of monotheism, a concept that would be fully  developed later when Akhenaten came to power  (1352–1336 b.c.). Amun’s popularity continued even  during the Ptolemaic dynasty (332–32 b.c.), for the  Greeks saw Amun as a version of their principal  god, Zeus.