Essential Architecture-  Egypt

Temple of Horus




Edfu, Egypt


-237 to -57.


Ancient Egyptian




The Temple of Horus at Edfu (Idfu)

Dedicated to Horus, the falcon headed god, it was built during the reigns of six Ptolemies. We have a great deal of information about its construction from reliefs on outer areas. It was begun in 237 BC by Ptolemy III Euergetes I and was finished in 57 BC. Most of the work continued throughout this period with a brief interlude of 20 years while there was unrest during the period of Ptolemy IV and Ptolemy V Epiphanes.

This is not only the best preserved ancient temple in Egypt, but the second largest after Karnak. It was believed that the temple was built on the site of the great battle between Horus and Seth. Hence, the current temple was but the last in a long series of temples build on this location. It is said that the original structure housing a statue of Horus was a grass hut built in prehistoric times. At any rate, there is an earlier and smaller pylon of Ramesses II which sits in a 90 degree angle to the current building.

The main building, which includes a great Hypostyle Hall, was uncovered by Mariette in the 1860s. There are numerous reliefs, including a depiction of the Feast of the Beautiful Meeting, the annual reunion between Horus and his wife Hathor. The reliefs are mostly situated on the inside of the first pylon, and spiritually connect this temple with Hathor’s Temple at the Dendera complex. During the third month of summer, the priests at the Dendera complex would place the statue of Hathor on her barque (a ceremonial barge) and would thus bring the statue to the Edfu Temple, where it was believed that Horus and Hathor shared a conjugal visit. Each night, the god and goddess would retire to the mamissi, or berthing house.

There is still an entrance colonnade to the mamissi, and reliefs with considerable remaining color just outside the main temple. These images portray the ritual of the birth of Harsomtus, son of Horus and Hathor.

The pylons of the main Temple are about 118 feet high with typical scenes of the pharaoh in battle with his enemies. Within the pylons is the colonnaded courtyard with distinctive, pared columns, which leads into the great hypostyle hall. But on either side of the courtyard there are gates which lead to an area behind the temple and inside the bounding walls. Here, there are inscriptions recording donations of land which were probably transferred from demotic documents. There are also dramatic images depicting the defeat of Seth by Horus. There was an annual ritual called the known as the Triumph of Horus (10 harpoons) which ended in the slaying of a hippopotamus, the symbol of Seth.

The facade of the first hypostyle hall has images honoring Horus and Hathor, and there is an immaculate ten foot tall colossi of Horus as the falcon god here (a matching colossi is was destroyed). As you enter the great hall, you will begin to notice the use of light Even though the temple was build over hundreds of years, it is very harmonious, and ebbs and flow of lighting was certainly purposeful, portraying a feeling of mystery. Just inside the hall are two small rooms, a robing room on the west and a library to the east where the priest would obtain the religious orders of the day. Within this hall are scenes of offering including the temple foundation ceremonies.

Beyond the great hypostyle hall is a second, smaller hypostyle hall which leads to a well called the Chamber of the Nile where the Priests obtained pure holy water. This is a similar arrangement as found at Dendera. On the west side of the room are doors that lead to a small laboratory with recipes engraved on the walls for ointments and perfumes which where used daily to anoint the statue of Horus, and to a treasure room where offerings were stored.

Beyond the second hypostyle hall is the offering hall, followed by the vestibule and finally the sanctuary. There is a granite naos here dedicated by Nectanebo II, making it the oldest relic in the temple. It is probable that a golden gilded wooden statue of Horus about 60 cm tall would have resided on the naos. This statue would have been cared for by the priests in a human manner, being washed, dressed, anointed, fed and entertained.

The sanctuary itself is surrounded by chapels and rooms which, when facing north and in clockwise order, are the chapel of Min, the chamber of linen where the robs of the Horus would have been stored, the chamber of the throne of gods, the chamber of Osiris, the chamber of the West, the tomb of Osiris, the chamber of the victor (Horus), where there is a reconstructed ceremonial barge (barque), chapels of Khonsu and Hathor, the chapel of the throne of Re and a chapel of the spread wings, dedicated principally to Mehit, the lioness who guarded the path the soul passed on its journey towards resurrection. The front chapel on the east is the Chapel of the New Year, a sun court like that at Dendera. Here, a depiction on the ceiling show the voyage of the solar barque through the Twelve Hours of the day, with an inspiring image of the goddess, Nut. The statue of Horus would be taken from here up a flight of stairs to the roof terrace where it would be recharged by the sun during the Festival of the New Year. The walls of the stairs located in the outer anti-chamber depict this ritual.

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Horus is an ancient god of Egyptian mythology, whose cult survived so long that he evolved dramatically over time and gained many names. The most well known name is the Greek Horus, representing the Egyptian Heru/Har, which is the basic element in most of the other names of Horus. Horus was so important that the Eye of Horus became an important Egyptian symbol of power. He had a man's body and a falcon's head. He only had one eye because after Osiris was murdered by his brother Set, Horus fought with Set for the throne of Egypt. In this battle Horus lost one of his eyes and later this became a sign of protection in Egypt. In one story he has said to have cut off his mothers' head.

Origin of name
Horus is recorded in Egyptian hieroglyphs as ?r.w and is reconstructed to have been pronounced *?aru, meaning "Falcon". By Coptic times, the name became Hor. It was adopted into Greek as ???? Horos. The original name also survives in later Egyptian names such as Har-Si-Ese literally "Horus, son of Isis".


Sky God
Horus is the god of the sky, and the son of Osiris. His mother is Isis.

Horus, (Louvre Museum), 'Shen rings' in his grasp.Since he was god of the sky, Horus became depicted as a falcon, or as a falcon-headed man, leading to Horus' name, (in Egyptian, Heru), which meant The distant one. Horus was also sometimes known as Nekheny (meaning falcon), although it has been proposed that Nekheny may have been another falcon-god, worshipped at Nekhen (city of the hawk), that became identified as Horus very early on. In this form, he was sometimes given the title Kemwer, meaning (the) great black (one).

As Horus was the son of Osiris, and god of the sky, he became closely associated with the Pharaoh of Upper Egypt (where Horus was worshipped), and became their patron. The association with the Pharaoh brought with it the idea that he was the son of Isis, in her original form, who was regarded as a deification of the Queen.

It was said that after the world was created, Horus landed on a perch, known as the djeba, which literally translates as finger, in order to rest, which consequently became considered sacred. On some occasions, Horus was referred to as lord of the djeba (i.e. lord of the perch or lord of the finger), a form in which he was especially worshipped at Buto, known as Djebauti, meaning (ones) of the djeba (the reason for the plural is not understood, and may just have been a result of Epenthesis, or Paragoge). The form of Djebauti eventually became depicted as an heron, nevertheless continuing to rest on the sacred perch.

Sun God
Since Horus was said to be the sky, it was natural that he was rapidly considered to also contain the sun and moon. It became said that the sun was one of his eyes and the moon the other, and that they traversed the sky when he, a falcon, flew across it. Thus he became known as Harmerty - Horus of two eyes. Later, the reason that the moon was not as bright as the sun was explained by a tale, known as the contestings of Horus and Set, originating as a metaphor for the conquest of Lower Egypt by Upper Egypt in about 3000BC. In this tale, it was said that Set, the patron of Lower Egypt, and Horus, the patron of Upper Egypt, had battled for Egypt brutally, with neither side victorious, until eventually the gods sided with Horus.

As Horus was the ultimate victor he became known as Harsiesis, Heru-ur or Har-Wer (?r.w wr 'Horus the Great'), but more usually translated as Horus the Elder. In the struggle Set had lost a testicle, explaining why the desert, which Set represented, is infertile. Horus' right eye had also been gouged out, which explained why the moon, which it represented, was so weak compared to the sun. It was also said that during a new-moon, Horus had become blinded and was titled Mekhenty-er-irty (m?nty r ?r.ty 'He who has no eyes'), while when the moon became visible again, he was re-titled Khenty-irty (?nty r ?r.ty 'He who has eyes'). While blind, it was considered that Horus was quite dangerous, sometimes attacking his friends after mistaking them for enemies.

Ultimately, as another sun god, Horus became identified with Ra as Ra-Herakhty, literally Ra, who is Horus of the two horizons. However, this identification proved to be awkward, for it made Ra the son of Hathor, and therefore a created being rather than the creator. And, even worse, it made Ra into Horus, who was the son of Ra, i.e. it made Ra his own son and father, in a standard sexually-reproductive manner, an idea that would not be considered comprehensible until the Hellenic era. Consequently Ra and Horus never completely merged into a single falcon-headed sun god.

Nevertheless the idea of making the identification persisted, and Ra continued to be depicted as falcon-headed. Likewise, as Ra-Herakhty, in an allusion to the Ogdoad creation myth, Horus was occasionally shown in art as a naked boy, with a finger in his mouth, sitting on a lotus with his mother. In the form of a youth, Horus was referred to as Neferhor. This is also spelled Nefer Hor, Nephoros or Nopheros (nfr ?r.w) meaning 'The Good Horus'.

In an attempt to resolve the conflict, Ra-Herakhty was occasionally said to be married to Iusaaset, which was technically his own shadow, having previously been Atum's shadow, before Atum was identified as Ra, in the form Atum-Ra, and thus of Ra-Herakhty when Ra was also identified as a form of Horus. In the version of the Ogdoad creation myth used by the Thoth cult, Thoth created Ra-Herakhty, via an egg, and so was said to be the father of Neferhor.

Conqueror of Set
By the Nineteenth dynasty, the previous brief enmity between Set and Horus, in which Horus had ripped off one of Set's testicles, was revitalised as a separate tale. According to Papyrus Chester-Beatty I, Set was considered to have been homosexual and is depicted as trying to prove his dominance by seducing Horus and then having intercourse with him. However, Horus places his hand between his thighs and catches Set's semen, then subsequently threw it in the river, so that he may not be said to have been inseminated by Set. Horus then deliberately spreads his own semen on some lettuce, which was Set's favourite food (the Egyptians thought that lettuce was phallic). After Set has eaten the lettuce, they go to the gods to try to settle the argument over the rule of Egypt. The gods first listen to Set's claim of dominance over Horus, and call his semen forth, but it answers from the river, invalidating his claim. Then, the gods listen to Horus' claim of having dominated Set, and call his semen forth, and it answers from inside Set.[1] In consequence, Horus is declared the ruler of Egypt.

This myth, along with others, could be seen as an explaination of how the two kingdoms of Egypt (Upper and Lower) came to be united. Horus was seen as the God of Upper Egypt, and Set as the God of Lower Egypt. In this myth, the respective Upper and Lower deities have a fight, through which Horus is the victor. However, some of Horus (representing Upper Egypt) enters into Set (Lower Egypt) thus explaining why Upper Egypt is dominant over the Lower Egyptians.

Brother of Isis
When Ra assimilated Atum into Atum-Ra, Horus became considered part of what had been the Ennead. Since Atum had had no wife, having produced his children by masturbating de facto (the concept of masturbation being offensive in Egypt- Atum's hand being considered a female part[citation needed]), Hathor was easily inserted as the mother of the previously motherless subsequent generation of children. However, Horus did not fit in so easily, since if he was identified as the son of Hathor and Atum-Ra, in the Ennead, he would then be the brother of the primordial air and moisture, and the uncle of the sky and earth, between which there was initially nothing, which was not very consistent with him being the sun. Instead, he was made the brother of Osiris, Isis, Set, and Nephthys, as this was the only plausible level at which he could meaningfully rule over the sun, and over the Pharaoh's kingdom. It was in this form that he was worshipped at Behdet as Har-Behedti (also abbreviated Bebti).

Since Horus had become more and more identified with the sun, since his identification as Ra, his identification as also the moon suffered, so it was possible for the rise of other moon gods, without complicating the system of belief too much. Consequently, Chons became the moon god. Thoth, who had also been the moon god, became much more associated with secondary mythological aspects of the moon, such as wisdom, healing, and peace making. When the cult of Thoth arose in power, Thoth was retroactively inserted into the earlier myths, making Thoth the one whose magic caused Set and Horus' semen to respond, in the tale of the contestings of Set and Horus, for example.

Thoth's priests went on to explain how it was that there were 5 children of Geb and Nut. They said that Thoth had prophecied the birth of a great king of the gods, and so Ra, afraid of being usurped, had cursed Nut with not being able to give birth at any point in the year. In order to remove this curse, Thoth proceeded to gamble with Chons, winning 1/72nd of moonlight from him. Prior to this time in Egyptian history, the calendar had had 360 days, and so 1/72 of moonlight each day corresponded to 5 extra days, and so the tale states that Nut was able to give birth on each of these extra days, having 5 children. The Egyptian calendar was reformed around this time, and gained the 5 extra days, which, by coincidence, meant that this could be used to explain the 5 children of Nut.

Mystery Religion
Since Horus, as the son of Osiris, was only in existence after Osiris's death, and because Horus, in his earlier guise, was the husband of Isis, the difference between Horus and Osiris blurred, and so, after a few centuries, it came to be said that Horus was the resurrected form of Osiris. Likewise, as the form of Horus before his death and resurrection, Osiris, who had already become considered a form of creator when belief about Osiris assimilated that about Ptah-Seker, also became considered to be the only creator, since Horus had gained these aspects of Ra.

Eventually, in the Hellenic period, Horus was, in some locations, identified completely as Osiris, and became his own Father, since this concept was not so disturbing to Greek philosophy as it had been to that of ancient Egypt. In this form, Horus was sometimes known as Heru-sema-tawy (?r.w sm? t?.wy 'Horus, Uniter of Two Lands'), since Horus ruled over the land of the dead, and that of the living. Since the tale became one of Horus' own death and rebirth, which happened partly due to his own actions, he became a life-death-rebirth deity.

In the time of Christ the term "son of god" had come to mean the bearer of this title was the father god himself as well as his own son incarnated on earth. Horus was Osiris the father who incarnated as Horus the son.

By assimilating Hathor, who had herself assimilated Bata, who was associated with music, and in particular the sistrum, Isis was likewise thought of in some areas in the same manner. This particularly happened amongst the groups who thought of Horus as his own father, and so Horus, in the form of the son, amongst these groups often became known as Ihy (alternately: Ihi, Ehi, Ahi, Ihu), meaning "sistrum player", which allowed the confusion between the father and son to be side-stepped.

The combination of this, now rather esoteric mythology, with the philosophy of Plato, which was becoming popular on the mediterranean shores, lead to the tale becoming the bases of a mystery religion. Many Greeks, and those of other nations, who encountered the faith, thought it so profound that they sought to create their own, modelled upon it, but using their own gods. This led to the creation of what was effectively one religion, which was, in many places, adjusted to superficially reflect the local mythology although it substantially adjusted them. The religion is known to modern scholars as that of Osiris-Dionysus.

Horus and Jesus
Some information in this article or section has not been verified and may not be reliable.
Please check for any inaccuracies, and modify and cite sources as needed.
Connections between Jesus and Horus-Osiris have been raised by critics of the historicity of Jesus (see Jesus as myth).[2] For example, the death and resurrection of Horus-Osiris,[3] and Horus' nature as both the son of Osiris and Osiris himself,[citation needed] have been seen as foundations for the later Christian doctrines of the resurrection of Jesus and the Trinity. Similar assertions have been made by other scholars, who draw parallels between the legends surrounding Mithras.

A few scholars and critics theorize further that certain elements of the story of Jesus were embellishments, copied from legends surrounding Horus through an abrupt form of syncretism[4]. Indeed, some even claim that the historical figure of Jesus was copied from Horus wholesale, and retroactively made into a Jewish teacher[citation needed]; these assert that Horus was the basis for the elements assigned to the M Gospel (the bits in Matthew which are not in the Q Gospel or Mark) and the L Gospel (comprising the bits in Luke which are not in the Q gospel or Mark), especially the infancy narratives.[citation needed]

Neith's nativity
The nativity sequence itself stands out for comparison with the nativity of Ra, whose mother became thought of as Neith, who had become the personification of the primal waters of the Ogdoad. As the primal waters, from which Ra arose due to the interaction of the ogdoad, Neith was considered to have given birth whilst remaining a virgin. As the various religious groups gained and lost power in Egypt, the legend altered and, when the cult of Thoth sought to involve themselves in the story, it was said that Thoth's wisdom (which he personified) meant that he foretold the birth of Ra to Neith. Since the later legends had other gods in existence at Ra's birth, it was said that they acknowledged Ra's authority by praising him at his birth.

Later, the tale evolved so that the god Kneph was present, who represented the breath of life, which brought new life to things. This was partly to do with the assertion, of the small cult of Kneph, that Kneph was the creator, although it was more accurate to say that Kneph was the personification of the concept of creation of life itself. As a creator, Kneph became identified as the more dominant creator deity Amun, and when Amun became Amun-Ra, so Kneph gained Hathor as a wife.

Many of the features look similar to the nativity of Jesus at first glance, such as the continued virginity, lack of father, annunciation by a celestial figure, birth of god, and so forth, but others do not. Although many deities, and indeed people, were referred to as beloved, it was a title which was most frequently applied to Neith, indeed it became something of an alternative name. The word used, in this context, for beloved, is Mery in Egyptian.

Meanwhile, Kneph was said by Plutarch to have been understood by the Egyptians in the same way as the Greeks understood pneuma, meaning spirit, and so it was that Neith became pregnant by the actions of the holy spirit, like Mary does in the Christian story. Thoth himself was identified by the Greeks, due to his association with healing, as Hermes, and consequently, in the Hellenic era, Thoth was considered the messenger of the gods. This role was taken by the Archangel Michael in Jewish thought, and so if the Christians copied the tale, it would have been Michael, not Gabriel, who made the annunciation to Mary.

Much criticism of this similarity is leveled at the fact that Neith is a goddess, and not a human mother. However, Pharaohs often attributed tales of divinity to themselves, and their families, and so divine birth stories for themselves were common. Nethertheless, the tale was essentially about Neith rather than the queens of pharaohs, until that is, Amenhotep III applied it to his wife and the birth of his son, whom was consequently identified as Horus, as after the amalgamation of the gods Ra and Horus, the tale became one of Horus too. The significance of Amenhotep making the identification is both that it became a tale of the birth of Akhenaten, who left such an impression that, as the gods evolved further, the tale became remembered as being one of the birth from a human mother of a human son, who was nevertheless divine.