Wednesday, June 19, 2024

The Ministry of Hebrew Woman at the Sun Cities


Karnak Great Hypostyle Hall, eastern interior wall.

"But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays." Mal. 4:2

Dr. Alice C. Linsley

The veneration of the sun as a symbol of the High God was well developed by 3200 BC, as is evidenced by at least 6 sun temples. Among them were the sun temples of Niuserra at Abu Ghurab, the Userkaf Sun Temple, and the Sun Temple at Heliopolis. The temple of Niuserra had a central sacrificial altar in an open-air courtyard. The altar is composed of a number of alabaster parts. Heliopolis, which means the “City of the Sun,” was one of the oldest cities on the Nile River. It was occupied since the Predynastic Period (c. 6000 – 3000 BC) and predates the emergence of Egypt as a political entity.

By 3000 BC, the veneration of the sun had received royal patronage. Over the centuries, temples, shrines, and royal complexes were dedicated to the sun. The wives and daughters of Hebrew rulers ministered to women at the sun city water shrines. Asenath is an example. She lived at Heliopolis, one of the most prestigious sun cities of the ancient world. In Heliopolitan cosmology the watery realms above and below (the "firmaments") were connected by the massive pillars of the temple of Heliopolis. Heliopolis is mentioned in Isaiah 19:18 as one of five Egyptian cities that swore allegiance to the Lord of Hosts.

The association of the sun’s radiance with holiness and purity was a common theme in the Ancient Near East. According to the Lukan genealogy, Mary’s husband, Joseph, was the son of a man named Heli (Lk. 3:23). Heli refers to the sun and to righteousness. 

The sun also was associated with divine appointment. When Mary asked how she would conceive, seeing as she was a virgin, the Angel Gabriel explained that she would be divinely overshadowed (Lk. 1:35). This fulfills the expectation of the early Hebrew that a virgin of their ruler-priest caste would conceive miraculously and bring forth the Son of God (Gen. 3:15). That expectation was first portrayed by Hathor, the mother of HR (the Most High One). She is shown on ancient images overshadowed by the sun.

The prevalence of solar imagery in the ancient world is evident in the study of ancient artifacts and sacred texts. The six-prong solar symbol is found on ossuary boxes, tombs, and grave markers from Africa to Europe and the Indus River Valley. It is found on the foreheads of rulers as a sign of divine appointment. This bust, found near Jamaa, Nigeria, shows the solar symbol on the forehead of a chief.


Photo credit: Andre Held

Many ancient images show the sun over water. The sun resting directly over the Nile River is a sign of divine blessing upon the waters. This image (called “Aker”) shows the sun resting in the horns and flanked on the east and west by lions, a symbol of royal authority.

Fertility and Water Shrines

Because water is universally perceived as a substance necessary for life, women seeking to conceive and deliver healthy children visited water shrines where they prayed and made offerings. Water shrines could be at rivers, lakes, wells, or oases. They might even be a ritual bathhouse such as the mikveh. Even the mikveh is associated with natural water systems. By law, it must be composed of stationary waters and must contain a percentage of water from a natural source such as a lake, river, sea, or rain.

The Jewish actress Abbe Feder endured a harrowing, six-year journey to motherhood. Months of disappointment and repeated miscarriages left her spiritually and emotionally depleted. A Jewish friend suggested that she might find relief by frequenting a mikvah, a ritual bath. Abbe had never considered going to the mikvah as a treatment for infertility, but she tried it and eventually she conceived twins. She does not think of the mikvah as a magical treatment, but she admits that repeated visits brought her relief.

Sacred pools are mentioned in the New Testament as places of healing. Jesus sent "a man blind from birth" to the pool of Siloam to complete his healing (John 9). John 5:2 gives an account of Jesus healing a paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem. These public bathing places were reserved for men, and women had their own more private locations.

The anthropologist Bronislaw Malinoski observed that women of the Trobriand Islands associated conception with sacred pools. Archaeologists found fertility offerings in Tuscany near hot springs reputed for their restorative powers. These fourth century BC offerings had the shape of newborn babies, wombs, penises, and breasts buried in the mud at the bottom of the pools. The offerings suggest that thermal baths were particularly associated with aid in fertility and the health of infants.

In Gambia (West Africa) women with infertility visit the sacred pools of Katchikaly in Bakau and Folonko in Kartong. They go there to pray, drink the water, or wash themselves with the holy water. The women make offerings of salt, sugar, kola nuts, and white candles to the old ladies who guard the pools. Often the visitors take some of the sacred water with them when they leave.

Water Shrines at the Royal Sun Temples 

Temple women had many responsibilities and privileges. Their duties included weaving, sewing, drawing water, brewing beer, singing, and playing musical instruments such as the sistrum and the tambourine. In the King James Version, the "alamot" are called “damsels” – “The singers went before, the players on instruments followed after; among them were the damsels playing with timbrels.” (Ps. 68:25) They also ministered to women who came to the water shrines for purification and healing.

The sun city water shrines were for purification and healing and the work of the Hebrew women was connected to rites of water purification, healing, and prayers for fertility of land, beasts, and women. Asenath probably ministered to women who came to the water shrine at Heliopolis (biblical On).

Royal Sun cities emerged in many parts of the ancient world, especially from the Fifth Dynasty (2465-2323 BC). The temples were oriented so that the rays of the rising sun would shine through the east-facing entrances. The sun also shone on the purification pools. Today we know that solar radiation can purify water.

The symbol of purity along the Nile River.

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