Akhet - The Horizon of Heaven or something else?
by Aymen Ibrahem
The Egyptologists may have inappropriately interpreted the Egyptian hieroglyph symbol Akhet as the "horizon". In this article, the author attempts to demonstrate that the hieroglyph symbol Akhet stands for "solar eclipse" and not "horizon". He also puts forth the idea that the ancient Egyptians believed that the solar eclipse was the heavenly abode of the Sun. The author goes on to show that Karnak may have been a representation on Earth of the Sun's heavenly habitation, the solar eclipse, and that the pylons of Egyptian temples were gigantic representations of the sign Akhet. After demonstrating the ancient Egyptian conceptions of sunrise and sunset, the article then attempts to interpret the name of the Great Pyramid as the 'Eclipse of Khufu', Akhetaten as the 'Eclipse of Aten', and that the name of the mighty Giza Sphinx means 'Hor in the Eclipse'.
The article presents some revolutionary new concepts that result from this innovative interpretation of the hieroglyph Akhet.
For many decades, astronomers and Egyptologists have searched hard for ancient Egyptian eclipse records without any real success. More amazingly, no single hieroglyph for eclipse has ever been determined in the Egyptian texts. I am honored to be the first astronomer to decipher the way the ancient Egyptians described solar eclipses (Aymen Ibrahem, Obelisks and Eclipses in Ancient Egypt, The Power Stations of Queen Hatshepsut, Eclipse archives, 2000) to arrive at a method of extracting and dating certain ancient Egyptian solar eclipses (Aymen Ibrahem, The Hymn to Aten Describes a Total Solar Eclipse, 2000).
In this study I am so pleased to accomplish another prodigious labor, the discovery of what I believe to be the Egyptian hieroglyph for 'eclipse'. Through scores of ancient Egyptian astronomical texts, I have found that a strange term occurred frequently, especially in hymns to the Sun and the dedication texts of the monuments and temples. The term was "the horizon of heaven". The ancient Egyptians referred to solar eclipses as the rising and setting of the Sun in the sky. A text on the base of the standing of obelisk of Queen Hatshepsut (1479-1458 BC) at Karnak has served as the 'Rosetta Stone of the Egyptian chronology' when it helped me to decide definitely that Year 9 of King Amenhotep I was 1517 BC.
In this study I will present a new definition for the Egyptian hieroglyph symbol AKHET. This discovery came as a great surprise during the course of attempting to date eclipses from ancient Egyptian records. As the implications of this interpretation, ideas exploded like an H-bomb! No, it is as explosive as a massive volcano!
THE SYMBOL AKHET
The hieroglyph sign akhet is composed of the Sun disk and the hieroglyph for mountain (1). The akhet symbol was previously translated as "horizon", which I believe was in error since the ancient Egyptians had a different conception of the horizon (2). The sign first appeared in recent times (as related to other Egyptian hieroglyphs) since it never occurred in the Pyramid Texts. In the Pyramid Texts the sign that corresponds to the word akhet is the hieroglyph of a sandy island (3). The ideogram is connected to the root akh, "to shine" (4). The dualistic nature of the sign (used also as 'tomb') is made by the symbolic portrayal in which two human or mummified figures are placed on the two slopes of the sign (5). The sign akhet is also interpreted as a schematic depiction of the mountains between which the Sun rose and was the regarded as the home of the Sun-god (6). The akhet was also protected by the Aker, a god depicted as a pair of lions (7). Sometimes the mountains are replaced by the pair of lions (8). Also in the Egyptian myths the God Shu and the Goddess Tefnut are depicted as a pair of lions lifting the akhet (9). The akhet is also a metaphor for a temple and the royal palace (10).
The ancient Egyptians had observed the daily motion of the Sun from east to west. The ancient Egyptians also mentioned a habitation of the Sun in the sky (11). This habitation was in the Old Kingdom (2700-2200 BC) believed to be an island in the waters of the sky called akhet (12). To me [an astronomer], this clearly was depicted from the total solar eclipse. We shall see shortly why. Later, the akhet became the place of sunrise and sunset. Hence previous Egyptologists interpreted the symbol akhet as the horizon (13). I believe there is an alternative interpretation that may have been overlooked previously. There is a most spectacular celestial phenomenon in which the Sun rises and sets in the sky, a total solar eclipse. The sign akhet represents something more spectacular than the daily sunrise and sunset.
In this study we shall see that the symbol akhet does not mean horizon. Instead it stands for 'eclipse' and some temples were a representation of the Sun's abode seen in the sky (during an eclipse).
THE HORIZON OF HEAVEN
In her regal Year 16, Queen Hatshepsut erected a pair of hefty obelisks at Karnak as a monument for "her father Amon-Re" (14). While studying the dedication text of the standing obelisk, I was thrilled to find a term that has been overlooked since the time of Champollion. The term was "the horizon of heaven". Through scores of ancient Egyptian astronomical texts, I have found that this strange term appeared frequently, especially in hymns to the Sun and the dedication texts of the solar temples. Are there two horizons, one on the Earth and one of the sky? Clearly there is only one horizon, which is the imaginary circle that is formed by intersection of the sky globe and the Earth's surface. The term "horizon of heaven" refers to a 'solar eclipse'. Below is a summary of the evidence is introduced. (It is extracted from Aymen Ibrahem, 'Obelisks and Eclipses in Ancient Egypt, The Power Stations of Queen Hatshepsut', 2000):
The total solar eclipse is a most spectacular natural phenomenon in which the day turns to night, the stars even appear through totality. Thus, the Moon acts practically as if it were a horizon in the sky, on which the Sun sets and then rises again, with a brief night of a few minutes (totality) in between. Since the Moon moves easterly in the sky, the Sun seems to set in the "western horizon of the sky". When totality is over, the Moon retards, and the Sun seems to rise from the "eastern horizon of the sky".
Actually, I have found many ancient Egyptian texts that describe a horizon in the sky on which the Sun sets and rises. The passage of the Sun through that horizon has its physical and psychological effects. Examples of such texts are:
MOUNTAINS IN THE SKY
The ancient Egyptians believed the Sun to rise from the Mountain of Bakhu and set in the Mountain of Manu. In Part III of this series of 'Egyptian Cosmology' I showed that this belief was inspired by the curvature of the limb of the dark New Moon which seems as if it were a mountain peak behind which the Sun sets (in the sky) before totality of a total solar eclipse. After totality, the curvature of the lunar limb is reversed. The Sun seems as if it were rising from another mountain. A hymn to Re (the Sun) explicitly describes this:
Thou risest in heaven's horizon, and thy disk is adored when it resteth upon the mountain to give life unto the world.
(Source: W. Budge, The Egyptian Religion, p. 148, University Books, NY, 1959.)
That is, when an eclipse ends, the ancient Egyptians believed the Sun to rest on the top of a mountain (the limb of the New Moon).
Thus, the Mountain Manu was the eastern lunar limb, and the Mountain Bakhu was the western lunar limb. Some eclipses actually occur near the horizon and the Sun may rise or set eclipsed. This could have given rise to the representation of the symbol akhet as the composition of the disk and the hieroglyph for mountain. However, I am not totally satisfied with that interpretation. The concept of the horizon as we see it, an imaginary circle formed at the intersection between the sky and the Earth, was foreign to the ancient Egyptian way of thinking (15). Having Scanned scores of Egyptian texts that mention the akhet and the Sun, I am now convinced that the ancient Egyptians never really meant for the the sign akhet to symbolize the horizon. I think the akhet sign represented a solar eclipse, the heavenly habitation of the Sun and its representations on Earth, the tomb and the temple.
THE SKY GATE
So, if the symbol akhet does not mean horizon, how did the ancient Egyptian astronomers refer to the horizon?
The ancient Egyptian cosmologists had two parallel theories to explain sunrise and sunset, and where does the Sun go in the night (16). Both theories remained effective throughout Pharoanic Egypt (17).
One theory states that: Through the night, the Sun moves in its 'night bark' in the Netherworld. When the morning comes, it appears in the 'morning boat' (18). The Hittites (a Near Eastern civilization) adopted a closely similar view (19).
The other theory states that: The Goddess Nut (the sky) swallows the Sun at sunset. The Sun moves through the body of Nut in the night. Nut expels the Sun back again in the morning (20). (The Goddess Nut was depicted as a lady whose body is stretching across the sky like a great bridge, its hands lie in the western horizon, and its legs in the eastern horizon (21).)
Thus, the ancient Egyptians reported explicitly that there is a Sun moving through the night sky. I think the latter theory can be successfully explained . . . . The pyramid age authority, I. E. S. Edwards commented that the later theory was mostly imaginative (22). Contrarily, I do believe it describes a wonderful night sky phenomenon! There is actually a celestial phenomenon which, I believe, was the source of inspiration: the gegenschein. By watching this faint, counter glow, the priests of Heliopolis must have concluded that it is the 'night Sun'. A Sun whose luminosity is much reduced than that of the day. The gegenschein explains the ancient Egyptian belief that the Sun moves through the night sky. This may have been their interpretation of the gegenschein. Also, the ancient Egyptians reported that when the Sun sets it appears again in the east (23). This is one more clear reference to the gegenschein. While there were several sky goddesses in the Egyptian myths, the Goddess Nut seems clearly to be the ecliptic, not all of the sky.
You should note that in the latter theory the signs akhet, the Netherworld, and the dragon Apophis (disorder), are not included. Instead the theory interprets a basic aspect of the "Universal order" of the ancient Egyptians - the daily sunrise and sunset.
The legend of the Sun's motion through the Underworld could have been inspired by a total eclipse of the Sun not just the daily sunset. Here are some concepts that back up this proposition.
The ancient Egyptians described the horizon as either the mouth of the Goddess Nut or a "sky gate" (in the Pyramid Texts) through which the Sun enters the daytime sky.
We should also note that, the setting of the Sun only takes a few minutes. Similarly, the morning Sun passes the eastern horizon quickly. The ancient Egyptians must have interpreted this as the Sun being swallowed (sunset) and expelled (sunrise) by Nut. Contrarily, the setting and rising of the Sun in the sky, the total solar eclipse, takes a much longer time. This must have inspired the ancient Egyptians belief that the solar god Hor (the hawk) is dwelling in the akhet (eclipse).
It has been a puzzle that the ancient Egyptians seemed to have developed two different theories to explain sunrise and sunset, and both remained effective. Now we know they only used one way to describe sunrise and sunset. The other refers to the most formidable phenomenon that a Sun cultist may experience, the total solar eclipse. This urges a whole new revision of the Pyramid Texts, Coffin Texts, and Book of the Dead.
Actually, interpreting the symbol akhet as horizon gives rise to many difficulties and makes many Egyptian texts really enigmatic and sometimes even very funny! Examples are:
I know that Karnak is the horizon upon Earth
(Source: Labib Habachi, The Obelisks of Egypt, p. 66, The American University in Cairo Press, 1988.)
This statement is odd. The meaning is clearer is one considers that Karnak is the representation on Earth of a place in the sky. Which is the heavenly abode of the Sun god, a place called the akhet, seen during a solar eclipse.
The ancient name of the Great Pyramid of King Khufu was 'Akhet Khufu' (29). It has been thus translated as the 'Horizon of Khufu' which is equally meaningless and inconceivable. When viewed, I cannot find any similarity between the massive, tall pyramid and the circular (two-dimensional) horizon!
The name of the Giza Sphinx was 'Hor [the Hawk] in the Akhet' (30). The hawk always flies high, 'the Hawk in the Horizon' does not make sense! Thus, the akhet would seem clearly to be a place high in the sky.
The name of the entire Giza Necropolis was also translated as the "Horizon of Khufu" (31). This also bears no meaning.
The traditional depiction of the cosmos in ancient Egypt was that Geb (Earth) resting and his wife Nut (the sky) stretching over him like a great bridge. Shu (the air) separates Nut and Geb (32). The symbol akhet does not exist between the Earth and the sky.
I recently made a visit to Cairo Museum in search of strange occurrences of the symbol akhet. On a Dynasty XVIII (1551-1296 BC) stela (New Kingdom Hall), the symbol akhet is depicted high in the sky with baboons (sacred animals in ancient Egypt) on the ground raising their hands welcoming the rising Sun, i.e., the Sun rising in the sky. I interpret this as the Sun reappearing after the totality of an eclipse.
I have also found among the treasures of the Cairo Museum that the symbol akhet was inscribed on the tops of two pyramidions. The symbol was high above the creatures and even the solar god. It is improbable that this is the sign of the horizon as appears so high up.
In ancient Egypt when a king died, it was declared that: The Hawk flew to the sky (33), or the pharaoh flew to his horizon (34). It is unlikely again that the horizon is meant here since the hawk flies high in the sky.
The Pyramid Texts show clearly that the akhet exists actually in the sky (Pyramid Texts, 974, 572, and 610).
In earlier studies I have shown that the translation of the name of the city of Akhetaten and the Great Pyramid are The Eclipse of Aten and The Eclipse of Khufu. Also, I have shown that the correct translation of the name of the Sphinx is Hor in the Eclipse (Aymen Ibrahem, Egyptian Cosmology Part III, Solar Eclipses: Mountains in the Sky).
A hymn to Re (the Sun) already mentioned above makes everything clear:
Thou risest in heaven's horizon [eclipse], and thy DISK is adored
when it resteth upon the MOUNTAIN to give life unto the world.
The disk and the mountain are thus the features characterizing a solar eclipse in the ancient Egyptian astronomy. Therefore, the composition of the mountain and the disk (the symbol akhet) stands for 'eclipse', the heavenly abode of the Sun. The two peaks of the mountain refer to the eastern and western lunar limb.
That is very plausible, however, one big trouble appears . . . We now have a new term: the "Eclipse of Heaven". That is odd too! All eclipses certainly occur in the sky or heavens! Can a solar eclipse occur on Earth? Surprisingly there are many solar eclipses on Earth . . .
KARNAK THE HORIZON OF HEAVEN
An explicit definition by the great daughter of the Nile, Queen Hatshepsut, provides all the light we need:
I know that Karnak is the akhet upon Earth
That is, the temple of Karnak was a representation of the heavenly abode of the Sun, the solar eclipse. It is an image of the house of the solar god on Earth. The akhet is its original habitation in the sky. Thus, there are really many eclipses on Earth. They are as many as the pyramids, temples and tombs of ancient Egypt. Another extremely valuable text comes from the period of Pharaoh Amenhotep III. The Pharaoh dedicated a temple to his "father" Amon-Re. The splendid structure was planned to be:
A habitation for the King of Gods and was built in the likeness of his horizon [habitation] in the sky
(Source: Seleem Hassan, The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, Vol. V, p. 82, The Egyptian General Book Organization, 2000.)
The mountains Bakhu and Manu actually exist in the sky. They are up-lifted by Shu and Tefnut (air divines). The Egyptian Underworld was actually envisaged to be behind the New Moon's disk.
THE PYLONS OF KARNAK
The pylons of the Egyptian temples, those huge towers that look like a gigantic akhet have been among the oldest riddles in history. In an earlier study of the symbol akhet I introduced a new definition of the pylons of the temple as a representation of the mountains of the sky. Now this is definitely clear.
THE HOLY OF HOLIES
The holy of holies is a small, dim room located deep inside the temple (35). The holy of holies of a temple is the birth place of the its god, i.e., the Primeval Mound (36). The gods were hidden from people in the sanctuary (37). That place was so sacred that only a few men could access the holy of holies (38). In my theory of the Heliopolitan cosmogony, the Sun was born in a solar eclipse (Aymen M Ibrahem, Egyptian Cosmology, Part II, The Heliopolitan Cosmogony, Eclipse archives, 2000). A text from the period of Dynasty XIX (1296-1187 BC) further seems to confirm my view:
[He made it as] his monument for his father , Re-Atum-Khepri, by
making for him an august holy of holies in the likeness of the
horizon of heaven,
(Source: James Henry Breasted, General Records, Vol. III, p. 100, The University of Chicago, 1906.)
The "horizon of heaven" means eclipse as we saw earlier. This is an explicit statement that the holy of holies should be a model of the horizon of heaven. The Sun was thus born in a solar eclipse, first appearing as the Benben Stone, the Diamond Ring.
THE CITY OF THE SUN
Heliopolis, the city of the Sun, was the center of the solar cult (39). We now understand the position of the city:
The good god [the king], making monuments for his father, Re-
Horakhty, making for him in the temple, of good gritstone,
two pylons of white costly stone doorways of bronze,
pairs of a mesdet stone, two obelisks of black basalt,
established in Heliopolis, the horizon of heaven,
(Source: James Henry Breasted, General Records, Vol. III, p. 100, The University of Chicago, 1906.)
The temple of the city has been a representation of the birth place of the Sun, the solar eclipse.
THE PYRAMID AS A TOMB
The Benben Stone (the pyramidion of a pyramid or an obelisk) is a representation of the Diamond Ring Effect (Aymen M Ibrahem, Egyptian Cosmology, Part II, The Heliopolitan Cosmogony, Eclipse archives, 2000).
My own view of the pyramid's function is that a pyramid facilitates the ascension of the king's soul to the akhet (eclipse) to be united with his divine father Re. King Khufu equated himself to Re the "King of Gods" (40). It was natural then that the name of the Great Pyramid was 'Akhet Khufu'. It is a representation in rock of the king's house in eternity (eclipse). The place in which the king rises back again as the Benben Stone.
THE PYRAMID AND THE TEMPLE
We should now consider the difference between the pyramid and the temple. A pyramid now is the akhet (eclipse) of the dead pharaoh or queen, and the temple is the akhet of the solar god. A tomb is the akhet of a normal person. The Egyptologists have considered that the Egyptian temple is a metaphor of the cosmos (41). Now I think this may not be true, the temple is not all the cosmos, it is a solar eclipse.
THE PYRAMID AND THE OBELISK
The pyramid and the obelisk has something in common: the pyramidal Benben Stone is the capstone of a pyramid and the tip of an obelisk (42). Also, the obelisk is a representation in rock of the primordial beams of the Sun (43). Yet there is a clear difference between the obelisk and the pyramid. A pyramid is a tomb and the obelisk is a cult object dedicated to the solar gods.
The obelisks had also served as the power stations of the past, that provide light for the Two Lands when it gets dark through a solar eclipse (Aymen M Ibrahem, Obelisks and Eclipses, The Power Stations of Queen Hatshepsut, Eclipse archives, 2000). They sometimes were given as offerings to the solar gods in response to solar eclipses (ibid.). They were given often in pairs, one for the eclipsed Sun (Atum), and the other for the Sun reappearing after the eclipse (Re -Horakhty) (ibid.). Re-Horakhty means the Sun through (Horakhty) and after (Re) the eclipse (ibid.).
ECLIPSES (RELIGION) IN ANCIENT EGYPT - New Interpretations
Akhet Khufu was the name of the Great Pyramid and the whole Giza Necropolis. By my interpretation, Akhet Khufu means: 'The Eclipse of Khufu'. King Akhenaten (1356-1338 BC) built his capital according to the totality path of the solar eclipse of 08/15/-1351 (Julian date). The Pharaoh named his new residence 'Akhet Aten' (44). The name of the city means: 'The Eclipse of Aten'. This makes sense.
The name of the Giza Sphinx was 'Hor in the Akhet'. Now the name means 'Hor in the Eclipse'. A hawk high in the sky, this is a clearer interpretation.
The ancient Egyptians called the rising Sun Khepri, the Sun at noon Re and the setting Sun Atum (44). Still, however, one more aspect of the Sun remained, the eclipsed Sun.
Who have ever imagined that the mighty Sphinx was a representation of the eclipsed Sun? Who have ever imagined that the majestic eternal house of King Khufu (the Great Pyramid) was a representation of the heavenly abode of the Sun? Why, an astronomer of course! The wonders of ancient Egypt do seem to be countless and never fail to astonish her admirers A new science of Egyptology is borne. I call it 'Modern Egyptology' - where we seek links between astronomy and Egyptology.
The other day before writing this paper I traveled to Saqqara where the oldest pyramid in Egypt, the Step Pyramid of King Djoser. Several other pyramids and tombs exist in the area too. The beauty of Saqqara would provide enough inspiration for me to write this, what I consider to be the most important paper in my life. In Saqqara, the northern horizon is crowned by the mighty Pyramids of Giza and Abu Seir seen in the distance. In the southern horizon of Saqqara there were the voluminous Pyramids of Dahshour, the Red Pyramid and the curious Bent Pyramid, with several other pyramids in the foreground. As seen from the country, the pyramids of Egypt stand so tall in the desert with varied degrees of green in the farms below. The road from Saqqara to Giza ended with the artificial mountains of King Khufu and King Khafre seen in the western horizon welcoming the setting Sun. Through the millenniums ancient Egypt has always been MAGIC AND MYSTERY. Now mystery has much diminished, but magic never ceases to grow. Magic has now been multiplied millions of times over, and is not going to stop.
1. Maria C. Betro, Hieroglyphics the Writings of Ancient Egypt, p. 161, Abbeville Press Publishers, 1996.
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