Temple of Luxor

This was one of the highlights of the trip for me. During the time of Moses, Luxor was the capital city of Egypt, and subsequently the Temple of Luxor was both the religious and educational center of Southern Egypt where Moses grew up and received his education. We know for a fact that if the story of Moses is accurately recorded in Exodus (as most believe it is) then this Moses spent the first 40 years of his life in and around this Temple, both worshipping and receiving a top-quality Egyptian education.

We visited the temple during at night when it was illuminated, and the yellow lights playing off the statues and columns with the clear night sky overhead was beautiful. In front of the temple are two gigantic statues of, who else?, Ramses II, followed by more gigantic statues of Ramses II and others inside the main courtyard area. All Egyptian temples are laid out in the same basic format: large front gates (called pylons) followed by an open courtyard where commoners would come and offer sacrifices and worship; then comes a half-open pillared/roofed section where only priests can enter; then comes a vestibule area reserved for the maintainence of the god (washing, feeding, etc.); then the holy of holies where the idol is kept. What makes the Temple at Luxor different is that beyond the first enclosed area for the priests comes another open courtyard area. This is where the royal family’s children would have come to receive an education, and this is where we know Moses spent most of his childhood. We were able to sit around the very place where Moses was and have a short singing devotional. For me, this was the climax of the entire trip. Everything had led up to this moment where we we sitting in the place Moses had sat some 3000+ years ago.

Temple of Karnak

When ancient Egyptian authors talk about “The Temple”, they are most likely making a reference to the Temple at Karnak, which is the largest temple complex in the world. This temple complex, dedicated to “Amen” (the head creator god) was built over the span of 2,ooo years by multiple Pharaohs and covers 102 acres (not including the large garden areas). That’s 26 times the size of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It has 6 gigantic gates, each one built by a different Pharoah. The last gate was built by Pharaoh Niku, the ruler who killed King Josiah in a battle against Israel. In front of the temple is a long “Ram Avenue” built by Ramses II which stretches all the way to the Luxor Temple complex, about a mile and a half away. Inside the temple are 134 gigantic columns, many of which are well over 60 feet tall (the number of columns in a temple represents the number of priests serving in it). Also inside the Temple are (or were) 6 giant obelisks (think Washington Monument), each carved from one huge piece of granite. This place is impressive now, and I can only imagine how much more so it would have been 2500 years ago.

One of the coolest parts about the Temple, for me at least, was the fact that some of the carvings in the stones help us to set a biblical timeline, especially for the Old Testament era. The Pharaoh Shishank, who marched on Jerusalem, made a list of all the peoples and regions which he defeated or brought under his rule. This was during the reign of Rehaboam. In the Temple of Karnak we find inscriptions of both “Hebrews” and “Galilee”. It was really awesome to see those inscriptions which were thousands of years old.

This Temple also has on its complex an “Absolution Lake”, which is basically a large artificial pond used for ceremonial cleansing. There was also a large scarab statue which people walk around a certain number of times for wealth, fertility, etc. I thought it was a bit silly, but we walked around it anyway (for wealth, not fertility).

Of Boats and Falcons

Edfu Temple:
I doubt you have ever heard of this temple before, yet it is one of the best-preserved of the ancient world’s temple. The temple is dedicated to the falcon-headed god Horus, who is the god of protection and healing. According to Egyptian mythology, Horus battled with Set, the evil brother of Osiris, (the name for “Satan” was derived from “Set”). During this epic grudge match, Set gouged out one of Horus’ eyes, and since then (for some reason), the “Eye of Horus” has been a symbol of protection and healing. Displaying the Eye was believed to safegaurd against evil spirits and the like. This temple is also home to one of the best-preserved statues of Horus in falcon form.

One of the most intriguing things about this temple is that archaeologists discovered the remains of an ancient Egyptian ark. There are also reliefs on the wall depicting the priests of Horus carrying the Ark in the same manner as the Levitical Priests were commanded: poles slid through rings on the sides of the ark, carried over the shoulders. This ark (and presumably all Egyptian gods had an ark) was designed like one of the Egyptian sun-boats, only scaled down. Its long, slender hull carried a shrine in the middle in which would be placed an idol of the god along with a set of the 14 Egyptian commandments (and possibly other “relics” of sorts). It would not be too far-fetched to assume that when God told Moses to build him an Ark of the Covenant for him and the 10 Commandments that Moses would have built something very similar to the Egyptian ark (and not some sort of box or treasure chest).

We also learned at Edfu that the Egytians believed the ground to be holy wherever their gods were. No one was alowed to wear sandals inside the temple, and the priests would transport the ark barefoot. The only exception to this was in times of war, when everyone needed to be prepared for fight or flight. This Egyptian practice manifests itself in the stories in Exodus as well. First, God told Moses to remove his sandals for he was standing on Holy Ground. Second, God commanded the Hebrews to partake of the Passover (a holy feast) with their sandals strapped so they would be ready to flee.

It was about this point in the trip that the entire story of Joseph through Moses started to really click. I began to realize just how much of a connection the Hebrews would have had to the culture and religion of Egypt. Regardless of this, God used what they knew in order to establish his covenant with them. He had no problem taking something from one culture and using it to his glory. This is one reason I know that God is awesome.

Tic-toc, Tic-toc, Hook’s afraid of a Big Bad Croc

Mummified Crocodile

Ancient Egyptian Calendar

Kom-Ombo Temple:

Our next stop was up the Nile a way. We arrived at the Kom-Ombo Temple complex as the sun was going down (about 5pm or so). Egyptian temples are beautiful at night when they are all lit up.

Kom-Ombo Temple is a temple dedicated to the god Sobek (crocodile-headed god) who is one of the gods of the Nile. The Egyptias believed that by worshiping Sobek he would grant them protection from crocodiles in the River. Interestingly enough, over 300 mumified crocodiles were found next to this temple. A few of them were on display, and they didn’t look too happy about it.

A couple other interesting things about this temple – it was also used as a hospital in ancient Egypt. Archaeologists have discovered numerous medical utensils in the temple, as well as reliefs and inscriptions depicting medicinal processes. In several reliefs, there are depictions of the gods pouring out “life” onto the Pharaoh.

Also, this temple is the location of one of the earliest calendars in the world. From it we learned that the ancient Egyptians once observed a 10 day week – 9 days of work, one day of rest. It wasn’t until the Semetic peoples from Palestine came to Egypt that they began observing a 7 day week. It also helps us to understand that when the Bible says Joseph lived 110 years, it means a literal 110 years by our reasoning.

Ramses II (AKA Ramses the Narcissist)

Abu Simbel:
The next morning we woke up extremely early to catch a bus at 4:30am for a trip all the way down Lake Nasser to see the huge temple of Ramses II, Abu Simbel. It is a very impressive Temple complex. This is the famous temple that has four gigantic statues of Ramses II sitting in front. To the right of the temple is the temple Ramses II built for his wife, Nefertari, his most beloved of the three wives.
Inside the Temple of Ramses II, there are several side corridors in which are reliefs depicting Ramses himself worshiping nearly all of the 800+ gods of the Egyptian pantheon. To each one, he is bowing down and offering some sort of sacrifice, whether fruit, bread, animals, or something that resembled a chemistry set. He obviously wanted to make a statement about how religious he was.
Abu Simbel was another huge temple that had to be moved to higher ground due to the creation of Lake Nasser.
Note on Egyptian Temples: All Egyptian style temples follow the same basic pattern. The have some sort of gateway (pylons) leading into an open court where commoners could enter and worship. Then another gateway leads to a half-opened pillared section where only priests could go. After that there was an area with several vestibules where the idol of the god was brought to “eat” and to be washed and clothed. At the heart of the Temple lies the “Holy of Holies” as our guide called it. This is where the god would live. This was where the idol was kept, along with an “ark” which housed the 14 commandments of Egyptian law.

Chick-flick Temple

We just got back this evening from our trip to Southern Greece, called the Peloponnese. It was an amazing trip, and hopefully I will get caught up through the Egypt trip and the Peloponnese before we fly to Israel next Sunday.

So here we go, back to Egypt…

Temple of Philae:
After a long trip South by way of scary night train, we arrived in the city of Aswan, which is located on the North side of the largest man-made lake in the world, Lake Nasser. The first temple we visited was the Temple of Philae (or “Love” in Eng.). It is named thus because the reliefs on the walls depict the love story between the goddess Isis and her lover Osiris. It’s a pretty gruesome story:
Set is the evil brother of Osiris, and he decides to kill Osiris and cut him up into tiny little pieces. This devastates Isis, who recovers all of Osiris’ body parts except for a certain, uh, “private” part. She reaches the simple solution for this problem by forging a new “member” our of gold. After this, Osiris is resurrected from the dead, and he and Isis give birth to Horus, whose eye gets ripped out by Set in a battle of revenge.

OK, enough with the sappy Egyptian love stories. Here’s the really neat thing about this temple: It is a very close replica to Solomon’s original Temple in Jerusalem. How do we know this? Because there are two other replicas that were built in Egypt after Judea was conquered by the Babylonians. Thousands of Jews fled to Egypt and, in light of the Temple being destroyed, the built a complete replica in Northern Egypt and another one in Southern Egypt on Elephantine Island (which is undergoing excavation as right now and is one of the possible locations for the Ark of the Covenant). When the Ptolemies took power, after Alexander’s kingdom was divided, one of the Ptolemies (the 3rd I think) built the Temple of Philae based off of the design of the two replicas of Solomon’s Temple.

Another cool thing about this temple: the entire structure had to be moved onto a nearby hill because it would have been under water after the Aswan High Dam was built.

So I can rightfully say that I have been inside a full size ancient replica of Solomon’s Temple. How cool is that?