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HELIOPOLIS (hē-lĭ-ŏp'ō-lĭs, Heb. ’ôn, Gr. Heliopolis, city of the sun). A city near the south end of the Nile delta, the site of a temple to the sun built by Amenophis I. It is called “On” in most modern versions of Scripture. It was a very old and holy city, with a learned school of priests. Joseph’s father-in-law belonged to the priests of the sun temple (Gen.41.45; Gen.46.20). In the intertestamental period Onias built a Jewish temple there. The modern site is the village El-Matariye. See also On.

HELIOPOLIS, he’ lĭ ŏp’ ə lĭs (Heb. אֹ֖ן from Egyp. ’Iwnw; LXX ̔Ηλιουπόλεος, city of the sungod; KJV BETH-SHEMESH běth shē’ měsh, Jer 43:13). Ancient Egyp. city sacred to the sun-god Re (q.v.) whose site centers on Tell-el-Ḥisn near El Matarieh, about ten m. out of Cairo to the NNE.

Heliopolis first attained prominence in the Old Kingdom (Pyramid Age) of Egyp. history, when the pharaohs used a solar symbol (see Pyramid) for their tombs and adopted the title “Son of Re.” The kings of the fifth dynasty may have come from Heliopolis as a subordinate branch of the fourth dynasty (high priests there). However, the major influence of Heliopolis in Egypt was less on the political than on the religious plane—the theological system and cultic usages there elaborated profoundly influenced the religion of Egypt in general. Identified with the local creator-god Atum, Re was at the head of a “family” of nine gods (‘Ennead’) among whom the Heliopolitan theologians skillfully included the funerary god Osiris, chief rival of Re in the late Old Kingdom. The main temple in Heliopolis accordingly was that of Re, or Rē-Atum, the site being marked by the remains of a great enclosure and by the sole remaining obelisk of Sesostris I (twelfth dynasty, t. 1940 b.c.). The latter king rebuilt the great temple of Re (Berlin Leather Roll)—


J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, I (1906), §§ 498-506 (cf. de Buck), and IV, §§ 247-304 (Pap. Harris I); B. Porter and R. L. B. Moss, Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Etc., IV (1934), 59-65; A. de Buck, “The Building Inscription of the Berlin Leather Roll,” Studia Aegyptiaca I (1938), 48-57; A. H. Gardiner, Ancient Egyptian Onomastica, II (1947), 144*, 146* (:400); H. Kees, Der Götterglaube im alten Ägypten (1956), 214-286; P. Montet, Géographie de l’Égypte Ancienne I (1957), 155-171 and figs. 17-19; W. Helck, Materialen zur Wirtschaftsgeschichte des Neuen Reiches I (1960), 124-130; H. Kees, Ancient Egypt, A Cultural Topography (1961), 147-182 passim.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


See ON.