SUN WORSHIP. Sun worship is ancient in the practice of men. Evidences of such worship are seen in many cultures including India, Greece, the Mayas and the Incas of Central and South America. Of particular significance is this practice as seen in both ancient Babylonia and Egypt.
In Babylonia and Assyria special sites such as Soppara and Larsa were set aside for sun worship. In Phoenicia the solar Baal was Baal-Hammon. Also, the god Shamesh was a sun god.
In Egypt at On (Heliopolis) in the delta, the sun worship of Egyptians was centralized. From early times the Egyptians worshiped Re, the general name for the sun god. More specifically, he was called Atum or Amun and his priests dominated the religious world of Egypt. In the reign of Amenhotep IV, an attempt was made to establish the sun-disk as the sole god of Egypt. He was called Aton. This reform lasted only during his lifetime. He built his own city for the center of this worship.
In Scripture the practice was clearly forbidden. Worship of the sun and sun images (חַמָּן, H2802) are both proscribed by God’s law.
God warns that He will destroy the sunimages (Lev 26:30) and destroy the worshipers (Deut 4:19). The penalty for sun-worship was death by stoning if there were two or three witnesses (Deut 17:3).
In the days after the divided kingdom such practices were followed by some kings of Judah and Israel. Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah, built altars to the host of heaven and worshiped them, even in the house of the Lord (2 Kings 21:3-5). Some kings of Judah dedicated horses and chariots to the worship of the sun and burned incense (2 Kings 23:5, 11).
The prophet Jeremiah tells us that the kings of Judah loved and served the sun and worshiped it (Jer 8:2). Ezekiel provides a very graphic picture of sun worshipers in the Lord’s house, facing E in worship of the sun (Ezek 8:16).
Asa (2 Chron 14:5) and Josiah (2 Chron 34:4, 7) sought to destroy such worship by breaking down the altars to the sun in the cities in all Israel. However, it was still practiced at the time of the fall of Jerusalem (Jer 19:13; Ezek 6:4, 6).
Bibliography D. Thomas, Documents From Old Testament Times (1958), 43ff., 142, 145ff.