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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


On, 1

On (strength), a chief of the tribe of Reuben, who was one of the accomplices of Korah in the revolt against the authority of Moses and Aaron. He is mentioned among the leaders of this conspiracy in the first instance (), but does not appear in any of the subsequent transactions, and is not by name included in the final punishment. The Rabbinical tradition is, that the wife of On persuaded her husband to abandon the enterprise.

On, 2

On, one of the oldest cities in the world, situated in Lower Egypt, about two hours N.N.E. from Cairo. The Septuagint translates the name On by Heliopolis, which signifies 'city of the sun;' and in , it bears a name, Beth-shemesh, of equivalent import. On is a Coptic and ancient Egyptian word, signifying light and the sun. The site is now marked by low mounds, enclosing a space about three-quarters of a mile in length by half a mile in breadth, which was once occupied by houses and by the celebrated Temple of the Sun. This area is at present a plowed field, a garden of herbs; and the solitary obelisk which still rises in the midst of it is the sole remnant of the former splendors of the place. In the days of Edrisi and Abdallatif the place bore the name of Ain Shems; and in the neighboring village, Matariyeh, is still shown an ancient well bearing the same name. Nearby it is a very old sycamore, its trunk straggling and gnarled, under which legendary tradition relates that the holy family once rested. Heliopolis was the capital of a district or nomos bearing the same name.

The place is mentioned in , where it is said that Pharaoh gave to Joseph a wife, Asenath, the daughter of Potipherah, priest of On (). From the passage in Jeremiah it may be inferred that it was distinguished for idolatrous worship. The names, 'City of the Sun,' 'Temples of the Sun,' connected with the place, taken in conjunction with the passage just alluded to, seem to refer the mind to the purer form of worship which prevailed at a very early period in Egypt, namely, the worship of the heavenly bodies, and thence to carry the thoughts to the deteriorations which it afterwards underwent in sinking to the adoration of images and animals.

The traces of this city which are found in classic authors correspond with the little of it that we know from the brief intimations of Holy Writ. According to Herodotus, Heliopolis was one of the four great cities that were rendered famous in Egypt by being the centers of solemn religious festivals, which were attended by splendid processions and homage to the gods. In Heliopolis the observance was held in honor of the sun. It had its priesthood, a numerous and learned body, celebrated before other Egyptians for their historical and antiquarian lore; it long continued the university of the Egyptians, the chief seat of their science; the priests dwelt as a holy community in a spacious structure appropriated to their use. The city suffered heavily by the Persian invasion. At an early period remains of its famous temple were found. An obelisk which the Emperor Augustus caused to be carried to Rome, and placed in the Campus Martius, is held by Zoega to have been brought from Heliopolis, and to have owed its origin to Sesostris. This city furnished works of art to Augustus for adorning Rome, and to Constantine for adorning Constantinople. Ritter says that the sole remaining obelisk is from 60 to 70 feet high, of a block of red granite, bearing hieroglyphics which remind the beholder of what Strabo terms the Etruscan style. 'The figure of the cross which it bears has attracted the special notice of Christian antiquaries.'





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'On'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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