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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

Heliopolis (On)

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Egyptian city, whence came Poti-pherah, Joseph's father-in-law (Genesis 41:45,50; 46:20). It is mentioned also in Ezekiel 30:17, where the punctuation , Awen, is to be corrected to , On. The versions render "Heliopolis" in all cases "Heliupolis." An addition in the Septuagint (Exodus 1:11) mentions Heliopolis among the cities built by the Israelites. The inscriptions, however, show that it was perhaps the most ancient of all Egyptian cities—certainly the most sacred about 3000 B.C. Its god, Atumu (Etôm), was then the most prominent of the many forms under which the sun-god appeared in Egypt (being identified especially with the setting sun), so that the city bore the name "house of the sun" (comp. the Greek "Heliopolis" and the equivalent Hebrew "Beth-shemesh"; Jeremiah 43:13 [doubted by Winckler, "Alttestamentliche Untersuchungen," p. 180, who considers "Beth" as an erroneous repetition of the final syllable of the word "maẓẓebot"]).

It is remarkable that sanctity is still attached to the sacred well and tree among the insignificant ruins near Maṭariyyah, a few miles north of Cairo, which are protected by Christianization of the old myths (whence the place had the earlier Arabic name "'Ain al-Shams" [fountain of the sun]). The temples, of which only one obelisk from the twelfth dynasty has been preserved, were famous for their size and beauty, as were the priesthood for their learning, for which they were praised by Herodotus. A trace of this respect may possibly be found in the Biblical mention of Joseph's Egyptian relatives. Politically, the city was never of importance, although it was the capital of the thirteenth nome of Lower Egypt. Its position near the caravan road from Syria seems to have given it great commercial importance; hence the numerous Jewish settlements in and around it, among which were Castra and Vicus Judæorum. It already had Canaanitish quarters about 1200 B.C. Therefore the Septuagint considered it as a Jewish place (see above); Juba, in Pliny, 6:177, as Arabic. During the Roman period it diminished rapidly in population and importance; the Arabs found it deserted.

The hieroglyphic form is "'-n-w"; the Biblical pronunciation is attested also by the Assyrian "Unu" (Delitzsch, "Wo Lag das Paradies?" p. 318, where the identity is, however, disputed; comp. also "C. I. S." 102a, 2, for mention in a Phenician inscription).

W. M. M.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Heliopolis (On)'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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