(Amoun, Amon, Amen, Ammon) ‘The Hidden’, a Theban God who rose to the pinnacle of national prominence, particularly in fusion with the Heliopolitan solar God Re as the fusion deity ‘Amun-Re’. The main temple of Amun at Karnak remains the largest religious structure ever built. Amun is depicted typically as a man with deep blue or black skin, wearing a crown with two high segmented plumes, and sometimes ithyphallic. His sacred animal is the ram with curved horns (Ovis platyura aegyptiaca, as distinct from the ram associated with Banebdjedet, Herishef, and Khnum, Ovis longipes palaeoaegypticus) and he can be depicted as a man with a ram’s head. Amun’s consort, aside from his female complement Amunet, whose chief importance is in the context of the Hermopolitan Ogdoad, is Mut and their son is Khonsu. Regardless of the political factors which brought Amun to prominence as the city of Thebes became more powerful, and which maintained his prominence for the rest of Egyptian history as a symbol of national unity, Amun’s ability to exercise such broad appeal can be traced to the potency of the concept of a God of hiddenness as such, particularly at a time (the Middle Kingdom and later) when Egyptian society was engaged in speculative thought of increasing sophistication.

Amun is, by virtue of being hiddenness itself, ubiquitous, and the idea of hiddenness implies potentiality as well as mystery and otherness. This ubiquity based upon the concept of hiddenness was reinforced by the identification of Amun with the omnipresent breath of life as well as the force of sexuality. Amun’s appeal was by no means abstract, however. Commoners, and especially the poor, could appeal to the omnipresent Amun for justice and compassion (see especially the themes of social justice in the prayers to Amun used as school texts in the Ramesside era, trans. in Lichtheim 1976 vol. 2, 111-112), travelers for protection (as Amun-of-the-Road, see esp. the “Report of Wenamun” in Lichtheim, ibid. 224-230) and kings to legitimize the extension of Egyptian sovereignty into foreign lands (see, e.g., the inscription of Thutmose III in Lichtheim, op cit. p. 30, where Amun commands the king to extend the borders of Egypt). Amun featured in juridical oaths, which is noteworthy inasmuch as it is not Amun-Re but Amun who is invoked, and thus not simply the symbol of royal power but the symbol of all-pervading justice (Widson 1948). Amun’s ubiquity allows him to witness everything that occurs and to hear all requests; stelae are dedicated to “Amun who hears,” and a hymn from Hibis describes him as having “777 ears, with millions upon millions of eyes,” (Klotz 2006, 167, 169f).

The conjunction of Amun’s association with sexuality and his self-sufficiency results in the epithet of Kamutef, “bull of his mother”, given to his ithyphallic form, which signifies that Amun has conceived himself upon his mother and is thus his own father. BD spell Pleyte 167 calls upon the phallic potency of Amun to protect the body of the spell’s possessor. The Kamutef concept is also embodied in Amun’s complex relationship to the Gods of the Hermopolitan Ogdoad. Amun is a member of this group of precosmic Gods but also transcends them in two ways: first, at Thebes Amun is identified with Kematef (“He who has completed his moment,” i.e., the vanishing instant of creation) and Irta (or Iri-ta) (“Earth-maker”), mysterious primordial serpents that preexist the Ogdoad; second, Amun is identified with the light which the Ogdoad bring forth into the world. Hiddenness (Amun) is thus at once the origin of the cosmos, the medium through which it comes to be, and that which expresses itself in the splendor of phenomena. A hymn to Amun (P. Leiden J 350) which traces the involvement of Amun at each successive stage of the generation of the cosmos says that after the creation of the heavens and Amun’s withdrawal into occultation or concealment, “You returned in the fathers as creator of their sons.” Two rulers of the 18th Dynasty, Hatshepsut and Amenhotep III, claim to have been conceived by the union of their mothers with Amun. In a hymn from Hibis to the “ten Ba‘s,” or manifestations, of Amun, the sixth is “the Living Royal Ka,” that is, the divine potency in the king deriving from Amun’s impregnation of the king’s mother (Klotz 2006, 35f).

The alliance of the chief deities of Thebes and Heliopolis in the compound deity Amun-Re, although it clearly served political ends, is not without theological subtlety. Re, as preeminent solar deity, embodies all that is manifest, while Amun is that which is concealed. Their combination results in a divine potency distinct from either alone. In a variant of BD spell 15, Amun-Re crosses the sky, “everyone seeing thee,” as would be expected of the sun. But the author adds “thou prosperest; (and so do) they that row thy Majesty, (for) thy rays are in their faces, though unrecognized.” The ‘rays’ of Amun-Re are not simply sunlight, therefore, for those rays are hardly unrecognized. The author goes on to explain that “no tongue could understand its fellow except for thee,” indicating that the light which is bestowed by Amun-Re is, rather, a light of understanding. In a sunrise hymn to Amun from Hibis temple, the Aten, the sun’s visible disk, is said to “represent” or “stand in for” Amun, through a pun on itn, the sun’s disk, and idn, to represent or replace (Klotz 2006, 165-167).

Amun’s hiddenness is the condition of his ubiquity, and vice versa. In another hymn from the Hibis temple, it is said that Amun “hides himself with his eyes,” with his “brilliant visible forms,” (Klotz 2006, 82-83) because “one sees through his seeing,” (ibid., 154). Because Amun allows us to participate in his power of sight, we see everything but his essential nature, which is precisely hiddenness. Thus vision itself is Amun’s invisibility. Amun is called “protector of that which is and that which is not,” (ibid., 129) because hiddenness is common to both: that which is, has come to be from the state of nonbeing, in which it was ‘hidden’, and it is through the concept of absence or hiddenness that the nonexistent as such is conceivable. “You support them [‘that which is made’] as you create them,” the same hymn says, for during the whole of the process by which things come into being, they are guided and supported by their hidden potential.

Allen, T. G. 1974. The Book of the Dead or Going Forth by Day. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. [BD]
Assmann, Jan. 1994. Egyptian Solar Religion in the New Kingdom: Re, Amun and the Crisis of Polytheism. Trans. Anthony Alcock. London: Kegan Paul Intl.
Klotz, David. 2006. Adoration of the Ram: Five Hymns to Amun-Re from Hibis Temple. New Haven, CT: Yale Egyptological Seminar.
Lichtheim, Miriam. 1975-80. Ancient Egyptian Literature. 3 vols. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Wilson, John A. 1948. “The Oath in Ancient Egypt.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 7, no. 3.

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