Temples of Ancient Egypt

By Dieter Arnold; Lanny Bell et al. | Go to book overview

his special status assumed understandable prominence in the religious calendars of the great national temples.

I have led the reader step by step through the Opet-festival, pointing out where the pharaoh walked, what the priests did, where the people stood, and how the participants interacted; and a picture has begun to emerge of the liturgy--the recitations, offerings, and other cultic activities carried out at the ritual focal points. The display of royal splendor in the presence of ordinary people doubtless impressed on them the king's power and the elite's privileged position. But their participation in the liturgy probably also convinced them that they too played an important role in society. As with all people, the Egyptians seem to have hoped for salvation, longed for the eternal, and trusted that the divinely appointed institutions and rituals would gain for them their aspirations.

In considering the social relationships reflected in Luxor's religious ceremonies, I have raised the question of Egypt's kinship system. The ancestral ka was a component of personhood that enfolded multiple cultural roles: genetic--governing social structure and family organization, obligations, and inheritance; legal and political--determining legitimacy (including the king's); psychological--shaping personal identity and individuality; and, of course, religious and funerary. 170 Every birth--and every coronation--was the rebirth of a ka and therefore a renewal of life rather than its inception. The steady replacement of each human, divine, and cosmological generation by an essentially identical one assured the order and stability of the world.

The inequality in Egypt's hierarchical social structure was rooted in and perpetuated by hereditary classes who were assigned differing social and political behaviors. In the all-pervasive ancestor cultus, the rank of a person's family ka legitimized class distinctions. The royal ka was ranked highest of all, and the worship of the royal ka--associating the fictive royal clan directly with Amun-Re, the all-powerful Creator and King of the Gods--validated the king's superior position over the rest of humanity. Thus the rites performed at Luxor Temple supported the social structure of New Kingdom Egypt by assigning the various classes roles that anchored their place in the hierarchy and by linking order in the human realm to that in the divine realm.


Appendix I: Luxor Temple in the Reign of Akhenaten

The boy who became Amenhotep IV, and then Akhenaten, lived during the construction of the new Luxor Temple and the development of its theology. 171 As his father's designated successor, he doubtless learned the cultus of the royal ka and the liturgy of the Opet-festival. As king, he chose to pur-

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