the name of a man, and also of a city.
1. (Heb. id. אוֹן, strength, as Job 18:7; Sept. Αὔν.) A son of Peleth, and 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. B.C. cir. 1637. He is mentioned among the leaders of this conspiracy in the first instance (Nu 16:1), but does not appear in any of the subsequent transactions, and is not by name included in the final punishment. "Possibly he repented; and indeed there is a Rabbinical tradition to the effect that he was prevailed upon by his wife to withdraw from his' accomplices. Abendana's note is, 'Behold On is not mentioned again, for he was separated from their company after Moses spake with them. And our rabbins of blessed memory said that his wife saved him.' Josephus (Ant. 4:2, 2) omits the name of On, but retains that of his father in the form Φαλαοῦς, thus apparently identifying Peleth with Phallu, the son of Relluen."
2. An important city in Egypt. In the following account we depend largely upon the elucidation which modern researches have afforded.
Name. — This in the Heb. is the same as the above, אוֹן, Ge 41:50, or in the condensed form אֹן, Ge 41:45,50; Ge 46:20 (Sept. ῾Ηλιούπολις; Vulg. Heliopolis), which is doubtless of Coptic etymology. But in Eze 30:17, it is Hebraized אָוֶן, A ven (q.v.), i.e. wickedness (Sept. and Vulg. as before).
The same city is also mentioned in the Bible as BETH-SHEMESH, בֵּית שֶׁמֶשׁ (Jer 43:13), corresponding to the ancient Egyptian sacred name HA-RA, "the abode of the sun;" and perhaps it is likewise spoken of as IR- HA-HERES, עַיר הִהֶרֶס, or הִחֶרֶס, the second part being, in this case, either the Egyptian sacred name, or else the Hebrew חֶרֶס, but we prefer to read "a city of destruction." The two names were known to the translator or translators of Exodus in the Sept., where On is explained to be Heliopolis (῎Ων ἣ ἐστιν ῾Ηλιούπολις, 1:11); but in Jeremiah this version seems to treat Beth-shemesh as the name of a temple (τοὺς στύλους ῾Ηλιουπόλεως, τοὺς ἐν ῎Ων), 43:13, Sept. 1, 13). The Coptic version gives On as the equivalent of the names in the Sept., but whether as an Egyptian word or such a word Hebraized can scarcely be determined. The latter is perhaps more probable, as the letter we represent by A is not commonly changed into the Coptic O, unless indeed one hieroglyphic form of the name should be read ANU, in which case the last vowel might have been transposed and the first incorporated with it. Brugsch (Geogr. Inschr. 1:254) supposes AN and ON to be the same, "as the Egyptian A often had a sound intermediate between a and o." But this does not admit of the change of the a vowel to the long vowel o, from which it was as distinct as from the other long vowel i, respectively like א and ָע, ו, and י .
The ancient Egyptian common name is written AN or AN-T, and perhaps ANU; but the essential part of the word is AN, and probably no more was pronounced. There were two towns called AN: Heliopolis, distinguished as the northern, AN-MEHIT, and Hermonthis, in Upper Egypt, as the southern, AN-RES (Brugsch Geogr. -nschr. 1:254, 255, Nos. 1217 a, b, 1218. 870,1225). As to the meaning, we can say nothing certain. Cyril, who, as bishop of Alexandria, should be listened to on such a question, says that On signified the sun (᾿῏Ων δέ ἐστι κατ᾿ αὐτοὺς ὁ ἣλιος, ad Hosea p. 145), and the Coptic Ouoini (Memphitic), Ouein, Ouoein (Sahidic), "light," has therefore been compared (see La Croze Lex. p. 71, 189), but the hieroglyphic form is UBEN, "shining," which has no connection with AN.
Scriptural Notices. — The first mention of this place in the Bible is in the history of Joseph, to whom we read Pharaoh gave "to wife Asenath, the daughter of Potipherah, priest of On" (Ge 41:45. comp. ver. 50; and 46:20). Joseph was possibly governor of Egypt under a king of the fifteenth dynasty, of which Memphis was, at least for a time, the capital. In this case he would doubtless have lived for part of the year at Memphis, and therefore near to Heliopolis. The name. of Asenath's father was appropriate to a Heliopolite, and especially to a priest of that place (though according to some he may have been a prince), for it means "Belonging to Ra," or "the sun." The name of Joseph's master Potiphar is the same, but with a slight difference in the Hebrew orthography. According to the Sept. On was one of the cities built for Pharaoh by the oppressed Israelites, for it mentions three "strong cities" instead of the two "treasure cities" of the Heb., adding On to Pithom and Raamses (Καὶ ᾠκοδόμησαν πόλεις ὀχυρὰς τῷ Φαραῷ, τήν το Πειθώ, καὶ ῾Ραμεσσἤ, καὶ ᾿῏Ων, ἣ ἐστιν ῾Ηλιούπολις, Ex 1:11). If it be intended that these cities were founded by the labor of the people, the addition is probably a mistake, although Heliopolis may have been ruined, and rebuilt; but it is possible that they were merely fortified, probably as places for keeping stores. Heliopolis lay at no great distance from the land of Goshen and from Raamses, and probably Pithom also.
Isaiah has been supposed to speak of On when he prophesies that one of the five cities in Egypt that should speak the language of Canaan should be called Ir-ha-heres, which may .mean the City of the Sun, whether we take "heres" to be a Hebrew or an Egyptian word; but the reading "a city of destruction" seems preferable; and we have no evidence that there was any large Jewish settlement at Heliopolis, although there may have been at one time from its nearness to the town of Onias (q.v.). — Jeremiah speaks of On under the name Beth-shemesh, "the house of the sun" (comp. "oppidum solis," Pliny, Hist. Nat. v. 11), where he predicts of Nebuchadnezzar, "He shall break also the pillars [? מצבות, but perhaps statues] of Bethshemesh, that [is] in .the land of Egypt; and the houses of the gods of the Egyptians shall he burn with fire" (43:13). By the word we have rendered "pillars," obelisks are reasonably supposed to be: meant, for the number of which before the temple of the sun Heliopolis must have been famous; and perhaps by "the houses of the gods," the temples of this place are intended, as their being burned would be a proof of the powerlessness of Ra and Atum, both forms of the sun, Shu, the god of light, and Tafnet, a fire-goddess, to save their dwellings from the very element over which they were supposed to rule. — Perhaps it was on account of the many false gods of Heliopolis that, in Ezekiel, On is written Aven, by a change in the punctuation, if we can here depend on the Masoretic text, and so made to signify "vanity," and especially the vanity of idolatry. The prophet foretells, "The young men of Aven and of Pi-be-seth shall fall by the sword: and these [cities] shall go into captivity" (30:17). Pibeseth, or Bubastis, is doubtless spoken of with Heliopolis as in the same part of Egypt, and so to be involved in a common calamity at the same time when the land should be invaded. After the age of the prophets we hear no more in Scripture of Heliopolis. Local tradition, however, points it out as a place where our Lord and the Virgin came, when Joseph brought them into Egypt, and a very ancient sycamore is shown as a tree beneath which they rested. The Jewish settlements in this part of Egypt, and especially the town of Onias, which was probably only twelve miles distant from Heliopolis in a northerly direction, but a little to the eastward (Modern Egypt and Thebes, 1:297, 298), then flourished, and were nearer to Palestine than the heathen towns, like Alexandria, in which there was any large Jewish population, so that there is much probability in this tradition. And perhaps Heliopolis itself may have had a Jewish quarter, although we do not know it to have been the Ir-ha-heres of Isaiah.
Monumental History. — The oldest monument of the town is the obelisk, which was set up late in the reign of Sesertesen I, head of the 12th dynasty, dating B.C. cir. 2050. According to Manetho, the bull Mnevis was first worshipped here in the reign of Kaiechos, second king of the 2d dynasty (B.C. cir. 2400). In the earliest times it must have been subject to the first dynasty so long as their sole rule lasted, which was perhaps for no more than the reigns of Menes (B.C. cir. 2717), and Athothis; it doubtless next came under the government of the Memphites, of the 3d (B.C. cir. 2640), 4th, and 6th dynasties; it then passed into the hands of the Diospolites of the 12th dynasty and the Shepherds of the 15th; but whether the former or the latter held it first, or it was contested between them, we cannot as yet determine. During the long period of anarchy that followed the rule of the 12th dynasty, when Lower Egypt was subject to the Shepherd kings, Heliopolis must have been under the government of the strangers. With the accession of the 18th dynasty it was probably recovered by the Egyptians, during the war which Aahmes, or Amosis, head of that line, waged with the Shepherds, and thenceforward held by them, though perhaps more than once occupied by invaders (comp. Chabas, Papyrus Magique Harris), before the Assyrians conquered Egypt. Its position near the eastern frontier must have made it always a post of especial importance. SEE NO-AMON.
The chief object of worship at Heliopolis was the sun, under the forms Ra, the sun simply, whence the sacred name of the place, HA-RA, "the abode of the sun," and Atum, the setting sun, or sun of the nether world. Probably its chief temple was dedicated to both. Shu, the son of Atum, and Tafnet, his daughter, were also here worshipped, as well as the bull Minevis, sacred to Ra, Osiris, and His; and the Phoenix, Bennu, probably represented by a living bird of the crane kind. (On the mythology, see Brugsch, p. 254 sq.) The temple of the sun, described by Strabo (17, p. 805, 806), is now only represented by the single beautiful obelisk, which is of red granite, 68 feet 2 inches high above the pedestal, and bears a: dedication showing that it was sculptured in or after his 30th year (cir. 2050) by Sesertesen I. first king of the 12th dynasty (B.C. cir. 2080-2045). There were probably far more than a usual number of obelisks before the gates of this temple, on the evidence of ancient writers, and the inscriptions of some yet remaining elsewhere, and no doubt the reason was that these monuments were sacred to the sun. From the extent of the mounds it seems to have been always a small town.
An imperfect monumental inscription of the time of Thothmes III mentions the city of On in the following terms: "In his thirty-fifth year the king (Thothmes III) sent forth an army of ten full cohorts against Heth. Then he marched against the city of On, where the unclean race were assembled . ." — alluding perhaps to the Shepherds, whom Thothmes finally expelled from Egypt. There are other indications of this Pharaoh having been at Heliopolis or On. Two of the obelisks removed by the Romans from that ancient city bear the well-known cartouche of Thothmes III. The one stands upright before the cathedral of St. John at Rome, the other in the Atmeidan at Constantinople. Osburn declares "that it becomes a historical fact that the patron of Joseph, Pharaoh Apophis, had possession of Heliopolis, and for a long period held his regal state there" (Monuma. Hist. of Egypt, 2:87). SEE EGYPT.
Later Notices. — 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 (2:59), 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. The majesty of these sacred visits may be best learned now by a careful study of the temples (in their ruins) in which the rites were performed (Wilkinson, Anc. Egypt.). Heliopolis had its priesthood, a numerous and learned body, celebrated before other Egyptians — for their historical and antiquarian lore, and occupying extensive, buildings around the temple; it long continued the university of the Egyptians, the chief seat of their science (Kenrick, Herod. 2:3; Wilkinson); the priests dwelt as a holy community in a spacious structure appropriated to their use. In Strabo's time the halls were to be seen in which Eudoxus and Plato had studied under the direction of the priests of Heliopolis. A detailed description of the temple, with its long alleys of sphinxes. obelisks, etc., may be found in Strabo (17; Josephus, c.'Apion. 3 2), who says that the mural sculpture in it was very similar to the old Etruscan and Grecian works. In the temple a bullock was fed — a symbol of the god Mnevis. The city suffered severely by the Persian invasion. From the time of Shaw- and Pococke the place has been described by many travelers. At an early period remains of the 'famous temple were found. Abdallatif (A.D. 1200) saw many colossal sphinxes, partly prostrate, partly standing. He also saw the gates or propylaea of the temple covered with inscriptions; he describes two immense obelisks whose summits were covered with massive brass, around which were others one half or one third the size of the first, placed in so thick a mass that they could scarcely be counted, most of them thrown down. This city furnished works of art to Augustus for adorning Rome, and to Constantine for adorning Constantinople. Ritter (Erdkunde, 1:823) says that the sole remaining obelisk bears hieroglyphics which remind the beholder of what Strabo terms the Etruscan style. "The figure of the cross which it bears (crux ansata) has attracted the special notice of Christian antiquaries" (Ritter).
Heliopolis was situate on the east side of the Pelusiac branch of the Nile, just below the point of the Delta, and about twenty miles north-east of Memphis. It was before the Roman time the capital of the Heliopolitic Nome, which was included in Lower Egypt (Pliny, Hist. Nat. v. 9; Ptolem. 4:5). Now its site is above the point of the Delta, which is the junction of the Phatmetic, or Damietta branch, and the Bolbitine, or Rosetta, and about ten miles to the north-east of Cairo. 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.
Near by it is the above-mentioned very old sycamore, its trunk straggling and gnarled, under which legendary tradition relates that the holy family once rested (Robinson, Biblical Researches, 1:36).