The Role and Significance of the Priest of On in Ancient Egyptian Religion

In the context of ancient Egypt, “priest of On” refers to a person who held a religious position and served as a priest in the city of On, also known as Heliopolis. On was an important religious and cultural center in ancient Egypt, located near modern-day Cairo. The city was dedicated to the worship of the sun god Ra and housed important religious institutions and temples.

The title “Priest of On” indicated that the individual held a prominent role within the religious hierarchy of Heliopolis. Priests of On were responsible for performing rituals, offering prayers, and conducting ceremonies dedicated to the worship of Ra and other deities associated with the sun cult. They played a vital role in the religious life of the community, interpreting divine messages and ensuring the proper observance of religious practices.

The priests of On were highly respected and had considerable influence within the religious and social spheres of ancient Egypt. Their knowledge of religious texts, rituals, and cosmology made them key figures in the spiritual life of the community, and their role extended beyond the sacred precincts of the temples, often intersecting with political and administrative affairs.

Potifera – priest of On in Egypt

According to the Hebrew Bible, Potipherah (/pɒˈtɪfərə/, Hebrew: פּוֹטִי פֶרַע‎ Pōṭī feraʿ) was a priest of the ancient Egyptian town of On, mentioned in the Genesis 41:45 and 41:50. He was the father of Asenath, who was given to Joseph as his wife by Pharaoh, (41:45) and who bore Joseph two sons: Manasseh and Ephraim.

Egyptian priest of On, whose daughter Asenath was given to Joseph to wife (Gen. 41:45) “And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphnath-panea; and he gave him Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, to wife. And Joseph went out throughout all the land of Egypt.” (Genesis 41:50) “And unto Joseph were born two sons before the first year of the famine came, whom Asenath the daughter of Potipherah the priest of On bare unto him.” (Genesis 46:20) “And unto Joseph were born in the land of Egypt Manasseh and Ephraim, whom Asenath the daughter of Potipherah the priest of On bare unto him.”

Joseph and Potiphar’s wife

Potiphar’s wife was not as faithful to him as his servant Joseph. She repeatedly tried to seduce him, and one day, when none of the men of the house were around, she made advances, but Joseph did not yield, but fled. When Potiphar returned home, he heard the false accusation of attempted rape from his frustrated wife. Enraged, he had him thrown into prison.

It seems that this prison had some connection with Potiphar’s household, or at least was under his jurisdiction as head of the king’s guard. The text says that the chief of the cupbearers and the chief of Pharaoh’s bakers were thrown into that same confinement, “the prison of the house of the chief of the bodyguard,” or “the prison of [Joseph’s] master’s house. “45 However, it does not seem very likely that Potiphar was the chief officer of the prison, the one who “delivered into Joseph’s hand all the prisoners who were in the house of confinement.” This officer was probably a subordinate of Potiphar.

The title “court officer,” which Potiphar held, has been translated from the Hebrew word sa-ris, meaning eunuch, but has the broader meaning of chamberlain, courtier, or trusted officer of the throne. Potiphar was a warrior and chief of the king’s guard, besides being a married man, facts that indicate that he was not a eunuch in the usual sense of the word.

According to the biblical documentary hypothesis, the story of Potiphar and his wife derives from the Yahwist tradition, and is related in the same place as the story of the butler and the baker and of Pharaoh’s dreams in the Elohist text. The Yahwistic text presents Joseph as both a victim and a hero.

The Potiphar of the Elohist text (called Potiphera) is a priest of Heliopolis, who marries his daughter Aseneth to Joseph.

Neither the Yahwist nor the Elohist version gives the name of Potiphar’s wife. The midrash Sefer haYashar (one of the non-canonical books of the Tanakh) calls her Zuleica, as does the Persian poem called Joseph and Zuleica, by Djami.

Ancient Egyptian Religion

Ancient Egyptian religion is a testament to the profound spiritual beliefs and practices that shaped one of the most enduring and fascinating civilizations in history. For more than three millennia, the Egyptians developed a complex system of beliefs, rituals, and deities that formed the basis of their understanding of the universe, life, death, and the afterlife. In this article, we embark on a journey to explore the fascinating world of ancient Egyptian religion, delving into its core beliefs, rituals, temples, and the enduring legacy it left behind.

The Pantheon of Gods and Goddesses

Ancient Egyptian religion was polytheistic, with a vast pantheon of gods and goddesses representing various aspects of nature, society, and cosmic forces. From powerful deities such as Ra, the sun god, and Isis, the goddess of magic and motherhood, to lesser-known deities such as Thoth, the god of wisdom, and Bastet, the goddess of protection, each divine figure played a unique role in Egyptian cosmology.

Ma’at: The Concept of Cosmic Order

At the heart of ancient Egyptian religion was the concept of Ma’at, which represented the fundamental principle of cosmic balance and order. Ma’at encompassed notions of truth, justice, harmony, and the proper functioning of the universe. The Egyptians believed that upholding Ma’at was essential to maintaining a stable and prosperous society, and it was the responsibility of both humans and gods to ensure its preservation.

Temples: Gateways to the Divine

Temples were of immense importance in ancient Egyptian religion, serving as sacred spaces where people could connect with the divine and engage in rituals and offerings. These magnificent structures, such as the Temple of Karnak and the Temple of Luxor, were dedicated to specific gods and goddesses and were places of worship, healing, and spiritual enlightenment.

Rituals and offerings

Rituals and offerings played a central role in the religious practices of the ancient Egyptians. From daily household rituals to grand ceremonies held in temples, these acts were designed to establish a connection between humans and the gods, seeking their favor, protection, and guidance. Offerings of food, drink, and symbolic objects were made to nourish the gods and maintain their benevolence.

Life, Death and the Afterlife

Ancient Egyptian religion held a deep fascination with the soul’s journey beyond death. The belief in an afterlife led to elaborate burial practices and rituals, including mummification and the construction of large tombs and burial chambers. The Book of the Dead, a collection of spells and instructions, guided the deceased through the perilous journey to the afterlife, where they would be judged by Osiris, the god of the dead.

Enduring legacy

The influence of ancient Egyptian religion extends far beyond the ancient world. Its concepts and symbols have captured the imagination of people throughout history, inspiring art, literature, and popular culture. From the fascination with Egyptian deities and the adoption of their symbols by secret societies to the enduring appeal of the pyramids and the Sphinx, the legacy of ancient Egyptian religion continues to resonate in the modern world.


Ancient Egyptian religion, with its intricate beliefs, rituals, and rich mythology, offers a fascinating window into the spiritual and cultural fabric of one of the world’s most remarkable civilizations. At the center of this complex religious system is the Priest of On, who serves as the guardian of the ancient city of Heliopolis and the link between the mortal and divine realms.

Serving in the religious center dedicated to the sun god Ra, the Priest of On played a crucial role in the spiritual life of the ancient Egyptians. Responsible for performing rituals, interpreting divine messages, and preserving religious knowledge, these priests held immense influence and were deeply respected within the community. Their deep understanding of cosmology, religious texts, and the intricacies of sun worship made them vital figures in upholding religious traditions and maintaining the cosmic balance represented by Ma’at.

As part of the larger religious hierarchy, the priests of On served not only as intermediaries between the people and the gods, but also as advisors to the ruling elite. Their involvement in political and administrative affairs demonstrates the intertwined nature of religion and governance in ancient Egypt, where religious authority and power were intertwined.

Through their dedication, wisdom, and commitment to upholding the religious traditions of Heliopolis, the priests of On played a pivotal role in preserving the spiritual heritage of ancient Egypt. Their rituals, teachings, and contributions to the understanding of cosmology and divine knowledge ensured the continuity of religious practices and the pursuit of Ma’at for generations to come.

The enduring legacy of Ancient Egyptian religion and the Priest of On can be seen in the lasting impact it has had on human history and the fascination it continues to evoke today. The temples and monuments dedicated to the gods, the myths and stories that transcend centuries, and the profound spiritual concepts have left an indelible mark on art, literature, and popular culture.


What does priest mean in ancient Egypt?

Priests in ancient Egypt were very different from our modern priests. They were solely focused on specific temple tasks and did not serve as spiritual advisers. Some Egyptians were considered priests simply because they had undergone training in rites that enabled them to perform certain technical tasks in the temples.

In ancient Egypt, of course, the main task of a priest was to pay homage to his respective god. To do this, he had to observe strict purity laws.

He had to wash twice a day and twice a night. Since the New Kingdom, every priest also had to shave his entire body. No hair, neither on the head nor on the rest of the body, was allowed to be seen. He had to cut his nails very short and sharp soda pills were supposed to ensure inner purity. Clean linen robes were also compulsory, of course.

The Egyptian priest did not live in celibacy, but was considered unclean after sexual intercourse and first had to undergo ritual purification again.

In principle, anyone could become a priest in Egypt. It did not matter whether the candidate came from a rich or a poor family. Even the sex was indifferent. Both female and male priests are known, with the latter making up the bulk of the priesthood.

Admission ceremony

Nothing is known of an initiation ceremony but the young adults probably made a lifelong commitment to the service of their god. Many priests lived in villages and had families with children to whom they could pass on their priesthood. Of course, it was also possible for Pharaoh to appoint one of his subjects to a sacred office.

Army officers for the office of high priest

For the Egyptians, it was nothing unusual to have men without much inclination for spirituality sitting in the priestly offices. The main thing was that the person could be used well for the purposes in question. Thus, in the 18th Dynasty, reliable army officers were appointed to the office of high priest – probably to limit the power of the greedy priests.

The Egyptian high priests, above all the high priest of the main god Amun, possessed extraordinary power as the deputy of the pharaoh and thus the eyes and mouthpiece of the gods, as well as having almost immeasurable wealth behind them.

Divine priests, purifiers and readers

The High Priest had as assistants a high and a low clergy:

The high clergy was composed of the “divine priests” who had exclusivity in the participation of the sacrifices.

The lower clergy consisted of the “purifying priests” and the “lector priests”. The purifying priests carried the boat of the god in the processions, purified the temple and adorned the statues; the lector priests were in charge of the ritual.

They came to be among the most opulent people in Egypt because they owned land and livestock, numerous workers under their charge and obtained tribute from the nomos. This will favor the increase of power of the priests of Amun who will gradually achieve greater political influence, becoming appointed among the members of the royal family.

The first mentions of the clergy of Amun are found during the XII dynasty.

Who is Asenath daughter of Potiphera priest of On?

Asenath (Egyptian for “possession of the goddess Neith”), daughter of Potiphera, priest of On (Gen 41:45).

Pharaoh changed Joseph’s name (30 years) to Zaphenath Panea and gave him Asenath as his wife on his appointment as vizier. Thus Joseph was left in charge of Egypt (Genesis).

Asenath was also the mother of Manasseh and Ephraim according to the book of Genesis 46:20. She is a minor figure in the Book of Genesis. She was an aristocratic Egyptian woman by birth, wife of Joseph and the mother of his sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.
Rabbinical approaches

There are two rabbinic approaches to Asenath. One view is that she is an ethnic Egyptian woman who converted to marry Joseph. This view suggests that she accepted the Lord before marriage and then raised her two children under the principles of Judaism. This tradition presents her as a positive example of conversion, and places her among the devout female converts.

The other approach argues that she was not Egyptian by descent, but was of Jacob’s family. Traditions tracing her back to Jacob’s family relate that she was born the daughter of Dinah after being raped by Shechen, left near a wall in Egypt, where she was later found by Potiphar and raised, by him and his wife, who was barren, as his own daughter.

What was the position of the priests in ancient Egypt?

The priests role was to care for the needs of the god/goddess. They have no role to oversee or care for the people of Egypt. They did not try to educate the people on the religion or look after their morals. The Egyptians believed the priest played a vital role in providing for the needs of the gods.

Who was the first priest in Egypt?

The first high priests of Amun appear in the New Kingdom of Egypt, at the beginning of the Eighteenth Dynasty.

High Priest of Amun.

High Priests Pharaoh Dynasty
Ptahmose Meryptah Amenhotep III 18th Dynasty
Maya Akhenaten 18th Dynasty
Parennefer called Wennefer Tutankhamun Horemheb 18th Dynasty
Nebneteru Tenry Seti I 19th Dynasty

What duties did priests have?

The primary function of all priests is administering the church’s seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, confession, holy communion, marriage, holy orders, and anointing of the sick.

Is Potiphar and potiphera the same person?

Potiphar is possibly the same name as Potiphera (Hebrew: פוטיפרע) from Late Egyptian pꜣ-dj-pꜣ-rꜥ “he whom Ra has given.” Potiphar is the captain of Pharaoh’s guard who is said to have purchased Joseph as a slave and, impressed by his intelligence, makes him the master of his household.

What happened to Jacob’s daughter in the Bible?

The story of Dinah, the only daughter of the patriarch Jacob, recounts an episode in which she goes out to see the “daughters of the land” but is raped, seduced, and/or abducted by Shechem, a Hivite prince, who subsequently falls in love with and wishes to marry her.

Who was Jesus father?


Joseph (Hebrew: יוסף, romanized: Yosef; Greek: Ἰωσήφ, romanized: Ioséph) was a 1st-century Jewish man of Nazareth who, according to the canonical Gospels, was married to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and was the legal father of Jesus.

What is a high priest called?

In this page you can discover 13 synonyms, antonyms, idiomatic expressions, and related words for high-priest, like: archbishop, ecclesiarch, chief priest, cardinal, dean, primate, bishop, kohen, monsignor, provost and archpriest.

What role did the priests play in the society?

The function of the priest as the mediator and maintainer of the equilibrium between the sacred and the profane in human society, and as the stabilizer of the social structures and the cultic organizations, determines the various criteria for holding the priestly office.

What did Egyptian priests eat?

Sumptuous meals of beef, wild fowl, bread, fruit, vegetables, cake, wine and beer were given up to the gods three times a day. After making their offerings at the temple, the priests would adopt a ”shame to let it go to waste” policy and take them back home to their families.

Why was Potiphar’s wife attracted to Joseph?

According to the Legends of the Jews, since Zuleika did not have a son, she pretended she wanted to adopt Joseph as her son and she was demonstrating her affection by going to Joseph at night trying to persuade him. When Joseph eventually knew her trick, he prayed to God to divert her attention from him.

What is Potiphar’s wife name?


The story of Zuleika, wife of Potiphar (q.v.), and Joseph (q.v.) appears in the Judaeo-Christian Old Testament and in the Koran. In the Old Testament she is described simply as Potiphar’s wife, her name being given only in the Koran.

What does the name Potiphar mean?

In Biblical Names the meaning of the name Potiphar is: Bull of Africa, a fat bull.

Did Egyptian priests marry?

The ancient Egyptians treated their gods almost as one of the family. Home Life: Priests were married. They had families. They worked in the fields.

What is the female of priest?


The word priestess is a feminine version of priest, which stems from the Old English prēost and its Greek root, presbyteros, “an elder.” While hundreds of years ago a priestess was simply a female priest, today’s Christians use priest whether they’re talking about a man or a woman.

What were Egyptian slaves called?

Egyptian texts refer to words ‘bAk’ and ‘Hm’ that mean laborer or servant. Some Egyptian language refers to slave-like people as ‘sqrw-anx‘, meaning “bound for life”.

What role did the priests play in the society?

The function of the priest as the mediator and maintainer of the equilibrium between the sacred and the profane in human society, and as the stabilizer of the social structures and the cultic organizations, determines the various criteria for holding the priestly office.

Can a priest marry?

The Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches, in general, rule out ordination of married men to the episcopate, and marriage after priestly ordination. Throughout the Catholic Church, East as well as West, a priest may not marry.

Who is a priest of god?

A priest is a religious leader authorized to perform the sacred rituals of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and one or more deities. They also have the authority or power to administer religious rites; in particular, rites of sacrifice to, and propitiation of, a deity or deities.

Similar Posts: