Dr. Victoria Altmann-Wendling

Project title: Lunar Symbolism - Lunar Knowledge. Concepts of the Moon in the Egyptian Temples of the Graeco-Roman Period.

Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Tanja Pommerening, Prof. Dr. Marion Gindhart

Dissertation project:

Except of the sun, the moon is the largest and brightest celestial phenomenon from a topocentric perspective. At all times people used to reflect on cause and effects of its shift in shape during the month and its temporary disappearance at new moon as well as the exceptional incident of a lunar eclipse. Corresponding myths of ancient and contemporary cultures have been transmitted in cosmologies, popular belief and ethnographical studies. Furthermore, in pre-industrial societies without electric lighting the shifting intensity of night-time illumination by the moon played a significantly larger role than today.

In Ancient Egypt the moon was denominated by the terms Iah or Iun-Haa. Iconographic depictions either show the actual celestial body as a disc and adjacent crescent or an anthropomorphic or zoomorphic deity with an equal disc above its head. To a certain degree, research has been neglecting the moon god who was second to an all-dominating solar cult in ancient Egyptian religion. By drawing on all relevant lunar inscriptions and iconography, the dissertation project aims at filling this gap and pursues a comprehensive study of the god’s character and significance.

The study will investigate the incorporation of the moon and its monthly transformation into ancient Egyptian culture and religion. Furthermore, the project will identify distinctive explanatory patterns of special phenomena, e.g. the moon’s waxing and waning, and its disappearance at new moon.

The analysis is based on temple and funerary texts of the Graeco-Roman Period (3th c. BC–3th c. AD). Principal or modified translations and critical annotations will reveal underlying astronomical observations. A textual approach allows for a context-related assessment of the moon’s cultural position and an evaluation of its character. Finally, research will show whether different lunar theological concepts have been developed according to type and spatial location of each text. Comparative investigation of relevant works of classical authors will broaden the view and shed light on projections about the Egyptian moon god according to their different discourses.

The dissertation project was completed in March 2017.

The works was published as Altmann-Wendling, V., MondSymbolik – MondWissen. Lunare Konzepte in den ägyptischen Tempeln griechisch-römischer Zeit (Studien zur spätägyptischen Religion, 22), Wiesbaden 2019.