Divine Light

Luminous aspects of divinity in Egypt and Mesopotamia

Funding Agency
Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)


Project Director

Katja Goebs (Associate Professor of Egyptology)


Douglas Frayne (Adjunct Professor of Assyriology)

Database Programming and Maintenance

Severin Junker

Research Assistants


Christina Geisen
Erik Smith

Student Assistants

J. Richard McKibbon
Adriana Pincente
Elizabeth Zhou

Sporadic Contributions

Odette Boivin
Meredith Brand
Josephine Malur
Jan Moje
Hannah Sonbol

Outline and Objectives

Luminosity is one of the primary associations of the divine in ancient Egyptian religion. The light-qualities of gods set them apart from normal mortals and are expressed in iconographic details, such as certain bright colours, dress, and cosmic symbols, but also in epithets and descriptions of gods as found, for example, in hymnic and funerary texts (e.g. "shining" or "fiery" of countenance). In Egyptology's cognate disciplines, Assyriology, Biblical Studies, and related fields, the significance of cosmic or astral (by which we mean non-solar) aspects and attributes of deities is fully recognized. Also other cultures, some of them much further afield, conceptualize gods as luminous (e.g. the Inca of Mesoamerica), and divine epiphanies are to this day often perceived as luminous, even in modern western culture. This suggests that the conception is central to the understanding of the divine in many or most cultures and that a comparative perspective may help to evaluate the Egyptian and Mesopotamian evidence. Yet, this situation has not, to date, been given in-depth consideration in particular in the study of Egyptian deities and their conceptualization ("Gottesvorstellungen"). The present project aims to fill this gap by means of:

  • Database collection of all terms relating to Egyptian divine light before the Greco Roman Period
  • Database collection of all (identifiable) icons relating to the same
Data are being gathered with a view to:
  • Determining the associations of the various terms and icons with particular deities
  • (In the case of light terminology:) Establishing etymological roots and derivations, which in turn aid in defining semantic fields of usage
  • Determining the correspondence of semantic fields or terms with particular icons
  • Delineating historical developments in the number, scope, and usage of terms and icons relating to divine light
  • Database collection of all terms (Akkadian and Sumerian) relating to divine light in Mesopotamia
  • Database collection of all icons relating to the same
Use of data as above (1)


The Egyptian and Mesopotamian evidence will be compared, with a view to establishing whether:
  • Light terminology in these two cultures is organized in similar semantic fields
  • The origins of (some) luminous conceptions surrounding the divine can be traced to one of these regions over the other,
  • and Transfers between the two cultures can be traced
  • Publication of the finished databases on the World Wide Web, with the aim of presenting an important research tool for scholars interested in the terminology and symbolism of light, of its uses, and development, beyond the two cultures in question.
The project aims to facilitate a reappraisal of some foundational aspects of Near Eastern religions, elucidating their interconnections, and providing important tools for scholars who wish to pursue this issue further.