Temples existed from the beginning of Egyptian history, and at the height of the civilization were present in most of its towns. They included both mortuary temples to serve the spirits of deceased pharaohs and temples dedicated to patron gods, although the distinction was blurred because divinity and kingship were so closely intertwined. The temples were not primarily intended as places for worship by the general populace, and the common people had a complex set of religious practices of their own. Instead, the state-run temples served as houses for the gods, in which physical images which served as their intermediaries were cared for and provided with offerings. This service was believed to be necessary to sustain the gods, so that they could in turn maintain the universe itself. Thus, temples were central to Egyptian society, and vast resources were devoted to their upkeep, including both donations from the monarchy and large estates of their own. Pharaohs often expanded them as part of their obligation to honor the gods, so that many temples grew to enormous size. However, not all gods had temples dedicated to them, as many gods who were important in official theology received only minimal worship, and many household gods were the focus of popular veneration rather than temple ritual.
The earliest Egyptian temples were small, impermanent structures, but through the Old and Middle Kingdoms their designs grew more elaborate, and they were increasingly built out of stone. In the New Kingdom, a basic temple layout emerged, which had evolved from common elements in Old and Middle Kingdom temples. With variations, this plan was used for most of the temples built from then on, and most of those that survive today adhere to it. In this standard plan, the temple was built along a central processional way that led through a series of courts and halls to the sanctuary, which held a statue of the temple’s god. Access to this most sacred part of the temple was restricted to the pharaoh and the highest-ranking priests. The journey from the temple entrance to the sanctuary was seen as a journey from the human world to the divine realm, a point emphasized by the complex mythological symbolism present in temple architecture. Well beyond the temple building proper was the outermost wall. In the space between the two lay many subsidiary buildings, including workshops and storage areas to supply the temple’s needs, and the library where the temple’s sacred writings and mundane records were kept, and which also served as a center of learning on a multitude of subjects.
Theoretically it was the duty of the pharaoh to carry out temple rituals, as he was Egypt’s official representative to the gods. In reality, ritual duties were almost always carried out by priests. During the Old and Middle Kingdoms, there was no separate class of priests; instead, many government officials served in this capacity for several months out of the year before returning to their secular duties. Only in the New Kingdom did professional priesthood become widespread, although most lower-ranking priests were still part-time. All were still employed by the state, and the pharaoh had final say in their appointments. However, as the wealth of the temples grew, the influence of their priesthoods increased, until it rivaled that of the pharaoh. In the political fragmentation of the Third Intermediate Period, the high priests of Amun at Karnak even became the effective rulers of Upper Egypt. The temple staff also included many people other than priests, such as musicians and chanters in temple ceremonies. Outside the temple were artisans and other laborers who helped supply the temple’s needs, as well as farmers who worked on temple estates. All were paid with portions of the temple’s income. Large temples were therefore very important centers of economic activity, sometimes employing thousands of people.
Associated LOST Characters
The Temple (Others’ Sanctuary)
First Seen: 6×02 – “LA X, Part 2” | Featured: 6×06 – “Sundown“
The Temple is a sanctuary in the Island’s Dark Territory where many of the Others used to live. A massive, crumbling wall half a mile away surrounds it, and an extensive network of ancient tunnels and chambers exists beneath it. One particular chamber has a connection with the Monster. The Man in Black attacked the temple in his smoke monster form shortly before his death, killing all inside who did not join him . (“Sundown”) The Temple has subsequently been abandoned.