The Eye on the Dollar Bill

The Egyptian god Horus lost an eye in a fight, and Thoth, the god of magic and of the Moon, restored Horus’s eye: the eye was dark and then restored, an allusion to the phases of the Moon. Horus’s all-seeing eye became a sign of protection in Egypt, was adopted as a symbol by Freemasons and Rosicrucians, and is featured on the reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States of America, atop a pyramid with thirteen steps, one for each of the original thirteen colonies, and with the date 1776 (in Roman numerals), the year of independence, on the bottom step. In 1935, the seal was placed on the back of the one-dollar bill.

Egypt enjoyed a nearly continuous civilization and culture for more than three thousand years, from the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt in 3110 BC to the Roman conquest and the death of Cleopatra in 30 BC. Mythology evolved along with political and cultural unification: the gods of several villages were combined into hybrids, and gods of more important cities became more important gods. When the princes of Thebes became rulers of all Egypt, they unified their local god Amon with Ra, the sun god, and made Amon-Ra the king of the gods. Sobek, the crocodile god, alreadyn a coalescence of the elemental gods of earth, water, air, and fire, became Sobek-Ra and was depicted with a sun disk over his head.

In one of the first known instances of monotheism, the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten declared in 1344 BC that Aten, formerly a variant of the sun god Ra, now was the only god. The American composer Phillip Glass (b. 1937) celebrated Akhenaten’s religious beliefs in his 1983 opera Akhnaten, as he had the science of Albert Einstein (1879–1955) and the politics of Mohandas Gandhi (1869–1948) in earlier operas about people with inner visions who altered their cultures.

Some Egyptian rulers sought political stature through a cult of personality by associating themselves with the Sun. Queen Hatshepsut (d. 1458 BC) claimed that Amon was her father; and Rameses II (ca. 1303–1213 BC, and probably the pharaoh from whom Moses demanded release for his people), claimed to combine the powers of his father, of Amon, of Ra, and also of Set, god of the desert, and of Horus, whose two eyes were sometimes called the Sun and the Moon.


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