On (abode or city of the sun), a town of lower Egypt, called Beth-shemesh in Jer. 43:13. On is better known under its Greek name Heliopolis. It was situated on the east side of the Pelusiac branch of the Nile, just below the point of the Delta, and about twenty miles northeast of Memphis. The chief object of worship at Heliopolis was the sun, whose temple, described by Strabo, is now only represented by the single beautiful obelisk, of red granite, 68 feet 2 inches high above the pedestal, which has stood for more than 4000 years, having been erected by Usirtesen, the second king of the twelfth dynasty. Heliopolis was anciently famous for its learning, and Eudoxus and Plato studied under its priests. The first mention of this place in the Bible is in the history of Joseph, to whom we read Pharaoh gave “to wife Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On.” Gen. 41:45, comp. ver. 50, and 46:20. (On is to be remembered not only as the home of Joseph, but as the traditional place to which his far-off namesake took Mary and the babe Jesus in the flight to Egypt. The two famous obelisks, long called “Cleopatra’s Needles,” one of which now stands in London and the other in Central Park in New York city, once stood before this city, and were seen by the children of Israel before the exodus, having been quarried at Syene on the Nile, erected at On (Heliopolis) by Thothmes III, b.c. 1500, and inscriptions added by Rameses II (Sesostris) two hundred years later. They were taken to Alexandria by Augustus Cæsar a.d. 23, from which they were removed to their present places.—Ed.)
Obelisk at Heliopolis (On).