The New Kingdom Dynasty XVIII--Akhenaten's Aten Cult


Figure 1.--.

Amenhotep's religious convictions appear to have evolved, even after he became pharoah. Hi religious zeal, however, was notable at a very early point. [Aldred, p. 66.] He was young when he asscened to the throne and turned to his mother and other advisors for guidance. Akhenaten almost certainly was influenced by his family, especially mother and his wife. [Dunham, p. 4.] It may not be nearly the individual by a phaaraoh as it is often depictd. Some Egyptologists have noted increasing attention to the Aten cult (sun-worship) in the court of Akhenaten's father, Amenhotep III. As Akhenaten's reign progressed, the Aten was depicted increasingly often. He and Queen Nefertiti eventually changed their names. He became Akhenaten, incorporating the name of the sun god Aten into his name only in the 5th or 6th year of his reign. [Aldred, p. 64.] He supressed the traditional religion and attempted to replace it with a kind of solar monotheism. The priests of Atum and other traditional gods were dispossed and official celebrations ended. The names of the old gods were removed from state monuments. References to the plural form of the gods were obliterated. [Aldred, p. 66.] Akhenaten is sometimes portrayed as a religious vissionary. Some maintain that he was inspired by the Hebrews, either Joseph or Moses. [Redford, p. 4.] Joseph if he was an historical figure would have been roughly contemporaneous with Akhenaten. Perhaps he was actually the inspiration for Hebrew monothism or at least influenced it. There are, however, beyond basic monotheism, major theological differences betwen Aten and Jehova (Yaweh). Akhenaten's cult of Aten was the worship of one god. Aten was a visible, tangible god. Akhenaten enphasized truth, but unlike the Hebrews ttached no great emphasis to faith. Akhenaten religious conversion was unprecedented. He turned over a milenia of tradition when he renounced the numerous gods worshipped by the Egyptians and abolished the priesthood of Amun. He established a new order based on the worship the sun god Aten and changed his name to Akhenaten, meaning "servant of the Aten." Some Egyptologists believe he advoacted a kind of universal brotherhood of man under a single god. Indeed the sun god and disk symbol potentially had a universal appeal in Egypt's foreign dominions that Egypts zoomorphic gods good never hope to achieve. [Aldred, pp. 66-67.] Akhenaten's religious beliefs, however, are a matter of considerable debate among Egyptologists. Some see him not as a monotheist visionary, but rather a relgious fanactic. There is some evidence that aat least some officials used the religious turmoil to take advantage of the peasantry. Mote than theology may have been involv in the confrontation between Akhnaten. Some Egyptologists believe that the conflict was more of political struggle. The priesthood of Amen has acquired great economic and political power threatening the dominance of pharaoh himself. [Tuthill] Similar struggles occurred in medieval Europe between royal national centralism and a pan-European church. Not all Egyutologists are convincd that Akhentan persued an esentially political struggle. [Mertz, p. 269.] Indeed some of the artifacts of the Aten cult, such as poetry written by Akhenten seem to reveal religious passion. Still political factors should not be discounted and may well have been contributing factors.

Evolution

Amenhotep's religious convictions appear to have evolved, even after he became pharoah. His religious zeal, however, was notable at a very early point. [Aldred, p. 66.]

Personal Influences

He was young when he asscened to the throne and turned to his mother and other advisors for guidance. Akhenaten almost certainly was influenced by his family, especially mother and his wife. [Dunham, p. 4.] It may not be nearly the individual by a phaaraoh as it is often depictd. Some Egyptologists have noted increasing attention to the Aten cult (sun-worship) in the court of Akhenaten's father, Amenhotep III. As Akhenaten's reign progressed, the Aten was depicted increasingly often.

Name Change

He and Queen Nefertiti eventually changed their names. He became Akhenaten, incorporating the name of the sun god Aten into his name only in the 5th or 6th year of his reign. [Aldred, p. 64.]

Supression of Old Religion

He supressed the traditional religion and attempted to replace it with a kind of solar monotheism. The priests of Atum and other traditional gods were dispossed and official celebrations ended. The names of the old gods were removed from state monuments. References to the plural form of the gods were obliterated. [Aldred, p. 66.]

Visionary or Zealot

Akhenaten is sometimes portrayed as a religious vissionary. Akhenaten religious conversion was unprecedented. He turned over a milenia of tradition when he renounced the numerous gods worshipped by the Egyptians and abolished the priesthood of Amun.

The Hebrews

Some maintain that he was inspired by the Hebrews, either Joseph or Moses. [Redford, p. 4.] Joseph if he was an historical figure would have been roughly contemporaneous with Akhenaten. Perhaps he was actually the inspiration for Hebrew monothism or at least influenced it. There are, however, beyond basic monotheism, major theological differences betwen Aten and Jehova (Yaweh). Akhenaten's cult of Aten was the worship of one god. Aten was a visible, tangible god. Akhenaten enphasized truth, but unlike the Hebrews attached no great emphasis to faith.

Universal Creed

Akhenaten established a new order based on the worship the sun god Aten and changed his name to Akhenaten, meaning "servant of the Aten." Some Egyptologists believe he advoacted a kind of universal brotherhood of man under a single god. Indeed the sun god and disk symbol potentially had a universal appeal in Egypt's foreign dominions that Egypts zoomorphic gods good never hope to achieve. [Aldred, pp. 66-67.] Akhenaten's religious beliefs, however, are a matter of considerable debate among Egyptologists. Some see him not as a monotheist visionary, but rather a relgious fanactic. A poem found in the tomb of Ay, the priest who became pharaoh after Tutankhamun, is believed to have actually been written by Akhenaten himself. The poem expresses a commitment to a univrsal faith, a sharp departure from the highly nationalistic creed that Egypt hadfollowedfor 20 centuries. Akhenaten Aten creed was based on the fatherly care of all men, irrespctive of raceand natioanlity. This concept went far beyond the highly nationalistic monotheism of the Hebrews and Ankenaten refers to Aten as the "father and mother of all that he made". In addition to a world diety and creator, Ankenaten saw a benefical purpose in Aten. [Aldred, p. 67.] These religious concepts reveal a sophistication and universiality still not fully comprehended in the 21st century by mankind.

Truth

Akhenaten in his teachings placed a great reliance on truth or "maet". This appears to have been an element introduced by Akhenaten personally. He attached the phrase "living in truth" to his many titles. There is no comparable emphasis in religious devotion to truth either before or after Akhenaten. [Aldred, p. 67.] Besides the theological connotations, there were implications on Egyptian art. The artistic depictions of Akhenaten and Nefertiti and their clothing are believed to be some of the most accurate in pharonic art. In Akhenaten case they revealed an almost bizarre appearance. In the case of Nefertiti great beauty was revealed. This realism carried over in the reign of Tutankhamun. His gold funery mask is, for example, a master piece of realism. This meant not only accurate depictions, but also intimate scenes. No other pharaoh and is family is no intimately depicted. The postures are relacked, familar, and unaffected. This of course makes art during the reign of Ankhenatn and Tutankhamun of special interest to HBC in our assessment of family, childhood, and children's clothes. Akhenaten himseld appears to have insisted on this artistic approach. The Chief Sculptor in his court, a man nammed Bek claims that Akhenaten himself instructed him and that he and other other cout artists were instructed to express in their art what they saw. [Aldred, p. 67.]

Impact on Egypt

There is some evidence that at least some officials used the religious turmoil to take advantage of the peasantry. Some authors describe popular resentment at the supression of the old gods. [Aldred, p. 68.] Certainly the dispsseded Amun priesthood was resentful. The army must have resented Ankenaten's pacifism and tge eroding military position in Palestine. As to the beliefs of the peasantry, there is little actual evidence. Logic suggests that 20 centuries of religious tradition can not be overturned in only a few years. This suggests that the new Aten cult could not have been fully accepted at Akhneaten's death. The lack of resistance to the supression of the Aten cult after Akhennaten suggests this. Also official decrees of Heremhab speak to the use their official position to take advantage of the peasantry. One author believes that abuses could have arisen in regional and local government as Akhenaten was absorbed with religious matters. He believes that the Egyptian peasantry may have been burdened with arbitrary, onerous taxes and other burdensome exactions by gready officials. These actiins by local officials may have also depleted tgefinances of the pharaoh and his national government. [Aldred, p.86.] It is difficult to judge to what extent this reflects actual occuances or one regime justifying itself.

Political Role

More than theology may have been involved in the confrontation between Akhnaten. Some Egyptologists believe that the conflict was more of political struggle. The priesthood of Amen has acquired great economic and political power threatening the dominance of pharaoh himself. [Tuthill] Similar struggles occurred in medieval Europe between royal national centralism and a pan-European church. Not all Egyptologists are convincd that Akhentan persued an esentially political struggle. [Mertz, p. 269.] Indeed some of the artifacts of the Aten cult, such as poetry written by Akhenten seem to reveal religious passion. Still political factors should not be discounted and may well have been contributing factors. Throughout history, major religious eventds are also accompanied by social, economic, and political events. It seems likely that this major religious event in the 18th dynasty may have been associated with such social, economic, and political events although few details are available.

Sources

Aldred, Cyril. Akhenaten: Pharaoh of Egypt--A New Study (McGraw-Hill: New York, 1968), 272p.

Dunham, Barrows. Heroes and Heretics (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1963).

Mertz, Barbara. Red Land, Black Land (New York: Coward McCann, 1966).

Redford, Donald B. Akhenaten: The Heretic King (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1984).

Tuthil, John.







HBC






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Created: May 8, 2003
Last updated: May 8, 2003