Monotheism in Egypt


AkhenatenAkhenaten, the first monotheist, had a belief and ritual system very close to that of his predecessors. His rule began around 1352 BC, when Egypt enjoyed a period of unprecedented prosperity. It had hegemony as far north as Canaan and an alliance with Mitanni to the north. Rather than seeing foreigners as the enemy forces of chaos, a view of them as also God’s creation was developing.

Akhenaten was at first the fourth king of the name Amenhotep, which includes the God-name Amun. Originally a local god of Thebes, Amun had become identified with Ra the Sun-god, portrayed as a man with the head of a falcon and the sun-disc above it. Osiris, God of the Underworld, was an aspect of Ra, and increasingly Ra was seen as the creator-God, with other gods aspects of him, or his created beings. Akhenaten’s god Aten was the sun, with the official name The Living One, Ra-Horus of the horizon who rejoices in the horizon in his identity of light which is in the sun-disc, commonly shortened to The Sun-disc, or Aten.

Amenhotep III was seen as the son of Amun-Ra, born of the Queen-mother in a sacred marriage ritually reenacted annually. Burger_AkhenatenHowever, Akhenaten built his own capital city, Akhetaten, “Horizon of the Aten” where the Aten manifests itself daily. Aten was depicted as a disc emitting rays ending in hands touching the king and queen, Aten’s children, and their family. All other gods, even seen as emanations of Aten, were banned.

Akhenaten was depicted with wide hips, feminine breasts and an elongated face. This style of depiction, as was usual, spread to depictions of his subjects. Portraits showed the royal family kissing and embracing, which was unprecedented. The informality and freedom of expression was a lasting influence for centuries. No statue of the God Aten was necessary: Aten was visible in the sky. The light of the Sun nourished all things continually.

Daily, the King rode by chariot along the 3.5km Royal Road from his riverside palace to the seat of government, symbolising the rising of the Sun. Akhenaten was “the creative manifestation of the Aten” through whom the God did his work. The king demanded total loyalty and worship. The dead existed in the roofless temple with Aten and the king.

After Akhenaten’s death, his cult was expunged. The boy-king Tutenkhaten’s name was adjusted to contain that of the old god, Tutenkhamun. The court moved back to Memphis and the religious centre to Thebes. Akhetaten and its temples were destroyed. The Hittites had defeated Egypt’s northern ally Mitanni, and Egyptian armies in the north failed- a sign that the Gods had deserted Egypt. It is likely that Akhenaten’s body was removed to a small undecorated tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

Here is a translation of the Great Hymn to the Aten, our source for Akhenaten’s doctrines. As before, this post is taken from the Oxford History of Ancient Egypt.

10 thoughts on “Monotheism in Egypt

        • Research??

          I have read it. The Great Hymn to the Aten:

          You rise beautiful from the horizon on heaven,
          living disk, origin of life.
          You are arisen from the horizon,
          you have filled every land with your beauty.
          You are fine, great, radiant, lofty over and above every land.
          Your rays bind the lands to the limit of all you have made,
          you are the sun, you have reached their limits.
          You bind them (for) your beloved son.
          You are distant, but your rays are on earth,
          You are in their sight, but your movements are hidden.

          You rest in the western horizon, and the land is in darkness in the manner of death,
          sleepers in chambers, heads covered,
          no eye can see its other.
          Anything of theirs can be taken from under their heads, they would not know.
          Every lion goes out from its den,
          every snake bites.
          Darkness envelops, the land is in silence, their creator is resting in his horizon.
          At daybreak, arisen from the hrozion, shining as the disk in day,
          you remove the darkness, you grant your rays,
          and the two lands are in festival,
          awakened and standing on their feet.
          You have raised them up, their bodies cleansed, clothing on,
          their arms are in adoration at your sunrise.

          The entire land carries out its tasks,
          every herd rests in its pastures,
          trees and plants are sprouting,
          birds flying up from their nests,
          their wings in adoration for your spirit.
          Every flock frolics afoot,
          all that fly up and alight,
          they live when you have shone for them.
          Boats sail north and south too,
          every road is opened at your sunrise,
          and the fish on the river leap at the sight of you
          Your rays penetrate the Great Green.

          You who cause the sperm to grow in women,
          who turns seed into people,
          who causes the son to live in the womb of his mother,
          who silences him in stopping him crying.
          Nurse in the womb, who gives breath to cause all he has made to live,
          when he goes down from the womb to breathe on the day of his birth,
          you open his mouth in form,
          you make his needs.
          When the chick in the egg speaks in the shell,
          you give it breath within to cause it to live,
          you have made him, he is complete, to break out from the egg,
          and he emerges from the egg to speak to his completion,
          and walks on his legs, going out from it.

          How numerous are your works, though hidden from sight.
          Unique god, there is none beside him.
          You mould the earth to your wish, you and you alone.
          All people, herds and flocks,
          All on earth that walk on legs,
          All on high that fly with their wings.
          And on the foreign lands of Khar and Kush, the land of Egypt
          You place every man in his place,
          you make what they need,
          so that everyone has his food,
          his lifespan counted.

          Tongues are separated in speech, and forms too –
          Their skins are made different,
          for you make foreign lands different.

          You make a Flood in the underworld, and bring it at your desire
          to cause the populace to live, as you made them for you,
          lord of all they labour over,
          the lord of every land.
          Shine for them, O disk of day, great of dignity.
          All distant lands, you make them live,
          you place a Flood in the sky, to descend for them,
          to make waves over the mountains like the Great Green,
          to water their fields with their settlements.
          How effective they are, your plans, O lord of eternity!
          A Flood in the sky for foreigners, for the flocks of every land that go on foot,
          and a Flood to come from the underworld for Egypt,
          your rays nursing every meadow,
          you shine and they live and grow for you.
          You make the seasons to nurture all you mae,
          winter to cool them,
          heat so they may taste you.

          You have made the far sky to shine in it,
          to see what you make, while you are far, and shining in your form as living disk.
          risen, shining, distant, near,
          you make millions of forms from yourself, lone one,
          cities, towns,. fields, the road of rivers,
          every eye sees you in their entry,
          you are the disk of day, master of your move,
          of the existence of every form,
          you create … alone, what you have made.

          You are in my heart, there is none other who knows you
          beside your son Neferkheperura-sole-one-of-Ra.
          You instruct him in your plans, in your strength.
          The land comes into being by your action, as you make them,
          and when you have shone, they live,
          when you rest, they die.
          You are lifetime, in your body,
          people live by you.
          Eyes are on your beauty until you set.
          All work is stopped when you set on the west;
          shine, and strengthen (all for) the king.
          Motion is in every leg, since you founded the earth,
          you raise them for your son who come from your body,
          the king who lives on Right, lord of the two lands,
          son of Ra who lives on Right, lord of Risings,
          Akhenaten, great in his lifespan,
          and the great king’s wife whom he loves, lady of the two lands,
          Neferneferuaten Nefertiti, eternally alive.

          Psalm 104:

          1 Bless the Lord, O my soul.
          O Lord my God, you are very great.
          You are clothed with honour and majesty,
          2 wrapped in light as with a garment.
          You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
          3 you set the beams of your[a] chambers on the waters,
          you make the clouds your[b] chariot,
          you ride on the wings of the wind,
          4 you make the winds your[c] messengers,
          fire and flame your[d] ministers.

          5 You set the earth on its foundations,
          so that it shall never be shaken.
          6 You cover it with the deep as with a garment;
          the waters stood above the mountains.
          7 At your rebuke they flee;
          at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
          8 They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys
          to the place that you appointed for them.
          9 You set a boundary that they may not pass,
          so that they might not again cover the earth.

          10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
          they flow between the hills,
          11 giving drink to every wild animal;
          the wild asses quench their thirst.
          12 By the streams[e] the birds of the air have their habitation;
          they sing among the branches.
          13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
          the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.

          14 You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
          and plants for people to use,[f]
          to bring forth food from the earth,
          15 and wine to gladden the human heart,
          oil to make the face shine,
          and bread to strengthen the human heart.
          16 The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,
          the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
          17 In them the birds build their nests;
          the stork has its home in the fir trees.
          18 The high mountains are for the wild goats;
          the rocks are a refuge for the coneys.
          19 You have made the moon to mark the seasons;
          the sun knows its time for setting.
          20 You make darkness, and it is night,
          when all the animals of the forest come creeping out.
          21 The young lions roar for their prey,
          seeking their food from God.
          22 When the sun rises, they withdraw
          and lie down in their dens.
          23 People go out to their work
          and to their labour until the evening.

          24 O Lord, how manifold are your works!
          In wisdom you have made them all;
          the earth is full of your creatures.
          25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
          creeping things innumerable are there,
          living things both small and great.
          26 There go the ships,
          and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

          27 These all look to you
          to give them their food in due season;
          28 when you give to them, they gather it up;
          when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
          29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
          when you take away their breath, they die
          and return to their dust.
          30 When you send forth your spirit,[g] they are created;
          and you renew the face of the ground.

          31 May the glory of the Lord endure for ever;
          may the Lord rejoice in his works—
          32 who looks on the earth and it trembles,
          who touches the mountains and they smoke.
          33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
          I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
          34 May my meditation be pleasing to him,
          for I rejoice in the Lord.
          35 Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
          and let the wicked be no more.
          Bless the Lord, O my soul.
          Praise the Lord!


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