The Great Hymn to the Aten

stela of akhenaten and nefertiti

akhenaten worshiping atenHere is the Great Hymn to the Aten, translated by Miriam Lichtheim; also here.

God is the Lifegiver, and when God turns his face away, we are blind and incapable; then when God appears, we are enabled to live our lives.

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 horizon, 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.

This is not literally true: in the night time, there is moonlight and starlight. Rather it is a picture of our dependence on God: without God, we are nothing, and can do nothing.

The trees and the birds depend on God. God makes us grow in our mothers’ wombs, and chicks in the egg. God rules all lands, and makes all that they need for them. God decrees that foreigners have different skin, and different languages; God cares for them differently, because God makes Egypt fertile with a flood from the Underworld, a flood from the Bust of Nefretiti, wife of AkhenatenNile, and foreign lands fertile by a flood from the sky, which is the Rain. This contrasts with the earlier idea that foreigners were the enemy, part of the forces of chaos against the Gods’ civilisation in Egypt.

God is the creator of all:

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.

This is a hymn of praise, for God gives all we need. There is only one request in it: shine, and strengthen (all for) the king. At the end comes a description of the king, Akhenaten, the son of God:

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.

I tend to think that Psalm 104 is independent of this, and no rip-off: a better analogy is convergent evolution. Both writers seek to praise God the ruler of the Universe and fount of all life. Akhenaten’s successors sought to expunge his beliefs, and razed his temples. Moses, traditionally associated with the Ramessid kings, was perhaps a henotheist: he worshipped only one God, but believed the gods of other tribes existed.

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