Egyptian Religion: Akhenaton and the Solar Disc

Akhenaton

Reign of Akhenaton (1367-1350 BCE) during the New Kingdom, when Thebes was the capital of Egypt.
He moved the capital from Thebes, the center of worship of Amon-Re, to Amarna, and deprived the powerful priests of Amon-Re of their posts. Changed name from Amenhotep IV, which means "Amon is satisfied," to Akhen-aton, "pleasing to the Aton," or "serves the Aton."
Akhenaton achieved no lasting political influence. After his death, the capital reverted to Thebes and the sanctuary of Amon-Re became the main religious influence again.

There were various sun g-ds in Egypt, each representing a concrete natural form of the sun:
Khoprer or Khepri (beetle) was the rising sun
Re (falcon) was the noonday sun
Amon was the setting sun

Akhenaton made sun symbolism more abstract: instead of conceiving of the sun in its various real manifestations, all of them became the Aton, the solar disk, which had no cult statue, and no animal symbol.

Akhenaton's belief was henotheism: he did not take the step of saying the other g-ds did not exist, but said there was no g-d like the Aton, and that all others were subordinate to the Aton. He took the step of closing the temples of other g-ds. Henotheism stresses the inferiority of the other g-ds to the one major divinity. Henotheism means literally the worship of "one g-d" (among other g-ds)"; monotheism means the worship of "one and only one g-d."

The Aton was a universal divinity: made the various peoples of different skin colors, and sustains them all either through the "Nile above" (rain) or the "Nile below" (flooding of Nile comes form under earth, a peculiarity in Egypt).
He is the creator and sustainer of all animal life.
He is the creator of every human in the womb, overseer at birth: "one lives only through you." He is also personally accessible to the believer: "You are in my heart."

Psalm 104 in the Hebrew Bible has many striking similarities with the Hymn to the Aton in its presentation of g-d as the creator and sustainer of all human and animal life. The Psalm was written much later. However, the children of Israel were probably in Egypt from around 1900 to 1200 BCE, which included the reign of Akhenaton (1367-1350). There was probably some mutual influence, although one cannot be sure who was influencing whom. Like Akhenaton, the Israelites had an abstract divinity represented with no natural symbol.

Hymn to the Aton (excerpts)

How manifold it is, what you have made!
They are hidden from the face of man.
O sole god, like whom there is no other
You did create the world according to your desire,
while you were alone:


All men, cattle and wild beasts,
Whatever is on earth going upon its feet
And what is on high, flying with its wings . . .


You set every man in his place,
You supply their necessities:
Everyone has his food,
and his time of life is reckoned.

Psalm 104 (excerpt):

O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them every one;
the earth is full of your creatures.


These all look to you to give them their food in due season; . . .
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.

When you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground.





 

 


return to syllabus