Atenism | Wikipedia audio article


Atenism, or the “Amarna heresy”, refers to
the religious changes associated with the eighteenth dynasty Pharaoh Amenhotep IV, better
known under his adopted name, Akhenaten. In the 14th century BC, Atenism was Egypt’s
state religion for around 20 years, before subsequent rulers returned to the traditional
gods and the Pharaohs associated with Atenism were erased from Egyptian records.==History of Aten before Akhenaten==Aten, the god of Atenism, first appears in
texts dating to the 12th dynasty, in the Story of Sinuhe. During the Middle Kingdom, Aten “as the sun
disk…was merely one aspect of the sun god Re.” It was a relatively obscure sun god; without
the Atenist period, it would barely have figured in Egyptian history. Although there are indications that it was
becoming slightly more important during the eighteenth dynasty, notably Amenhotep III’s
naming of his royal barge as Spirit of the Aten, it was Amenhotep IV who introduced the
Atenist revolution in a series of steps culminating in the official installment of the Aten as
Egypt’s sole god. Although each line of kings prior to the reign
of Akhenaten had previously adopted one deity as the royal patron and supreme state god,
there had never been an attempt to exclude other deities, and the multitude of gods had
always been tolerated and worshipped. During the reign of Thutmosis IV, it was identified
as a distinct solar god, and his son Amenhotep III established and promoted a separate cult
for the Aten. There is no evidence that Amenhotep III neglected
the other gods or attempted to promote the Aten as an exclusive deity.==Atenist revolution==
Amenhotep IV initially introduced Atenism in the fifth year of his reign (1348/1346
BC), raising Aten to the status of supreme god, after having initially permitted continued
worship of the traditional gods. To emphasise the change, Aten’s name was written
in the cartouche form normally reserved for Pharaohs, an innovation of Atenism. The religious reformation appears to coincide
with the proclamation of a Sed festival, a sort of royal jubilee intended to reinforce
the Pharaoh’s divine powers of kingship. Traditionally held in the thirtieth year of
the Pharaoh’s reign, it possibly was a festival in honour of Amenhotep III. Some Egyptologists think that he had a coregency
with Amenhotep IV of 2-12 years. The fifth year is believed to mark the beginning
of Amenhotep IV’s construction of a new capital, Akhetaten (Horizon of the Aten), at the site
known today as Amarna. Evidence appears on three of the boundary
stelae used to mark the boundaries of this new capital. Then, Amenhotep IV officially changed his
name to Akhenaten (Spirit of the Aten) as evidence of his new worship. The date given for the event has been estimated
to fall around January 2 of that year. In the seventh year of his reign (1346/1344
BC), the capital was moved from Thebes to Akhetaten, but construction of the city seems
to have continued for two more years. In shifting his court from the traditional
ceremonial centres, he was signalling a dramatic transformation in the focus of religious and
political power. The move separated the Pharaoh and his court
from the influence of the priesthood and from the traditional centres of worship, but his
decree had deeper religious significance too. Taken in conjunction with his name change,
it is possible that the move to Amarna was also meant as a signal of Akhenaten’s symbolic
death and rebirth. It may also have coincided with the death
of his father and the end of the coregency. In addition to constructing a new capital
in honor of Aten, Akhenaten also oversaw the construction of some of the most massive temple
complexes in ancient Egypt, including one at Karnak and one at Thebes, close to the
old temple of Amun. In the ninth year of his reign (1344/1342
BC), Akhenaten declared a more radical version of his new religion, declaring Aten not merely
the supreme god of the Egyptian pantheon but the only God of Egypt, with himself as the
sole intermediary between the Aten and the Egyptian people. Key features of Atenism included a ban on
idols and other images of the Aten, with the exception of a rayed solar disc in which the
rays (commonly depicted ending in hands) appear to represent the unseen spirit of Aten. Aten was addressed by Akhenaten in prayers,
such as the Great Hymn to the Aten: “O Sole God beside whom there is none”. Aten’s name is also written differently after
the ninth year of the Pharaoh’s rule to emphasise the radicalism of the new regime. Aten, instead of being written with the symbol
of a rayed solar disc, now became spelled phonetically. The details of Atenist theology are still
unclear. The exclusion of all but one god and the prohibition
of idols was a radical departure from Egyptian tradition, but most scholars see Akhenaten
as a practitioner of monolatry rather than monotheism, as he did not actively deny the
existence of other gods. He simply refrained from worshiping any but
Aten. It is known that Atenism did not attribute
divinity only to Aten. Akhenaten continued the cult of the Pharaoh,
proclaiming himself the son of Aten and encouraging the Egyptian people to worship him. The Egyptian people were to worship Akhenaten,
and only Akhenaten and Nefertiti could worship Aten directly.==Contrast with traditional Egyptian religion
==Akhenaten carried out a radical program of
religious reform. For about twenty years, he largely supplanted
the age-old beliefs and practices of the Egyptian state religion, and deposed its religious
hierarchy, headed by the powerful priesthood of Amun at Thebes. For fifteen centuries, the Egyptians had worshiped
an extended family of gods and goddesses, each of which had its own elaborate system
of priests, temples, shrines and rituals. A key feature of the cults was the veneration
of images and statues of the gods, which were worshipped in the dark confines of the temples. The pinnacle of the religious hierarchy was
the Pharaoh, both king and living god. Administration of the Egyptian kingdom was
thus inextricably bound up with and largely controlled by the power and influence of the
priests and scribes. Akhenaten’s reforms cut away both the philosophical
and economic bases of priestly power, abolishing the cults of all other deities and, with them,
the large and lucrative industry of sacrifices and tributes that the priests controlled. At the same time, he strengthened the role
of the Pharaoh. Dominic Montserrat, analysing the various
versions of the hymns to the Aten, argues that all versions of the hymns focus on the
king; he suggests that the real innovation is to redefine the relationship of god and
king in a way that benefited Akhenaten, quoting a statement of Egyptologist John Baines: “Amarna
religion was a religion of god and king, or even of king first and then god”.Initially,
Akhenaten presented Aten to the Egyptian people as a variant of the familiar supreme deity
Amun-Ra (itself the result of an earlier rise to prominence of the cult of Amun, resulting
in Amun becoming merged with the sun god Ra), in an attempt to put his ideas in a familiar
religious context. Aten is the name given to the solar disc,
and the full title of Akhenaten’s god was Ra-Horus, who rejoices in the horizon in his
name of the light which is in the sun disc. (That is the title of the god as it appears
on numerous stelae, placed to mark the boundaries of Akhenaten’s new capital at Akhetaten.) However, in the ninth year of his reign Akhenaten
declared a more radical version of his new religion by declaring Aten not merely the
supreme god but the only god, and Akhenaten was the son of Aten was the only intermediary
between the Aten and his people. He ordered the defacing of Amun’s temples
throughout Egypt. Key features of Atenism included a ban on
idols and other images of the Aten, with the exception of a rayed solar disc in which the
rays, commonly depicted as ending in hands, appear to represent the unseen spirit of Aten. New temples were constructed in which the
Aten was worshipped in the open sunlight rather than in dark temple enclosures, as the old
gods had been. Although idols were banned, even in people’s
homes, they were typically replaced by functionally equivalent representations of Akhenaten and
his family venerating the Aten and receiving the ankh (breath of life) from him. The radicalisation of the ninth year, including
spelling Aten phonetically instead of using the rayed solar disc, may be a determination
on the part of Akhenaten to dispel a probable misconception among the common people that
Aten was really a type of sun god like Ra. Instead, the idea was reinforced that such
representations were representations above all of concepts, of Aten’s universal presence,
not of physical beings or things.==Amarna art==Styles of art that flourished during the brief
period are markedly different from other Egyptian art. They bear a variety of affectations, from
elongated heads to protruding stomachs, exaggerated ugliness and the beauty of Nefertiti. Significantly, for the only time in the history
of Egyptian royal art, Akhenaten’s family was depicted in a decidedly naturalistic manner. It is clearly shown displaying affection. Images of Akhenaten and Nefertiti usually
depict the Aten prominently above that pair, with the hands of the Aten closest to each
offering Ankhs. Unusually for New Kingdom art, the Pharaoh
and his wife are depicted as approximately equal in size, with Nefertiti’s image used
to decorate the lesser Aten temple at Amarna. That may suggest that she also had a prominent
official role in Aten worship. Artistic representations of Akhenaten usually
give him an unusual appearance, with slender limbs, a protruding belly and wide hips. Other leading figures of the Amarna period,
both royal and otherwise, are also shown with some of these features, suggesting a possible
religious connotation, especially as some sources suggest that private representations
of Akhenaten, as opposed to official art, show him as quite normal. It is also suggested by Bob Brier, in his
book “The Murder of Tutankhamen”, that the family suffered from Marfan’s syndrome, which
is known to cause elongated features, which may explain Akhenaten’s appearance.==Decline==
Crucial evidence about the latter stages of Akhenaten’s reign was furnished by discovery
of the so-called Amarna Letters. Believed to have been thrown away by scribes
after being transferred to papyrus, the letters comprise a priceless cache of incoming clay
message tablets sent from imperial outposts and foreign allies. The letters suggest that Akhenaten was obsessed
with his new religion, and his neglect of matters of state was causing disorder across
the massive Egyptian empire. The governors and kings of subject domains
wrote to beg for gold and complained of being snubbed and cheated. Also discovered were reports that a major
plague pandemic was spreading across the ancient Near East. This pandemic appears to have claimed the
life of Akhenaten’s main wife (Nefertiti) and several of his six daughters, which may
have contributed to a declining interest on the part of Akhenaten in governing effectively. With Akhenaten’s death, the Aten cult he had
founded almost immediately fell out of favor due to pressures from the Priesthood of Amun. Tutankhaten, who succeeded him at 8 (with
Akhenaten’s old vizier, Ay, as regent) changed his name to Tutankhamun in the third year
of his reign (1330 BC) and abandoned Akhetaten, the city falling into ruin. The temples that Akhenaten had built from
talaat blocks, including the temple at Thebes, were disassembled by later pharaohs, reused
as a source of building materials and decorations for their own temples, and inscriptions to
Aten were defaced. Finally, Akhenaten, Smenkhkare, Tutankhamun,
and Ay were removed from the official lists of Pharaohs, which instead reported that Amenhotep
III was immediately succeeded by Horemheb.==Link to monotheism in Abrahamic religions
==Because of the monolatristic or monotheistic
character of Atenism, a link to Judaism (or other monotheistic religions) has been suggested
by various writers. For example, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud assumed
Akhenaten to be the pioneer of monotheistic religion and Moses as Akhenaten’s follower
in his book Moses and Monotheism (see also Osarseph). The Egyptian author Ahmed Osman went as far
as to claim that Moses and Akhenaten were the same person.==Atenism in modern culture==
American composer Philip Glass composed a grand opera about Akhenaten which sets texts
from the Amarna letters and Hymn to the Aten. Finnish author Mika Waltari used the idea
of Aten and Atenism in his historical novel The Egyptian. New Zealand-Canadian author Pauline Gedge
did the same in her 1984 historical novel The Twelfth Transforming. “Son of the Sun”, a song by the symphonic
metal band Therion, is critical of Atenism and monotheism. In the video game The Secret World, the Aten
is a malevolent supernatural force that wants to destroy Egypt, and Akhenaten is a victim
of its mind control.==Atenism in literature==
Mahfouz, Naguib, Akhenaten: Dweller in Truth ISBN 0-385-49909-4
Prokopiou, Angelos, Pharaoh Akhenaton Theatr. Play. 1st ed. 1961 Athens. ISBN 960-7327-66-7==See also==
Solar deity==References====Further reading==
Aldred, Cyril, Akhenaten, King of Egypt (1988) Thames & Hudson. ISBN 978-0-500-05048-4
Assmann, Jan (1995). Egyptian Solar Religion: Re, Amun and the
Crisis of Polytheism. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-7103-0465-0
Hornung, Erik (1999). Akhenaten and the Religion of Light. Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0-8014-8725-5
Redford, Donald B. (1984). Akhenaten: The Heretic King. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-00217-0==External links==
Works related to Great Hymn to Aten at Wikisource

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