Atenism

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Pharaoh Akhenaten and his family adoring the Aten. La salle dAkhenaton (1356-1340 av J.C.) (Musee du Caire) (2076972086).jpg
Pharaoh Akhenaten and his family adoring the Aten.

Atenism, the Aten religion, [1] the Amarna religion, [2] or the "Amarna heresy" was a religion and the religious changes associated with the ancient Egyptian Eighteenth Dynasty pharaoh Akhenaten. [3] The religion centered on the cult of the god Aten, depicted as the disc of the Sun and originally an aspect of the traditional solar deity Ra. [4] In the 14th century BC, Atenism was Egypt's state religion for about 20 years, before subsequent rulers returned to the traditional polytheistic religion and the pharaohs associated with Atenism were erased from Egyptian records.

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History of Aten before Akhenaten

The word Aten (Ancient Egyptian : jtn ), meaning "circle," "disc," and later "sun disc," is first found in the 24th century BC Abusir Papyri, discovered in the mortuary temple of the Fifth Dynasty pharaoh Neferirkare Kakai. [5] Aten, the god of Atenism, first appears as a god in texts dating to the Twelfth Dynasty, in the Story of Sinuhe . [6] During the Middle Kingdom, Aten "as the sun disk...was merely one aspect of the sun god Re." [4] 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 [4] 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. However, there is no evidence that Amenhotep III neglected the other gods or attempted to promote the Aten as an exclusive deity.[ citation needed ]

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, initially permitting continued worship of the traditional gods. [7] Later Akhenaten forbade the worship of other gods, a radical departure from the centuries of Egyptian religious practice. [8] [9] 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 name of god Amun was erased, probably during the Amarna era of Akhenaten. Detail of stela of Djeserka, a doorkeeper of the Amun temple at Thebes. From Thebes, Egypt. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London The name of god Amun was erased, probably during Amarna era of Akhenaten. Detail of stela of Djeserka, a doorkeeper of the Amun temple at Thebes. From Thebes, Egypt. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London.jpg
The name of god Amun was erased, probably during the Amarna era of Akhenaten. Detail of stela of Djeserka, a doorkeeper of the Amun temple at Thebes. From Thebes, Egypt. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London
Hieroglyphs on the backpillar of Amenhotep III's statue. There are 2 places where Akhenaten's agents erased the name Amun, later restored on a deeper surface. The British Museum, London Hieroglyphs on the backpillar of Amenhotep III's statue. There are 2 places where Akhenaten's agents erased the name Amun, later restored on a deeper surface. The British Museum, London.jpg
Hieroglyphs on the backpillar of Amenhotep III's statue. There are 2 places where Akhenaten's agents erased the name Amun, later restored on a deeper surface. The British Museum, London

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.

Detail of funerary stela of Amenemhat. The name of God Amun was erased by Akhenaten's agents. Limestone, painted. From Egypt, early 18th Dynasty. The Burrell Collection, Glasgow Detail of funerary stela of Amenemhat. The name of God Amun was erased by Akhenaten's agents. Limestone, painted. From Egypt, early 18thh Dynasty. The Burrell Collection, Glasgow.jpg
Detail of funerary stela of Amenemhat. The name of God Amun was erased by Akhenaten's agents. Limestone, painted. From Egypt, early 18th Dynasty. The Burrell Collection, Glasgow

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 some 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.[ citation needed ]

Finally, Akhenaten issued a royal decree that the name Aten was no longer to be depicted by the hieroglyph of a solar disc emanating rays but instead had to be spelled out phonetically. Akhenaton's religious reforms (later reversed under his successor Pharaoh Tutankhamun) have been described by some scholars as monotheistic, though others consider them to be henotheistic. [10] [11]

However some historians argue that only Akhenaten and Nefertiti could worship Aten directly. [12]

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". [13] [14]

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 as the son of Aten was the only intermediary between the Aten and his people. [15] 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. Later still, even this was done away. [16] [17]

Amarna art

Akhenaten raising offerings to the Aten Akhenaten raise offerings to the Aten.jpg
Akhenaten raising offerings to the Aten

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 Brier [18] that the family suffered from Marfan's syndrome, which is known to cause elongated features, which may explain Akhenaten's appearance.

Decline

Aten Aten.svg
Aten

The collapse of Atenism began during Akhenaten's late reign, when a major plague spread across the ancient Near East. This pandemic appears to have claimed the life of numerous royal family members and high-ranking officials, possibly contributing to the decline of Akhenaten's government. The events of this period are not well known due to the paucity and fragmentary nature of surviving sources. According to the most likely scenario, the widespread deaths due to plague caused Akhenaten to appoint two co-regents in quick succession: Smenkhkare and Neferneferuaten. The origin of both is not attested, though it has been speculated that Smenkhkare was a younger brother of Akhenaten, whereas Neferneferuaten was in fact Queen Nefertiti. Smenkhkare died after a short reign, eventually leaving Neferneferuaten as the acting regent of Egypt. [19]

Though Akhenaten's last years saw possibly the most aggressive repression of Amun and, less likely, other gods, his death quickly resulted in the resurgence of the old cults. Neferneferuaten appears to have attempted to reach some accommodation with the Amun priesthood, while still preserving a less exclusive form of Atenism. [20] After a few years, however, Neferneferuaten disappeared, and her successor Tutankhaten (with Akhenaten's old vizier, Ay, as regent) changed his name to Tutankhamun in the third year of his reign (c. 1330 BC), restored power to the Amun priesthood, and moved the capital away from Akhetaten, perhaps to Memphis, or, less likely, Thebes. [20]

The following two decades saw Atenism's terminal decline. Most of the temples that Akhenaten had built from talatat blocks, including the temple at Thebes, were disassembled, reused as a source of building materials and decorations for other temples, and inscriptions to Aten were defaced. Though Akhetaten was not fully abandoned, and the local Aten temple continued to function, most residents left over time. After Ay's short rule as pharaoh in his own right following Tutankhamun's death, his general, Horemheb, a non-royal, came to power. He ordered a purge of the Amarna Period rulers, removing Akhenaten, Smenkhkare, Neferneferuaten, Tutankhamun, and Ay from the official lists of Pharaohs, and destroying their monuments, including most remaining Aten temples. [21] Nevertheless, the Aten temple in Akhetaten was still in use during Horemheb's first years, suggesting that the purge was not universal, perhaps leaving some small pockets of Atenism in Egypt. [22]

Though this marked the de facto end of Atenism, the revolutionary cult left some lasting impact on Ancient Egyptian religion. For example, some changes of funerary rites during the Amarna Period remained in place under Horemheb and his successors. [23]

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 .

The modern Druze regard their religion as being descended from and influenced by older monotheistic and mystic movements, including Atenism. [24] In particular, they attribute the Tawhid's first public declaration to Akhenaten. [25]

Atenism in modern culture

Atenism in literature

See also

Related Research Articles

Aten Ancient Egyptian god

Aten also Aton, Atonu, or Itn was the focus of Atenism, the religious system established in ancient Egypt by the Eighteenth Dynasty pharaoh Akhenaten. The Aten was the disc of the sun and originally an aspect of Ra, the sun god in traditional ancient Egyptian religion. Akhenaten, however, made it the sole focus of official worship during his reign. In his poem "Great Hymn to the Aten", Akhenaten praises Aten as the creator, giver of life, and nurturing spirit of the world. Aten does not have a creation myth or family but is mentioned in the Book of the Dead. The worship of Aten was initially dismantled by Tutankhamun and later eradicated by Tutankhamun's former military general Horemheb.

Akhenaten 18th Dynasty pharaoh

Akhenaten, also spelled Echnaton, Akhenaton,, was an ancient Egyptian pharaoh reigning c. 1353–1336 or 1351–1334 BC, the tenth ruler of the Eighteenth Dynasty. Before the fifth year of his reign, he was known as Amenhotep IV.

Nefertiti Wife of Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten

Neferneferuaten Nefertiti was a queen of the 18th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt, the great royal wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten. Nefertiti and her husband were known for a religious revolution, in which they worshipped solely the sun disc, Aten, as the only god. With her husband, she reigned at what was arguably the wealthiest period of ancient Egyptian history. Some scholars believe that Nefertiti ruled briefly as Neferneferuaten after her husband's death and before the ascension of Tutankhamun, although this identification is a matter of ongoing debate. If Nefertiti did rule as Pharaoh, her reign was marked by the fall of Amarna and relocation of the capital back to the traditional city of Thebes.

Tiye Queen consort of Egypt

Tiye was the daughter of Yuya and Thuya. She became the Great Royal Wife of the Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep III. She was the mother of Akhenaten and grandmother of Tutankhamun. In 2010, DNA analysis confirmed her as the mummy known as "The Elder Lady" found in the tomb of Amenhotep II (KV35) in 1898.

Monolatry is the belief in the existence of many gods, but with the consistent worship of only one deity. The term monolatry was perhaps first used by Julius Wellhausen.

Amenhotep III Ninth Pharaoh of the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt

Amenhotep III, also known as Amenhotep the Magnificent or Amenhotep the Great, was the ninth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty. According to different authors, he ruled Egypt from June 1386 to 1349 BC, or from June 1388 BC to December 1351 BC/1350 BC, after his father Thutmose IV died. Amenhotep was Thutmose's son by a minor wife, Mutemwiya.

Ay (pharaoh) Egyptian pharaoh of the late 18th Dynasty (14th century BCE)

Ay was the penultimate pharaoh of ancient Egypt's 18th Dynasty. He held the throne of Egypt for a brief four-year period in the late 14th century BC. Prior to his rule, he was a close advisor to two, and perhaps three, other pharaohs of the dynasty. It is theorized that he was the power behind the throne during Tutankhamun's reign. His prenomenKheperkheperure means "Everlasting are the Manifestations of Ra," while his nomenAy it-netjer reads as "Ay, Father of the God." Records and monuments that can be clearly attributed to Ay are rare, both because his reign was short and because his successor, Horemheb, instigated a campaign of damnatio memoriae against him and the other pharaohs associated with the unpopular Amarna Period.

Meritaten Great Royal Wife, Kings Daughter

Meritaten, also spelled Merytaten, Meritaton or Meryetaten, was an ancient Egyptian royal woman of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt. Her name means "She who is beloved of Aten"; Aten being the sun-deity whom her father, Pharaoh Akhenaten, worshipped. She held several titles, performing official roles for her father and becoming the Great Royal Wife to Pharaoh Smenkhkare, who may have been a brother or son of Akhenaten. Meritaten also may have served as pharaoh in her own right under the name Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten.

The Amarna Period was an era of Egyptian history during the later half of the Eighteenth Dynasty when the royal residence of the pharaoh and his queen was shifted to Akhetaten in what is now Amarna. It was marked by the reign of Amenhotep IV, who changed his name to Akhenaten in order to reflect the dramatic change of Egypt's polytheistic religion into one where the sun disc Aten was worshipped over all other gods. The Egyptian pantheon was restored under Akhenaten's successor, Tutankhamun.

Gods Wife of Amun Highest-ranking priestess of the Amun cult

God's Wife of Amun was the highest-ranking priestess of the Amun cult, an important religious institution in ancient Egypt. The cult was centered in Thebes in Upper Egypt during the Twenty-fifth and Twenty-sixth dynasties. The office had political importance as well as religious, since the two were closely related in ancient Egypt.

Boundary Stelae of Akhenaten Group of royal monuments in Upper Egypt

The Boundary Stelae of Akhenaten are a group of royal monuments in Upper Egypt. They are carved into the cliffs surrounding the area of Akhetaten, or the Horizon of Aten, which demarcates the limits of the site. The Pharaoh Akhenaten commissioned the construction of Akhetaten in year five of his reign during the New Kingdom. It served as a sacred space for the god Aten in an uninhabited location roughly halfway between Memphis and Thebes at today's Tell El-Amarna. The boundary stelae include the foundation decree of Akhetaten along with later additions to the text, which delineate the boundaries and describe the purpose of the site and its founding by the Pharaoh. Total of sixteen stelae have been discovered around the area. According to Barry Kemp, the Pharaoh Akhenaten did not “conceive of Akhetaten as a city, but as a tract of sacred land”.

Amarna art

Amarna art, or the Amarna style, is a style adopted in the Amarna Period during and just after the reign of Akhenaten in the late Eighteenth Dynasty, during the New Kingdom. Whereas Ancient Egyptian art was famously slow to alter, the Amarna style was a significant and sudden break from its predecessor both in the style of depictions, especially of people, and the subject matter. The artistic shift appears to be related to the king's religious reforms centering on the monotheistic or monolatric worship of the Aten, the disc of the Sun, as giver of life.

Meketaten

Meketaten was the second daughter of six born to the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten and his Great Royal Wife Nefertiti. She likely lived between Year 4 and Year 14 of Akhenaten's reign. Although little is known about her, she is frequently depicted with her sisters accompanying her royal parents in the first two-thirds of the Amarna Period.

Great Temple of the Aten

The Great Temple of the Aten was a temple located in the city of el-Amarna, Egypt. It served as the main place of worship of the deity Aten during the reign of the 18th Dynasty pharaoh Akhenaten. Akhenaten ushered in a unique period of ancient Egyptian history by establishing the new religious cult dedicated to the sun-disk Aten, originally an aspect of Ra, the sun god in traditional ancient Egyptian religion. The king shut down traditional worship of other deities like Amun-Ra, and brought in a new era, though short-lived, of seeming monotheism where the Aten was worshipped as a sun god and Akhenaten and his wife, Nefertiti, represented the divinely royal couple that connected the people with the god. Although he began construction at Karnak during his rule, the association the city had with other gods drove Akhenaten to establish a new city and capital at Amarna for the Aten. Akhenaten built the city along the east bank of the Nile River, setting up workshops, palaces, suburbs and temples. The Great Temple of the Aten was located just north of the Central City and, as the largest temple dedicated to the Aten, was where Akhenaten fully established the proper cult and worship of the sun-disk.

Ankhkheperure-Merit-Neferkheperure/Waenre/Aten Neferneferuaten was a name used to refer to a female pharaoh who reigned toward the end of the Amarna Period during the Eighteenth Dynasty. Her gender is confirmed by feminine traces occasionally found in the name and by the epithet Akhet-en-hyes, incorporated into one version of her nomen cartouche. She is distinguished from the king Smenkhkare who used the same throne name, Ankhkheperure, by the presence of epithets in both cartouches. She is suggested to have been either Meritaten or, more likely, Nefertiti. If this person is Nefertiti ruling as sole pharaoh, it has been theorized by Egyptologist and archaeologist Dr. Zahi Hawass that her reign was marked by the fall of Amarna and relocation of the capital back to the traditional city of Thebes.

Amun was a major ancient Egyptian deity who appears as a member of the Hermopolitan Ogdoad. Amun was attested from the Old Kingdom together with his wife Amunet. With the 11th Dynasty, Amun rose to the position of patron deity of Thebes by replacing Montu.

Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt Dynasty of Egypt from c. 1550 to 1292 BCE

The Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt is classified as the first dynasty of the New Kingdom of Egypt, the era in which ancient Egypt achieved the peak of its power. The Eighteenth Dynasty spanned the period from 1550/1549 to 1292 BC. This dynasty is also known as the Thutmosid Dynasty for the four pharaohs named Thutmose.

The Amarna Era includes the reigns of Akhenaten, Smenkhkare, Tutankhamun and Ay. The period is named after the capital city established by Akhenaten, son of Amenhotep III. Akhenaten started his reign as Amenhotep IV, but changed his name when he discarded all other religions and declared the Aten or sun disc as the only god. He closed all the temples of the other Gods and removed their names from the monuments. Smenkhkare, then Tutankhamun, succeeded Akhenaten. Discarding Akhenten's religious beliefs, Tutankhamun returned to the traditional gods. He died young and was succeeded by Ay. Many kings did their best to remove all traces of the period from the records. The Amarna art is very distinctive: the royal family was portrayed with extended heads, long necks and narrow chests. They had skinny limbs, but heavy hips and thighs, with a marked stomach.

<i>A God Against the Gods</i> Book by Allen Drury

A God Against the Gods is a 1976 historical novel by political novelist Allen Drury, which chronicles ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten's attempt to establish a new religion in Egypt. It is told in a series of monologues by the various characters.

Ipy (noble)

Ipy, also transliterated as Apy, was a court official from the time of Amenhotep III and Akhenaten during the Egyptian 18th Dynasty. Ipy was High Steward of Memphis, and a royal scribe.

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Sources

Further reading