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Author Topic: THE GREAT ATEN  (Read 12019 times)
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Posts: 41646

« Reply #45 on: February 26, 2008, 12:44:40 pm »


                                    Akhenaten and Hebrew Monotheism

In today's world, the pre-eminent issue surrounding Akhenaten is whether or not his reli-
gion did—or even could have!—influenced the development of Hebrew monotheism, a theo-
logy which the historical data suggest evolved several centuries later. The answer to that
question depends on several factors. For instance, how alike are Hebrew and Egyptian
monotheism? And is there any way in which the Hebrews could realistically have had signifi-
cant contact with atenism, enough to borrow elements from it or, if not, even just have
been influenced by it?

To answer the first, Hebrew monotheism differs in several significant ways from Akhenaten's
religion. While the aten is an omnipotent divinity, it's also present specifically in the light of
the sun-disk and the pharaoh's family, so its divinity is limited in a way the Hebrew deity's is

The God of Israel acts through all sorts of different media: angels, rainbows, floodwaters and,
as biblical Egyptians ought to know perfectly well, frogs. Nor was there any real attempt by
Egyptian monotheists to extend the Aten's power beyond Egypt, the way God's power is seen
by later Hebrew prophets to embrace all creation. So, while Akhenaten claims the Aten is uni-
versal, he speaks of it more like it's a pharaoh at the center of some cosmic court full of fawn-
ing minions—that is, like him.

Still, both cultures share the central notion, if not the details, of monotheism.

Could the Hebrews have picked that up from the Egyptians somehow? Such a notion presumes,
of course, that Hebrews existed in some form during Akhenaten's reign—the eradication by later pharaohs of all records of Akhenaten's religion and regime makes later cultural borrowing highly
unlikely—and besides, many scholars would flatly say there weren't any Hebrews at all during
that time, at least not Hebrews as such.

Israel was definitely not an organized nation in the fourteenth century BCE, but then theologi-
cal notions do not require a political state for their existence. Wandering patriarchs, as attest-
ed in the Bible during this age, could easily have borrowed the concept of monotheism from

But there's no evidence Egyptian monotheism spread beyond the borders of its native land so,
if Hebrews borrowed the notion, they would have to have been living in Egypt around the time
of Akhenaten's reign.

That seems unlikely, except that biblical sources say they were.
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