Excerpt from “Revelations on Ras Tafari (Afrocentrism & Black Consciousness)” by Dr. Clinton Chisholm:
Pharaoh Akhenaten who reigned from 1352-1334 B.C. and also known as Amenophis/Amenhotep IV was the second son of Amenophis/Amenhotep III (1390-1352 B.C.) and his royal wife, Tiye. He was born towards the end of the 15th century B.C. or early in the 14th [century] during the glory days of the Egyptian empire which then encompassed all the land between Karoy in the Sudan and the Euphrates in Mesopotamia. His wife was Nefertity.
Amenophis IV took the name Akhenaten (‘Servant of, or well-pleasing to, Aten’) when he established his cult of the Sun-disc (the god Aten) at Amarna. He regarded the Sun-disc as the sole god – self-engendered, universal, creator of all things. He also dubbed himself “the dazzling Sun-disc”. Note that two other solar gods, ‘Re-Horis of the horizon’ (Re-Harahkti) and Shu were identified with Aten.
The ancient Egyptians were not fussy about the fine-point of the worship of one god as opposed to many gods unless that affected some practical dimension of life like the use of a temple or its associated land.
After Akhenaten’s death, he was regarded as a doomed rebel because he had “overthrown the socioeconomic system and had almost disrupted the running of the state. But no one back then ever called him anything like ‘monotheist’ (whatever lexical form that would have conjured up in the Egyptian language), and certainly no pejorative was ever hurled at him for espousing one god.”
The notion of a supreme god or sole god appeared before and after Akhenaten in that the sun-god was for quite a long time, before Akhenaten, regarded as being of high esteem in the theology of Heliopolis and Aten was an old name for the sun-disk. Interestingly, this high view of the Aten is reflected in a hymn written in the name of two brothers, Seth and Horus, who were architects at Thebes under Akhenaten’s father (Amenophis III). The hymn praises the sun under the names of Amun, Harakhti, Re, Khepri and Aten (sun disk) and says in part, “Hail to thee, sun disk [Aten] of the daytime creator of all and maker of their living! …The sole lord, who reaches the ends of the lands every day …He who rises in heaven, [his] form being the sun…”
Later than Akhenaten in the 19th dynasty (early 13th century B.C.), similar sentiments in praise of the sun (under different names) are expressed in Spell 15 of the Book of Going Forth by Day.
Hail to thee, Re at his rising, Atum at his setting… Thou art lord of sky and earth, who make the stars above and humankind below, sole God, who came into being at the beginning of time… Hail to thee, Amun-Re… Thou crossesst the sky, everyone seeing thee… O my Lord, living through eternity, thou who shalt exist forever; O thou disk [Aten], lord of rays, when thou risest everyone lives. Let (me) see thee at daybreak every day.
The ancient Egyptians regarded the supernatural as manifest in plural forms: gods, powers of heaven and earth. During the ‘sophisticated Pharaonic state in the 3rd millennium B.C.’ the pantheon of gods became highly centralized and hierarchically ranked.
Amun was the chief god of the Egyptian pantheon and Akhenaten had studiously tried to get the priests of Amun in Thebes (the Egyptian capital) to switch allegiance to Aten. When he failed in his attempts he moved the capital to Amarna (located midway between Thebes and Memphis) and called the new city Akhetaten (‘the horizon of Aten’).
Equally studiously, but more successfully done, after Akhenaten’s death, was the program to obliterate his name and reign from the records of Egypt by a general destruction and concealment by re-use, of his monuments.
The major written source of Akhenaten’s view of the Aten comes from a hymn, in praise of the sun-god, inscribed in the tomb of Aya, his private secretary (and Pharaoh for about 4 years, 1327-1323 B.C.).
When thou settest in the western horizon,
The land is in darkness, in the manner of death
They sleep in a room, whith the heads wrapped up …
every lion is come forth from his den …
At daybreak, when thou arisest on the horizon,
When thou shinest as the Aten by day,
Thou drivest away the darkness and givest thy rays …
All the world, they do their work …
O sole god, like whom thre is no other!
Beyond the common belief in one god, one has to examine the content of that belief, philosophically, because not all similar beliefs are identical and similar beliefs may command varying degrees of credibility based on details. The monotheism of the ancient Egyptians was radically different in content from that of the Old Testament.
In a symposium on ‘Aspects of Monotheism’ at the Smithsonian Institution on October 19, 1996, the foremost authority on Akhenaten, Donald Redford, along with three other specialists, William Dever, P. Kyle McCarter and John J. Collins presented papers and together faced the audience in a Q&A session. Several versions of questions were asked about the links between Egyptian and Israelite monotheism. Redford’s answer to one such question is quite instructive and he had agreement from Dever.
Q: In your judgement, did Egyptian one-godism influence early Israelit theology?
Redford: Well, if you mean Akhenatenk I don’t think it did at all. There is the fact that the traditional monotheism of Moses speaks of one god and Alhenaten makes it clear that he is dealing with a single god. But Egypt in the Iron Age and later, when Israel and Judah were coming into contact with it, was noted for the multiplicity of deities. Egypt was anything but monotheistic during the Iron Age. Moreover, the monotheism of Akhenaten is so distincy from Yahwism that I wonder why the two are compared. Really, there’s very little to Akhenaten’s religion. It’s been pointed out, for examply, that Akhenaten’s religion is devoid of ethical content; in Mosaic monotheism, the ethical content is quite extensive. No, I don’t see any link.
There is an acute and fundamental philosophical difference between the monotheism of the Bible and that of the Egyptian, including Akhenaten. The God-creator of the Bible is infinite and a person whereas that of the Egyptians in general and Akhenaten in particular, was the sun or matter. The philosophical difference is that biblical monotheism wields explanatory scope and power re the origin of anything/everything including persons and mind because God is infinite and personal whereas Egyptian concepts of god and Akhenaten’s monotheism lack it because a contingent, material entity, the sun or matter, is giving rise to everything including persons and mind. This is a neglected problem for any alleged theory of stealing, borrowing or influence concerning Egyptian concepts of deity and the biblical one.
It is of philosophical note too that in spell 15 of the Book of Going Forth by Day (or the Book of the Dead) the sun is hailed as the sole deity and as coming into being in time.
Hail to you, O Re at your risingm O Atum-Horakhty … the Unwearying Stars acclaim you, the Imperishable Stars worship you when you set in the horizon of Manu … the Sole One came into existence in the sky before the plains and the mountains existed …
The book of Genesis (1:1) opens with the words “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” including the celestial bodies and the New Testament, in several places, declares “… that a transcendent Being created the cosmos, One who operates in a reality beyond our matter, energy, space, and time.” God is said to have made decisions “before the beginning of time” (2 Tim. 1:2; Titus 1:2) or “before the world began” (John 17:2, 24; Eph. 1:4; 1 Pet. 1:20).
Note as well the popularity of pictorial and carved depictions of deity in Egyptian sources and the central taboo on graven images of Yahweh in the allegedly borrowed or stolen Ten Commandments. Exodus 20:4-5 says, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them…” (NASB)