Monday, 27 March 2017


“There is a danger in monotheism, and it’s called idolatry. And we know the prophets of Israel were very, very concerned about idolatry, the worship of a human expression of the divine.” - Karen Armstrong 

Aten (also Aton, Egyptian jtn) is the disk of the sun in ancient Egyptian mythology, and originally an aspect of the god Ra. The deified Aten is the focus of the religion of Atenism established by Amenhotep IV, who later took the name Akhenaten (died ca. 1335 BCE) in worship and recognition of Aten. 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 eradicated by Horemheb.

 The Aten, the sun-disk, is first referred to as a deity in The Story of Sinuhe from the 12th dynasty, in which the deceased king is described as rising as god to the heavens and uniting with the sun-disk, the divine body merging with its maker. By analogy, the term “silver aten” was sometimes used to refer to the moon. The solar Aten was extensively worshipped as a god in the reign of Amenhotep III, when it was depicted as a falcon-headed man much like Ra. In the reign of Amenhotep III's successor, Amenhotep IV, the Aten became the central god of Egyptian state religion, and Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten to reflect his close link with the new supreme deity. 

The full title of Akhenaten’s god was “Ra-Horakhty who rejoices in the horizon, in his Name as the Light which is in the sun disc” (this is the title of the god as it appears on the numerous stelae which were placed to mark the boundaries of Akhenaten’s new capital at Akhetaten, modern Amarna). This lengthy name was often shortened to Ra-Horus-Aten or just Aten in many texts, but the god of Akhenaten raised to supremacy is considered a synthesis of very ancient gods viewed in a new and different way. The god is also considered to be both masculine and feminine simultaneously. All creation was thought to emanate from the god and to exist within the god. In particular, the god was not depicted in anthropomorphic (human) form, but as rays of light extending from the sun’s disk. This concept was foreign to nearly all Egyptians, as the new religion was monotheistic and devoid of anthropomorphic idols to worship.

 Principles of Aten’s religion were recorded on the rock tomb walls of Akhetaten. In the religion of Aten (Atenism), night is a time to fear. Work is done best when the sun, Aten, is present. Aten cares for every creature as Aten created all countries and all people. The rays of the sun disk only holds out life to the royal family; everyone else receives life from Akhenaten and Nefertiti in exchange of loyalty for Aten. When a good person dies, he/she continues to live in the City of Light for the dead in Akhetaten. The conditions are the same after death. Akhenaten judged whether someone should be granted an afterlife, and operated the scale of justice. The explanation as to why Aten could not be fully represented was that the god has gone beyond creation.

 The cult centre of Aten was at the new city Akhetaten; some other cult cities included Thebes and Heliopolis. The principles of Aten’s cult were recorded on the rock walls of tombs of Tall al-Amarnah. Significantly different from other ancient Egyptian temples, temples of Aten were colorful and open-roofed to allow the rays of the sun. Doorways had broken lintels and raised thresholds. No statues of Aten were allowed; those were seen as idolatry. However, these were typically replaced by functionally equivalent representations of Akhenaten and his family venerating the Aten, and receiving the ankh (breath of life) from him. Priests had less to do, since offerings (fruits, flowers, cakes) were limited, and oracles were not needed.

Temples of Aten did not collect tax. In the worship of Aten, the daily service of purification, anointment and clothing of the divine image was not performed. Incense was burnt several times a day. Hymns sung to Aten were accompanied by harp music. Aten’s ceremonies in Akhetaten involved giving offerings to Aten with a swipe of the royal sceptre. Instead of barque processions, the royal family rode on a chariot on festival days.

Horemheb (sometimes spelled Horemhab or Haremhab and meaning Horus is in Jubilation) was the last pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty of Egypt. He ruled from either 1319 BC to late 1292 BC, or 1306 to late 1292 BC (since he ruled for 14 years) although he was not related to the preceding royal family and is believed to have been of common birth. Before he became pharaoh, Horemheb was the commander in chief of the army under the reigns of Tutankhamun and Ay.

After his accession to the throne, he reformed the Egyptian state and it was under his reign that official action against the preceding Amarna rulers began. Due to this, he is considered the man who restabilised his country after the troublesome and divisive Amarna Period. Horemheb demolished monuments of Akhenaten, reusing their remains in his own building projects, and usurped monuments of Tutankhamun and Ay. Horemheb presumably remained childless since he appointed his vizier Paramesse as his successor, who would assume the throne as Ramesses I.


  1. That was an interesting read!

  2. I wonder if Akhenaten had any conversations with Jewish rabbis that may have given him ideas about monotheism?