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Akhenaten's variety of Monotheism
It's the 18th dynasty; Pharaoh finally succumbed to the powerful Hebrew God and gave Moses permission to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt. Pharaoh's decision not only influenced Pharaoh's royal court and the master builder but affected the everyday citizen as well.
The traumatized Egyptians witnessed the most spectacular supernatural events in history. Not only did a once prince of Egypt come back, out of the desert, after being gone for 40 years, but he brought with him proof of the most powerful god the world has ever seen. And this God happened to be the God of the Hebrews, the people whom they've mistreated for so many years.
Yes, Pharaoh did let the Hebrews go after enduring tremendous calamities, but what happened to the Egyptians afterwards? Their own faith in shambles, they realized that their Gods were too weak to protect them; the people were looking for answers. The Egyptian priests wondered if they could promote their religious beliefs and rituals. For the first time, the Egyptian people began to lose faith in the Gods of their ancestors and started to seek the truth. Who is the God of the Hebrews? How was this one god more powerful than all of theirs?
As the years went on, these questions beleaguered the priests and the people of Egypt. But without truthful answers to their questions, the priests continued to preach what they have preached for thousands of years and the people continued to worship the gods of their lineage. What of the Egyptian Royal Court, what did they think? Did they secretly doubt the gods? Was this doubt bred into the children of the pharaoh and his royal court?
A hundred or so years later, what may have started as a small doubt in their minds may have led to the biggest change to the Egyptian religious philosophy, the revolutionary new belief that there was only one true God and not a pantheon of gods.
One day a young pharaoh had a vision. He saw a sun disk between two mountains. God was guiding him to create change within Egypt. He was shown God, the Aten, as a sun disk with light rays emanating down from the sun. The Aten meant disk of sun in Egyptian. But, to Amenhotep IV, the Aten was different; it wasn't a mere sun disk, but a living representation of God.
At first, Amenhotep IV allowed his God, the Aten, to be personified in the form of a man with a falcon head. It's possible that he thought that if he humanized the Aten like the other gods in the Egyptian pantheon that he could obtain more support from the Egyptian priests and people. That characterization ceased abruptly and subsequently the Aten was represented by the hieroglyphic symbol of a disk with radiating rays that terminated in hands, which held the ankh, the symbol of life.
During the early years, Amenhotep IV allowed the traditional gods to coexist with the Aten, although they were reduced in status compared to the Aten. In the fifth or sixth year of his reign, Amenhotep IV further displayed his adoration and reverence for the Aten by changing his own name. Amenhotep IV would shed his name, which means "Amun is satisfied", to Akhenaten, which means "he who is of service to Aten".
At the same time, Akhenaten began searching for a suitable new capital that he could dedicate to the Aten. He found a patch of desert between Thebes and Memphis that hadn't been utilized by anyone ever before. He named the new capital Akhetaten, which means "horizon of the Aten".
Situated on the east bank of the Nile, the city was positioned north to south along a "Royal Road". The Royal residences were to the north, with a central administration and religious area and the residential suburbs were located to the south. The entire city was surrounded by 14 boundary stele that described Pharaoh Akhenaten's rationale for the creation of the new capital.
One of the Boundary steles states: "His Majesty mounted a great chariot of electrum, like the Aten when He rises on the horizon and fills the land with His love, and took a goodly road to Akhetaten, the place of origin, which [the Aten] had created for Himself that he might be happy therein. It was His son Wa'enre (i.e. Akhenaten) who founded it for Him as His monument when His Father commanded him to make it. Heaven was joyful, the earth was glad every heart was filled with delight when they beheld him."
After four years of construction, the new capital was ready to be occupied. However, before Pharaoh Akhenaten left his palace in Thebes, he decreed that all Egyptians would only worship the Aten. In addition, all citizens were required to change their names as the Pharaoh had done.
Once Pharaoh Akhenaten was completely transferred to the new capital, squads of workers were sent out to remove Amun-Re from all monuments, walls, and temples throughout Egypt. The statues of Amun-Re were destroyed, the Amun-Re temples were closed, and the assets that were amassed in the name of Amun-Re were confiscated.
Pharaoh Akhenaten started to lose sight of his governmental responsibilities and allowed corruption to slither into the Egyptian bureaucracy. At every level of his administration, officials were blinded by greed and self-indulgence while the pharaoh pressed his religious crusade.
Government in decline, other nations recognized Egypt's weaknesses. The Hittite kingdom sent their warriors down through the Egyptian Empire and eventually captured a large portion of the Egyptian empire.
Pharaoh Akhenaten died in the seventeenth year of his reign and the religion of the Aten died with him. The traditional religion was slowly reestablished by the priests. Amun-Re was restored to supremacy by the priests. The capital city Akhetaten was systematically torn down; blocks of masonry were transported for use in reconstructing the temples of Amun-Re. The pharaoh's statues were demolished and his name was removed from the history of Egypt.
Several years later, Pharaoh Akhenaten was referred as "the enemy" in archival records. Pharaoh Akhenaten was lost to history until the 19th century, when his capital Akhetaten was discovered by Egyptologist, Flinders Petrie.
Egypt would not welcome monotheism again until the early centuries AD with the acceptance of Christianity.