Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Akhenaten and Monotheism (1)

Monotheism, the believe that only one god exists and was brought to the Egyptians of the 18th Dynasty by Akhenaten. Some even believe that Akhenaten was the pioneer of a monotheistic religion that later became Judism. One of those is Sigmund Freud, in his book Moses and Monotheism he argues that Moses was an Atenist priest that was forced out of Egypt after Akhenatens death.
In this book Freud argues that what Akhenaten was trying to achieve in ancient Egypt, to promote monotheism, was successfully achieved by the biblical Moses. Freud also said that monotheism was not a Jewish but an Egyptian invention, descending from the cult of the Egyptian sun god Aten.

But back to Akhenaten…..Akhenaten became king of Egypt by chance, his older brother Crown Prince Thutmose died at a young age and made Akhenaten (during those times going by the name Amenhotep IV) next to take over the throne. Before the death of his brother Akhenaten was studying religion and could have been preparing to become a priest. His early education has often been seen as a reason for his strong affinity with religion.
But could Akhenaten during his 17 year reign make this complete turnaround from polytheism to monotheism? In a way, the time was on his side. After his death, Amenhotep III left a wealthy and peaceful Egypt behind. Foreign cultures introduced their gods into Egyptian religion, some of them got associated with the Egyptian king, especially in his warlike aspect. On the other hand the foreign people got more and more seen as part of god’s creation and protected by the earthly representative of the sun-god Ra, the pharaoh.
The sunrise was seen as a repetition of the “first occasion”, the creation of the world in the beginning. Ra went through the same cycles as did the sun, the cycle of death and rebirth.
At sunset he entered the netherworld to be regenerated and reborn as Ra-Horakhty. (Horakhty = “Horus of the two horizons”). Together with the sun-god the dead were also reborn and joined Ra on his daily journey. Osiris, god of the dead and the underworld, was increasingly seen as an aspect of Ra. More and more all other gods became to be seen as an aspect of Ra, being the primeval creator of all. All other gods had emerged from him; this made them all aspects of him. This can be seen as an early tendency to a form of monotheism and made Akhenatens believe in Aten, being the one and only true god, maybe a very logical result of the religious atmosphere of these days.

Sources used: Wikipedia and “The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt (chap.10, The Amarna Period and the Later New Kingdom (c.1352-1069 BC) written by Jacobus van Dijk)”


  1. Wow! I did not know that Freud had this thesis regarding Moses and the origins of Jewish/Christian faith.

    It is quite the bomb, isn't it? I wonder if people did not refute this claim already, as such a strong claim usually causes a major scientific discussion. I have not heard about this before, I can't imagine this thesis has gone unnoticed. It makes a lot of sense for me that the guy who become Moses in the bible was heavily inspired by Atenism.

  2. I think it is a very interesting and daring theory especially coming from Freud, being a Jew himself. It sounds logical to me in a way, Moses being somewhat of a Egyptian name (Thutmose, Thoetmozis for example). If you are very interested in this subject, there is a free e-book version of “Moses and Monotheism” and it can be found here http://bit.ly/bxS34X .
    I downloaded it myself and plan to start reading it in the near future, just need to find the time ;)

    Thank you for your reaction.

  3. Well his name being Egyptian is very logical, since it was an Egyptian princess who got him out of the waters of the river nile ;)

  4. Moses was actually before him. Moses was raised by the Pharoah Hatshepsut. Check it out.