Pharaoh Akhenaten and Monotheism: Was He the Pioneer of a Monotheistic Religion That Later Became Part of Judaism?

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The video above is self-defeating in and of itself. You cannot have a pure monotheism when you claim that the sun-god Aten received worship alone and at the same time argue that Akhenaten was worshipped as a god. First, we will look at the claims; then, offer our apologetic defense and debunk this video and the scholars making the claims as well.

Akhenaten’s status as a religious revolutionary has led to much speculation, ranging from scholarly hypotheses to non-academic fringe theories. Although some believe the religion he introduced was mostly monotheistic, many others see Akhenaten as a practitioner of an Aten monolatry,[1] as he did not actively deny the existence of other gods; he simply refrained from worshiping any but the Aten while expecting the people to worship not Aten but him.

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Akhenaten and Monotheism In Abrahamic Religions

The idea that Akhenaten was the pioneer of a monotheistic religion that later became Judaism has been considered by various scholars.[2] One of the first to mention this was Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, in his book Moses and Monotheism.[3] Basing his arguments on his belief that the Exodus story was historical, Freud argued that Moses had been an Atenist priest who was forced to leave Egypt with his followers after Akhenaten’s death. Freud argued that Akhenaten was striving to promote monotheism, something which the biblical Moses was able to achieve.[4] Following the publication of his book, the concept entered popular consciousness and serious research.[5]

Freud commented on the connection between Adonai, the Egyptian Aten and the Syrian divine name of Adonis as the primeval unity of languages between the factions;[6] in this he was following the argument of Egyptologist Arthur Weigall. Jan Assmann’s opinion is that ‘Aten’ and ‘Adonai’ are not linguistically related.[7]

It is widely accepted that there are strong stylistic similarities between Akhenaten’s Great Hymn to the Aten and the Biblical Psalm 104, though this form of writing was widespread in ancient Near Eastern hymnology both before and after the period.

Others have likened some aspects of Akhenaten’s relationship with the Aten to the relationship, in Christian tradition, between Jesus Christ and God, particularly interpretations that emphasize a more monotheistic interpretation of Atenism than a henotheistic one. Donald B. Redford has noted that some have viewed Akhenaten as a harbinger of Jesus. “After all, Akhenaten did call himself the son of the sole god: ‘Thine only son that came forth from thy body’.”[8] James Henry Breasted likened him to Jesus,[9] Arthur Weigall saw him as a failed precursor of Christ and Thomas Mann saw him “as right on the way and yet not the right one for the way.”[10]

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Redford argued that while Akhenaten called himself the son of the Sun-Disc and acted as the chief mediator between god and creation, kings had claimed the same relationship and priestly role for thousands of years before Akhenaten’s time. However, Akhenaten’s case may be different through the emphasis which he placed on the heavenly father and son relationship. Akhenaten described himself as being “thy son who came forth from thy limbs”, “thy child”, “the eternal son that came forth from the Sun-Disc”, and “thine only son that came forth from thy body”. The close relationship between father and son is such that only the king truly knows the heart of “his father”, and in return his father listens to his son’s prayers. He is his father’s image on earth, and as Akhenaten is king on earth, his father is king in heaven. As high priest, prophet, king and divine he claimed the central position in the new religious system. Because only he knew his father’s mind and will, Akhenaten alone could interpret that will for all mankind with true teaching coming only from him.[11]

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Redford Concluded

Before much of the archaeological evidence from Thebes and from Tell el-Amarna became available, wishful thinking sometimes turned Akhenaten into a humane teacher of the true God, a mentor of Moses, a christlike figure, a philosopher before his time. But these imaginary creatures are now fading away as the historical reality gradually emerges. There is little or no evidence to support the notion that Akhenaten was a progenitor of the full-blown monotheism that we find in the Bible. The monotheism of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament had its own separate development – one that began more than half a millennium after the pharaoh’s death.[12]

Apologetic Defense

No, Moses lived before Akhenaten if the dates of his life are correct (1353-1336) or even the earlier date of 1375-58 B.C. Moses lived from the very earliest part of the 16th century (c. 1600) to the first quarter of the 15th century (c. 1475) and Akhenaten did not come on the scene until the early to middle part of the 14th century. Thus, Moses’ monotheism is a century before Akhenaten.

The more important issue in this video is the idea that Akhenaten was the pioneer of a monotheistic religion that later became Judaism has been considered by various scholars. First, it was definitely not a true monotheism, Akhenaten himself continued to be worshiped as a god.

Moreover, monotheism was the form of worship practiced by Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob long before Akhenaten (AKA Amenhotep IV) ever existed. And in the late 16th century B.C. God by means of Moses established a monotheistic system of worship with the nation of Israel, the distinctive characteristic of which was the monotheistic worship of the only one true God.

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And even in this time period, there was no moral or ethical standing within the Egyptian religious texts. The hymns to the sun-god Aten simply praised him for his life-giving heat. However, these hymn texts lacked any expression of praise or recognition or gratitude for any spiritual or moral qualities. Sigmund Freud claimed that Moses had been an Atenist priest, who then was forced to escape Egypt with his life and the life of his followers after the death of Akhenaten. There is no evidence for any of this fanciful thinking.

Therefore, any such idea or suggestion that the monotheism of Moses’ writings originated from Egyptian influence is therefore completely without foundation.

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Evidence Destroyed

A major challenge in reconstructing an accurate view of history is that, through the ages, most negative or embarrassing evidence was never written down or was intentionally destroyed by later rulers. In fact, the Bible stands in marked contrast to most ancient literature in that it objectively records the facts about Biblical personalities, whether good or bad.

When new kings ascended the throne, they naturally wanted to be seen in the best light. So in many nations they covered up or destroyed monuments and records of previous monarchs. This pattern of expunging earlier historical evidence can be repeatedly seen in Egyptian monuments and historical records. For example, after the Hyksos rulers were expelled from Egypt, the Egyptians erased the records of that humiliating period so thoroughly that some of the names and the order of the Hyksos kings remain uncertain.

Some time later Pharaoh Thutmosis III destroyed virtually all records relating to Queen Hatshepsut, the previous ruler, whom he despised. Visitors to her famous temple can still see where Thutmosis’s workmen carefully chiseled away her image from the walls of the structure. A few decades afterwards, the ruling priests eliminated virtually all possible traces of the teachings of Pharaoh Akhenaten, who had introduced what they considered to be heretical Egyptian religious reforms.[13]

by Wikipedia and Edward D. Andrews

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[1] Dominic Montserrat (2000). Akhenaten: History, Fantasy and Ancient Egypt, Routledge, pp. 36ff.

[2] Sigmund Freud, (1939). Moses and Monotheism: Three Essays.

Gunther Siegmund Stent (2002). Paradoxes of Free Will. American Philosophical Society, Diane, 284 pages. pp. 34–38.

Jan Assmann (1997). Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism. Harvard University Press. 288 pages.

  1. Shupak (1995). The Monotheism of Moses and the Monotheism of Akhenaten. Sevivot. Montserrat, (2000)

Albright, William F. (1973). “From the Patriarchs to Moses II. Moses out of Egypt”. The Biblical Archaeologist. 36 (2): 48–76.

[3] S. Freud, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XXIII (1937–1939), “Moses and monotheism”. London: Hogarth Press, 1964.

[4] Sigmund Freud, (1939). Moses and Monotheism: Three Essays.

[5] Edward Chaney, ‘Freudian Egypt’, The London Magazine, April/May 2006, pp. 62–69 and idem,’Egypt in England and America: The Cultural Memorials of Religion, Royalty and Revolution’, in Sites of Exchange: European Crossroads and Faultlines, eds. M. Ascari and A. Corrado (Amsterdam, Rodopi, 2006), pp. 39–69.

[6] Sigmund Freud, (1939). Moses and Monotheism: Three Essays.

[7] Assmann, Jan. (1997). Moses the Egyptian. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press; pp. 23–24, fn. 2.

[8] “The Monotheism of the Heretic Pharaoh: Precursor of Mosaic monotheism or Egyptian anomaly?”, Donald B. Redford, Biblical Archaeology Review, May–June edition 1987

[9] “Creation and the persistence of evil”, Jon Douglas Levenson, p. 60, Princeton University Press, 1994,

[10] Erik Hornung, David Lorton (2001). Akhenaten and the religion of light, p. 14, Cornell University Press.

[11] “The Monotheism of the Heretic Pharaoh: Precursor of Mosaic monotheism or Egyptian anomaly?”, Donald B. Redford, Biblical Archaeology Review, May–June edition 1987

[12] “Aspects of Monotheism”, Donald B. Redford, Biblical Archaeology Review, 1996

[13] Retrieved Wednesday, January 1, 2020 (The Exodus Controversy) http://bit.ly/2SIDVZR

 

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