Akhenaten, relief of the pylons of the house of Panehsy, Chief Servitor of the Aten. It depicts Akhenaten making offerings to the Aten.

Pharaoh Akhenaten: A Different View of the Heretic King

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“…if you plot evil... then you shall die by the axe of the king... Perform your service for the king …and you will live.”

Worship Misinterpreted

Year 12 was a significant year in Akhenaten’s reign. It was a year of festival as depicted in the tombs at Amarna, where foreign dignitaries brought gifts of precious metals, weapons, wild animals and even slaves. These scenes give lie to the idea that the king had lost all those lands previously won by his illustrious ancestors. However, it cannot be denied that the special relationship with the Mitanni came to an end as the Egyptian inaction allowed them to be completely overrun by the Hittites.

It was also in year 12 that the proscription of the other gods came into force and this is shown in the change in the name of the Aten, where the references to Horus and Shu were removed: ‘The Living One, Sun, Ruler of the Horizon, who rejoices in the horizon in his name, which is Sunlight, which comes from Aten.’

Akhenaten depicted as a sphinx at Amarna.

Akhenaten depicted as a sphinx at Amarna. ( CC BY 2.0 )

Much has been written about Akhenaten and sun worship, but Akhenaten's religion was not that—it was an understanding of a creator deity, best represented by the rays of the sun; the intangible essence of sunlight giving and maintaining life in the world, with Akhenaten and his queen its high priests. In a way, Akhenaten was right in that it is the light and energy from the Sun that maintains life on Earth. In his work Tell el-Amarna , Egyptologist Flinders Petrie notes:

“In no sun worship have the rays been so clearly appreciated as the source of life and action; and the distinction thus made shews a keener realizing of the scientific distinction between source and rays, and of the real importance of the rays to men, than has ever been touched until perhaps the present century.”

Akhenaten was much more of a king than he has been portrayed over the last hundred years or so. His foreign policy was the same as his father’s approach to the dominions, as opposed to the picture of an idle dreamer who cared nothing for his empire. The Aten religion was the culmination of four generations of thought and was not sun worship, but rather an understanding of a divine universal energy, force, god – call it what you will – that was best depicted through rays of sunlight; An understanding that would not be out of place in today’s world.

Akhenaten, Nefertiti and their children.

Akhenaten, Nefertiti and their children. ( Public Domain )

Featured image: Deriv; Akhenaten ( CC BY-SA 2.0 ), relief of the pylons of the house of Panehsy, Chief Servitor of the Aten. It depicts Akhenaten making offerings to the Aten. ( Public Domain )

By Ted Loukes

References

The Amarna Letters , Moran, W. L., Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press, 1992
Tell el Amarna , Petrie, W. M. F., London, Methuen & Co. 1894

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