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Monotheism in Egypt: Akhenaton’s Affects During the Armana Period in Egypt

Oedipus, Oedipus Complex

Ancient Egypt is known for great pharaohs and amazing rituals. An advanced people for their time, who had not only a culture, but a spoken and written language. Their belief in the after life, and the elaborate tombs that were created to help their deceased successfully crossover. These amazing monuments still stand today, the pyramids and the Great Sphinx of Gyza to protect their dead. Egypt is remembered through these symbols and was known most widely as polytheists, worshipping such god’s as Anubis, and Amen-Ra.

There was a point in Egypt’s history where there was only one God, Aton. This is known as the Amarna period in Egypt, under the rule of Akhenaten. Akhenaten was fit into many roles. By some he was seen as the prophet of monotheism, he became the poster for propaganda, and was even of interest to Freud. Akhenaten’s religion, was one of the world’s first views of monotheism. Through the scholars of Breasted, Weigall, Montserrat, and Velikovsky, the many faces of Akhenaten can be seen. The different affects Akhenaton had not only Egypt but the world as well as monotheism itself.

The Amarna age in Egypt is when Akhenaten brought the sun disk, Aton, into power. There was new art a new view, and for the first time one God. That one God was Aton, represented by the sun disk. The people basked in Aton’s life giving rays. Most hieroglyphics, tablets, were seen with Akhenaton, as the embodiment of Aton, as well as Nefertiti, and most prominently his three daughters. Their bodies were drawn in a new more stylized way. Bodies with protruding bellies, and elongated necks, and though the children were small, they looked more like little adults. This view of children is very similar to that of the Protestant’s view of children. There is absolutely no mistaking a relief from the Amarna age. Their stance, their bodies, every aspect of the people is changed, and as always they are basking in Aton’s rays. New beliefs, ideas, art, Egypt had embarked in a new era. And at the head of it was Akhenaten himself.

James Henry Breasted begins by looking at Akhenaton, before he had come to power. When his father, Amenhotep III was king. At the end of his rule, the beginning of the religion of the sun God had started. The sun God began to absorb all other God’s. Though this religion, was more monotheistic, it was based solely in Egypt. The god’s survival was built around the nourishment of the Nile. In Breasted’s book Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt he says, “the solar theology had been sensitively response to conditions in the Nile Valley World.[i] A new symbol was created, that of a pyramid with a light at the top, to represent the sun god. Though the sun God never entirely obliterated the other God’s it was definitely at the head of the other God’s. The sun god existed in the old religion Breasted says, “In the Old Kingdom the sun-God was conceived as a Pharaoh, whose kingdom was Egypt.[ii] The religion began to encompass more than just Egypt. Egypt grew ans so did the relgion, Breasted says, “…the vast sweep of the sun god’s course over all the lands and peoples of the Earth has at last found consideration, and the logical conclusion has followed.”[iii] The sun god’ name was Amon, and Amenhotep III’s son, Amnehotep IV, began to embrace the new ideas.

Once in power Amenhotep IV embraced the new religion. But once he took power he pushed the religion even further. Amenhotep IV’s new view was Breasted says, ” the sun-God was given a designation which freed the new faith from the compromising polytheistic tradition of the old solar theology.”[iv] Amenhotep IV no longer embraced what his father had brought into power. To him, there was to be one god, and the other god’s would only hold back, and anger the one true god. Amenhotep IV had the sun-god’s name changed to Aton, and it was represented by the sun disk. The God’s new name Aton, meant sun disk, and Amnehotep IV altered his own name as well. His new name was Ikhnaton and it meant Aton is satisfied.

Now Ikhenaton was in rule, and he put his new religion into affect. With his new religion, he had everything from the old ways destroyed. That included his old name, Amon, and even his father’s name. Breasted says, “The name of the Sun god is the only divine name found in the place, and it was evidently intended as a center for the dissemination of Solar monotheism.”[v] All other God’s were to no longer exist, not even the word God’s was to exist, polytheism was supposed to have never existed in Egypt.

Arthur Weigall’s book The Life and Times of Akhnaton Pharaoh of Egypt, he takes yeat another view of Akhenaton. Weigall sees Akhnaton developing his religion, and waiting for the right time to present it to Egypt. He did not seem to impose worship of Aton or persecute priests for continuing the old religion. Akhnaton hoped that he would be able to persuade everyone to his views. Akhnaton was solely responsible for his religion and the ceremony of worshipping Aton at sunrise and sunset. It was said that his wife put the Aton to sleep in ‘this house’ the house in which Aton was to be worshipped, and prayers were to be said at sunrise and sunset. Weigall also saw a faint connection with Venus and Adonis in this idea of the setting of the sun. The setting of the sun was a fundamental ceremony in Mediterranean religions.

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Akhnaton also he created a new belief for the after life, and the view of the soul after death. The Egyptians took great care in preserving the soul for the after life, but Akhnaton changed that. The old after life rituals Weigall says, “Akhnaton flung all these formulas into the fire.”[vi] The new idea of the soul was that, “when a man died his soul continued to exist as a kinds of astral, immaterial ghost, sometimes resting in the freamy halls of heaven, and sometimes visiting, in shadowy form, the haunts of the earthly life.”[vii] He wondered whether the body was entirely spiritual. Weigall comments on Akhnaton’s beliefs saying that, “we hear nothing of hell.”[viii] Akhnaton never truly mentions where exactly he thinks spirits go, where the body goes, no true ideas of what he believed. It was clear that Akhnaton had no fear of how acting in this life would affect you in the after life.

Akhnaton’s belief was more in his head, and understood solely by him. Weigall goes on to say, “Akhnaton believed that his God was the father of all Mankind, and that the Syrian and Nubion were as much under his protection as the Egyptian.”[ix] The new religion was never loved, or truly accepted, or even truly understood. Egyptians went along with it, but only because they had to. Akhnaton’s true thoughts Weigall says,”even now it is not easy to find a phrase to express that vital energy that first cause of life, which the King so clearly understood.”[x] Though only he truly understood the idea of Aton, he did restrain from prosecuting those who practiced the old religion. That restraint mostly came from his mother’s wishes though and nothing else. The truth was soon seen says Weigall, “for shortly after her death Akhenaton turned with fierceness of a fanatic upon the latter institution.”[xi] At the beginning of Aton’s rule Akhnaton’s true ambitions were hidden, as well as other secrets about his family that had yet to come out.

Once she died, his true wrath came out, and he had everything destroyed. Akhnaton’s words were Weigall says, “Amon was to be erased” and the “obliterating of the name therefrom.”[xii] Akhenaton wanted all traces of the old world gone, his father’s name, Amon, even the word God’s. He was but desirous of utterly obliterating Amon from the memory of man in order that the true God might the better receive acceptance.”[xiii] Continual belief in the old ways would anger Aton. All traces of the old world were to be gone, it was Akhenaton’s kingdom now. Soon after destroying everything, Weigall says, “It was in this manner he claimed decent from Ra, who was to him the same with Aton.”[xiv] Just like royals after him, he claimed his lineage and descent, to make himself, almost a God. He considered himself, as we would call it now, Jesus. Akhnaton saw himself Weigall says, “boldly he looked to God as a child to its father.”[xv] He no longer saw himself as simply a King or a Pharoah, but part of the religion that he had brought into power over Egypt. Akhnaton was the human embodiment of Aton.

Akhenaten had many issues, as can be seen through Weigall and Breasted’s investigation of how he got to where he was. Akhenaten became a great subject of Freud himself, and one of his collegues, Abraham, linking psychoanalysis to Akhenaten. The idea of the Oedipus complex was put into the thought. Aten was seen as an ideal fantasy father, and the fact that Akhenaton had destroyed all aspects of his father, helped solidify this idea. In Dominic Montserrat’s book, Akhenaten History, Fantasy and Ancient Egypt he says, “Freud regarded Akhenaton as a test- case for the tranhistorical applicability of the Oedipus complex.” [xvi] This was Freud and Abraham’s view on Akhenaten, a link to the present from before the original story was even written.

He continues talking about the fact that Akhenaten brought Jews back to Egyptian routes without going back to Judic spirituality.[xvii] Egypt and Akhenaton were vehemently popular. Akhenaton’s story was seen in numerous ways. He fit into any society Montserrat says, “Reviewers remarked on how contemporary meaningful, and challenging Akhenaton’s story seemed.”[xviii] The new world looked at him, and created their own Akhenaton as well. Montserrat says, “Their Akhenaton was not only a proto-christian- in fact, a proto- Protestant, who destroys the images of the idolatrous cult of Amen – but also a patron of the arts, and a gifted, expressive poet.”[xix] Because Akhenaten had destroyed the polytheism, and brought in one true God, he was looked up to. Protestant’s saw Aton as equivalent to their own true God.

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Montserrat speaks of another scholar studying Akhenaton. He says, “James Henry Breasted belieived that scholars of the ancient world should have a commitment to social change.[xx] Akhenaton was the first to truly create his own religion. Before Christianity, and everyone creating their own beliefs, he was the first. Montserrat says that Akhenaten was, “the first prophet of an exalted religion and the first idealist in recorded history.”[xxi] He saw his beliefs and brought them to his fellow people. He made them see “the light” much as Protestants did. Akhenaten’s cult of the sun disk can be seen as the first Monotheistic religion in history. Montserrat says, “If Akhenaton’s Aten religion was the precursor of monotheism, it was robustly Protestant monotheism, parged of the anthropomorphic images and corrupt priesthood that irresistibly reminded him of Catholicism.”[xxii] The strictness, and specific prayers, as well as the prepresentation of children as young adults, can help link his Aten, to Protestants.

Montserrat speaks of Weigall’s interpretation as Akhenaton being the “prophet of Monotheism” and a “monogamous family man.”[xxiii] All the art of Akhenaton is seen of him with his wife and his three daughters. Then Akhenaton can also be compared to Moses in site of monotheism. Monseratt says, “Moses joined the Jews after Akhenaton’s death and impose upon them a version of Akhenaten’s solar religion so that it would survive.” [xxiv] Here, monotheism is seen to literally come from Akhenaten’s religion. The prophet of Aten passed his way on to the prophet of God, Moses. As far as this seems to go, thought, there is even a Fascist interpretation of Akhenaton. In the ancient world, untainted, back to nature, and the nudity that was in the art of his time. Montserrat says, “they contrast the natural, naked forms of classical statues with the bodies of modern women deformed by corsetry or constricitin clothes.”[xxv] And after world war I, a pagan Akhenaten was developed: propoganda” Akhenaten had found his way into the current world.

By many Akhenaten was seen as a prophet, a family man, a great inavator for his time, the beginning of monotheism. Immanuel Valikousky, though saw the real side of Akhenaton. It was in every inscription, every engraving, and every tablet, but that the world was too blind to look at. Freud believed that Akhenaton was the first example of the Oedipus complex, he wanted to kill his father, so he could keep his mother for himself. There are many things that just off the surface support this idea. The fact that he destroyed anything that bore his father’s name, even the fact that he changed his own name. Velikovsky though takes it further, and shows that Akhenaten truly was the first Oedipus. Immanuel Velikovsky in his book, Oedipus and Akhnaton Myth and History he begins by saying, “Thus the legendary cliché about a famous man being accompanied in exile, like Oedipus by a daughter has become historical truth, and more than once, in this century.”[xxvi] In many tablets, Akhenaton is seen with three daughters, and his wife Nefertiti. But there are just as many where he is with his youngest daughter, Bekataten. In the story Oedipus’ youner daughter shares his exile Velikovsky says, “it was most likely Bekataten who shared her father’s exile, wandering, and humiliation.”[xxvii] There are also similiarities, just in the time both Oedipus and Akhenaton were to have said to rule their kingdoms. Questioned when their rule truly ended Velikousky says, “To both Akhenaton and Oedipus are ascribed reigns of sixteen and of twenty years.”[xxviii] Though with these similarities it still does not show that Akhenaton had under went any incest with his mother.

His mother, Queen Tiy, the wife of the late Amhnhotep III, stood by her son, as he brought Aten into power over Egypt. That, at least is how it looked to many. A closer look at some of the reliefs though, might show more of the truth, in a common pattern. In a famous banquet relief, Nefertiti and two daughters are on one side, with Akhenaton and Tiy is on the other, with Bekataten. Velikovsky says, “Two little princesses sit next to Nefertete; one little pricess, Bekataten, was for a long tim thought to have been the youngest of the children of Akhnaton and Neferetete.”[xxix] It is seen, that in the majority of the reliefs, the third daughter is next to Tiy, rather than with the other two daughters.

Bekataten was thought to be the youngest daughter of Akhenaton and Nefertete. It was soon realized, that of Akhenaton’s seven children, she was not the youngest, but the favorite. Though she was still refereed to as the youngest. That was when it was realiszed maybe she was never Nefertete’s daughter, but that she was actually the youngest daughter of Tiy. Many did not want to believe this Velikovsky states, “consequently it was concluded that her father was the late Amenhotep III and not his son, Akhnaton.” [xxx] The problem with this idea was that Imohtep had passed twelve years ago, and Bekataten was at the most only six years of age.

Many of Akhnaton’s actions were beginning to be better understood. Velikovsky says, “the very fact that the son mutilated the name of Amenhotep II on all monuments and inscriptions prior to his move to el-Amarna makes the hypothesis of a co-regency seem untenable.”[xxxi] In tablets, during the Amarna period, normally the male under the Aten was Akhenaton himself. Velikovsky says, “the very fact that the King is pictured under the disk of Aton is a strong indication that he is Akhenaton.” [xxxii] In the reliefs where bothe Beketaten and Tiy are present, the male figure is under Aten. In one tablet, Bekataten was referred to as the “king’s daughter of his body” which was thought to be Amnhotep. Valikovsky says, “the father of Bekataten (“the king’s daughter of his body”), is Akhenaton.” [xxxiii] On a bas-relief in the same tomb, Akhnaton is seen leading Tiy and Bekataten into the tomb; thought originally as leading his mother and sister. This is the same combination that is seen on the other side of the Lintel, of Akhnaton, Nefertit and his three daughters. In yet another, in the sanctuary of Aton, Tiy, Akhnaton, and Beketaten are seen once again. Tiy with the plumes on her head, as Akhnaton leads them. This confirms Velikovsky says that, “they advance toward the inner portal of the temple as lover, not as son and mother”[xxxiv]

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Akhnaton is not exactly Oedipus, but definitely would fall under the Oedipus complex, as Freud would say. Velikovsky says, “so in the case of Akhnaton the drama was not that a son married his mother in ignorance of their blood ties but that he knowingly made his mother console not only on the throne but also in bed as well as fathering a child by her”[xxxv] In Egypt incest was common, Velikosky says that, “however, this innovation in religion and morals – incest between son and mother -was alien to Egyptians, whose gods, religious customs and ethics even then went back to ray antiquity; and when under Akhenaton it came into the open the eruption of discontent was not long in coming”[xxxvi] As with Oedipus the realization and coming to the truth was his downfall. Though the truth was there, for not only Egyptians but scholars as well, they believed what they wanted. Those lintels represent Akhnaton’s dual lide, the two households he tried to keep, and the secrets he tried to keep. Nefertete was shamed, or banished, but either way Velikovsky says, “it appears that the story of Nefertetet’s disgrace served as a motif for that tradition, known in antiquity though not exploited by the tragedy as of the fifth century.” He was just as power hungry as some of those we know today, and his secret destroyed not only his empire, but his family, and the basis of his religion.

The Amarna period in Egypt, was only at most a twenty year period, but it is the most understood. Scholars want to know more, and wonder where exactly this idea came from. Monotheism starting in Egypt, could change even the foundations of Christianity. The basis of finding more about this period lays in that of Akhenaten himself, his relationship with his wife, Nefertete, his mistress, Tiy, and his children. His life revolved around Aten, and he believed that whole heartedly. Akhenaton is a link to the foundation of many religions, even if he did not necessarily know it. It was the first view of Monotheism that the world had seen, and where the greatest monotheistic religion in the world had begun, Christianity. The Amarna period is a short period of time, with so much that is unkown, and so much that there is left to learn about. Aten could have been the origin of Jesus, with the life giving rays. Akhenaten was a man with a vision, one that he solely understood, but no one else did. Today the most common religions are monotheistic, and it is easier for us to understand his ideas, and the reign of Aten.

[i]James Henry Breasted, Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986) , 313.

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Breasted , 317.

[iv] Ibid

[v] Breasted , 322.

[vi] Arthur Weigall, The Life and Times of Akhnaton Pharaoh of Egypt (London: Knnikat Press, 1970) , 120.

[vii] Weigall , 121

[viii] Ibid

[ix] Weigall , 166.

[x] Ibid , 167.

[xi] Weigall , 168.

[xii] Ibid

[xiii] Weigall , 170.

[xiv] Weigall , 172.

[xv] Weigall , 175.

[xvi] Dominic Montserrat, Akhenaten History, Fantasy, and Ancient Egypt (New York: Routledge, 2000) , 96

[xvii] Montserrat , 97.

[xviii] Montserrat Akhenaten History , 98.

[xix] Ibid

[xx] montserrat , 101.

[xxi] Ibid

[xxii] Ibid , 102.

[xxiii] Ibid , 104.

[xxiv] Ibid

[xxv] montserrat , 109.

[xxvi] Immanuel Velikovsky, Oedipus and Akhnaton (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc, 1960) , 174..

[xxvii] Velikovsky , 174.

[xxviii] Ibid , 178.

[xxix] Ibid , 88.

[xxx] Ibid

[xxxi] Valikovsky , 92.

[xxxii] Ibid

[xxxiii] Veilkovsky , 95.

[xxxiv] Ibid

[xxxv] Ibid , 97.

[xxxvi] Ibid , 102.