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Egyptian Religous Reforms

Updated April 23, 2019

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.. is name to, brought about many religious reforms. Amenhotep IV began a series of reforms to ensure the Pharaoh’s status as a living god among the people, as opposed to a simple agent of the sun-god Amen-Re, as the priests of the royal court were beginning to assert a more powerful and independent role. Assisted by the royal family, Amenhotep IV commenced on a series of religious reforms, which would help him regain the power lost to the priests. He worshiped Aten, the radiant god of the sun disk.

Why this particular god Aten was chosen may never be known, But Amenhotep IV apparently so inspired by his faith that he wrote The Hymn to the Aten in his praise. At first he tolerated worship of other gods along with Aten, but eventually he chiseled out the name of Amen-Re from anything which beared the name, and closed the temples of the other gods. The Pharaoh and his family were to worship Aten, while the remainder of the populace was to worship the Pharaoh. Amenhotep then moved the capital of Egypt from Thebes, which was primarily centered on Amen-Re, to a new location called Akhenaten, now modern day Armana, to further separate from previous beliefs. Amenhotep IV also changed his name to Akhenaten, which translates to It pleases Aten. Akhenaten also replaced his advisors with new men, instead of the Amen serving priests.

These changes showed a move toward a more monotheist view of the Egyptian world, a view that had never been observed before. Although each period and line of kings favored a supreme state-god, there had always been toleration of the multitude of deities in Egypt’s pantheon (David 155). This new religion saw the worship of Aten as the principal hero in Egyptian religion, with gods like Amon as enemies. These reforms however, would be short-lived, and the only enduring sign of this Pharaoh’s significance is in the Hymns, which were written to the new god Aten.

In The Hymn, Aten is proclaimed to be the sole god, and responsible for all of creation. O unique god, who has no second to him! You have created the earth according to your desire, while you were alone, With men, cattle, and wild beasts, all that is upon earth and goes upon feet, and all that soars above and flies with its wings (Akhenaten lines 60-65). The Hymn also proclaims the pharaoh as the gods sole representative on earth, and virtually interchangeable with one another. When you rise you make all to flourish for the King, you who made up the foundations of the earth. You who rise them up for your son, he who came forth from your body, .. (Akhenaten lines 122-125).

The writing is very beautiful and was inscribed on walls in various tombs. Though much of what Akhenaten was proposing was a drastic change from the traditional beliefs of Egyptian religion, there were some aspects of these reforms shown in The Hymn to the Aten that were not that far a cry from much of what was taught and believed in the past. As with the gods of the past, Aten was visible, as in that he could be presented in a painting to the people who worshipped him. This new god, Aten, was allowed to be pictured in the elaborate murals on tomb walls and so on, much the same as the old gods of the prior religion were.

Aten was also the embodiment of the sun, as Amon-Re was in the old religion, and was worshipped much the same as Amon-Re was prior to Akhenaten’s condemnation of him. Aten was also seen as The Creator of all that was Existing, which also held to the traditional belief that the sun god was the chief creator of the universe. It was also believed in this new religion as in the old one, that the Pharaoh was the next of kin to the sun god, even though the sun god had changed from Re to Aten. It was also believed that the sun god was raised above the other gods, while being able to have his presence encompass everything.

None of these ideas were new to the Egyptian people, as they were exhibited in the old religion; however there was much in this new theology that was extremely different from the traditions of the old. The Hymn to the Aten introduced a great many new concepts to the religion of the Egyptian people. The nature of Aten as the creator is different from previous religious beliefs. Aten was said to have created the world out of his own will to do so, not out of necessity. Also, we see Aten being distinguished from nature, as well as seeing that nature is not a separate being in the theological order of things. Nature is now believed to be ordered under Aten, with no separate, sovereign being of its own.

The Nile is no longer believed to be the embodiment of a god, but a creation of the god, Aten. These two views are the result of the shift toward the monotheist belief that Aten is the sole god in the cosmos, worshipped by the Pharaoh and his family, who are in turn worshipped by the Egyptian people. Aten is now seen as a universal god, who is worshipped by everyone on earth, just in forms and fashions differing from those of the Egyptians; not as a god who was specific to the Egyptian people. Though this hymn offers much that is vastly different from the old beliefs in Egyptian culture, it is also an effort to revitalize the old beliefs.

The Hymn is intending to bring the Pharaoh back into the center of Egyptian religion, politics and culture. It is an attempt to revive and reestablish the unquestionable divinity of the Pharaoh. However, it is going about it by completely severing ties with the old traditions of Egyptian religion. The Aten had no moral philosophy or attractive mythology which could inspire the general worshipper (David 157).

The Hymn also creates a paradoxical relationship between the two theological views as expressed in Egyptian culture. On one hand, there is the new tendency toward a monotheistic religion, with Aten as the sole god, and no other gods governing nature, etc. On the other hand, there are the old views on religion being expressed; the Pharaoh was worshipped by the people of Egypt as a god, and he in turn is worshipping the god Aten; thus, there is more than one god. These new religious views also appeared to help influence a major break in the traditional art of the time. Rather than producing idealized portraits as had been done for hundreds of years prior, Akhenaten encouraged artists to represent him in informal situations – basking in Atens benevolent rays. With his blessing, the artists portrayed Akhenaten not as a conqueror, riding in a war chariot and trampling his enemies, but as a family man, relaxing with Nefertiti, his queen, and his daughters.

The Hymn to the Aten, though it offered new ideas on Egyptian religion, was an attempt by a ruler who enjoyed the idea of a divine title to regain what his predecessors had. The religious reforms brought about by Akhenaten were intended to restore the position of the Pharaoh to the level of absolute rule which had once been held due to belief that the Pharaoh was the personification of the gods. This however was not to be, as the priests which Akhenaten had fought against in his attempt to redefine the Pharaoh’s divinity would take advantage of the weakness of Akhenaten’s successor, Tutankhamen. Tutankhamen’s immaturity enabled the courtiers and officials to direct political and religious events.. The court moved back to Thebes, and the royal couple changed their names to Tutankhamen, demonstrating their renewed allegiance to Amen-Re.

The king restored the old temples of the many gods, and reinstated the priesthoods (David 158). The reforms, which Akhenaten brought to return the power once held by the Pharaoh in the Old Kingdom, were unable to be understood. The people who Akhenaten had to ensure comprehension of his reasoning did not, for they no longer were connected to the old order which he was trying to reestablish. Religion Essays.

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Egyptian Religous Reforms. (2019, Apr 23). Retrieved from