Amenhotep IV-better known as Akhenaten (reign: 1352-1336 B.C. 18TH DYNASTY)

Amenhotep IV-better known as Akhenaten, the new name he took early on in his reign-ushered in a revolutionary period in Egyptian history. The Amarna Interlude, as it is often called, saw the removal of the seat of government to a short-lived new capital city, Akhetaten (modern el-Amarna), the introduction of a new art style, and the elevation of the cult of the sun disc, the Aten, to pre-eminent status in Egyptian religion. This last heresy in particular was to bring down on Akhenaten and his immediate successors the opprobrium of later kings.

Mother: Tiy

Wives: Nefertiti, Merytaten, Kiya, Mekytaten, Ankhesenpaaten

Son: Tutankhamun

Daughters: Merytaten, Mekytaten, Ankhesenpaaten, Merytaten-tasherit and others (possibly six total)

" Perhaps no other part of the world has witnessed more religions and systems of belief than Egypt. For Jews, Christians, and Muslims it is part of the Holy Land, occupying a revered place in both their history and in their theology. Yet Egypt's religious tradition goes back even further, into the mists of prehistory. As one of the first places in the world where human beings developed civilization, it is also one of the first places in which codified religion evolved. Even the protohumans who occupied the first settlements in Egypt show traces of primitive belief of a level not normally found in similar cultures.

Certainly for the Western world, Egypt is where religion was born. The beliefs practiced by the ancient Egyptians at the height of their glory influenced the world around them, and their impact is still felt to this day. Though other civilizations predate them, and some of their beliefs are older, none have endured with the power of the gods of Egypt..."

-- Ye Gods - Egyptian Mythology, By - David Scott

The ancient Egyptian term for the disk of the sun was Aten, which is first evidenced during the Middle Kingdom, though of course solar worship begins much earlier in Egyptian history. It should be noted however that this term initially could be applied to any disk, including even the surface of a mirror or the moon. The term was used in the Coffin Texts to denote the sun disk, but in the 'Story of Sinuhe' dating from the Middle Kingdom, the word is used with the determinative for god (Papyrus Berlin 10499). In that story, Amenemhat I is described as soaring into the sky and uniting with Aten his creator.

Text written during the New Kingdom's 18th Dynasty frequently use the term to mean "throne" or "place" of the sun god. The word Aten was written using the hieroglyphic sign for "god" because the Egyptians tended to personify certain expressions. Eventually, the Aten was conceived as a direct manifestation of the sun god.

It was Amenhotep IV who first initiated the appearance of the true god, Aten, by formulating a didactic name for him. Hence, in the early years of Amenhotep IV's reign, the sun god Re-Horakhty, traditionally depicted with a hawk's head, became identical to Aten, who was now worshipped as a god, rather than as an object associated with the sun god. Hence, prior to Akhenaten, we speak of The Aten, while afterwards it is the god Aten. Initially, Aten's relationship with other gods was very complex and it should even be mentioned that some Egyptologists have suggested that Amenhotep IV may have equated Aten to his own father, Amenhotep III. Others have suggested that, rather than true monotheism, the cult of Aten was a form of henotheism, in which one god was effectively elevated above many others, though this certainly does not seem to be the case later during the Amarna period.

Amenhotep IV changed his own royal titulary to reflect the Aten's reign, but perhaps more remarkably, he actually changed his own birth name from Amenhotep, which may be translated as "Amun is content", to Akhenaten, meaning "he who is beneficial to the Aten" or "illuminated manifestation of Aten". Afterwards, the king proceeded to emphasize Aten's singular nature above all other gods through excessively preferential treatment. Ultimately, he suppressed all other deities. However, it is interesting that Akhenaten retained in his new titulary all references to the sun god Re. In his prenomen there is 'Neferkheprure' (Beautiful are the manifestations of Re) and 'Waenre' (Sole one of Re). George Hart in his Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddess tells us that Aten was:

"..really the god Re absorbed under the iconography of the sun disk. The eminence of Aten is a renewal of the kingship of Re as it had been during its apogee over a thousand years earlier under the monarchs of the 5th Dynasty."

However, it is really doubtful that such a simple statement can be made, for in reality, Aten took on many characteristics alien to Re. Re did not function in a vacuum of gods and goddesses. Yet there remained cloudy associations with Re even as Akhenaten moved into his new capital. There, accommodations were made for the burial of a Mnevisl, which was the sacred bull of Re. Furthermore, the king's last two daughters were named Nefernefrure and Setepenre, both incorporating Re into their names.

But indeed, Akhenaten's new creed could be summed up by the formula, "There is no god but Aten, and Akhenaten is his prophet". The hymn known as the "Sun Hymn of Akhetaten" offers some theological insight into this newly evolved god. We find this hymn, which may have been composed by the king himself, in the tomb of the courtier Ay, who later succeeded King Tutankhamun. Scholars have noted a similarity between the hymn and Biblical Psalm 104, although the distinct parallels between the two are usually interpreted simply as indications of the common literary heritage of Egypt and Israel.

Inscribed in thirteen long lines, the essential part of the poem is a hymn of praise for Aten as the creator and preserver of the world. Within it, there are no allusions to traditional mythical concepts, since the names of other gods are absent. In this hymn, no longer are night and death the realm of gods such as Osiris and various other deities, as in traditional Egyptian religion, but are rather briefly dealt with as the absence of Aten. Hence, it should be noted that, unlike other supreme gods of Egypt, Aten did not always absorb the attributes of other gods. His nature was entirely different.

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