Akhenaten offering to Aten
Before we go further I think we should get something straight. Akhenaten never referred to a god named just Aten but instead had a long titular name for his god so Aten is a short form that we use. The Aten is the disk of the sun; the god as worshipped is the activeness of what is encompassing and emanating from that disk and the Aten was perceived as the life giving force of light, this characteristic of the light being equivalent to the concept of the Ka in ancient Egyptian thought. A boundary stele in Akhetaten describes the Aten as 'the living Re-Harakhty rejoicing in what is Right, in his name as Shu which is in the sun-disk.'
Boundary stele at Amarna
Kurohito via CC-BY-SA-3.0
Remembering Osiris, Tom Hare, page 196.
Akhenaten describes himself in the boundary stele as being 'of Re, the living Horus. Dual King, Lord of the two lands. Neferkheperure sole one of Re. Given life for ever and eternity.'
After earlier, tentative attempts to provide the sun disk with hands, the perfected, brilliant simple image of the radiant Aten was developed in a single, bold step. But the decided, plastic bulge the disk often displays should not lead us to interpret it as a solar orb. The Aten was actually not the sun disk, but rather the light that is in the sun and which, radiating from it, calls the world to life and keeps it alive. Heinrich Brugsch already emphasized that Aten was a god of light, and Jan Assmann has managed a fresh distillation of this view. Indeed, from early times, the sun with its rays had served in the writing system as a hieroglyph in writing words meaning "to shine" and the like. In contrast to the rich mythic frameworks in which Egyptian deities had otherwise been embedded, the Aten remained free of such connections and constellations. In fact, it was said of him only that he ever and again creates the world and maintains it in life; but there was no longer an interest in the creation of the world-Aten, "who built himself with his own hands," creates the world continually.
Akhenaten and the Religion of Light, Erik Hornung Translated by David Lorton, pages 54-55.
Here's an explanation of what Akhenaten was trying to convey as the nature of his god:
Precursors also exist in the writing system: the pictorial concept of the radiant Aten is clearly derived from a hieroglyph that means "light" (though not "sun"). To judge from the iconography, the god of Amarna religion was conceived of not just as a sun god, but also as the god of light. It might have been thought that this "personal union" was obvious and lay in the nature of things. This is perhaps physically but not historically correct. Like many people who have lived close to nature, the Egyptians did not originally make a casual connection between daylight and the light of the sun. In the Coffin Texts, it is Shu, god of the air, who "makes it light after the darkness." The word shu originally meant "light filled air," and although it served as a divine name designating the god of air, its meaning as a lexeme changed in favor of "light." Evidently hidden behind Amarna religion was a physical concept that perceived the connection between daylight and the sun while retaining the connection between light and air. The god of this religion was the sun, which filled and penetrated the earth in the form of air replete with light.
This representation is always accompanied by an explanatory caption-the lengthy name of the new god, which on the analogy of the royal titulary was written in two cartouches:
(Re-Harakhty, who rejoices in Light-land)|
(in his name Light, which is in the sun)|.
This formulation, which still contained the divine name Re-Harakhty and that of the air god Shu, which was homonymous with the word for "light," was later changed to
(Ruler of the horizon, who rejoices in Light-land)|
(in his name as Light which comes from the sun)|.
The Search for God in Ancient Egypt, Jan Assmann, translated by David Lorton, page 210.
As well, Akhenaten seemed to have some sort of plan that involved a gradual introduction of his god that escalated into a recognition that within the Aten was encapsulated the origin of all and this origin contained within it both feminine and masculine natures:
This androgyny is highlighted in the following lines from the Shorter Hymn to the Aten:
People, herds and flocks,
All trees that grow on earth,
They live when you dawn for them,
You are Mother and Father
For those whom you have made.
Hathor Rising, The Power of the Goddess in Ancient Egypt, Alison Roberts, page 164.
What about this androgyny? When shining and releasing its beneficence during the day, the disk is providing life. Its nature is nurturing and motherly. It is light and sustenance. Similarly in Egypt, Akhenaten takes on the role of androgyny as he appears with distended belly and pendulous breasts in his guise as the Nile river god Hapi.
In the nature of the relationship between the Aten and Akhenaten we see all the elements that make up the essence of the primeval beginnings of the Ogdoad which encompasses within it the four pairs of the building blocks of creation. There is the cosmic light that manifests, the role of Amun and Amaunet, that appears as a byproduct of the Aten's daily cycle. Separation and division enacted by time as represented by Heh and Hauhet is referenced with the inclusion of the god Shu in the titular descriptions. These two essential elements are provided by the Aten in its daytime manifestation. The absence of the disk at night leads to the condition of darkness and chaos which echoes the roles of Kek and Kaukhet in the Ogdoad. The roles of the water based Nun and Naunet as the providers and nurturers of life are taken up by the Pharaoh Akhenaten who provides this to his people on earth when the Aten transforms itself on the western horizon.
Akhenaten is constantly designated the Nile of Egypt, embodying the annual inundation and all the beneficence of nature, and he is called "mother who bears all, he nourishes millions with his food," just as prior to Akhenaten, in the hymn of Suti and Hor, the sun god Re was designated "mother of humans and deities," while he would later often be called "mother and father."
Akhenaten and the Religion of Light, Erik Hornung Translated by David Lorton, pages 56-57.
The High Priest of the Aten at Akhetaten, Panehesy, in his hymn to Akhenaten reveres him as a god, the one who granted him life, and also as the provider of his sustenance.
Praise to you, oh my god, who built me,
who determined good for me,
who made me come into being and gave me bread,
who cared for me with his ka!
I give praise to the height of the heavens,
I adore the lord of the Two Lands, Akhenaten:
god of fate, giver of life, lord of command,
light of every land,
on whose gaze one lives.
Nile of humankind,
on whose ka one is sated.
God who creates the great ones and builds the poor ones,
breath for every nose, by which one breathes!
Worship of Akhenaten in tomb of Panehesy
kairoinfo4u via CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Aten (or Re-Harakhty) was the god of Akhenaten, but the personal god of the individual was the king-as Assmann has put it, "He was the god who set out on procession, who performed signs and wonders, and who intervened in the destiny of the individual, holding life and death in his hands."
Akhenaten and the Religion of Light, Erik Hornung, translated by David Lorton, page 55.
Actually Akhenaten is credited with much more in this hymn and with this praise we can start formulating the idea that Akhenaten considered himself (and Nefertiti) as not only the representatives of the Aten's will on earth but they also considered themselves divine; they were the dualistic incarnation of the god.
Akhenaten's writings portrayed the Aten as a creator god and identified the king with it. Like the Aten, Akhenaten was a creator god. Like the Aten, Akhenaten was re-born every day, thereby becoming part of the cosmos. But Akhenaten alone was accessible both to the individual on earth and to the god in the heavens; and this system, which must have seemed logical to the king, was the correct order of the universe. It was ma`at.
Divinity and Deities in Ancient Egypt, David P. Silverman, edited by Byron E. Shafer, page 86.
In the formulation of Akhenaten's new understanding of the divine, historians see within it the first fruits of a philosophy that gravitated towards monotheism. The program of Akhenaten's, upon taking power, was not an immediate introduction of monotheism but seemed like a methodical march towards it.
Akhenaten did not drop all links with other deities. Ra, Shu, Tefnut, Thoth, Ptah and Hathor were still prominent gods in Akhenaten's religion. During the reign of Akhenaten when many of the old gods were rejected, Tefnut and Shu remained in favour and Akhenaten and Nefertiti were often depicted as the twin lion gods. This suggests that Atenism was not in fact a monotheistic religion, but a henotheistic solar religion.
There are no known temples to Shu, but despite Akhenaten's distaste for the gods of Egypt, he and Nefertiti used Tefnut and Shu for political purposes. They depicted themselves as the twin gods in an apparent attempt to elevate their status to that of being a living god and goddess, the son and daughter of the creator, on earth.
Akhenaten seems not to have persecuted the cults of other deities as severely as he did Amen's. For example, a stella of Thutmose III from Buto featuring the goddess Wadjet was not desecrated. It is not entirely clear if the earlier version of the relief stems from the pre-Amarna original or from a secondary restoration.
The Monuments of Seti I, Peter James Brand, page 52.
Akhenaten had himself and his wife depicted as incarnations of Shu and Tefenet who were the results of the separation of the androgyne Atum into male and female constituent parts. Scholars say it was for political purposes in order to depict themselves as gods - children of the sun you could say.
Akhenaten and Nefertiti as Shu and Tefenet signet ring
Perhaps more striking evidence of deities integrated into Aten-worship were the god Shu and goddess Tefnut, with whom the king and queen were identified. Shu, the god of air, and Tefnut, goddess of moisture, were twins, the original divine pair of creation. They formed the space between sky and earth. Shu and Tefnut were also believed to welcome the newly risen sun. Although not exactly personified abstractions like Ma'at and Hapi, Shu and Tefnut are in some ways not strongly differentiated from Re: one of Tefnut's forms, for instance, is as the eye of Re. At any rate, the intermediary quality of Shu and Tefnut, between earth and heaven, and their role as worshippers of the rising sun, made them perfect divine figures for Akhenaten and Nefertiti to identify with. With the Aten, Akhenaten-Shu and Nefertiti-Tefnut perhaps act as a replacement for the traditional family triads of gods who were worshipped in Egyptian temples. In the tomb of Ipy (number 10) at Amarna, Akhenaten and Nefertiti are shown offering to the Aten small boxes containing scented oils. These boxes are shaped like the earlier form of the Aten's cult name and adorned with statuettes of Shu and Tefnut; they take up the middle of the composition, reflecting the way both the gods and the royal couple occupy the medial space between heaven and earth. Shu, of course, was honoured in the formal name of the Aten.
Akhenaten, Dominic Montserrat, pages 37-38.
What's interesting about this is that in Akhenaten's titular descriptions of his god he says that Aten is Shu in his sun disk. If he makes himself the manifestation of Shu here on earth, in essence the living image of Shu, theologically I would speculate then that the Aten is androgynous and the image of the Aten into the created world reflects back male and female divisions which Akhenaten stylized as himself and his wife Nefertiti. The titi part of Nefertiti means has come, image, form and nefer means beautiful. The beauty of the Aten becomes resplendent in Nefertiti.
Now I can take this a step further to add further confirmation to what I'm positing here. The heir to the throne, whether a child of these two or not is unclear, was the famous boy king Tutankhamun however King Tut was named at birth Tutankhaten before changing his name and allowing the worship of Amun to resume when the whole Amarna scheme came apart rather quickly.
Okay so let's deconstruct Tutankhaten. Tut is similar to titi and comes from the ancient Egyptian word for image which is twt. Ankh has the meaning of life and in this instance means living as in the 'living image of Aten' in other words as I have demonstrated in the case of Akhenaten, Tutankhaten would be another incarnation of Shu as he was the heir to the throne. Why is this so? Because in the world of time and separation we live in we see duality not wholeness so the reflection of the Aten to us is of a dualistic nature. Shu in his disk would then mean an undivided wholeness with Tefenet. When Shu leaves the disk upon the rising of the Aten, then reflected back into creation is Akhenaten and Nefertiti as Shu and Tefenet.
This can further be explained by Akhenaten's use of the cartouche to enclose the titular name of the Aten. This is the only time in the history of Egypt that the cartouche was used for the gods as it was usually reserved only for the pharaoh. I have demonstrated though that through the iconography of Shu and Tefenet as representing Akhenaten and Nefertiti, Akhenaten considered their coupling as being the dualistic image of the Aten here in Egypt. Therefore it would not be a stretch to then put the name of the god in the cartouche since the Aten and the divine royal couple are one in the same in this theology. Also there is the 'Window of Appearance' at their palace in Akhetaten of Akhenaten and Nefertiti which is like an enactment of the daily rising of the sun which lends credence to the idea of these two being the sum of the Aten as manifested here in the physical plane. The Aten rises and reflects back these two who then appear at the window to the people.
Window of Appearance at the palace
As he became more established in his kingship, Akhenaten further developed or revealed a deeper understanding of his god and started removing comparisons to the old gods of Egypt as well as discontinuing the use of animals in the titular descriptions of the Aten. Eventually, in about the ninth year of his reign, the names of Re-Horakhty and Shu disappear from the titular descriptions and the Aten becomes 'the Living One, Sun, Ruler of the Horizon, who rejoices on the horizon in his name, which is Sunlight, which comes from the disk.'
Before continuing we should address the repeated claim of Akhenaten being the world's first monotheist. That honour really belongs to the god Set.
Set receiving adortion
His murder of Osiris and attempted murder of Horus were attempts at becoming the sole god - an interesting way for sure to establish himself as the one god. He also threatens to kill off the company of gods in 'The Contendings of Horus and Set' if he didn't get his way.
Said Horus, son of Isis: "It is no good, this cheating me in the presence of the Ennead and depriving me of the office of my father Osiris."
Thereupon Isis became furious at the Ennead and took an oath by (the) god in the presence of the Ennead as follows: "By my mother Neith, the goddess, and by Ptah-Tatenen, with lofty plumes, who curbs the horns of gods, these matters should be submitted before Atum, the great prince who is in Heliopolis, and also (before) Khepri, who resides in his bark."
And the Ennead said to her: "Don't become angry. The rights will be given to the one who is in the right. All that you have said will be done."
Seth, the son of Nut, became furious at the Ennead when they had said these words to Isis the Great, the God's Mother. So Seth said to them: "I shall take my scepter of 4,500 nemset-weight and kill one of you a day."
Though the attempts of Set to establish himself in ancient Egypt as the supreme god with the intent afterwards to then kill off all the rest of them fail, I believe this malfeasance moved on, still continues unabated, and is the legacy of the monotheism that is practiced today. Mythologically the story is one that takes place as an event just one time; however the myth of Horus and Set is meant to be interpreted as something that can be projected on to your individual life and society/civilization as a whole. In other words, the concept of Set is forever trying to kill your soul and get you to worship only him in his guise as destructive or hypnotic ideals such as power and wealth in addition to seducing those already enraptured with the notion of one god. So it is my belief that the tendency and push towards monotheism should be an occurring phenomenon of human development based on an archetype of a power bent on domination and control. This power is tricky and a master of disguise and transformation. I know that's a very provocative position to take and you are free to read between the lines on what I mean by that statement. I'll return to the topic of Set and monotheism further on in this study but before I do I want to delve a little deeper into our understanding of Akhenaten and the Aten.
The Aten according to what Akhenaten has written about is dualistic in nature as a mother and father and looking closely at this we can also see this dualism in the descriptions of the Aten as being Re-Horakhty who rejoices in light land. This is not telling us about an amalgamation of the gods Re and Horus but rather it is pointing to the power inherent in the twin horizons of power (light land) where the sun disk enters into the underworld in the West and exits in the East. It is describing the power of transformation possible at these magical portals in the sky called by the ancient Egyptians akhet. Akhenaten built his city with these two akhets in mind and symbolically the place the Aten goes when it sets and rests would be Akhetaten.
Amarna aka Akhetaten
The pyramid does not stand for anything visible, it makes something visible. Its elevation makes it a pointer to the heavens. This element of the pyramid's symbolism can be substantiated with three different arguments. The first argument concerns the linguistic form in which the Egyptians referred to the pyramids. What I have in mind here is not the Egyptian word for pyramid, mr, which is etymologically uncertain, but metaphorical designations. The central concept here is akhet, a word we traditionally translate as "horizon" but that in Egyptian refers to a region of the heavens where the sky nears the earth and the sun god ascends from the underworld in the morning and returns in the evening. In Egyptian the pyramid of Cheops (whose Egyptian name was Khufu) is called akhet of Khufu. Akhet is the threshold region between the sky, the earth, and the underworld; in particular, akhet is the place where the sun rises. The etymological root of the word has the meaning of "blaze, be radiant"; likewise, the hieroglyph for akhet has nothing in common with the pyramid, but is a pictogram of the sun rising or setting between two mountains. The pyramid does not represent such an akhet, but symbolizes it in an anionic way. The term of comparison between akhet and pyramid is the idea of "ascent to heaven." As the sun god ascends from the underworld to the akhet and appears in the sky, so the king interred in the pyramid ascends to heaven by way of his akhet, his threshold of light.
The Mind of Egypt: History and Meaning in the Time of the Pharaohs, Jan Assmann, page 58.
The hymn to the Aten composed by Akhenaten consists of first describing the beneficent qualities of the Aten in the rising, a mother father entity and then the second stanza talks of death and thieves upon the disappearance of the Aten. As the all powerful one it must be that the Aten is responsible for both conditions so encapsulated within this power of the Aten is the dualistic notion of life giving and life taking. It's consistent with the persona of Re in that Re provides life as the supreme Ka power of our world but also can take it away his with searing destructive heat. Another description of the Aten to be taken note of is the expression of 'Shu in his disk', not Shu out of his disk. When the Aten has set then Shu is in the disk and that becomes very destructive with the death state becoming predominant and the thieves of the night given free reign; when the Aten is rising and Shu leaves the disk, dispels the darkness, and provides for all, then everything is good. In traditional ancient Egyptian myth concerning the setting of the sun the disk is essentially the sun boat. At night it is attacked by the forces of entropy trying to moor it ashore. The boat, the disk, enlists the help of Set to ward off the entropic serpent Apophis. This drama disappears during this Amarna period though there is still the division between the Aten of the day and the Aten of the night.
Now let's examine the role of the sun disk in generating cyclical time and how we see that in the name and worship of the Aten.
In the tradition of the theological discourse, Akhenaten's god represents the idea of the "god of life" in its purest form of expression. In this regard, he most clearly resembles the god Shu in the Middle Kingdom theological concept treated in chapter 8.5, in which the air god Shu is explained as "life" and as "plentitude of time." These are two central concepts of Aten theology. When he is not called by his lengthy theological name, he is regularly styled "the living sun," and the word neheh, "plentitude of time," is used as if it were another personal name of the god.
The Search for God in Ancient Egypt, Jan Assmann, translated by David Lorton, page 213.
The celestial underpinnings of the god of plenitude of time, neheh, does not necessarily contain the light. An adjunct to the process of separation as enacted by the introduction of time and motion involves the manifestation of light into the space that has been created. It then begs the question - who is Re? He is surely not the sun disk as has been demonstrated but rather he is something more nuanced. It can be argued that at the core of his nature Re is the cycle, the pathway, that creates the illusion of time. To make the pronouncement that light is the domain of the time god as Akhenaten promulgated then this to me necessarily introduces a theological crisis. Amun was celebrated as the light, the cosmic light hidden away since the beginning of time but due to the evolution of the creation of the universe was able to manifest in many forms. One of the ways he did this was through the sun disk and the cycles of time created by Re. The ancient Egyptians then combined the two as Amun-Re which is Amun manifesting his light. It is because of this that when Akhenaten attempted to introduce the worship of his god of light he needed and attempted to erase and destroy the existence of Amun. Akhenaten then has to create a place called "Light-land", i.e. Akhetaten, to justify this lofty theological conundrum.
"Who rejoices in Light-land" refers to the cultic-local dimension, to the idea of the earthly residence of the divine. Light-land is normally the celestial, cosmic locale of the deity, but here, it also refers to the city of Amarna, whose ancient Egyptian name was "Light-land of Aten (i.e., the sun)." "In his name as Light..." refers to the verbal dimension of divine presence. What is meant is that the god has Light as his name, not in the sense that he is called light, but in the sense that light embraces all that can be said about this god. His essence is manifest in light, not in myths and genealogies. With that, the three dimensions of divine presence are reduced to the single dimension of the cosmic. There is no divine presence other than light. For this reason, the temples consisted of open courts, and mythology and speculation were discarded in favor of a theology that exhausted itself in a theological interpretation of sunlight.
The Search for God in Ancient Egypt, Jan Assmann, translated by David Lorton, page 211.
The Aten is Shu in his sun disk and at its core then this god is a Heh god; a primeval Ogdoadic god that causes separation and this division allows creation to take place.
The god Heh
Aten is inextricably linked with time and time is the master of transformation. To put it in ancient Egyptian terms, it is the idea of becoming and that is represented by the scarab Khepri. There is great magic and transformation occurring at the two horizon points as the duality of the light and dark is in this balance and the withdrawal of the light into darkness changes the nature of the god and vice versa. In this transformation in the west Re becomes inactive. Akhetaten is then the place of transformation; it's the place where Akhenaten comes into contact with his god and this is at night; it's when Shu is in the sun disk. Shu in the sun disk is the physical absence of light and air, thus no separation. Air as an agent of separation is linked with the light that fills up the divide. In this theology, time ceases at nightfall because the disk has gone away and mankind goes to sleep like he is in a death state. When Shu leaves the disk, time resumes, and everything comes alive. Akhenaten is saying cyclical time is creation; cyclical time is life. In ancient Egyptian terms the neheh is what Akhenaten considered the all and the death state in the absence of neheh is called djet, which is linear and stable time. Djet time is the time of Osiris, the so called god of the dead. Thinking about that now with all that we have learned it becomes too simplistic and convenient that Osiris is styled the god of the dead; it's almost pejorative. We can now see that Osiris was the god of the dreamtime, the subconscious visionary realms, the other, and the one you need to establish a relationship within in order to truly come forth and transform yourself. In Akhenaten's world there was no need for this and the time of Osiris, who is basically the soul, was declared null and void. The Pharaoh became the manifestation of the creator god and bestowed life upon his subjects as he chose to and commanded worship for this act of perceived benevolence. You can even take the concept of neheh and djet further by examining the idea of djet and stability. This in essence is referring to the pillar, especially the cult object of the djed pillar used in the worship of Osiris. To resurrect Osiris, the djed pillar must be raised, such as what occurs here at the temple of Seti I in Abydos.
Raising the died pillar
Knowing this we can now see that the expression in ancient Egypt of neheh time, which is the city of the pillar - Iunu/Heliopolis, is constructed upon a backbone of stable djet time. Neheh conceptually reveals itself as time that is unstable and not built to last! Quite fascinating right? Take a break... We'll leave this philosophical exercise with the idea that Shu and Set are the strongmen of neheh time; the ones holding this construct together. Its eventual dissolution is prophesied in the Book of the Dead spell 175 and everything will return once again to the eternal time of djet. The time god, the master of transformation, and his bag of magic tricks will eventually perform one last disappearing act!
So let's go back to how Akhenaten describes himself in the boundary stelae: 'of Re, the living Horus. Dual King, Lord of the two lands. Neferkheperure sole one of Re. Given life for ever and eternity.' Neferkheperure 'means beautiful are the transformations of Re' and as we can now see it is the Aten who generates time that allow these transformations to take place.
In the Egyptian language, ḫpr "to become, to come into being, to develop" is the antonym of wnn, "to exist, to persist." Ḫpr is associated with the god Khepre, the morning sun, the principle of autogenetic energy. By contrast, wnn is associated with the god Wnn-nfr, "who exists in completion," Osiris, the god of the dead, the principle of unalterable duration. We are confronting here the famous dichotomy of nḥḥ and dt, time happening and time persisting, cyclical and linear time, "imperfective" and "perfective" time. It is quite consistent with the hymn's equation of the visible world with ḫprw that the god himself is called Nḥḥ in the Amarna texts. God is time (Nḥḥ), and everything unfolding, "developing" in time (ḫpr) is a transformation (ḫprw) of his essence or energy.
Moses the Egyptian: the memory of Egypt in western monotheism, Jan Assmann pages 184-185.
Neheh time, once again, is cyclical and active time. The Aten is cyclical time, transforming and creating all the while. Without the active creation of time, there is nothing but inactiveness and death according to this theology. In the third song of Akhenaten's great hymn to the Aten we read of this very nature of the god.
(text of the great hymn)
Third Song: Transformations (Kheperu) - God, Nature, and the King
First Stanza: Light - Seeing and Knowing
(a) The Seasons
91 Your rays nurse all the fields,
92 When you shine, they live and grow for you.
93 You made the seasons to foster all that you made,
94 Winter, to cool them,
95 Summer, that they taste you.
(b) Kheperu in Heaven and on Earth
96 You made the sky far to shine therein,
97 To see all that you make, while you are One,
98 Risen in your form (kheperu) of the living sundisk,
99 Shining and radiant,
100 Far and near.
101 You make millions of forms (kheperu) from yourself alone,
102 Towns, villages, fields,
103 Road and river.
104 All eyes behold you upon them,
105 When you are above the earth as the disk of daytime.
Moses the Egyptian: the memory of Egypt in western monotheism, Jan Assmann pages, 175-176.
In the worship of the Aten as promulgated by Akhenaten it is possible to pick up on a reactionary tendency as the whole set up places the emphasis on the pharaoh as the divine manifestation of the god. The original collapse of the traditional order in the dynastic history of ancient Egypt, called the First Immediate Period by scholars, set up a series of grassroots theological realizations that powered changes that eventually led to what could be called the democratization of beliefs and a personal piety whereby the commoner could have direct access to the worshipped god. It is possible to extrapolate from this a situation where no longer did the priests and royalty have a domineering control over the practice of worship and obedience in society and as a result the royal cult would have developed independent of the worshipping practices of the commoner. The more common worship of Amun was an awakening to the light within all of us and it swept through the whole land touching all inhabitants of ancient Egypt. This more than anything else propelled the profound changes in worship in that it revealed all humankind as divine instead of just the pharaoh. Thus the system of Aten worship was a return to the primacy of the pharaoh as the sole intermediator between the god and his subjects. The revolutionary idea in this worship though was the declaration of the Aten as the only god deserving of worship.
Amun is the light and if Akhenaten is claiming the Aten and himself are the light then Amun had to go. From my standpoint he was wrong. The Aten's historical underpinning comes from the primordial god of cyclical time Heh and to proclaim the light comes from Heh is incorrect. To accept that light comes from the manifestation of creation at Heliopolis is also a claim that cannot be fully substantiated. It is Amun coming forth from the sun disk that allows for the manifestation of visible light in this world hence the syncretic Amun-Re. Re by himself is properly the generator of neheh, cyclical time, as his boat sails round and round. Shu is the arch, the pillar of the city of the pillar - Heliopolis, Iunu in ancient Egypt, that separates the sky from the earth and allows for creation to flourish.
Let's now take a look back into the void, into formlessness, and chase this one down the rabbit hole. A funerary stele of twin brothers from the time of Akhenaten's father Amenhotep III, Her and Suti (Horus and Set), make mention of the Aten in a hymn that was engraved onto the stele.
But during the lifetime of these twin brothers, Her and Suti, the cult of Aten must have made considerable progress at Thebes, for, in spite of their loyalty to Amen, and to the old solar gods of the country, and to Osiris and Isis being manifest, they caused a Hymn to Aten to be engraved on their funerary stele. It has no title, and follows the Hymn to Amen immediately, beginning with the words, "Homage to thee, ATEN of the day!" He is called "creator of men and women, maker of their lives," and is identified with the "Great Hawk of many-coloured plumage." He performed the act of creation which "raised" himself up [out of the primeval watery abyss]. "The creator of himself he was not born." He is next identified with the "Aged Horus," the dweller in Nut, the oldest solar god or sky-god in Egypt, and is acclaimed joyfully at rising and setting. He created the earth (?). The next words, Khnem Amen Henmemit, are difficult. If the writer of the hymn meant to identify Aten with Khnem-Amen, a god of the region of the First Cataract, that is understandable, but how, then, is Henmemit, if that be the correct reading, to be fitted in?1 Aten is next called "Conqueror of the Two Lands from the greatest to the least." Another difficulty meets us in the words "glorious mother of gods and men," and the words that follow, "gracious artificer, most great, prospering in her work," seem to apply to this mother. Perhaps the writer of the hymn wished to compare Aten to such a mother, or he may have regarded Aten as father-mother. After another line containing obscure allusions we read, "How marvellous is production of him who raises up his beauty from the womb of Nut, and who illumines the Two Lands with his Aten (Disk)! He the Pautti (the primeval matter out of which the world and all in it were made) created himself. He is the LORD ONE. He made the Seasons out of the months, Summer because he loves heat, and Winter because he loves the cold; [during the former] he makes men's bodies to become exhausted. The apes sing hymns to him when he rises daily."... Judging by what is said in the Hymn to Aten, the origin, nature and attributes of Aten closely resemble those of Amen. Both gods are identified with the oldest gods in Egypt. Each is declared to be self-created and not to have been born, therefore not begotten, and to each is applied the epithet "ONE." It is interesting to note that Aten is identified with Pautti, the oldest of all the gods, and with the Aged Horus, or Horus the Elder. As Aten is said to be the maker of Summer and Winter and the months, it is clear that a tradition, probably going back to pre-dynastic times, associated him with the primitive Year-god. This Hymn shows that our two architects regarded Aten as a thoroughly Egyptian god, and as one who could be and ought to be worshipped side by side with Amen, who had condescended to become the begetter of their lord and master, Amenhetep III.
1 The true reading may be hememit and so be connected with the word to "roar" - Khnem-Amen of the roarings. Amenhetep IV dedicated a scarab to the god of roarings (British Museum, No. 51084).
Tutankhamen: Amenism, Atenism and Egyptian Monotheism/with Hieroglyphic Texts of Hymns to Amen and Aten, E. A. Wallis Budge, pages 32-34.
This tract identifies Aten with a year (time) god called Pautti who is a primeval god equated with formlessness and the concept (and absence) of neheh time and this identification leads once again to Heh of the Ogdoad, as the primeval pair of Heh and Hauhet were associated with formlessness. Once activated, time separates formlessness and allows this chaotic condition to coalesce into a palpable form. As well take note that the twin brothers are named Her and Suti, an allusion to Horus and Set, the divine combatants. The text identifies the Aten with Horus the Elder and then later on describes the Aten as being born (raised up) in beauty from Nut. A frequent epithet used for Set is 'son of Nut', so common it is largely just understood as another name for Set. Within the literature of the ancient Egyptians, mention of Set directly is often omitted being as it was a fearful reverence of the god and desire to not invoke him by using his name. In the place of using the name, Set was often referred to as the "son of Nut".
One of the most frequently employed epithets of Seth is "son of Nut"; it is so widely known that it can be used without any further addition as an equivalent of the name Seth. It is not to be concluded from this, however, that between Nut and Seth there exists a link such as that between Isis and Horus (Harsiesis). Seth is not a child god and there is no trace of love on the part of or for his mother. The texts cursing Seth do not forget to include, that his own mother has turned against him. The epithet tells us something about Seth himself. It suggests the idea of a mother fixation in the sense of immaturity, in seeming contrast with the other epithet "great in strength." Because Seth's birth was untimely, he is not free and can scarcely be given a place by himself. He remains a part of his mother, her excrement, to speak with Sartre, or her vomit (Pyr. 205a). The texts suggest no particular casual relation between this epithet and the homosexual tendencies of Seth.
Seth, God of Confusion, H Te Velde, page 28.
Set is the dazzling one, the god's name coming from setken which means to dazzle, so this text though not naming him sure makes references to the iconography of Set relating to splendor and beauty. This alternative interpretation opens up a whole new line of thinking. It seems then the dual god Hrwyfy "He of the two faces" which is the twinning of Horus and Set, is conflated here with the Aten in this stele which is not so coincidently made for the twin brothers who share the names of these two combatants.
Hrwyfy "he of the two faces"
The Aten then becomes the encapsulation of the brothers - Horus the Elder by day as transformed in the eastern horizon and Set by night as transformed at the gates to the western horizon. I only have a couple examples, Hrwyfy and of course the twin horizon god Harakhty but it starts to become clear that the 'Hr' is designating the faces of the two gods Horus and Set and that the standard common to this twinning is the falcon. Connecting the dots could it be that Akhenaten's god, Re-Harakhty represented by the divine image of the falcon is the expression of the duality of Horus and Set?
Re-Harakhty on the left with Hathor in the tomb of Nefertari
Furthermore a close inspection of the name of the god Re-Harakhty is revealing. The 'Hr' part can mean face and is directing us to faces of the akhet and those faces would be theologically the combination of Khepri and Atum, or Horus and Set, or Shu and Tefenet. The Re in Re-Harakhty adds to this two faced god as the god at its zenith. The name of the god is telling us about transformation and time. I say this because Khepri and Atum are the transformational aspect and Shu and Tefenet represent the two concepts of time: neheh and diet.
Shu and Tefnut were also identified with the twin Lions of the Horizon. They are shown as two lions or spotted great cats, facing away from each other with the sun on the horizon between them. These lions had various temporal meanings. They could represent yesterday and tomorrow or two forms of time: nhh (eternal recurrence) and dt (eternal sameness).
Egyptian Mythology, Geraldine Pinch, page 197.
The Aten/Re-Harakhty at daybreak in the east, represented by Shu, is creating neheh cyclical time and when the god disappears in the west we lapse into time represented by the goddess Tefenet, djet time, the time of Osiris.
Re-Harakhty at Ramesses II temple at Abu Simbel
In the papyrus below we find the "Lord to the uttermost limit" describing transforming into form from the formlessness imposed by the state of matter and time in the primeval condition.
...In the midst of the magical spells of this papyrus we find two copies of the “Book of knowing how Ra came into being, and of overthrowing Aapep.” One copy is a little fuller than the other, but they agree substantially. The words of this book are said in the opening line to have been spoken by the god Nebertcher, _i.e._ the “Lord to the uttermost limit,” or God Himself. The Egyptian Christians, or Copts, in their religious writings use this name as an equivalent of God Almighty, the Lord of All, the God of the Universe. Nebertcher says: “I am the creator of what hath come into being. I myself came into being under the form of the god Khepera. I came into being under the form of Pautti (or, in primeval time), I formed myself out of the primeval matter, I made myself out of the substance that was in primeval time.”1
1 The second version here states that the name Nebertcher is Ausares (Osiris), who is the oldest god of all.
An Introduction to Ancient Egyptian Literature, E. A. Wallis Budge, page 68.
From this it is an interesting exercise to think of how the Aten is considered the creator of life through the act of generating time. In this conception of the cosmos, it is material creation that is to be exalted and worshipped. The Aten creates the time and space that allows creation to flourish. The Aten ceases to create when it sets in the evening and then in the hymns we have described a condition of death. When it rises at daybreak everything comes alive and creation flourishes once again. But this is all part of an ongoing cycle and within this creation as enacted by the time god you will find death and destruction of form as being necessary parts of this paradigm. Does this not eventually force you into questioning whether creation in this sense is something you want to continually take part in unless you too can become the master of transformation?
This leads to this thought that these two warring brothers, Horus and Set who are locked in an eternal struggle - do they create the cyclic condition that propels creation because of their fighting? If one side was declared victorious for evermore would this stasis cause a calamity and a catastrophic ending to the condition of cyclical time that manifests as our universe? Or is it just Horus as the avenger of his father Osiris that in victory would slay the time god and bring about a reunification of all forms while a Setian victory just perpetuates the separation and allows the continuance of neheh time? It sure seems the struggle between these two is also a catalyst for temporal cyclical time, and hence the time god.
Okay here's a thought. In the mythology of Re, Set pilots the boat of Re throughout the night in order to get past Apophis who is intent on swallowing this boat and stopping this procession.
Set fights off Apophis so cyclical time may proceed
This an elaborate metaphor for time, time in the cyclical sense that is called neheh time by the ancient Egyptians. I just wrote a lengthy blog post that contained my thoughts on the Ogdoad which is the totality of the eight deities of the primeval beginnings of creation. I noticed how these powers manifest in the creation that has come forth. Darkness, chaos, and inertia are represented by Kek and Kaukhet and in them you see a relationship to Apophis. What gets creation going is separation and this is accomplished by Heh and Hauhet as time that separates. The hidden cosmic light as Amun and Amaunet comes forth and is the impetus that enlivens the water based material androgyne that is Nun and Naunet. Formlessness becomes form. In Heliopolis it is the power of Heh that is manifest and at this place is the sun disk making time but being accosted by inertia every night which is mirroring the elemental powers of the Ogdoad. What is it that keeps this ship on course? It's Set. Set is a strongman and a magician. He is also a time god who is the separator that powers time. Set is called 'Wer Hekau' - great of magic. Extrapolating from this thought then you have to place the power of Set in the Ogdoad as an aspect of Heh. Set is the power that separates. I've been trying to find Set in Amarna but I can't and maybe that's because he's a master at transformation. His previous attempts at exclusivity failed so therefore a new disguise comes into play here? The iconography of Set is unclear and elusive by design; look at the fantastic animal that is used to represent him.
can't pin down whom Set is
It's very puzzling but now in this discourse we can see that it is suggesting something that transforms itself at will. This is what I can discern from the texts and knowledge of Akhetaten.
Akhetaten was constructed in the desert. Granted Egypt has a lot of desert but it is significant that it was built on desert land, desert being the primacy of Set. When the Aten has set on the western horizon in Akhetaten then the dual nature and transformation of the god becomes the chaos, death, and confusion of the night - in essence Set. The role of darkness and chaos known as Kek and Kaukhet in the Ogdoad is addressed by the absence of the disk in the nighttime as it undergoes transformation but it is still an aspect of the all encompassing god. It is the aspect of negation. The Aten is the dual nature of the sole god represented as both beneficent and destructive. During the day the Aten separates the earth and sky allowing for creation and at night the Aten causes chaos. It is an attempt by a very smart and cunning philosopher, Akhenaten, to formulate the Ogdoad into an entity that manifests in creation and encapsulates all the powers of pre-existence. The Aten also takes on the dual aspects of the mother and father as mentioned before and also attempts to become a representation of the two warring brothers of Horus and Set. In other words totality.
In the great hymn, the Aten is said to rest in the western lightland, this is the western akhet of Akhetaten, and a condition of darkness and death takes over. Thieves and dangerous animals abound. This is really the time of Set. He rules over this confusion and he keeps the time boat in its procession moving. In this hymn the morning rebirth has the Aten credited with dispelling the dark which would make Set an aspect of the Aten and ultimately of time.
Third Stanza: Night-Chaos
13 When you set in the western lightland,
14 Earth is in darkness
15 In the condition of death.
16 The sleepers are in (their) chambers
17`Heads covered, one eye does not see the other,
18 Were they robbed of their goods under their heads, they don't notice it.
19 Every lion comes from its den,
20 All the serpents bite.
21 Darkness is a grave,
22 Earth is in silence:
23 Their creator has set in his lightland
Fourth Stanza: Morning-Rebirth
24 At dawn you have risen in the lightland
25 And are radiant as the sundisk of daytime.
26 You dispel the dark, you cast your rays,
27 The Two Lands are in festivity daily.
Moses the Egyptian: the memory of Egypt in western monotheism, Jan Assmann pages 172-173.
This is essentially the Aten as Re-Horakhty. Re generates cyclical time and the Aten transforms at the horizon points into two distinct forms that in this theology comprise existence. Before continuing on let's just look at a few puzzling coincidences. Here we have a depiction of the worship of the Aten at Akhetaten in which a daughter of Akhenaten is offering up the lettuce that is the favourite food of the gods Set and Min.
Akhenaten and Tiye have Beketaten following carrying lettuce to Aten
The Aten is given epithets that are cogent with the nomenclature of Set, specifically terms that describe them both as dazzling and radiant. In the reign of the father of Akhenaten, the pharaoh Amenhotep III, we have named with these types of descriptors the state barge, his palace complex at Malkata, and on commemorative scarabs.
The pharaoh Amenhotep III, father of Akhenaten, furthered the fortunes of Aten. From his reign comes the earliest evidence of a priesthood and temple to Aten at Heliopolis. Several of his courtiers bore titles connecting them with the Aten cult, e.g. Hatiay 'scribe of the two granaries of the Temple of Aten in Memphis', and Ramose (not the vizier but the owner of tomb 46 in the Theban necropolis), 'steward of the mansion of the Aten', depicted with his wife going to view the sun disk. The palace of Amenhotep at Malkata on the west bank at Thebes was called 'splendour of Aten'. From the latter years of this king it was also known as the 'Per Hay' or 'home of rejoicing' - a description we shall meet again applied to part of the Great Temple of the Aten at el-Amarna. Here also, at Malkata, Amenhotep ordered the construction within sixteen days of a lake over a mile in length for the pleasure of his principal wife Queen Tiye - inaugurating it by sailing its waters on a boat called 'Aten glitters'.
A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses, George Hart, pages 38-39.
Also within the use of these descriptions of the Aten you can see how Amenhotep III is conflating the Aten with himself and scholars have picked up on this and the theology that makes the pharaoh the living image of the Aten will continue with the son Akhenaten.
The style of Amenhotep III's monument decoration underwent sweeping changes at the time of his first jubilee in Year 30, from the traditional Thutmoside style to an exaggerated art style which emphasized his new youthfulness and introduced solar- related iconography that communicated his assimilation with the creator god and the sun's disk. The style of Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten's monument decoration underwent similar changes at the same time, from a traditional style in his first year or two to an exaggerated art style which emphasized his unique nature as the first born of the creator god, male and female in one.91 The long coregency model allows the kindred artistic and iconographic innovations of both kings to have occurred simultaneously in order to emphasize their ritual Atum/Shu relationship, while the separation of the two courts was dictated by the nature of that relationship. This model would also suggest that the stimulus for Akhenaten's divine father, the 'Living Re-Horakhty/Aten', was his actual father, the living, deified Amenhotep III, the 'Dazzling Aten', the most extraordinary of all of Amenhotep III's many deified forms.92
92 Battiscombe Gunn commented long ago on Akhenaten's divine 'coregent' in his 'Notes on the Aten and His Names', JEA 9 (1923), 168-70.
Amenhotep III and Amarna: Some New Considerations, W. Raymond Johnson, The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 82, page 81.
As referred to in the above passage, the style of art during Akhenaten's reign underwent a radical departure from the accepted standards of the day. I wonder if the style of art at Amarna was a desire to transgress boundaries? To cause disorder within acceptable social norms? This behaviour is of course the domain of Set - the god of confusion.
Before moving on let's just take a closer look at the idea of Set as a vehicle and how it could relate to the procession of the sun disk. I'm drawn to this idea because of Amenhotep's description of his pleasure boat as being 'Aten glitters'.
From the Saitic period on we often see depicted on coffins, in temples, in tombs and on head-rests a bull, i.e. the Apis bull, carrying a mummy to the tomb. According to a vignette with accompanying text in the pap. Jumilhac, Bata, that is Seth carries Osiris on his back in the form of a bull. (Papyrus Jumilhac XX.)
It appears from a Pyramid text that this idea of Seth as a bull carrying Osiris is ancient. Osiris is addressed as follows:
"I have killed for you him who killed you… You are upon the back of him who is in form of a bull." (Pyramid Texts 1544 a, d. In Pyramid Text 1124 c it is said that the feet of the heavenly throne of the king or Osiris are hooves of the great bull.)
The final clause of this utterance (Pyramid Text 1550 a.) shows, that the bull or bull's head is connected with a ship. As the boat of Sokaris was decorated with the head of a gazelle and a bull that had been sacrificed, thus it seems that the ship of Osiris could be decorated with the head of a bull, so that the sacrificial bull representing Seth must carry Osiris as a ship.
Seth, God of Confusion, H Te Velde, page 97-98.
It's not a stretch to say then that the strength of Set is to be harnessed in the material world and used as a vehicle to be in service to your higher self. Projecting the idea onto the study we are currently undertaking, Set's role in the retinue of Re becomes a carrier of the forces that create cyclical time as well as a force that can defeat the forces of entropy as represented by Apophis. In terms of Akhenaten's conception of the Aten and what I have postulated concerning the dual nature of Re-Harakhty, Set as one half of this duality, takes on the role on the disk; the disk having the role and attributes of a celestial boat.
This episode in the desert was not the first time the ancient Egyptians witnessed a pharaoh worshipping just one god at the exclusion of all the others. Set and monotheism appears with the conquering semitic Hyksos pharaoh named Apophis establishing the Egyptian god he will worship as Set because he is the same warlike and thunderous god he worships back in the levant. With this worship of Set comes a refusal to honour any of the other gods of Egypt which greatly displeased the Egyptians and was considered criminal.
Two reigning kings of the 19th dynasty called themselves "The Sethian,"7 and Ramesses II openly venerated Seth.8 There is, however, another way to read (pharaoh) Apophis' transgression. According to this reading, the actual breach of Apophis was not the veneration of Seth per se, but the fact that the Hyksos ruler did not worship any other god in the entire land except Seth. The text uses the wording wpwt Stḫ which is strongly reminiscent of the formulation wpwt ḥr.f "no other but him," attributed to the Aten, and which HORNUNG (1999: 93) regards as "the decisive step toward monotheism and its exclusivity."
In his inscription in Akhmin, king Ay settles the score with the "evil" past of Akhenaten, the "heretic king," declaring that in his own times anyone could make an offering to "his own god."9 We may conclude that the main offense of Akhenaten in Ay's eyes was that, like Apophis, he venerated "solely one god" (the Aten) and banished the worship of other gods.
7 Papyrus Turin mentions a 14th dynasty king called "The Sethian," see BECKERATH 1999: 112-113.
8 For a recent discussion, see YOYOTTE 1999: 48-54; STADEL-MANN 1965: 66.
9 LD III, 114.
King Apophis of Avaris and the Emergence of Monotheism, Orly Goldwasser, page 129-130.
This passage below from the Papyrus Sallier I documents the transgression of pharaoh Apophis of not worshipping any of the other gods of Egypt. Towards the end of this passage, it is claimed he sacrificed at the break of day to Set which is alluding to the power in the horizon of transformation once again which was known as the akhet.
So King Apophis, L.P.H., adopted Seth for himself as lord, and he refused to serve any god that was in the entire land ex[cept] Seth. He built a temple of fine workmanship for the eternity next to the House of the [King Apo]phis, L.P.H., and he appeared [at break of] day in order to sacrifice ... daily to Seth, while the officials [of the palace], L.P.H., carried garlands, exactly as is practiced (in) the temple of Pre-Harakhte.
Papyrus Sallier I
The Literature of Ancient Egypt, Translation by Edward F. Wente, William Kelly Simpson, ed., New Haven and London, 1973, page 77 ff.
Also it is noted that in the temple built for Set the worship is exactly like that of Pre-Harakhte (Re-Harakhty). Now this is interpreted as being an offensive thing to do and a slight to the worship of Re-Harakhty however if you have been following along in my argument, here you might come to a different conclusion. The worship of Set was exactly like that of Re-Harakhty because he was an aspect of him. The previous idea in the passage lends credence to this speculation as it explains the Hyksos ruler treated Set as a horizon god as demonstrated by his worship and sacrifice occurring at daybreak. From the Beatty Papyrus we know that Re-Harakhty was very fond of Set.
"And Re-Harakhty said : give me Set, the son of Nut, that he may stay with me, being with me like a child, and he shall thunder in heaven and be feared."
Papyrus Beatty 1, 16, 4.
Akhenaten refused to worship the other gods of Egypt as well and this too brought accusation of criminality, we would say heresy, from the Egyptians after they got rid of him.
...the "heretic king" Akhenaten, when documented in administrative records of the 19th dynasty, is called p3-ḫrw n 3ḫt-'Itn "the enemy from Akhetaten" or sbi - "rebel."22 His very name is never mentioned, not to mention placed in a cartouche or given a divine classifier.
22 GARDINER 1905, 14-92; also KRI III 15, 8; 15 (I am grateful to Dr. Deborah Sweeney for the last reference).
King Apophis of Avaris and the Emergence of Monotheism, Orly Goldwasser, page 131.
When Set fell out of favour he is also referred to as a rebel. In the Book of the Victory over Set, Set the "son of Nut" is referred to as a rebel:
[Recite:] Back! Rebel of abominable character, whose step has been impeded by Re, who (already) fought in (his mother's) womb,
who did evil, who stepped outside the (prescribed) path,
who fell down because of his slaughter,
who loved the fight, who enjoyed quarrel,
who covered his face against him who is older than him,
who created evil, who caused grief
in enmity to the father of his fathers,
who avoids laws, who uses force,
who stands there as archer (?),
robber, lord of the lie, ruler of deceit,
leader of criminals,
who rejoices over (treacherous) abandonment, who hates friendship,
whose heart is haughty among the gods,
who sows enmity, who creates destruction,
the evil one who incites rebellion,
lord of robbery who rejoices in greed,
lord of theft, who creates rapine,
who causes grief and creates wounds,
who devises rebellion out of evil.
They justify Osiris, First of the Westerners, wn nfr
against the miserable Seth, son of Nut, and his followers. Heliopolis rejoices, Thebes shouts with joy,
Memphis is in joy.
Busiris and Abydos are renewed,
Herakleopolis is in glee, n-Arf stands firm
the Hnb protects what is in it,
his arms are strong, to cause the fall of the rebel,
he has fetched the head of him, the unsuccessful.
Horus has imbued the rebel with fear.
"Robber! Lord of lies; king of deceit; gangleader of criminals; who is satisfied with desertion and hates friendship; braggart among the gods, who causes enmity and occasions murder; Typhon, who creates rebellion; lord of looting, who rejoices at greed; master-thief, who suscitates theft; who gives offence"…
Seth, God of Confusion, H Te Velde, page 151.
Though Akhenaten may not have considered his theology and new way of thinking as synonymous with Set, it seems that after he was deposed he was compared to the negative aspects of Set. As well it has been shown that in the aftermath of the Amarna period the name Akhenaten was removed from the temples and the name never directly mentioned which are all similar actions used in the avoidance of addressing the god Set in temple art and worship.
The theology of Akhenaten as I have described still references the powers of the original eight of the Ogdoad of Hermopolis however these remain bound within the Aten and his representative here on earth, who is the Pharaoh. The malice shown towards Amun and the destruction and erasure of that god seem related to light and issues of humankind as carriers of the light. There was no room for that in the theology of Akhenaten as the light was provided by the power of Shu, the neheh, in combination with the beneficence of the Pharaoh and that was all that was needed to satisfy the needs of the populace. It was Ka based and in that regard was the life force that was needed to sustain life. That was what was provided to the populace and what they should be grateful for in worship. There was no concept of the a soul or a light within in this religion so Amun had to go. What I find fascinating are the stories of Set who is essentially doing the same thing with a different strategy. Set kills the personal light within us all called Osiris, and then harangues the son Horus who is the light reborn. The claims of Akhenaten as being the first monotheist are unfounded as it is Set and continually Set who demands monotheistic worship and this was to be accomplished through murder and mayhem at first. When that didn't work this idea manifests once again more nuanced and with guile as Akhenaten later appears on the scene to reintroduce monotheistic principles but is a henotheist at first until he ramps up his well thought out plan further into his reign. The attempted murder of the god Amun is enacted as a parallel to the murder of Osiris. Once again I'll mention there is no mention of Osiris at Akhetaten and with the erasure of the memory of Amun, the destruction of the light within, the soul, would have been accomplished. The Amarna period at its base level was another trickster scheme by the god Set to rule as one with humankind left to serve in perpetuity. Today, with the decline of religiosity in the west, this assault continues with materialism and the worship of stuff. In any event, the ancient Egyptians saw through this and overthrew and banished this asshole called Akhenaten. Set and monotheism moved on to beguile humankind in a later manifestation but it was at this point in the dynastic history of ancient Egypt that they knew they had to make an attempt at placating Set lest he scheme once again to become the sole god.
What did change in Egypt in the immediate aftermath of the post Amarna period was the rise of Set in the coming to power of the Ramesside kings. Set was given a prominent place in the court of the pharaoh as perhaps a form of appeasement after the whole debacle at Amarna. It was like theologically there became a need to acknowledge the power of Set or these episodes would continue to beguile the Egyptians. The early 19th dynasty rulers were alternately named Ramesses and Seti. Ramesses means the son of Re and Seti of course is named after Set. There is something we have missed here though and that is that the son of Re is referring to Set. The two names of Ramesses and Seti were describing the same theological relationship of the pharaoh to Re with the pharaoh manifesting as Set.
Ramesses II fights at Kadesh on the river Orontes like Seth who is 'Baal on the battlefield'.
The Routledge Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses, George Hart, page 144,
In terms of kingship they were continuing the ideas put forth by Akhenaten concerning the primacy of the pharaoh in that they left no doubt that they were the divine representation of the god on earth. This is most apparent at Ramesses II's temple at Abu Simbel where four colossal figures of the Pharaoh sit prominently before the entrance to the temple.
Ramesses II at Abu Simbel
The difference between the Ramesside interpretation of divine kingship and Akhenaten's theology was that they left room for all the gods though they left no doubt of their warrior like natures and devotion to the cyclical gods, favouring the procession of Re who in his image created them as reflections in the guise of Set. To further illustrate this let's look at the names given to the male heirs to the throne in the 18th dynasty as we will see this concept of the pharaoh being a son of the god by name is not new. The two most popular names were Amenhotep and Thothmose. Looking at the latter name it means son of Thoth. Thoth is the wisdom god and the titular male deity of the primeval Hermopolis in combination with the feminine Hathor. Their combination here relates to the original unity and the coming forth and expression of this idea finds its flowering in mankind as the light that is resident within us. This idea we know is true because of the other popular name Amenhotep which means Amun is satisfied, is at peace, is at rest. I've previously written about how Amun is the cosmic light that is hidden but through the process of creation comes forth on a grand scale as the light of the sun, the Amun of Amun-Re, or on a micro scale the hidden light within us waiting to be discovered. So with that understanding you can see how the two names of Thothmose and Amenhotep are complimentary and are in essence describing the same concept of the light being resident in the heir to the throne. So this idea was prevalent among royalty and would be applied to the god that was worshipped by the royal family at the time. So as the worship changed from being Amun centric to Re-Harakhty, we eventually see with Akhenaten the violent repression of Amun in favour of his conception that culminates in the Aten. The Ramesses dynasty comes to favour the god Set but not at the expense of the other gods, having learned from the lessons of the failure of Akhenaten and also the lingering hatred of the delta dwelling semitic Hyksos and their exclusive affinity for Set that came before them.
Before ending this speculation there is also the question of worship which the discipline of Egyptology is not equipped to deal with. How did Akhenaten come into contact with this god? Egyptology as a discipline aligns itself with the principles of scientific enquiry, which is a noble endeavour, however that means the exclusion of any belief in the existence of gods and goddesses. It is possible within the sphere of human experience to enter into realms where there are spirits present. This can be argued to be illusory, hallucinatory, or non real - basically false constructs of altered brain functioning, which are all valid arguments, however that does not negate the ability to do this. So with that in mind and the ancient Egyptian desire and know how of how to enter into these states (they put the chem in alchemy and chemistry as derived from the their ancient name of Kemet) it would have been theoretically possible through ritual and intent in combination with psychoactive chemicals for Akhenaten to enter into states that allowed for repeated contact with this entity (or he was perhaps schizophrenic). When you comb through the evidence as presented in the 18th dynasty you find the impetus to move from the worship of Amun to Re-Harakhty has this curious episode where the future pharaoh Thothmose IV describes a dream he had while passed out in front of the great sphinx on the Giza plateau where he is promised the throne if he will clear the sand away from this monument, the sphinx monument being a representation of Re-Harakhty. He promises to do so and ascends to the throne, though he is not a direct heir, and thus the attachment to the god as Re-Harakhty that eventually becomes Aten worship. Was this dream and subsequent upheaval that followed it in the annals of the historical 18th dynasty pharaohs a product of an altered state and contact with an entity who styled himself the ruler of the horizons and who eventually declared there are no others gods? Was the attempted murder of Amun hatched on the Giza plateau at this very moment? Is the clearing away of sand a metaphor for reestablishing the worship and primacy of this god Re-Harakhty?
Akhenaten as Re-Harakhty - the Great Sphinx
Hans Ollermann via CC by 2.0
So in conclusion the whole episode at Amarna is intriguing because it was suppressed in the immediate aftermath and that leads to questions of why. This mystery then leads to speculation, which is buttressed by the promotion of a god that was considered the all that has been discerned as a first attempt at monotheism, monotheism being this concept that has gripped the western mind as being, for some curious reason, an enlightened forward step in thinking therefore Akhenaten is acclaimed as some kind of innovative iconoclast as opposed to a deluded cult leader. What further gives charge to this whole situation is the role of Moses in the Hebrew story of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt as this myth has Moses being raised in the court of the Pharaoh and being learned in the ways of the Egyptians. Moses introduces the worship of the one god, Yhvh, to the Israelite masses and it is then very tempting to conflate Akhenaten with Moses as many have done. The problem with this is that there's the problem of historicity to overcome. Akhenaten is a verified historical figure while Moses is a mythical figure. Until this can be proven otherwise, trying to connect Moses to Akhenaten, however circumstantial or pained, is rather pointless. However the push towards monotheism I'd argue has always been present in ancient Egypt and also in the thinking of their semitic neighbours. It all started with the ancient Egyptian god Set and his murder of Osiris and subsequent attempted murder of his son Horus. The semitic Hyksos worshipped Set and excluded the veneration of the other gods of Egypt. Set has also threatened the gods with annihilation in 'The Contendings of Horus and Set' if he didn't get his way. In Akhetaten we have the erasure of the other gods and especial malice shown towards Amun. And finally we have the story of the Israelites and their Exodus out of Egypt and the subsequent covenant they enter into with their god who forbids the worship of other gods as well. So although Akhetaten and the Aten have been consigned to the dust bowl of history, the push towards one god, a male one at that, did eventually rise out of the middle east and succeed and we live with that legacy today.