AKHENATEN AND NEFERTITI’S INFLUENCE ON RELIGION IN ANCIENT EGYPT
Akhenatenand his Wife Nefertiti`s Influence on Religion in Ancient Egypt
Priorto Akhenaten rising to power, the former pharaohs had allowed theworshipping of many gods however, when Akhenaten came to power, hechanged this form of religious system and initiated the worshippingof one god, Aten, whom he deemed to have all the powers. Althoughother gods were still worshipped, they were silent because Akhenatendid not want to hear about them but only wanted to hear of Aten.Because of Akhenaten’s decision to provide only Aten with temples,in an attempt to encourage monotheism, people in Ancient Egypt haddifferent perspectives and feelings. Also, there were differentreligious practices that were done in Ancient Egypt. In this report,religion during the Akhenaten period and before his reign will bediscussed. Akhenaten and Nefertiti’s influence on religion inAncient Egypt will also be discussed. Also, the feeling of Egypt as awhole towards religion and religious practices will also be discussedin the report.
Thetradition of the ancient Egypt was founded on worshipping of manygods, where Amun was the central god. A century before Akhenaten cameto power Thutmose III had established a military priesthood thatcontrolled the empire. Amun of Thebes was the central god and hispriests were deemed to be very powerful. At the start of his reign,Akhenaten was known as Amenhotep IV, still adhered to the traditionof worshipping the old gods especially Amun of Thebes andRe-Harakhte, the sun god. However, after some time, changes began tocome in. Akhenaten abandoned work on a temple that was dedicated toRe-Harakhte and commenced to build a new temple meant for the worshipof the sun god, Aten.1Different from the Ancient Egypt’s tradition, Aten was not shown inanimal or human form, but was represented as sun disk having extendedrays that ended in hands. Unlike the old gods, Aten had no carvedimage that was hidden in a dark room within a temple, but wasworshipped in the light. Aten was considered the life-giving as wellas life-sustaining power of the sun.
Nefertitiwas considered to be an Asian princess that came from Mitanni. Shesupported as well as encouraged her husband in his revolutionary planand together they became involved in religious establishment. Duringthe fifth year of his ruling, Amenhotep IV changed his name toAkhenaten, which meant “the servant of the Aten”.2This formally declared the new religion being supported by the king. To further show support for the worship of Aten, Akhenaten beganbuilding a new city known as Akhetaten, which meant “Aten’sHorizon”. The names of other gods were removed from the view inorder to support the worship of the sun god, Aten. Also, the oldtemples became closed and new ones were built for the worship ofAten. The funerary religion of Osiris became dropped and the kingbecame the ultimate source of blessings for individuals after death.3Despite the Akhenaten’s revolutionary ideas on religion, theancient Egyptians were very religious ad loved their ancienttraditions which made it not possible for them to embrace the radicalchanges.
Theold traditional deities of the Egyptians were perceived by theEgyptians to encourage harmony, peace, as well as the development ofone of the vast ancient cultures of the world. The polytheism thatexisted prior to Akhenaten taking over power in the ancient Egyptencouraged building on a society and culture, where peace and balancewere at the center the issue of religion tolerance was a non-issue.However, with the establishment of a monotheistic religion byAkhenaten and Nefertiti, there was the notion that one religioussystem had to be considered right while the belief system of allother religious systems had to be considered wrong. Thus, thecreation of monotheism led to the intolerance of other religiousbeliefs which led to their suppression. Therefore, instead of unitingthe Egyptians, monotheism resulted in disuniting the Egyptians ratherthan uniting them. The suppression of other religious systems led tothe impediment of traditional practices of the ancient Egyptians.
TraditionalReligious Practices in Ancient Egypt
Therewere different religious practices that were associated with theancient Egyptians. There were daily worships that excluded the publicbecause they took place inside temples. During these worships, thepriests tended the gods and had to first of all cleanse themselvesritually prior to entering the temple.4However, there were religious practices that did not exclude thepublic and anyone was allowed to participate in the practices. Thesepractices would be discussed in the following paragraphs
BeautifulFeast of the Valley
Duringthis religious practice, Amen used to cross the river to Deir elBahri located on the western bank of the Nile. This was firstcelebrated as a day of remembering the dead however, it later becamefamous when amen’s top position became unassailable in the Egyptianpantheon. This religious practice was celebrated during the secondmonth of Shemu.
TheProcession of Min
Thiswas a practice of celebrating the ancient fertility god Min. This wasusually celebrated in the first month of Shemu. During the practice,the statue of the god was carried on a waste from the temple to agiven platform in the country. The gilded wooden statues of the kingwere carried during the procession. After the god’s statue wasplaced on a platform, the king brought an offering and prayed to thegod. After the end of the celebration, hymns were sung and the god’sstatue returned to the temple.5
Thisreligious practice was in honor of Osiris for celebrating fertility.Unlike different official practices, this practice could be organizedby the villagers at times. This practice was also different fromothers due to the difference in offerings presented to the godofferings such as pigs and fish could be offered to the god.
Thewag-feast entailed a day celebrated on the eighth day during thefirst month of the first season. This was celebrated through visitingthe parts of tombs that were accessible to the living. During thecelebrations, offerings were usually left for the deceased.6
Duringthis practice, the priests carried fans and burned incense. Thepriests followed a tambourine player to the shores of Nile, where theboats as well as the statues became loaded onto floating temples.After a period of three weeks, the statues were returned to thetemples for another occasion.
Onthe other hand, during the reign of Akhenaten, traditional religiouspractices were not allowed since Aten was considered as the onlypowerful god. Besides, no offerings and oracles were required. Thus,the religious practices during the reign of Akhenaten were differentfrom the practices that were encouraged before Akhenaten came topower.
Feelingof the Egypt as a Whole
Theintroduction of monotheism by Akhenaten and his wife Nefertitiresulted in a feeling of discontentment amid the Egyptians. First ofall, the entire of Egypt was used to the tradition of worshippinggods of their own choice, where Amun was the central god. However,with the introduction of monotheism, the Egyptians were not in aposition to exercise their tradition where they could choose a godthat they desired. The introduction of Aten as the supreme god waslike denying the Egyptians their rightful and traditional way ofworshipping because it was just like telling the Egyptians that didnot believe in Aten that they were wrong, or their belief systemswere confused. This angered the Egyptians, making them hate theruling of the Akhenaten. Also, the Egyptians had the tradition ofworshipping gods that had the form of an animal or human, but the godthat Akhenaten and his wife introduced did not have this form. Thiswas perceived by the Egyptians as a way of going against theirtraditions. The whole of Egypt was not happy with the abolition ofthe traditional practices emanating from the introduction ofmonotheism.
Priorto the introduction of Akhenaten as the king in the ancient Egypt,the Egyptians were used to a ruling system where priests wereconsidered powerful a great role in the society.7However, with the ruling of Akhenaten, the priests were ignored andwere deemed to have no or less power. This emanates from theelimination of priests in most of the traditional practices that theEgyptians used to recognize before Akhenaten came to power. WhenAkhenaten came to power, he introduced monotheism and because he didnot have preference for any other god other than Aten, he ordered thedestruction of temples. The destruction of the temples renderedpriests jobless which was against the will of the people. Also,because of the elimination of the Egyptian traditions that came withthe introduction monotheism, it was difficult for priests to takepart in the ceremonies since offerings were not necessary. This issuedid not go well with the Egyptians because they felt that the role ofthe priest was ignored by the king.
Initially,before Akhenaten came to power, the ancient Egypt was polytheist.This implies that different tribes could have a god of their ownchoice but they were united by one central god, Amun. The freedomthat was given to people to have a god of their own choice indicatedthat there was no belief that was deemed to be superior to the other.This made people to live in peace and harmony, despite them havingdifferent gods. However, with the introduction of monotheism, peoplefelt that their belief systems were deemed as inappropriate sincethey were forced to only have one god that was viewed as powerful bythe king. This had the result of disuniting the Egyptians instead ofbringing them together. Therefore, the Egyptians believed that themonotheism introduced by Akhenaten led to disuniting of the ancientEgypt.
Also,the Egyptians felt disappointed by the ruling of Akhenaten. Thisemanates from the lack of development agenda. It is important for aking to have the interest of the state in his heart to allow thedevelopment of the country. Although Akhenaten took interest in stateaffairs, he was most of the time interested in things of personalassociation. For example, the king ignored the army which is verycritical in the running of state affairs. Besides, during his reign,the foreign relation with the rest of the states was negativelyaffected due to unfavorable foreign policy. This indeed affected thedevelopment agenda of the ancient Egypt. Furthermore, the building ofthe prime city near a desert undermined the growth of the ancientEgypt.
Akhenatenand Nefertiti’s Influence on Religion in Ancient Egypt
Akhenatenand Nefertiti played a role in influencing the religion in ancientEgypt, but the influence was only short lived. For the first fiveyears of his ruling, Akhenaten followed the old religion that theformer kings followed however, this changed during the fifth yearwhen he decided to follow a different path. Previous kings hadsupported the idea of having a god that had the form of an animal orhuman, which made it possible to create a statue of the god. WhenAkhenaten changed his religion preference, he made the Egyptians toworship a god that did not have the form of a human or animal. Theking, through his religion, made the Egyptians to change the centralgod Amun that they were used to worshipping. Also, through the king’snew religion, the Egyptians did not have to continue with theirtraditional practices that they were used to in the old religion. Inthe new religion, offerings were not necessary, which made the roleof the priests be perceived as insignificant. Further, the religionof Akhenaten had an influence on the role of the priests becauseAkhenaten made sure that the old temples that housed the gods weredestroyed and built new ones that supported the worshipping of Atenas the only god. Although Aten was supposed to be the only powerfulgod of the land, there were other gods that were worshipped by theEgyptians, but they were silent because one could not hear aboutthem. Despite Akhenaten and Nefertiti introducing a new religion inancient Egypt, the influence of the religion did not seem to have along-term effect because it lasted for a few years. After sometime,the Egyptians started to complain about the new religion because theyfelt that the religion had only the interests of the king. UponAkhenaten facing death, the new religion also died since the kingthat came after him reinstated the old religion.8Therefore, Akhenaten and Nefertiti did not have a lasting influenceon religion.
Akhenatenis one of the kings of the ancient Egypt that has been considered togo against the traditions of the ancient Egypt due to theintroduction of monotheism. The tradition of the ancient Egypt wasfounded on worshipping of many gods, where Amun was the central god.A century before Akhenaten came to power Thutmose III hadestablished a military priesthood that controlled the empire. Amun ofThebes was the central god and his priests were deemed to be verypowerful. At the start of his reign, Akhenaten was known as AmenhotepIV, still adhered to the tradition of worshipping the old godsespecially Amun of Thebes and Re-Harakhte, the sun god. However,after some time, changes began to come in. To show support for theworship of Aten, Akhenaten began building a new city known asAkhetaten, which meant “Aten’s Horizon”. The names of othergods were removed from the view in order to support the worship ofthe sun god, Aten. Also, the old temples became closed and new oneswere built for the worship of Aten. The introduction of monotheism byAkhenaten and Nefertiti suppressed the traditions in ancient Egypthowever, the influence of the new religion was short-lived becausethe son of Akhenaten reinstated back the old religion after he becamethe king.
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Hornung,E. 2001. Akhenatenand the religion of light.Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press.
Shafer,B. E., Baines, J., Lesko, L. H., Silverman, D. P., & FordhamUniversity. 1991. Religionin ancient Egypt: Gods, myths, and personal practice.Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Teeter,E. 2011. Religionand ritual in ancient Egypt.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Thomas,S. 2003. Akhenatenand Tutankhamen: The religious revolution.New York: Rosen Pub. Group.
1 Hoffmeier, J. K. 2015. Akhenaten and the origins of monotheism. Oxford New York : Oxford University Press. Pp 48.
2 Hornung, E. 2001. Akhenaten and the religion of light. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press. Pp 66.
3 Hornung, E. 2001. Akhenaten and the religion of light. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press. Pp 72.
4 Budge, E. A. W. 2003. Tutānkhamen, Amenism, Atenism and Egyptian monotheism: With hieroglyphic texts of hymns to Ȧmen and Ȧten. Whitefish, Mont.: Kessinger Pub. Pp. 86.
5 Teeter, E. 2011. Religion and ritual in ancient Egypt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pp 52.
6 Shafer, B. E., Baines, J., Lesko, L. H., Silverman, D. P., & Fordham University. 1991. Religion in ancient Egypt: Gods, myths, and personal practice. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Pp38.
7 Budge, E. A. W. 2003. Tutānkhamen, Amenism, Atenism and Egyptian monotheism: With hieroglyphic texts of hymns to Ȧmen and Ȧten. Whitefish, Mont.: Kessinger Pub. Pp. 52.
8 Thomas, S. 2003. Akhenaten and Tutankhamen: The religious revolution. New York: Rosen Pub. Group. Pp 16.