Wednesday, December 08, 2010
Akhenaten ruled only 17 years as Pharaoh of Egypt but his influence was astounding. Imagine a new president coming to the US and this president deciding to change the center of power from Washington DC to the middle of the desert in central Nevada. They would have to start building new buildings from the foundation up, then work on the infrastructure of roads, airports, power lines, etc. Then they would have to move all the governmental support with the people, copy machines, computers, office furniture. They would then have to fill in with the Walmarts, Home Depots, Pharmacies, and Bars. You get the idea.
That is what Akhenaten did. He moved EVERYTHING from the capital near Cairo to a new capital 350 miles away in the middle of the desert called Amarna. He moved the whole government, people and all, to this new site. But what he did that REALLY changed everything was to outlaw the gods of Egypt. He “starved out” the temples to all gods but one: the Egyptian god Aten, the sun god. He changed his name from Amenhotep (Amun is happy) to Akhenaten (Spirit of Aten). This was heretical to the people, but what can you do when your king, the ultimate ruler, said “jump”?
It took a LOT of money to do this. It took a lot of confidence in Aten to do this. That is why many biblical historians believe that Akhenaten was the Pharaoh of Joseph. Joseph influenced Amenhotep with the dream interpretation of HUGE prosperity followed by TERRIBLE famine. Joseph influence Amenhotep towards ONE God, the God who shines on all people, not just the Egyptians. Joseph influenced Amenhotep to become Akhenaten, the Spirit of the One God. Because of the prosperity Egypt was awash in gold, because of the famine and being the ONLY one with food Egypt was FLOODED with gold, people looking for work, and people who couldn’t ply their trade anywhere else. Just what is needed to build a new city in the middle of the desert.
It is interesting that built into the four corners of this new city were steles (tombstone like granite plaques) which were inscribed with the rules for behavior and commands for living in this new city. Here are some of the commands: “There is no God but Aten, you shall worship the Aten and the Aten alone.” And “You shall make no images of the Aten out of wood or stone.” (which, again, was radical because ALL the other gods had images made of them) The Aten was represented only in beams of light coming from the sun which gave light, warmed, and even was shown with little hands on the end of the beams indicating that all we have is from the Aten.
I don’t know if Akhenaten was influenced by Joseph or not. I don’t know if his view of the Aten was really the same God we serve but I do know he changed everything from the government, to the religion, to the art (check out Amarna period Egyptian art). Change came only from HUGE amounts of money and willing workers. But his changes didn’t last long. Akhenaten’s son Tutankhaten (Living image of Aten) became pharaoh at the age of nine due to the untimely death of his father and older brother. He died only 9 years later at 18 and many believe he was murdered because of his father’s heretical ways. (Many priests were unhappy that their patron god was de-funded by Akhenaten). Even though the boy tried to change back under the influence of his “vizier” Ay and changed his name from “Living image of Aten” to “Living image of Amun” or Tutankhamun or as we know him King Tut.
A short 32 years later the 18th dynasty of Egypt came to a close and there came a new dynasty of pharaohs who probably didn’t know Joseph and probably would have made those troublesome Hebrews work a little harder for a LOT less money.