Understanding the Monotheism of Akhenaten: Decay of a Dream and the Final Curtain Call–Part I

Understanding the Monotheism of Akhenaten: Decay of a Dream and the Final Curtain Call–Part I

Pharaoh Akhenaten has been revered and reviled in equal measure for unleashing his religious policy of one god, the Aten sun disc. But, was the king a monotheist in letter and spirit – one who proscribed the worship of not merely the state god Amun, but all the deities in the Egyptian pantheon? Was he a benevolent poet and dreamer who set out to establish a Utopian city; or a ruthless tyrant who built his dreams over the dead bodies of countless subjects? Over and above all this, are we mistaken in our assessment of the monarch, as we view the man and his motivations through the prism of modernity?

Pharaoh Akhenaten blazed his own trail like none before him; but a proper understanding of the person behind the king eludes us. This colossal sandstone sculpture that shows him wearing the Khat headdress and double crown was discovered at Karnak Temple. Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

Pharaoh Akhenaten blazed his own trail like none before him; but a proper understanding of the person behind the king eludes us. This colossal sandstone sculpture that shows him wearing the Khat headdress and double crown was discovered at Karnak Temple. Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

New Life, New Hope

In 1798, one of ancient Egypt’s most controversial rulers, Neferkheperure-waenre Amenhotep (IV)-netjerheqawaset (Akhenaten), came to light after thousands of years, when savants of the Napoleonic expedition stumbled upon the ruins of Akhetaten, his short-lived capital city. The first observers were struck with immense awe, wonderment, and confusion—for they were the first people in millennia to view the grotesque and unconventional images of the king. With the subsequent decipherment of hieroglyphics, we believed that Akhenaten the person had finally emerged from the shadows – or is he yet to?


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