I have several essays from my college years sitting around gathering dust. Instead of trashing them, I am editing them and putting them online. The following is one such essay. I wrote this one for an Ancient History class.
The Amarna Revolution
The Egyptians could no longer ignore the world outside of Egypt. Three hundred years prior, the Hyksos invaded from the east. A hundred years before Amenhotep IV became pharaoh, Thutmose III led military expansion campaigns outside of Egypt. The old Egyptian beliefs stated that the gods were the creators of Egypt and only Egypt. The world outside of Egypt was often ignored and unrecognized by the Egyptians.
When Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten in honor of the Sun god Aten and began preaching his theories of Atenism, religious thought in Egypt changed forever. Akhenaten tried to make Aten the sole god worshiped in Egypt by closing temples to all other gods and erasing the names of the old gods from records and monuments. It was the beginning of the Amarna Revolution. Although the effects of the revolution on the ordinary people of Egypt are not known, it must have had a significant impact on the priesthoods that maintained the temples.
Akhenaten claimed that Aten was the only god and sole creator of the entire world. The Egyptians depicted Aten as a loving, caring deity, who gave life and sustained the living with his light. Contrary to traditional Egyptian beliefs, The Great Hymn to the Aten emphasized that Aten had created not only Egypt but also lands outside of Egypt and the foreigners who lived in them. The hymn even goes so far as to mention two distant provinces Aten had created, Syria and Kush. This religious recognition of the outside world was one thing that distinguished Atenism from traditional Egyptian beliefs.
Akhenaten’s ideas were new to Egypt and perhaps took the priesthood by surprise. In a land where polytheism and isolationism had reigned for over a millennium, the sudden changes brought upon Egypt by the foreign peoples and Atenism were radical. Moreover, because the man teaching the heresy of Atenism was the Pharaoh, there was nothing the Egyptians could do to stop it short of rebellion. Atenism posed a direct threat to Egypt’s priests and clergy, who had to close their temples. This separation from a polytheistic religious belief system was another thing that made Atenism so different from old religious beliefs.
Since only the pharaoh could have direct contact with Aten, the people of Egypt had to worship the pharaoh. Akhenaten’s aim may have been to reduce the power of the priesthood so the pharaoh could hold more power. With the new religious belief system of Atenism, the people could only worship the pharaoh. Now there was no need for temples or priests. By introducing Atenism, Akhenaten centralized and consolidated all the power away from the competing priesthoods and onto his throne. If Atenism worked the way he hoped, the pharaoh would once again carry absolute power.
The principles of Atenism were far too radical for the Egyptians to incorporate fully into their society, so Atenism died along with its creator. Atenism did leave a mark in Egyptian society. Atenism had forced Egyptians to re-examine their old beliefs in the power of the pharaoh as well as of the priesthoods.