Early Egyptian Religious Beliefs and Akhenaten’s Reforms


Egyptian Religious Beliefs and Akhenaten’s Reforms

During the New Kingdom of Egypt (from

1552 through 1069 B.C.), there came a sweeping change in the religious
structure of the ancient Egyptian civilization. "The Hymn to the Aten"
was created by Amenhotep IV, who ruled from 1369 to 1353 B.C., and began
a move toward a monotheist culture instead of the polytheist religion which

Egypt had experienced for the many hundreds of years prior to the introduction
of this new idea. There was much that was different from the old
views in "The Hymn to the Aten", and it offered a new outlook on the Egyptian
ways of life by providing a complete break with the traditions which Egypt
held to with great respect. Yet at the same time, there were many commonalties
between these new ideas and the old views of the Egyptian world. Although
through the duration of his reign, Amenhotep IV introduced a great many
changes to the Egyptian religion along with "The Hymn", none of these reforms
outlived their creator, mostly due to the massive forces placed on his
successor, Tutankhamen, to renounce these new reforms. However, the significance
of Amenhotep IV, or Akhenaten as he later changed his name to, is found
in "The Hymn". "The Hymn" itself can be looked at as a contradiction of
ideas; it must be looked at in relation to both the Old Kingdom\'s belief
of steadfast and static values, as well as in regards to the changes of
the Middle Kingdom, which saw unprecedented expansionistic and individualistic
oriented reforms. In this paper I plan to discuss the evolvement of Egyptian

Religious Beliefs throughout the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms and analyze
why Amenhotep IV may have brought about such religious reforms.

The Old Kingdom of Egypt (from 2700 to

2200 B.C.), saw the commencement of many of the rigid, formal beliefs of
the Egyptian civilization, both in regards to their religious and political
beliefs, as they were very closely intertwined. "... There was a
determined attempt to impose order on the multitude of gods and religious
beliefs that had existed since predynastic times... and the sun-god Re
became the supreme royal god, with the king taking the title of Son of

Re" (David 155). The Egyptians overall believed that nature was an incorruptible
entity and that to reach a state of human perfection in the afterlife,
they too would have to change from their corruptible human shells to mimic
the incorruptibility of nature. Upper and Lower Egypt were united for the
first time under one ruler, however, this would come to an end around 2200

B.C.. In much of the Egyptian hieroglyphs, the Pharaoh was often depicted
as almost larger than life, with great power and much of Egyptian art is
a celebration of his accomplishments. The formation of a royal absolutism
occurred during this period, with the Pharaoh and a small-centralized administration,
composed mainly of royal kin and relatives, overseeing all aspects of Egyptian
life. The Pharaoh was looked at as a living god among the Egyptian
people, who assured the success of Egypt as well as its peace. "The Pharaoh
belonged both to the world of the gods and the world of men, and he was
seen as a bridge between them. Some of the local deities represented various
aspects of nature, such as the earth and the sky, or the Nile and it\'s
gifts of fertility. So the king, living in their midst, could bring the

Egyptians into a harmonious relationship with their divinities and with
the forces of nature upon which their whole existence depended" (Hawkes


In regard to the religious structure of
the Old Kingdom, there was a polytheistic view of the world, as in Mesopotamia.

However, unlike the Mesopotamian religion, the Egyptians worked for their
kings as opposed to working for their gods. The complex concept of the
afterlife was also developed during this period. The Great Pharaohs of
the Old Kingdom built great pyramids to forever protect their remains after
death. It was believed that the king (solely) could "spend eternity traveling
with the gods... However, in order to obtain eternal sustenance, it was
also essential that the king could return to earth at will; here, through
his preserved body, his spirit imbibes the essence of food and drink offerings,
which were continually brought to his burial complex" (David 126). These
political and religious views were believed to be sacred and intended to
be adhered to without change, following the Egyptian\'s view of nature as
an unchanging constant, and a static phenomenon.

After the collapse of the Old Kingdom,
there came the First Intermediate Period during