Changes in the Solar Cult Before the Reign of Amenhotep Iv/Akhenaten

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Using sources 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3 and your own knowledge, explain the changes in the solar cult before the reign of Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten (10 marks – 800 words)

In a land like Egypt where the sun was one of the two dominating forces of nature (the other being the Nile), it was natural for the people to worship the sun as a god. Solar (sun) worship had been practiced throughout Egypt in one form or another since Predynastic times. Popular beliefs about the sun god varied from place to place as did the names by which the god was known and the way it was represented- Re, Atum, Kheper and Re- Horakhte.

During the eighteenth Dynasty there was a number of changes in the solar cult. Re was seen as more than just a sun god. He was the universal god – the sole god who has made himself for eternity and as such embodied all the other gods in his being. He was described in the hymns carved into rock-cut tombs, as Re of the Disk. Thutmose III was described as Re, the Lord of Heaven, the Lord of Upper and Lower Egypt when he rises, The Aten when he reveals himself.

Thumose IV, Akhenaten’s grandfather, developed a closer relationship with the Aten than his predecessors. For example, on a commemorative scarab, he was described as The Disk in his Horizon. He also recorded that he fought ‘with the Aten before him’ and hoped that the conquered foreigners would, like the Egyptians, ‘serve the Aten forever’. There was a tendency during the reign of Thutmose IV to describe the sun disk as a god in its own right rather than as the physical aspect of Re.

The priests of the sun god at on or Heliopolis (the city of the sun) formulated the first state religion. They took the various popular beliefs about the sun and superimposed them one upon the other. They also amalgamated the various names for the sun god. By doing this they indicated to people throughout Egypt that the sun god they worshipped was the same as the one worshipped in the cult centre at Heliopolis.

The priests also very cleverly incorporated into their doctrine beliefs associated with the nature cult of Osiris, which had originated in Busiris (the delta area) and then spread to Abydos (Upper Egypt). It was a very shrewd religious and political move to assimilate the gods of the Osiris cult into the Heliopolitan family of gods.

It was during the reign of Akhenaten’s father, Amenhotep III, that the sun- disk became increasingly associated with royalty and particularly with the status of the king. Developed into a god with its own temples and priests, and began to be credited with the creative powers of Re.

It was the usual practice throughout Egyptian history never to discard older ideas but rather to incorporate them with the new. In modifying the various interpretations of the sun worship into one doctrine and amalgamating the beliefs associated with Osiris with those of the sun, the priests were acting in the spirit of Egyptian tradition.

Each of the important cult centres throughout Egypt had its own version of the creation of the world in which its cult god played a major role. There were common features in all of these stories. The tale of Sinuhe is an example of one version of the creation of the world and establishment and creation towards the solar cult. Source 1.1 shows the last lines of the Tale of Sinuhe inscribed on an ostracon, which is where all Egyptians would write about all the details of their every day life and used as a form of communication. The Tale of Sinuhe helps describe the events in which the establishment of the solar cult under Akhenaten’s reign came into place.

This tale is seen to be of fiction nature and was written in the period of time before the reign of Amenhotep and Akhenaten. The form of worship of idols in that period is what began the upheaval trend towards the likening and admiration of many Egyptians towards the stories of Sinuhe. The tale of Sinuhe goes though the travels, explorations, battles, voyages and...
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