Early 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 43).
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...
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