Why Akhenaten became a Heretic?

I love the once-upon-a-time beginnings. They make dystopias appear utopian, so…

Once upon a time, there was a young prince, who co-ruled Egypt with his father. The young prince then became Pharaoh. However, this Pharaoh was unlike any other previous pharaoh. While his predecessors had accepted the supremacy of the priesthood of Amun, he decided to defy them.

His defiance was unique. He did something that had probably never crossed the mind of anyone until then.

He presented a new religion to Egyptians – a religion that was conceptually different in that it was focused on worshipping a single god, Aten. He changed his name and he moved his capital north to Akhetaten, a place we now know as Amarna, and ensured that many future historians would spend their lives scratching their heads.

Here are some of the questions that baffle the historians.

  • What transformed a “satisfied Amun” into a Pharaoh who stood “in the stead of Aten”?
  • What changed Amunhotep into Akhenaten?
  • Was he merely the agent of this change, or was he the master-mind?
  • Why did he move the capital of Egypt to Amarna?
  • Was he as vertically-stretched in life as he appears in his statues?

I love unanswered questions.
They breed fiction.

I like to think that Akhenaten was a rebel right from his childhood. He grew up in a time when the Amun priesthood equalled if not superseded the royalty in power. Polytheistic religions allow a person to be partial to a god (to have a favorite deity,) and I won’t be surprised if young Akhenaten (then Amenhotep IV) had Aten as his favorite deity through his childhood. He grew up in the shadow of his father, Amenhotep the Magnificent. Akhenaten wasn’t a warrior or a hunter like his father, he was possibly an introvert, who clung to his favorite deity Aten. In the times of the yore, when everything, good or bad, was attributed to a major or minor god, it’s possible the Akhenaten felt indebted to Aten for something (for Nefertiti – the beautiful one; for the double crown…) and so went beyond making the usual I’ll-make-a-temple-for-you promise, and made him a city.

Fiction? Maybe not.

Image Credits:
Image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 1.0 Generic license.

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