The Invention of Monotheism in Ancient Egypt

Recorded: February 18, 2020
Event: Contextualizing Iranian Religions in the Ancient World - 14th Melammu Symposium
Citation: Cooney, Kathlyn. "The Invention of Monotheism in Ancient Egypt," Contextualizing Iranian Religions in the Ancient World - 14th Melammu Symposium. February 18, 2020.

by Kathlyn Cooney (University of California, Los Angeles)

The Invention of Monotheism in Ancient Egypt

Akhenaten’s policy of religious reform has been described in such terms as radical and epiphanic conversion to monotheism, moderate and organic movement to a limitedly practiced henotheism, and even as a conceptual form of natural philosophy not focused on religion at all. While there is clear disagreement over the motivations for the shift to Atenism in Egypt, one thing is certain: The abrupt end to Akhenaten’s 17-year reign left the pogrom instituted by the king towards the pantheon of Egyptian deities unfinished, and thus the end-goal of Akhenaten’s campaign was never truly realized. Regardless of his intentions, Akhenaten fostered a nascent religious system in which one god was elevated above all others. He left behind a wealth of artistic, textual, and archaeological evidence that showcases the conceptual transition to the worship of one deity responsible for the creation and perpetuation of the universe. This talk aims to explore this surviving Amarna evidence to identify potential parallels and synergies with Mazdean traditions.

About the Speaker

Kathlyn (Kara) Cooney is a professor of Egyptian Art and Architecture and Chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at UCLA. Cooney’s research in coffin reuse, primarily focusing on the 21st Dynasty, is ongoing. Her research investigates the socioeconomic and political turmoil that have plagued the period, ultimately affecting funerary and burial practices in ancient Egypt. This project has taken her around the world over the span of five to six years to study and document more than 300 coffins in collections around the world, including Cairo, London, Paris, Berlin, and Vatican City. Her first trade book, The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt is an illuminating biography of its least well-known female king and was published in 2014 by Crown Publishing Group. Her latest book, When Women Ruled the World: Six Queens of Egypt, was published in 2018 by National Geographic Press.