The Invention of Monotheism in Ancient Egypt

Recorded: February 18, 2020
Event: Contextualizing Iranian Religions in the Ancient World - 14th Melammu Symposium

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.