Main menu

Pages

A sun god worshipped by the pharaoh Akhenaten when he changed the religion of Egypt.  The Aten was symbolized by a sun disk with sun- beams streaming down. The word aten means “disk,”  and when written in hieroglyphs, it refers to the sun  as an astronomical body. The origin of the Aten is  uncertain, but it may have come from an early sun  cult in the city of Heliopolis. 
 
Queen Hatshepsut’s  standing obelisk at Karnak Temple states that the  gold and silver cap (electrum) on top of the obelisk  would shine on Egypt like the “aten.” Hatshepsut’s  father, Thutmose I, referred to the Aten as a god in  an inscription carved during his Nubian campaigns. The Aten was favored by Akhenaten’s father,  Amenhotep III, who named a division of his army after  the Aten and gave his wife, Queen Tiye, a pleasure  boat called The Aten Gleams to sail on her private lake. 
 
Egyptian God Aten
Egyptian God Aten

 
 It was not until Akhenaten became king, however, that  the Aten became the supreme god in Egypt. Per-Aten, the first temple dedicated to the Aten,  was built at Karnak next to the temple of Amun,  the great god of Thebes. What the priests of Amun  thought of the new temple is not known, but after  Akhenaten’s reign, the temple was torn down. In the  1930s through the 1950s, archaeologists discovered 35,000 blocks from the dismantled Aten temple.
 
 The  decorations on the blocks and the foundation sug- gested to Egyptologists that the Aten temple featured  open courts with pillars, several sanctuaries, and  colossal statues of Akhenaten. One area of the Aten  temple called Gem-Pa-Aten, “finding the Aten,” was  the domain of Queen Nefertiti and her daughters.  Around year five of his reign, Akhenaten moved  the royal court from Thebes to his new city dedi- cated to the Aten in the remote desert. 
 
The city  was called Akhet-Aten, “the horizon of the Aten,”  and included two major temples to the Aten: the  Per-Aten (“house of the Aten”) and the Hwt-Aten  (“mansion of the Aten”). Both temples featured  the new open-air design with no enclosed rooms  and with several offering tables placed around the  courtyard.  The Per-Aten, which Egyptologists call  the Great Temple, was the larger of the two. Its first  courtyard was called Per-Hay, “the house of rejoic- ing,” where the first light of the sun was greeted each  day.

As the sun rose, the worshippers moved into the  second court, the Gem-Aten (“finding the Aten”)  and made offerings. An inner courtyard was reserved  for the royal family—Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and their  childrento  make special offerings and perform the  necessary rituals each day. Today nothing except the  foundation remains of these temples, for they were  demolished when Akhenaten was no longer king. The essence of the Aten and Akhenaten’s beliefs  are preserved in the hymn to the Aten that was carved on the walls of the nobles’ tombs at Akhet- Aten. 
 
It states that the Aten is the only god, that  he manifests himself in the sun’s rays, and that  nighttime is to be feared. Fierce animals roam the  land and danger is present when the Aten’s rays are  not shining down.  Under the beneficent rays of the  sun, however, daily life proceeds, and all work is  accomplished. All life comes through the Aten, and  he protects all forms of life, none too insignificant for  his attention. The peoples of the world are created in  different colors and are given different speech by the  Aten, from whom all the beauty and bounty of nature  come. 
 
The Aten cannot be understood by man and  can be truly known only by his son, Akhenaten. The  people cannot worship the Aten directly. Presumably  they worshipped Akhenaten, the son of the Aten. Boundary stelae (carved stone tablets) erected  when Akhenaten built his city in the desert tell us  about the nature of the Aten.

The great and living Aten . . . ordaining life,  vigorously alive, my Father . . . , my reminder  of Eternity . . . who proclaims himself with his  two hands, whom no craftsman has devised, who  is established in the rising and setting each day  ceaselessly . . . He fills the land with his rays and  makes everyone to live . . .

The phrase “whom no craftsman has devised”  declared the Aten to be intangible; there could be no  statues of him. The Aten was as elusive as the sun’s  rays. This must have been disturbing to the Egyptian  people, who were used to gods with the head of a cat  and the body of a woman, or a man with the head of  a jackal or an ibis. The “hymn to the Aten” says that the Aten is  the only creator god and that he created not only  the Egyptians but also all the peoples of the Earth. 

This, too, would have been a difficult concept for the  Egyptians. If the Aten was the god of all people, then  the Egyptians were no longer superior, and the old  concept of Divine Order or maat, “the way the world  should be,” was clearly askew. Making war on their  neighbors was no longer blessed by the gods, and life  in the next world did not seem possible, for it was not  clear if there was a Netherworld. The teachings of  the Aten were a curious mixture of humanitarianism  and elitism, for the Aten shone only on the royal  family.
 
 
 
reactions