Akhenaten and the Worship of the Aten Notes by Dr. Honora M. Finkelstein The Pharaoh Akhenaten, who may actually have written the “Hymn to the Aten,” is credited with establishing the first form of monotheism. The worship was of the solar disk, or Aten, which he believed was the source of all life. And in a sense, he was right, because without sunlight, there would be no life on the planet; the sun is the source for the plant life that is generated, and it is the plant life that is a source both of food and of oxygen.  In the iconography of the time, the solar disk was represented with long rays coming down to the earth; each ray ended in a little hand, and in some of the hands were little ankhs. The ankh was called the “key of life” and was associated with the worship of Isis, although many other gods of Egypt were also depicted with ankhs in their hands. It was a T with an oval top. This symbol shifted form slightly in later cultures, becoming a T with a circle on top in the worship of Aphrodite and Venus, and it is used in modern times as the biological symbol for the female. Akhenaten terminated the worship of the pantheon of many gods and declared that henceforth the people would worship only one god, the great Aten. He moved the capital of Egypt to a place that is now known as Tell el Amarna; he called his new capital Akhetaten. Needless to say, the priests who handled the Egyptian pantheon didn’t care much for having their source of livelihood terminated, and the people didn’t exactly take to the new regime either. Akhenaten’s reign was very short, and later rulers attempted to eliminate references to his history. However, he may have influenced the Hebrews in the development of their monotheism, and he did initiate a style of art that was far more realistic than anything that had ever before been represented in Egypt (we know this because he wasn’t very attractive, although his wife Nefertiti was the most beautiful woman of the ancient world). He and his queen are often represented with their daughters in happy family pictures, the children being dandled on their parents’ knees. One thing he may have had the artists overemphasize in some likenesses was his chest area; in some statues and pictures, he is represented as having almost female breasts. It may be that he was attempting to represent himself as having the secondary sex characteristics of both genders because he wanted to be seen as having the power attributed to those few beings who have dual gender. Such a being has been known since Greek times as a syzygy  or Divine Hermaphrodite (from a combining of the god Hermes with the goddess Aphrodite). Such a union bespeaks a wholeness that is attributed only to divinity; hence, the title. Another Egyptian ruler who put on the secondary sex characteristics of the opposite gender was Queen Hatshepsut.  Women up to that point had not been allowed to rule as pharaoh, so when her brother/husband died, she strapped on a fake beard and a fake penis and declared that she had miraculously become a male.  She, too, had a reign in which all the arts flourished, but she was very hard on her enemies, and when she died, all her cartouches were defaced, so that no one could pray for her after her death, and as a result, she wouldn’t have a happy afterlife. Made with Xara Website by Susan Smily