Whose monotheism came first: Akhenaten's or the Israelites'?

It seems to be that wherever I look up Akhenaten, he is readily ascribed to be the world’s first monotheist, thus superceding the Israelites. Now, this assertion automatically suggests several telling things which contradict the basic understanding of the Old Testament.

First off, it suggests that prior to the time of Akhenaten and his creation of the single all-encompassing diety Aten, the Israelites must have been regular, every-day pagans. Secondly, it suggests that the Israelite’s monotheism was borrowed from Egypt, thus destroying its authenticity as this would make it man-inspired and not divinely revealed!

So, who were the first bad-boy monotheistic noncomformists? :cool: :gopray2: :cool:

Two things: Firstly, Akhenaten’s “monotheism” wasn’t at all what Abraham understood it to be. The Aten was only one god among many, not the only god. Akhenaten simply picked him out of the panoply of gods because it would give him more power than the many temple priests who were beginning to rival the pharaoh’s power. He didn’t have a revelation from God himself.

And secondly, someone “stumbling” upon a concept does not at all negate the bona fide revelation of God to Abram. The Greeks had a shine to “the Unknown God” just so they wouldn’t be slighting any of the gods. St. Paul used this to preach the Gospel to them, but this doesn’t mean that the Greeks had a direct revelation of God to them, either.

Not exactly. Putting all Akhenaten’s political and personal motivations aside, Akhenaten’s monotheism isn’t the henotheism you claim it to have been. Henotheism is a system with one superior, dominant deity while acknowledging the existence of multiple other lesser deities. This of course was a common practice in Egyptian history, and at the onset of Akhenaten’s restructuring of Egyptian religion, he at first portrayed Aten as being the most powerful of many gods.

However, after the initial introduction of Aten, Akhenaten set forward a program of eliminating the worship and acknowledgement of any god but Aten, thereby making him the only god in Egyptian religion. Other temples were defaced, the use of the plural “gods” was banned, and most strikingly similar to the contemporary idea of God is this:

to emphasise the radicalism of the new regime, which included a ban on idols, with the exception of a rayed solar disc, in which the rays (commonly depicted ending in hands) appear to represent the unseen spirit of Aten, who by then was evidently considered not merely a sun god, but rather a universal deity. It is important to note, however, that representations of the Aten were always accompanied with a sort of “hieroglyphic footnote”, stating that the representation of the sun as All-encompassing Creator was to be taken as just that: a representation of something that, by its very nature as something transcending creation, cannot be fully or adequately represented by any one part of that creation.

*Fake *monotheism? Whatever!

Now that this is settled, let’s get to the actual question.

The Exodus occured at about the same time as Egypt underwent a political crisis over montheism.
The two events cannot be unconnected. However exactly what ahppened can only be conjecture. Some have suggested that Moses and Akhenaten were one, which I cannot believe, because the detail of Moses being the legitmate Pharoah isn’t one that is likely to have been forgotten. However Moses was a member of the royal household.

It follows from Akhenaten’s religious reforms that the Israelites may have been polytheists before them, and become montheists after Akhenaten. It doesn’t follow that the Israelites necessarily were polytheists.

Exodus 3,15:
God also said to Moses,“Thus you shall say to the Isrealites,‘the Lord,the God of your ancestors,the God of Abraham,the God of Issac,and the God of Jacob,has sent me to you’:This is my name forever,and this is my title for all generations.”

The Israelites must have known what Moses was talking about,and recognized who the true God was,even though some of them may have backslided into the worship of other gods.The recognition and worship of the true God far predates the exclusive worship of Akhenaten’s god.

Since Akhneaten was possibly a pharaoh during the inital or later stages of the Israelite migration to Egypt, it is quite possible that he was influenced by the monotheism of the Israelites.

Let me get what you said straight:

the Israelites may have been polytheists before them

So far so good…

and become monotheists after Akhenaten

Fair enough…

It doesn’t follow that the Israelites necessarily were polytheists

:ehh: :banghead:

Statement #1 and Statement #3 Contradict each other completely! Logically, if they were polytheists before Akhenaten’s reforms, then YES THEY WERE necessarily polytheists, unlike what you said in your final statement.

Now, I keep hearing that Akhenaten was the first monotheist ever in the whole history of the world. What it is the validity of this statement? I thought the Jews were! You can’t tell me they borrowed from Egypt or came up with the idea from Egypt! That would just plain ruin it!

Or if my concept of history is bad, answer me this:

When did the Israelites become monotheists???

Fair enough, now back it up.

No, it’s not a contradiction, Malcolm said they MAY have been polytheists at the time they went to Egypt.

Which also means they MAY in fact have been monotheists from the year dot, or they may have (seems much more likely) become monotheists at the time of Abraham - well before they went to Egypt - or at some point in between these two.

Okay, so by this reasoning Akhenaten wasn’t the world’s first monotheist?

As far as dating is concerned, both Ramesses II (the Great) and Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) were New Kingdom pharaohs. Akhenaten dates to around 1350-1334 BC. Ramesses II dates to about 1279-1212 BC. Six other pharaohs separated their reigns (including Tutankhamun, who was the son of Akhenaten). To break down the dynasties further:

Dynasty 18:
Ahmose I (1570-1546 BC)
Amenhotep I (1551-1524 BC)
Tuthmosis I (1524-1518 BC)
Tuthmosis II (1518-1504 BC)
Tuthmosis III (1504-1450 BC)
Queen Hatshepsut (1498-1483 BC)
Amenhotep II (1453-1419 BC)
Tuthmosis IV (1419-1386 BC)
Amenhotep III (1386-1349 BC)
Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) (1350-1334 BC)
Smenkhkare (1336-1334 BC)
Tutahkhamun (King Tut) (1334-1325 BC)
Ay (1325-1321 BC)
Horemheb (1321-1293 BC)

Dynasty 19:
Ramesses I (1293-1291 BC)
Seti I (1291-1278 BC)
Ramesses II (the Great) (1279-1212 BC)
Merneptah (1212-1202 BC)
Amenmesses (1202-1199 BC)
Seti II (1199-1193 BC)
Siptah (1193-1187 BC)
Queen Twosret (1187-1185 BC)

As far as Abraham goes, he was probably originally from the Mesopotamian city of Ur and moved to the land of Caanan sometime around 2000 BC. This would place him either in the Egyptian First Intermediate Period (2181-2040 BC) or the early part of the Middle Kingdom, probably around Dynasty 11 or 12. In any case, this would be well before Akhenaten.

Sorry, I’m not enough of a historian to back it up. I’m trying to recall now where I got that tidbit.

If I remember rightly, it was from a book called Understanding the Old Testament. In one place the author mentioned that the line of Egyptian pharaohs was temporarily interrupted by foreign invaders–the Hyksos–who may have been of Semitic origin.

That event, in his view, may have provided an opening for Joseph (in the Genesis account–second youngest of the sons of Jacob, who had been sold into slavery) to become a prime minister of one of the new pharaohs, as recounted in the bible. This would also have provided an opening for Israelite monotheism to influence Egypt.

When the Hyksos were eventually kicked out and the normal dynasty returned, the party was over for Joseph and his Israelites who had moved to Egypt, leading to their subjugation.

But of course, that is all rather speculative.

Adam and Eve.

They were monotheists and they predated both Akhenaten and Abraham :cool:

We’ll never be sure, but it seems most likely the Israelites were at least a little earlier.

WOW!!! I finally have definitive proof that all those Egyptologists are quacks!
:rotfl: :clapping:

No really. Are you serious? :doh2:

For what (very) little it is worth… I recall a certain tradition that states it was Tutmosis IV who had the epiphany/revelation regarding Monotheism, who then passed it on to his students, Moses and Ankhenaten (who were contemporaries, obviously according to the tradition, in egypt).

'Course, I haven’t seen any Egyptologists taking said tradition too seriously…

Besides, don’t the Zoroastrians claim to have the first revealed Monotheism…

Actually, if we are being fair, we cannot assume the isrealites were monotheistic pre-moses merely based upon their recognition of Yaweh being “their” God through Abraham and Jacob. Recognizing their anscetral “tribal” god isn’t much of a case for supporting a monothiestic belief system, and frankly we don’t actually know much about the pre-mosaic religion of Abraham, Jacob, or even Adam & Eve ( :wink: ). Given their propensity for polytheism even during the exodus, it seems to me that the concept of pure Monotheism (rather than polytheism, pantheism, or Henotheism) appears to be rather alien to the majority of the exilic isrealites…

Abraham,the first Hebrew patriarch,was born in Ur of Chaldea and flourished around the early 2nd millenium BC,long before Akhenaten. It was with Abraham that the covenant with God came about.

First off, according to Judeo-Christian tradition, Monotheism WAS the original human belief, so the fact that some post-Noahide groups may have dabbled with it prior to the revelation to Moses doesn’t mean much of anything. This is especially true for Catholics, since we have a theological tradition of believing that Monotheism is actually rationally deducible, and doesn’t require special revelation. Furthermore, there are actually records within Scripture itself of apparently Monotheistic believers at the same time as Abraham: Melkizedek was the priest-king of Salem who gave sacrifices to God, for example, and Abraham went to Melkizidek to make his sacrificial offerings. Melkizedek seems to have no connection to Abraham, but was rather a native of the region Abraham traveled to, so Scripture records Monotheistic kingdoms prior even to Akenaten, but post-Noah.

Secondly, we already know that the Israelites weren’t solidly Monotheistic even after the Exodus; polytheism continued to be a problem for them until after the Babylonian Exile. This is attested to in Scripture itself, as it was the constant complaint of the Prophets. Abraham focused his worship on one God, and taught his descendents to do likewise, but there’s no indication in Scripture that they were anything but henotheists who tended to worship their one “tribal God”, who happened to be the greatest of the gods. Becoming pure Monotheists wasn’t completed until long, long after Moses.

The thing is, none of this even touches on the Judeo-Christian claims, since none of the Judeo-Christian argument rests on Monotheism being first held by the Jews, or that it required special revelation. On the contrary, the Judeo-Christian Scriptures absolutely attest that Monotheism was the original belief of humanity, and that we later fell to polytheism of various stripes, and even atheism.

The Judeo-Christian claim is simply that the “one God” revealed Himself uniquely to Moses and the Jewish people, culminating in the Incarnation and the New Covenant, and that is something that is utterly unaffected by Akenaten coming along before Moses. Moses wasn’t the first believer, nor was even Abraham, they were just specially chosen.

Peace and God bless!

Also, the “polytheism” of the Jews was a matter of backsliding
into the worship of the gods of foreigners. These gods were not of
Hebrew origin.

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