Ancient Egypt’s Crisis of Reason:  Political, Theological and Phylogenetic Aspects of Akhenaten’s Divine Kingship.

 

by Daniel M. Kolos, M.A. (Ancient Egyptian Language and Literature), University of Toronto, 1975

 

An essay delivered at the joint Symposium of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities and The Royal Ontario Museum, in memory of Dr. Nicholas Millet, Sunday, October 23, 2005

 


When Akhenaten took the throne of Egypt, he made changes so effective that these continue to intrigue us. The scholarly trend has been to show Akhenaten’s artistic changes as purely cosmetic.  His religious innovations turn out to be Middle Kingdom concepts, which Jan Assmann calls a regression, rather than progress.  I hope to take you on a short journey using Akhenaten’s artistic and religious selections as evidence, on the one hand, for a natural, biologically based conceptual evolution, and, on the other hand, or perhaps hand in hand with the conceptual evolution, a political strategy that went wrong.

 

There is no question that Akhenaten himself evolved in his thinking. He came to the throne as Amenhotep IV worshipping Amun-Re as King of All the Gods.  Then he changed his name to Akhenaten and first worshipped Aten in the anthropomorphic form of Hor-Aten, a human body with a falcon head. He moved from Memphis to Thebes, more specifically, he set up his Aten worshipping headquarters right in the middle of Amun-Re’s headquarters in the Karnak Temple complex and enacted the role of Shu as the son of Re, now Hor-Aten, while Nefertiti took the role of Tefnut.  Five years later he built and moved to Akhetaten in middle Egypt where the image of the sun disk lost all its anthropomorphic qualities except the human hands at the end of the sun’s rays.  There, Akhenaten made two claims to uniqueness.  First, that he and he alone was able to know Aten, and secondly, that the Aten was a god beside whom there was no other.

 

Such rapid and major ideological changes happened within a 17 year reign in a land whose self-image promoted an unchanging world!  Immutability turns out to be a self-delusion that, as we will see, Akhenaten helped to shatter.

 

Nicholas Reeves introduces a political context for the 18th dynasty in his popular book, Akhenaten, Egypt’s False Prophet.  He builds a case for a political controversy that began with Hatshepsut.  There are several notable steps in his case.  First, that while Hatshepsut was regent for the young Thutmose III, the Amun-Re priesthood helped her attain full kingship – at a price.  That price was exerting direct influence over the royal family. 

 

Secondly, Thutmose III enclosed Hatshepsut’s obelisk in Karnak temple, is evidence of his dislike for her, and circumstantial evidence of dislike for her handlers.  Because her reign seriously interfered with his own accession to the throne of Egypt, Thutmose III had reason to be wary of the Amun-Re priesthood who supported her. 

 

Thirdly, Thutmose IV, whose Dream Stela stands between the paws of the Great Sphinx at Giza.  The king tells the story that, although he was not in line for the throne, Re-Harakhty offered him Kingship at Giza, not Amun-Re at Thebes. Then, when Thutmose IV took the throne, he was crowned by the priests of Re-Harakhty.

 

The fourth step of an impending controversy between the royal family and the Amun-Re priesthood appears when both Thutmose IV and his son and heir, Amenhotep III surround themselves with military advisors from Middle and Northern Egypt. 

 

The importance of the fourth step comes to light with the fifth, the marriage of Amenhotep III to Tiy, daughter of a military leader from Akhmim, Yuya.  The fact that Tiy was a commoner did not seem to bother the new king whose widely distributed marriage scarabs openly proclaimed her non-royal origin.  Obviously, some status quo had changed.

 

The sixth step consists of Amenhotep III’s actions during the second half of his reign.  He set up a statue of himself at Soleb, declaring himself a deity.  He called himself Ra-Harakhty and named his Nile barge the Dazzling Aten.  He promoted the Aten as a potential deity over the entire Egyptian empire. 

In spite of these and other flags that go up during his reign, the priests of Amun-Re could not fault him because Amenhotep III built them more temples than anyone else before him, and continued his generosity to that priesthood.

 

The seventh and final evidence in this argument is Akhenaten’s closing down the temples of Amun-Re.  These seven points constitute a body of evidence for politically expediency. 

 

There is a body of evidence that Jan Assmann has collected in his book, Egyptian Solar Religion in the New Kingdom, evidence that shows conceptual changes in theology that roughly correspond with political reality.

 

I will start with the concept of the divinity of the Sun.   We find Amun-Re, the relatively new solar deity from Thebes no longer just the first among equals.  His priests promote Amun-Re to a position of dominance.  Amun-Re became a god who was able to act alone in spite of being a part of a constellation of deities.  Both Eric Hornung and Jan Assmann clearly demonstrated this separation of the one from the many.  This separation, in turn, introduced the concept of ‘alone-ness’ and ‘hidden-ness’.

 

Jan Assmann provides texts where the writer of a sun hymn directed at Amun-Ra declares “your sun disk is alone.” (p. 69)

 

Amun-Re was different from Re.  Re may have been the King of the Gods, but his eye was another god, he was suckled at night by his mother, and he was basically dependent on other gods to cooperate with him.  In contrast, Amun-Re became a deity who acted alone and dominated all other deities. 

 

Amun-Re, of course, is uniquely qualified to become separated in his alone-ness and hidden-ness because even his name means the ‘hidden one’ or ‘concealment’.  The conceptual change to note is that hiddenness enters theology.  While Re was king of the gods, the fact that his journey was hidden from human eyes was not a problem.  Human perception must have changed!

 

Hiddenness, although an abstract concept, may still be linked to concrete reality as long as what is hidden is a ‘thing’. By the early 18th dynasty the meaning of ‘hiddenness’ became synonymous with what was hidden:  Amun-Re.  But the moment Amun-Re became removed from concrete reality he, himself, became an abstract concept.  Assmann mused that people began to know the limitations of the human mind.  Pre-Amarna solar hymns tell Amun-Re, “We cannot know you!”

 

In contrast, Akhenaten came by his divinity by claiming to be the only one capable of knowing the Aten.  That would make him the first Gnostic.  Theologically we have a non-bridgeable abstract duality in these conflicting claims.

 

We tend to think of ancient Egypt as the land of divine kingship, but just how does divinity come to a human being?  Assmann answers this question.  If everyone is a child of the creator god, then everyone enters the creator god’s divinity not by some mystical identification, but by being “a child and image of god.” (p. 87)  18th dynasty kings called Amun-Re ‘father’ The early New Kingdom Amun-Re as creator-god, who, according to Jan Assmann, gathered both gods and humankind as his children. 

 

Assmann waxes rather mystical when he writes that the king “is…   the divine energy responsible for human beings.  Not the king himself, of course, but the royal ka, i.e., the divine institutional principle of kingship…. Kingship is cosmic energy, like light and air:  in it is manifested the power of god that animates, takes care of and orders the human world.” (p. 147)

 

This theology is post-Amarna.  In order for such an abstraction to form in the human mind, it had to have a concrete, reality-based antecedent.  And that antecedent was Akhenaten himself who had royal and divine ancestry as son of both Amenhotep III and the Aten.

 

Just as Re had his five royal names among the ten names he revealed to Isis in the story, The Cunning of Isis, so we find Aten with five royal titularies, including his nomen and prenomen in cartouches.  These are not innovations at Akhetaten.  Amun-Re has cartouches in the 18th dynasty, Osiris in the 13th dynasty and cartouches are also attested for Ptah and Re.  Assmann makes the comment that “in Amarna, the royal title (of the Aten) … refers to... a current theocratic concept of rule.”  (p. 149)  In other words, Assmann categorizes Aten’s kingship in the here and now of Amarna political reality as well as the Here and Now with a capital H and a capital N of theology where there is no underworld or netherworld, and the body and ba rise and set as does the Aten, continually coming into being in an eternal now.   This continual and endless act of creation is Akhenaten’s main contribution to the development of abstract concepts.

 

Assmann notes that for Amun-Re, manifestation is done through the Ba.  For Aten, manifestation is the very act of becoming: kheperu. (p. 144-45)  Assmann sites the development of the Ba in its own nine forms up to and including the reign of Tutankhamun, as recorded in the Book of the Celestial Cow.  Within a short generation or two into Ramesside times, the nine forms of the Ba change radically, likely as a direct response to Akhenaten’s conceptual changes. 

 

Human being cannot undo brain development.  The Ramesside Amun-Re, in fact, went another conceptual step forward and incorporated all creation into himself!  We see that the Amarna influence had become a permanent feature of Egyptian kingship and religion even as Akhenaten and his deity were denied, repressed and in every way eliminated from sight.

 

Assmann notes that the Amarna religion was introduced by force, either by a ‘revolution from above’ or by ‘actively excluding other religious forms.’ (p. 133)  I don’t see it that way.  I see a competition, or rivalry among priesthoods to elevate their deity to dominance.  Competition is for royal favor, and, therefore, is entirely political.  And the priests of Amun-Re obviously had to compete for royal favor since there was a formula for the distribution of booty and that formula changed from time to time.  Whatever influence the Amun-Re priests had over Hatshepsut did not continue over the other kings of the 18th dynasty.

 

The Amun-Re priesthood raised the level of competition to theological heights.  Assmann sees a genuine religious fervor growing at the grassroots level.  The early 18th dynasty explosion of Amun-Re hymns seems to have been a result of a conscious, well-thought out campaign to win over the hearts and minds of the people, to use a current phrase.  In the beginning of this dynasty, the process of elevating the status of Amun-Re must have been genuine.  He was the god of the Egyptian king.  Both the king and his deity were Theban and both were relatively new in the constellation of Egyptian noble houses and deities.  As a result, Thebes had to prove that both its kings and its gods were viable.  This process, however, is also entirely political.

 

Thebes started its political role with its victory over the Hyksos.  But it was not until Hatshepsut invited the priests of Amun-Re to back her bid for kingship, and invited a high-priest of Amun-Re into her bed, that this upstart deity began to receive increasing amounts of royal eulogies.  Jan Assmann singles out Hatshepsut’s inscriptions praising Amun-Re (p. 130, n. 170), a process Assmann labels ‘an emphatic acknowledgement.’ (p. 128)  The explosion of solar hymns that began with Hatshepsut had an unusual result: the moment Hatshepsut’s hymn hit the streets, as it were, it started a spate of private personal piety hymns and Egypt’s first evangelical movement. 

 

The so-called propaganda for Amun-Re was so effective that individual responded to it with personal piety hymns.  For the first time we have an evangelical response to what may have started as official propaganda, because no less than five examples occur, including Theban Tomb 11, where the individual is fired up and promises to ‘disseminate’  the name of Amun-Re throughout the land.

 

Theologically, these hymns are fully developed.  Assmann writes, “The emergence of such discourse and the extent to which it is spread to the funerary cult are quite in keeping with the policy of religious restoration associated with the name of Hatshepsut… (and) was followed by Thutmosis III.” (p. 128)  Such prolific praises of Amun-Re fit into a literary phenomenon that has its precedent in the Middle Kingdom and followed at Amarna shortly after!    He continues, “this publicity of the god of Thebes raised to the status of a ‘national god’… undoubtedly has a political aspect,” and reluctantly calls the literary genre of these early eulogistic solar hymns ‘propaganda’ that emphasizes “the goodness of god as ‘benefactor’, ‘shepherd’ and ‘ethical authority’, which is based on the royal image of the Middle Kingdom.” (p. 128)  These abstractions, which were delivered by real,  concrete Middle Kingdom kings are now delivered by an abstract deity.

 

When Akhenaten instituted his co-called revolution, he or his advisors were already aware of this precedent, this political need to win the hearts and minds of the people.  Assmann lays out Akhenaten’s strategy: a theology that “could be sharply distinguished from the old and as such would be easily recognizable.” (p. 130)  It is therefore possible that the artistic changes Akhenaten brought were made for their impact value!

 

Assmann, Redford and others fully subscribe to the totalitarian nature of Akhenaten’s reign and religion.  Assmann mentions that Akhenaten’s theology was likely forced upon Egypt and its people. Assmann uses as evidence to back up his statement an Amun-Re hymn dated to the time of Akhenaten and discovered in a niche in the Tura quarries.  He claims this locale represents a place of a secret Amun-Re cult at a time when “Theban Amun-Re hymns naturally were forbidden in Amarna.” (p. 161)  It is easier to argue, however, that Akhenaten ends his reign using force and authoritarianism rather than starts it as such.

 

I disagree with Assmann that Akhenaten introduced his theology by force.  The thesis is that during his first five years at Karnak Akhenaten hoped to emulate the Amun-Re priests’ effectiveness in disseminating the name of their god.  that is how he planned to be similarly effective for the Aten. 

 

The evidence of his first five years at Karnak clearly shows that, by going into the very heart, or headquarters, of Amun-Re to introduce Aten as the next state-god, or new manifestation of Re-Harakhty, he had to fully believe that his sharply different theology and easily recognizable icon would have to radiate from Thebes into all the nomes, exactly as the personal worship of Amun-Re had done previously.  The process of both of these Theban theological introductions is purely propaganda. It would not be going to far to suggest that Akhenaten meant to employ the same propaganda technique that benefited Amun-Re.

 

Akhenaten failed. Very likely it was his own acknowledgement of this failure to successfully popularize the Aten throughout Egypt that led him to leave Karnak for Akhetaten.  Redford and others have documented other reasons for his failure, to which we have to add that he tried to do in five years what the Theban Amun-Re priesthood succeeded in doing over many generations.

 

While individuals are able to make quantum leaps of logic and/or faith several times in their lifetime, a civilization as a whole cannot.

 

 (P. 158)  Amarna religion does not concern itself with primeval origins.  Creation for Akhenaten is continuous in the here and now and is part and parcel of a natural philosophy that encompasses cosmology, biology and anthropology. (p. 156)  It is dualistic in nature, in that a removed god, Aten, is intricately involved in the smallest matters relating to human life and nature.

 

Assmann calls out attention to the concepts of phylogeny and ontogeny.  Simply put, these are summed up by the Hermetic law of “As above, so below.”  Assmann is thoroughly familiar with the Hermetic philosophy and readily recognized it in the New Kingdom practice of calling the solar deity both unique, and as one who has millions of names.  Assmann notes on page 158 of his book that the Corpus Hermeticum clearly states that “all names are those of one god.”

 

Yet, Assmann complains (p. 159) that the Hermopolitan theology is missing after Amarna.  He pleads that “it can scarcely have been regarded in the Ramesside period as an ‘import’ from Middle Egypt.”  Whatever Hermopolis had to offer, Assmann reasons, must have been adapted as a “specifically Theban contribution into a comprehensive creation theology.”

 

Considering that the boundary stelae of Akhetaten roughly encompassed the same area the precinct of Thoth did, I don’t see a problem with either the Ramesside theologians repressing the memory of this Thoth-Aten association, or with the later Hermetic Corpus maintaining that memory and linking the phylogeny/ontogeny association to Thoth, or Hermes.  I see the Ramesside response to turn a blind eye to anything that may have been associated with Akhenaten and the Aten, as politically motivated.  In terms of today’s Psychoanalytical methods, the Ramesside response would be called repression.

 

The wordless merging of these two deities had a world shattering conceptual effect on Akhenaten.  Thoth, the god of abstract concepts meets the abstract god, Aten.  Akhenaten may have been the first individual in history to glimpse pure abstraction!

 

The Amarna melding also shook the Ramesside theologians to the core. It was the Ramesside response that prompted Assmann to subtitle his book, Re, Amun and the crisis of polytheism.

 

Assmann noted that “in the transition from the 18th to 19th dynasty, the idea of creation through the word was extended from the creation of the divine world, to which it had up to that point been limited, to the creation of the whole cosmos, ‘everything that exists.’  The ideas of a verbal creation, according to a plan conceived in the heart emphasized the organizational aspect of the created world, its rational character.” (p. 171)  Assmann does not concern himself with the question of how the people who formed this theology arrived at such dominance of rationality in a world where the chaotic, irrational nature of so many deities did not matter before. 

 

But he lists a set of identifiable theological steps for us.  First, the attempt to establish the supremacy of Amun-Re over all other gods,

Secondly, the political rivalry of Aten over Amun-Re as the only dominant god.  And finally a concerted Ramesside effort to bring together all aspects of all gods and concentrate them onto and into Amun-Re so as to prevent even the possibility of another deity rising to dominance.  This succession of rivalries is clearly political.

 

What concerns me is the sheer mental effort required to focus the human mind on a single brain function:  the abstract logical function.  In that process we witness the rise of abstract logic to dominance for the first time in history.

 

Jan Assmann actually covers this process in a section called ‘Hieroglyphs as a genre of art.’  Having analyzed the Shabaka Stone, he exclaims “It is the epitome of the creation process… that divinity is summed up as ‘things’ and ‘hieroglyphs’.”  Assmann classifies these as types and tokens, but in terms of how the human body and mind relate to ‘things and hieroglyphs’, these are clearly ‘concrete’ and ‘abstract’ logical symbols.  The bicameral mind had, at this point in history, matured.  The logical left brain had, for the first time, become able to distinguish between concrete and abstract logic, a natural, biological duality that is hard wired into our brains.

 

Assmann writes, “Thoth, the god of writing, did not invent, but merely found the script. …Writing only carries out what is already implicit in the structure of reality.”  (p. 174)  Assmann, of course, does not go into the structure of reality.  It is a minefield that even neurobiologists handle with extreme caution.  Suffice it to say that original finite set of types or models have come to dominance among the human brain functions.  The conceptual world had become reduced to duality and entered human consciousness as a new power with which to manipulate reality.

 

Assmann writes, “In Amarna cosmology the underworld was unimportant.  Amarna divided the world very clearly and traditionally into heaven and earth, above and below, as the spheres of god and creation.  God created heaven for himself as the place from which he was able to contemplate creation and, by means of the live-giving rays of his eyes, summon it into life every morning.  The cosmology of traditional sun religion was much more complex.  By including the underworld in the sphere of the sun-god and adopting the concept of his nocturnal journey, which would bring him into contact with the dead, the subterranean gods and ultimately his own dead body, the world was divided into a terrestrial Here and Now and a celestial/subterranean Beyond.” (174)

 

If we follow the role of ma’at, we can again trace this abstract concept’s evolution.  In the Coffin Texts, Shu is life while Tefnut is ma’at.  Individuals can follow an unchangeable order.  By the time of Akhenaten, Aten is life and the King personifies Ma’at, because he lives from Ma’at, (ankh-em-ma’at).  Individuals under Akhenaten had to follow the instructions and will of the King, according to Assmann. (p. 196)  After Akhenaten, Amun-Re returned with a vengeance and made Ma’at a gift only to those who did his divine will.  People’s individual will had been taken away and returned selectively.  Everyone became totally depended on God.  Welcome to the early edition to the Age of Reason.

 

Jan Assmann misses a developmental aspect of human evolution that plays a crucial role in understanding the so-called Amarna Revolution.  Whenever an evolutionary phase of brain development happens, and I don’t pretend to know how such development happens, there is a phase of cultural anxiety (http://cogprints.org/3714/05/INDEX.HTM), and the process is called Phylogeny.

 

A short look at the neurobiological model of the thinking process will help at this point.  On the ontological level, our brains process two forms of logic:  concrete and abstract.  Children are more likely to develop their concrete logic before they develop their abstract rational abilities because they need to navigate in a three-dimensional world.  Even if there is simultaneity in the development of both, the concrete takes precedence or dominance until puberty.  By the age of 14 most adolescents will have switched to a dominant abstract thinking ruled by language, reading and writing:  the dominant form of abstract logical thinking is linear and sequential.

 

Other brain functions, such as imagination and intuition, however, these are downplayed by the dominant abstract rational thinking process we are each taught to embrace.  Yet, these were part and parcel of ancient life, unquestioned and undifferentiated.

 

Our culture-wide dominant rational thinking is a relatively recent  phenomenon, perhaps since the Age of Reason in the 18th century AD, since Descartes, Diderot, Voltaire and Helvetius.  Before the dominance of rationalism, everyone was still able to use their abstract rational brain functions, but it did not stand in their way.  Only the theologians of monotheism found the other brain function troublesome, because these took human being beyond being predictable and controllable.

 

Looking back at ancient Egypt, we can immediately recognize the lack of rational dominance across the board before the 18th dynasty, whether peasant or scribe, artisan or nobleman, because the ancient Egyptians were not confused by their own contradictory deities!  Sekhmet could destroy mankind, bring the plague, or heal.  Djehouty, or Thoth, was both the helper of Seth in murdering Osiris according to the Pyramid texts, and the great magician who helped Isis find and bring back to life Osiris.  I could go on, but there are too many deities.

 

There is evidence that Akhenaten was a thinking man.  I already noted some of his theological changes over a relatively short period of time.

Most likely his sole purpose was to look different from his predecessors.  Such an act of self-conscious change is consistent with a 17 to 19 year old male mind.  So is the self-delusion if invulnerability that allows our 18 year old sons to volunteer for the Army, or that led Akhenaten to introduce the Aten into Amun’s headquarters! 

 

Hornung and Assmann had documented the evolution of uniqueness, aloneness and hiddenness of one god among a constellation of other gods.  Akhenaten’s deity has no traces of jealousy such as Moses’ god. Rather, if I had to use a term to describe the relationship between Aten and Amun-Re through their respective handlers, I would use the term ‘political rivalry’ or competition.  Competitiveness is also consistent with the state of mind of an 18 year old monarch.

 

The development of our thinking capability evolves from the concrete to the abstract both ontogenetically and phylogenetically.  However, there are several levels of abstraction.   Symbolic logic is still linked to concrete reality.  A picture of a chair refers back to the concrete form of a chair.  The word chair is the second step, particularly in alphabetical writing, where it can conjure up in the mind the image of a chair, but the word itself still refers to a concrete object.  Then begin an entire series of abstractions that the ancient Egyptians marked with a sealed papyrus scroll, such as the concept of sitting, knowing, satisfying, being beneficial, and so on.  These are still linked to activities with a concrete source or a concrete result.

 

Finally, we can trace several concepts from before Akhenaten to after his reign to see a real process of development or evolution from concrete links to pure abstraction.  Let’s look at the concept of what Assmann calls the Life-god.  In the Old Kingdom, the word ‘ankhu’ was a divine name according to Assmann, referring to the Living Ones.

 

In the Coffin Texts, there is a difference between Atum, the creator god and the father of Shu, the life-god, but by the time of the early 18th dynasty, Amun-Re was had appropriated the breath of life.  From the Middle Kingdom text of Sinuhe, it is the King, perhaps in the role of Shu, who provides the breath of life, or in Sinuhe’s words, “air in the heaven is breathed only when it pleases you.”  (lines 232-234).  Among the Amarna texts, Panhesy’s tomb contains the following lines:  “God, who creates great things and forms small ones, air for the noose, which makes breathing possible.”  But the king, as well as Aten, had a string attached to this favor of providing the breath of Life we all take for granted. 

Because many of these texts appear in loyalist instructions, both in the Middle Kingdom and at Amarna, the breath of life is only available to those who are loyal.  In the history and development of ideas and concepts, few scholars differentiate between concrete dualism and abstract dualism.  Concrete dualism consists of the opposites in the natural, physical visible world: night and day, hot and cold, soft and hard, dull and shiny and so on.  Most people have not thought of differentiating between concrete and abstract dualism, therefore we don’t actually know when concepts like right and wrong, good and evil and similar abstract opposites first surfaced in the literature of ancient Egypt.  Erik Hornung was one of the first to deal with the one and many, but it took Jan Assmann to show that until the 18th dynasty such abstract opposites did not matter to anyone, had not yet risen into human consciousness.

 

In chapter 7 of his book, “Egyptian Solar Religion…,” Assmann notes that “this duality, which encompasses all divine forces active in the world in the two foci of the cosmic and the personal god, … is the heir of Amarna religion.  …Amarna, …instead of developing a ‘dual unity’ distributed the divine powers between the king and the god.” 

 

Assmann acknowledges that it is only in the New kingdom that “historical events tend to be experienced and interpreted as ‘divine interventions’, expressions of divine will” (p. 191)  It is “a ‘theology of will’ that emerges…, becoming the dominant conception in the Ramesside period and bringing Egyptian religion nearer to Mesopotamia and even early Israelite beliefs.”

 

This growing belief in divine intervention and divine revelation to individuals comes at the same time, Assmann notes, when “various Palestinian tribes five themselves an even more radically theocratic constitution which leaves initiative and decision to the will of god.”  There is a fundamental historical transformation and there, as its probable cause, not the development but the coming into dominance of a brain function we know as abstract rational thought.  It is also time of dualism, and Assmann recognizes that this dualism was still based in concrete reality in the mind of Akhenaten, manifesting as the kind and god. 

By Ramesside times the dualism has fully moved into the abstract realm so that it is god alone who has two functions that affect physical reality, through his will, even as that god is fully removed from that physical reality.  Assmann calls Akhenaten’s incipient dualism a ‘dual unity” in the sense that “I and my father are one.”  This concept of linking the abstract with the concrete left out or excluded too much that was meaningful in the concrete, physical world.  What Akhenaten did not have time to process and work out, the Ramessides did for him.

 

Akhenaten was likely the first individual with a personal god.  Although Amenhotep III had prepared Aten to be god of all his empire, thereby superimposing the Aten on Amun-Re, Akhenaten took that all-encompassing function and did what?  He personalized it!

 

Assmann’s assessment was that Akhenaten was too violent, and too selective, but, in fact, in pioneering abstract dualism, he did not have the time to let it percolate down into the communal consciousness of the people of Egypt.

 

There is more evidence that Akhenaten with his co-called Amarna experiment bridged a conceptual gap in human development.  One such evidence was the growing reference of the god being in someone’s heart, a concept dear to fundamentalist and evangelical Christians.  It is the same abstract dualism at play today as it was for the q8th dynasty:  that, although god is one, he is able to become the personal god of many.  This concept of individuals having a personal god found its first expression in the 18th dynasty Amun-Re solar hymns (Amenhotep II Ostr.  Cairo CG 12217, in G. Posener, La piété personelle avant l’age amarnien, RdE 27 (1975) 206f.)

 

Akhenaten refined it by designating himself to be the sole individual to whom Aten reveals himself.

 

Another trend that leads us to see change in Egyptian consciousness is a sense of loss of order in the world.  In the Old Kingdom, individual tomb owners asserted that they gave shelter to the homeless, a boat to the boatless, and so on.  In the Middle Kingdom it was the King who exercised that power with a strong arm and confidence.  It seems that Amun-Re’s rise to power was accompanied by a need to dominate, and domination was achieved in two ways.  First, by undermining personal self-confidence in man’s role in nature, and secondly, by giving an abstract, removed entity all the power that humans once had, and then re-presenting, or giving back a replica, a facsimile of that power, an abstract concept of that power, back to human.  But even that fragment of the imagination went back not to all humans, but only to those who were loyal to the only god who held that power.

 

It was not until the French post-Freudian Psychoanalyst Lacan recognized this bewilderingly effective phenomenon to human powerlessness that our culture began to deal with it.

 

In conclusion, this development of the abstract logical function to dominate the human mind to in the 18th Dynasty, followed and no doubt was forced by Amun-Re’s push for its own, self-serving, political dominance.  In the process, Egyptian concepts that were previously linked to concrete reality were uprooted.  In response, Amun-Re worshippers produced texts in which they declared that the world had become confusing and unintelligible.  (p. 194-95)  Akhenaten may have been the last thinking person to try to make sense of his world which was, in his era, for the first time viewed through a dominant brain filter of rationality.  His youth and experimental nature conspired with the phylogenetic development of his era so that his own abstract logic-dominated mind viewed everything first and foremost as political and manipulatable.  Those who followed him began to manipulate reality and history.  Akhenaten was their first victim.  Our civilization still seems not to have moved beyond this trap that the ability to manipulate reality equates with control.

 

 

 

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