The term aten refers to the actual physical disk of the sun. The Egyptians were perfectly capable of distinguishing between the God associated with a certain physical phenomenon and that phenomenon itself. Thus Re is a solar God, but can be distinguished from the actual disk of the sun; Nut is a sky Goddess, but can be distinguished from the sky (pet). The Aten was aggressively promoted by Akhenaten as the sole deity, in relation to which Akhenaten was apparently to be regarded as the privileged intermediary for the rest of the universe. Akhenaten built his Aten theology on the existing foundations of the theology which had developed around solar deities and which expressed a recognition of the supremacy of the sun in the system of the cosmos and thus the capacity of the sun as a symbol to represent the order of the cosmos and therefore its unity and totality. Akhenaten’s new theology eliminated the particular Gods with whom this theology had been identified, leaving only the abstract symbol of the Aten as a focus of worship upon which personal qualities of, e.g., benevolence, were superimposed. These qualities are, as it were, inferred from the overall characteristics of the sun’s relationship to all the other elements in the cosmos. (Alternatively, Goldwasser (2010) argues that the Amarna icon of the sun disk with projecting rays is to be understood, not as any form of the sun per se, but as “the energy of light”.) In support of his new ideology Akhenaten attempted to suppress the worship of all other Gods, but after Akhenaten’s death he and his Aten cult were repudiated. The Aten is invoked, alongside Re, in a spell to speed up childbirth (no. 63 in Borghouts), presumably because the passage of the sun’s disk across the sky marks the passage of time; the spell thus, in a sense, seeks to speed up time. The feminine form of the word, atenet, is a common epithet of Goddesses exercising a cosmic providence, as in a text from the Sokar chapel at Dendera where Nephthys is invoked as “atenet who ordains that which comes to be,” (Dend. II, 149).

Goldwasser, Orly. 2010. “The Aten is the Energy of Light: New Evidence from the Script.” Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 46: 159-165.

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2 Responses to “Aten”

  1. […] Card Description:  The Aten* is pictured, its rays coming down as hands to caress a man kneeling in adoration below it.  […]

  2. Damocles Loraine said

    With so much of this cult deliberately erased I wonder if the more freakish portrayals of Akenaten, such as the family scene, might not be a form of propaganda.

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