We still worship the Sun, so don’t laugh.
Ikhnaton, whose name meant “living spirit of Aton,” is formally called Amenhotep IV. Ruling Egypt thirteen centuries before Christ he was one of the greatest Pharaohs. His son, Tutankhamen, of the great golden sphinx, is better known as “King Tut.” But maybe he is most recognized for his elegant Queen, Nefertiti, of a beauty unsurpassed, and superbly styled by the many artists of the ancient world.
Ikhnaton, a patron of the arts, wrote poetry that has survived three thousand years, but is best remembered for another reason.
He horrified Egypt by his belief in one god. Thus tradition—polytheism—was abandoned and introduced was a worship centered on Aton, the Sun (pronounced AH-tun). The concept seemed incomprehensible: ancient Egyptians accepted Aton as the Sun, while still worshipping their other gods, as mere stars.
Ikhnaton’s departure from tradition did not endure. The gods returned after his death and conventional religious practice was gradually restored. But never before in history had there been one god.
Thou dawnest beautifully in the horizon of the sky,
O living Aton who wast the Beginning of life!
When thou shinest as Aton by day
Thou drivest away the darkness….
Men waken and stand upon their feet
When thou hast raised them up….
Then in all the world they do their work.
The barks sail upstream and downstream alike.
The fish in the river leap up before thee.
Thy rays are in the midst of the great green sea.
When thou settest in the western horizon of the sky,
The earth is in darkness like death.
Every lion cometh forth from his den,
All serpents, they sting.
The world is in silence,
He that made them resteth in his horizon.