Dodson-sunset and afterglow


I have read the final chapter of Aidan Dodson’s Amarna Sunset.


On the surface it looks like the religious revolution of King Ak was stamped out by the end of the 14th century.  But if you look a little deeper you see the influence of this revolution continuing in three areas: the view of the royal family, the style of art, and funeral practices.

The Royal Family.  In the times before King Ak, the pharaoh was exalted as the divine preserver of Ma’at or Order in the world.  But the royal family itself was not so prominent in art. Their visibility increased  dramatically in the Amarna era.  This continued and became even more forceful during the Ramesside period.  Crown princes began to appear prominently in carvings. Ramses II decorated many of his buildings with a procession of the royal family.  If art represents life, then the royal family was not just decorative, but politically more important. Dodson says:

“The underlying change in the conception of individual members of the royal family may well have led toward the upheavals within the royal family after Merenptah’s death and during the last years of Rameses III.”

(He has a book about some of those upheavals, which I may eventually read.)

Art.  There are a few examples of whole wall tableaux before King Ak, but the art of his era embraced this form and the Ramesside kings continued to sponsor it for their temples. The next dynasty retained some of the Amarna style.

Funerals. Before the Amarna era tomb art portrayed scenes from everyday life, what the person had done during life.  But from Amarna on, the theme of tomb art became much more scenes of the deceased worshiping and offering sacrifices.  Presumably these scenes depict what the dead do after death.  So there seems to be a new funeral emphasis on life after death in the realm of the gods.  

It now becomes clear what Dodson means by the “counter-reformation”.  Just as the Catholic Church could not go back to the way things were before Luther, so Egypt could not go back to the way things were before the Amarna revolution.  The worship of Aten died out.  Egyptians went back to worshiping the old anthropomorphic deities.  But their way of using the gods to legitimate the royal family had changed as had their way of honoring the dead.

What happened was more about politics than theology.  But Dodson thinks it is ironic that in the 21st century of this era, in spite of the great effort to write Amarna out of history, more people know about Ak, Tut and Nefertiti than know of most of the other pharaohs.


I am glad we have not discovered theological tomes like Calvin’s Institutes or Barth’s Dogmatics written by ancient Egyptians.  Reading theology from art is more interesting and visual.  But it is not very clear-cut.  Oh, we do know about the Egyptian idea of life after death from their Book of the Dead (from way before the era we are talking about). Achieving life after death was an effort aided by magic.  Not everybody made it. Inscriptions at the Pyramid of Teti often speak of ascending a ladder.  This has always interested me in the light of Jacob’s dream in Genesis.

Life after death was not just for pharaohs and the royal family. But the art from this period Dodson studies pertains mostly to the royals.  After all, their tombs are where the art usually shows up.  What I see in the art and Dodson’s treatment of it is that the presence of the dead royals with the gods is what joins the pharaoh to the gods or Aten, in King Ak’s case.  This is hard to separate from the divinity of the pharaoh.

In the old religion, after death the pharaoh was reincarnated as the god, Horus, and dwelt on high with the other gods.  Atenism clearly should not allow for this.  But I do not see King Ak renouncing his own divinity.  I read this in an old edition of Britannica, so may be it is not valid. But it said there was a view among some priests at Heliopolis that the various gods were manifestations of one.  So I wonder how truly theistic, as opposed to pantheistic, Atenism was.  Was the sun disk just a way of manifesting the many gods?  Did King Ak think he was going to get sort of absorbed into Aten and become one of his many facets?

Theology often gives me brain cramps.  So I would rather just look at the pictures and take them as suggestive, visual, and beautiful.  I doubt the ancient Egyptians thought too abstractly. I mean, they even wrote in pictures.

The religion reflected in the Hebrew Bible does not seem to owe its version of theism to the religion of Amarna.  After all, the Hebrews were , among other things, not supposed to make an image of “anything in the heavens above.”  Still the 104th Psalm seems to parallel in many ways the Hymn to Aten.  And a source of Genesis might have known about the Egyptian ladder to the gods.  There was surely cross cultural influence.



About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
This entry was posted in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Israel, Theology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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