Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!
Is Monotheism from Egypt?
I completed Winfried Corduan’s In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism recently. I have to say, it is one of those books which caused a paradigm-shift for me. It made me realize many mistakes I had made in my assumptions regarding the area of study for origins of religion. I’ll review it in a while when I have time to really sit down and write. Here, we’ll examine the notion that monotheism came from Egyptian polytheism. Corduan wrote:
The people were exhorted to acknowledge Aten, but there was only one way in which they could worship him… the way in which commoners… had always been instructed to worship the gods, by worshipping the pharaoh and his wife… Thus, if Aten were the one and only God, and he could only be worshiped by worshipping the Pharaoh, this was hardly a ‘monotheistic reform.’ Instead, it was the ultimate in egotism and delusions of grandeur. (312)
Corduan’s statement is the climax of several pages of examination of the cult of Akhenaten and the religion of Egypt. Essentially, his point is that one can hardly conclude from this consolidation of worship of deity into one form of worshipping the Pharaoh and his wife that this served as the source for later monotheism, specifically Hebrew/Israelite worship.
What do you know of Egyptian religion and the worship of Aten/the cult of Akhenaten? Have you examined your conclusions regarding this knowledge? What do you think about monotheism and Egypt?
In the Beginning God is an extraordinary study into the origins of religion and the theory of original monotheism. I highly recommend you grab a copy and read it.
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Winfried Corduan, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013).
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That’s interesting! I never thought about whether Egypt itself inspired Israel’s monotheism. I believe Moses introduced monotheism to Israel, but I never thought of it as an adaptation to Egyptian monotheism… but an avoidance of their polytheism.
When I attempted to compute when Israel was slave to Egypt, the Exodus (i.e., introduction of monotheism) occurred during the reign of Thutmose III, which was over 100 years before the reign of Akhenaten. By time Akhenaten was instituting his rules of worship, I believe the Israelites were in Canaan, living under the judges. Instead of Israel being inspired by Egypt, it makes me wonder if it wasn’t the other way around!
Corduan cites an author and alludes to others who state that Egypt was the “first” place in which monotheism was developed. Corduan’s theory, of course, cuts in the opposite direction: he argues for original monotheism.