Ikhnaton The Heretic King

The character of Ikhnaton—The new religion

Ikhnaton and Nofertete

Ikhnaton The Heretic King

In the year 1380 B.C. Amenhotep III, who had succeeded Thutmose III, died after a life of wordly luxury and display, and was followed by his son Amenhotep IV, destined to be known as Ikhnaton.

A profoundly revealing portrait bust of him, discovered at Tell-el-Amarna, shows a profile of incredible delicacy, a face feminine in softness and poetic in its sensitivity.

Large eyelids like a dreamer's, a long, misshapen skull, a frame slender and weak: here was a Shelley called to be a king.

He had hardly come to power when he began to revolt against the religion of Amon, and the practices of Amon's priests.

In the great temple at Karnak there was now a large harem, supposedly the concubines of Amon, but in reality serving to amuse the clergy.

The young emperor, whose private life was a model of fidelity, did not approve of this sacred harlotry; the blood of the ram slaughtered in sacrifice to Amon stank in his nostrils; and the traffic of the priests in magic and charms, and their use of the oracle of Amon to support religious obscurantism and political corruption disgusted him to the point of violent protest.

"More evil are the words of the priests," he said, "than those which I heard until the year IV" (of his reign); "more evil are they than those which King Amenhotep III heard.

His youthful spirit rebelled against the sordidness into which the religion of his people had fallen; he abominated the indecent wealth and lavish ritual of the temples, and the growing hold of a mercenary hierarchy on the nation's life.

With a poet's audacity he threw compromise to the winds, and announced bravely that all these gods and ceremonies were a vulgar idolatry, that there was but one god—Aton.

Like Akbar in India thirty centuries later, Ikhnaton saw divinity above all in the sun, in the source of all earthly life and light. We cannot tell whether he had adopted his theory from Syria, and whether Aton was merely a form of Adonis.

Of whatever origin, the new god filled the king's soul with delight; he changed his own name from Amenhotep, which contained the name of Amon, to Ikhnaton, meaning "Aton is satisfied"; and helping himself with old hymns, and certain monotheistic poems pub¬lished in the preceding reign, he composed passionate songs to Aton, of which this, the longest and the best, is the fairest surviving remnant of Egyptian literature.

You may also be interested in...

Return to Ancient Egypt History

Return Home