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Open letter to science editors



Akhnaten, Aten, and Venus Reconsidered

Lewis M. Greenberg
Lewis Greenberg is an assistant professor of the
history of art, Franklin and Marshall College.

I present here a new thesis pertaining to the worship of Aten by the heretic king, Akhnaten.  Despite all the political and religious reasons given for that Pharaoh's dramatic shift from the worship of Amen and other gods, to the almost exclusive worship of Aten, there is still something elusive concerning the substantive motive for the change, for choice of deity, and for the meaning of—and extreme reaction against—the new faith.

It is generally assumed that Amen represented the sun and Aten was merely the solar disc elevated to a new position of eminence by its royal patron. (Velikovsky maintains that the god Amen was Jupiter.)  But what if Aten were actually a synthesis of the old solar theology with a new cosmological phenomenon of considerable impact?[l]  If one is willing to accept Velikovsky's thesis of the recentness of Venus' joining the family of planets,[2] the interesting possibility for a new hypothesis about the true meaning of Aten presents itself.

According to Velikovsky (Oedipus and Akhnaton) the Pharaoh Akhnaten was opposed by the priesthood mainly because of his incestuous relations with his mother, Queen Tiy.  To curb the encroachment upon his throne by the priests of Amen in Thebes, he moved to Akhetaten, the new capital, and proclaimed the worship of Aten to be the new state religion.  But the necessity of establishing an acceptable yet decisive alternative to Amen which would satisfy traditional needs and still be sufficiently innovative, remained.[2a]  A syncretic affiliation of Aten—if it truly was the solar disc in earlier times—with Venus (if the latter was a new entrant to the heavenly sphere) could have been a solution. (The union of Amen and the god Ra during the 18th Dynasty, for political-religious reasons, had already set the precedent for the concept of divine merger between non-solar and solar deities.[3])

The celestial intruder upon our solar system possessed a radiant brilliance, commensurable with the sun, to be faithfully embraced as the new truth (Maat).  Venus was worshipped all around the world, contesting Jupiter for primacy.  Thus, the new cult served as the means for replacing the Theban priesthood and its god Amen by a new hierarchy without abnegating the ancient Solar worship of Egypt.[4]

A linkage between Venus and Aten grows in likelihood when we ask the following questions: Why was Aten represented with rays emanating in arcuated fashion from one side only, as a comet's tail (which Venus may then have possessed), as opposed to the standard portrayal of the sun's rays in a 360 degree sweep? [5]  Why does the Hymn to Aten say that Aten rises "like the living Sun"? [6]—one does not normally say that the sun rises like the sun.

Is there not a similarity between the Hymn to Aten and the Babylonian psalms to Ishtar—a goddess associated with Venus? [7]  Why were Akhnaten's successors so excessively over-reactive in their vindictiveness to Aten? [8]  Could the open temples of Aten have been for nighttime observation and worship? [9]  And finally, are there any linguistic and cosmological relationships between the name Aten and that of the goddess Athena [10]—herself associated with Venus? [11]


[1]    "The pragmatic Egyptian Akhnaten was a wonderful reconciler; he was normally able to fit together two apparently conflicting concepts and treat them as different aspects of the same concept." J. Wilson, The Culture of Ancient Egypt (Chicago, 1951), 216; S. Giedion, The Eternal Present, Vol. II (New York, 1964 , 140ff; also see E. O. James, The Ancient Gods (New York, 1960), 109.

[2]    I. Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision (Doubleday, 1950), 39ff; "Venus—A Youthful Planet," Yale Scientific Magazine, 41 (April, 1967), 8-11.

[2a]  For a new interpretation of Akhnaten's selection of Akhetaten as a capital site, see P. Tompkins, Secrets of the Great Pyramid (New York, 197, ), 338-40.

[3]   See E. Otto, Ancient Egyptian Art: The Cults of Osiris and Amon (New York, 1969), 80, 121, 124.  Amen was Jupiter: I. Velikovsky, Ibid., 183.

[4]   "The cult of Aten, though it had firm roots in the soil of Egyptian theology was something quite new, a bold departure from what had gone before." R. Silverberg, Akhnaten: The Rebel Pharaoh (New York, 1964), 74; G. Steindorff and K. C. Seele, When Egypt Ruled the East,  218.

[5]    I. Velikovsky, Ibid., 163-165;. also see S. Giedion, The Eternal Present, Vol. I (New York, 1962), 141-142.

[6]    See, for example, I. Woldering, The Art of Egypt (New York, 1963), 129-130; A. Erman, The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians, trans by A.M. Blackman (London, 1927), 288ff.  But also see M. Murray, The Splendour That Was Egypt (New York, 1959), 298-299; A. Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs (Oxford, 1964), 225-227.

[7]    I. Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision, op. cit., 170, 177-8, 200; E.O. James, The Cult of the Mother Goddess (New York, 1959), 51.  The similarity to Psalm 104 has already been noted.  J.H. Breasted, A History of Egypt (New York 1905), 371ff.  If one accepts Velikovsky's date for the reign of Akhnaten, the Hymn to Aten and Psalm 104 are nearly contemporaneous.

[8]    Besides the usual references to this fact in the literature, see The National Geographic, 138 (November, 1970), 648-649.

[9]    J. Wilson, op. cit., 217.  Needless to say, it would be Venus and not the Sun which would be visible in the evening.

[10]  The author is indebted to Velikovsky for this suggestion made at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pa, on November 11, 1971, before a lecture audience at that school.  "Her name [Athena] as well as her character is probably of pre-Greek origin, with its non-Hellenic suffix -na . . . " E. O. James, op. cit., 146; also see F. Guirand, "Greek Mythology," in The Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology (London, 1960), 117.

[11]  I. Velikovsky, Ibid., 170ff; E. Neumann, The Great Mother (New York, 1955), 141, note 69.  R. T. Rundle Clark discusses the phoenix as a Middle Kingdom symbol for Venus which, as the Benu Bird, "continues to be 'he who created himself.'"  Myth and Symbol in Ancient Egypt (New York, 1960), 246.  Compare this concept with the legendary birth of Athena, who was engendered fully adult by her father, Zeus (Jupiter), on his own.

PENSEE Journal I

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