Akhenaten and Moses

Did the monotheism of Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten influence Moses?

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in 2015.—Ed.


On this stela from El-Amarna, Egyptian King Akhenaten is seen with his wife Nefertiti and their daughters bearing offerings to the sun-disk Aten.

Defying centuries of traditional worship of the Egyptian pantheon, Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten decreed during his reign in the mid-14th century B.C.E. that his subjects were to worship only one god: the sun-disk Aten. Akhenaten is sometimes called the world’s first monotheist. Did his monotheism later influence Moses—and the birth of Israelite monotheism?

In “Did Akhenaten’s Monotheism Influence Moses?” in the July/August 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, University of California, Santa Barbara, emeritus professor of anthropology Brian Fagan discusses this tantalizing question.

Egyptian King Akhenaten, meaning “Effective for Aten”—his name was originally Amenhotep IV, reigned from about 1352 to 1336 B.C.E. In the fifth year of his reign, he moved the royal residence from Thebes to a new site in Middle Egypt, Akhetaten (“the horizon of Aten,” present-day Tell el-Amarna), and there ordered lavish temples to be built for Aten. Akhenaten claimed to be the only one who had access to Aten, thus making an interceding priesthood unnecessary.

In the free eBook Ancient Israel in Egypt and the Exodus, top scholars discuss the historical Israelites in Egypt and archaeological evidence for and against the historicity of the Exodus.

In the BAR article “The Monotheism of the Heretic Pharaoh,” Donald B. Redford, who excavated Akhenaten’s earliest temple at Karnak (in modern Thebes), describes how Akhenaten instituted worship of Aten:

The cult of the Sun-Disk emerged from an iconoclastic “war” between the “Good God” (Akhenaten), and all the rest of the gods. The outcome of this “war” was the exaltation of the former and the annihilation of the latter. Akhenaten taxed and gradually closed the temples of the other gods; the images of their erstwhile occupants were occasionally destroyed. Cult, ritual and mythology were anathematized, literature edited to remove unwanted allusions. Names were changed to eliminate hateful divine elements; and cities where the old gods had been worshipped, were abandoned by court and government.

Akhenaten destroyed much, he created little. No mythology was devised for his new god. No symbolism was permitted in art or the cult, and the cult itself was reduced to the one simple act of offering upon the altar. Syncretism was no longer possible: Akhenaten’s god does not accept and absorb—he excludes and annihilates.

Did Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten’s adamant worship of one deity influence the Biblical Moses, leader of the Israelite Exodus? Was Akhenaten’s monotheism the progenitor of Israelite monotheism? According to BAR author Brian Fagan, we are talking about two different kinds of monothesisms:

“Israelite monotheism developed through centuries of discussion, declarations of faith and interactions with other societies and other beliefs,” Fagan writes. “In contrast, Akhenaten’s monotheism developed very largely at the behest of a single, absolute monarch presiding over an isolated land, where the pharaoh’s word was divine and secular law. It was an experiment that withered on the vine.”

The Biblical Archaeology Society publication Aspects of Monotheism: How God Is One, edited by Hershel Shanks and Jack Meinhardt, presents an exciting, provocative and readily understandable discussion of the origins and evolution of monotheism within Judaism and Christianity. The book is free for BAS Library members.

When Tutankhaten—the second son of Akhenaten; we know him as the famous King Tut—ascended to the throne, he, working with his advisers, restored worship of the traditional Egyptian pantheon and its chief god, Amun. Tutankhaten also changed his name to Tutankhamun, meaning “the living image of Amun.”

To learn more about the monotheism of Egyptian King Akhenaten, read the full article “Did Akhenaten’s Monotheism Influence Moses?” by Brian Fagan in the July/August 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.


BAS Library Members: Read the full article “Did Akhenaten’s Monotheism Influence Moses?” by Brian Fagan in the July/August 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on June 8, 2015.


Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Epilepsy, Tutankhamun and Monotheism

Where is Queen Nefertiti’s Tomb?

Has Queen Nefertiti’s Tomb Been Located?

Out of Egypt: Israel’s Exodus Between Text and Memory, History and Imagination

When Egyptian Pharaohs Ruled Bronze Age Jerusalem

To See or Not to See: Technology Peers into Ancient Mummies


Posted in The Ancient Near Eastern World.

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  1. Jean-Raymond says

    Judaism is the Armana Heresy of Ancient Egypt and the Pharaoh Akhenaten is the Father of this so-called Faith that still exist today because of his Grandson Moses! just like Jesus the Gentile Messiah is the Disciple of John the Baptist who is the Jewish Messiah and what We Christian believe today is Paulianity! JR AUDET

  2. carolyn says

    withered on the vine? Islam is the religion that proclaims: There is no god but God.
    The One and only.

  3. pastor says

    Am a pastor .am so exited and l won’t to know ore this history thanks

  4. richard says

    Interesting comments, but thought should be given to Moses father-in-law. Remember he sat with Aaron and Moses in the Presence of the One true living God. He had 40 years to teach Moses.

  5. Joe says

    Akhenatens brother was Moses.

  6. Chevist says

    Seeing as the Exodus took place around 1447 BC, Moses live WELL before Akhenaten. If you use a revised or new chronology it becomes even more of a gap in regards to succession of pharaohs. Bottom line is that Akhenaten probably either went his own way or he learned from the Hebrews. We know that the Hebrews were already in Canaan because of the corespondence in the Amarna tablets which Akhenaten was apart of.

  7. Jesse says

    So Moses must have been Aknaten simply because he existed around the same time as Aknaten and because both religions worship ‘one’ God? Is there any more information to go on besides that?

    I personally don’t find it surprising that Aknaten would want to be worshipped as the ‘sun’, ancient Egyptians had associated many gods with the Sun, Aknaten obviously wanted to be worshipped as a god himself. Also considering the elite satanic families that run this world are ‘Sun’ worshippers, again not at all surprising

  8. Jesse says

    So Moses must have been Ahkenaten simply because they existed around the same time and because they both worshipped ‘one’ God? Is there anything else to go on?

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. Vridar » Hidden Meanings and Memories linked to this post on June 8, 2015

    […] Just as I concluded a series of posts addressing Moses and the Exodus and its relationship to Akhenaten’s revolution I see Bible History Daily has picked up the theme and renewed the momentum with an article Akhenaten and Moses. […]

  2. Ehnaton ili Mojsije - Ko je bio prvi monoteista na svetu? linked to this post on June 30, 2015

    […] ustanova na svetu kad je biblijska arheologija u pitanju. U članku koji nosi naslov Did the monotheism of Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten influence Moses?, profesor antropologije sa Kalifornijskog univerziteta u Santa Barbari, Briann Fagan, raspravlja o […]

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