Sole Focus

News, Views, Rantings & Ramblings by Carey Parrish

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Location: Georgia, United States

Saturday, November 27, 2010

On The Origins of Monotheistic Religion

Religion in the ancient world has always been a source of interest for me. How people worshipped, what they worshipped, and why they moved away from these religions is akin to fascination in my opinion. How we got from there to here isn’t useless information to me. On the contrary, I believe it helps us to understand a lot of why we do the things we do today.

The concept of monotheistic religion especially piques my interest because it is so out of place among the plethora of other ancient beliefs. Like most people, I once thought – incorrectly – that the worship of one god started with Moses. Many years ago I read of an Egyptian pharaoh named Akhenaton, who was the father of King Tut, and then filed away this story in the annals of my mind, not to revisit it again until I recently began an exhaustive amount of research into how monotheism came about. The information I found during my reading astounded me, and also led me down a path I didn’t expect to find.

The pharaoh Akhenaton preceded Moses by almost a thousand years. What sets him apart from other kings of Egypt during this time in history is that he did something unheard of in antiquity. Akhenaton declared that the pantheon of Egyptian gods was all false idols and that there was only one god, whom he called the Aten. The Aten was a sun disk that Akhenaton believed was responsible for all life and even the earth itself. He abolished the old order of Egyptian religion and moved his capitol from its traditional city of Thebes to his own city; the first planned city in history, that we call Amarna.

Akhenaton reigned over Egypt for almost twenty years. Along with his wife, Nefertiti, he had many children, some by minor wives, and one of them Tutankhamen, would follow him to the throne. During the time of Akhenaton’s reign, the priests of the old Egyptian religion came to despise him. He had, quite effectively, put them out of work. By declaring the past religion to be false, Akhenaton also stripped the priests of the power and the authority that they commanded before the sweeping change he brought about. He was seen as a heretic and as the years passed a growing wave of dissatisfaction with his rule developed.

When Akhenaton died, no one is quite sure how, his son Tutankhamen became king and the priests moved quickly to have him restore the religion of his ancestors. With the worship of the old gods back in place, and the temples reopened, the priests set out to annihilate the memory of Akhenaton altogether. Amarna was deserted and anything having to do with the heretic king was either destroyed or buried in rubble. Tut didn’t do anything to stop this desecration of his father’s legacy either. Why, scholars still speculate.

As I found out more about Akhenaton, I became intrigued by the idea that an Egyptian pharaoh, coming from generations of kings who worshipped the gods of Egypt, who saw themselves as living gods, and who were seen as such by their subjects, would suddenly outlaw the beliefs that he was brought up with. It didn’t make sense. How could he risk the possible ramifications of such an action, not only to himself and to his family, but also to his kingdom? Hoping to find the answer, I kept reading.

History does not record why exactly Akhenaton did what he did. It does tell the story of how he loved his queen Nefertiti and how the two of them had a warm relationship with their children. For the first time in history, hieroglyphics show an Egyptian king spending much quality time with his family. All the austerity of the old order was gone and in its place was this pharaoh who seemed to embrace everything his forebears shunned.

Uncovered in the ruins at the ancient city of Amarna was a clue to the state of things in Akhenaton’s kingdom during his time on the throne. It was a mess, to be quite honest. He was ignoring matters of state in favor of philosophizing about the universe and The Aten and how man fit into the whole picture. His advisors and priests couldn’t have been happy with this either. Yet he was the king and no one was strong enough to oppose him; not even the priests of the old religion.

Among the tablets found at Amarna was a letter to Akhenaton from the kings of Canaan, who were under Egyptian rule at the time. They were begging him for help. Being attacked by nomadic peoples from the south who they called Habiru, they were pleading for troops and supplies to ward off the onslaught they were enduring. Oddly, Akhenaton did nothing. He simply wrote back asking them for more glassware for his dinner table.

Another mystery? Why would Akhenaton turn his back on his own subjects, leaving them to their fate at the hands of the Habiru? Why didn’t he send the requested troops and supplies? It makes no more sense than why he abolished the old Egyptian religion without a second thought.

I kept reading. Something I found in Akhenaton’s past waved a red flag at me. His grandfather was a man named Tuya. Tuya, it seems, was an oddity among the Egyptians. His mummy is in the Cairo museum and it bears distinctly Semitic characteristics. Also, his name sticks out like a sore thumb. Egyptian kings and nobles took their names and patterned them after the god who they most closely associated with. There is no god with a ‘ya’ in his name that I can find.

Which led me to wonder if Tuya might have indeed been of Semitic ancestry and the ‘ya’ at the end of his name was there to associate him with Yahweh? Yahweh is the name the ancient Hebrews gave to their god. Their one god. 

Wait a minute.

Akhenaton’s kings in Canaan were being attacked by a people they called Habiru. Habiru and Hebrew sound an awful lot alike. Plus the conquering of Canaan is well recorded in the Old Testament books of Joshua and Daniel.

Could Tuya be the reason Akhenaton did nothing when he was asked for help? Did he not care if his kings in Canaan were defeated by the Habiru because possibly these were his ancestral people? Could Akhenaton and Nefertiti have secretly been Habiru themselves, with Akhenaton descended from Tuya, an Egyptian man with distinctly Semitic features? If so, this could explain a lot of things.

Most importantly, it would explain why Akhenaton vanquished the old religion of Egypt in favor of the worship of one god. It would also explain why he did nothing to stop the Habiru from chasing the Egyptian subjects out of Canaan and into Egypt where they would have been suddenly in service to the Egyptians. Possibly leading down through time to when a Hebrew man named Moses (which is an Egyptian name no less) would confront the pharaoh Ramses, demanding the release of his people from bondage?

Of course this is all just a theory. Or is it?

In further reading, I discovered that Akhenaton had a scribe called Merari. Merari is a Hebrew name. In fact, the Merarites were one of the twelve tribes of Israel.


As of now there is no further solid archeological evidence that this is anything but a theory.

I knew that I couldn’t possibly the only person who ever noticed all this either. I did some more research and found this to be so as well. Until something is discovered to neatly tie all the pieces of this puzzle together, it will remain conjecture but it does lead one to wonder.

The origins of monotheistic religion look to be even more interesting than I first thought.

Saturday's Author

Nick Nolan is an author who knows how to tell a story. His novels Strings Attached and Double Bound have attracted a faithful following to his work. I am among them. Nick can take a character and build an entire universe around him; a universe filled with plots and personalities that keep the reader turning pages with glee. With his other fans, I am eagerly awaiting his next book. His is a talent that has to be expressed and with such an instrument as his imagination through which to make this happen, he has the perfect outlet for his gift.

I got to know Nick when I was the editor of Web Digest Weekly magazine. He gave a great interview and it was a delight to learn that he owns the house in the Windex commercials. Nick took me out for lunch when I was in L.A. last summer and we ate at The Abbey in West Hollywood, two tables over from Reese Witherspoon no less, and it was a wonderful time. His lively personality is infectious and his sense of humor is delightful. For anyone not familiar with his work, I happily point you in his direction.

Sensational Saturday

It's hard to believe it's been eighteen years since The Golden Girls went off the air. It's even harder to believe that three of the golden four have passed into legend. For seven years (1985-1992), Beatrice Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty thrilled millions of viewers on a weekly basis as Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, and Sofia. This spunky, feisty foursome could do no wrong. They were a top ten ratings hit for six of their seven years on the air and their appeal was so irresistible that White, McClanahan, and Getty continued their roles on the follow-up series The Golden Palace. Theirs was a magic that when combined was unbeatable. I miss them, both on screen and off.

In the series finale (One Flew Out of the Cuckoo's Nest), Dorothy marries Blanche's uncle Lucas Hollingsworth and moves to Atlanta. The finale scene was so touching, so funny, so golden, that people still get teary amid the laughter every time they watch it. It truly was the end of an era.

This Day in History: November 27

1901: The Army War College was established in Washington, D.C.

1910: New York's Pennsylvania Station opened.

1942: The French navy at Toulon scuttled its ships and submarines to keep them out of the hands of the Nazis.

1953: Playwright Eugene O'Neill died at age 65.

1970: Pope Paul VI, visiting the Philippines, was slightly wounded at the Manila airport by a dagger-wielding Bolivian painter disguised as a priest.

1973: The Senate voted 92-3 to confirm Gerald R. Ford as vice president, succeeding Spiro T. Agnew, who'd resigned.

1978: San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk were shot to death inside City Hall by Dan White, a former supervisor.

1985: The British House of Commons approved the Anglo-Irish accord, giving Dublin a consultative role in the governing of British-ruled Northern Ireland.

2002: U.N. specialists began a new round of weapons inspections in Iraq.

2008: Iraq's parliament approved a pact requiring all U.S. troops to be out of the country by Jan. 1, 2012.

2009: Golfer Tiger Woods crashed his SUV outside his Florida mansion, sparking widespread attention to reports of marital infidelity.

2009: Former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced daughter Chelsea's engagement to longtime boyfriend Marc Mezvinsky.

Saturday's Flashback

One of the biggest hits of Cher's career, 1974's Dark Lady continued the string of story-songs that defined her brand of pop during this era. When The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour was ruling on CBS' Monday night line up, she was all over the pop charts with songs like this. Hitting #1, Dark Lady would be Cher's last number one hit until 1989. The story of a woman scorned who kills her lover and the gypsy fortune teller he's having an affair with, Cher's delivery is so pungent with dramatic overlay that one can clearly see the direction into acting that ultimately led to her movie star status.

In a clip from The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, Cher performs her hit live, giving the audience just what it wanted while clad in a dark lady type garb that perfectly fit the ambience of the song. Then, as now, there was no one who could hold a candle to Cher.

Thought for Today

"Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You." -- Dr. Seuss