The end of the 18th Dynasty brought about many changes to Egyptian society. Following the death of his brother Amunhoptep IV, who was originally supposed to be a priest, became king. He ruled for a few years with his father, Amunhoptep III, who reigned for 38 years. During Amunhoptep III’s reign he brought about a new aspect of the king’s cult. Scenes were found showing a youthful king rejuvenated through the power of the sun disk.
Amunhoptep IV continued with his father’s interest in the sun disk. During his reign the sun disk changed to a sphere with lines drawn to human hands, showing the life giving power of the sun disk. He also changed the name of the patron god from Re Horakhty to Aten. With this change in name also came a change in importance, Aten became the most important god on the top of the pile of worship. Amunhoptep IV changed his name to reflect his devotion to Aten. He also moved the capital to Akhtaten and built up a city where there had not previously been one.
Scholars have question if Amunhoptep IV created a monotheistic society in Egypt during his reign. Between 8 to 12 years of his reign the worship of all other gods was officially forbidden. These changes were political in nature. This was Amunhoptep’s way of cutting the power of the cult of Amun which was starting to rival the power of the pharaoh. Many of the holding of the cult of Amun were transferred to the cult of Aten. Scholars decided that Amunhoptep did not create a monotheistic society but rather a henotheistic one that placed Aten above all the other gods.
The changes put in place by Amunhoptep did not last long after his death. His son changed his name to respect Amun rather than Aten and the power shifted back to Amun and his cult. I think that Amunhoptep tried to do too much in too short a period of time. Egyptians were used to their religion and trying to change people’s religion is always risky and hard to do. I think that maybe it might have worked out better if he had not tried to forbid the worship of all other gods. He could have cut the power of the cult of Amun without banning the worship of all of them and people may have had an easier time accepting this change. Small changes are always easier to except than large and broad ones.
I recognize that the change from Amun to Aten was a political one made to cut the power of the cult of Amun, but I wonder if Amunhoptep actually believed that Aten was a more powerful god. Before his brother died he was in training to be a priest, which should mean that he was a religious man. I would like to think that he believed in the change of gods and it was not all just a political move, although, he would not be the first or the last man to use religion to further his goals. The fact that his son, and the next king after him, changed his name back to Amun makes me think that he at least believed that Amun was more powerful. This could have also been either a political or religious move though. If the cult of Amun was so powerful that it could rival the pharaohs power then it might have been good to have it on your side and owing you a favor for bringing it back to power.