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Biblical Archaeology Review 46:4, Fall 2020

Epistles: What’s in a Name?: Akhenaten

Biblical Archaeology Review



Akh = “beneficial” | n = “of ” or “to” or “for” | jtn = “sun-disk”

Pharaoh Akhenaten ruled the Egyptian New Kingdom in c. 1355–1338 B.C.E. In Egyptian, his name means either “He who is effective for the sun-disk” or “Glorified Spirit of the sun-disk”—depending on how we translate akh, which can be either a noun (“glorious spirit”) or adjective (“glorious” or “beneficial”). Like his original throne name (Amenhotep, “Amun [the deity] is content”), Akhenaten is a theophoric name, referring to the sun god Aten (literally, “sun-disk”), whom the king established as the supreme deity, making himself the priest and sole intermediary with the Aten.

Akhenaten’s religious revolution is imprecisely considered the first manifestation of monotheism in history, with some scholars even suggesting influences on Moses and the Israelite concept of Yahweh. Unlike with classical monotheism, however, the Aten was present in this world, as a highly material, cosmic power. Moreover, although the Aten was promoted as the unique, universal god, the traditional gods continued to be worshiped during Akhenaten’s reign.

Not long after the “heretic king’s” death, Pharaoh Tutankhaten changed his name to Tutankhamun and restored the old order. The name of Akhenaten was deleted from official records and systematically chiseled off all monuments.

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