Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Akhenaten and Polytheism

Akhenaten seems to be a pretty interesting guy, even though his reign was only about 17 years. More importantly, I think everyone needs to remember that this guy was more influential to later generations than to his own. Overall, the Egyptians didn't really buy into his "one true God" routine, but the Israelites seemed to take some aspects of it and really run with them.

This underscores the importance of one of the themes of this unit-the manner in which religious beliefs are a product of history. Many beliefs in religion that exist even today are not necessarily the beliefs that people 500-1000 years ago. Sometimes, the religous beliefs that exist among the majority of followers in a religion today aren't even the same as the beliefs that existed 50-60 years ago. Religion is different for each person, and even the founding books of those religions in some way were impacted by the world in which the author lived in. Kirsch cites the similarities between Akhenaten's "O Thou only God, there is not other God than Thou," and Exodus 20:2-3 (which, coincidentally, is the first commandment)--"I am The Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before Me." It seems only natural that the people who lived in Akhenaten's time, even if the majority of his "reforms" were rejected, would nonetheless be impacted by the fact that, for seventeen years, they were exposed on a regular basis to his beliefs. Its impossible for people not to be affected by the world that exists around them.

Someone said today that the article "makes it look like the Jews, Muslims, and Christians stole their beliefs from him." That isn't what I'm saying. I'm saying that the early Jews were exposed to some of the beliefs of Akhenaten. Those beliefs inevitably informed their opinion, which they used when they wrote their own books. Those books then influenced Christians as they wrote their books. The Muslims then were influenced by those books. They didn't consciously sit down and say "let's plagarize that Egyptian guy." They simply grew up in a time when those beliefs were all around them, so they couldn't avoid being influenced by them.

That's the thing about history-you can't escape it. No matter what you do, the events of the past and present will inform the future.

7 comments:

nina poole said...

I don't think that people nowadays should deny that their religious beliefs were influenced by the beliefs of others. All monotheistic people have similar beliefs that there is only one god, and it is the same for polytheistic people. I don't think that one day, all these different people decided to only believe in one god, without telling eachother. I agree that they were all influenced in some way by the situations and people surrounding them.

p.s. sorry I have a lot of trouble getting my ideas out on paper. :]

klaudia bednar said...

I agree with Nina, however this topic is much more complicated. It seems like the differences overpower the similarites, which is why we don't have just three basic religions in the world: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Those religions have many branches of them (Christians: Catholics, Lutherans, Porotestants and many more Jews: Reform, Orthodox, Conservative Islam: Shiite and Sunni). Even people of the same religion disagree which results in many different forms of religions. If people within their own religion cannot 100% agree with their beliefs, then how can they agree with religions that have even more differences?

Alex Rachlin said...

The whole point of history is that different (groups of) people were influenced by something or some event to help them make their decisions. As I have seen in the original post and said before, Moses didn't simply come up up with the idea of a monotheistic religion or say, "Hey, let's plagarize Akhenaton, a guy we don't even know, and call it our own," it was a time where ideas were very malleable and could have been shapen influence by influence. I feel it oculd have been impossible for one man to come up with one idea and start a whole new time period with all of these ideas and perspectives floating around. I take it the monotheistic belief hung in the air until one man or one cult (Moses and the Israelites) took it into point of view and started the actual belief.

Metal Farmer said...

Well im sorry guys, but im going to have to disagree with all of you. I don't exactly recall it, but i think the first ideas of religion were started around 5000BCE and probably had some Polytheistic theme. Now for one, people in 5000BCE probably didn't know that they weren't the only ones living, yet somehow they were able to create a religion. I think the distance between most nations in history makes it unlikely for influenced religion until around 2000BCE.

josh milgrom said...

ok first of all responding to alex's comment, uh moses didnt start judaism bud, he cam way way after it was founded. back to akhenaton i believe that akhenaton was clearly committed to his belief of monotheism within the egyptian empire. the reasoning is simple really, egypt had always been a polytheistic society through their history the entire time before akhenaton came, and akhenaton definitley knew that he was taking a huge risk in trying to change egypt's religious beliefs from being polytheistic to monotheistic because the egyptian citizens had been exposed to polytheism through so much of their history that it was pretty much permenant in their minds that they believed in a polytheistic religion. akhenaton just went in and almost threw out the entire egyptian religious history, but in the end his cause failed becaues egyptians had polytheism in their lives for so long that they we just attached to it and didn;t want to give it up.

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