Common Rendering
Hieroglyphics: Jaio
Title God
Role Supreme God of Atenism
Cult Center Armana
Consort None
Family None
Enemies Unknown
Symbols Sun Disk

Aten is the creator of the universe in ancient Egyptian Mythology, usually regarded as a sun god represented by the sun's disk. His worship (Atenism) was instituted as the basis for the mostly monotheistic — in fact, monistic — religion of Amenhotep IV, who took the name Akhenaten. The worship of Aten seems to have ceased shortly after Akhenaten's death.


Aten disk

Pharaoh Akhenaten and his family adoring the Aten

Aten was the focus of Akhenaten's religion, but viewing Aten as Akhenaten's god is a simplification. Aten is the name given to represent the solar disc. The term Aten was used to designate a disc, and since the sun was a disc, gradually became associated with solar deities. Aten expresses indirectly the life-giving force of light. The full title of Akhenaten's god was The Rahorus who rejoices in the horizon, in his/her Name of the Light which is seen in the sun disc. (This is the title of the god as it appears on the numerous stelae which were placed to mark the boundaries of Akhenaten's new capital at Amarna, or "Akhetaten.") This lengthy name was often shortened to Ra-Horus-Aten or just Aten in many texts, but the god Akhenaten had raised to supremacy is considered a synthesis of very ancient ones viewed in a new and different way. Both Ra and Horus characteristics are part of the god, but the god is also considered to be both masculine and feminine simultaneously. All creation was thought to emanate from the god and to exist within the god. In particular, the god was not depicted in anthropomorphic (human) form, but as rays of light extending from the sun's disk. Furthermore, the god's name came to be written within a cartouche, along with the titles normally given to a Pharaoh, another break with ancient tradition.

The Aten first appears in texts dating to the 12th Dynasty, in The Story of Sinuhe. Ra-Horus, more usually referred to as Ra-Herakhty (Ra, who is Horus of the two horizons), is a synthesis of two other gods, both of which are attested from very early on. During the Amarna period, this synthesis was seen as the invisible source of energy of the sun god, of which the visible manifestation was the Aten, the solar disk. Thus Ra-Horus-Aten was a development of old ideas which came gradually. The real change is the apparent abandonment of all other gods following the advent of Akhenaten, i.e., the introduction, apparently by Akhenaten, of monotheism. This is readily apparent in the Great Hymn to the Aten.

Akhenaten and Moses

The timing of Akhenaten's existence, together with his apparent, and significant, break from henotheism, has lead some to think he has some connection to the biblical character of Moses, although what that connection is, is a matter of some considerable dispute.

One of the most thought provoking theories is the following; Akhenaten devoted so much attention to his new capital city of Akhet-Aten that he let the rest of Egypt fall apart. Akhenaten was followed as pharaoh by Smenkhkare, then Tutankhamun, then Ay. He was the High Priest of Akhet-Aten, known as the Divine Father (an hereditary title). Although originally a believer in Aten, Ay realised Egypt had to return to the old gods. The priests of Aten wouldn’t reconvert, so they had to go, along with the mass of Aten believers. Ay showered them with gifts, and sent them off to colonise Canaan, where the priests, the Yahus, became the Judahites, settling in the south in Judah, while the ordinary believers settled in the north, in Israel [citation needed].

Ay was so respected as the Divine Father that he became worshipped as a personification of God; in the Aramaic version of the Old Testament God is called Ay, not Yahweh, and the word Adonay, used by Jews to avoid saying the name of God, Yahweh, aloud, means “Lord Ay”. When the Pentateuch came to be written during the Babylonian captivity, centuries later, Akhenaten became a template for Adam, and also for Abraham. The Israelite hero Moses, who in the Bible account led the Children of Israel out of Egypt, was based on Ramesses II, and his troublesome brother Aaron was the previous pharaoh, Horemheb, who succeeded Ay, and who tried to expunge all evidence of Aten worship and of his predecessors. Moses’ successor, Joshua, was Rameses’ successor Seti I. It is also argued that Hebrew was the lingua franca of the many different peoples at Akhet-Aten, borrowing from many sources including Egyptian and Ethiopian. The Exodus mystery has captured the attention of Western thinkers for centuries. Clemens of Alexandria in 200 AD was one of the first to mention a stunning similarity between the Egyptian symbols and those used by the ancient Hebrews [citation needed].

There is not any unquestionable evidence to support this theory [citation needed].

Conversely, more conservative Jews, Christians, and Muslims have suggested that Monotheism had already been introduced to Egypt some time earlier by the Hebrews, and that Aten was essentially a corrupted but well-meaning 'Egyptianized' version of the Hebrew's own God, "Yahweh." [citation needed]

There is not any unquestionable evidence to support this theory, either.

A recent theory is that the Bible is the history of Egypt, specifically of the Pharoahs. Placing the characters of the Bible in the context of recorded history, there are many convincing links, where-as traditional beliefs don't gel with recorded history. This includes characters such as Abraham, King Solomon and Moses. The placing of the Bible in Egypt and linking the story to the history of Egypt, Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten is found to be Moses, and that his god Aton, is the Hebrew god Adon. [1][2]

Royal Titulary

During the Amarna Period, the Aten was given a Royal Titulary (as he was considered to be king of all), with his names drawn in a cartouche. There were 2 forms of this title, the first had the names of other gods, and the second later one which was more 'singular' and referred only to the Aten himself.

Early form

Live Re-Horakhti who rejoices in the Horizon

In his name Shu which is the Aten

Later form

Live Re, ruler of the 2 horizons who rejoices in the Horizon

In his name of light which is the Aten

Variant Vocalizations

Egyptologists have also vocalized the name as Aton, Atonu, Itni, Itn, and Adon (possibly the source of one of the Hebrew God's names, Adon).

Variant Translations

Because high relief and low relief illustrations of the Aten show it with a curved surface (see for example the photograph illustrating this article), the late scholar Hugh Nibley insisted that a more correct translation would be globe, orb or sphere, rather than disk.

The three-dimensional spherical shape of the Aten is even more evident when such reliefs are viewed in person, rather than merely in photographs.




Collier, Mark and Manley, Bill. How to Read Egyptian Hieroglyphs: Revised Edition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

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