The cult of Aton: Egyptian non-duality at the roots of Christianity

In ancient Egypt took place the first religious struggle we know of. And it’s interesting because it is related to the spreading of an Egyptian “nondualistic” vision of the universe.

Also, I decided to dedicate an article to it, because it is the root of Christianity.

The struggle I’m talking about took place around 1500 B.C.

In those times, a prophet rose against idolatry, for the first time in history.

What do we mean by idolatry?

There are things that cannot be said. To express them we can only use a symbol.

The symbol is a gate to a deeper meaning, so we shouldn’t stop on the threshold. We have to enter, to become one with the Truth.

If we remain on the doorstep and take it for the meaning, we transform the symbol into an idol and miss the Truth.

For example if someone says God is like the sun (it is the source of energy and life, it shines through the darkness, it is the source of light…) and after centuries we believe that the sun is God, we turned the “sun-symbol” into the “sun-idol”.

That is what happened, and the priests of the cults gained a lot of power and richness from the belief in the numerous idols that characterized the complex Egyptian religion. In particular, the priests of Amon’s cult were very powerful, and had gained a strong political power.

Then came a Pharaoh called Amenofi IV that, after a deep realization, changed his name in Akhenaton (that means “Useful to Aton”) and tried to create a universal religion, under the cult of the only one God: Aton.

Why do I say it was a form of primordial nondual message? 

First of all, the only one God is called Aton: A is an important prefix, that emphasizes the meaning of the root.

For example Aset (the way Isis was called by Egyptian) is the union of “A” and “Set”. “Set” means girl, lady, so Aset is the Feminine.

The root TN means “being”. But it also means “non”. In sentences it was used as a negation.

So this particular root expresses the non translatable concept of both being and non being.

It is the rising of the manifestation and its annihilation (the essence of “becoming”, the eternal passage, mutation).

In fact, and this is one of the main changes, Aton never had anthropomorphic representations. It was represented in a circular form (no beginning and no ending), as the shape of the sun (in Egyptian symbolism, the sun was an eye, the eye of consciousness – like the eye of Horus). Unlike Amon, that was always represented in a human form.

Second: it is said that Akhenaton abolished the cults of Ra.

But one point it is often missed.

Pharaohs used to have 5 names. When Akhenaton started is revolution he changed all his names but one: Neferkheperura-Uaenra, which means “beautiful are manifestations of Ra, Oneness of Ra”.

Therefore we can notice Akhenaton devotion to Ra, but the point is that Ra (that means both “the sun” and “the word”) was seen as a manifestation of Aton.

The letter R, in the Egyptian hieroglyph, is represented by a mouth and Ra means also “word”. It is close to the greek notion of “Logos”.

The same concept is present in our Gospels, where the Logos is Christ.

The Gospels of John begin saying: “in the beginning was the Word” (Logos, in the original version). 

Ra was seen as a ray of the Living sun. Or even better: the Living Aton manifests Himself through Ra (the sun/word), but in their essence, Aton and Ra are one (“and the Word was God” , John, 1).

We can find this in Akhenaton wonderful Hymn to Aton where he makes a symbolic description of sun’s activity with deep implications. In the Egyptian mentality, there were no differences between microcosm and macrocosm.  

We can read it as the Living Aton is the eternal symbol of awareness, in its manifested form: Ra, the individual, “fractal” of awareness. The “I am”.

Aton, as the Absolute, called Ain Sof by Jewish sages, is non manifested. That’s why “in the beginning it was the Word”: that is because everything (the manifested Universe) began with the “I-amness”, in the “I-amness”, as also Nisargadatta would say. 

Here’s a passage of the Hymn to Aton:

“You made the distant sky

To shine in it

And to behold everything, you only,

That shine in your form as Living Aton,

That rise and shine, far away and near.

You create millions of forms out of you, you only.

Every eye sees you in front of him,

Because you are Aton of the day above di earth.

When you are gone,

No eye can see

What you created

And you created it

Not to be the only one to see yourself.

You are in my heart,

No one else knows you

But your son, Beautiful are manifestations of Ra, Oneness of Ra 

The earth is in your hand,

As you created it.

You shine, they live,

You set, they die;

You are life’s duration itself

And everyone lives by you”.

Aton is the Father, Ra is the Only one son (“oneness of Ra”).

Also, here the Father and the Son are one (and that’s why only the Son knows Aton, as only the Son knows the Father in Christian tradition).

Historically, it’s hard to precisely acknowledge facts that happened so long ago.

Also, Akhenaton’s enemies tried to erase his name from history, so we have very few historical sources.

But we can briefly say what follows.

Akhenaton tried to abolish other cults based on idols, and the depictions of God. By doing so, he started a conflict with the priests of the ancient cults and mainly of Amon (who had rich temples and sanctuaries).

When Akhenaton understood that he couldn’t win that fight, he chose exile. He roamed in the desert with his followers, that were persecuted in Egypt. 

An interesting fact: the word desert comes from the Egyptian “desheret” which means “red”. The “redlands” were all the foreign territories, outside Khemet (Egypt) that means “black” (the land washed by the Nile).

In the desert he founded a new city: Akhetaton (Horizon of Aton). It is possible, as many historians do believe, that he was the character called Moses in the Bible.

It’s interesting because “Moses” in Egyptian means “Son”.

Anyway, after his death, Akhenaton’s son Tutankhaton changed his name in Tutankhamon (“the living image of Amon”) and brought things back to normality.

He returned to the old capital Thebes, re-established the ancient cults of Amon and the city dedicated to Aton was soon forgotten in the desert.

But some followers of Aton roamed again in the desert and went to the land later known as Palestine. This land was called Caanan, that means “redland” in the semitic language.

They probably formed what was later called the Tribe of Yehuda (Yahud were the egyptian priests) that, unlike all the other nations of the region, believed in only one God, called Adon  (Adonai means “my Lord”). Is Adon a later form Aton? I think it is possible.

Anyway, Egyptian influences on Hebraism (the Ancient testament and even Jewish language) and Christianity were well known in the past.

For example, the Gospel of Matthew (2,13-23) tells us that Jesus grew up in Egypt (and probably he was there initiated). The same is told by apocryphal Gospels. Also, if we read the ten commandments as they are stated in the Bible, we can see traces of Akhenaton’s reform.

I know history is complex. It is the weaving of people’s hopes, beliefs and desires and things happened so long ago have a shadow of mystery that gives them a taste of legend.

History is the result of cultures’ meetings, people’s journeys, creativity and discoveries, into a tapestry hard to disentangle. 

But I think it is important to recognize a single thread, that through uncertainties and glimpses, leads us through the falling sands of time, to the roots of our desire for Truth: the eternal struggle (or, rather, the eternal dance) between light and darkness.

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