Psalm 104, The Great Hymn to the Aten

Today’s topic comes from Douglas A. Knight and Amy Jill Levine’s excellent book, The Meaning of the Bible.

On the wall of a 14th century BCE tomb in Egypt archaeologists found a beautiful hymn to the god Aten. The Aten’s claim to fame is that he is sole God of a monotheistic belief espoused by Pharaoh Akhenaten (1352-1336) in an era when most Egyptians believed in many gods.

What’s curious about the Great Hymn to the Aten is that it closely mirrors Psalm 104 in our Bible as a song of praise to the creator, though written hundreds of years before any of the Bible. Psalm 104, of course, is addressed not to the Aten but to YHWH, the god of the Hebrews. Here are some parallels highlighted by Knight and Levine’s book:

 

O Sole God beside whom there is none! – to Aten

O YHWH my God you are very great. – to YHWH

 

How many are your deeds … You made the earth as you wished, you alone, All peoples, herds, and flocks. – to Aten

O YHWH, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. to YHWH

 

When you set in western lightland, Earth is in darkness as if in death – to Aten

You make darkness, and it is night, when all the animals of the forest come creeping out. – to YHWH

 

Every lion comes from its den – to Aten

The young lions roar for their prey .. when the sun rises, they withdraw, and lie down in their dens. – to YHWH

 

When you have dawned they live, When you set they die; – to Aten

When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die – to YHWH

 

You set every man in his place, You supply their needs; Everyone has his food. – to Aten

These all look to you to give them their food in due season. – to YHWH

 

The entire land sets out to work – to Aten People go out to their work and to their labor until the evening – to YHWH

 

The fish in the river dart before you, Your rays are in the midst of the sea. – to Aten

Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there – to YHWH

 

Birds fly from their nests, Their wings greeting your ka – to Aten

By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation; they sing among the branches – to YHWH

 

He makes waves on the mountain like the sea, To drench their fields and their towns. – to Aten

You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills … The trees of YHWH are watered abundantly – to YHWH

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9 Comments

  1. Elizabeth

    The One and Only True God has made Himself KNOWN to mankind since HE first create them!

  2. PhilFreedom

    Could it be possible that Akhenaten had an encounter with the one true God? Even the pagan king Nebuchadnezzar is recorded acknowledging the one true God in the book of Daniel.It is certainly within the realm of possibility.

  3. Guys, you miss the point. It says in Knight and Levine’s book that the hymn to Aten was written some 600 years before the Psalm. What’s wrong with admitting that it was a direct copy, instead of blubbering about an encounter with God? Have you ever heard of the word ‘plagiarism’?

  4. I think it’s none of these things. It is evidence of a common literary tradition that was present in that region and at that time. I am intrigued by the possibility that Akenhaten bears some relation to the story of Moses and The Exodus but there is too much time difference. Don’t totally discount the idea of God making an early appearance though. Something very powerful must have happened to the Pharoah to move him to change his name and introduce an entirely new and monotheistic religion to a civilization that had been polytheistic for tens of centuries!

  5. Akenhaten was not the first “monotheist” in Egypt.
    Ancient Egyptian records themselves speaks of the surrounding nations and some of the inhabitants of the Valley of the Nile embracing monotheism.

    In fact….during the time of Akenhaten…Egyptians were declaring different “gods” as one..

    You would have Akenhaten proclaiming Aten as God in Aten and others claiming Amen as God alone in Thebes…same would go for other Egyptian “monotheists” who worshiped Ra or Tem. This was commonplace throughout the country.

    Akenhaten was only “revolutionary” in the area of attempting to combine monotheistic beliefs with political for Egypt.

    • Akhenaten’s reform was an attempt at “power seize” away from the priests, whose wealth and status challenged those of the pharaohs. Akhenaten along with his chief wife; Nefertiti,assumed the priestly role.

  6. Akenhaten attempted to use monotheistic ideology in order to seize power away from the priests(who’s status and wealth rivals those of pharaohs)…declaring himself as High priest and also extending authority to his chief wife; Nefertiti, which was unheard of in those days of Egypt..

  7. A few other things I forgot to address..First the claim of plagiarism…arguably this claim is debatable. It would be more accurate to assert literature inspiration(not by any stretch of the imagination)…as the ideology running through the hymn of Aten is completely different from Psalms 104
    (I digress for the moment).

    The hymn to Aten attributed to Akhenaten..is not unique in its essence…. It also shows markings of influences. There are older solar hymns written before the Amarna period.

    Besides; Akhenaten left no canonical text. His tutelage were orally past on…and aided by imagery. Although he is traditionally credited with authorship of the “Great Hymn” (which does not have a byline or an inscriber’s mark); we cannot be sure about its true writer..

    Akhenaten was also no real monotheist…because records show he condoned the worship of Osiris (among other gods….much of his animosity was targeted at the god Amun). Excavators unearthed many clay cobras idols at Amarna as well.
    The pharaoh’s push for monotheistic dogma was more about seizing power away from the priests..

    As touching on the principle of the hymn of Aten and Psalms 104….Sun worship is strictly forbidden in the Bible. The author of the psalms regards the sun as the creation..whereas the writer of the hymn; proclaims the sun itself as the god/creator. There are two obviously different trains of thoughts being asserted.

    The principle of isostasy(chapter104L5-9) was not discovered until approximately 1900 AD…yet it was precisely documented in Psalm 104…which is believed to have been written in about 1015 BC…
    Psalm 104 also contains an accurate chronicle of creation occurrence..only recently known to modern science.

  8. As for the actual subject at hand…Psalm 104 had no need to depend on the Aten Hymn…as much of the data therein can be found in Mosaic writings and older texts such as Job..which all predates Aten Hymn…

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