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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