Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Unmasking Hegemonic Monotheism: An Africalogical Assessment Via Indigenous Afrikan Cosmology

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Unmasking Hegemonic Monotheism: An Africalogical Assessment Via Indigenous Afrikan Cosmology

Article excerpt


The monotheistic tradition arises out of ancient Afrikan thought and can be conceived as an error in Afrikan thought insofar as the entire tradition owes its beginnings to the heresy of Akhenaton, or Amenhotep IV, a pharaoh of the 18th dynasty. (1a) The heresy or error centers in the king's doctrine concerning the worship of the divinity Aton, which in its simplest interpretation symbolized the radiant energy of the sun. (2a)

E. A. Wallis Budge states the "origin of this god is wholly obscure, and nearly all that is known about him under the Middle Empire is that he was some small provincial form of the Sun-god which was worshipped in one of the little towns in the neighbourhood of Heliopolis, and it is possible that a temple was built in his honour in Heliopolis itself." But Akhenaton's interpretation of Aton's worship significantly diverged from the divinity's historical and traditional worship in two major respects. First, Akhenaton championed Aton as superior to all other neteru ("gods" or divinities) within the Kemite cosmological order. Second, and more significantly, Akhenaton's new doctrine declared the elimination of all other neteru in the Kemite cosmology.

Akhenaton's new doctrine "ascribed to the god a monotheistic character or oneness" distinguished by the fact "it denied the existence of any other god." In the king's new formulation, Aton's worship took on a character alien to indigenous Afrikan cosmological thought, for the worship of the neter Aton "could neither brook nor tolerate the presence of another god, still less of other gods." This new and unconventional posture meant something quite alien and hostile to indigenous Afrikan cosmology: "the new religion could neither absorb or be absorbed by any other; similarly, Aten could neither absorb nor be absorbed by the other gods of Egypt, because he had nothing in common with them." Hence, Budge concludes, "In so far as it rejected all other gods, the Aten religion was monotheistic." (3a) Adds Stephen Quirke: "Only once, before the arrival of Christianity and Islam, did a line of development lead to a demand that the king avoid all other views, all other beliefs, and, in the case of some cults, even persecute them. This occurred during the 14th century BC, at the height of Egyptian wealth, in the reign of Amenhotep IV, famous under his revised name as Akhenaten." (4a)

Miriam Lichtheim notes that while Kemetic culture had always manifested the tendency to recognize a supreme divinity, Akhenaton's attempted doctrinal innovation was "a radical break with the past. His doctrine was profoundly uncongenial and gave great offense." (5a) Indeed, observes Jan Assmann, "The radical monotheism of Akhenaten's hymn [song or psalm to Aton] negates other gods; indeed, it avoids the use of the very word 'god' whether singular or plural. ... All traditional cults were closed; the only worship permitted was that of the new god, the Aten." (6a) Indeed, Akhenaton, adds David P. Silverman, "purposely removed any rivals to the Aten." (7a)

The extent of this king's religious totalitarianism is striking and, according to the Judaeo-Christian text, would only be rivaled by Moses' and Yahweh's ruthlessness in punishing the apostasy of his newly found worshippers, as will be discussed below. Assmann notes that:

   Police and military ranged through the country in a bid to erase
   all the inscriptions of the hated [by Akhenaton] god Amun (the
   precise reason for this hatred is unknown) from the face of the
   earth. The old religion was to be reduced to utter silence, and
   this objective was pursued with the same thoroughgoing radicalism
   as the new religion itself was to suffer only a few years later.
   The enormous number of traditional temples and cults, rites and
   festivals, myths, hymns, and images were replaced by a handful of
   hymns celebrating the new religion. (8a)

In short, this effort to eliminate the recognition and worship of more than one divinity was the beginning of the monotheistic--or, in reality, one-divinity--tradition. …

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