The sun god Re, or Ra, was the predominant deity in ancient Egypt. The young sun god begins his dawn voyage in his boat over the ocean of heaven, is full-grown by the moment of the high-noon sun and sets in the west as an old man, the god Atum. By the time of the fifth dynasty, pharaohs were considered to be the divine, direct descendants of the sun god and they built cities and temples to emphasize their divinity.
Monotheism and Akehtaten
Egyptians were polytheistic, with Ra holding pride of place as the chief deity. But Amenhotep, royal consort of the legendary Nefertiti, belonged to a cult that believed the sun god created himself and then brought about the rest of creation and the other gods. Amenhotep embraced monotheism, smashed the idols of the other gods and regarded himself as a distinctive son of Ra, also known as Aten, the “Great Disc” of illumination. The pharaoh built a new capital, a city called Akhetaten, and changed his name to Akhenaten in honor of Ra. When he died, Tutankhamen, his successor, was faced with a catastrophic economic collapse and severe unrest, partly attributable to the suppressed traditional religion. King Tut restored the rest of the gods to their temples and to active worship and Akhetaten was abandoned, eventually buried under the desert sand.
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