Did Akhenaten’s monotheism influence Moses? This intriguing inquiry, posed in the current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, might not be the most interesting question.
Who was Pharaoh Akhenaten? What was his relationship with Moses? A brief historical sketch sets the stage.
According to BAR’s article, Amenhotep IV became pharaoh in 1350 B.C. His wife was the beautiful Nefertiti. During the sixth year of his eleven year reign, Amenhotep IV changed his name to Pharaoh Akhenaten.
Pharaoh Akhenaten overthrew centuries of traditional Egyptian polytheism to promote the solar god Aten as the sole ruling god. According to him, Aten was the king of kings with no queen and no rivals.
The powerful cult of Amun was dismantled; its priests dismissed. Amun’s temples at Thebes and Memphis were abandoned.
What can account for such a precipitous change? The author acknowledges, “Why Akhenaten made the sudden move is unknown.” However he speculates, “Most likely, he may have decided to centralize religious authority and enhance his power.”
How does this relate to Moses? That depends.
If Moses led Israel out of Egypt when he was 80 years old (Acts 7:23,30) and if the Exodus occurred in 1290 B.C. as many assert, then Moses would have been twenty-six years old when Amenhotep IV began promoting monotheism. Accordingly, Moses would have experienced this pharoah’s monotheistic influence before later fleeing to Midian at the age of 40.
As with a house of cards, remove a key pillar and the whole structure collapses. In this case, that critical support involves when the Exodus occurred. Archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon dated Jericho’s destruction around 1250 B.C. thus placing Israel’s Exodus forty years earlier in 1290 B.C.
Why did Kathleen Kenyon reject a biblical chronology of about 1440 B.C. for the Exodus?(1) Foremost, she did not find any evidence within Jericho’s destruction strata of the fashionable and distinctive imported Cypriot bichrome pottery from the 1400’s. If the Exodus transpired around 1440 B.C. and Israel attacked Jericho after forty years of wandering in the wilderness, its destruction in 1400 B.C. should have buried this stylish pottery. Her dating of Jericho’s devastation to some 150 years later has become conventional wisdom.
However, since the time of her archaeological work, dramatic new evidence has surfaced. Archaeologist Bryant Wood identified Cypriot bichrome ware from the destruction strata of Jericho! He explains that Kathleen Kenyon did not find this pottery because she excavated an area associated with the lower classes. This expensive imported pottery belonged to the more affluent members of society.
If the Exodus actually occurred around 1440 B.C. and if additional archaeological evidence were to support this earlier date(2), the story of Moses and Pharaoh Akhenaten becomes reversed. In approximately 1440 B.C. the one God of the Israelites released plagues against Egypt judging all of its gods as worthless (Exodus 12:12). Then as the Israelites fled from Egypt, in an unprecedented display of power, Yahweh split open the Yam Suph (Exodus 14:21-22; 15:3-4). God impressed the nations by dividing the Yam Suph (Joshua 2:10), a body of water such as the Sea of Aqaba (1 Kings 9:26).
If this were not enough, forty years later in 1400 B.C., the Israelites’ God stopped the raging flood waters of the Jordan during harvest (Joshua 3:15) enabling the Hebrews to enter Canaan. Furthermore, this God empowered Israel to conquer Jericho and other fortified cities.
Should we be surprised that a little more than fifty years after Jericho’s fall and within a hundred years of Egypt’s devastation that a Pharaoh would embark upon promoting his version of monotheism? The better question might be “who may have influenced whom?”
1/ 1 Kings 6:1 combined with Solomon’s coronation in 961 B.C.
2/ An inscription may indicate Israel had left Egypt prior to the late Exodus date of 1290 B.C.. The inscription which is dated to ca. 1390’s B.C. reads, “Land of the nomads of Yahweh.” It is located at the Amon-Re Temple in Soleb.