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Akhenaten and the Religion of Light: Die Religion des Lichtes 49576th Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0801487255
ISBN-10: 0801487250
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Editorial Reviews


"The book is infused with critical inquiry; instead of merely repeating past theories, Hornung discusses and contextualizes the scholarship into the trends of the time it was written . . . Akhenaten and the Religion of Light is excellent."―Choice

"In Akhenaten and the Religion of Light, Erik Hornung, . . .explores the metaphysical and religious dimensions of Akhenaten's 'perestroika' . . . shows how psychological and medical interpretations of Akhenaten's portraits based on a literal reading of their anatomy-bending style have often fed dubious moral presumptions. . . .'Ugly' and 'sick' Hornung tells us were the most common epithets applied to Amarna art by scholars at the turn of the century."―Lawrence Osborne. Lingua Franca. April, 2000.

"In this book, the author provides a concise, accurate, and very readable account of Akhenaten's reign. . . It is one of the best books on the subject of this heretic pharaoh. Recommended reading for all."―Frankie's Bibliography of Ancient Egypt

"Eric Hornung. . . effectively and succinctly guides through the mess of interpretations to a sympathetic, yet historically critical understanding of the pharaoh's theology and impact upon Egyptian history. . . Like any good historian he explains the social and historical context that gave rise to Akhenaten and his religion of light. The author has spent a life time trying to unravel for us the intricacies of Egyptian religion. His books are accessible, well written, and full of useful information."―Tom Collins, Religious Studies in Secondary Schools, Spring 2000.

"A concise and thoughtful analysis of Akhenaten's reign and religious innovations by a foremost expert on Egyptian religion. . . Throughout, Hornung's knowledge of Egyptian religion and balanced coverage of the issues make this a publication of great value to anyone with an interest in Akhenaten or in Egyptian religion."―Denise M. Doxey, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Religious Studies Review, Vol. 25, No. 4, October 2000

"This short and eminently readable translation. . . focuses on the nature of Akhenaten's religion, religious beliefs, and cultic practices, bringing together concepts and discussions from a wide range of scholarly writing."―Susan Tower Hollis, SUNY Empire State College. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 121, No. 3 (2001)

About the Author

David Lorton, an Egyptologist, is the translator of many books, including Erik Hornung's books The Secret Lore of Egypt and Akhenaten and the Religion of Light, both from Cornell.


Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press; 49576th edition (January 25, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801487250
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801487255
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.5 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #328,992 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Although very short and readable, this book is not recommendable to those who never read anything about Pharaoh Akhenaten and his place in Egyptian history. Retrieved from a lecture given by the author, it works best as an inventory of all that was ever written about Egypt's "Heretic King" and his religious revolution, since his discovery by German scholar Lepsius in 1843, down to 1995, when it was published. And, as its title proclaims, the book focuses on Akhenaten's doctrine, the Amarna theology.

Aware that Egyptologists usually infer too much from too little, Herr Hornung is excessively cautious in his approach, always avoiding any labeling of his biographee, whether as the tragic saint glorified by Breasted and Weigall, whether as the decadent fanatic despised by Redford and Aldred, whether as the true founder of Judaism hailed by Freud and the Rosicrucian. He has no opinion about Akhenaten's possible co-regency with his father or with his successor, whoever he (Smenkhkare?), or she (Nefertiti?), might be; he doesn't know what happened in his last years, ignores the debate over the mummy found at Tomb 55 in the Valley of Kings, and has no idea where Tutankhamun came from. He is not sure of anything, though he mentions most of the theories proposed by other authors. All he seems sure of is the basic tenets of Akhenaten's religious ideas.

And this is very interesting, because one of the author's most avoided "clichés" is precisely the pre-Christian feature of this very dramatic character.
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"For the first time in history, an attempt was made to explain the entire natural and human world on the basis of a SINGLE principle. Like Einstein, Ahkenaten made light the absolute reference point, and it is astonishing how clearly and consistently he pursued this concept in the 14th century B.C.E., making him in fact the first MODERN human being." (p. 125)
Akhenaten's revolutionary change from polytheism to monotheistic belief in only one god helped unify Egypt.
The subjective controversy that plagues the history of Akhenaten is an anticipative backlash from exoheretics to the academic practice of historiography. When emotional superfluous definitions to the meaning of heresy are discarded, it becomes obvious (for the right reasons) that Akhenaten was indeed a heretic. As a dissenter from orthodox religious beliefs, he was, by definition, a "heretic king".
Hornung's book delves into Akhenaten's radical dissent from Egypt's traditional polytheism, and his establishment of the world's first instance of monotheism. The belief was in Aten, whom many mistakenly believe was depicted by the solar disk. This book makes it clear that Aten was actually not the sun disk, but rather the LIGHT that is in the sun and which, radiating from it, calls the world to life and keeps it alive. It was no more or less an icon than Judaism's Star of David, or Christianity's Cross of Jesus, or Islam's calligraphic symbol. Early text of a boundary stelae reads, "sculptors do not know him."
The parallels Hornung draws between today's 3 major monotheistic religions and Akhenaten's precedent are many and presented in clear detail.
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This work serves as a very useful overview of the historical progression and the basic tenets of Akhenaten's religion of light. The author punctiliously lists the sources on which his statements are based, which provides a useful reference for the reader who wants to check the ancient sources for themselves. Some of these references, however, assume that the reader will already have some familiarity with the events being narrated and though this is not a major problem, the reader with little knowledge of Akhenaten is sometimes left wishing for a little more background information. The main reason I have given the book only 3 stars ( though its information value certainly warrants at least 4), is that Horning scrupulously avoids making any kind of inference as to the reasons behind Akhenaten's abrupt break with Egypt's traditions until the very last page of the book. In a way, this avoidance is praiseworthy, since Egyptologists often infer too much from too little. On the other hand, I believe that this is precisely the point that most readers are interested in exploring. The avoidance becomes problematic on the final page. Here, Horning suggests that Akhenaten was perhaps the world's first fundamentalist, trying to explain the entire human world based on a single principle. He claims that such a fundamentalist viewpoint will always be doomed to failure and thus we have much to learn from Akhenaten's example. I would have found the book much more interesting and enjoyable if this hypothesis had been introduced from the start and then developed throughout the book. As it is, it is tacked on as a kind of coda, and the reader is left to decide whether any of the evidence given in the book actually supports such an inference or not.
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