What a success story. He was a minor Sun God who became the supreme deity of the world’s first truly organized monotheistic religion.
Thebes in Ancient Egypt was the bees knees — humming along happily with 500+ deities to choose from. Until one dreadful day Amenhotep IV came to power. He was obsessed with a little-known Sun God named ATEN. Really obsessed. He changed his name to Akhenaten (He Who Worships Aten) and proclaimed henceforth there was only one God: ATEN.
To prove his point, he abandoned all the old Gods and temples, and moved everyone to a new capital. There he built himself a magnificent new temple and palace where he could sit in the sun and worship all day long. Priests and suppliers of sacrificial succulents were forced onto the dole as the new religion was enforced.
To start with, the new sun disc God was balanced on the head of HORUS and RA was somewhere in the background. But as time went on, the other Gods were forced out and ATEN became more abstract — just a flat disc with a few ropey rays emanating from him, very similar to how small children illustrate sunshine.
Despite his dedication, Akhenaten let things go sadly to pot, and after seventeen years of monotheism the populace was heartily sick of it. Being a Pharaoh, there is no way he would have abdicated, but perhaps he succumbed to sunstroke or a slipped disc.
The next Pharaoh was the much-revered Tutankhamun, who restored all the delightful deities of yore. The world’s first monotheistic God was hastily erased from public records. ATEN became ATEN-RA for a mere twinkle, until AMUN nipped in to oust him altogether as AMUN-RA. Now ATEN is only preserved on disk via computer and gets hardly a mention in the BOOK-OF-THE-DEAD.
This is not quite the end. Monotheism was such a momentous concept that it may well have been taken on board by the Israelites in their great Exodus — along with various Egyptian hymns and prayers. (Some people have even suggested that Akhenaten was actually MOSES himself.)
One final twist. Somebody, possibly even Akhenaten himself, composed a ‘Hymn to Aten’ which was actually set to music and written down. This, as far as we know, is the first ever example of written musical notation. But what’s the hieroglyphic equivalent of a demi-semi-quaver? Is there anybody out there who can play it?