Biblical Egypt by R. David Pogge

Chapter 6

The Great Hymn to Aten

Psalm 104

Section 6.1 - Which Came First?

Many scholars have noted a similarity between Psalm 104 1 and The Great Hymn to Aten. Many (but not all) believe there must have been some plagiarism; but who plagiarized from whom?

Psychologists, sociologists, philosophers, and theologians recognize the fact that man needs God. Voltaire famously said, "Si Dieu n'existait pas, il faudrait l'inventer." (If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.) Secular scholars believe that is exactly what happened. They think all religions were invented by well-meaning priests to bring order to society and meaning to life.

They canít be blamed for thinking that because the only two possibilities are that they are right in every case, or they are right in every case except one. There can be (at most) only one true religion. Since there are countless religions in the world, the vast majority of religions must be fables invented by man to fulfill manís need for God.

Some scholars believe Akhenaten was the first monotheist, and that Akhenatenís short excursion into monotheism led to Judaism. Those of us who believe the Bible is the inspired word of God believe that Adam was the first monotheist, and Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses (and many others) believed in one god long before Akhenaten did.

But scholars who believe that the Bible is a fable of human origin donít believe that any of those people actually existed. Therefore, they have to come up with an explanation for why so many religions have many gods, but Judaism has just one. They just canít agree upon what that explanation is.

Some scholars agree with Dr. James K. Hoffmeier, who thinks that Judaism is based on Akhenatenís short-lived experiment with monotheism; but Donald B. Redford disagrees.

ďThere is little or no evidence to support the notion that Akhenaten was a progenitor of the full-blown monotheism that we find in the Bible. The monotheism of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament had its own separate developmentóone that began more than half a millennium after the pharaoh's death.Ē 2

Some scholars, who believe Judaism was invented sometime near the end of the 19th Dynasty by anonymous Jewish scribes, think Psalm 104 was written by an unknown composer at that time, and they ascribe its similarity to The Great Hymn to the Aten as just a coincidence, because it could not possibly have been remembered 400 or 500 years later. After all, the Egyptians did everything they could to destroy Akhenaten and everything he believed in. The inventors of Judaism could not possibly have known about it. It must be a coincidence.

It seems much more reasonable to me that Psalm 104 was sung by the Israelites living in Egypt. It was one of many hymns passed down through oral tradition for hundreds of years and eventually included when the book of Psalms was created by an unknown editor shortly after the reign of King David. Akhenaten heard Psalm 104, and many other hymns, sung by the Israelites. Akhenaten associated Aten with the creator the Israelites worshipped, the Light of the World. He translated the essence of the Hebrew hymns into his native language. It was written in hieroglyphics in Ayeís tomb, which is how we know about it today.

I think The Great Hymn to Aten is strong evidence that the Israelites actually were in Egypt, worshipping God during the Second Intermediate Period and the 18th Dynasty. The Israelites sang Psalm 104 (and other hymns) in praise of God during their time in Egypt, and Akhenaten heard it.

Section 6.2 - What Akhenaten Heard

So what exactly did Akhenaten hear in Psalm 104? How similar are Psalm 104 and The Great Hymn to Aten? See for yourself!

Only someone who can read Hebrew and Hieroglyphics can compare Psalm 104 to The Great Hymn to the Aten directly. I canít do thatóbut I can compare an English translation of Psalm 104 to an English translation of The Great Hymn to the Aten. There are two English translations on the Internet.

The Great Hymn to the Aten
Translated by John A. Wilson

Praise of Re Har-akhti, Rejoicing on the Horizon, in His Name as Shu Who is in the Aton-disc, living forever and ever; the living great Aton who is in jubilee, lord of all that the Aton encircles, lord of heaven, lord of earth, lord of the House of Aton in Akhet-Aton; (and praise of) the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, who lives on truth, the Lord of the Two Lands: Nefer-kheperu-Re Wa-en-Re; the Son of Re, who lives on truth, the Lord of Diadems: Akh-en-Aton, long in his lifetime; (and praise of) the Chief Wife of the King, his beloved, the Lady of the Two Lands: Nefer-neferu-Aton Nefert-iti, living, healthy, and youthful forever and ever; (by) the Fan-Bearer on the Right Hand of the King ... Eye.

He says:

Thou appearest beautifully on the horizon of heaven,
Thou living Aton, the beginning of life!
When thou art risen on the eastern horizon,
Thou hast filled every land with thy beauty.
Thou art gracious, great, glistening, and high over every land;
Thy rays encompass the lands to the limit of all that thou hast made:
As thou art Re, thou reachest to the end of them;
(Thou) subduest them (for) thy beloved son.
Though thou art far away, thy rays are on earth;
Though thou art in their faces, no one knows thy going.

When thou settest in the western horizon,
The land is in darkness, in the manner of death.
They sleep in a room, with heads wrapped up,
Nor sees one eye or the other.
All their goods which are under their heads might be stolen,
(But) they would not perceive (it).
Every lion is come forth from his den;
All creeping things, they sting.
Darkness is a shroud, and the earth is in stillness,
For he who made them rests in his horizon.

At daybreak, when thou arisest on the horizon,
When thou shinest as the Aton by day,
Thou drivest away the darkness and givest thy rays.
The Two Lands are in festivity every day,
Awake and standing upon (their) feet,
For thou hast raised them up.
Washing their bodies, taking (their) clothing,
Their arms are (raised) in praise at thy appearance.
All the world, they do their work.

All beasts are content with their pasturage;
Trees and plants are flourishing.
The birds which fly from their nests,
Their wings are (stretched out) in praise to thy ka.
All beasts spring upon (their) feet.
Whatever flies and alights,
They live when thou hast risen (for) them.
The ships are sailing north and south as well,
For every way is open at thy appearance.
The fish in the river dart before thy face;
Thy rays are in the midst of the great green sea.

Creator of seed in women,
Thou who makest fluid into man,
Who maintainest the son in the womb of his mother,
Who soothest him with that which stills his weeping,
Thou nurse (even) in the womb,
Who givest breath to sustain all that he has made!
When he descends from the womb to breathe
On the day when he is born,
Thou openest his mouth completely,
Thou suppliest his necessities.
When the chick in the egg speaks within the shell,
Thou givest him breath within it to maintain him.
When thou hast made him his fulfillment within the egg, to break it,
He comes forth from the egg to speak at his completed (time);
He walks upon his legs when he comes forth from it.

How manifold it is, what thou hast made!
They are hidden from the face (of man).
O sole god, like whom there is no other!
Thou didst create the world according to thy desire,
Whilst thou wert alone: All men, cattle, and wild beasts,
Whatever is on earth, going upon (its) feet,
And what is on high, flying with its wings.

The countries of Syria and Nubia, the land of Egypt,
Thou settest every man in his place,
Thou suppliest their necessities:
Everyone has his food, and his time of life is reckoned.
Their tongues are separate in speech,
And their natures as well;
Their skins are distinguished,
As thou distinguishest the foreign peoples.
Thou makest a Nile in the underworld,
Thou bringest forth as thou desirest
To maintain the people (of Egypt)
According as thou madest them for thyself,
The lord of all of them, wearying (himself) with them,
The lord of every land, rising for them,
The Aton of the day, great of majesty.

All distant foreign countries, thou makest their life (also),
For thou hast set a Nile in heaven,
That it may descend for them and make waves upon the mountains,
Like the great green sea,
To water their fields in their towns.
How effective they are, thy plans, O lord of eternity!
The Nile in heaven, it is for the foreign peoples
And for the beasts of every desert that go upon (their) feet;
(While the true) Nile comes from the underworld for Egypt.

Thy rays suckle every meadow.
When thou risest, they live, they grow for thee.
Thou makest the seasons in order to rear all that thou hast made,
The winter to cool them,
And the heat that they may taste thee.
Thou hast made the distant sky in order to rise therein,
In order to see all that thou dost make.
Whilst thou wert alone,
Rising in thy form as the living Aton,
Appearing, shining, withdrawing or aproaching,
Thou madest millions of forms of thyself alone.
Cities, towns, fields, road, and river --
Every eye beholds thee over against them,
For thou art the Aton of the day over the earth....

Thou are in my heart,
And there is no other that knows thee
Save thy son Nefer-kheperu-Re Wa-en-Re,
For thou hast made him well-versed in thy plans and in thy strength.

The world came into being by thy hand,
According as thou hast made them.
When thou hast risen they live,
When thou settest they die.
Thou art lifetime thy own self,
For one lives (only) through thee.
Eyes are (fixed) on beauty until thou settest.
All work is laid aside when thou settest in the west.
(But) when (thou) risest (again),
[Everything is] made to flourish for the king,...
Since thou didst found the earth
And raise them up for thy son,
Who came forth from thy body: the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, ... Ak-en-Aton, ... and the Chief Wife of the King ... Nefert-iti, living and youthful forever and ever. 3

There is another, shorter version also available on the Internet. 4

Comparing English translations of Psalm 104 and The Great Hymn to the Aten, I donít think a copyright court would find any evidence of infringement or plagiarism. (But the lines of plagiarism can easily be blurred, as Robin Thicke sadly discovered. 5) The two hymns just arenít that similar. Perhaps something gets lost in translation, but when I tried to match up lines in Psalm 104 with lines in the Great Hymn, I could not do it.

The Great Hymn says Aten is the light of the earth, the creator and protector of all living things, the one responsible for biological reproduction, provider of food and the controller of the weather who is too mysterious to understand and dwells in the heart. Psalm 104 says pretty much the same things, but uses different examples. There are lots of other Hebrew psalms which describe the God of Abraham in same terms. Any of those other psalms could just as easily have been the inspiration for The Great Hymn; and I believe they collectively were.

I donít want to be misunderstood on this point, so let me say it again, slightly differently. I believe Akhenaten was inspired to write The Great Hymn to the Aten after hearing many of the hymns sung by the Hebrew slaves in Egypt, not just Psalm 104. The Great Hymn and Psalm 104 just arenít similar enough to say that one is a direct copy of the other.

I can only speculate as to why scholars would say Psalm 104 is based on The Great Hymn. I suspect they want to believe that Judaism has its roots in Akhenatenís excursion into monotheism, and are grasping at straws for proof. (And they haven't read enough of the Psalms to know how many other Psalms say the same thing.)

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1 In most English translations it is Psalm 104. Because the Psalms are numbered differently, it is Psalm 103 in the Septuagint, Latin Vulgate, and Russian Bibles.
2 Aspects of Monotheism", Donald B. Redford,†Biblical Archeology Review, 1996
3 Source: Pritchard, James B., ed., The Ancient Near East - Volume 1: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1958, pp. 227-230.
4 Source: Nicolas Grimal. A History of Ancient Egypt, Ian Shaw, translator, Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1992 (english translation),
5 Robin Thicke was found guilty of plagarism in his song, "Blurred Lines."