[b-hebrew] Amarna Letters

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Mon Dec 24 15:58:46 EST 2007

Yitzhak Sapir:
You wrote:  “Amenhotep IV was not monotheistic.”
Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten/Akh-n-Aten Wa-n-Ra was “monotheistic” in the same 
sense as the Patriarchs are portrayed in Genesis as being “monotheistic”.  Their 
religious views were very different, but each was a type of monotheism.
A.  Points of Similarity 
Each of Akhenaten and the Patriarchs worshipped only one main deity.
Uniquely, neither Akhenaten nor the Patriarchs had any statue of their deity.
Neither Akhenaten nor the Patriarchs rigorously denied the existence of other 
Each of Akhenaten and the Patriarchs often looked the other way in the face 
of other individuals having statues of minor deities.
To me, the above items constitute a type of monotheism in each case.
B.  Major Differences
Akhenaten worshipped a sun god, whom Akhenaten viewed rather mechanistically.
The Hebrews’ deity, YHWH, was not like Akhenaten’s sun god at all, but 
rather had a distinct personality, and at times intervened in human affairs.
*       *       *
Given the complete difference in their conceptions of the deity, it seems 
unlikely that Akhenaten influenced the Hebrews’ core religious views, or that the 
Hebrews influenced Akhenaten’s core religious views.  Yet they could 
nevertheless view each other as being “fellow travelers” regarding religious matters, 
after a fashion, because they were the only monotheists in the world, and the 
only people who did not have a statue of their main deity.
 In my controversial view of the case, the first Hebrew desperately wanted 
Akhenaten to prevent the dreaded Hittites from overrunning Canaan in the 
mid-14th century BCE.  The fact that both the first Hebrew and Akhenaten were 
monotheists, after a fashion, was one possible means of the first Hebrew possibly 
getting a sympathetic ear from Akhenaten as to that critical issue.
The first Hebrews did not need, and for the most part did not get, religious 
advice from Akhenaten.  But in my controversial view of the case, the first 
Hebrews desperately needed Akhenaten to defend Canaan against a possible 
onslaught of the seemingly unstoppable Hittites, who just now had snatched both the 
west coast of Syria and northern Lebanon, after previously grabbing central and 
eastern Syria.
Western intellectuals love to hate Akhenaten, and in truth, Akhenaten’s 
attempted religious reforms did not outlast his death.  But Akhenaten nevertheless 
did do one truly great thing in his life:  he convinced the Hittites not to 
advance south of central Lebanon, thereby preserving all of Canaan proper for 
the Canaanites and the Hebrews.  Historians never mention that, but it is clear 
that that is indeed what happened.
Not too long after Akhenaten’s death, Egypt’s view of the Hebrews turned 
very negative, under pharaoh Horemhab.  The era of good feeling between Egypt and 
the early Hebrews lasted for only about 7 years.  But though very 
short-lived, it was very important.  If Akhenaten had gone into a deep despair over his 
deteriorating family situation and had been asleep at the switch regarding 
foreign policy matters, the mighty Hittites might have swept into Canaan in the 
mid-14th century BCE and wiped out the new Hebrews.  That did not happen, in 
large part because Akhenaten refused to allow it to happen.  And as I see it, it 
may well have been hearing the Patriarchal narratives recited to him by the 
first Hebrew that helped persuade Akhenaten to get out of his terrible funk and 
save Canaan from being overrun by the dreaded Hittites.
Every story in the received text of the Patriarchal narratives is consistent 
with the foregoing controversial view of mine.  Accordingly, in my view, it is 
impossible that the Patriarchal narratives could be a myth ginned up by 
multiple Hebrew authors in the mid-1st millennium BCE.  Rather, everything in the 
received text suggests that the Patriarchal narratives were composed in the 
mid-14th century BCE by the first Hebrew.
As I see it, the composition of the Patriarchal narratives in the mid-14th 
century BCE may well have been what saved the first Hebrews from being wiped out 
by the Hittites.  And in my controversial view, the composition of the 
Patriarchal narratives is what effectively created Judaism.  I see the author of the 
Patriarchal narratives as being the first Hebrew, in the mid-14th century 
BCE.  The first Hebrews credited YHWH with having saved them from an invasion by 
the dreaded Hittites.  From the mid-14th century BCE to the present, the 
Hebrews/Jews have always worshipped YHWH.  And from the very beginning, the 
Patriarchal narratives have always been an integral part of the sacred patrimony of 
the Hebrews and Judaism.  I myself see no trace of the 1st millennium BCE in 
the truly ancient Patriarchal narratives.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois  

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