Macquarie University
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Akhenaten’s ‘leap’: how can ‘rethinking’ Akhenaten’s and recent historiographical developments, and contemporary Egyptology further our understanding of his religious experience?

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posted on 2022-03-28, 11:23 authored by Michael Hayes
This thesis reveals that early twenitieth-century political and national, intellectual and religious agendas have dominated, distorted and distracted Egyptologists’ from Akhenaten’s own time and experience. Anachronistic concepts abound : ‘modern’, ‘pacifist’, ‘Christ-like’, ‘miscegenation’, ‘heretic’, ‘false prophet’, even ‘totalitarian’. As a result, there is a sense of being left outside as a distant observer of the shifting, restless Akhenaten. This thesis, guided by later invaluable, critical contributions from Hornung and Assmann, follows and extends contemporary Egyptologist James Hoffmeier’s exploration of Akhenaten’s ‘theophany’, enabling a sympathetic access inside Akhenaten’s religious experience. This is supported by the diverse, pioneering work on lexical semantics by Orly Goldwasser and Pascal Vernus as well as new findings and analyses of continuing fieldwork, especially at Tell el-Amarna. Contemporary Dutch philosophers of history, Frank Ankersmit and Eelco Runia, further these developments. Like Assmann, Ankersmit confronts the dynamics of trauma, opening new approaches to the ancient concept of the ‘sublime’. Deepening Ankersmit’s insights Runia explored how, throughout history, human beings reach a ‘threshold’ of what is beyond them, and impelled by a rising sense of ‘vertigo’, ‘leap’ into the ‘unknown’. This is an exploration of Akhenaten’s ‘leap’ to find a radical, unique experience of the divine, to become the first known monotheist.


Table of Contents

Introduction -- Chapter 1. From ‘progress’ to ‘decadence’ : late nineteenth- and twentieth-century anachronistic distractions and distortions of Akhenaten’s reign -- Chapter 2. The adzes of Wepwawat, ‘Opener of Ways’ : beyond anachronisms; opening up Akhenaten’s religious experience – Erik Hornung and Jan Assmann -- Chapter 3. ‘Re-thinking history’ : Dutch twentieth and twentieth-first century approaches -- Chapter 4. ‘Re-thinking’ Akhenaten’s religious experience in the light of Dutch historiography and contemporary Egyptology -- Conclusion -- Appendices -- Bibliography.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 65-68

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes


MRes, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Ancient History

Department, Centre or School

Department of Ancient History

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Boyo Ockinga


Copyright Michael Hayes 2018. Copyright disclaimer:






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