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There were some claims, for example in the 1st 2 chapters of Moses and Monotheism by Freud, that early Judaism was basically a spin-off of Akhenaten's religion. There are indeed some remarkable similarities:

Akhenaten, an Egyptian, is perhaps the 1st monotheist in History; Judaism is the 1st organized monotheistic religion, and its becoming one is associated with the Exodus from Egypt.

Akhenaten calls his god Aton; one of the names used in Judaism is Adon or Adonai.

The word Moses means "son" in Egyptian, as in Ra-mses or Tut-mos; Biblical Moses was raised as the son of an Egyptian princess (perhaps because he was one).

Moses was fluent in Egyptian, but "tongue-tied" in Hebrew, even after considerable time as the leader of Jews.

There are also remarkable dis-similarities between early Judaism and the traditional Egyptian warship that denied the religion of Akhenaten:

The animals that were traditionally worshipped in Egypt (not by Akhenaten) are deemed "dirty" in Judaism.

Jews are forbidden to shave their heads, which was a common practice in Egypt.

Etc., Etc., Etc.

The speculation by Freud goes something like this:

The followers of Akhenaten's religion are persecuted after Akhenaten's death. The son of Akhenaten's daughter, known further as "the Son" or "Moses", decided to flee Egypt. A natural leader, he decides not to flee alone, but to create a new nation, become it leader, and install the religion of Aton with it. Jews, enslaved in the Delta, seemed a good pick. He convinces Aaron, the son of his wet nurse, to disseminate the story that Moses was actually a Jew, and to act as Moses's mouthpiece (and perhaps Hebrew-Egyptian interpreter).

Thus the question: is there any historical evidence to either support or deny such claim? Are there any contradictions between the described above speculated line of events and some reasonably known facts about ancient Egypt history?

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3 Answers 3

Judaism was long a Henotheist religion, ie it believed there was many gods, but claimed the Yahweh was the foremost and most powerful of these gods. It is generally believed that Judaism became monotheistic, claiming that other gods did not exist at all, during the Babylonian exile, (1, 2) probably influenced by Zoroastrianism.

These events are in the 6th century BC, some 600 years after Akhenaten. I do not know of any evidence outside imaginative readings of the Bible that supports the idea that Judaism comes out of Atenism or that Moses was a descendant of Akhenaten.

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Well, some evidence that pre-Babylonian Judaism, as understood by educated people, was monolatristic rather than monotheistic may be decisive. Where one would look for such evidence? Monolatrism of the masses doesn't count much: there is substantial amount of paganism among less educated followers of certain monotheistic religions even today. –  Michael Jan 13 '14 at 23:08
@Michael: The difference between monolatrism and henotheism as I understand it is not significant in this context. In both cases other gods were recognized, so it was not monotheistic. Then again, early Atenism doesn't seem to have been monoteistic either, so there may still have been some influence on Judaism that originated from Atenism. –  Lennart Regebro Jan 14 '14 at 4:13

Akhenaten lived about 125 years before Rameses II, the best fit pharaoh of Moses. You'd have to explain that away first.

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Well, he would have had to live before if he was to influence what came after... :-) But yes, the idea that Moses was the son of Akhenaten is highly speculative. –  Lennart Regebro Jan 13 '14 at 21:47
OK, this definitely could be one of "reasonably known facts" I asked for. Not quite enough to decisively refute Freud's conjecture though: first, rather than being Akhenaten's grandchild Moses could be a few more generations apart, assuming that underground worship of Aton's religion persisted a little longer after Akhenaten's death; and second, I don't think we have any confidence that Ramses II was indeed the Pharo of Exodus. The proposed time gap is a good point indeed, but not conclusive enough for rejection w/out further evidence. –  Michael Jan 13 '14 at 21:49
@LennartRegebro: Freud didn't quite name the proposed relationship between Akhenaten and Moses, but, based on the spirit of the book that quoted a few things from the Biblical account, his speculation seemed to point to grandfather-grandson rather than father-son relation: the book of Exodus names an Egyptian princess (presumably Akhenaten's daughter) acting as (presumably being) Moses's mother. –  Michael Jan 13 '14 at 21:53
@Michael It's still to short, and still relies on that Moses existed, which is not sure, and that the Egyptian Exodus happened, which is highly doubtful. –  Lennart Regebro Jan 13 '14 at 22:09
A problem with the Armana religion surviving after Akhenaten is that it was a very personal sect. Akhen was buddy-buddy with the Pharoah himself, there wasn't any real spelling out of how this relation would extend to other followers or his subjects or even the Pharoah's children. The religion pretty much died with Akhenaten. –  Oldcat Jan 13 '14 at 22:27

"Thus the question: is there any historical evidence to either support or deny such claim? Are there any contradictions between the described above speculated line of events and some reasonably known facts about ancient Egypt history?"

It is fairly certain that there was no Exodus as described in the Bible; the kingdoms of Judah and Israel are broadly accepted to have been Canaanite in origin and never to have been in Egypt.

So any story which presumes the Exodus is highly likely to be false, whatever its other appeal.

For a more extended discussion of the problems with the Exodus narrative as history, see here: Evidence for the Exodus

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