Could Pharaoh Akhenaton’s Conversion to Monotheism Have Been Influenced by The Biblical Joseph?

Image of the Pharaoh Akhenaten of Ancient Egypt


ATLANTA – Written by M.L. Childs, Author, Screenwriter, Copywriter and Dramatic Historian


This article is a continuation of opinions introduced in the article  “Was the Heretic Pharaoh Akhenaton in Fact the Father of Modern Monotheism?”  (


If there ever could have been a Pharaoh that would have listened to and taken heed to the advice of a Hebrew slave, it would undoubtedly have been the Pharaoh Akhenaten.  If you will recall the story in Genesis, Joseph was sold into slavery to the Ishmaelites by his brothers because he was favored by his father Jacob.   Eventually Joseph ended up in Egypt as a slave to Potiphar who was one of the Pharaoh’s top officials.  Due to an alleged attack on Potiphar’s wife, Joseph was thrown in jail.  While in jail, he became known as the dream interpreter and word eventually got back to the Pharaoh of that time, who was plagued with nightmares about flora and fauna of Egypt being destroyed.  No one in the Pharaoh’s court could interpret the dream so he ended up relying on the interpretation of the prisoner Joseph.  Joseph interpreted the dream to be seven years of plenty in the Pharaoh’s kingdom followed by seven years of famine.  His interpretation of the Pharaoh’s dream was so accurate that he was raised in rank and placed in charge by the Pharaoh.  What clues exist to tie the biblical character Joseph to the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaton?


Joseph Was Favored by the Pharaoh

What Pharaoh, who believed that he was god himself, would have readily listened to the dream interpretations of a Hebrew slave?  It would have had to be Akhenaten.  Although Akhenaten may not have believed in Joseph’s god, he seemed to be intrigued by this idea of monotheism.  Not only was Akhenaten intrigued by the idea but once he fully embraced it, he set out to destroy all images of other gods in the kingdom and fired the high priests of Amun.  When Akhenaten started his reign as king, he was loyal to the god Amun; however, something prompted him to suddenly start worshiping the Aten only.  This something may have been Joseph’s influence.  Not only did Akhenaten destroy the images of the old gods, he also raised Joseph in rank to run Egypt according to the Bible.  Why would a Pharaoh give a foreign slave governance over his country?  Akhenaten was not concerned with the traditional cities that were the seat of power because he had his heart set on developing a new city devoted to the new god.  If he were the Pharaoh that ruled during the time of Joseph, perhaps Akhenaten would have given the city to Joseph so that he could focus on building Amarna, a city dedicated to the god Aten.


The Economy Was Bad During Joseph’s Time

As we can see in the Bible, Egypt was in the midst of a famine and economic hardship would have been one of the results of years of famine.  Historians believe that there were definitely financial problems during Akhenaten’s reign and if Joseph and Akhenaten did coexist during the same time, these financial hardships were probably brought on by the famine.  Historians, however, believe that the financial hardships that existed during Akhenaten’s time were due to his change in religious beliefs and the abandonment of the religions temples of Amun.


Akhenaten Was Depicted in Art as Misshapen

One of the things that many people comment on about the images of Akhenaton is that they are severely distorted and elongated unlike the images of other Pharaohs which are always displayed as strong, virile and heroic.  Akhenaton has a long, thin face and a pot belly very similar to those facing famine.  This is important because as the story continues in Genesis, Joseph interprets the Pharaoh’s nightmares to be associated with a time of plenty followed by a time of famine.  The images of Akhenaten seem to fit those of people who are suffering from the effects of famine.  His upper body is thin and his stomach is bloated which is a characteristic of an enlarged liver due to severe or long-term starvation.


Akhenaten Suddenly Started to Appeal to One God for Favor

Akhenaton started his kingdom in the same way that his father Amenhotep III did; as a god king.  However, it seems that something during his reign changed his fervor for the old ways and made him appeal to one god.  The sun, Aten, would have been a powerful force to be feared since it would have been drying up Egypt’s food sources.  Akhenaten may have begun to believe that this scorching of the land was due to the sun’s lack of favor.  Therefore, to appease this angry god, Akhenaten declared himself the son of Aten — the way to the light — and encouraged his people to follow him instead of the high priests.  Akhenaton may not have accepted Joseph’s god but he certainly may have been influenced by Joseph’s reliance on one god.  The fear that the sun was scorching his lands due to Egypt’s history of polytheism may have driven Akhenaten away from the traditional pantheon of gods so that he could stop Aten — the great sun disk — from destroying his land.

Akhenaten’s People Didn’t Challenge Him

In the Bible and historically, Akhenaten’s people did not oppose his decisions.  Perhaps this was because the Egyptians were naturally passive people especially when it came to challenging the status quo or the might of the Pharaoh.  It seems that either the Biblical story or history should have recorded that the ruler’s swift and random decisions would have upset a segment of society enough to encourage intrigue in the kingdom.  The reaction of the Pharaoh’s people in the Bible and the reaction of Akhenaten’s people in history seems to be the same — they believed in and trusted their ruler.  If in fact Akhenaten and Joseph existed during the same time, the people’s fear of limited resources due to the famine may been why these seemingly erratic decisions of the Pharaoh were accepted without incident.  Why challenge the one who controls your only access to food?


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