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Egyptian religion

Development of a National Religion

At the end of the predynastic period (c.3200 B.C.), when a combined state was created, a national religion apparently grew out of the various primitive tribal and local religions, but still there were great inconsistencies and variations as various priesthoods attempted to systematize the gods and their myths. Changes in the political power of various localities also changed the status of the gods. In that way Amon became Egypt's most prominent deity, and by similar shifts of power Suchos, Bast, and Neith rose to importance. Some scholars have believed that the history of Egyptian religion was a sort of war of the gods, with the dominance of a god following directly the political dominance of a city or region. Others have pointed out that the national prominence of gods often centered in obscure cities or regions that never had political power. Nevertheless, shifts and changes did occur, making for new identifications and associations.

Egyptian religion was remarkable for its reconciliation and union of conflicting beliefs. Some scholars have held, in fact, that the syncretism of Egyptian religion reveals a basic trend toward monotheism. But only during the reign of Ikhnaton, who based his theology on the solar god Aton and denied recognition to all but that god, was a monotheistic cult actually established. That unique cult apparently proved unsatisfactory to the ancient Egyptians; after Ikhnaton's death, polytheism was restored.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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