MMA 26.7.767 is a gold finger ring from the reign of the well-known Amarna period pharaoh, Akhenaten. The ring probably depicts Akhenaten and his great royal wife, Nefertiti, as the deities Shu and Tefnut.
This ring, together with the various other depictions of the king and queen as Shu and Tefnut, reveals much about Atenism, the new religion that was introduced by Akhenaten. Akhenaten attempted to create a religion in which there was one main god, the Aten. The Aten was the visible form of the sun disk. Other solar deities were still recognised, for example, Re, the sun god, however Akhenaten attempted to eradicate many of the other deities of the Egyptian pantheon.
Shu and Tefnut were the son and daughter of the creator god, Atum, in the Heliopolitan creation myth, and a part of the Ennead, a group of nine gods worshipped at Heliopolis. Together with Atum, the pair created a divine triad. Divine triads were a traditional feature of ancient Egyptian religion, and triads possessing a female element possessed the ability to reproduce. This is demonstrated by the Ennead of the Heliopolitan creation myth – in the triad of Atum, Shu and Tefnut, Shu and Tefnut create Geb and Nut, who then go on to create the next generation of the Ennead. In the Atenist religion, Akhenaten and Nefertiti formed a divine triad with the Aten.
Creation myths were an essential part of the Egyptian worldview. The worldview of any society is the means by which a civilisation can understand their origins, their nature and their relationship to their surroundings, through the perception and interpretation of their reality, in order to gain a greater understanding of the way in which their world works. Creation myths explain the origins of the world and humankind, and assist in the understanding of the way of the world. The also provide a framework of morals, and distinguish between good and evil . With the introduction of Atenism and the attempted eradication of the pantheon of gods, the traditional creation myths had no grounding in the new religion as their creator gods and their offspring were rejected. By representing himself as Shu, and Nefertiti as Tefnut, Akhenaten was able to give himself a main role in creation, highlighting his close association with the Aten, and restore the possibility of creation to the Atenist religion. The divine triad of Aten, Akhenaten, and Nefertiti was equated with that of Atum, Shu, and Tefnut.
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