I haven't spent any time on Akhenaten yet which seems odd. How could I have made it half a year without addressing the rebel pharaoh? This is going to take a few posts I am sure. Like most other things in Ancient Egypt there isn't one simple answer or clear definition that a Western mind can quickly grasp. Akhenaten, aside from being controversial, had many accomplishments and quirks to his person, his style of art and his rule.
One of the things that has always impressed me about Akhenaten is that there is quite a bit of evidence that he wrote many of the hymns to Aten found from this time period. It wasn't that Aten was a new god, contrary, the Aten was a part of Ra (Re) and expressed the visible part of Ra, i.e. his light. Aten is a being of healing, warmth and light. Aten likely had a high place in religion before Akhenaten. His father, Amenhotep III, named his ship "Splendor of Aten".
This is where we shall start with Akhenaten and the worship of the Aten, with a hymn, presumably penned by Akhenaten himself. I think this particular hymn express much of how the Aten was viewed as an entity and what the worship of Aten meant. I also like the clues to Egyptian concepts of astronomy and biology that appear in this hymn.
Thou appearest beautifully on the horizon of heaven (literally the sky or heavens),
Thou living Aten, the beginning of life!
When thou art risen on the eastern horizon,
Though hast filled every land with thy beauty.
Thou are gracious, great, glistening and high over every land:
Thy rays encompass the lands to the limit of all that thou hast made:
As thou are Re, thou reachest to the end of them;
Thou subduest them for they beloved son Akhenaten,
Though thou are far away. thy rays are on the Earth.
Though thou are in their faces, no one knows thy going.
When thou settest in the western horizon,
The land is in darkness, in the manner of death.
Thy sleep in a room, with heads wrapped up,
Nor sees one eye the other.
All their gods which are under their heads might be stolen.
But they would not perceive it.
Every lion is come forth from his fen;
All creeoing things, they sting.
Darkness is a shroud, and the Earth is in stillness,
For he who made them rests in his horizon.
At daybreak, when though arisest on the horizon,,
When thou shinest as the Aten by day,
Thou drivest away the darkness and givest thy rays.
The Two Lands are in festivity every day,
Awake and stand upon feet,
For though hast raised them up.
Washing their bodies, take their clothing,
Their arms are raised in praise of thy appearence.
All the world, they do their work...
Creator of the seed in women,
Though who makest fluid into man,
Who maintainest the son in the womb of his mother,
Who soothest him with that which still his weeping,
Thou nurse in the womb,
Who givest breath to sustain all that he has made!
When he descends from the womb to breathe
On the day when he is born,
Thou openest his mouth completely,
Thou suppliest his necessities....
How manifold it is, what though hast made!
They are hidden from the face of man
O sole god, like whom there is no other!
Thou didst create the world according to thy desire,
Whilst though wert alone:
All men, cattle and wild beasts,
Whatever is on Earth, going upon its feet
and what is on high, flying with its wings.
Everyday Life in Ancient Egypt by Lionel Casson
Akhenaten the Heretic King by Donald Redford
Amarna Sunset: Nefertiti, Tutankhamun, Ay, Horemheb, and the Egyptian Counter-Reformation by Aidan Dodson