The first well known example of monotheism occurred in Egypt in the Fourteenth Century BCE. Having become Pharaoh, the megalomaniacal Akhenaten used his authoritarian powers to attack the priesthoods of all gods other than Aten the sun god. The growth of the power of the priesthood, which had combined the worship of Amun and Ra, had already concerned the capable Amenhotep III his father. Akhenaten’s revolution was total and included the building of a new capital city in the desert to keep his court away from all outside influences. His beautiful wife of mysterious origins who seems to have had a remarkable influence over him was appointed co-ruler and he even developed new art styles and prayer forms. Under his rule Egypt fell into rapid decline. This monotheist innovation was too short lived to develop into an expansionist political phenomenon. After his seventeen year rule the traditional culture was restored and almost all record of this startling interregnum was obliterated.
Religious Cleansing and new Ideo-dynamics
Monotheism was also initiated and imposed forcibly by kings and priests living in Jerusalem during the Eighth and Seventh Centuries BCE. This was under exceptional circumstances. A power vacuum had occurred in the region following the defeat and deportation of the ruling elite of the northern Canaanite tribes by the Neo-Assyrians. Hezekiah, the king of Judea, possibly influenced by the monopoly of power of these new terrifying warlords and their iron weapons, underwent some sort of religious conversion to Monotheism. He took advantage of the catastrophe to begin the destruction of the sacred groves and idols of the polytheistic Canaanite tribes living in the hills who later become known as the Israelites or Hebrews.
Eighty years later the Assyrian Empire was in decline, Babylonian power was growing and the Egyptians were losing control of Syria. Josiah had succeeded to the throne as a ten-year-old boy and was no doubt controlled by the new monotheistic priesthood in Jerusalem. Chapter Four of the Second Book of Chronicles describes in vivid detail that when he reached manhood Josiah carried out a ruthless campaign to kill all the priests and destroy all other sacred places and cults throughout what remained of the territory he still controlled. I quote from the New English Bible; “in the twelfth year (of his reign) he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the hill shrines and sacred poles, and the carved idols and images of metal. He saw to it that the altars for the Baalim were destroyed and he hacked down the incense-altars which stood above them, he broke in pieces the sacred poles and the carved and metal images, grinding them to powder and scattering it on the graves of those who had sacrificed to them.”
It is also recorded that the priesthood in Jerusalem at this same time claimed to have unearthed ancient documents providing what they purported to be the previously unknown history and theological beliefs of the Israelites. However biblical scholars believe that most of the extant sacred writings of the Jews including their origins, their history, the lives of their prophets and wisdom literature was written or copied from other sources in Babylon during their captivity. I am assuming that amongst the exiles in Babylon only knowledge of the recent history of the Kingdom of Judea would be reasonably accurate as it would have been written down and passed on orally. This remarkable mytho-dynamic creation has been motivating the Jews ever since, as well as the Christians and Moslems who have based much of their own religions on the same texts.