The Sacred Family of Egypt

Trial Piece with Relief of Head of Akhenaten
Trial Piece with Relief of Head of Akhenaten. New Kingdom, Amarna Period. ca. 1353–1336 B.C. Source: Met Museum


Around Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we often think of the Holy Family: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. But this idea of a sacred family existed long before Jesus, dating back thousands of years.

In the annals of history, the story of Akhenaton and his Sacred Family of Egypt stands as a remarkable testament to one man’s audacious vision of reshaping the very foundations of an ancient civilization.

In the heart of ancient Egypt, more than 3,300 years ago, Akhenaton embarked on a transformative journey that would forever alter the landscape of religion, politics, and art. At the heart of this revolution was the sacred family, with Akhenaton as its central figure.

The Dawn of Akhenaton’s Reign

3,300 years ago in Egypt, even before Jesus was born, an Egyptian pharaoh created his own sacred family in a place called Amarna.

Akhenaton, originally known as Amenhotep IV, ascended to the throne of Egypt in the 14th century BCE. He inherited a kingdom deeply rooted in centuries of polytheistic religious tradition, where a pantheon of gods and goddesses held sway over the Egyptian people. However, Akhenaton was driven by an unwavering conviction that a single deity, the Aton (or Aten), the sun disk, should be the sole object of worship in Egypt. His reign marked a pivotal moment in the nation’s history.

Akhenaton, sandstone pillar statue from the Aton temple at Karnak, Egypt, c. 1370 BCE; in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo.
Akhenaton, sandstone pillar statue from the Aton temple at Karnak, Egypt, c. 1370 BCE; in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

He wanted to change the way things were done in Egypt, from religion to politics and art. With the support of a new generation of priests, he decided to overthrow the traditional gods that Egyptians had worshipped for centuries. He believed in a single god, and he saw himself as that god’s earthly representative.

In fact, he even changed his name to Akhenaton to reflect this new belief. He aimed to transform Egyptian society, art, and faith.

The Family That Would Change Egypt

At the core of Akhenaton’s revolutionary agenda was the establishment of a sacred family—a family unit that would serve as the embodiment of his new religious order. At his side was his powerful and influential wife, Nefertiti. Unlike many queens of the time, Nefertiti was depicted as an equal to her husband, sharing in the authority and responsibility of ruling the empire.

They were determined to erase the old gods from Egyptian culture, which made them a lot of enemies, both politically and among the people.

Their family, which included six daughters, was depicted in a strikingly unconventional manner in the art of the era. Instead of the traditional gods and goddesses, the family was often shown basking in the divine light of the Aton, the sun god. Sun rays with small hands at their ends symbolized the benevolent touch of the sun god upon the royal family.

This marked the birth of the first sacred family in Egypt. While previous pharaohs had considered themselves as messengers of the gods, Akhenaton went a step further by believing he was a god himself.

The Legacy of Akhenaton’s Sacred Family

While Akhenaton’s reign was marked by radical religious change, it also faced considerable opposition from traditionalists and political adversaries who viewed his reforms as heretical. Despite these challenges, Akhenaton’s legacy endures as a testament to his unwavering determination to reshape Egypt’s spiritual and cultural identity.

The Impact on Later History

Interestingly, the concept of the sacred family in ancient Egypt has sparked speculation about its possible influence on later religious narratives. Some historians suggest that the idea of the Christian Holy Family, with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, may have drawn inspiration from Akhenaton’s family model.

Relief depicting the Holy Family of Akhenaton - Credit Wikimedia Commons
Relief depicting the Holy Family of Akhenaton – Credit Wikimedia Commons

This Egyptian concept predates the birth of Jesus by at least 1,300 years, suggesting a possible influence on the Christian tradition. So, the roots of the Holy Family might go back to ancient Egypt, long before the Christian messiah was born.


The story of Akhenaton and the Sacred Family of Egypt is a remarkable chapter in the annals of human history. It serves as a testament to the power of visionary leaders who dare to challenge the status quo and reshape the course of civilization. Akhenaton’s audacious religious and artistic reforms, centred around his sacred family, continue to captivate our imagination, offering a glimpse into the enduring legacy of a pharaoh who dared to dream of a different world.

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