Via New Scientist, a new theory claims that a specific form of genetically-inherited epilepsy among several generations of Egyptian pharaohs is responsible for the sun-inspired visions that led to humanity’s belief in a single supreme god:
Tutankhamun’s mysterious death as a teenager may finally have been explained. And the condition that cut short his life may also have triggered the earliest monotheistic religion, suggests a new review of his family history.
Tuthmosis IV had a religious experience in the middle of a sunny day, recorded in the Dream Stele – an inscription near the Great Sphinx in Giza. But his visions were nothing compared with those experienced by Akhenaten. They encouraged Akhenaten to raise the status of a minor deity called the “sun-disk”, or Aten, into a supreme god – abandoning the ancient Egyptian polytheistic traditions to start what is thought to be the earliest recorded monotheistic religion. If Hutan Ashrafian’s theory is correct, Akhenaten’s religious experiment and Tutankhamun’s premature death may both have been a consequence of a medical condition.
“People with temporal lobe epilepsy who are exposed to sunlight get the same sort of stimulation to the mind and religious zeal,” says Ashrafian [at Imperial College London].
“It’s a fascinating and plausible explanation,” says Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. However, the theory is almost impossible to prove, he adds, given that there is no definitive genetic test for epilepsy.