Psalm 104 in the Hebrew Psalter bears striking resemblance to the Hymn to the Sun-Disc which was carved in the tomb of the royal secretary and lieutenant-general of chariotry, Ay, in the necropolis at Akhetaten (also called Tell el-Amarna). Since Ay was a close associate of the king, and undoubtedly acted as his amanuensis, it has been assumed with good reason that the hymn was authored by Akhenaten himself. Certainly it embodies, as no other document does, the essence of the new religion, expressed powerfully and simply. Here we find the sun’s uniqueness and transcendence—its nature as a creator, and the earthly king’s filiation to the sun—described in beautiful poetry.

A comparison of the two texts reveals that Psalm 104 was clearly inspired by the Hymn to the Sun-Disc. (For the complete text of the Hymn see below) Because of this, some have suggested that at some time Moses must have come under the influence of Akhenaten’s “teaching”!

The parallels between the hymns are striking and must be taken seriously, although it is clear that Psalm 104 is not simply a translation of the Egyptian hymn.

Despite the parallels, however, there is no literary influence here, but rather a survival in the tradition of the themes of a magnificent poetic creation.

How can we account for the affinities between the two compositions? Surely they are not fortuitous.

Two factors are probably at work in the similarities between Psalm 104 and the Hymn to the Sun-Disc, one geographical, the other political. Israel, by its very location on the threshold of Asia, could not help but feel the cultural winds emanating across the Sinai from the Nile. Israel was one of Egypt’s closest trading partners, and any Egyptian caravan en route to places further north would have to pass through Israelite territory. We should be very surprised if Israel were immune from Egyptian ideas of any sort.

To the effect of geographical proximity must be added the impact of four centuries of Egyptian imperial control over Canaan and the Phoenician coast. Following the sword went culture, in both directions. And although Egypt, the homeland, soon fell under the influence of the language, religion and material goods of the conquered Canaanites, the latter too were bombarded with ideas, literature and manufactures from the Nile. The cultured classes in the large coastal cities could not help but be aware of Egyptian creations in the fields of the novella, the hymn, the collection of proverbs and the love poem. By some such intermediation as this the Hymn to the Sun-Disc passed, was paraphrased and embellished, and finally appeared as Psalm 104.

When we look closely at Biblical literature, we see here and there, not only in thematic material, but also in vocabulary and in idiom, the unmistakable stamp of Egyptian influence. The same process of cultural interchange was at work here.

Genesis 39 which recounts how Joseph in Egypt was lured into a compromising situation by Potiphar’s wife, then accused falsely of attempted rape, bears a striking resemblance to the first episode in the Egyptian Tale of the Two Brothers. Does that mean that the author of Genesis actually copied the Egyptian story?

Proverbs 22:17–23:14 seems to depend on the Egyptian Wisdom of Amenemope. Did then Solomon know the Egyptian wise man?

Canticles (the Song of Songs) looks for all the world like an exercise in Egyptian love poetry. Did Solomon read Egyptian?

Hardly! Literary similarity alone, without additional evidence, should not be simplistically explained. The literary similarity in these instances can be accounted for by the similarities in cultural milieu. Perhaps it may be claimed that literary ties linking Israel with the world of Akhenaten are more direct than the ties in the other examples I have cited, but here too the interlocking of cultures results in similar literary milieus, rather than in direct borrowing.