At Amarna the cliffs of the high desert recede from the river, leaving a great semicircle about eight miles long and three miles broad. The bright yellow sand slopes gently down to the river. Huge boundary stelae, marking the limits of the city and recording the story of its foundation, were carved in the surrounding cliffs. one of them, stressing that Akhenaten (Moses) looked upon Aten as his father, read:
I shall make Akhetaten (Amarna) for Aten my father in this place . . . Akhetaten extends from the southern stele as far as the northern stele . . . likewise from the south-west stele to the north-west stele . . . the area between these four stelae is Akhetaten itself; it belongs to my father; mountains, deserts, meadows, islands, high ground and low ground, land, water, villages, men, beasts and all things which Aten my father shall bring into existence eternally for ever . . .
The city was on the east bank with a large area of agricultural land on the bank opposite, apparently with a view to making the new capital self-supporting if it ever came under siege. Building of Akhenaten's new city lasted from Akhenaten's Year 4 to Year 8, but he is thought to have taken up residence there in his Year 8 (1371 B.C.) together with Queen Nefertiti and their six daughters—Merytaten, Maketaten, Ankhsenpa-aten, Neferneferu-aten the younger, Neferneferure and Setepenre. Akhetaten was a capital city possessed of both dignity and architectural
City of Amarna
Tell el-Amarna 83
City of Amarna
Tell el-Amarna 83
harmony. Its main streets ran parallel to the Nile with the most important of them, known even today as Sikket es-Sultan, the King's Way, connecting all the city's most prominent buildings, including The King's House where Pharaoh and his family lived their private family life. Its plan was similar to that of a high official's villa, but on a grander scale and surrounded by a spacious garden. To the south of the house was the king's private temple. The Great Temple of Aten, a huge building constructed on an east-west axis, lay less than a quarter of a mile to the north along the King's Way. It was entered through a pylon (temple gate) from the highway and a second entrance gave access to a hypostyle hall called The House of Rejoicing of Aten.
Six rectangular courts, known as Gem-Aten (gem means "gleaming"), lay along a processional way and were filled with tables for offerings to Aten. At the eastern end of the enclosure there was a sanctuary equipped with a great altar and more offering tables. Abreast of the northern wall of the enclosure lay the pavilion where the great reception for foreign princes bearing tribute was held in Year 12 (1367 B.C.), thought probably to have been the high point of Akhenaten's reign. The house of the Chief Servitor of Aten, the priest Panehesy, lay outside the enclosure's southeast corner.
It was not just the form of worship that was new in Akhetaten. Queen Nefertiti (Plate 14), like her mother-in-law, Queen Tiye, enjoyed a prominence that had not existed for earlier queens. On one of his new city's boundary stelae her husband had her described as: "Fair of Face, Joyous with the Double Plume, Mistress of Happiness, Endowed with Favour, at hearing whose voice one rejoices, Lady of Grace, Great of Love, whose disposition cheers the Lord of the Two Lands." The king gave tombs, gouged out of the face of surrounding cliffs, to those nobles who had rallied to him. In the reliefs that the nobles had carved for themselves in these tombs, Queen Nefertiti is shown as equal in stature to the king.
By the early years of this century, when the city of Amarna had been excavated and more was known about Akhenaten and his family, Egyptologists of the period saw him as a visionary humanitarian as well as the first monotheist. He was looked upon as a poet who wrote hymns to Aten, the longest of which has a striking resemblance to Psalm 104 of the Bible. He had instructed his artists to express freely what they felt and saw, resulting in a new and simple realistic art that was different in many respects from the traditional form of Egyptian artistic expression.
When thou settest in the western horizon Of heaven, The world is in darkness like the dead. They sleep in their chambers, Their heads are wrapt up, Their nostrils stopped, and none seeth the other. Stolen are all their things, that are under their heads, While they know it not. Every lion cometh forth from his den, All serpents, they sting. Darkness reigns. The world is in silence. He that made them has gone to rest in his horizon.
Thou makest darkness and it is night Wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep Forth. The young lions roar after their prey; They seek their meat from God. (Psalm 104:20-21)
Bright is the earth, When thou risest in the horizon, When thou shinest as Aten by day. The darkness is banished, When thou sendest forth thy rays, The Two Lands are in daily festivity, Awake and standing upon their feet, For thou hast raised them up.
The sun ariseth, they get them away, And lay them down in their dens. Man goeth forth unto his work, And to his labour until the evening. (Psalm 104:22-23).
The barques sail up-stream and down-stream alike. Every highway is open because thou hast dawned. The fish in the river leap up before thee,
Yonder is the sea, great and wide, Wherein are things creeping innumerable. Both small and great beasts. There go the ships; There is leviathan, whom thou hast
How manifold are all thy works! They are hidden from before us. o thou sole God, whose powers no other possesseth. Thou didst create the earth according to thy desire. While thou wast alone: Men, all cattle large and small, All that are upon the earth, That go upon their feet; All that are on high, That fly with their wings.
Some of Akhenaten's Writing
Thy dawning is beautiful in the horizon of heaven,
O living Aten, Beginning of life!
When thou risest in the eastern horizon of heaven,
Thou fillest every land with thy beauty;
For thou are beautiful, great, glittering, high over the earth;
Thy rays, they encompass the lands, even all thou hast made.
Though thou art afar, thy rays are on earth,
Though thou art on high, thy footprints are the day.
For the first time we were allowed to see the king as a human being with his wife and daughters, eating, drinking and making offerings to Aten. John Pendlebury, the British archaeologist who took part in much of the early excavations at Amarna, was enthusiastic about Amarna art and, especially, the hymns to Aten. In his book Tell el-Amarna, published in 1935, he wrote: "the new spirit of realism is strikingly evident. The incidental groups of spectators are so alive, the princesses turn to one another with their bouquets so naturally." Although kings and princes of western Asia tried hard to involve Akhenaten in recurrent wars, he had refused to become a party to their disputes. It is no wonder that the early Egyptologists of this century saw in him an expression of their own modern ideas.
Formed to sport with him. (Psalm 104:25-26)
o lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all; The earth is full of thy creatures. (Psalm 104:24). (A History of Egypt, James Henry Breasted, pp. 371-374)
"The most remarkable of all the Pharaohs and the first individual in human history" are the words that James Henry Breasted, the American scholar, chose to describe him in his book A History of Egypt. It is a theme he returned to and developed in a later book, The Dawn of Conscience: "It is important to notice ... that Akhenaten was a prophet... Like Jesus, who, on the one hand, drew his lessons from the lilies of the field, the fowls of the air or the clouds of the sky, and, on the other hand, from the human society about him in stories like the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan or the woman who lost her piece of money, so this revolutionary Egyptian prophet drew his teachings from a contemplation both of nature and of human life ..."
The same theme finds an echo in the work of Arthur Weigall, the British Egyptologist, who wrote in his book The Life and Times of Akhenaten:
at the name of Akhenaten there emerges from the darkness a figure more clear than that of any other Pharaoh, and with it there comes the singing of the birds, the voices of the children and the scent of many flowers. For once we may look right into the mind of a King of Egypt and may see something of its workings, and all that is there observed is worthy of admiration. Akhenaten has been called "the first individual in human history"; but if he is thus the first historical figure whose personality is known to us, he is also the first of all human founders of religious doctrines. Akhenaten may be ranked in degree of time, and, in view of the new ground broken by him, perhaps in degree of genius, as the world's first idealist.
For the Reverend James Bakie, another British Egyptologist, he was "an idealist dreamer, who actually believed that men were meant to live in truth and speak the truth."
Not all scholars, however, took such an enthusiastic and flattering view of the first of the Amarna kings. Certain of them have shown themselves anxious to put as much distance as possible, in terms of time as well as belief, between Moses, the biblical Israelite, and Akhenaten, whom they have regarded as an Egyptian intruder on the scene. They have questioned whether Akhenaten actually introduced a monotheistic God into Egypt.
It has been suggested* that Aten cannot be looked upon as a God without an image because his symbol is depicted in paintings and sculptures as
*This has been suggested by Professor Donald B. Redford of Toronto University, and by Ian Shaw and Paul Nicholson who composed The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt published by the British Museum in 1995, and others.
a circle sending rays that end in hands holding the Egyptian cross, ankh, the key of life, to the nostrils of the royal family. This is not a physical representation of the deity, however. Like the Christian cross or Jewish star, it is a symbol, indicating salvation (as in Christianity), not the literal deity. At the Aten temple there was no physical representation to be addressed in prayer any more than the physical Ark of the Covenant, placed in the holy of holies in the Temple at Jerusalem, can be looked upon as an image of God. Nor was Aten ever identified in the history of Egyptian worship with the sun-god Ra under any of the sun-god's three names—Khepri* at his rising in the morning, Ra when full grown at midday and Atum when he set on the western horizon in the evening.
Toward the end of Year 9 (1370 B.C.) of Akhenaten (Moses) the name of Aten received a new form to rid it of any therio-anthropomorphic (worshipping a god presented in a form combining animal and human elements) or pantheistic (heathen worship of all gods) aspect that may have clung to it as a result of the hieroglyphic use of images. The falcon symbol used to spell the name Ra-Harakhti, which in this form would represent the sun-god, was changed to abstract signs. Thus the word "Ra" no longer represented the god of Heliopolis but achieved a new abstract meaning, "the Lord." The name Aten had been placed in two cartouches to represent the ruling king. The second of these two cartouches was now altered, ridding it of the word shu, which could be a representation of the old Egyptian god of the atmosphere. Shu was now spelled alphabetically, giving it the meaning of "light." The new form of the God's name read: "Ra (the Lord), the living Ruler of the Horizon, in his name the light which is in Aten." This concept is, perhaps, difficult to grasp. However, we find a similar process in the Bible where Yahweh (Jehovah) has been established by archaeologists as having been an earlier Canaanite deity with a wife named Ashirah.** Nevertheless the name Yahweh is used in the Bible to indicate an abstract monotheistic power, the Lord.
The scholarly assault upon Akhenaten has not been confined to the nature of his religion. In an attempt at character destruction of the monotheistic king he has, in addition, been accused of having had a homosexual affair
*Creator-god manifested in the form of the scarab or beetle. His name means "he is coming into being."
**This has been established from both the Aramaic texts found on the Nile island of Elephantine, opposite Aswan in Nubia, where a Jewish community lived from the fifth century B.C., and also from texts found in Sinai by Israeli archaeologists when the peninsula fell under their occupation after the Six Day War of 1967. They found the name of Yahweh associated with a wife goddess called Ashira(h).
with his brother/co-regent/son-in-law Semenkhkare. The Scottish Egyptologist Cyril Aldred wrote:
An unfinished stele from Amarna which has been the subject of some discussion shows two kings seated side by side, the foremost being identified as Akhenaten and the other as his co-regent Semenkhkare. The homosexual relations between the elder and the younger monarch revealed by this monument have been likened to those subsisting between the Emperor Hadrian and the youth Antinous, and gives significance to the epithet "beloved of Akhenaten," which Semenkhkare incorporated into both his cartouches. He also assumed the name of Akhenaten's chief queen Nefertiti, presumably on her death; and this, and the intimacy so frankly exhibited on the stele by the elder Pharaoh who chucks the younger under the chin, suggest that Akhenaten was the active partner in the relationship.
Akhenaten, London, 1968, p. 139
In fact the younger person depicted on the lap of Akhenaten in this scene (Plate 15) is not Semenkhkare, who was about 22 at the time, but one of the king's daughters, who was no more than 9 or 10.
Furthermore, although we have evidence of his having fathered six daughters, Akhenaten has also been described as impotent. The bizarre allegation of impotence was first voiced some 30 years ago by Cyril Aldred, based upon one of four colossi of Akhenaten that date from the time he set up his temple to Aten at Karnak during his early years in Thebes and are now to be seen in the Cairo Museum. Three of these enormous statues show Akhenaten wearing a kilt: the other is apparently a nude study in which he has no genitalia (Plate 16). This led Cyril Aldred to the conclusion that he must have been suffering from a distressing disease that rendered him impotent.
He wrote in Akhenaten:
All the indications are that such peculiar physical characteristics were the result of a complaint known to physicians and pathologists as Frohlich's Syndrome. Male patients with this disorder frequently exhibit a corpulence similar to Akhenaten's. The genitalia remain infantile and may be so embedded in fat as not to be visible. Adiposity may vary in degree, but there is a typical feminine distribution of fat in the region of the breasts, abdomen, pubis, thighs and buttocks. The lower limbs, however, are slender and the legs, for instance, resemble plus-fours.
Aldred goes on to say: "There is warrant for thinking that he suffered from Frohlich's Syndrome and wished to have himself represented with all those deformities that distinguished his appearance from the rest of humanity."
Whether or not Akhenaten suffered from Frohlich's Syndrome has since engaged the attention of some of the world's leading physicians and inspired several million words of learned debate. It was Julia Samson of University College, London, who put an end to this fiction by establishing that what was missing from the fourth, supposedly nude, statue of Akhenaten was not his genitalia but his kilt. She explained in her book Amarna, City of Akhenaten and Nefertiti:
The belt is made by cutting back the surface of the abdomen to leave a ridge, and the linen folds of the kilt are then carved over the hips, curving up to the belt buckle. on the one unfinished colossal statue of Akhenaten found in Karnak, the only one that is nude, his kilt would have been added in this way, because the stone is already recessed around Aten plaques at the waist and would have been further cut back, as on the finished colossi, to make the ridge for the belt.
There would have been [then] no necessity for further delineation of the king's figure, about which there has been so much conjecture . . . This underlines the fallibility of theories about his physical build and condition being based on unfinished statues. Rather than ... his choosing to be represented as unable to father his children, the probability is that the one nude, unfinished statue was never raised to a standing position. It is unlikely that the Amun priests left in Thebes after the royal removal to Akhetaten (Amarna) would have exerted every effort to finish the Aten temple . . .
The co-regency crown did not sit easily on the head of Akhenaten even after he had removed himself and his family from Thebes to distant Amarna. From that time he relied completely on the army's support for protection and, possibly, as a future safeguard against the confrontation that would be inevitable once his father died and he became sole ruler.
He seems not to have been physically strong—alone among Tuthmosside rulers he is not represented in activities at which his forebears excelled such as horsemanship, archery and seamanship—but, to impress his subjects, he appears to have gone to considerable lengths to stress his military power. In the vast majority of his representations, he is shown wearing either the Blue Crown or the short Nubian wig, both belonging to the king's military headdress, rather than the traditional ceremonial crowns of Lower and Upper Egypt. Alan R. Schulman, the American Egyptologist, has also pointed out in an article on the military background to the Amarna period that "scenes of soldiers and military activity abound in both the private and royal art of Amarna . . . the city was virtually an armed camp . . . Everywhere we see parades and processions of soldiers, infantry and chariotry with their massed standards. There are soldiers under arms standing guard in front of the palaces, the temples and in the watchtowers that bordered the city, scenes of troops, unarmed or equipped with staves, carrying out combat exercises in the presence of the king."
He goes on to say: "Just as Amarna had its own military garrison which stood ready to enforce the will of the king, so the other cities of Egypt must also have had their garrisons and the army, loyal to the throne, carried out its will. That the army was so loyal to the throne and to the dynasty was almost assured by the person of its commander, . . . Aye (Akhenaten's maternal uncle) ..."
The hostility of the Establishment and Theban priesthood toward Akhenaten had worsened during his co-regency years because, as a response to his rejection by the Amun priests as a legitimate ruler, he had snubbed Amun by abolishing his name and names of all ancient deities from walls and inscriptions of temples and tombs in his new city of Amarna. This campaign intensified later when he came to the throne as sole ruler in his Year 12 (1367 B.C.) upon the death of his father. By that time his monotheistic ideas had developed to the point where he took the view that, if Aten was the only God, he, as Aten's sole son and prophet, could not allow other gods to be worshipped at the same time in his dominion.
He therefore abolished throughout Egypt the worship of any gods except Aten. He closed all the temples, except those of Aten, dispersed the priests and gave orders that the names of other deities should be expunged from monuments and temple inscriptions throughout the country. Units were dispatched to excise the names of the ancient gods, particularly Amun, wherever they were found written or engraved. Even the plural word netaru for gods was proscribed.
Alan R. Schulman makes the point that this religious campaign must have weakened Akhenaten's support among both the army and his subjects:
The persecution of first Amun and then the other gods, which must have been exceedingly hateful to the majority of the Egyptians, would certainly also be hateful to the individual members of the army. This persecution, which entailed the closing of the temples, the despatch of artisans who entered everywhere to hack out his name from inscriptions, the presumed banishment of the clergy, the excommunication of his very name, could not have been carried out without the army's active support. Granting the fact that the theoretical fiction of the divine kingship was accepted by the mass of the Egyptian people, it is, nevertheless, hardly credible that they would just sit by and acquiesce silently to the persecution of Amun. Some strong backing had to support the royal dicta. Each time a squad of workmen entered a temple or tomb to destroy the name of Amun, it must have been supported by a squad of soldiers who came to see that the royal decree was carried out without opposition. Ultimately the harshness of the persecution must have had a certain reaction even upon the soldiers who, themselves, certainly had been raised in the old beliefs, and rather than risk a wholesale defection and perhaps even a civil war, the army, through the agency of Aye, probably put pressure upon Akhenaten not only to cease the persecution, but to compromise with the old order by the elevation of Semenkhkare to the co-regency.
More information about the extent to which Akhenaten went on trying to eliminate the old forms of worship, as well as the consequent sense of complete loss felt by Egyptians, can be gathered from Tutankhamun's later Restoration Stele, which he erected in the Temple of Amun at Karnak after succeeding to the throne:
Now when his majesty appeared as king, the temples of the gods and goddesses from Elephantine [down] to marshes of the Delta [had] gone to pieces. Their shrines had become desolate, had become mounds overgrown with [weeds]. Their sanctuaries were as if they had never been. Their halls were footpaths. The land was topsy-turvy, and the gods turned their backs upon this land. If [the army was] sent to Djahi [Palestine-Syria] to extend the frontiers of Egypt, no success of theirs came at all. If one prayed to a god to seek counsel from him, he would never come [at all]. If one made supplication to a goddess similarly, she would never come at all.
Akhenaten appointed his brother, Semenkhkare, as his co-regent around Year 15 (1364 B.C.) after giving him his eldest daughter, Meritaten, the heiress, as his wife. Initially, Semenkhkare and his queen lived with Akhenaten in the royal palace at Amarna. In the face of the continuing hostility throughout the country, however, Semenkhkare left Amarna for Thebes where he reversed the trend of the religious revolution, at least in the capital, by establishing a temple to Amun, an action that indicates the extent to which Akhenaten was isolated in his attempt to impose his religious ideas upon the country.
The appointment of Semenkhkare proved to be only a temporary sop. Within two years it had become clear to Aye, despite his control of the army, that Egypt was on the brink of revolution and Akhenaten was himself in danger of assassination. Aye made another attempt to urge a compromise: Akhenaten refused. Aye must have then told him that he could no longer guarantee the king's safety: the only course open to him was to give up the throne and flee the country.
Architectural evidence to support the claim that Akhenaten (Moses) was forced to abdicate when threatened by a military coup came to light as recently as the end of 1997 with another important discovery by Dr. Alain-Pierre Zivie, the French archaeologist, who had earlier found the tomb of Aper-el, until then unknown, who had served as both chief minister and high priest during the reign of Akhenaten (Moses). In the same Saqqara region, ten miles south of Cairo, he uncovered the tomb of Maya, Tutankhamun's wet-nurse. When first found, the tomb was almost completely full of mummified cats, placed there almost 1,000 years after the original burial. However, on the wall is a scene depicting Maya, protecting the king, who is sitting on her knee. The inscriptions describe her as "the royal nanny who breast-fed the Pharaoh's body."
Behind her, to the left, are six officials representing Tutankhamun's cabinet, two above, four below, each with different facial characteristics. Although none of the officials is named, Dr. Zivie was able to suggest their identities from their appearance and insignia of office. With one exception, all are military men, four of whom came to the throne of Egypt after the death of Tutankhamun. Dr. Zivie recognized the two above as Aye, who succeeded Tutankhamun, his great-nephew, and Horemheb, last ruler of the Eighteenth Dynasty, who followed Aye. The four below are Pa-Ramses, first Pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty, his son, Seti I, who succeeded his father on the throne, and General Nakht Min, thought to be a
94 The Chosen People relative of Aye. The sixth official, also named Maya like the wet-nurse, is described as a treasurer.
This is the first time in Egyptian history that we find the king's cabinet composed almost totally of army generals, who could have gained their positions of power, and later on the throne, only as the result of a military coup. It is clear that in his Year 17 Akhenaten faced an army rebellion led by Horemheb, Pa-Ramses and Seti. General Aye (as he then was), supported by General Nakht Min but unable to crush the rebellion, made a deal with them to allow the abdication of Akhenaten (Moses) and the appointment of his young son, Tutankhamun, as the new ruler over Egypt. Akhenaten (Moses), no doubt reluctantly, accepted the situation. The place he chose for refuge was the wilderness of Sinai, which he would choose again when he led the Israelites in their Exodus from Egypt—but that was a challenge he did not face until a quarter of a century later.
In the meantime, Aye had succeeded Tutankhamun after his great-nephew's early death, only to disappear mysteriously, along with General Nakht Min, after a reign of only four years. Horemheb then seized power and appointed the other two leaders of the earlier threatened rebellion, Pa-Ramses and Seti, as viziers and commanding generals of the army, thus creating the situation that enabled them in their turn to come to the throne eventually as the first two Pharaohs of a new Nineteenth Dynasty.
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