The Brazen Serpent

If Moses and Akhenaten are the same person and Moses did not lead the Israelites in their Exodus from Egypt until a quarter of a century later, it follows that he must have survived the threat of revolution and possible assassination that caused him to abdicate and flee to the safety of Sinai. However, this has been the subject of as much scholarly debate as whether or not he shared a co-regency with his father, Amenhotep III.

The tomb prepared for Akhenaten, with the doorway facing roughly east, was found in a side valley at Amarna by the Italian archaeologist Alessandro Bassanti in December 1891. It had been desecrated by the king's enemies and later plundered by tomb robbers. Further investigations took place at Amarna in 1892 (Bassanti), 1894 (Mission Archeologique Franchise), 1931 (Egypt Exploration Society, the first British organization to be invited to carry out work on behalf of the Service des Antiquites) and in 1931 again (Service des Antiquites).

The items found—the sarcophagus (stone coffin) with its lid, ushabti (funerary statues) and the canopic chest (used for holding the royal entrails)— are all items normally placed in a tomb before a king's actual death. The great size of the sarcophagus, once it had been reconstructed with its lid from fragments found, suggests that this was the outermost of a series of coffins that would protect the royal mummy (the mummies of both Yuya and Tutankhamun, found later, were enclosed in three coffins). Yet, although the evidence indicates that Akhenaten's enemies smashed everything in the tomb, no matter how large or solid, into small pieces after the end of the Amarna regime, no remains of other coffins were found, nor any remains of the usual shrine or canopy that were part of the normal burial furniture. The idea that Akhenaten was never buried in the tomb is reinforced by the fact that no trace was found of other items—chariots, chairs, boxes, magic bricks and amulets—that were normally buried in royal tombs only after the king's death.

John Pendlebury, director of the 1931 expedition, later made the important observation in his account "Clearance of the Royal Tomb at Amarna": "In view ... of the demonstration that the so-called body of Akhenaten found in the cache of Tiye at Thebes"—he was referring to Tomb No. 55 where the skeleton of Semenkhkare had been found and was originally thought to be that of Akhenaten—"is in reality not his at all, it was imperative to try and collect all the evidence as to whether Akhenaten was ever buried at el-Amarna, and, if so, whether in the Royal Tomb or elsewhere." After giving a short account of what was found in the tomb, he went on to say: "Akhenaten's magnificent alabaster canopic chest, with protecting vultures at the corners, together with pieces of the lids capped with the king's head . . . gives evidence of never having been used, for it is quite unstained by the black resinous substance* seen in those of Amenhotep II and Tutankhamun, and is additionally interesting in that it is inscribed with the early form of the Aten name"—shortly after the start of the co-regency—"while the sarcophagi all have the later."

Pendlebury is here remarking that as the burial rituals required some parts of the funerary furniture, including the canopic chest, to be anointed by a black liquid, and he was unable to see any traces of such staining on the fragments he found, he concluded that the tomb had never been used. This would mean that Akhenaten was never buried in his Amarna tomb, a view supported by the fact that no trace of such anointing was found of any fragments of the canopic jars themselves, usually placed in position at the time of burial. This idea is further reinforced by the use of the early Aten name, which suggests that the canopic chest was made and placed in position very early in the king's reign, before Year 9 when the Aten received his new name, the abstract writing for shu and Ra.

Pendlebury's conclusions were later confirmed by the Egyptian archaeologist Muhammad Hamza, who in 1939 restored Akhenaten's canopic chest from the fragments found by Pendlebury and commented subsequently in an article, "The Alabaster Canopic Box of Akhenaten": "As the box is quite unstained by the black resinous unguents to which those of

*Used to preserve the heart, lungs and other parts taken from the body during mummification.

Amenhotep II, Tutankhamun and Horemheb were subjected, it seems probable that it has never been used for the king's viscera."

As a result of the archaeological evidence presented by Pendlebury and Hamza, most Egyptologists accepted the conclusion that Akhenaten could not have been buried in his Amarna tomb; nevertheless they still believed that he died in his Year 17 (1361 B.C.), the year he fell from power. Some, like Alan H. Gardiner, the British Egyptologist, took the view that he had never been buried at all and his "body had been torn to pieces and thrown to the dogs": others, like Arthur Weigall and Cyril Aldred, thought that he must have been buried at Thebes or somewhere else.

In the absence of any evidence of his death in his Year 17, the central issue is: What positive evidence is there to suggest that Akhenaten actually survived? A good deal exists in one form and another. Much of it has been the subject of scholarly argument, often acrimonious, that has led in one instance to accusations of dishonesty. It will help to simplify matters if we summarize briefly— assuming that Akhenaten (Moses) survived—what one might expect to be the subsequent course of events in the light of Egyptian customs of the time.

When we say that Akhenaten abdicated in his Year 17, we use a modern term expressing a modern practice. However, Egyptian Pharaohs did not gain power from the people or the parliament, but from the gods. From the time of his birth the king was regarded as the Son of Amun-Ra, the principal state god, and destined to rule. on being crowned he took possession of his inheritance, the lands given to him by the gods, and retained possession until the day he died.

For his part, Akhenaten ruled in the name of Aten, whom he regarded as his father. However, even in exile, as long as he lived he would still have been regarded as the legitimate ruler by the followers of Aten. After the abdication, his successor Semenkhkare, the co-regent appointed in Akhenaten's Year 15, is thought to have ruled for only a few months, perhaps even days, before being assassinated at Thebes. He was succeeded in his turn by Akhenaten's son, the young king Tutankhamun, then named Tutankhaten. If his reign as Pharaoh began while his father was still alive and regarded as the legitimate ruler, he could be said to have taken his authority from the old king. The situation changed in his Year 4 (1358 B.C.), however, when he abandoned Amarna for Thebes and changed his name to Tutankhamun.* The Amun priesthood accepted this return to the

*He changed his name when he decided to reopen the old temples of Egypt. As Amun was the official deity of the Eighteenth Dynasty, every member of the family was regarded as a son of Amun.

old ways with a new coronation celebration. Thus, at this point Aten had no longer any ruling power in Egypt, no land to give, and Akhenaten, from this moment, could no longer be regarded as the legitimate king.

Egyptians calculated the years of each king separately and, if there was no co-regency, the first year of the new king began only after the last year of his predecessor. If Akhenaten abdicated in his Year 17 but did not cease to be looked upon as the king until four years later, his Year 21, one would expect to find some written evidence confirming this course of events.

A hieratic (cursive script) docket,* No. 279, found by excavators at Amarna, bears two different dates—Year 17 and Year 1. This was explained by H. W. Fairman, the British Egyptologist, in the following terms: "It records, therefore, the first year of an unnamed king which followed the seventeenth year of another unnamed king. There cannot be any doubt that the latter was Akhenaten. Year 1 can hardly have been that of Semenkhkare since ... his Year 1 was probably Year 15 of Akhenaten. Thus the docket must be assigned to the first year of Tutankhamun." This is the first time, as far as I am aware, that a king placed his own date on the same text as that of a predecessor after the latter's rule had come to an end. How, therefore, is it that Akhenaten's Year 17 was also regarded as Year 1 of Tutankhamun unless there was a co-regency—that is, Akhenaten was still alive when Tutankhamun came to the throne?

Another hieratic docket found at Amarna resulted in a charge of dishonesty being leveled at certain scholars. The essence of the dispute is whether this docket refers to Year 11 of Akhenaten or to Year 21. A facsimile of this docket was made and published in 1923 by Battiscombe Gunn, the British archaeologist, who, as he admitted, dated the docket to Year 11 because of "the absence of other evidence as to the reign [of Akhenaten] extending beyond Year 17."

The hieratic sign for the figure 10 is an upside-down "V" and for 20 two upside-down "Vs" above each other and, in this case, the figure 1 written alongside them. The docket shows a complete "V" with the remains of another "V" above it, which convinced the American scholar Keith C. Seele, correctly, that the date should be read as "Year 21." He even went as far as to accuse British scholars of avoiding the evidence intentionally: "While the actual fate of Akhenaten is unknown, it is evidence that he must have disappeared in his twenty-first year on the throne or even, later. Some Egyptologists, including the Egypt Exploration Society's excavators at Amarna, allow him but seventeen years."

*The docket is an inscription, in this instance, on pottery.

Although many scholars all over the world became convinced by Seele's arguments, debates over the matter have rumbled on down the decades, only one of many unidentified examples of scholars' preconceptions standing in the way of impartial evaluation of the evidence. Fairman himself disclosed later in an article in an archaeological journal that a member of the Egyptian Exploration Society team that worked at Amarna during the years 1930-31 was able to read the date Year 18 on one of the ostraca (pottery figures) he was responsible for copying. However, Fairman took the arbitrary view that this "ostracon of Year 18 . . . may be dismissed as being untrustworthy, and without value." He then goes on to explain that "the ostracon was not kept, but according to a rough facsimile this reading is certainly wrong." Fairman is not telling us that the disputed ostracon was lost: he is saying that it was "not kept," that it was thrown away. One would, in contrast, have expected, as this ostracon gives a different reading, that it would have been guarded carefully for further examination. Instead, we now have only Fairman's judgment to rely on for whether the original reading was right or wrong.

Further evidence of Akhenaten's survival was provided by Professor D. E. Derry, Professor of Anatomy at Cairo University, who examined the remains in Tomb No. 55, originally thought, wrongly, to have been those of Akhenaten, and eventually identified as being those of his co-regent, Semenkhkare, as no other suggested candidate has sufficient supporting evidence. In the subsequent notes about his investigation he made the point that the reign of Akhenaten had been "extended to the nineteenth year by Pendlebury's recent discovery at el-Amarna of a monument bearing that date and with the further possibility that this may be lengthened to the twentieth year. Mr. Pendlebury has very courteously permitted us to make use of these hitherto unpublished facts." Pendlebury was captured and shot by the Germans in Crete during the Second World War before he could publish the source of his information.

Another significant piece of evidence is provided by four bricks of dried, gritty mud found in situ, distributed around Tomb No. 55. Although they had suffered, like everything else in the tomb, from the effects of damp, Akhenaten's name could be read on at least two of the bricks, whose function was to protect the dead person from intruders. The four bricks form a complete set, each having to be placed in a certain position in relation to the mummy to fulfill their protective function (i.e., through magic, to prevent evil beings from interfering with the burial area).

That these magical bricks belonged originally to Akhenaten is not the subject of dispute, and the fact that they were found in situ in Tomb No. 55 was one of the strong points that led Egyptologists to believe initially that the remains in the coffin were his rather than Semenkhkare's. Why, then, was no attempt made either to erase Akhenaten's name or adapt the text to suit Semenkhkare? It is now agreed that Akhenaten's reign ended a few months, if not a few days, before the death of Semenkhkare. In this case, had Akhenaten's reign ended with his death, his funerary arrangements, which would have taken seventy days, might not even have ended when the arrangements for Semenkhkare's burial began. How, then, does one explain that Akhenaten's original magical bricks, that formed an essential part of the funerary rituals, were found in situ in Semenkhkare's tomb? The only possible conclusion is that they were not needed by Akhenaten who, although he had fallen from power before Semenkhkare's death, was himself not dead but alive.

We are told in the Old Testament that Moses fled to Sinai after killing an Egyptian—after abdicating as a king, as we saw earlier in the Talmud account—and lived there until his return after the Pharaoh of the Oppression, Horemheb, had died. Although we do not have conclusive evidence that Akhenaten followed a similar course, there are many indications that point to this being the case.

Sinai, beyond the eastern boundary of Egypt proper, is in the form of a triangle with its apex to the south between the two arms of the Red Sea, the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba. At its northern base runs the road from Egypt to Asia, from Kantarah to Gaza along the Mediterranean coastline. Beneath this low northern land is a lofty limestone plateau, crossed only by a few narrow passes. The southern triangle, between the two arms of the Red Sea, is a mountain mass including Mount Sinai or Mount Horeb (modern name, Gebel Musa, which means the Mount of Moses). En route from the Eastern Delta, through the valleys, before arriving at Mount Sinai we come to another important site, Serabit el-Khadim, which is rich in deposits of turquoise as well as being a holy place.

Sinai had an appeal as a place of refuge beyond the fact that the terrain made it a "wilderness." Although it had been regarded as part of Egypt from the early days of Egyptian history, no army garrison was stationed there. Nor did it have a resident governor. Instead, during the Eighteenth and Ninteenth Dynasties the area was placed under the control of two officials, The Royal Messenger in All Foreign Lands and The Royal Chancellor, who was responsible for turquoise mining operations in Sinai. Neby, the Troop Commander and Mayor at Zarw, was also The Royal Messenger in All Foreign Lands. As we have seen, Zarw was Tiye's city, given to her as a summer residence by her husband, Amenhotep III (Solomon), and there are indications that Zarw remained faithful to Aten during the reigns of the two Amarna kings who came to the throne after the disappearance of Semenkhkare—Tutankhamun and his great-uncle successor, Aye (Ephraim).


It was only later, when Horemheb, the last ruler of the Eighteenth Dynasty, who was an implacable enemy of the Amarna regime and of worship of Aten, appointed Pa-Ramses (later Ramses I) to the posts previously held by Neby that the climate changed. At least until that time, therefore, Akhenaten could count on being able to live in peace in his chosen refuge.

Nor was he under any threat from The Royal Chancellor. We know from inscriptions found in Sinai and other sources that, up to the time of Amenhotep III, the treasury was placed in the hands of one family, that of Pa-Nehas, for three generations. Akhenaten himself also appointed the priest Panehesy, a descendant of Pa-Nehas (Plate 22), as his chancellor and Chief Servitor of Aten in his temple at Amarna. Thus the family of Pa-Nehas was not only involved in Akhenaten's government, but in his worship. It would therefore have been natural for them to suggest Serabit el-Khadimas as a place of exile where they would have been able to give him support.

Although there is as yet no complete proof, it is easy to see that, in the prevailing circumstances, Serabit offered the best, if not the only possible location for Akhenaten's exile—a holy place, close to another holy place, Mount Sinai, away from government control, where he could meditate and develop his religious ideas until, when Horemheb's death brought the Eighteenth Dynasty to an end, he came back to try to reclaim his throne.

On the high peak of Serabit, 2,600 feet above sea level, a shrine had been constructed, originally in a cave, although by the time of the New Kingdom it had been extended outside and reached a total length of 230 feet. This temple was dedicated to Hathor, the local deity. This goddess is represented as a woman with the ears of a cow, and the literal meaning of her name is "house of Horus." Hathor was regarded as the divine mother of each reigning king. She was the goddess often associated with the desert and foreign countries. In the early years of this century, Flinders Petrie, the distinguished British Egyptologist, led an expedition into Sinai where he recorded what he was able to find of ancient inscriptions. One of his surprising discoveries at the Serabit temple was a dark green head, executed in the Amarna style, all that remained of a statuette of Queen Tiye, Akhenaten's mother. The complete statuette must have been about a foot high. Why should it be at Serabit? "It is strange that this remotest settlement of Egypt has preserved her portrait for us, unmistakably named by her cartouche in the midst of the crown," Petrie remarked in his subsequent book Researches in Sinai. "The haughty dignity of the face is blended with a fascinating directness and personal appeal. The delicacy of the surfaces round the eye and over the cheek shows the greatest delicacy in handling. The curiously drawn-down lips with their fullness and yet delicacy, their disdain without malice, are evidently modelled in all truth from the life."

Petrie also found evidence indicating that the rituals performed in the temple at Serabit were Semitic in their nature. Under the temple lay more than fifty tons of clean white ash, which he took to represent the remains of burnt sacrifices over a long period. This practice is known from the Bible to have been Israelite. ("When Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns, and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son" [Genesis 22:13].) Two cones of sandstone, alike in shape and size, were found in the temple. Stones of this type were used in certain forms of Syrian ritual and are not to be found in Egypt. Three rectangular tanks and a circular basin were placed to be used at four different stages of entering the temple. This makes it clear that ablutions played a great role in the form of worship at Serabit as they do in both Judaism and Islam.

Scattered over the area around the temple Petrie came across were many slabs of sandstone, set upright. The slabs ranged in height from a few inches to a couple of feet, propped up by other stones if necessary to make them stand on end. Similar piled stones were found around Mount Sinai; indicating that both areas were regarded as sacred places. Petrie noted that this piling of stones is part of a well-known system of sacred stones, set upright for adoration, that is not Egyptian, and for him the only explanation for this ritual would be the custom of sleeping at or near a sacred place to obtain some vision from the deity, which he compared with what the patriarch Jacob is said to have done:

And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran. And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, the Lord stood above it. . .

Genesis 28:10-13

The Ten Commandments, said to have been given by the Lord God of Moses to the Israelites in Sinai, clearly derive from an Egyptian tradition and would seem to have roots in common with the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Egyptians believed that, after their death, they faced a trial in the underworld before Osiris and his 42 judges in the Hall of Judgment. Spell 125 of the Book of the Dead contains a Negative Confession that the dead person has to recite on this occasion, containing such assurances as "I have done no falsehood" and "I have not killed men." It therefore seems likely that (Moses) Akhenaten, who did not believe in Osiris or his underworld, turned the moral code according to which the Egyptians believed their dead would be judged into an imperative code of behavior for his followers in this life—the Ten Commandments. Now I shall compare the two in detail.

Chapter 20 of the Book of Exodus contains the Ten Commandments of God given to the Israelites at the foot of Mount Sinai. Except for the first two commandments that forbid them from worshipping other gods or bowing down for images of any kind, and a third that demands them to honor their parents, the remaining seven are found in Chapter 125 of the Book of the Dead:

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. I have not acted deceitfully.

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. I have not committed any sin against purity.

Thou shalt not kill. I have not slain man or woman.

Thou shalt not commit adultery. I have not defiled the wife of a man.

Thou shalt not steal. I have not committed theft.

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. I have not uttered falsehood. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife. I have not defiled the wife of a man.

The Brazen Serpent 105

My conclusion, on the weight of the foregoing evidence, and more that will follow, is that (Moses) Akhenaten fled at the time of his abdication to Sinai, which was not merely a safe refuge, but a holy place. Furthermore, as a quarrying region it provided the materials he needed for the tabernacle (large tent) that, according to the Old Testament, he built at the foot of Mount Sinai, the holy mountain, where St. Catherine's monastery stands today (Plate 27).

When (Moses) Akhenaten sought refuge in Sinai he seems from later evidence to have taken with him one of the scepters of the king's power—a rod in the shape of a serpent, either made of, or covered with, brass. The very last mention of Moses in the Old Testament serves through an oblique reference to this symbol of power as another link identifying him as a Pharaoh. It occurs in the second Book of Kings, which gives an account of various rulers, more than five centuries after the Exodus, some of whom tried to keep to the Lord's teachings, some of whom did not. Among the former, we are told, was Hezekiah:

And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father did. He removed the high places and brake the images, and cut down the groves; and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it. . .

II Kings 18:3-4

(Moses) Akhenaten was also accompanied on his journey into exile by some of his closest and most faithful followers. Among them was Panehesy, his chancellor and Chief Servitor of Aten at Amarna, who—as we shall see—would be named in the Talmud many centuries later as the priest who killed Jesus.

Part II

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