Scholars generally accept* that Akhenaten (Moses) was in his teens when he made his first appearance at Thebes in 1378 B.C. This dating agrees with his having been born at Zarw in 1394 B.C. At the time he arrived in Thebes he was still known by the name he had been given at birth, Amenhotep.** We know very little of his early life. There is no evidence that during his childhood he spent any time at Memphis, where his father, Amenhotep III, had his main residence and where the heirs apparent were normally trained and educated with the sons of nobles. His behavior and the kind of knowledge he had acquired suggests that, after his childhood at Zarw, he had been sent to be educated at Heliopolis (the biblical On), northeast of modern Cairo, which was the early religious center in Egypt and the main center for worship of the sun-god Ra, whose temple had been built there. The father-in-law of Yuya (Joseph) had been a priest at Heliopolis and was followed in a similar priestly role by Anen (Manasseh), Yuya's first son and Akhenaten's uncle.
Akhenaten arrived in Thebes with highly developed views about the deity Aten, which suggests that he must have been involved during his early years in an Aten cult at Zarw. We have various indications that such a cult began to appear in that area from the time of the young prince's grandfather, Tuthmosis IV (1413-1405 B.C.), who, as we have seen, is believed to have
*For example, Professor Donald B. Redford of Toronto University.
**Amenhotep did not change his name to Akhenaten until the fifth year of the later co-regency with his father, but I refer to him from this point as Akhenaten (Moses).
appointed Yuya (Joseph) as his minister. The very first shrine to Aten appears to have been in this city of Zarw. One of the titles of Neby, the mayor of Zarw during the reign of Tuthmosis IV, was "Overseer of the Foremost Water in the hnt (lake or lake area) of the Temple of Aten." Even before Akhenaten (Moses) was born, as we saw earlier, the vessel in which his father and mother sailed on the pleasure lake at Zarw was named Aten Gleams. The enduring nature of the cult in the Zarw lake area of the Eastern Delta—what the Bible calls "the land of Goshen"—is indicated by the text on a wine jar placed in the tomb of Tutankhamun, who would succeed Akhenaten (Moses) on the throne: "Year 5. Sweet wine of the House-of-Aten [from] Zarw. Chief vintner Pen-amun."
In his Year 20 (1386 B.C.), eight years before the appearance of the young prince on the scene, Amenhotep III had chosen to change his main residence from Memphis to Thebes—modern Luxor—in Upper Egypt. Thebes, a huddle of modest villages in the sixteenth century B.C., had grown in the intervening years to a giant metropolis. It was also the seat of the state god Amun-Ra. The city's prominence stemmed in part from the fact that it was the princes of Thebes who had united to conquer and drive the Hyksos invaders from the Eastern Delta at the start of the sixteenth century B.C. Its religious importance had also grown because, from the reign of Amenhotep II (1436-1413 B.C.), the grandfather of Amenhotep III, there had been a gradual but growing fusion between the solar cult of Ra and the cult of Amun. This greatly increased the joint-god's status. While ancient cults of other gods continued to flourish locally, the cult of Amun-Ra had received, and continued to receive, royal treatment—generous endowments, munificent gifts of land, gold and slaves—so favorable that it had become virtually an arm of the state executive.
Amun-Ra also dominated the architecture of Thebes. The Luxor temple had been founded by Amenhotep III primarily as a setting for the annual Festival of Opet when the cult statue of Amun was carried along an avenue of sphinxes that led from the temple of Amun at Karnak to Luxor. Karnak, two miles north of Thebes (Luxor), was a huge complex of religious buildings that covered more than a hundred hectares. The three major sacred precincts were dedicated to the deities Amun, Mut (vulture-goddess consort of Amun) and Montu (falcon-headed god of war).
On the opposite (west) bank of the Nile Amenhotep III built for himself a magnificent home—the Malkata palace complex. His own palace, as we saw, was ready by Year 8 (1398 B.C.) of his reign, but the whole complex, including four probable palaces as well as kitchens, storerooms, residential areas and the mortuary temple for service of the king's spirit after his death, was not completed until toward the end of his third decade (1375 B.C.). On his arrival at Thebes, Akhenaten (Moses) moved into the Malkata palace complex. His mother's was not the only familiar face from childhood that awaited him. Other residents in the palace included Sitamun, his father's sister/wife, who was the young prince's aunt, and her daughter Nefertiti, his half-sister. Yet, although he had been allowed to settle in Thebes without any threat to his life, Akhenaten (Moses) cannot be said to have been persona grata. The only mention of him before his accession to the throne as co-ruler with his father in 1378 B.C. was found in Malkata in the form of an undated wine jar seal with the inscription "[of] the estate of the true King's Son, Amenhotep." The use of the expression "true king's son" indicates an early challenge—no doubt from the Amunite priests—to his right ultimately to inherit the throne.
By the time Akhenaten (Moses) arrived in Thebes, Queen Tiye, who is known to have been a woman with a powerful personality, had become an increasingly influential presence behind the throne as her husband's health declined with his advancing years. This increased influence is reflected in the fact that her name, unlike that of earlier queens, was placed regularly in a cartouche, a distinction previously limited to the ruling monarch, and was also included in royal titularies. Furthermore, she was represented as being of equivalent stature to the king.
To ensure her son's ultimate inheritance of the throne, she seems to have arranged for him to marry his half-sister, Nefertiti, the heiress. It was Tiye, too, who must have persuaded her husband to appoint Moses as his co-regent, with special emphasis on Nefertiti's role to placate the hostile priests and nobles.
Whether or not Akhenaten (Moses) was co-regent with his father has been the subject of interminable debate among scholars. Some say he wasn't: I say he was— for 12 years. Evidence adduced includes wine jar dockets, reliefs, cults, cartouches, temples, pylons, stelae, sarcophagi, statues, paintings, letters, nomen (birth name), praenomen (coronation name) and the length of kings' reigns. In my view, the evidence pointing to a co-regency of 12 years—from 1378 B.C. until 1367 B.C., when Amenhotep III died—is overwhelming. In order not to burden the reader with a lengthy debate about these various viewpoints (which I have dealt with at some length elsewhere), it may suffice to summarize some of the main pieces of evidence.
Many objects bearing the name of Amenhotep III were found at Tell el-Amarna, the new capital city built by Akhenaten (Moses), roughly halfway between Thebes and modern Cairo, starting in his Year 4 (1375 B.C.). Amenhotep III, with Queen Tiye, is shown alive in many Amarna tombs of the nobles and small stelae found there—all representing him in the distinctive Amarna art style. This has been taken by a large number of Egyptologists as confirmation that Amenhotep III was alive at the time the new city was being built and may even have visited it.
For example, a stele found in the house of Panehesy, the Chief Servitor of the Aten temple at Amarna, shows Amenhotep III with Queen Tiye seated before a pile of offerings. As the Aten is depicted in the scene shining over them in his later form, it cannot date from earlier than the second half of Year 8 of Akhenaten. The old king is shown here in the realistic Amarna style with thick neck and bent head, indicating his old age at the time. Neither in the scene itself nor in the accompanying text is there any indication that the king was already dead. He is not represented in the usual Osiris form of dead kings. On the contrary, the queen is shown sitting next to him, not facing him, and she was still alive, as there is separate evidence that she visited Amarna before Year 12 of her son's reign. Furthermore, the artistic nature of the Amarna style used here gives a realistic portrayal of the couple in Amarna, under the Aten's rays, not an abstract or idealized scene, drawn from memory, of a king who had died at Thebes a decade or so earlier.
Another combination of scene and inscription in the tomb of Huya (steward to Queen Tiye) at Amarna enforces the argument that Amenhotep III was still alive and visiting Amarna some time after the second half of Akhenaten's Year 8. The scene is drawn in two halves on the lintel of the doorway leading from the first hall of the tomb into the inner rooms.
The scene on the left shows Akhenaten with his wife and four of their daughters, that on the right Amenhotep III with his wife and his youngest princess Baketaten. For Howard Carter, the British archaeologist who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun, this was strong evidence of a co-regency between Akhenaten and his father: "This equipoise of the two households not only confirms the co-regency of the two kings, but gives reason to suppose that Amenhotep III continued to live for at least a year or so after the birth of Akhenaten's fourth daughter, Neferneferuaten Tasheri" (The Tomb of Tutankhamun, p. 5).
Two objects have also been found at Amarna bearing Amenhotep Ill's name, indicating not only that he was still alive but also that he was visiting the city of Amarna. The first is a fragment of a granite bowl with the late name of the Aten, the name of Amenhotep III and the phrase "in Akhenaten" (Amarna). The second is a fragment of a statue of a kneeling person holding an offering slab. Between his outstretched hands is an inscription that includes the late name of Aten, followed by the name of Amenhotep III.
In an article that appeared in the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology in 1957, the Scottish Egyptologist Cyril Aldred argued that scenes in two Amarna tombs where the king was shown receiving gifts from foreign nations in his Year 12 (1367 B.C.) were part of the celebrations on his accession to sole rule. This seems likely. There was no war campaign at this time that would account for such tribute and, if it were simply the regular yearly tribute, it is difficult to imagine all the foreign nations depicted in these scenes having gathered in Amarna at the same time. Furthermore, this is the only time that such an event is to be found depicted in the Amarna tombs.
Howard Carter was persuaded by a graffito from the pyramid temple of Meidum in Middle Egypt, dating from the time of Amenhotep III, that the text indicates a co-regency between the king and his son. He wrote in his book The Tomb of Tutankhamun: "The graffito reads: 'Year 30, under the majesty of the King Neb-maat-Re, Son of Amun, resting in truth, Amenhotep [III], prince of Thebes, lord of might, prince of joy, who loves him that hates injustice of heart, placing the male offspring upon the seat of his father, and establishing his inheritance in the land.' The 'heir' referred to in this graffito has to be Amenhotep IV, who afterwards assumed the name Akhenaten . . . "
The most significant archaeological evidence pointing to a co-regency between Akhenaten (Moses) and his father, however, was unearthed as recently as 1989 with the discovery at Sakkara, ten miles south of Cairo, of the tomb, almost intact, of Aper-el, the hitherto unknown chief minister to Akhenaten. Funerary furniture in the tomb, found by the French archaeologist Alain-Pierre Zivie after ten years' work, included a box given to Aper-el by Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye. Amenhotep Ill's cartouche and praenomen, Neb-Maat-Ra, were found in two other cases in the tomb. In relation to a co-regency, the two main points are that Akhenaten would not have had a chief minister unless he were ruling, and his father's praenomen would not have been found in the tomb unless he was still alive after his son came to the throne.
The tomb also makes it clear that Aper-el served as a high priest to Aten before becoming a chief minister. Similar names to Aper-el are known to have existed in Egypt at this period of history, but never in the case of high officials. The "Aper" corresponds to the Egyptian word for "Hebrew," which meant to ancient Egyptians a nomad, working for the state at heavy manual labor, and the final "el" is the short form of "Elohim," one of the words used in the Bible as the name of the Lord. The tomb of Aper-el is the first evidence we have of a link between a Pharaoh and someone of Hebrew stock living in Egypt during his reign. Furthermore, Queen Tiye's association with her husband in donating a box to the funerary furniture of Aper-el indicates the possibility that the chief minister was a relation, most probably through her Israelite father, Yuya (Joseph).
Akhenaten's rejection of the beliefs and authority of the Theban priesthood, who had denied his right to the throne from the time of his birth, began shortly after he appeared in Thebes. On his accession to the throne as co-regent, he took the names Neferkheprure Waenre Amenhotep—that is, Amenhotep IV—and from his very first year provoked the priests by his aggressive attitude. He had barely assumed his new position when he used some of the wealth amassed by his father to build a large new Aten temple within the precincts of the existing Amun-Ra temple at Karnak. This was followed by a second Aten temple within the Luxor Amun-Ra temple, which had been built by his father. He snubbed the traditional priests by not allowing them to any of the festivities in the early part of his co-regency and, in his fourth year (1375 B.C.), when he celebrated his sed festival or jubilee— usually, but not necessarily, a rejuvenation celebration that marked Year 30 of a monarch's reign— he banned all gods but his own God from the occasion. Twelve months later he made a further break with tradition by changing his name from Amenhotep to Akhenaten in honor of his new deity.
Aten had not been worshipped as a deity before the middle of the Eighteenth Dynasty and was then regarded as just one of Egypt's many deities. Akhenaten (Moses) was the first person to recognize Aten as the sole deity, a God not simply for Egypt but for the whole world. This monotheistic concept developed in stages as he grew up. Early representations of Aten showed the deity, like Ra-Harakhti, the sun-god, as of human shape with the head of a falcon, surmounted by a solar disc, in keeping with the conventional way gods were depicted in Egyptian art. Akhenaten (Moses) seems also to have drawn at this early stage on the traditional ritual of the solar god of Heliopolis. The name given by the king to his early Karnak temple, ben-ben (obelisk), was the same as that of the Heliopolitan temples where the benben (a small pyramid on a square base) was a characteristic of the solar temples.
At the end of the second year, or early in the third, of the co-regency an important development took place in this representation. The human figure vanished. Only a golden disc appeared, whose rays descended over the king and queen as well as over the temple, altar and palace. This golden disc did not represent the sun but was the symbol of Aten, who had no physical image. The rays, in their turn, were not the endless rays of the sun. They ended in hands, and the hands held the ankh—the Egyptian cross, a symbol of life, not death—before the nostrils of the king and queen. To indicate the kingly statues of Aten, an uraeus (cobra) hung from the disc in the same way as an uraeus adorned the brow of the king. At the same time the name and epithet of the God was placed inside two cartouches, matching the manner in which the ruling king's name was written.
From inscriptions at both the Karnak Aten temple and rock tombs constructed at Amarna, the independent capital Akhenaten (Moses) was to set up as a rival to Thebes, we have a clear picture of how he regarded his God: "The living Aten, there is none other than He" . . . "Who Himself gave birth to Himself" . . . "He who decrees life, the Lord of sunbeams" . . . "The world came forth from Thy [Aten] hand" . . . "Thou . . . creator of months and maker of days, and reckoner of hours."
"Thou createst the earth when Thou wert afar, namely men, cattle, all flocks, and everything on earth which moves with legs, or which is up above flying with wings. The foreign countries of Syria (north) and Kush (south), and the land of Egypt, Thou placest every man in his place, and makest their food. Everyone has his food, and his lifetime is reckoned; and similarly their languages are wholly separate in form. For their colours are different, for Thou hast made foreign peoples different."
We find echoes of these attributes in the God of Moses as he is described in the Old Testament. He was:
A Sole God: Hear, O Israel, Adonai (Aten) our God is the only God. A translation, as Freud pointed out, of Deuteronomy 6:4, which is to be found in Jewish liturgy today.* Thou shalt have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3).
*The words Schema Yisrael Adonai Elohenu Adonai Ohod can also be translated, using the personal name, Jehovah, of the God of Israel. This form of the translation may be written and read by Jews, but when it is read aloud Adonai must be substituted for Jehovah. No convincing explanation has ever been put forward for this tradition, nor does anyone know precisely when it started, but I believe it dates from the time of Akhenaten (Moses).
The One God and His Prophet 81
Without a Cult Image:
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth (Exodus 20:4).
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth (Genesis 1:1).
The Lord shall reign for ever and ever
And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh,
Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my first born. (Exodus 4:22).
Creator of the World:
We also find reflections of Egyptian practices in Israelite practices. Moses is said to have introduced the Ark, the receptacle in the temple of Jerusalem in which the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, were kept: "And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying . . . make an ark . . . and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shalt give thee" (Exodus 25:1, 10, 21). The Ark, regarded as the holiest part of Israelite temples after the Pentateuch itself, is a version of the Egyptian holy boat, usually kept in the temple and, as we have seen, serving to carry the deity during processions.
To the resentful Egyptian Establishment, Aten was seen as a challenger who would replace the powerful state god Amun-Ra and deny his domination. It was at this point, in a climate that was becoming increasingly hostile toward her son, that Queen Tiye arranged a compromise by persuading Akhenaten (Moses) to leave Thebes and establish his new capital at Tell el-Amarna on the east bank of the Nile, on land that had never been dedicated to any other deity. He named this new city, where he and his followers could be free to worship their monotheistic God, Akhetaten, the Horizon of Aten.
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