Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Preparing for Egypt, Part Two (Akehaten/Armana)

Our next stop in Egypt will be the ruins of the city Akhetaten, more commonly known as Tell-el-Armana. It's particularly interesting because it was the city founded by Pharoah Aknenaten to worship his one god, the Aten, or the sun disk. I've written a little about this "heretic" Pharoah here, but I'd like to revise what I wrote a bit. I think (and of course I don't really know) that Aknenaten wasn't really worshiping a Sun God--he was worshiping the conception of one god, the creator god, who embodied the entire pantheon of Egyptian gods, and the sun disk was merely the symbolic representation of this one god. It's a huge leap forward in spiritual evolution, the idea of an "All in One" or, as the Emerald Tablet might put it, "The One Thing." Since Egyptian Pharoahs typically were seen as gods on earth, I don't think Aknenaten went as far as to suggest that all peoples possess the god within--and evidence suggests he did not think this, requiring others to bow to him and himself serving as, well, sort of a Pope, God's emissary on earth, speaking for the Aten--but it still represents a leap forward.

Of course, the people of Egypt, accustomed to many gods, didn't exactly rush to hop on this Pharoah's train, and the Amun priests in Luxor thought he was crazy, so ultimately Aknenaten's idea did not take hold, and after the Pharoah died, the city of Akhetaten was abandoned and fell into ruin. It's not the most well preserved site in Egypt since the city was hastily constructed and the structures built of mudbrick. But the boundaries of the city and the plans for it were laid out on fourteen stelae, so we have a sense of what it looked like. The temples were open-air (naturally, to let in lots of sun), and tombs were dug out in the cliffs surrounding the city.

Another interesting thing about Akhenaten is that some scholars have suggested that he was actually Moses, or if not Moses, then he knew Moses, and that's where Moses got the idea of a single god from. Before you scoff, Sigmund Freud even put forth this idea. The thinking goes something like this: we know from the Bible that Joseph rose to a high position as Pharoah's vizier in Egypt, marrying into the royal family, so on the contrary, the Jews weren't exactly slaves. (This is naturally disputed by those who take the story of the Exodus literally and who believe Ramses the Great was the Pharoah of the Exodus). But take Joseph's family a few generations down, and you arrive at the time of Akhenaten. Suppose the Pharoah knew his monotheism was unpopular and he wanted Moses (which, by the way, is an Egyptian name--Ahmose was common) to leave the country and keep to the idea. Moses gathered up his people and exited. It's also true that the 10 Commandments are reminiscent of the commandments of Ma'at, with which Moses certainly would have been familiar, being raised in Pharaoh's court. So.... it's something worth ruminating about, in any case.

Excavations at Akhetaten continue.

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