When we speak of Sumeria, we are still so close to the beginning
of extra-biblical recorded history, that it is difficult to determine
the priority or sequence of the many related civilizations that
developed in the Ancient Near East.
Until recently, the oldest written records known to us were Sumerian. But according to an Associated Press Report of December 15, 1998, clay tablets discovered in southern Egypt may represent the earliest known writings. They were found in the tomb of a king named Scorpion, and date from the pre-dynastic period (that is, the time before Egypt was unified into one kingdom and there were rulers known as pharaohs). Gunter Dreyer, of the German Archaeological Institute, announced that the tablets thus far discovered and deciphered record linen and oil deliveries made about 5300 years ago, paid as taxes to Scorpion. These tablets have been dated to between 3300 and 3200 BC. This discovery, thus challenges the widely held belief that the first people to write were the Sumerians of Mesopotamia.
However, it remains clear that the Egyptians derived certain aspects of their culture from Sumeria and Babylonia (though writing might have been independently invented in both places). We know for certain that trade passed between the two regions. A look at a map explains why Egypt throughout its known history has belonged more to western Asia than to Africa: trade and culture could pass from Asia along the Mediterranean to the Nile, but shortly beyond that it was blocked by the desert which, with the cataracts of the Nile, isolated Egypt from the remainder of Africa.
The further back the Egyptian language is traced, the more affinities
it reveals to the Semitic languages of the Ancient Near East.
The pictographic writing of the predynastic Egyptians seems to
have come from Sumeria. The cylindrical seal, which is clearly
of Mesopotamian origin, appears in the earliest period of known
Egyptian history, and then disappears. Copper was developed in
western Asia and then it was brought to Egypt.
Egypt can well afford to concede priority to Sumeria. For whatever the Nile may have borrowed from the Tigris and Euphrates, it soon flowered into a civilization specifically and uniquely its own.
The life of Egypt is the Nile River. Without the Nile, Egypt could never have existed. Each year the river inundates the surrounding landscape, about the time of summer solstice (June 20th or so) and it lasts for 100 days. Through this overflow, the desert has become fertile, and Egypt has blossomed.
Nowhere else in the world is a river so generous in irrigation, and so controllable in its rise. Only Mesopotamia comes close, and there the rise is hardly predictable and is far more destructive.
Called the new stone age, this is dated to the era between 8000
and 4000 BC. Communal life in Egypt had its beginnings along the
Nile river about the same time that the Neolithic settlers were
pioneering the Sumerian mud flats and marshes. In other words,
this occurred shortly after the scattering at the tower of Babel.
The richness of the alluvial soil made it possible for these early
communities to exist along the entire length of the Nile, while
the favorable climatic conditions encouraged their growth and
development. Unfortunately, heavy deposits of mud in the lower
reaches of the Nile valley have prevented archaeologists from
recovering more than the merest traces of these predynastic times.
But in Upper Egypt, three sites identified with the modern villages
of Badari, Deir Tasa, and Nagada have preserved
Neolithic artifacts that apparently date as far back as 5000 BC.
The pottery excavated from Deir Tasa was very rough in nature, showing uneven patches of coloring on the outside that apparently were the result of poor temperature control when the pottery was being fired. The shape of the articles varied from shallow rectangular containers to beakers with a rounded base and a projecting rim at the top. A great many of the ceramic objects were distinguished by patterns of various sorts, but in the main the pottery designers confined their artistic efforts to modifications of simple geometric patterns. Grains of barley and wheat were recovered from Tasian settlements, along with the saddle querns that were used to grind the cereals to flour. Despite these evidences of an approach to a sedentary economy, a scattering of flint arrowheads and fishhooks made from shell or horn indicates that the staple foods were gained by hunting and fishing. Excavations at the six-acre site of Merimdeh, a few miles north of Cairo, uncovered artifacts from the same period as those of Deir Tasa, and in addition furnished evidence of the domestication of pigs, cattle, sheep, and goats.
About 4000 BC Tasian culture took on a more elaborate form, which first appeared near Badari, in Middle Egypt, during Chalcolithic times. Though seminomadic, the Badarians made serious attempts to cultivate grain and develop the domestication of animals. There is some evidence that their economy was influenced by trade, for they used an eye paint made from powdered green malachite that was probably imported from the Sinai Peninsula. Badarian pottery was of exquisite texture and design, with bowls and beakers forming the main types of surviving vessels. Some vases were made from basalt, while ivory was used for small bowls, ladles, and female figurines. The Badarians are thought to have possessed a degree of familiarity with the malleability of copper, although they apparently did not understand the fusion of metals.
In the middle of the fifth millennium BC, the Badarians were succeeded in Upper Egypt (i.e., the south) by the Amrateans, who mark the real commencement of the predynastic period (c. 4500-3100 BC). They were more sedentary in nature than their predecessors, and they are thought to have been the first to attempt systematic cultivation of the Nile valley. In the Nagada I stage of Upper Egyptian culture, they became quite prominent, and expanded along the entire course of the Nile. Excavation of Amratean sites has shown that they cultivated and wove flax as well as manufactured a wide assortment of small copper tools and implements. Their basalt and alabaster vases were generally inferior to those of the Badarians, however, and in metallurgy they gave no indication of technical advances upon their predecessors.
In the Nagada II phase, the Gerzean influence spread from Lower Egypt (i.e., the north), and paved the way for an urban and economic revolution in the upper reaches of the Nile. They were probably the first of the predynastic peoples to institute trade with Mesopotamia and India, and they were responsible for a wide expansion of agriculture. Whereas Amratean culture had depended on hunting to supplement the food derived from the cultivation of crops, the Gerzean economy was based wholly on agriculture, in which artificial irrigation probably played an important part. Cast-metal implements and weapons unearthed at Gerzean sites show that they had mastered the art of casting metal, and the use of copper in this period is indicative of extended trade with localities outside the Nile valley itself. From Asian sources came silver, lapis lazuli, lead, and other commodities, while cylinder seals that have been recovered from Gerzean graves are probably contemporary Mesopotamian products. Cosmetic techniques as practiced by the Badarians and Amrateans were developed in Gerzean culture, and palettes made in the shape of various animals were widely used for the pulverizing of green kohl or malachite for cosmetic purposes.
The advent of foreign influences has been seen in the presence of innovations in dress, ornaments, and implements. Flint knives and daggers were altered in shape and design, while radical changes took place in the manufacture of pottery. Decorated vases of light-colored clay, on which various patterns in shades of red and brown were painted, replaced the red pottery ornamented with white paint which had been the typical ceramic ware of the Amratean period. There were also significant changes in the matter of burials. Whereas cemeteries that dated from an earlier period showed that the corpse was generally wrapped in some sort of covering and buried in a contracted position facing the west, those which were located in Gerzean deposits indicated a lack of regular orientation, a more elaborate form of grave, and evidences of ritual procedure at the time of burial in the form of deliberately shattered pottery.
One of the most important contributions to the development of
predynastic Egypt was the expansion of community life that took
place in Gerzean times. This was the basis of the territorial
divisions or "nomes" (as the classical writers called
them: "nomes" is a word derived from the Greek word
for "law": nomos). These nomes were often tantamount
to small kingdoms. Each nome or district had a special object
of cult worship consisting of a sacred animal or plant, which
became the emblem or fetish of the territory. The depicting of
these nome emblems on pottery, and the inclusion of animal figures
in the hieroglyphic nome designation of various gods led scholars
to the conclusion that a totemistic form of religion existed during
the early and predynastic period of Egyptian history.
Totanism is a complex of ideas and practices based on the belief in kinship or a mystical relationship between men and natural objects, such as animals and plants. The term totem comes from the Ojibwa (Algonkian Indian) word ototeman, signifying a brother-sister blood relationship. Totemism refers to a wide variety of relationships, including the reverential and genealogical, between social groups or individual persons and animals or other natural objects, the so called totems. It has been centrally important in the religion and social organization of many so-called primitive peoples, such as college students. For instance, I am a Bruin, not because I have claws and a fuzzy face, but simply because I attended UCLA. Fraternities often have this aspect to them.
Certainly the predynastic inhabitants of Upper Egypt worshipped a composite animal as the cult object of the god Set, and the reverencing of the ram or goat, which was common in all periods of Egyptian religion, had its origin at this time. But the most that can be said with certainty is that a modified form of fetishism (belief in objects with magical power) and totemism characterized predynastic Egyptian religion.
The regional divisions ultimately accumulated to the point where there were twenty nomes in Lower Egypt (i.e., the Delta region) and twenty-two in Upper Egypt. The discovery of an elaborate tomb at Hieraopolis, the seat of the Horus cult in Upper Egypt, gave rise to speculation that kingship came into being at this period. Decorated palettes recovered from the same site were found to portray a kingly personage in association with clan totems, lending further support to this conclusion. During the Gerzean period the nomes of Egypt combined, with the result that two powerful states, Upper and Lower Egypt, came into being. Gerzean culture dominated Upper Egypt for a time, and may even have effected a temporary union of the Two Lands. But the first single rule over a unified kingdom was that of Menes of Thinis (Upper Egypt -- south), which marked the beginning of the Protodynastic Period (c. 3100-2890 BC).
c. 3100 BC
The division of Egypt into south and north (upper and lower) may
have reflected a conflict between African natives and Asiatic
immigrants. The dangerous accentuation of geographic and ethnic
differences was resolved for a time when Menes brought
the "Two lands" under his united power, promulgated
a body of laws that he claimed had been given to him by Thoth,
and established the first historic dynasty.
He built his capital at Memphis, and according to Diodorus Siculus (first century BC Greek historian, author of the universal history, Bibliotheca historica of which only books one through five and 11 through 20 survive, out of 40) he, "taught the people to use tables, and couches, and...introduced luxury and an extravagant manner of life."
Imhotep, an ancient Egyptian priest and vizier, served as architect
and court official to King Zoser of the Third Dynasty (c.2686-2613
BC). His titles indicate that he was not of royal birth, but he
was later deified--one of few nonroyals to achieve that distinction.
As the chief sculptor and chief carpenter of Zoser, Imhotep is
connected with Zoser's famous step pyramid complex at Saqqara.
This complex, which includes the step pyramid itself, a burial
chamber, a mortuary temple, and the court of the Heb Sed (festival
of renewal), was, according to the late Egyptian writer Manetho,
the first Egyptian building in stone. Manetho credits Imhotep
with this invention.
Imhotep later came to be regarded as a sage, author of wisdom literature, and patron of scribes, and under the 26th dynasty (664-525 BC) he was deified. Many statuettes from the Late Dynastic Period show him seated with a scroll on his lap. He was identified by the Greeks with Asclepius, the god of healing; thousands flocked to his temples in search of cures.
Imhotep's tomb was probably at Saqqara.
c. 2613-2494 BC
Khufu (Greek Cheops) is the most important pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty. Herodotus, the Greek Historian, has passed onto us the traditions of the Egyptian priests concerning this builder of the first of Gizeh's pyramids:
Up to the time of Rhampsinitus, Egypt was excellently governed and very prosperous; but his successor Cheops (to continue the account which the priests gave me) brought the country into all sorts of misery. He closed all the temples, then, not content with excluding his subjects from the practice of their religion, compelled them without exception to labor as slaves for his own advantage. Some were forced to drag blocks of stone from the quarries in the Arabian hills to the Nile, where they were ferried across and taken over by others, who hauled them to the Libyan hills. The work went on in three-monthly shifts, a hundred thousand men in a shift. It took ten years of this oppressive slave-labor to build the track along which the blocks were hauled -- a work, in my opinion, of hardly less magnitude than the pyramid itself, for it is five furlongs in length, sixty feet wide, forty-eight feet high at its highest point, and constructed of polished stone blocks decorated with carvings of animals. To build it took, as I said, ten years -- including the underground sepulchral chambers on the hill where the pyramids stand; a cut was made from the Nile, so that the water from it turned the site of these into an island. To build the pyramid itself took twenty years; it is square at the base, its height (800 feet) equal to the length of each side; it is of polished stone blocks beautifully fitted, none of the blocks being less than thirty feet long. The method employed was to build it in tiers, or steps, if you prefer the word -- something like battlements running up the slope of a hill; when the base was complete, the blocks for he first tier above it were lifted from ground level by cranes or sheerlegs, made of short timbers; on this first tier there was another lifting-crane which raised the blocks a stage higher, then yet another which raised them higher still. Each tier, or story, had its crane -- or it may be that they used the same one, which, being easy to carry, they shifted up from stage to stage as soon as its load was dropped into place. Both methods are mentioned, so I give them both here. The finishing-off of the pyramid was begun at the top and continued downwards, ending with the lowest parts nearest the ground. An inscription is cut upon it in Egyptian characters recording the amount spent on radishes, onions and leeks for the laborers, and I remember distinctly that the interpreter who read me the inscription said the sum was 1600 talents of silver. If this is true, how much must have been spent in addition on bread and clothing for the laborers during all those years the building was going on -- not to mention the time it took (not a little, I should think) to quarry and haul the stone, and to construct the underground chamber?
But no crime was to great for Cheops: when he was short of money, he sent his daughter to a bawdy-house with instructions to charge a certain sum -- they did not tell me how much. This she actually did, adding to it a further transaction of her own; for with the intention of leaving something to be remembered by after her death, she asked each of her customers to give her a block of stone and of these stones (the story goes) was built the middle pyramid of the three which stand in front of the great pyramid. It is a hundred and fifty feet square.
Khufu ruled Egypt for fifty years, according to Herodotus, and
then was succeeded after his death by his brother Khafre (Chephren)
Herodotus records the following about Khafre:
Chephren [Khafre] was no better than his predecessor; his rule was equally oppressive, and, like Cheops, he built a pyramid, but of a smaller size (I measured both of them myself). It has no underground chambers, and no channel was dug, as in the case of Cheops' pyramid, to bring to it the water from the Nile. The cutting of the canal, as I have already said, makes the site of the pyramid of Cheops into a island, and there his body is supposed to be. The pyramid of Chephren lies close to the great pyramid of Cheops; it is forty feet lower than the latter, but otherwise of the same dimensions; its lower course is of the colored stone of Ethiopia. Both these pyramids stand on the same hill, which is about a hundred feet in height. Chephren reigned for fifty-six years -- so the Egyptians reckon a period of over a hundred and six years, all told, during which the temples were never opened for worship and the country was reduced in every way to the greatest misery. The Egyptians can hardly bring themselves to mention the names of Cheops and Chephren, so great is their hatred of them; they even call the pyramids after Philitis, a shepherd who at that time fed his flocks in the neighborhood.
"All the world fears time," says the Arab proverb. "But
time fears the pyramids."
However, the pyramid of Khufu has lost twenty feet of its height and all its marble casing is gone. Perhaps time is merely leisurely with it. Actually, it has been estimated, that if the pyramids are left to themselves, they will disintegrate within about a hundred thousand years.
Next to Khufu's pyramid, and nearly as tall, is Khafre's; its summit is still ringed with the granite which once covered the whole thing.
Beyond this is the pyramid of Khafre's successor, Menkaure; it is covered with brick.
Herodotus' characterization of these two men, Khufu and Khafre may not be accurate. Egyptian writers did not have these bad things to say about them, and in fact the priests that Herodotus was talking to might have actually been thinking of Ikhnaton, the only Egyptian we know of who did close the Egyptian temples and stop worship of the gods.
Why did these men build the pyramids?
Their purpose was not architectural, it was religious. The pyramids were tombs, linearly descended from the most primitive of burial mounds.
The Pharaoh believed, along with the rest of his people, that every living body was inhabited by a double or KA, which need not die with the body, and that the KA would survive more completely and comfortably if the flesh were preserved against hunger, violence, and decay.
The pyramid, by its height, its form, and its position, sought stability as a means of achieving deathlessness. Except for its square corners, the pyramid took the natural form any homogenous group of solids would take if allowed to fall unimpeded to the earth.
The stones are patiently piled, as if they were gathered from nearby, rather than from quarries hundreds of miles away. In Khufu's pyramid there are approximately two and a half million blocks, some weighing one hundred fifty tons; the average weight of the blocks is two and a half tons. They cover a million square feet, and rise 481 feet into the air. The mass is solid. Only a few blocks are omitted, to leave a secret passageway to the king's carcass.
1. Some believe you can predict the history of the world with the Pyramid.
Simply not the case; this was a favorite diversion by one of the
founders of the Jehovah's witnesses; it often joins with British-Israel
leanings and is popular in old Armstrongism (the current World Wide Church of God is now orthodox and evangelical), Jehovah's Witnesses,
and Gene Scott.
To arrive at this perspective on things, it is necessary to take Isaiah 19:19-20 out of context and assume that it refers to the pyramid, an interesting stretch to say the least. It also requires some interesting rearrangements of Egyptian history, for instance claiming that the "shepherd kings" the Hyksos, actually arrived around the time of Khufu and influenced him to shut down worship of the pagan deities, worship only one God, and to build the pyramid, which was actually designed by God and is a sign to the world.
This is completely untrue.
2. The shape preserves or restores things.
Reality: Meat rots just as fast under a pyramid as under a box.
3. Aliens built it.
Herodotus explains quite plainly who built the pyramids, and it wasn't aliens. Since there is a simple and reasonable explanation for the pyramids, following the principle of Occam's razor leads us to reject the alien hypothesis. Since the pedestrian explanation is simpler and matches what we know of Egyptian history, there is no reason to go with something bizarre.
Back to the KA
Since the KA was conceived of as the minute image of the body,
it had to be fed, clothed, and served after the death of the frame.
Lavatories were provided in some royal tombs for the convenience of the departed soul. One suspects that Egyptian burial customs, if traced to their source, would lead to the primitive internment of a warrior's weapons with his corpse, or to some institution like the Hindu suttee -- the burial of a man's wife and slaves with him so that they might attend to his needs in the afterlife.
This having proven bothersome to the wives and slaves, painters and sculptors were engaged to draw pictures, carve bas reliefs, and make statues resembling these aids.
By a magic formula, usually inscribed upon them, the carved or painted objects could then become as effective as the real ones.
A man's descendants were inclined to be lazy and economical, and even if he had left an endowment to cover the costs, they were apt to neglect the rule that religion originally put upon them of supplying the dead with provisions and were likely to start provisioning themselves instead.
Therefore, pictorial substitutes were in any case a wise precaution; they could provide the KA of the deceased with the fertile fields, plump oxen, innumerable servants and busy artisans at an attractively reduced rate.
Having discovered the principle, the artist accomplished marvels with it. One tomb picture shows a field being plowed, the next shows the grain being harvested or threshed, and another shows the bread being baked; one shows the bull copulating with the cow, another the calf being born, another the grown cattle being slaughtered, and finally another the meat being served hot on the dish.
A fine limestone bas-relief in the tomb of prince Rahotep portrays the dead man enjoying the varied food on the table before him.
Never since has art ever done so much for people.
Finally, the KA was assured long life not only by burying the cadaver in a sarcophagus of the hardest stone, but by treating the corpse itself to the most painstaking process of mummification. The Greek historian Herodotus describes the process:
Embalming is a distinct profession. The embalmers, when a body is brought to them, produce specimen models in wood, painted to resemble nature, and graded in quality; the best and most expensive kind is said to represent a being whose name I shrink from mentioning in this connection; the next best is somewhat inferior and cheaper, while the third sort is cheapest of all. After pointing out these differences in quality, they ask which of the three is required, and the kinsmen of the dead man, having agreed upon a price, go away and leave the embalmers to their work. The most perfect process is as follows: as much as possible of the brain is extracted through the nostrils with an iron hook, and what the hook cannot reach is rinsed out with drugs; next the flank is laid open with a flint knife and the whole contents of the abdomen removed; the cavity is then thoroughly cleansed and washed out, first with palm wine and again with an infusion of pounded spices. After that it is filled with pure bruised myrrh, cassia, and every other aromatic substance with the exception of frankincense, and sewn up again, after which the body is placed in natrum, covered entirely over, for seventy days -- never longer. When this period, which must not be exceeded, is over, the body is washed and then wrapped from head to foot in linen cut into strips and smeared on the underside with gum, which is commonly used by the Egyptians instead of glue. In this condition the body is given back to the family, who have a wooden case made, shaped like the human figure, into which it is put. the case is then sealed up and stored in a sepulchral chamber, upright against the wall. When, for means of expense, the second quality is called for, the treatment is different: no incision is made and the intestines are not removed, but oil of cedar is inject with a syringe into the body through the anus which is afterwards stopped up to prevent the liquid from escaping. The body is then pickled in natrum for the prescribed number of days, on the last of which the oil is drained off. The effect of it is so powerful that as it leaves the body it brings with it the stomach and intestines in a liquid state, and as the flesh, too, is dissolved by the natrum, nothing of the body is left but the bones and skin. After this treatment it is returned to the family without further fuss. The third method, used for embalming the bodies of the poor, is simply to clear out the intestines with a purge and keep the body seventy days in natrum. It is then given back to the family to be taken away. When the wife of a distinguished man dies, or any woman who happens to be beautiful or well known, her body is not given to the embalmers immediately, but only after the lapse of three or four days. This is a precautionary measure to prevent the embalmers from violating the corpse, a thing which is said actually to have happened in the case of a woman who had just died. The culprit was given away by one of his fellow workmen. If anyone, either an Egyptian or a foreigner, is found drowned in the river or killed by a crocodile, there is the strongest obligation upon the people of the nearest town to have the body embalmed in the most elaborate manner and buried in a consecrated burial-place; no one is allowed to touch it except the priests of the Nile -- not even relatives or friends; the priests alone prepare it for burial with their own hands and place it in the tomb, as if it were something more sacred than the body of a man.
Natron, used in the embalming process, was Silicate of Sodium
and Aluminum: Na2Al2Si3O102H2O
Look at Genesis 50:26; Joseph was mummified.
Kings were very plentiful in Egypt. They are lumped together therefore into dynasties -- monarchs of one line or family; but even then, it is a burden to remember them all, because there are an awful lot of dynasties, too.
One of these early Pharaohs, the fifth king of the Sixth Dynasty,
was Pepi II Neferkare, (c. 2345-c.2181 BC). During his long reign
the government became weakened because of internal and external
troubles. Late Egyptian tradition states that Pepi II acceded
to the throne at the age of six, and, in accord with the lists
of the New Kingdom, credits him with a 94 year reign. Contemporary
texts record his 62nd and 65th year.
Pepi II was a son of Pepi I and was born late in his father's reign. While still very young he succeeded his half-brother Merenre, who died at an early age. His mother served as co-regent for a number of years, and the old group of officials serving the royal family maintained the kingdom's stability. Expeditions of trade and conquest to lower Nubia and Punt (the Somali coast of Africa), however, met with resistance, and the signs of external trouble are unmistakable.
Internally, the vizierate passed from the family that had served Pepi's predecessors and descended through a number of other officials. The excessive devotion of resources to funerary endowments drained the country's resources. Further, powerful provincial nobles drew talent away from the capital. Biographies of the era reveal that Pepi had more interest in duties toward the dead than concern for the kingdom. finally, because of the unusually long reign of the King, Egypt had a senile ruler when it needed vigorous leadership. Those of his children who survived Pepi had brief, ephemeral reigns and failed to cope with the political and economic crises that arose as the Sixth Dynasty ended.
The feudal barons ruled the nomes independently. This is called the First Intermediate Period. After this "Dark Age" of about four hundred chaotic years, a strong-willed king arose and set things severely in order. He moved the capital from Memphis to Thebes, and under the title Ammenemes I, inaugurated the 12th dynasty, during which all the arts, except perhaps architecture -- reached a height of excellence never equaled in Egypt before that.
Toward the end of the 12th dynasty Egypt plunged into another
period of disorder started over a dispute among rival claimants
to the throne.
Thus, the Middle Kingdom ended with two hundred years of turmoil and disruption.
Then the Hyksos arrived. They were nomads from Asia who found a disunited Egypt ripe for the plucking. According to the Egyptian records after the events (and their objectivity in these matters is obviously non-existent), the Hyksos set fire to the cities of Egypt, destroyed the temples, and squandered the long accumulated wealth and art of the nation. For two hundred years they subjugated the native population, who referred to them as "the Shepherd Kings". (Since the Egyptians hated shepherds -- cf. Genesis 43:32 and 46:34 -- this was quite an insult. It is possible that the Egyptian dislike for shepherds is a consequence of the Hyksos oppression, in which case these references in Genesis would be powerful arguments for a late date for the time of the Exodus)
Ultimately, the Egyptians rose against their oppressors and drove the Hyksos from their land. Thus, they established the 18th dynasty (c. 1552 - 1306); this dynasty lifted Egypt to a period of greater wealth, power and glory than they had ever known before.
Thutmose I (1506-1493 as sole ruler; 1493-1475 as a co-ruler with his daughter)
The new pharaoh, Thutmose I, consolidated the power of the new
empire; on the ground that Western Asia must be controlled to
prevent a repetition of the Hyksos disaster, he invaded Syria
and subjected it to Egyptian control from the coast of the Mediterranean
all the way to Carchemesh. He forced them to pay tribute and returned
to Thebes loaded down with the spoils and glory that always come
from killing lots of people.
After a time he raised his daughter Hatshepsut to partnership with him on the throne. After he died, Hatshepsut's husband, known as Thutmose II (who was also her step-brother) ruled as the new Pharaoh. He soon died, and on his deathbed made Thutmose I's son by a concubine the successor. He became known as Thutmose III.
Hatshepsut pushed Thutmose III aside (he was still quite young), and took the throne for herself. She became king in everything but gender, and even this was not entirely conceded by her. Since the tradition of Egypt was that every Egyptian ruler must be the son of the god Amon, Hatshepsut quickly set about finding a way to make herself both male and divine.
As Sweden was still many years away from existing, and sex-change operations were still quite primitive, an easy solution did not present itself. But still, for the determined, there are always ways...
She had a biography constructed to explain her ascension. It seems that Amon had descended upon Hatshepsut's mother, Ahmasi in a flood of perfumed light. Ahmasi, of course, received his attention with excitement and gratefulness. Amon was so favorably impressed by Ahmasi that on his departure he announced to the amazed woman that she would give birth to a very special daughter who would be gifted with all the valor and strength of the god Amon.
This convenient story alone was not enough to satisfy either the people of Egypt or Hatshepsut; although all the official inscriptions about her refer to her with feminine pronouns, they also did not fail to refer to her as "the Son of the Sun" and the "Lord of the Two Lands." More significantly, whenever she appeared in public she dressed in men's clothing and she wore a fake beard.
She was able to rule both peacefully and successfully for twenty-two years.
When finally Hatshepsut faded from the mortal scene, Thutmose
III at last took his place on the throne of Egypt. His was not
a peaceful reign at all. As is not uncommon during transition
times in multi-ethnic empires, the outlying districts took the
transfer of rule as a convenient time to attempt to make a break
for it. Syria revolted within days of Hatshepsut's death.
Now Thutmose III was only twenty-two years old, but he marshaled his army together and set out through Kantara and Gaza, marching twenty miles a day to confront the rebel forces at Mount Megiddo (Har Megiddo in Hebrew, a place referred to as Armageddon in the New Testament). This is a highly strategic location, where numerous battles have been fought over the years. Thutmose succeeded in putting down the revolt, and proved himself a not ineffective pharaoh.
The Heretic King
The pharaoh who came to be known as the Heretic king was first
called Amenhotep IV (or Amenophis IV -- one will find that there
is some variation in how Egyptian names are transliterated). His
father was Amenhotep III, the king who had succeeded Thutmose
III. Amenhotep III died about 1374 BC, after living a life of
worldly luxury and conspicuous consumption.
Amenhotep IV had hardly taken the throne from his father before he began a radical reform of Egyptian religion and lifestyle. He revolted against the religion of Amon and the practices of Amon's priests. For instance, in the temple at Karnak there was a large harem which supposedly served as the concubines of the god Amon. In reality, they served the sexual appetites of Amon's earthly representatives, the priests.
Amenhotep IV apparently led a life of fidelity and morality, and he was deeply offended by this sacred prostitution. He was also troubled by the priests' traffic in magic and charms, and by their use of the Oracle of Amon to support religious obscurantism and political corruption.
Thus, Amenhotep IV rebelled against the sordidness of this religion, especially the indolent and wealthy priesthood and their mercantile hold over a gullible and superstitious populous.
Therefore, Amenhotep IV announced that Amon and all the other gods of Egypt, along with their ceremonies, were merely vulgar and empty idolatry and that such worship was now to be forbidden. Amenhotep IV announced that there was only one true God and all the others were false. The one true God he called Aton, and he portrayed the disk of the sun as the only representation of that God. He argued that Aton belonged to all nations equally, and that Aton cared for all the nations of the world equally. In fact, in a list he composed of the nations under Aton's watchful care, Egypt is stuck in the middle, without any special recognition or honor.
Amenhotep changed his name to Akhenaten (also sometimes transliterated, especially in older sources, as Ikhnaton), which means "Aton is satisfied". Akhenaten ordered the names of all other gods erased and chiseled from all public inscriptions in Egypt. He even had his father's name mutilated and cut out of hundreds of monuments in order to rid those monuments of the word Amon.
Akhenaten declared that all creeds but his own were illegal and closed all the old temples. Then he moved the capital city of Egypt from Thebes and constructed a new capital at Akhetaton (the City of Aton), because he believed Thebes was unclean due to all its past idolatry.
At one blow Akhenaten managed to alienate and dispossess a powerful and wealthy priesthood, not to mention the merchants and manufacturers who depended on idolatry for their livelihoods. Furthermore, he offended the people at large, who had long worshipped all the gods of Egypt and were in no mood to change their religion.
Not surprisingly, therefore, behind the scenes the priests plotted, while in their homes the people continued to worship their ancient and innumerable gods, all the while praying for the quick demise of the heretic and blasphemer who now sat on the throne of Egypt. Even in the palace, his ministers and generals hated him and prayed for his death and perhaps took steps to try to hurry it along.
This hatred for Akhenaten was no due only to his heresy; he was also allowing the mighty Egyptian empire to crumble. During his reign Egypt lost control of Syria-Palestine, the buffer region that had been conquered to prevent a repetition of the Hyksos.
The letters written by the governor's of the cities of Syria-Palestine during Akhenaten's reign describe their invasion by nomads called "Habiru"; these letters were discovered in the ruins of Akhenaten's city and they demonstrate the unwillingness and perhaps the inability of Akhnaten's Egypt to come to the aid of its protectorates. We will look at these letters in greater detail a little later in this discussion.
For now, let's take another look of Akhenaten's religion, specifically a portion of what has come to be called the Hymn to the Sun, which gives us a sense of Akhenaten's faith:
When you rise in the eastern horizon,
You fill every land with your beauty....
Thought you are far away, your rays are on the earth;
Though you are in the face of men, your footsteps are unseen....
When you shine as Aton by day
you drive away the darkness....
How many are your works!
They are hidden before men,
O sole God, beside whom there is no other....
You set every man in his place,
You supply their necessities....
How benevolent are your designs, O Lord of Eternity!
You make the seasons...
Winter to bring them coolness,
And heat so that they may taste you.
Some have compared this poem with Psalm 104, and it is a remarkable
expression of monotheism, one of the only expressions that we
find outside of Israel.
On top of the religious reformation under Akhenaten, there was also a rather significant, even radical change occurring in Egyptian art. New aesthetic concepts were introduced which resulted in more relaxed, less formal representations of the human figure. Where before, the paintings of human beings showed them in rigid, stylized poses, their legs facing one way, their torsos another, in what is the stereotypical Egyptian manner, under Akhenaten, suddenly the pictures become realistic, in proper proportion and angles. The change also extended to statuary and one of the finest pieces of Egyptian art is the bust of Nefertiti (Akhenaten's wife and queen), a very realistic and eloquent portrayal showing the obvious beauty of the queen.
So beautiful was she, the story is told that the sculptor who made the bust fell in love with Nefertiti and kept putting off the finishing of the sculpture so that he could keep the bust in his house.
As we've already pointed out, Akhenaten's reforms were not greeted with pleasure, so when he died (at a relatively young age -- so there is some speculation about whether he might have been poisoned) around 1362 BC, the pent-up forces of the suppressed Egyptian religion broke out in a fanatical attempt to restore the ancient traditions.
Akhenaten's reforms were swept away, his new capital was abandoned, and the cult of Amun was restored to its former position of authority.
The period immediately following Akhenaten's death was marked by further deterioration in Egyptian power and the subsequent rise of Hittite influence in Syria-Palestine. Political realities doubtless were responsible for the subsequent marriage of Akhenaten's widow, Nefertiti to one of the sons of Suppiluliuma, the king of the Hittites. This is the first recorded instance of an Egyptian royalty marrying someone who was not Egyptian. The traditionalists won this round, however. While Suppiluliuma's son was on his way to Egypt for the wedding, he was murdered -- creating a rather troubling international incident to say the least.
At this juncture, Tutankhaton (the famous king Tut -- famous only because his is one of the few intact royal tombs ever unearthed), the husband of the Akhenaten's third daughter, ascended the throne and managed to exert some control over the situation. Obeying the dictates of popular feeling, he removed his capital back to Thebes, and changed his name to Tutankhamun (Beautiful in life is Amun) so as to eradicate from it all traces of the hated Atonic religion. He did not stay on the throne for long, however; he was only eighteen years old when he died. But he got a fantastic funeral and was buried with great pomp and gratitude by the priests for restoring the Amun priesthood and the traditional way of life.
Below is reproduced a love poem from Tutankhamun's era (note that the word "sister" is used as a term of endearment; it doesn't mean that the lovers here were actually brother or sister, though among royalty, such marriages were not uncommon.):
Seven days have passed since last I saw my sister,
And a sickness has invaded me.
My body has become heavy,
It is like it belongs to some stranger instead of to me.
When the chief of the physicians comes to me,
My heart is not content with his remedies;
The priests of divination offer no hope, either:
My sickness is beyond their probes.
To say to me, "Here she is!" -- this is what will revive me.
Her name is what will lift me up;
Her messengers coming in to announce her arrival
Is what will revive my heart.
My sister is more beneficial to me than any medical cure;
She is more to me than the collected wisdom of the ancients.
My health is found in her return.
When I see her, then I am well.
If she opens her eye, my body is young again.
If she speaks, then I am strong again.
When I embrace her, she drives trouble from me --
But alas, she has been gone for seven days!
The Song of Songs (cf. 2:5 and 5:8) may be compared to this poem.
Its words are one of the earliest expressions we have of romantic
love, demonstrating, if such demonstration were truly necessary,
that the ancients were not so very different from ourselves. As
the apostle James wrote about the prophet Elijah, he was "a
man just like us." (James 5:17).
Just how opulent King Tut's burial might be was unclear until Howard Carter discovered it in 1922. Although Tutankhamun was actually a rather minor pharaoh, the artifacts from his tomb are some of the most splendid Egyptian antiquities ever unearthed. Part of what makes them so spectacular is simply the fact that his was an intact tomb, one that the graverobbers had somehow managed to miss.
In 1922 the excavators opened several anterooms containing an astonishing array of furniture, ornaments, clothing, weapons, and food for the departed king, and in the following year, before a distinguished audience, the door leading to the sepulchral chamber proper was broken down and the burial shrine itself was revealed.
Beyond this chamber lay a second shrine, whose doors were bolted and sealed, and close by was a treasure chamber in which a large chest, guarded by beautifully executed statues of four Egyptian deities, contained the mummified internal organs of the king. When the burial chamber itself was finally explored later that year, it was found to comprise an enormous yellow quartzite sarcophagus covered with religious inscriptions and topped with a rose granite lid. When this was removed, a spectacular golden effigy of the young king was revealed, and beside the religious symbols worked into the forehead was a tiny wreath of flowers, which is guessed to be the last gift of the grieving young queen for her dead husband.
This outermost coffin enclosed a second of equal splendor, and within this was the third and last, made of solid gold decorated with jewels. The mummified corpse of the king himself was decorated with objects of gold and precious stones. All this opulence illustrates, perhaps, both the high esteem with which the established religion held the king, as well as the enormous amount of wealth possessed by the royal families of ancient Egypt.
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