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Monday, April 29th 2013


Egypt: The Eighteenth Dynasty, part 1



[Egypt Part 1]       [Egypt Part 2]       [Egypt Part 3]       [Egypt Part 4]       [Egypt Part 5]       [Egypt Part 6]

Workshop LogoTime to hang out my "workshop" shingle again. In case the phrase is new to you, I'm borrowing it from F. Max Müller, who was Professor of Comparative Philology at Oxford in the nineteenth century. He spent most of his time translating the Vedas and Upanishads, as well as editing the 50 vol. Sacred Books of the East. Every once in a while he would get away from that routine and write an article arising from his purely language-focused study that would have to do with the origins of various myths and their connections. These he would then eventually publish in anthologies that went under the title of Chips from a German Workshop. There were five of those collections of "chips." Given a choice, I would suggest starting with vol. 2, which contains some famous essays. Müller and his ideas constitute an entire chapter early on in my upcoming book on original monotheism. -- Anyway, I made use of Müller's phrase quite a bit last summer when I was immersed in research and writing and posted some tangential items on the blog, and will do so again for a bit.

As you may have noticed, I couldn't make much time for the blog last week. As far as I'm concerned, once it was clarified that the Boston Marathon bombers were related to an Islamic group, the story turned into one that's hanging on hold now until we find out exactly who had their fingers in that pot and what they believe. In the meantime, it appears to me that "the federal agencies" are doing a very, very careful review.

When it comes to the question of whether Dzokhar Tzarnaev should have been tried as a militant combatant rather than as a domestic criminal, I have two opinions. On the one hand, it seems to me that, given the existence of those two options, if ever there was an occasion when a domestic terrorist should be tried as a war criminal, this should have been it. On the other hand, I'm in principle opposed to the approach that allows domestic law enforcement to move against someone on U.S. soil without constitutional protections, so I'm just as happy that this precedent is going into the civil protection direction.

NefertitiSo, what's been keeping me occupied so intently over the last little days? Actually, it's no huge deal, such as a book, just another article for the Lexham Bible Dictionary, which is published by Logos. Currently I have two little pieces in there: articles on "Baal" and "Warfare in the Old Testament." This time I'm working on Akhenaten, the Egyptian pharaoh. When I saw the list of potentially available articles, it's the one I really wanted to write because I've been fascinated by him ever since as a kid (around ten I guess) I got a copy of C. W. Ceram's  Gods, Graves and Scholars for a Christmas present (in the original German, of course). I also included a fairly short section on him in In the Beginning God, the book on original monotheism that is scheduled to come out in August. But for this article I've just let my scholarly enthusiasm take over, reading numerous books, and even trying to follow some hieroglyphics--with little success.

I'm obviously not going to tell you here what I'm writing on this Pharaoh in the article or have written on him in the section of the book, but I can give you a little background. Back in the old days, meaning my youth, Akhenaten was frequently referred to as "Reformer." The popular picture went on: Decrying all previous gods of Egypt as false, he insisted that there was only one deity, namely Aten, which was the disk of the sun as a representation of pure Light, and he prohibited worship of all other gods. He built a city, which he called Akhetaten ("The Horizon of Aten") at the site known as el-Amarna, where the famous "Amarna tablets" were found. The artwork at Amarna was unique in its attempt to be more life-like and less stilted than Egyptian art tended to be, and it is known for its focus on the family: Akhenaten, his beautiful wife, Nefertiti, and their six children, all daughters. People called him the "first individual," by which they meant that he was the first human being who drew his own conclusions concerning religion rather than going on the authority of tradition, and his station as the "first monotheist" seemed to be beyond question. He wrote a hymn to Aten, they said, that eventually may have influenced David in writing his psalms. From there, it was, of course, a short step to the speculation that Moses learned about monotheism from him, an idea that Sigmund Freud, who never let facts get in the way of his speculations, exploited in his Moses and Monotheism. (Freud even consistently "corrected" his patients with regard to what they had experienced in order to suit his analysis).

Akhenaten Nefertiti and daughters at home

How much truth there is to this description I won't disclose to you now. I am, however, convinced that, regardless of what scholars will advocate over the next few generations, on a more popular level this description will continue to be accepted with a life of its own, similar to how Wellhausen's long-discredited theories continue to be taught as staple in colleges and seminaries all over this country.

Hieroglyphics for "Pharaoh"However, even though I will not go any further with Akhenaten himself, let me put him into the sequence of Pharaohs surrounding him. As you may know, the history of ancient Egypt is generally divided into four major "Kingdoms" (Early, Middle, New, Late), divided by three intermediate eras, and followed by the Greco-Roman period. Within those periods, there are dynasties, viz. generations of kings from the same family, some lasting longer than others. Akhenaten belonged to the 18th dynasty, which led off the new kingdom after the expulsion of the invading foreign kings, usually referred to as the Hyksos. This dynasty may have had 14 pharaohs and lasted perhaps from 1550 to 1307 BC (the Egyptian chronology is far from settled).  "Pharaoh" is the title of the Egyptian king, and its etymology takes us no further than the literal phrase "Great House." I would distrust all speculations as to why the king was called "Great House." It may be because he lived in a palace, but that notion seems too insipid to me to provide the root a major title. The Pharaoh was always considered a son of one or many gods, and--at least in principle--was the only legitimate high priest to the gods. Practically, there was, of course, a large priestly class, serving on his behalf. Anyway, let me tell you a little bit about the eighteenth dynasty.

Part of the reason why you should know about the eighteenth dynasty is because the non-evangelical scholarly world is so set on the Exodus having occurred, if at all, during the reign of Pharaoh Rameses II during the thirteenth century BC, a time  that squares neither with the biblical chronology nor the events connected to the Exodus in the biblical narrative. Some evangelicals, such as Kenneth Kitchen, have bought into that date as well,  and doing so does not mean that their faith or scholarship is compromised, though they are making, in my opinion, a serious mistake. As long-time readers know, I advocate as one of my fundamental principles that modifications of major components of any narrative in order to find a slot for it in history vitiates the attempt. Such is the case, as far as I can see, with this "late" date for the Exodus.

The 18th dynasty began with Ahmose, who brought the rule of the Hyksos to a final end and gave credit to the Egyptian god, Amun, whose main cultus was located at Thebes in the southern part of Egypt. The other major collections of temples were at Heliopolis, where the main god was Ra, the sun god, and Memphis, the administrative capital of Egypt, where Ptah, the god of wisdom was the central object of worship. These three centers all incorporated various other pan-Egyptian gods, such as Osiris, the god of the underworld, and Isis, his wife and a goddess of nature. Ahmose was succeeded by Amenophis I (Amenhotep I), who enjoyed a stable and peaceful reign without much known concern for foreign policy. However, his successor Tuthmosis I elevated Egypt to the status of a world power, expanding into Syria and Palestine all the way to Mesopotamia as well as deep into the south. The next pharaoh Tuthmosis II did not share his father's ambitions and died while he was still quite young, leaving a small child, Tuthmosis III,  as the next occupant of the throne. The fact that he was the son of one of Tuthmosis II's lesser wives, leads us to the conclusion that his chief wife, Hatshepsut, had not given birth to any sons, though she had a daughter. Needless to say, because Tuthmosis III was still a little toddler, he needed a regent on his behalf, and that office was taken up by Hatshepsut.

Hatshepsut herself came from the lineage of Pharaohs, most likely a daughter of Tuthmosis I and, thus, half-sister to her husband, Tuthmosis II. Thus she was also "Pharaoh's daughter." (As we know, marriage between brothers and sisters in the royal line was an accepted and popular way of trying to keep royal power within one family in ancient Egypt). Hatshepsut was a strong-willed woman who did things her own way without regard to the opinion of her peers. For example, the idea that she would flaunt the established policy of oppressing the Hebrews living in the Nile Delta fits in well with her personality. It would be quite natural for her to, say, upon finding a little Hebrew baby, give him an Egyptian name and raise him as her adopted son. We don't know that she did so, but we can easily picture her doing so. Before becoming Pharaoh's wife she had been "God's Wife" at the temple dedicated to the god of hidden power, Amun, in Thebes. Now as regent, Hatshepsut decided, not without grounds or precedent, that she really was entitled to be considered Pharaoh herself. She appropriated for herself all of the typical regalia for a Pharaoh and even let herself be pictured with the little extra beard that adorned a Pharaoh's face.

Well, I'm afraid it's getting too late, so I need to turn this story into a multi-parter once again. Let me summarize the 18th dynasty so far:

  1. Ahmose, the Liberator;
  2. Amenophis I, Pharaoh of the new peace;
  3. Tuthmosis I, great conqueror; father of Tuthmosis II and of Hatshepsut.
  4. Tuthmosis II, no particular legacy, died young;
  5. Tuthmosis III, boy king, son of Tuthmosis II by a secondary wife;
  6. Hatshepsut, daughter of Tuthmosis I, chief wife of Tuthmosis II, former priestess of Amun, regent for Tuthmosis III, self-declared Pharaoh.

[Egypt Part 1]       [Egypt Part 2]       [Egypt Part 3]       [Egypt Part 4]       [Egypt Part 5]       [Egypt Part 6]

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