Religious Controversy and the Egyptian 18th Dynasty
Zarw(1) was also the site of an Egyptian temple to the Aten.(2) Aten, a form of the solar god Ra(3) was known from earlier Egyptian dynasties(4) and had become a favorite of Amenhotep III. The Aten was also the source of Amenhotep's most popular nickname ("the Dazzling-Sun-Disc").(5)
Because the mayor of Zarw, Heby, also held the title of "Steward of the Harem of the Royal Wife" of Thutmose IV, it is likely that Amenhotep III had himself spent at least part of his own youth at Zarw and had received religious training under the influence of the Aten temple.(6)
The cult of the amorphous god Amun (meaning "hidden" or "unseen"(7) and source of the ending to Christian, Jewish and Muslim prayers - Amen)(8) was champion of the 17th Dynasty Pharaohs who drove out the Hyksos and reunited Egypt. Amun was established as the supreme state god and was gradually endowed with the natures of other important Egyptian deities.(9) By the beginning of the 18th Dynasty, traits of the solar god Ra (alternatively spelled Re) had also become assimilated.(10) Amun-re had become the unequaled "King of the Gods," and possessor of a temple complex with a staff of thousands.
Despite efforts by the priesthood to exalt Amen-re above all other gods, each successive Pharaoh of the Egyptian 18th Dynasty became increasingly involved with the separate and distinct cults of Ra, Aten, Ptah and other deities worshiped from even more ancient times in the realm of the Sphinx and the Pyramids in Lower Egypt. Thutmose I built a new royal residence in Memphis, and from this time on the crown prince held the titles of Governor of Memphis and High Priest of its god Ptah.
While still a young prince in Memphis, Thutmose IV (known as the "Dreamer King" and the Pharaoh who most likely appointed Yuya/Joseph, Gen. 41:1-37)(11) was out riding in his chariot and stopped to rest beside the Sphinx. Thutmose fell asleep under the shadow of the Sphinx and had a vision of its patron god Re-Herakhty. He was instructed to clear the sand from the base of the Sphinx, and was promised that he would be rewarded by becoming the next Pharaoh (although he was not the eldest son of his father Amenhotep II).
When Thutmose IV did become Pharaoh he cleared the sand from the Sphinx and placed a stele between its paws (still standing today) which described the vision. Thutmose IV angered the priests of Amun by setting up and dedicating an obelisk to Re-Herakhty beside the Amun temple complex in Thebes. (The priests would be pleased to know that this obelisk now stands beside the St. Lateran Cathedral in Rome!) He also snubbed the priesthood by establishing a low ranking priest as High Priest of Amun.(12) Thutmose IV's son and successor Amenhotep III built a temple to Aten at Thebes and reveled in the favor of all the ancient gods, both of Egyptian and foreign origin.
In the latter half of the third decade of his reign, Amenhotep III proclaimed his decision to make his son Amenhotep IV his successor and gave him the status of coregent.(13) Amenhotep IV was married to the presumed heiress Nefertiti,(14) and with his father's blessing and protection he built three more temples to the Aten in Thebes adjacent to the Karnak temple of the state god Amun.(15) Probably in an attempt to win over the priests of Amun, Nefertiti (whose name is a close variant of Nefertari)(16) took a prominent role in both the art and ritual of the temples of Aten at Karnak.(17) However, the building of additional temples to the Aten in Karnak was perceived by the priests of Amun as only one more intolerable affront. (In the 19th Dynasty these temples were dismantled and used as fill for other building projects).(18)
If Nefertiti was a daughter/grand-daughter of Yuya and Tuya,(19) and not entirely of Egyptian blood, this would have only further incensed the priests of Amun. Regardless of her parentage, the enmity between Amenhotep IV and the religious establishment had become extreme and possibly by now was irreconcilable. Five years into the coregency, Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten and left Thebes to establish a new Egyptian capital city, which he called Akhetaten (meaning the resting place or horizon of the Aten). The change in name indicated that he no longer considered himself to be the son of the god Amun, but of Aten. On the monuments marking the four corners of the new city, Akhenaten referred to the hateful words spoken about him and his forefathers by the priests of Amun.(20) Obviously, he had hoped that the city of Akhetaten would be his resting place as well.
At the city of Akhetaten, the ancient religion of the Aten received a make-over. Aten temple design, ritual, and symbolism (by a falcon-headed man and a sun disc referred to as Re-Herakhty) derived originally from the traditional solar god Ra whose center of worship had been from very ancient times at Memphis and On (Heliopolis). By the end of the coregency, the falcon-man had been removed from the Aten's symbol. The Aten had in essence become a god without human or animal image.(21) The disc of the sun was now considered to be the single physical representation of the invisible and eternal god, Ra,(22) and a deity in its own right. (The sun disc was used later as a royal "lamelech" seal by the Kings of Judah).(23) The cartouche of Akhenaten's god and heavenly father, the Aten, bore the name Imram. In the Bible, Moses is referred to as the son of Amram, the Hebrew equivalent.(24)
The name of the Egyptian deity Aten transliterates into the Hebrew word Adon.(25) Adon, which is translated by English Bibles as "the Lord" (and Adonai, translated as "my Lord") is used along with Jehovah (Yhwh) in the Bible as the exclusive personal names of God. Moreover, in ancient times, the name Jehovah (Yhwh) was written, but never spoken. Whenever the written name Jehovah (Yhwh) was to be read out loud, Adon (Aten) was voiced instead.(26) The written form of Adon is infrequent, however, its limited usage is significant, especially in the first six books of the Bible (See under "LORD" in Strong's Exhaustive Concordance), where it is reserved for the following applications alone: Moses addresses God using the title Adon/Aten (Exodus 4:10,13; 5:22; 34:9; Numbers 14:17; Deuteronomy 3:23; 7:26; 10:17); Moses, himself, is addressed both by Aaron (Ex.32:22; Num.12:11) and by Joshua (Numbers 11:28) using the title Adon/Aten; and Joshua also addresses God using the title Adon/Aten (Joshua 5:14 b; 7:7). As mentioned above, there is an established relationship between the literature of the Egyptian 18th Dynasty and the Bible. Psalm 104 is an embellishment of the Hymn to the Aten which was found by archaeologists at the city of Akhetaten.(27)
The religious reforms of Akhenaten included the rejection of traditional Egyptian magic and astrology associated with the cult of Amun,(28) and the rejection of the cult of Osiris with its version of belief in eternal judgement and the afterlife as well.(29) The site chosen for the new capital of Egypt further demonstrated Akhenaten's desire for a new balance as it was located at the exact geodetic center of the country.(30) The inhospitably hot and arid plateau overlooking the Nile on which the city of Akhetaten was built was not occupied at that time, nor would it be again after the end of the 18th Dynasty.(31) The austerity of the location was no deterrent to Akhenaten, and he rapidly constructed a magnificent city there. The finished stonework of the ancient city was taken away to be used in other building projects shortly after the end of the 18th Dynasty,(32) however the site was never again reoccupied and remained largely undisturbed up until the time of its excavation about 100 years ago. Archives containing Akhenaten's political correspondence, known as the Amarna tablets were not taken away, and they have provided a great deal of insight into the reigns of both Akhenaten and his father Amenhotep III.
The Amarna tablets have generally been used to depict Akhenaten as apathetic toward the Egyptian empire, and preoccupied exclusively with religious reforms at home. Closer scrutiny of the Amarna letters, e.g., EA 256 from Mutbaal discussed in the introduction, indicates that he knew the proponents of the Habiru personally, and was either condoning their actions, or simply unwilling to suppress them. Another researcher has concluded that Akhenaten was in fact orchestrating the movement.(33) A letter from the Canaanite governor of Jerusalem, also among the Amarna tablets, expressed outrage after an Egyptian official had been murdered at Sile by Hebrews, and Akhenaten had done nothing about it (Exodus 2:11-14).(34) Early in Akhenaten's reign, a letter to Egypt's Syrian vassal Aziru reads, "... the king does not fail when he rages against all Canaan." Later in Akhenaten's reign, and presumably after the Habiru capture of Jerusalem, a letter to Aziru reads, "you know that the king does not wish to be hard with the land of Canaan."
The tomb of a formerly unknown vizier of Akhenaten was discovered in 1989.(35) The name of this vizier, Aper-el is decidedly Semitic/Hebrew. It is not surprising then, that the repeated and pitiful pleas from Akhenaten's Canaanite and Philistine vassals at Jerusalem and other cities in Palestine for help against the surging tide of Habiru elicited no assistance from Aper-el, or from Akhenaten's other minister, Aye, the son of Yuya.
Although the city of Akhetaten was never rebuilt, there is a village on the opposite side of the Nile which has retained the name Mal-lawi (or Mallevi, meaning "city of the Levites") to this present day!(36) The Levites are identified by Osman as that select group of nobles and close relatives of Akhenaten and Yuya who made up the newly formed priesthood of the Aten and served in the temples of Aten at Thebes and at the new capital city of Akhetaten.(37) (In the Sinai, the Levites were Moses' primary supporters when trouble broke out.) While Akhenaten was still in power, the majority of Hebrews/Israelites would have remained either at Zarw(38) in the Nile delta, or at Akhmin, and would have continued to worship their own god(s) in their own native tongue. This later caused Akhenaten (Moses) some consternation (Exodus 4:10).(39)
In the twelfth year of the coregency Amenhotep III died, and Akhenaten was in a lavish ceremony at the city of Akhetaten coronated as sole ruler of Egypt.(40)
Upon the death of Amenhotep III, Akhenaten had complete power to deal with the priesthood of Amun, and this power was exercised to the fullest extent. The temples of Amun were closed and the very name of Amun was expunged throughout Egypt.(41)
The names of other gods were also attacked, however to a somewhat lesser extent.(42) This act of suppression was precipitated by a number of factors, including Akhenaten's self-imposed isolation, the influence of his Asian/Semitic relatives, a national crisis brought on by a growing epidemic, and the venom of the priestly establishment of Amun. It is clear that what began as a reaction to the excesses of the reign of Amenhotep III and an attempt to reform and simplify the religion of Egypt had now, itself, become a movement characterized by extremism. This edict of Akhenaten echoes the Bible verse, "against all the gods of Egypt I will execute my judgement (Exodus 12:12)."(43)
Akhenaten's reforms may have succeeded had they not coincided with a terrible plague that was spreading throughout the entire Middle East.(44) The rapid growth of trade and exchange among nations of the Middle East made possible by the political stability of the times also facilitated the spread of disease. Amenhotep III had made 700 idols of Sekhmet, the goddess of pestilence, in order to ward off the plague, which must have started to take hold on Egypt by the end of his reign. Two statues were made for every day of the year providing a "double spell" against the spreading disease.(45)
The late author and authority on the life of Akhenaten, Cyril Aldred, suggested that the zealousness with which Akhenaten eradicated the name of Amun was a similar, however, more desperate attempt to stop the devastation of this very same plague which during his reign had become a terrible epidemic in Egypt.(46) When the plague did not relent, the thousands of unemployed priests and servants of Amun's temples had all the more reason to blame Akhenaten's reforms and his rejection of the god who had brought Egypt so much prosperity in the past. In ancient times, such plagues were invariably attributed to the anger of the gods.(47) A personal idol of Amun found at the city of Akhetaten is an indication of the reluctance that must have existed to abandoning the security of the old forms of religion.
Contrary to the picture painted by the Bible, Egyptians of this period adhered to a well-defined system of morality and justice.(48) Regular bathing, good hygiene and a varied diet was also the norm.(49) A mural found in the city of Akhetaten depicts the world's first toilet, and reflects an understanding of the need to properly dispose of human waste.(50) Plague induced hysteria undoubtedly raised the consciousness of diet and sanitation to even greater levels as reflected by the Laws of Moses in the Bible. According to the Bible, Moses told the Israelites that if they would observe all his commandments they would be free of the diseases that had inflicted them in Egypt (Deuteronomy 7:15; 28:60).
Moreover, the practice of medicine was not primitive in Egypt as was once believed, especially for ancient times. Drawing upon centuries of investigation, the Egyptian physician could skillfully diagnose many types of injuries, illnesses and diseases, and was entirely pragmatic regarding the likelihood with which a patient could be cured. Both physical and psychological treatments were prescribed to promote healing. The practice of circumcision is entirely of Egyptian and African origin,(51) and was only adopted later by the Semitic followers of Moses. An overview of the ancient Egyptian's knowledge of medicine and science is found in the references.(52)
In his third year of sole rule Akhenaten named a younger brother (or half-brother) Semenkhare as his coregent.(53) This only occurred after what appears to have been a desperate attempt to bear a royal son of his own had failed. Akhenaten is known to have had six daughters by his wife Nefertiti. As the coming of age of Semenkhare approached, Akhenaten married and had children through his three eldest daughters. These unions produced three additional daughters, and ended the life of his second eldest daughter in child birth.(54) In this respect also Akhenaten seemed to be cursed.
After his appointment as coregent, Semenkhare was dispatched to Thebes to reopen the temple of Amun,(55) but this concession to Amun and his priests proved to be fruitless. Finally, there is evidence that Akhenaten himself had become seriously ill.(56) Two years after Semenkhare's appointment, Akhenaten's reign came to an end. It is commonly presumed that Akhenaten died at this time, but this cannot be proven. On the contrary, there are strong indications that Akhenaten did not die, but chose instead to escape death from plague or assassination by abdicating and seeking exile in the Sinai.
Akhenaten's mummy is the only one of the 18th Dynasty Thutmosids (Thutmose I through Tutankhamun) which has not been found. There is no conclusive evidence(57) that anyone was buried in the tomb chamber that was being prepared for him in the hills behind the city of Akhetaten.(58) Funerary items originally made for Akhenaten's burial there were modified and used in the Valley of the Kings burials of the following two Pharaohs instead.(59) There is also evidence that some officials continued to date articles and events to the beginning of his reign even after he was clearly no longer in power.(60) Moreover, documents and tomb inscriptions dating from the 19th Dynasty describe Akhenaten as "the rebel," "the heretic," and "the fallen one of Amarna (Akhetaten)," providing further proof that his government ended with his fall from power, and not more conventionally upon his death.(61)
The description of the rod of Moses found in the Bible is another indication that Akhenaten was living in exile in the Sinai desert. Pharaohs possessed many types of scepters representing various aspects of their sovereignty. The staff topped by a brazen serpent was the scepter symbolizing pharoanic authority.(62) We are told that this scepter was later destroyed by Hezekiah because it had become a cult fetish (2 Kings 18:4).(63)
The Talmud relates that Moses had indeed been a king (of Ethiopia) for a time, but had abdicated in favor of a son sired by an elderly Queen Mother Adonith (Egyptian Aten-it) through her husband the previous king.(64) Pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty were also considered to be the rulers of Ethiopia (Kush). One, and possibly the only, military action of Akhenaten took place in Ethiopia (Kush) where he confirmed his kingship over the region.
Surviving excerpts from two Egyptian histories provide even more clues regarding the true identity of Moses. The History of Egypt (Aegyptiaca) written in the 3rd Century B.C. in Greek by the Egyptian High Priest of Heliopolis known as Manetho recorded details about Moses and the Exodus.(65) Also, the five volume History of Egypt written by Apion in the first half of the 1st Century A.D. contained a passage about Moses that was quoted by the Jewish historian Josephus.(66) Josephus (circa 70 A.D.) transmitted from Apion's work that Moses had constructed temples in Egypt which were oriented eastward, had roofs open to the sun, and made use of a modified obelisk. These were all distinctive characteristics of Akhenaten's many temples.
Excerpts from Manetho's history quoted by Josephus and the Christian historian Eusebius (chronicler to Constantine) place the Exodus specifically under Moses during the reign of Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) following a 13 year period marked by pestilence, rebellion and the violation of Egyptian temples and their gods.(67) This is an accurate description of the traumatic 13 year period during which Akhenaten ruled Egypt from the new city of Akhetaten.(68) Josephus, who was also a Jew, took great offence to the accounts of both Manetho and Apion. Lacking any hard evidence to contradict these sources, Josephus resorted to simply denouncing the accounts as "ridiculous" and "silly." Fortunately, he quoted enough verbatim from Manetho and Apion to now prove otherwise!(69)