Re: "Mother of the Son of God!"
In Response To: "Mother of the Son of God!" ()

"The Amarna Letters", William Moran, Johns Hopkins University Press, (2001).

After Akhetaten was abandoned the people left a lot of stuff behind. The town was never resettled and it became known as Tell El Amarna after the small village that eventually sprung up nearby. The residents of Amarna found they could make extra money by finding and selling antiquities from the ruins and in 1887 one of the ladies of the town found a group of cuneiform documents. Eventually they were sold to various collectors and museums, most ending up in Germany.

What the tablets turned out to be was the correspondence between various Middle Eastern rulers and Amenhotep III, Akhenaten, and (possibly) Tutankhamun. In some cases they were indexed in the cursive form of hieroglyphics (called hieratic) telling the year they were received. What we have, then, is major primary source material of a period of Egyptian history that for three thousand years was entirely unknown.

For a long time the only real translation of the tablets was in German and even when Samuel Mercer came out with an English translation in 1939 the books were not widely available and were expensive. Fortunately this new edition is available and affordable.

Are there letters to Tut here? Maybe. In her book, Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt translates one of the letters and says it can be transcribed "with certainty" to Tut's reign. The letter is from Burnaburiash, the King of Babylon, who spends most of the letter griping that he wasn't sent enough gold.

However, the letter is at least as likely to come from Akhenaten since the cuneiform transliteration of Tut's throne name, Neb-Kheperu-Ra, or , and that of Akhetaten, Nefer-Kheperu-Ra, , are very similar. So the cuneiform "Niphuria", as Madame Desroches-Noblecourt transcribes the cuneiform, could be Akhenaten's Nefer-Kheperu-Ra, although you might think this would take a bit of garbling of the name. (Note: The cuneiform transcriptions indicate the "p" in kheper was not being pronounced by the time the New Kingdom rolled around.)

However, if you look at the actual cuneiform syllables very little garble is needed. As Frederick Giles pointed out in his book "Iknaton", the cuneiform Ni-ip-hu-ur-ri-ri-ia is taken as Nefer-Kheperu-Ra, that is Akhenaten, and Ni-ib-hu-ur-ri-ia for Neb-Kheperu-Ra, i. e., Tut. In other words the substitution of a "p" for a "b" is what the distinction of identities is based on. That's cutting it a bit fine for some of us laymen.

There are other variations of the transcriptions where the nefer sign is rendered in cuneiform syllables as na-ab. Some say na-ab means it was Akhenaten and if it's ni-ib then it's Tut. Well, maybe. But you also wonder if all this is simply variants on how one scribe heard the foreign name. There are perhaps three letters that may have come from Tut's reign. This represents less than 1 % of the 380 tables found. Given how rampant misspellings were - and are - all we can say is that they may - or may not - have been sent to Tut.

There's also a little problem with the word order of Tut's name that no one seems to say much about.

As we said in the first part,Tut's throne name, , Neb-Kheperu-Ra, is written entirely backwards because Kheperu, we supppose, is also the name of an Egyptian god. And so both of the divine names come before the regular word neb,.

But that doesn't fit. Akhenaten's throne name, , Nefer-Kheperu-Ra, only has the God "Ra" put first. And more to the point, Akhenaten's dad, Amenhotep III, had a throne name of Neb-Ma'at-Ra, , which transliterates smoothly into cuneiform as Nimmuaria (more on that in another footnote). But here Ma'at, the lady with the feather on her head, is a goddess and she's sitting at the end of the name. If the gods go first in order of importance, then it should be written , which it never is.

So unless the Egyptians always sent the goddesses to the back of the queue, then the most logical conclusion is that the Neb-Kheperu-Ra name for Tut should really be rendered Kheperu-Neb-Ra. That's the way Howard Carter wrote it and this would mean that none of the letters were to Tut.

Some people, though, still might argue that Neb-Keperu-Ra is preferred since it translates smoothly into "The Lord of Manifestations is Ra". Then neb ("lord") should go first. But Kheperu-Neb-Ra can be rendered just as nicely as "All Manifestations are Ra" (neb can also mean "all" or "every"). This also reflects a tolerance toward Akhenaten's theology that was present at least during the first part of Tut's reign.

It turns out that the reasoning is a bit circular that the reading is Neb-Kheperu-Ra and so the cuneiform Niphuria is Tut. The backward reading appears to have originated from a document from the country of Hattushash (modern Turkey) that tells how a king of Egypt, name Biphuria, had just died and left no son. The Egyptian queen asks the Hittite king, Shuppiluliuma, to send her one of his sons to be her husband and rule over Egypt. Otherwise she said that she might be forced to marry a "servant" (by which she probably meant a commoner), and a Hittite prince would be better than that.

The circumstances sound a lot like what you'd expect Ankhesenamun to have faced. When Tut died she had no children and was probably being pressured to marry Ay (a commoner, a "servant", and old enough to be her grandfather, if indeed he wasn't). So assuming Ankhesenamun was the queen in the letter, then the cuneiform Niphuria/Bibhuria must be Tut. Following the logic, we have to read his throne name backwards.

But the circumstances could also apply to Nefertiti. She had no sons and might be under pressure to marry either Horemheb or Ay, (although some people think he was her father). However, she likely had died before Akhenaten.

An alternative explanation is that Ankhesenamun married her father, and so Ankhesenamun could be writing about her father before she married Tut. But on his way to Egypt, the prince was murdered (the tablet says so), and only then did Ankhesenamun married Tut, possibly even against her will (he was perhaps nine; she was thirteen to fourteen). This, though, is probably using the imaginaion a bit too freely and has to have us take the affectionate representations of Tut and Ankhesenamun from Tut's tomb as not representing the couple's real feelings.

But did Pharaohs marry their own daughters? The answer is yes, sometimes, but there's nothing -that's no thing - that even hints Akhenaten married Ankhesenamun. What's happened is people are confusing a broken off inscription of Tut's name with Akhenaten's. This topic is worth exploring a bit more because it shows how uncertain things are in studying Ancient Egypt and how you have to watch what's written in the history books.

Everyone has heard of how the Pharaohs married their sisters, and the evidence is pretty much inescapable that they did. Some people have tried to argue these were symbolic, not literal, marriages, and were unconsummated. But this modern-day and politically correct interpretation is almost certainly not correct. Pharaohs did marry their sisters even after Pharaohs were no longer Egyptian. Cleopatra - a Greek and the last official independent ruler of Egypt - married her brother, Ptolemy.

Brother / half-sister marriages also occurred. Thumothis II and Hatshepsut is one example. Hatshepsut, by the way, wore the pants in the family if Egyptians had have had pants.

Daughter-father marriages are even more offensive to those with traditional American family values. But again it looks like they did happen. One of the most famous cases is that of Amenhotep III and his daughter, Sitamun. It's not easy to refute the inscriptions, although some people still argue it was symbolic. And there is similar inscriptional evidence that Ankhenaten married his oldest daughter, Meritaten.

But the kicker is an inscription was found about Ankhesenpaaton (as the name was written) having a daughter by "Nefer-Kheperu-Ra" (ergo, Akhenaten). So this looked like a case of like-father-like-son. So perhaps Akhenaten for some reason thought he should grant Ankhesenamun the same status as he did her older sister.

But there's a problem - and a major one. The inscription was on a monument dedicated to Ankhesenamun's daughter, who probably died at birth. However, Akhenaten's name does not appear despite what the original expert said. The king's name on the inscription only has the characters, , and the rest is broken off. Checking the hieroglyphics, you'll see this would be Tut's name, NEB-Kheperu-Ra, , with the neb missing (remember to read this backwards). If you look at a photograph of the inscription (it's in the Zeitschrift Fur Agyptische Sprache somewhere), it clearly shows the restoration of the nefer sign, , was over enthusiastic. In fact, it's not there.

The only way you can salvage the argument is to say in this case the stone mason carved Akhenaten's name backwards, like Tut's. But as long as there are at least 19 examples of Akhenaten's name written as and no more than one case of Akhenaten's written as , then we can put on our statistician's hats and say we're 95 % confident that the king in the name was not, that's not, Akhenaten.

Since there are no cases of the completely backwards mode of spelling Akhenaten's name, then the monument was clearly (we're talking like an Egyptologist here) dedicated to a daughter born to Tut and Ankhesenpaaton. The daughter was likely the oldest of the two premature infants found in Tut's tomb.

Finally we need to point out that the queen's name in the Hittite account is neither Ankhesenamun nor Nefertiti but Dahamunzu. That could be very garbled rendering of Ankhesenamun (there is the "amun" part of the name), but others have pointed out it's more likely this isn't even a name but instead is a cuneiform rendering of "the king's wife": . Here the semi-circle with bird represents the word ta ("the [f.]" in the New Kingdom vernacular), the reed is nes ("royal" or "king"), and the funny looking bowl with the wave with semicircle underneath is hemat or wife (the picture of the lady is a "determinative" and isn't pronounced).

Again, the word "nesu" is translated either as "royal" or "of the king" and is written first (we guess) for honorific reasons. But regardless of the translation, it is pronounced after the word "wife" (Ancient Egyptian, like Spanish, puts the adjectives after the nouns). Then is properly transliterated as ta-hamat-nesu. So following the rules of Egyptian phonology (discussed in another reference) and from the grammar of the language, this was probably pronounced something like tahamanasu. Say it fast six times, and you'll end up saying Dahamunzu (do the same thing to Saint Nicholas and you get Santa Claus).

Responses To This Message

The Birth of "Tutu"