AKHENATEN, TUT, AND ZANNANZA!
“My husband is dead. I have no son. But they say that you have many sons. If you would give me one of your sons, he would become my husband.” And Pharaoh! The request is in Akkadian cuneiform, but from the wife of an Egyptian King. It is written to Suppiluliuma, King of the Hittites. After investigating the unusual request, Suppiluliuma sent one of his five sons, Zannanza, to Egypt. That action led to the deaths of both his son and the Hittite King.
But which Queen of Egypt? Akhenaten’s widow, Nefertiti? Or Ankhesenamun, Tutankhamun’s widow. Was Ankhesenamun forced to marry Tut’s elderly minister, Ay, when he became Pharaoh? For she did, and died, and disappeared from history soon thereafter. More foul play?
Ay was “Overseer of all the Horses” for Pharaoh Akhenaten. Then he became Grand Vizier to Pharaoh Tutankhamun. Did Ay order Zannanza’s killing? After Tut’s short reign? To seize legitimacy, and the crown, by marrying Tut’s young widow?
If so, he didn’t last long as Pharaoh. Only four years. He was replaced by Egyptian Army General, Horemheb. Horemheb was away fighting the Hittites. Did he murder Ay after he returned?
Let’s take a step back and see how we got here.
Akhenaten. Tenth Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty in the New Kingdom of Egypt. Akhenaten (“Effective For Aten”) ruled as Pharaoh from 1358 to 1340 B.C. Originally named after his father, he was called Amenophis IV (“Amun is Satisfied”). He inherited an
economy expanded by Queen Hatshepsut and an international empire forged by Pharaoh Thutmose III.
But Akhenaten’s name was not recorded in the Egyptian lists of kings. His monuments had been defaced, his history erased by his successors, including his son, the boy king, Tutankhamun. Tut would reign for only nine years over the lands he inherited from his father. And the reign of Akhenaten, himself, would have to be rediscovered.
Akhenaten and his principal wife, Nefertiti, had six daughters. He probably fathered his immediate successor, Smenkhkare, with another woman. But that son would only serve as Pharaoh for two years.
Gods don’t prepare well for their successors. Prophets do, and so do Pauls. But Akhenaten did not. The next Pharaoh, Tutankhamun, was also one of Akhenaten’s sons by another consort. Then Tut married his sister. Did the destruction of his father’s memory begin then? In some sort of Freudian, Shakespearean frenzy?
Akhenaten worshiped the sun, Aten. He made Aten the only God and merged the other gods into the sun’s amorphous disk so that his God became abstract. Approachable only by, and living in, the Pharaoh himself. No longer accessible through icons, images, or sculptures of the deity. Do you want to talk to God? Go see the Pharaoh. Akhenaten then closed down the temples of Amun and fled Luxor, Karnak and Thebes. To follow him, you will have to move downriver to his new capital city!
Akhenaten moved to virgin land, so new was his view of religion. We call it Amarna, after Bedouin tribes who moved in three hundred years ago. He called his city the “Horizon of the Aten,” and built it so that the first light of his god, Aten, would crest over a gap in the eastern cliffs and bade down upon his palace.
The extreme action of a zealot, you think? Constructing a new city, you say? Was not our nation’s capital established in the same way? Far away from existing places of power? Constructed not on deserts, but on marshy lands lying fallow before? And were not our forefathers inflamed with revolutionary zeal? And is not our Constitution something like a religion? Was it not put down in writing, as were the hieroglyphic texts and the fourteen boundary stelae set out by Akhenaten defining the life to be lived in this new land? Maybe our Bill of Rights marks our boundaries? And we raised the tallest obelisk in the world in the memory of the man who founded it. Not as Pharaoh, but as “President!”
But if Akhenaten’s memory was obliterated, how was his reign rediscovered? What was in the cliff face tombs, behind the lost city, first drew the archaeologists. For the figures carved and drawn there, mostly of the royal family, were odd. Strangely formed, and excitingly active. Human. Almost feminine in their characteristics. And always receiving the rays of life directly from the sun god, just as we do so today. Go outside. You’ll feel alive. Just like they did.
So it is through art that we rediscovered Akhenaten. And then, with knowledge bequeathed through the Rosetta Stone, we read of his religion. Aten. The one God. Monotheism.
It does not escape scholars that the Israelites may have been in Egypt during this period. And we have discovered many writings on clay tablets unearthed in the ruins of Akhenaten’s city. Much of what we know of the history of the Middle East in those times comes from these tablets.
Monotheism. Israelites. The written word. Hmmm. Interesting times.
Akhenaten’s memory had been vanquished. Probably because the priests of Amun reasserted their power. They went back to their many gods. Back to Thebes. Back to the flat, motionless sculptured art of their temples. Gone was the humanity.
Maybe Akhenaten was just a passing fancy. Or a maniac?
Or maybe not.