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(2407 AM - 1353 CE)
Akhenaten and the Amarna period
(2412 AM - 1348 CE)
The Great Hymn of Aten
Death of Akhenaten
(2424 AM - 1336 CE)
(2428 AM - 1332 CE)
Death of Nefertiti
(2430 AM - 1330 CE)
(2437 AM - 1323 CE)
Amenhotep III was succeeded in 1353 BCE by his son, Amenhotep IV, who was going to reign for the next 17 years. Moses, born in the 5th year of the reign of Amenhotep III, was about the same age of the new Pharaoh. They surely shared a lot during the years of growing together in the royal palace and Moses was de facto his cousin by way of adoption.
In the 5th year of his reign, Amenhotep IV decided to change religion, and adopt the faith of one unique God, Aten, which is represented by the disk of the Sun, as a symbol for perfection. This was like a new birth for the young Pharaoh, mirroring the birth of Moses in the 5th year of the precedent reign. There is little doubt that Moses, who had grown next to the new Pharaoh in the palace and was about the same age, must have had influence over such sudden and unique change in the history of Ancient Egypt.
Amenhotep IV changed radically everything when he adopted the new monotheist religion. He changed his name to Akhenaten, and also moved his capital from Memphis to Amarna as if his life in the city of Memphis, which was built with many temples to Egyptian deities, would have been impure to him.
Akhenaten and his enigmatic smile
(Alexandria National Museum, Egypt)
In Amarna, Akhenaten entertained an official correspondence, surprisingly not in Egyptian hieroglyphs but in cuneiform language as it was used in Mesopotamia. Some of the clay tablets refer to a people of Alashiya, in Cyprus, which have been identified as descendants from Elishah, son of Japeth. Among the letters related to city-states in Canaan, there are a few from a warlord called Abdi-Heba (or maybe Ebed-Nob), probably established there by Pharaoh himself, asking for urgent military support:
May the king know (that) all the lands are at peace (with one another), but I am at war. May the king provide for his land. Consider the lands of Gazru [Gaza], Asqaluna [Ashkelon] and Lakisi [Lakish]. They have given them [my enemies] food, oil and any other requirement. So may the king provide for archers and send the archers against men that commit crimes against the king, my lord. If this year there are archers, then the lands and the hazzanu [vassals] will belong to the king, my lord. But if there are no archers, then the king will have neither lands nor hazzanu. Consider Urusalim [Jerusalem]! This neither my father nor my mother gave to me. The strong hand of the king gave it to me. Consider the deed! This is the deed of Milkilu [Melki means king in Canaanite languages] and the deed of the sons of Lab’ayu [Labaya, warlord of Sichem], who have given the land of the king to the ‘Apiru. Consider, O king, my lord! I am in the right! --- Amarna letter EA 287, posted in Wikipedia
Many historians have associated the term ‘Apiru to the "Hebrews", and there are mentioned by other chronicles of these times also in Mesopotamia. The above letter may be a mention of the event that took place long ago at Sichem, when the sons of Jacob (already identified as the Hebrews), killed all the male population of that city to revenge the rape of their sister Dinah. This text is probably a word of caution to the Pharaoh about any weakness towards the Hebrews who, prior to Amenhotep IV, had been subjected to oppression. Alternatively, the term 'Apiru may refer to the name Amuru that designate the Amorites. In other word, the vassal prince of Jerusalem was asking military support from Egypt against the kingdom of the Amorites.
Clay tablet from Amarna, with cuneiforms
Akhenaten’s new monotheist religion had many symbols and texts which find parallels with similar concepts from the Bible. For example, concerned some names derived from Aten:
- Akhenaten means effective spirit of the Aten: spirit is the term used to illustrate the abstract presence of God, which was very distinct from the usage of the time that rather pictured gods with material representations (such as animals or people)
- Tutankhaten, who was Akhenaten’s son and heir, means living image of the Aten: the concept of being someone at the image of [a] God is borrowed from the Creation story of the Bible
The symbol chosen by Akhenaten to represent Aten was not borrowed from Egyptian and other traditions of these times, which used either human or animal shaped gods. It was the disk of the sun, perfect circle, and the emanations from it, the rays, representations of the “spirit of the Aten”.
Akhenaten and his family, under the protection of Aten
In many of the representations from this period, the number of rays issued from the god-sun Aten is 19 which is a number of years related to the cycle of the Sun called the Metonic Cycle. However this cycle was not discovered by astronomers before about the sixth century BCE. Coincidentally or not, the verse 19 from the tale of the Creation is the one that concludes the completion of what God created in the fourth day, viz. the great luminary set in the sky to dominate the night and to give light upon the earth (Genesis 1:16-19).
Akhenaten is also the author of the Great Hymn to the Aten. The text of this hymn is often explained in parallel with Biblical concepts and texts. For example:
O sole God, like whom there is no other! You did create the world according to your desire, While you were alone: All men, cattle, and wild beasts, Whatever is on earth, going upon (its) feet, And what is on high, flying with its wings. […] You are in my heart, There is no other who knows you, Only your son, Neferkheprure, Sole-one-of-Re, Whom you have taught your ways and your might. [Those on] earth come from your hand as you made them. --- Great Hymn of the Aten In this text, some expressions are derived from the divine commandments such as there is no other [God]. The passage only your son, […] whom you have taught your ways and your might suggests that Akhenaten may have had a divine revelation (maybe a dream), and that God instructed him about His ways. This was not uncommon in the Biblical times as God already revealed Himself to several characters, not just the Patriarchs, in their dreams.
Akhenaten’s wife, Nefertiti, whose full name Nefer-Nefer-u-Aten Nefer-Titi means Beauty, Beauty of Aten, the Beautiful has come was very supportive of her husband in the adoption of the new religion. Although her origin is still a mystery and present theories suppose she was of foreign origin.
Akhenaten ruled for 17 years until 1336 BCE (Hebrew year 2424). He died while Moses was still alive and living in the Amarna palace. He was succeeded by a couple of his children for a very short period of time, probably under the regency of Nefertiti, and, due to their deaths, by his younger inexperienced son Tutankhaten.
Nefertiti had only given daughters to her husband, six in total. The new Pharaoh was issued from another late consort of Akhenaten (one of his own sisters), so Nefertiti would have no influence over him. The new Pharaoh was very young, and he was soon flocked by advisors who had interest that Egypt should put away every influence of his father’s heresy. Among these key advisors were his military chiefs, Ay and Hohemreb. They convinced him to restore the previous religion, to change his name to Tutankhamen, as the living image of Amon. As his advisors knew that the cause of Akhenaten's heresy came from the Hebrew influence over his court, they also convinced the new young ruler to restore the oppression over them and to impose new labour tasks. It was timely because the decision was made to move the capital back to Memphis after years of political abandon.
Ay on the left with Tutankhamen
(wall painting from Tutankhamen's tomb)
Nefertiti, being very influenced by the Amarna era, had given one of her daughters as spouse to a young man from the tribe of Judah: he was called Caleb and will play a prominent role in the future events of the Israelite history. Caleb has several nicknames in the Biblical text, one of them being Mered which means The Rebel In Hebrew, and this is the reason why Caleb would later be called Mered:
The Holy One, blessed be He, said: Let Caleb who rebelled [marad] against the plan of the spies come and take the daughter of Pharaoh who rebelled against the idols of her father's house.
--- Talmud, Megilah, 13a
This princess went further than her parents, who became monotheists, because she embraced the Hebrew faith under the influence of her husband. In the Biblical text, she was called her Hayehudiyah which means the Jewress. At a time when Jewish religion did not exist yet, Jews were however tagged as the people who believed to one God only. But she was also called Bithiah, maybe as a mean to describe that she was the spiritual heir of Tiaa who saved Moses and adopted him. Bithiah means daughter of God, to say that she embraced the faith of God:
And his wife [Caleb/Mered’s] Hayehudiyah bore Jered the father of Gedor, and Heber the father of Soco, and Jekuthiel the father of Zanoah -- and these are the sons of Bithiah the daughter of Pharaoh whom Mered took. --- I Chronicles 4:18
Who was this Egyptian princess married to Caleb? There could be several possibilities among the six daughters of Nefertiti. One of them being the princess Merit-Aten whose name means She is beloved of Aten. In some official correspondence, this princess was also named Mayati (may be close enough to the Hebrew Bithiah?) and, in the Egyptian genealogy, it is unclear to whom she was actually married, thus creating the hypothesis that she was not married to any important person of the Egyptian royal or upper class. Some records seem to indicate that she had been married to one of her half-brothers, a prince called Smenkhare who will succeed to his father Akhenaten for a very short time before he died. His widow Meritaten may have then been given as wife to young Caleb. But the wife of Caleb could have also been one of the other daughters of Nefertiti, all of them being half-sisters to Pharaoh Tutankhamen.
The new hardship was affecting Moses’ feelings towards his people. One day, he hit an Egyptian who was beating on a Hebrew slave and this resulted in the Egyptian's death. The incident had no apparent witness and yet, the fact became immediately known (Exodus 2:11-14). This detail tends to indicate that Moses was "framed" by people who wanted to get rid of him. A new power wanted to erase every influence of the previous policy and religion that Akhenaten employed himself of building. Maybe Nefertiti got involved in his defence, abhorring what was being done to the Hebrews. In this new spirit, she was an obstacle to remove anyway. So she was put to death, by poisoning or otherwise. She died at the young age of 40, in 1330 BCE and her mummy has never been found. Maybe her body was concealed from future investigation about the cause of her death, or destroyed as thought not to deserve a proper Egyptian burial (after all she was an heretic and probably of foreign origin).
Moses was at once condemned to death by Tutankhamen or rather by his main adviser Ay who had restarted the oppression of the Hebrews. The Biblical text indeed infers that the Pharaoh at the time was not such a powerful character but was rather led by somebody else (obviously an advisor):
And Pharaoh heard this thing [that Moses slained an Egyptian] and he requested to kill Moses.--- Exodus 2:15Indeed the expression requested (וַיְבַקֵּשׁ) is a rather strange expression which hints that someone else actually ordered to kill Moses. This would perfectly fit the assumption of the said Pharaoh was the weaker Tutankhamen who was manipulated by his priests and advisors, the first of them being Ay. This is further confirmed by the following:
And the Lord said unto Moses in Midian: 'Go, return into Egypt; for all the men that requested your soul are dead.'--- Exodus 4:19
How many men could possibly ask for the life of Moses? Pharaoh was not alone in this decision because the decision did not belong to him alone. But the verse actually mentions your soul, and not just your life. This is indicative that the men, advisors and priests around Pharaoh, not only wanted to destroy Moses physically but also destroy the spiritual legacy he had left in Egypt, and this can only apply to the monotheist heresy of Akhenaten.
Moses had to ran away from Egypt. He was then 56 years old. He went to the desert of Midian, and started a new life there, marrying Zipporah, the daughter of a local chieftain called Yitro. These nomadic people were the descendants of Midian, who was one the sons of Abraham and of his second wife Keturah (see Generation 18).
After less than 10 years of reign, Tutankhamen fell ill, maybe due to some genetic disorder caused by so many successive inter-marriages within the current Egyptian 18th dynasty. He died in 1323 BCE, without heir.
He was succeeded by his first advisor, Ay, who was an older man linked to the royal family. But he died after 4 years. He was the one who had reinitiated the oppression against the Hebrews, as it is said:
And it came to pass in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died; and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God saw the children of Israel, and God took cognizance of them. --- Exodus 2:23-25
 To learn about the Metonic Cycle, see article in Wikipedia.
 According to a recent DNA analysis, the mother of Tutankhamen seems to be the "Young Lady" for whom a mummy had been discovered but never formally identified before; to read this article, click here
 However, according to Jewish tradition, Moses left Egypt at the age of 40, lived 40 years in Midian, then the last 40 years with the Israelites following the Exodus. If Moses had left Egypt at the age of 40 after killing an Egyptian who was oppressing the Hebrews, it would mean that the oppression also took place during the reign of Akhenaten.
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