Tag Archives: Ahmose

Good and bad polytheists (part 2): Ahmose I and Amenhotep IV

AHMOSE I

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Ahmose was born a local king of the Upper Egyptian city of Thebes, towards the end of the Second Intermediate Period, a period of disorder which lasted from 1650 to 1550 BCE. During this time, Lower Egypt was ruled by Semitic invaders from the Levant, called the Hyksos. They were a warlike and cruel people who took advantage of a weak government, seizing and plundering towns, destroying temples, and capturing slaves. Having found an abundance of opportunity and wealth there, they founded a dynasty and ruled by force, setting up fortresses to protect their possession of the land. Their kings styled themselves as pharaohs, but they were, like many or most Semitic rulers, henotheists, that is, worshippers of one God while acknowledging others, a practice that later contributed to monotheism. The Hyksos kings only worshipped Set, the God of the desert, which was looked upon suspiciously by Egyptians, who had known no such custom before.

But after a reign of 100 years, the invaders grew comfortable enough to relax its absolute power, nor did it have the ability to maintain their rule completely over Egypt. Hence, in Thebes, where a dynasty of local kings had grown in power gradually, Ahmose sought to restore the independence of Egypt and carry on the military exploits of his grandfather Seqenenre Tao and his father Kamose, who had both died in battle. Ahmose proved himself worthy of his noble and brave paternity by conquering and expelling the Hyksos, after a long campaign of several years. In order to maintain independence, he afterwards invaded and pillaged the Levant, and then withdrew to his borders to restore his country. Prosperity returned to Egypt by means of trade and construction, and antique examples were followed in art that preceded the invasion of the Hyksos. Besides this earnest revival, he also attempted to build the last pyramid of Egypt, but the project was unfinished and dropped upon his death after a few years of his short reign as Pharaoh. Nevertheless, even though Egypt was not to be as glorious as it was before, Ahmose was great enough to be remembered as the restorer of Egypt’s independence and the founder of a new age in Egyptian history, namely, the New Kingdom. As great as the acknowledge is due, it is perhaps a testimony to his modesty and diligence as Pharaoh, that only 3 mediocre statues of his have been found.

 

AMENHOTEP IV

Akhenaten-temple-atonThis Pharaoh is infamous by another name which he assumed later in his reign of 17 years during the 14th century BCE, namely, Akhenaten. He ruled for some time with his father Amenhotep III, a long-reigning Pharaoh who had brought great prosperity and power to Egypt. At this time in Egypt, as it was since Ahmose, Pharaohs were crowned in the city of Thebes, which had now become the capital of the realm and its God Amun the Head of the Pantheon, having joined with the former Head Ra (God of the former captital city of Memphis) as Amun-Ra, as a symbol of northern and southern unity. Akhenaten’s innovation within this scope was unprecedented and outrageous: In his fifth year, he elevated, by his own whim, a local God by the name of Aten to the pre-eminent position of Amun-Ra. Furthermore, as if to affirm the fault, he changed his name from Amenhotep (Amun is satisfied) to Akhenaten (servant of Aten).

Egyptian Pharaohs, by virtue of their position as divine kings, perhaps had the authority to worship whatever God they pleased, without disturbing the ancient tradition and condition of the Pantheon. But instead of being content with the first infamy of replacing Amun-Ra with Aten as supreme God, and changing his name accordingly, he set up Aten as the true God of the Sun, instead of Ra, and proceeded to promote its worship as such. His motives are yet unknown, as are his exact means of effecting this transformation in religion. However, the situation was horrible: the priests of Amun and Ra took the innovation as a grievance, and Egypt was threatened by pollution. And what was worse, the madness of Akhenaten seemed to increase with his reign; at first he was tolerant of other Gods, even though he lessened the funds of the Temples that held their cults, but afterwards he debased himself by attempting to erase the holy names of the Pantheon, particularly Amun, as if to leave only Aten for posterity, an unmatched crime. Yet his sinister project failed, for the Egyptians, always traditional, maintained their old ways for the most part and did not accept the changes too well. The memory of the Hyksos was also not too distant to them, and Akhenaten’s religious infamy was far beyond their strange henotheism with Set. Upon his death, the priesthood of Thebes returned to power and restored Amun-Ra at the head of the Pantheon, and about 20 years later, Akhenaten received justice: The Pharaoh Horemheb commanded his monuments to be destroyed and his image to be defaced. What survives of Akhenaten’s figure presents us with a character very different from that of Ahmose: His appearance is vain, assured and degenerate. The idea of his innovation, however, could unfortunately not be destroyed, for the history of the Hebrews under Moses follows after 150 years, a further contribution to the destructive monotheism that plagues the world to this day. It remains to be known whether Moses was inspired by Akhenaten or Akhenaten was inspired by earlier Semitic practices in the Levant.