Wednesday, November 08, 2006

King Tut -- Akhenaten -- and Pentecost

"You have been summoned to see the king" read the promotional flyer that came in the slush pile that is my office mail. On the cover was the famous funeary figurine of Pharoah Tutankhamen. Thus began the plans for our recent jaunt to Chicago. The main reason we went was to see the King Tut exhibit at the Field Museum.

Since I started this interest in Egyptology earlier this year (as a way of better understanding the Old Testament), I've been on the lookout for good opportunities to learn more see some of the artifacts for myself. The Cincinnati Art Museum has a nice, but humble, collection of Egyptian antiquities -- two cases full and a mummy. It is nice and helpful, but it only scratches the surface. The arrival of a major exhibit like King Tut and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs presented a great opportunity for me to expand my interest.

This exhibit is the largest travelling exhibit of Tut's treasures to have come to the states -- twice the size of hte last one that came. It contains artifacts not only from Tut's reign, but also from his father's and grandfather's (thus setting the stage for understanding the context). And herein was my primary interest -- for Tut's father was none other than Akhenaten, the so called "heretic" pharoah who tried to eliminate polytheistic worship and instate worship of one true god -- the Aten (the Sun Disk god). Scholars have said that Akhenaten was an innovator who invented monotheism -- I believe that Akhenaten derived the idea from sojurners in his land.

Tut came to the throne at age 10 -- far too young to effectively lead a country. Doubtlessly, he was closely supervised by his inner circle, including Grand Vizier Aye and Chief General Horemheb (both of whom would succeed Tut as pharaoh). It's likely that these advisors pressed Tut into restoring the old ways of worship and doing away with all his father's monotheistic innovation. By the time Tut died at age 19, Egypt had entirely returned to the old ways of worship.

Of particular interest to me was what would be there of Akehenaten's time -- not much. A few reliefs of queen Nefertiti. A colossal statue of Akhenaten himself. But what caught my eye was this balustrade showing Akehnaten and his family worshipping (Unfortunately I couldn't find a great big photo -- so I've also found another photo of Akhenaten and his family being blessed by the Aten)

The convention of the art is that the Aten is the round Sun disk at the top -- exending from the sun are rays that end in hands holding what appear to be Ankhs (the egyptian heiroglyph for life). Interestingly, there is what appears to be a tiny bird sitting on the sun. I've not seen an explanation of that yet -- it could be the cobra of the crown of egypt -- or it could be another symbol. But to me, the picture looks a lot like paintings I've seen of Pentecost -- the Holy Spirit surrounded by a circle of light (holiness) and beams extending down ending in tongues of fire touching the disciples. (Indeed, the next day at the Chicago Art Institute, I saw a painting of Pentecost that was eerily similar to the pictures of Aten worship here. I can't find that painting online, but here's another example of the imagery I'm talking about.

Here's a contemporary rendering of Pentecost that shows the lasting nature of the image:

I don't want to push this too far for fear of sounding like a lunatic - but is it possible that Akhenaten somehow came to know something of the God of Abraham? One might argue that the re-occurance of the imagery shows deep psychological themes of unity across religions (Joseph Campbell's route). However, one might also argue that there's actually something there -- Akhenaten's departure from tradition represented something fantastic that had happened -- perhaps in his encounters with Hebrew slaves? Just thinking aloud on this one.

Soli Deo Gloria

Other Egyptology Posts:
So Glad They Agree With Me
Ancient Egypt and the Exodus -- what really happened
Continuing Education -- a course on Ancient Egypt
The Oriental Institute in Chicago -- a real treasure trove