REVIEWER: LAURENCE HUMPHRIES
Naguib Mahfouz an Egyptian Novelist who died in 1972 wrote over 40 Novels, short stories and plays, a great majority of them have been translated into English and other Languages.
Akhenaten was the ‘Heretic Pharaoh’ of the 18th dynasty who launched a revolution in Egypt by eliminating all other Egyptian gods and advocating only one god ‘The Aten or Sun God’. By this action Akhenaten sought to remove all the priests and scribes who through corruption had amassed a huge wealth which of course they kept for themselves. Much of Akhenaten’s reign and life were shrouded in mystery and many Archaeologists are split on the role he gave to ancient Egypt. The Amarna tablets recently uncovered show that there were discussions between the Mitanni and Egypt. Akhenaten took a Mitanni Princess Tadukhipa as a wife and she was the daughter of Tushratta the King of the Mitanni. In the tablets written using the first languages known Tushratta complains to Akhenaten that he has not received proper payment in gold for his daughter Tadukhipa. In the Valley of the Kings you will find no mention of Akhenaten or his successors, Ay and his son Tutankhamun his son. Tutankhamun is famous now because of the Howard Carter excavations in the 1920. Akhenaten was a revolutionary who attacked the power of the priests and scribes who had grown rich and corrupt through the wealth of Egypt. The power of Amun is reflected in their continual dedication to him. Akhenaten attacked the temples and destroyed the temples of Amun and said there would be only one god and that was The Aten. This belief in one god would be repeated by the Jews and a small sect led by a carpenter from Nazareth called Jesus.
Mahfouz has cleverly interwoven a story of Akhenaten by using a young man called Meriamun who goes back to Amarna to discover the truth about Akhenaten’s revolutionary role. After Akhenaten had destroyed the temples and images of Amun at Thebes he moved the capital to what is known as Amarna to the north of Thebes.
Meriamun begins by interviewing all the people who knew and served under Akhenaten, some of them were his devoted followers; others were hostile to him because he had deprived them of a source of wealth. Meriamun first interviews the High Priest of Amun who shows his dislike of Akhenaten “Akhenaten erased his name from all the monuments. He said he meant to erase the name of Amun” .
Ay the chief vizier is next interviewed a supporter of Akhenaten at the time but suspected of being involved in his death. “Thebes master (Akhenaten) is nothing but a den of rapacious merchants, debauchery and fornication, who are the these great priests. They delude people with superstition and take from the poor what little they have” . Referring to the high priests Ay comments “He claims that he is concerned for the Empire when in fact he is only worried about his share of the goods that flow into the temple” .
Horembeb who would follow him as a Pharaoh would be responsible for Akhenaten’s name being removed from the list of Pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings. He was a commander and chief of the army. “I despised him for his weakness and his femine appearance could not picture myself as a friend of his” .
“By moving to the new capital Akhenaten declared war on all the deities” . Meriamun comments. In all the wall paintings of Akhenaten and his Wife Nefertiti and their family all that is depicted is a man of peace and love. “Beauty and Peace vanished when Akhenaten left our world” .
Meri-Ray, a high priest and a devoted follower of Akhenaten commented “Perhaps I was the only one who was driven out of Akhenaten by force. I refused to abandon my King. The voice of God was silenced. The temple was destroyed” . Meri-Ray continues “At first he renounced all the deities, then he abolished their worship, confiscated the temples and allocated the patrimonies to the poor” .
Bento his physician provided a good description on how Akhenaten will be remembered in History “The fact is that Akhenaten was a very special being. He was a visionary promoting a paradise irreconcilable with human nature”. .
Mahfouz has written a very sympathetic account of Akhenaten an early revolutionary, although a King sought to try and change the system from within. His attack on the priesthood as a revolutionary act, the destruction of the temples he hoped to erase their influence, but in the end Akhenaten failed. The Amun priesthood was reinstated, Akhenaten was eliminated and the power of the priests installed once again. Mahfouz has cleverly adopted a narrative style and presented a very readable story about a revolutionary in the 18th Dynasty who tried to overthrow the existing belief system .It would be left to other religious sects like Christianity and Judaism to continue the tradition. It must be pointed out that Christianity is now part of the ruling and ideological basis of Capitalism. Atenism which died in the 18th Dynasty was a revolutionary movement that for a time sought to transfer wealth from the rich to the poor. Akhenaten was a visionary before his time. Other Revolutionaries would follow and Egypt in the 20th Century would again have Revolutions firstly starting with the Bourgeois revolution of Nasser. Today Egypt is once again in the midst of revolutionary upheavals and it will be the Working Class that will now overthrow Imperialism and Capitalism.
- Akhenaten Dweller in Truth A Novel of Ancient Egypt pp 13
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- Akhenaten Dweller in Truth A Novel of Ancient Egypt pp138