IV. Yahweh and Aton: the same god?

These elements enable some scholars to think there is a likely connection between the two monotheist almost contemporary religions. Somebody has even ventured the possibility that the one derives from the other or vice versa. The problems here investigated are not new. Since the last centuries, and old belief exists (actually known only by few people), according to which all Jewish or Moses alone, had learnt their religion from ancient Egypt (1). Giordano Bruno himself had supported a return to Egyptian beliefs as the only possible roots of all religions. As it is well known, his heresies (he considered God separated from religion and religion a mere  lie told by men  for uncultivated masses), cost him his life at the stake in 1600. Of course these mere beliefs were not supported by any certain historical proofs. Israeli monotheism appeared to some past scholars incompatible with Egyptian polythiesm. Soon after the discovery and the excavations carried out by Flinders Petrie in the 1880s, things became complicated. The archeological discoveries made in  the town of Tell el-Amarna brought to light the monotheist creed of Akhenaton. As a natural consequence, the quite near historical period enforced the hypothesis of a derivation of Israeli religion from Amarnian monotheism. There was at that time, not only among scholars, considerable enthusiasm for the figure of Akhenaton as the first possible ring of the millenary history of the great monotheist religions. Petrie asserted that Amarnian monotheism derived from the Hurrian creeds imported in Egypt by Akhenaton’s mother and probably by his wife who was Hurrian as well, the queen Nefertiti (2). A similar current was followed by other authoritative scholars, among which the most important was the great Egyptologist Weigall (3). Another current, which was developed at the beginning of the present century, considered likely the opposite hypothesis, i.e. the derivation of Jewish religion from the Amarnian one. Such an hypothesis could be explained by the fact that also this current considered possible that the Pharaoh of the sun, or at least his wife or his mother, could be of Arian origin. According to these scholars, it was an opposite mentality to the static way of looking at life (which since millennia permeated Egyptian population), the element that led to the creation of a new creed, completely different from the previous ones (4). The ideas characterising the beginning of the 20th century were suggested both by the sheer enthusiam brought about just after the discovery of Amarna and, above all, by preconceived moralisms or even by impalpable racism’s pushes. I share completely what Bernal states in his work (see note 21), i.e. the fact that  most of the society of that time could not accept a Hamitic or Semitic matrix as primus motor of the Jewish creed and above all of Christianity. Consequently a justification on that matter was necessary. Some scholars went so far as to venture the possibility that Christian creed did not have a Judaic matrix, because it was directly connected with Akhenaton’s faith which, according to what has been said so far, was a Hurrian ergo Arian faith (5). What clearly comes out from the present discussion is that for at least 50 years, i.e. since the 1880s, studies on this matter were  more or less strongly influenced by some prejudices. What is more important is that these prejudices were never supported by sure historical elements based on historical-scientific research. This is the reason why the researches prior to the 1920s and the theories derived from them, are of poor value for the purposes of the present study. In a research made later, in 1923 by Nora Griffith, the American scholar stated that the queen Tiye, Akhenaton’s mother and main wife of Amenophi III, was the real inspirer of Amarnian religion. Nora Griffith thought that Tiye, of Hittite origin, after having married the king of Egypt, had introduced at the court customs and usages based on the Hittite sun cult (6). This is a poorly reliable hypothesis, first of all because it seems accertained that the queen Tiye was of Canaanite origin and therefore Semitic and not Indoeuropean as the Hittites. Secondly, but not less important, because the solar cult was only one of many others and therefore Hittites did not know the idea of monotheism. Moreover as Lehman acutely observes (cf. op.cit.), it is difficult to understand why Egyptians, who from time immemorial had their own solar cult, had borrowed it from strangers. Another author who, just before the 2nd World War was quite deeply interested in these problems was a non expert: Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis. In Moses and Monotheism (7) – as far as I know the only work not concerning medicine ever written by Freud -, published in English in New York in 1939, Freud states that Israeli religion derives from Amarnian religion. In support of his hypothesis he cites the usage of circumcision among Hamitic populations (and therefore among Egyptians as well), a practice which was completely unknown the Semitic people of that time. He maintains that it was Moses, definitely an Egyptian character, who introduced that usage among Israeli populations. I will not dwell further upon this Freud’s work, since in my opinion, it is now surpassed by archeological discoveries made in the latest 60 years and also by the way recent studies determine the various elements of that time. In Moses, a work published in 1987, the American scholar Ben Lyon maintains that Israel’s reign was founded by Akhenaton’s father, i.e. Amenophi III by means of one of his generals, a certain Mermose whom he identifies with Moses. Lyon’s study, as well as others already mentioned, is not convincing. It is fundamentally based on the assumption that the historical event of the Exodus and the Amarnian period were contemporary (8). Scholars fairly agree in indicating the Ramessid period as the probable one during which the Exodus towards the Promised Land occurred. Therefore there would be an historical lap forward estimated between 100 and 300 years. Moreover it turns at present time the research processed in the arc of approximately twenty years by two french scholars of hebrew origin Messod & Roger Sabbah by title Le secrets de l’exode, Paris 2000 ed. Jean-Cyrille Godefroy. In this work the two authors assume that the Exodus of Israel  had as protagonists the inhabitants of Akhet-aton, being be rendered in slavery after the sunset of amarna period cause to persist on the monotheistic creed.Those people was deported in earth of Canaan by the Pharaoh Aï, succeeded for a short time to Touth-ankh-amun. After forty years by that event the priests that remained to the amarnian faith, founded the Kingdom of Judah. The thesis of the Sabbah brothers is mainly based on the presumed and remarkable affinities between the hieroglyphic writing and western semitic (Canaanite and Phoenician). They think having identified the names of the  biblical personages with the names of the monarchs of XVIII dynasty. Therefore, for instance,  Akhenaton in the Bible assumed the name Anokhi Atone-kha that means “I am eternal  the your god”. The egyptian wisdom would reach therefore to us through the Hebrew people. The thesis of the Sabbah have been strongly criticized  on the scientific plan mainly by the linguists being the ethimos of the western semitic not enough to be connected to the hieroglyphic writing (contra: Sydney H. Aufrère, Marc Gabolde and Isabelle Bourdial). On the other hand, there are some authors who basing themselves on fitting historical elements, advance arguments which seem quite convincing. Robert Silverberg ( rfr.: R. Silverberg:  Ekhnaton, the Rebel Pharaoh, New York-Philadelphia 1965 ed. Chilton Book)  thinks possible a direct influence extented on the tribes of Israel settled in middle and lower Egypt by Amarnian religion.  Even Redford assumes the possibility that. the monotheism of Israel derives its origin from Amarnian religion (rfr.: D.B. Redford: The Monotheism of the Heretic Pharaoh: Precursor of Mosaic Monotheism or Egyptian Anomaly?  In Biblical Archeology Review 13,  1987). In recent times this problem has been faced also by Robinson but he excludes a priori  any communication between the Amarnian religion and the cult of Jhwé (rfr.: Rich Robinson: Monotheism of the Ancient Hebrews: Evolved, Invented, Stolen or Revealed? in issues 5.5).  Conversely, Philipp Vandenberg, a well-known German free-lance journalist, author of many works on ancient history (some of them have been transladed in many languages), thinks that Amarnian religion may derive from the Israeli one (9). The two hypotheses are virtually opposite but both, being based on quite reliable historical-scientific elements, lead to the conclusion of a common matrix. The first hypothesis, according to which Jewish religion derived from Amarnian religion, is based on a series of elements that will be analysed. In about 2000-2500 B.C., a slow process of desertification began. It is a process which is still taking place and which effects the religions between the Euphrates and the Mediterranean (Western Asia). At that time, these regions were inhabited by Semite-speaking people, mainly nomad, organised in tribes and accustomed to sheep rearing. Because of the impoverishment of soil, these tribes slowly began to emigrate in order to find better living conditions for pasture. The migratory flow went essentially towards the wings of the area known as the fertile half-moon  (10). Thus a double route was created, the one towards Mesopotamian alluvium (the region between the Tigris and the Euphrates) towards the south-east, and the other westwards, towards the fertile lands along the Nile. It is hardly necessary to mention the fact that the first route was strongly opposed by the Mesopotamian aborigenal races (among which Sumerians) who, inhabiting the land of Akkad, were highly civilised and certainly did not tolerate the inflow of nomad and half-barbarous people accustomed to eat raw meat (11). The second migratory flow, as mentioned above, went towards Egypt. This route, unlike the first, was made easy or was even favoured by Egyptian kings, who considered the inflow of workers indispensable for building great works. A proof of the fact that these tribes lived in absolute freedom and in fairly satisfying living conditions for many centuries, is given by the recent archaeological discoveries. It is certain that they did not enjoy the same social status of Hamitic populations, but certainly they were not held in slavery. On the basis of the finds that have been brought to light, it has been ascertained that during the 18th dynasty, only the Nubians and the Syrians, who had been captured during the military operations, had been reduced to slavery. Slowly over the centuries many tribes had to change their way of living, thus becoming sedentary populations mainly accustomed to trade and craftsmanship or also to work in building yards of great works (12). It seems that some characters reached even important positions within the state. The Holy Scriptures themselves tell that Joseph became the Pharaoh’s minister (it is not sure whether Joseph was or not an historical figure, but those who think so, state that he lived in around the 18th century, during the middle reign, i.e. the Hyksos period). Incidentally, it is appropriate to point out that some authors restrict the period of freedom enjoyed by the sand’s populations, to the period of the Hyksos rule alone, i.e. to about 400 years (from the 20th to the 16th century). They assume that Hyksos, because of Semitic birth, had remarkably supported their cousins’ migration to Egypt (13). However two are the reasons why such a thesis cannot be proposed. First, most scholars agree in maintaining that Hyksos (probably as Philistine people who had settled down in Palestine, in the Gaza region) were an Indoeuropean-speaking population coming from the sea, perhaps from Crete or from Greece (the Jonians cited by Persians?). Secondly, from the 16th century, i.e. from the end of the Hyksos rule to Ramessid period, there is a gap of about three centuries (corresponding to the 18th dynasty), during which Semites who had settled in Egypt continued to enjoy an unquestionable condition of freedom. It seems that among the tribes that during the 18th dynasty remained nomad, there were exactly Israeli tribes. A proof of this fact is given by the epithet Khabiri, (meaning wandering, vagabond), that Tutmosides had given to Israeli tribes (14). However, according to some authors, the epithet was not pejorative but meant simply different people, in that they lived as nomad (a very unusual fact in Egypt since at that time aborigenal races were usually permanent). The Holy Scriptures themselves further confirm the fact that Israeli tribes, until the coming of the 19th dynasty, or some time before, were not held in slavery. The Bible tells that Jewish people lived in the Gessen fertile land where, during the famine, they had received hospitality and where afterwards they had permanently settled down. Always from the Bible we learn that during the long marches of the Exodus, Jewish people often regretted the good and rich food that once they had eaten in the Egyptian land. Just after Amarnian period, especially during Ramessid period, only Israeli tribes were ferociously persecuted and reduced to slavery. It seems ascertained what the Holy Scriptures state, i.e. that the towns of Pitom or Fitom and Ramses (now called Tell el-Rataba and San el-Hagar, the Egyptian term is Pi-ramses-Mery-Amun) were built under the reign of Ramses II when Israeli people were under slavery. In some discovered inscriptions sand’s travellers are mentioned, obviously referring to Jewish slaves who moved enormous stones in order to built the fortresses of those towns. Moses (most scholars think of him as an historical figure and some maintain he was probably of Hamitic origin, the Moses or Mosi which frequently met with in Egyptian names), in organising the Exodus made possible the freeing of Jewish people from Egyptians subjection. According to this hypothesis, Jewish people were made slave because they were the only who firmly followed Amarnian monotheism and consequently the only people who professed an heretical religion. Of course, the Holy Scriptures, which definitely followed Amarnian period, were moulded for the use of those people (15). To sum up, the elements supporting this theory are based on three factors of primary importance: a) the freedom of the Semitic-speaking populations who, for many centuries, migrated to Egypt before Amarnian period; b) the slavery to which only Israeli tribes were reduced just after Atonian period; c) the obvious derivation of some passages of the Holy Scriptures from the Hymn to Aton. It seems quite likely that religion (the idea of monotheism was absolutely contrasting with Amun creed) was the element which triggered off the historical facts just referred to. The other hypothesis mentioned in the Introduction, i.e. the likely derivation of Amarnian religion from Israeli religion is not too different – at least in its approach – from the hypothesis proposed by Nora Griffith.  The only variation is the primary role undertaken by the qeen Nefert-iti. My opinion is that this second way  is not taken enough in consideration by the scholars. On the basis  of a series of considerations that in the prosecution of the present writing I intend to expose this way it seems a concretely iter. In the case here considered, as it will be shown, the arguments advanced in support of the hypothesis are definitely much more convincing than the researches carried out by the American scholar. According to this thesis, monotheism was introduced by the queen Nefert-iti, main wife of Amenophi IV and probably of eastern origin. The queen, identified by some scholars (among which Vandenberg) with the Hurrian princess Taduchippa, drew monotheist creed from the Israeli tribes that lived in her country of origin. First, she instilled it in king Amenophi III and then in his son Amenophi IV (16). According to the content of some Amarna’s letters (17), this queen – as already said – would be identified with the princess Taduchippa, the daughter of Tushratta, king of Mitanni (the area of the present Iraqui Kurdistan), a region inhabited by the Iranian-speaking Hurrian population, who consequently was fairly similar to Indoeuropean-speaking Hittites (18). Taduchippa became the second wife of king Amenophi III when he was already old and sick. It is hardly necessary to mention the fact that his first wife was the Canaanite Tiye, mother of the Pharaoh of the sun (19). When Amenophi III died, this time Nefert-iti became the first wife of Amenophi IV. Some authors think that when the young princess was still at the court of Washshukanni (the capital of Mitanni) or, at most, at the beginning of her journey, the old king was already dead. Therefore, after having reached her destination, she directly married Amenophi IV. Nevertheless this event seems rather doubtful for many reasons, the most important of which is that it is more likely that the queen returned to her country just after having heard of her future husband’s death. Vandenberg, on the basis of a long series of arguments that will be analysed, maintains that the queen Nefert-iti was the first primus motor of Amarnian revolution. Besides being a good-looking woman, Nefert-iti was also endowed with extraordinary abilities, she was clever and a very strong-willed person (20). The monotheist religion Nefert-iti had learnt in her country of origin, by coming in contact with Israeli nomad tribes, was first instilled in the old king Amenophi III and then in Amenophi IV, a man she considered feeble and also,almost certainly, suffering from different syndromes (21). The proof’s could be found in two elements: the first is the fact that it was Akhenaton’s father who spoke first of solar monotheism, exactly in the last days of his life, a period which may coincide with the time when he got married to the young Hurrian princess. It was Amenophi III who proclaimed the solar disc Aton as the only god of the universe and Akhenaton, during his sixth year year of his reign, did nothing but make it the only state religion. The second element, much more important than the other, is based on the recent archaeological discoveries in which informatics has taken on a determining importance. It is interesting to see why. In around the 1920s an enormous quantity of stones, the remains of buildings in the shape of parallelepiped measuring about 30 x 60 cm., were discovered by the french archaeologist Henry Chevrier in a cave abandoned in Karnak. On one of the stones’ faces it was possible to remark some relief and drawings which, could not be deciphered by Chevrier because the stones were all disorderly piled up. He thought that it was the temple dedicated to Aton that Amenophi IV had ordered to build during the first years of his reign, before moving the capital to Akhet-aton.  As the technique of that time did not allow to discover the meaning of relief and drawings, their study was abandoned for decades. However, at the beginning of the 1960s, researches were resumed by two Americans, a Philadelphia former diplomat Ray Winfield Smith and a Bostonian well-known Egyptologist, William Stevenson Smith. Through a painstaking work that lasted for years and that, as far as I know, was not brought to a complete end, all the stones were numbered and catalogued. What is more, by means of informatics (at the beginning using only an IBM computer given by the Cairo Institute for Statistical Studies and under the technical supervision of some American electronics engineers), a great amount of that material was decoded. Afterwards, the direction of the work that went on for years, was undertaken by the great American archaeologist Donald Redford. The whole research was sponsored by the Washington National Geographic, a jealous owner of the rights of images which, as far as I am concerned, have never been publicised or at least made known, except for some rare ones that appeared on its review. The publication Studies on Akhenaton at Thebes, written by Redford on behalf of the Pennsylvania University, contains the researches’ reports (22). Redford confirms that it is the temple dedicated to Aton, probably the greatest edifice that has ever been built in history (only a side measures about 1 mile). The building was completely pulled down by the restores of polytheist cult. A part of the material was used for building several temples and palaces in the region of Karnak, what remained was buried for millennia. The decoding of the images has given the following results: the queen Nefert-iti is depicted a number of times notably higher than her husband, a fact that, on its own, is already quite singular. In addition, also the fact the queen’s images are as big as the king’s is unusual, since at the time the king was always the biggest figure, in accordance with the rule that the more the character was important the bigger was its representation. Moreover the queen is always in a movement position, a fact fairly revolutionary for that time. In the iconography of ancient Egypt, women were always depicted in a still position with their legs united whereas men, except for prisoners and slaves, were always in movement, a sgn of possession and of dominion. An image that I would define unique in its own way is that portraying the queen, on her own, on the royal chariot. Only the king was allowed to get into the royal chariot or, at least, he could be accompanied by his first wife and sons. However, also in that case, they had to be behind the king and their figures had to be smaller than the king’s. Finally, the most important thing is that the queen is portrayed more than 60 times, with Aton’s solar disc on her head and in the act of hymning. All these elements together lead Vandenberg to think as sufficiently valid the hypothesis according to which the queen Nefert-iti had a strong personality and, during Amarnian period, was even in a position of command. In short, they might confirm that she was the primus motor of the revolution which involved more or less all the various aspects of human life, particularly the religious one.

1 – Cf. Martin Bernal, Black Athena. The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilisation, London U.K., 1987.

2 – Cf. Flinders W.M. Petrie, A History of Egypt, London U.K., 1894-1905 (2nd volume).

3 – Cf. A. Weigall, The Life and Times of Akhenaton, New York N.Y., 1923.

4 – Cf. L.W. King and H.R. Hall, Egypt and Western Asia in the Light of Recent Discoveries, London U.K., 1907. Some authors, in sharp contrast with the Arian currents cited in this text, think even likely that the origin of Akhenaton and his father, particularly on the basis of the very dark colour of the skin, has to be searched in Upper Egypt or in Nubia (cf. H.A. Gardiner, La civiltà egizia, trans. into italian, Turin – Italy, 1971.

5 – Cf. A. Weigall, op. cit. “…No other religion is closer to Christianity than Akhenaton’s faith…”, pag. 127 (see note 23).

6 – As the Muwatallis Poem  shows, Hittites had their sun cult.

7 – A similar work, Der Mann Moses, Frankfurt/Main DBR, 1970 (latest edition), was published in German in Germany.

8 – Ben Lyon, op.cit., assumes that Amenophi III, at the same time the king and the only one god, following the concept of universality inherent in Atonian religion, charged his son Akhenaton to found a new reign in Palestine. This reign would be inhabited by a new population, the population of Israel. He identifies several biblical characters with Egyptian people (the queen Tiye is the biblical Miriam, Mermose is Moses etc.). Some of the ten commandments dictated by Moses are similar to the book of the dead (for further investigation see op. cit.).

9 – Cf. Vandenberg P., Nofrotete, Bern CH und Muenchen DBR, 1975; Der Fluch der Pharaonen, Muenchen DBR – Bern CH – Wien A, 1973.

10 – With the term fertile Half-moon, Breasted indicates the geographical area between the Tigris and the Euphrates on the one side (the Right Horn), and the Nile on the other (the Left Horn). Cf. Breasted C., Vom Tal der Koenige zu dem Toren Babylons, Stuttgart DBR, 1950. It is important to define precisely that an emigration to other desirable areas was extremely difficult. Elam was too far in the South-east and the regions to the north of Kizzuwatna were inaccessible, not only because of Tauro Mountains, a real barrier between the Anatolian region and the South, but also and above all because these regions were  inhabited by much more bellicose populations than the Mesopotamian ones (first Khattis and then Hittites). They would certainly prevent the entry of migratory flows into their territory.

11 – In Akkadian language, these tribes were called Amorrei by Mesopotamian populations. This word derives from the Sumerian Martu or Tidnum whose meaning is Western populations. Some finds have shown that these tribes, the Gutians and the Suas (populations coming from Zagros Mountains in the east) were defined, because of their rudeness, those who eat raw meat.

12 – Calculations related to the salaries given to those workers who were assigned to build great works, have been recently found in Egypt, in some archaeological places.

13 – Cf. K. Richter, La Bibbia e l’antica civiltà d’Israele, Geneva CH, 1976.

14 – Khabiri or Habiri. Some think that Hebrew has its natural derivation from this term (Khabiri, Habiri, Hbr).

15 – Cf. F. Delitzsch, Babel und Bibel, which was translated into Italian with the title Babilonia e la Bibbia, Ed. Bocca Torino, 1905; K. Richter, La Bibbia e l’antica civiltà d’Israele, La Spezia, 1990.

16 – Some scholars think that Nefert-iti was of Egyptian origin. Aldred identifies her father with Ay (son of Yuya and Tuyu). In this case Mut-nodijme would be her sister. Others, among which Vandenberg, basing themselves on several arguments, definitively confirm her eastern origin. Her clothes, notably her headgear, are clearly of Hurrian, or at most Hittite origin. Her way of dressing was typical of those  eastern regions’ princesses or queens. During ceremonies they could not show their hair, while men – the famous maryannas – were allowed to have long thick hair, symbol of their power. It seems that a similar usage was also present among Philistine populations inhabiting the Gaza region. The extremely pale colour of the skin and the features of the face are a further element that leads to suppose a Japhetic origin (an Indoeuropean or more likely Indo-Iranian, i.e. Hurrian origin). It is important to recall that Egyptians were named misraim, where misr or msr means black, dark and aim (a word of Semitic origin) stands for family, population. In conclusion, it is the translation of the word NFRT, which literally means the pretty woman who here comes,  where NFR stands for pretty and T indicate the feminine gender. It is hardly necessary to mention the fact that vowels are totally absent in hieroglyphics writing. Nefer is an expedient used by Egyptologists to give a sound to those consonants that otherwise could not be pronounced. Recently some authors think that the name Nofrotete or also Nofretete is more correct.

17 – In 1888 some tablets, written in cuneiform characters, were founded by a farmer in the area of Tell el-Amarna. For the time, it was a very important discover, since it shed light on several historical events of Amarnian period. The tablets contained the royal archives (in all 3000 letters) of the two kings, Amenophi III and Amenophi IV. As already said, they were written in Babylonian – Akkadian, the diplomatic language of that period.

18 – According to the present and prevailing trend among scholars, the Japhetic branch of human race (the Arian race), at an indeterminate period, was divided into two fundamental subgroups: the Indoeuropean branch was represented by the Jonians (a term that Persians gave to Greeks and whose meaning is young people. Still today Greeks are named Junians by Turkish and Greece is called Junanistan); Arian people, in the scrict sense of the word, represented the eastern branch, i.e. the populations of Iranian tableland and of Indian subcontinent. Even though there are discordant opinions, Turanian populations (Turkish, Magyars, Esthonians, Finnic, etc.), might belong to a subgroup always within the Japhetic family, Hurrians might belong to the group of the Arian branch and Hittites to the first group.

19 – In ancient times the Semitic-speaking Canaanites, who inhabited the areas along the coasts (Ugarit, Sidon, etc.) were called Phoenicians. Therefore, the term Phoenician or Canaanite indicates the same population, even though the first ones were seamen and the second ones were shepherds or people accustomed to agriculture.

20 – The famous plaster bust, measuring about 48 cm., was discovered the 6th December 1912 in Tell el-Amarna by Ludwig Borchardt (cf. Borchardt L., Portraits der Koenigin Nofretete, Berlin 1923), and is nowadays kept at the Berlin Staatliche Museum. Famous and, in my opinion, perhaps even more interesting, is the unfinished quartzite head of the queen, measuring about 33 cm. and coming from Amarna as well. Today it is kept at the Cairo Egyptian Museum.

21 – According to several scholars, the king’s appearance emerging from the various existing iconography, shows he was likely affected by some syndroms such as hydrops and/or the syndrom of Klinefelter. The abdomen extremely prominent and out of all proportion to the rest of the body and the effeminate hips are a clear sign of it.

22 – Donald B. Redford, A Report on the Work of the Akhenaton Temple Project of the University Museum and Studies on Akhenaton at Thebes, were both published in 1973 by the Pennsylvania University PA.