Ahmed Osman

THE MYSTERY OF
AKHENATEN'S EMPTY TOMB


Archaeologists have never given up the hope of one day finding the burial place of Pharaoh Akhenaten, who disappeared in mysterious circumstances after 17 years on the throne, and was succeeded by his son Tutankhamun. Some archaeologists are even looking for the king's tomb far away from the Nile Valley, in the desert of Sinai and western Arabia. Although the king had prepared a tomb for himself in his city of Amarna, his body was not found in it; neither did it show any evidence of the king ever being buried there.

The Royal tomb of Akhenaten was desecrated, originally, in the wave of anti-Amarna feeling that followed the king's disappearance from the scene and the subsequent brief reigns of Tutankhamun and Aye. Later, it was further plundered by local inhabitants before it was first discovered officially by the Italian archaeologist Alessandro Barsanti in December 1891. John Pendlebury, the British archaeologist who excavated the royal tomb in 1931, confirmed the absence of evidence that Akhenaten had ever been buried in his tomb:

" . . . there were found parts of Akhenaten's magnificent alabaster canopic chest, with protecting vultures at the corners, together with pieces of the lids capped with the king's head. The head gives evidence of never having been used, for it is quite unstained by the black resinous substance seen in those of Amenhotep II and Tutankhamun."

Akhenaten is the most mysterious and most interesting of all ancient Egyptian pharaohs because of the revolution in religion and art he created, which resulted in the introduction of the first monotheistic form of worship known in history. Sigmund Freud, in his last book Moses and Monotheism, published in 1939, argued that biblical Moses was an official in the court of Akhenaten, who was an adherent of the Aten religion. After the death of the king, Freud's theory goes, Moses selected the Israelite tribe living east of the Nile Delta to be his chosen people, took them out of Egypt at the time of the Exodus and passed on to them the tenets of Akhenaten's religion. The son of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye, daughter of his minister Yuya, Akhenaten married his half sister Nefertiti to gain the right to the throne when his father made him his co-regent as Amenhotep IV.

The religion of ancient Egypt was static and traditional, urging that the gods had given a good order and that it was necessary for man to hold firmly to that order. Since the Egyptian state had always been theocratic, ruled by the gods, according to traditional beliefs, the 18th dynasty kings who controlled the country for about 200 years before Akhenaten (1378-1361) were interlocked with the priesthood. In return for wealth and power, the pharaoh had relinquished his religious authority to the priests. The richest and most powerful of the gods, such as Amun of Thebes or Re of Heliopolis, it was held, dictated the purpose of the state. The king had to apply to the gods for oracles directing his major activities.

Within his first few years as pharaoh, Amenhotep IV had to break away sharply from old traditions. In his fifth year he changed his name to Akhenaten, then moved out of Thebes and built his new capital at Tell el-Amarna 200 miles to the north. Here in their new home, Akhenaten, his Queen Nefertiti, and their six daughters lived with their nobles and officials worshiping a new God called Aten. Aten was never represented in human or animal form, his symbol being rays of light extending out of a circle ending in hands that gave life to man and all other creatures. Aten had no image in the hidden sanctuary of a temple but was worshiped out in the open. The king conceived of a single controlling intelligence behind and above all beings including the gods. Following the death of his father after 11 years of co-regency, Akhenaten set about systematically to abolish the worship of all cults but that of Aten. He and his wife Nefertiti also fostered a naturalistic school of art and literature. The Amarna art was a striking departure from the conventional, symbolic ancient Egyptian form.

Nevertheless, his attempt to force his new religion on his people met with complete failure as the army, on whose support the king relied in his confrontation with the priesthood, became restless and there was a danger of mutiny. It was then that Akhenaten disappeared mysteriously from the scene, assumed dead, at the end of his reign in his 17th year, and young Tutankhamun followed him on the throne. Yet, there are some indications that Akhenaten was forced to abdicate the throne, and was still alive during Tutankhamen's reign, living in exile in Sinai.



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