Echnaton: Agyptens falscher Prophet

by Joachim Friedrich Quack
Echnaton: Agyptens falscher Prophet
Joachim Friedrich Quack
Journal of the American Oriental Society
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Reviewed work(s): Echnaton: Ägyptens falscher Prophet by Nicholas Reeves; B. JaroŠ-Deckert

Echnaton: Agyptens falscher Prophet. By NICHOLAS REEVES. Translated by B. Jaros-Deckert. Kulturgeschichte der Antiken Welt, vol. 19. Mainz: PHILIPP VON ZABERN, 2001. Pp. 239, illustrations. [euro]29.
The Amarna Period is certainly one of the most hotly debated periods of Egyptian history, and equally the one most prominently present in the consciousness of a larger public. As is well known, king Akhenaton has come to be viewed in the most extraordinarily different ways, claimed by the most divergent movements. As documented by D. Montserrat, Akhenaten: History, Fantasy and Ancient Egypt (London, 2000), his portrait has wavered between one of praise as the first great monotheist and denigration as a tyrant. Reeves' book, here under review, leans distinctively towards the latter direction, asserting that Akhenaton was a false prophet and that Egypt would have been better off if he had never lived.
The original version of this book was published in 2001 (London: Thames and Hudson). The German translation reviewed here runs quite fluently, with only a very few less felicitous choices and one passage ("a puppy," p. 52) where the translator left the English version standing, obviously at a loss as to its meaning in this context. In general, the presentation seems directed mostly towards a lay public, with numerous illustrations and the dispensing with a scholarly apparatus of footnotes. Only a very selected number of publications are given at the end of the book for further readings. For the German edition, this list has been augmented by some German-language titles. Furthermore, citations from ancient texts have frequently been adapted from available current German-language publications. The editorial work behind this should be appreciated.
What the reader is actually presented with is Reeves' personal view of the history of the Eighteenth Dynasty and especially the Amarna period. Given the pace of scholarship in this area, it comes as no surprise that by the time the book was published, several important new studies had already appeared in print. On p. 226 Reeves mentions M. Gabolde, D'Akhenaton a Toutankhamon (Paris, 1998), but he was unable to take into account its rather innovative proposals. (For a critical evaluation, see W. Murnane, OLZ 96 [2001]: 9-22.) Other new monographs are W. Helck, Das Grab Nr. 55 im Konigsgrabertal (Mainz, 2001) and F. Giles, The Amarna Period. Egypt (Warminster, 2001). For the important sarcophagus from KV 55, Das Geheimnis des goldenen Sarges: Echnaton und das Ende der Amarnazeit, ed. A. Grimm and S. Schoske (Munich, 2001), should be consulted, especially since its conclusion that the man buried in that tomb died at an age of no more than about twenty-five years (p. 61) and should be identified with Semenekhare (p. 119) runs counter to Reeves' theory (pp. 94-98) that the occupant is Akhenaton himself. A good survey of recent publications is given by M. Eaton-Krauss, "Akhenaten Redux," CdE 77 (2002): 93-107, where the book reviewed here is classified as "disappointing" (p. 95).
Although rejecting (rightly, I would say) the theory that Akhenaton suffered from Frohlich's disease and that Nefertiti's children were really fathered by Amenhotep III, as well as the old idea that Akhenaton was homosexual (pp. 192-96), Reeves is otherwise quite prone to embrace the most sensationalist ideas about any problematic subject. Some examples will illustrate this.
He assumes (p. 42) that Senenmut was Hatshepsut's lover and that a pornographic graffito comments on this relationship. The published image of the scene (p. 40 fig. 21) is welcome, but the interpretation, although endorsed earlier (see D. P. Silverman, in Ancient Egyptian Kingship, ed. D. O'Connor and D. P. Silverman [Leiden, 1995], 57), is hardly convincing. There is not a shred of evidence for identifying the copulating pair as Hatshepsut and Senenmut, and graffiti of a similar type are attested elsewhere quite close to royal cartouches without any modern scholar having sought to find in them a satire on any particular king: see, e.g., G. Goyon, Nouvelles inscriptions rupestres du Wadi Hammamat (Paris, 1957), 132, pl. xxxviii.
For several names of harem women of Amenhotep III, Reeves accepts new proposals that they are nicknames revealing more or less perverse sexual activities (p. 70). Most cases seem quite doubtful to me.
Based on the anonymous gypsum portrait of an old man, Reeves supposes (p. 104) that Amenhotep son of Hapu lived on into the reign of Akhenaton and had an influence on the early development of Amarna theology. This is hardly more than speculation. Reeves also endorses (pp. 171-73) the recent idea that Akhenaton suffered from Marfan's syndrome. That theory cannot be totally dismissed, but as long as we do not have his body for examination, we are hardly capable of proving it.
Further, Reeves agrees with Manniche (pp. 180-82) that the noblewoman (t3 sps.t) mentioned in the Tale of the Two Brothers is to be understood as Kiya. (See now J.J. van Dijk, "The Noble Lady of Mitanni and other Royal Favorites of the Eighteenth Dynasty," in Essays on Ancient Egypt in Honor of H. te Velde [Groningen, 1997], 33-46.) To me, this seems a rather far-fetched and dubious hypothesis; and the argumentation by Helck, Grab Nr. 55, 43, that Kiya never had the title sps.t, would demolish Maniche's idea.
Reeves also supposes that Akhenaton married two, if not three, of his own daughters and had children by them (pp. 184-86). The pros and cons in this case have been argued so often that it seems pointless to continue the discussion.
For the strange, naked statue from Karnak showing a person without any outward primary sexual markings, Reeves suggests an identification with Nefertiti in the role of Tefnut (pp. 190-92). This is hardly convincing, since the statue most distinctively does not have female breasts and there is no image of Tefnut really corresponding to this iconography. Furthermore, Reeves supposes that Semenekhkare is no one other than Nefertiti herself (pp. 199-201). But even for the Amarna period, the idea that Nefertiti could have married her daughter Meritaton, who is definitely known to have been Semenekhkare's wife, would be hard to swallow.
Concerning the well-known Dakhamanzu episode, Reeves opts for identifying her with Nefertiti (p. 204). He explicitly rejects the alternative, Ankhesenamun, with the argument that the title "the king's wife" should refer to a well-known specific queen and could not apply to the young and unimportant Ankhesenamun. Such reasoning does not convince me. Regardless of how unimportant Ankhesenamun looks to us, she was king Tut's wife for about ten years, and during this entire period, she was by right the king's wife. And, of course, we should never forget that the form nibkhururia, given in the cuneiform text, is phonetically a perfect match for Tutankhamun, while it takes much juggling to make it agree with Akhenaton.
Concerning the death of Tutankhamun, Reeves opts for murder perpetrated by the obvious suspect, his successor Ay (pp. 215-18). However, opinions now seem divided on whether his mummy reveals any real evidence for lethal skull damage.
Finally, I should like to make some remarks on specific points of the Amarna period where Reeves is in line with ideas widely accepted today but still quite dubious.
It is generally assumed that Akhenaton elevated vernacular Late Egyptian to the rank of an official written language. This is connected with his supposed desire for realism in art. However, there are only very few texts from the Amarna period (in particular, the earlier proclamation of the boundary stelae) which are truly Late Egyptian. Most others, including the hymns, are rather written in a sort of late Middle Egyptian with only occasional vernacular influences, not significantly closer to the spoken language than many earlier Eighteenth-Dynasty texts.
The famous graffito of Pawah (pp. 187-89) is generally interpreted as moving testimony to the persecution of the cult of Amun. On a closer look, however, we should point out that most, if not all of its phraseology can be paralleled from Ramessid texts of "personal piety." Only the fact that we know of a real persecution of Amun during the Amarna age makes us read more into this particular graffito than into many similar texts. The dissent voiced by D. Kessler, SAK 25 (1998): 176-88, against the dominant theory should be given more serious consideration, at least in regard to the rejection of the "persecution theory." In any case, the text was composed in year 3 of Semenekhkare, when a campaign of persecution against the cult of Amun was certainly no longer being conducted.
A group of figurines of apes in poses similar to the king are often assumed to be caricatures (p. 201). However, this presupposes that our modern attitude towards apes is pertinent for ancient Egyptian values. Since in their culture, the ape was connected with Thoth, the god of wisdom, the figure of an ape in an Egyptian context is not likely to have had a profoundly negative connotation.
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