THE SEAT OF TRUTH
The Religion of the Disk was a State religion. From the beginning, Akhnaton had intended it to be. This fact is strongly emphasized by some archaeologists such as Sir Wallis Budge, while others seem to be more impressed by — and more interested in — the actually religious (or philosophical) side of the King’s Teaching: its simple, and scientifically accurate, theology; its absence of any explicit moral code; its Founder’s inherent reluctance to violence. I say: not merely a State cult — compatible with any religious views and moral principles (provided these were not, directly or indirectly, dangerous to the security or prestige of the State) like the cult of the traditional gods of Rome was one day to become, under the tolerant rule of the emperors, — but a State religion, dictating a definite metaphysical conception of the Universe and a definite ideal of life to a whole people, nay, to a whole empire and (in Akhnaton’s mind) to the whole world; a State religion that was at the same time a world religion, and a religion exalting individual perfection — ”life in Truth” — as its goal; such was, as I have tried to point out in another book,1 that solar religion which Sir Flinders Petrie considered “fit to satisfy our modern scientific conceptions.”2 It was, in other words, not a way out of this life (or out of the endless cycle of birth and death and rebirth) into a Kingdom of Righteousness which is “not of this earth” or into the absolute peace of Nothingness, but a way of life here and now, upon this earth, in tune with this earth, and therefore a State religion — for life here and now, in tune with this earth, presupposes social order, political order, hierarchy — organisation — and religion, — real religion — whenever it is not a path of escape from life, is inseparable from any real State, as it is from life itself.
1 A Son of God,” (edit 1946).
2 Sir Flinders Petrie, “History of Egypt” (edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 214.
This is no arbitrary assumption. We have, of course, no written records of any Age save of the one in which we are living to this day — the Dark Age (Kali Yuga of the Sanskrit Scriptures.) Archaeological evidence helps us to reconstruct something (be it extremely little) of the preceding Age. And Tradition alone gives us, in the absence. of any glimpse into the actual history of the two first Ages of our Time-cycle, — the long Satya Yuga (or Krita Yuga) and the Treta Yuga of the Sanskrit books; the Golden Age and the Silver Age of the ancient Greeks, — at least a hint as to the quality of their civilisations. Yet it is noteworthy — nay, visible already within this present Dark Age, — that, more one goes up the stream of time, more religion and State-power are tightly bound together, not separated. In the very early part of this Age of Gloom — two thousand and more than two thousand years before Akhnaton, — royal power and priestly dignity were the attributes of the same person. And it remained so for a long time. Every patesi in old Sumeria was chief-priest as well as king in the area over which he held sway. And so were, — and so remained, formally at least, for centuries, — the Chinese Emperors, “Sons of Heaven,” whose office it was to perform the Four Ceremonies and to fix the Calender, i.e. to put their realm in harmony with Space and Time. And in the former Age, and in the one before it, it was more and more generally so, if we believe Indian Tradition in connection with all the “rajrishis” — rulers and saints, i.e. men having realised the Divine within themselves while they maintained, or tried to maintain, the divine Order within the world, — some of whose names have come down to us. While in the Golden Age, in all countries, the gods themselves were kings — “the gods” i.e. supermen, as far above even the beautiful humanity of their times as average mankind is above average animality. The “separation of Church and State” is a modern invention or, to speak more accurately, an increasing necessity of the late Dark Age, readily recognised by the great men “within Time” — who are all tolerant towards the existing religions of their epoch (unless they consider it their interest to use one of them against the others) — and by any such men “against Time” who feel that they must, for practical reasons, first seize power, and then only set their higher programme, their real programme,
through. It is unconceivable in any time save the last period of our Age, even though, for centuries already, neither State nor “Church” any longer be what they should be, and what they are, to the supreme degree, in the Golden Age. It is less and less conceivable as one reaches back into remoter Antiquity; least of all in the Golden Age itself, — or in the minds of those men “above Time” who live in spirit within such an Age.
Akhnaton could not, any more than his fathers had, isolate religion from the State. He could not want such an unnatural and absurd separation. He could want it far less than they, who had understood the meaning and purpose both of religion and of the State less clearly and vividly than he. His religion was bound to be a State-religion, not because he was born a king, but because he was born a man “above Time” living in spirit within the Golden Age, and a man of action, faithful to this earth, and because, along with that, he happened to be a king.
* * *
But while the pharaonic State was the outcome of the slow evolution of the perfect theocratic State-idea of the “days of Ra” in the course of endless time, Akhnaton’s ideal City was to be (in his mind at least) built upon that State-idea itself. It was to be the living expression of nothing less than the original divine Order — i.e. of the Golden Age Order, — in its uncompromising purity; in other words: a broad-scale earthly Paradise. In it — over it — the direct, absolute, yet mild and peaceable rule of a god-like Man, “Son of the living Aton, like unto Him without ceasing,” — namely his own rule, — was to replace the less and less happy (and less and less effective) collaboration of temporal power and spiritual authority — royalty and priesthood, — that Egypt and practically all countries had hitherto gradually evolved. The “Teaching of Truth” could only be the State-religion of a Golden Age State organised according to its spirit.
And it really looks as though, with that youthful confidence in the irresistibility of Truth which was to characterise his whole career, Akhnaton had first tried to turn Thebes
into the capital of that State of his dreams. It is at least significant that, after building his first known temple to the Sun-disk within the enclosure of Karnak, already holy to the Thebans for hundreds of years, he renamed the glorious city of his ancestors “City of the Brightness of Aton.” It is no less remarkable that he seems to have done all he could to replace smoothly and peacefully the pharaonic régime of his time by his lofty Golden Age theocracy.
The nature of his faith was conducive to such a policy.
We have seen in the preceding chapter that, contrarily to the opinion of some modern authors, Aton — Ra-Horakhti-Aton, as He is called on the boundary-stelae of Tell-el-Amarna, — never was, — could in no way be — a “jealous” God; that, philosophically speaking, He had no quarrel with the all-too-human conceptions of Divinity which the Egyptians cherished, nay, not even with Amon himself. (Impersonal Energy manifested in the Sun-beams; “Heat-and-Light-within-the-Disk” — Aton is nothing else — could hardly be so narrow-minded!) The fact can never be too emphatically stressed. And it explains why there are, in the early part of Akhnaton’s reign, no signs of “religious intolerance” whatsoever — however much the young king may have looked upon many deep-rooted Egyptian beliefs with unmixed contempt; and however much he may have deplored the raising of Amon, a local tribal deity, to the rank of the Great God of the Empire, nay, his identification with the venerable Ra of Heliopolis, the Sun-god of those hallowed Pharaohs who had built the Pyramids. It explains why the fragments of sand-stone that were once part of the first Aton temple bear, besides the exalted name of Horus, the names of such other traditional Egyptian gods as Set, and jackal-headed Wepwat. It explains why the royal steward Apiy did not hesitate to mention Ptah and “the gods and goddesses of Memphis” in his letter to the king, in the fifth year of the latter’s reign — letter in which Akhnaton is still called Amenhotep, although he already bears the significant title: “living in Truth.” It explains why there was, originally, above the inscription of Silsileh commemorating the opening of quarries in the South, to provide stone for the earliest known Aton temple, a figure of the king worshipping Amon, while the Sun-disk — Aton — shed over him the famous
Rays ending in hands, symbol of Energy — “Heat-and-Light” — in the new religion.1
As I have tried to show in other writings,2 Akhnaton was then already conscious of what Godhead meant to him, and, which is more, already eager to preach his new (or rather eternal) religion, wherever he deemed any man worthy to hear of it, as it is quite clear from the inscription in the tomb of Ramose in Thebes.3
This signifies that the change that was soon to appear in his attitude towards the traditional gods of Egypt in general and towards Amon in particular, and the steps he was soon to take against the priesthood of Amon, had a political rather than a “religious” meaning, — but a political meaning that cannot be grasped apart from the Religion of the Disk as an organic system of thought; a meaning derived from the very definite conception of the State which goes hand in hand with it and with the fact of Akhnaton being a Man “above Time” who had not renounced this world.
That conception of the State, — that régime, to use a very modern word in connection with a very ancient reality, — was, as I said, a theocracy. Not an arbitrary government of priests pretending to rule on behalf of the Gods or “of God,” — that which one generally calls “theocracy” through a misuse of the word, — but the real thing: the government of God Himself, exercised by an actual “Son of God” “wise in the understanding of the plans and of the might”4 of Him Whom he had realised, and rightly endowed both with temporal power and spiritual authority.
It is that idea, that conception, to which the priests of Amon so strongly objected rather than to the king’s metaphysical conception of Aton. Unfamiliar, unorthodox — un-Egyptian, — as the latter may have sounded to them, they never would have deemed it worth while setting themselves in open, bitter opposition to the lawful Pharaoh in order to destroy it. Like all ancient religions, theirs recognised the fact that many and various ways lead to the knowledge of the Hidden One — Amon,
1 Breasted. “Ancient Records of Egypt” (edit. 1906), Vol. II, p. 384.
2 See “A Son of God,” Chapter 2 and 3.
3 Breasted. “Ancient Records of Egypt” (edit. 1906), Vol. II, p. 389.
4 Longer Hymn to the Sun.
Aton, whatever men may choose to call Him, — and that the Hidden One Himself has many and various attributes. It did not proclaim itself the only possible approach to Truth. And they were not fighting to forward the belief that it was, or that it should be looked upon as such. They were fighting for their own survival as the “spiritual Authority” behind the Egyptian throne — a “spiritual Authority” which had, in fact, long ceased to be purely spiritual, but that they claimed all the more violently to represent as a means to an end. They had become, in course of time, a more and more intriguing, more and more power-grabbing organisation. They were fighting to retain the possibility of indefinitely extending their privileges. Their ultimate goal (which they were to reach two and a half centuries later)1 was not the defence of the pharaonic order as it stood — royal power separated from, yet in close alliance with priestly authority, — but nothing short of the seizure of the royal sceptre in their own hands and the establishment, to their own profit, of a theocracy in the most ordinary sense of the word, i.e.: of a régime under which both temporal and spiritual power would be theirs. They were fighting, apparently maybe, as champions of the existing order; but in reality, to forward that bold dream of priestly rule.
It was a necessity for them to crush Akhnaton and his dream of divine rule, under which they would have no place. It was a necessity for him to put an end to their intrigues, and to suppress their influence. From the sixth year of his reign onwards, he stood up alone against centuries of tradition and waged war on Amon and on practically all the gods of Egypt, not because his lofty impersonal God had suddenly become a “jealous” one in his eyes; not because he had, himself, become a religious “fanatic” (or an intellectual one), but because he had grown thoroughly conscious of the danger that the priests represented from his point of view, i.e., from the point of view of his State-idea.
The necessity that prompted him to action was more than “religious” or, to be more accurate, it was not religious at all in the narrow, individual sense of the word. It had nothing to
1 In 1117 B.C., when, at the death of Ramose the Eleventh, Hrihor, High-priest of Amon, ascended the Theban throne.
do with his realisation of the Divine, which nobody contested, nor with the destiny of his personal soul, with which nobody interfered. It was the necessity of coping with danger. It arose as a consequence of the stubborn opposition of the priests of Amon to his conception of an ideal theocratic State, headed by himself, and specially to his attempt to make Thebes, — their sacred Thebes, stronghold of their power for centuries, — the centre of such a State. That opposition had to be overcome at any cost, if Akhnaton was at all to try to bring his Golden Age theocracy into existence. But it was powerful, for the priests of Amon were, as a body, fabulously rich. And it was bitter, — desperate; — for the issue at stake presented itself to them in the form of the tragic dilemma: to rule or not to rule, which, to their ambitious hearts, meant: to be or not to be.
We do not know what they actually did to confound the king’s plans. But they surely did something which provoked Akhnaton’s greatest indignation: we have an echo of his vehement reaction to their stand in an unfortunately mutilated inscription upon one of the boundary-stones of Tell-el-Amarna; the text is eloquent, even though many words are missing,1 and shows at least that the Founder of the Religion of the Disk saw in the priests of Amon an essentially evil force. Evil, and mighty. Exceptional situations — dangerous situations — call for exceptional measures. King Akhnaton answered the priests’ hostility by a declaration of war to the finish: he banned the name of Amon as the symbol of the hitherto pharaonic State in which those priests had had so much to say, and as that of the priestly State — the false theocracy — by which they dreamed of replacing it one day; and he had it and all representations of the Theban god erased from all public and private monuments, even from the walls of his own father’s tomb; he clanged his own name, Amenhotep, which meant “Amon is at peace,” into Akhnaton — ”Joy-of-the-Solar-Disk.” And he confiscated the priests’ wealth: their enormous land-property, and all their treasures on which he could lay hands. And he caused
1 “For as may Father liveth ... more evil are they (the priests) than those things which I have heard in the 4th year; more evil are they than those things which King ... heard; more evil are they than those things which Menkheperura (Thotmose IV) heard ... in the mouth of Negroes; in the mouth of any people!”
the doors of the great temple of Amon in Karnak to be closed. Then, seeing in the priesthoods of the many other gods a force that could only ally itself to that of Amon’s servants in their struggle against himself and against the State he intended to build, he soon dismissed them also, and had the names of the traditional deities and the plural word “gods” erased from the inscriptions, and all temples closed (with the exception of those of the Sun-gods of Heliopolis, in connection with whose tradition he intended to give his Aton religion a hold upon his people). And finally, — when he realised that the City of Amon would irredeemably remain hostile to his plans; when he lost all hope of making it the centre of his ideal State — he moved from Thebes in search of some virgin soil upon which he could lay the foundations of the City of his dreams, new capital of the Egyptian Empire; political and religious centre of a new world.
From there, his struggle against the priests of Amon — now dispossessed, but never persecuted, for Akhnaton, the Man “above Time,” was opposed to all violence — would no doubt continue; and so would, from all Egypt, their struggle against him. It was, however, we repeat, — for one can never repeat it and stress it enough — anything but a struggle between his God-conscious “individual” soul and the traditional gods of the community: the national gods as such. It was, least of all, a struggle between “monotheism” and “polytheism.” It was a conflict between the Golden Age conception of the State ruled by an actual King-god — one of the rare divine Men that appear now and then in all ages, but with less and less power on earth as time follows its downward course, — and the conception of the State ruled by a king assisted, and gradually dominated — overshadowed, — and finally replaced by an increasingly powerful priestly class; conception which leads ultimately to priestly rule (in the name of the gods, for the benefit of the priests.) It was the conflict between the long-forgotten State-idea implied in the “Kingdom of Ra,” and that embodied in the pharaonic State rapidly evolving towards the kingdom of Hrihor; in other words, the conflict between real and false theocracy.
* * *
In the sixth year of his reign, Akhnaton founded the City that was to be the pattern and the capital of his ideal State. And he named it Akhetaton — the City-of-the-Horizon-of-the-Disk.
As stated above,1 the place which he selected — and where the ruins of the City are still to be seen, — lies some hundred and ninety miles south of the site of modern Cairo, on the eastern bank of the Nile. It is a crescent-shaped bay, some eight miles long and three miles wide, at the foot of the limestone desert-cliffs which, to the north and to the south of it, abruptly recede from the river.
It is difficult to tell what hidden reasons — what mysterious but all-potent cosmic correspondences — prompted the young. Prophet of the Sun to order his ships to be anchored and his, following to land, as he beheld the predestined bay on his right hand side, during his slow and thoughtful journey down the Nile. There must have been such reasons; there always are for the determination or, rather, for the discovery of a sacred spot, anywhere upon the surface of the earth. And from what one can guess of his religious sensitiveness, Akhnaton was surely aware of their existence, even though it be rash to assert that he “knew” them, intellectually, i.e., that he could have formulated them in clear sentences; explained them. However, two factors undoubtedly played a decisive part in his conscious choice of the site: first, it was beautiful; in the distance, the light-grey lime-stone cliffs — that looked white under the dazzling midday sun, pink or violet at sunset — resplendent between the yellow desert-sand and the pure sky, unbelievably blue. And, coming from the South, one could see their clear-cut outlines, bordering the bay to the North, above the shining, greyish-blue waters of the Nile. Under moon-light (in supposing that Akhnaton had a first glimpse of it at night) the place was no less if not even more dream-like. And, in addition to that, it was virgin land — religiously speaking; sacred, no doubt, according to the untraced cosmic parallelism that made it so, but never yet noticed, never yet recognised and utilised as such; never connected with the cult of any of the man-made deities, or with the life of any king. In the words of the first boundary-stelae of Tell-el-Amarna, it belonged “neither to
1 Page 135.
a god nor to a goddess; neither to a prince nor to a princess.”1 It was awaiting its first consecration — like the new, purified earth, at the opening of every further Time-cycle. It symbolised that innocent and beautiful new Earth.
Akhnaton consecrated it to the fiery Orb, Aton, Source of Life, whence the atoms of its material substance had sprung, milliards of years before; to Aton Whose Essence — Heat-and-Light; vibrating Energy, — he had experienced, realised, to be the same as the essence of his own being, and Whom he could therefore rightly call his “Father.”
He caused a solemn sacrifice to be offered. And then, proceeding to the South and to the North, he halted, and fixed the limits of the holy territory. And he caused the words of consecration to be inscribed upon the stelae set up at its limits: frontier-posts between the world as it was — the world that had refused his message — and the earthly Paradise, like unto that in the far-gone “days of Ra,” which he hoped to reinstall upon that stretch of land, which had never before born a temple or a palace: “It belongs to my Father, Aton; mountains, deserts, meadows, islands, high-grounds, low-grounds, land, water, villages, embankments, men, beasts, groves, and all things which Aton, my Father, will bring into existence, forever and ever.”2
The area occupied by the demarcated territory, which stretched on both sides of the Nile “from the Eastern hills to the Western hills” (including the island in the midst of the river) was indeed very small: it measured roughly eight miles (from north to south) by seventeen (from east to west) — a spot, in comparison with the surface of Egypt, not to speak of the Egyptian Empire and of the whole Earth. And Akhnaton swore a great oath that he would not extend it. He felt, perhaps, that he hardly could expect to bring the world of his dreams into existence, unless it be (to begin with, at least) within a very restricted area.
The size of the place has, however, little importance. What counts is the spirit — the meaning — of its consecration; the intention behind the symbolical gesture opening (or, to be more accurate, haltingly foreshadowing, God alone knew how many
1 Tell-el-Amarna boundary-stelae.
2 Second Foundation inscription, quoted by A. Weigall, “Life and times of Akhnaton” (new and revised edit. 1922), p. 89-90.
thousands of years in advance, the opening of) a new era. As I said, this era was to be nothing less than the “Era of Truth” — the Golden Age — in which the world, aware of all that is implied in its filiation to the Sun, is governed by “gods,” real “Children of the Sun,” not for the greatest “happiness” of the greatest number of men (a decadent idea) but for the fulfillment of Lifers highest purpose, which is to be a conscious hymn to the Sun. And the words of consecration and the oath, first pronounced “on the 13th day of the fourth month of the second season,” in the sixth year of the king’s reign, were repeated, according to a tablet, “on the 8th day of the first month of the second season,” in the eight regal year, when Akhnaton came back to inhabit his newly-built capital; repeated, nay, with renewed stress: “It” (the dedicated territory) “shall be for Aton, my Father: its hills, its deserts, all its fowl, all its people, all its cattle, all things which Aton produces, on which His rays shine; all things which are in Akhetaton, they will be for my Father, the living Aton, unto the temple of Aton in the City, forever and ever. They are all offered to His spirit. And may His rays be beauteous when they receive them.”1
The oath the young king had sworn not to extend the sacred territory beyond the limits he had given it, did not bind him to remain, within it, cut off from the rest of the world, as though in an ivory tower. It merely emphasised the extraordinary importance which he gave the demarcated land (possibly for mystical reasons, unknown to us) and his desire to restrict to it (doubtless for practical reasons) his direct experiment of the ideal State. We know, in fact, from the famous Tell-el-Amarna tablets — a part of his diplomatic correspondence with other kings and with his own high officials and vassals in Syria and Palestine — that he continued governing the Empire from his new capital (only that he governed it in the strange manner of a man who did not live in his own Age). And we know that, apart from the City-of-the-Horizon-of-the-Disk, he founded at least two other towns dedicated to Aton, and intended (in his mind) to be, like the capital, radiating centres of the new worship: one somewhere in Syria — we
1 Quoted by A. Weigall, “Life and times of Akhnaton,” 1922, p. 93.
do not know where, — and one, named Gem-Aton, in Nubia, near the Third Cataract of the Nile.1
As I have pointed out elsewhere2 one is tempted to see, in the choice of these two places, one at each end of his dominions, a sign of Akhnaton’s effort to prepare his whole Empire to become sacred territory, “property of the Sun” in the highest sense of the word. His ultimate desire was, no doubt, to see the rule of the Sun — the socio-political (and religious) earthly order identical to the divine cosmic Order, — established in every land: the Religion of Light and Life as cosmic Energy cannot be limited to a particular area of the earthly sphere. But after his bitter experience in Thebes, he was aware of the difficulties that stand in the way of such an achievement, and of the necessity of acting gradually. The best he could do, to begin with, was to see to it that at least three dedicated cities were built within his Empire. And of these, Akhetaton, the capital, founded upon holy ground which he had personally selected, and directly governed by him, was to be the first visible and tangible instance of the Golden Age theocracy of his dreams: the first example of what the earth can become when a true child of the Sun “causes it to belong to Him Who hath made it.”
* * *
This is not the place to describe in details the City-of-the-Horizon-of-the-Disk. That has been done by archaeologists far better than I could do it. But it is not superfluous to point out that the most suggestive observations of those who, themselves, without prepossessions, have “dug up the past” upon the famous site, confirm that which I have stressed concerning Akhnaton’s tremendous dream, and show, at the same time, how lamentably the City, even when it was at the height of its splendour, fell short of it — for even a Man “above Time” is, in connection with his practical achievements, a prisoner of the Age in which he lives; and no earthly Paradise is possible in a Dark Age.
1 J. Baikie, “The Amarna Age” (edit. 1926), p. 263. Also A. Weigall, l.c., p. 166.
2 “A Son of God,” p. 65.
One of the most pathetic facts about Akhetaton, the “Seat of Truth,” is certainly the haste with which it was built.
Within about two years — between the date of the solemn consecration of the holy territory, in the sixth year of Akhnaton’s reign, and the date at which he came and settled there, early in the eighth year, — the new capital took shape, with the result that, in many instances, instead of finely-cut masonry, “rubble was used, with a thin stone facing. Mud brick was white-washed to look like lime-stone.”1 Even the tombs, — “houses of eternity” — that the king caused to be hewn out of the live rock, in the desert hills to the east of the City, for those of his followers that he particularly wished to honour, “also witness to the furious hurry in which everything was done and to the lack of sufficient skilled artisans and artists.”2 It was as though Akhnaton had known from the start that his days were numbered, and had been obsessed by the tragic dilemma: “Now, — or never!” (which is, in fact, the dilemma hanging over the genesis of all great achievements within Time, more or less at any period, save at the beginning of a new Time-cycle, and whatever be the quality — “in Time,” “above Time” or “against Time” — of the men fated to act; the dilemma more and more inseparable from action in Time as such, as one advances towards — or into — the Dark Age.)
And yet, — in spite of that haste, — the City, the central part of which at least was “particularly well laid out,”3 was, on the whole, an exceptional abode of order and beauty. It stretched between the light, greyish-yellow sand of the desert and the orchards and gardens that bordered the Nile, over a distance of five miles from south to north, on either side of two main avenues. One of these is, to this day, known to the inhabitants of the near-by villages as “the Imperial Way” — Sikket-es Sultan — while the other, somewhat further east, has been given the name of High-Priest Street by the modern excavators of the site — as though the theocratic idea that gave birth to the short-lived capital had imposed itself upon their
1 J. D. S. Pendlebury, “Tell-el-Amarna” (edit. 1935), p. 17.
2 J. D. S. Pendlebury, Ibid., p. 56.
3 J. D. S. Pendlebury, Ibid., p. 41.
sub-conscious mind. In the Northern Suburb, “High-Priest Street” is continued as “West Road,” while another thoroughfare, parallel to it, —“East Road” — has been cleared to the east of it. A number of other streets ran from West to East, at right angles to the former. The breadth of the town was roughly three quarters of a mile. In the centralmost locality, fronting on the main avenue — the “Imperial Way” — lay the king’s vast estate, with its private and official quarters, its gardens and pleasure-lake, its beautiful private temple, and, to the North of it, the Great Temple of Aton. There was another palace at the northern end of the City, and several more temples. In fact, every house — whether that of a well-known courtier or high-official, lodged in the immediate neighbourhood of the royal estate, or that of a man of less exalted condition, such as those who lived in what is now known as “the Northern Suburb” — was provided with a chapel. About a mile to the South of the capital, were the famous gardens of Maru-Aton, — the nearest approach to an earthly Paradise, if any, — with their fresh green arbours, their colonnaded pavilions and their artificial lakes full of pink and white lotus-flowers. While to the East, between the City and the lime-stone hills that limited the landscape, lay a small walled village, regularly planned, with neat rows of cottages all alike, destined, — the archaeologists presume, — to the workmen occupied on the tombs in the Eastern hills.
In glaring contrast to all the older temples of Egypt — and, may I add, to the classical temples of India, to this day, — in which the holy of holies, abode of the hidden God, is the smallest and the darkest room, “the Temple at Amarna was a true sanctuary of the Sun, with airy courts open to the sky succeeding one another as far as the High Altar.”1 And this is true of all the religious buildings of Akhnaton’s capital, from the Great Temple of Aton, which was to be the centre of the new worship in the whole of the Egyptian Empire, down to the most modest private chapel, comprising just one altar in the midst of a small court.
The spirit of the new worship, — the idea that enthusiasm at the sight of light and beauty is the best form of adoration, —
1 J. D. S. Pendlebury, “Tell-el-Amarna,” p. 77.
is everywhere obvious. A curious fact, however, — too curious not to be mentioned — is that, while in the State temples the altar was always approached facing the East, “orientation did not seem to matter in the private chapels, which faced “in all directions.”1 Was this, on the part of many a house-owner, a senseless and spectacular reaction against Tradition, taken indiscriminately, as a whole? And if so, how is it that the king — who did not reject that which, in Tradition, actually symbolised eternal facts or laws, — allow his subjects to disregard such an important matter as the orientation of their Sun-chapels? The only possible answer to that question is that, although he considered it his duty to observe the potent symbolism of orientation with regard to State temples, (thus putting the State in harmony with the Solar System) Akhnaton was, like all those who have risen above the bondage of Time and Space, convinced that “wherever one turns, there is God,” and that he therefore judged it unnecessary to interfere — taken, of course, for granted that he knew that so many chapels within his sacred City were not oriented. To him, as I just said, the most important thing in religion was reverent, adoring joy at the awareness of supreme beauty. The right sense of symbolical correspondences was, indeed, the natural outcome of true devotion to true Divinity. Its natural outcome, but not its generator. The important thing, in practice, remained the creation of that atmosphere of beauty and innocent joy of life — that actual Golden Age atmosphere, — external expression of wisdom “above Time” and yet “faithful to the earth,” in the midst of which the symbolical correspondences — signs of harmony between earth and cosmos, — would automatically appear, and be felt.
Everything in Akhetaton — everything, at least, which lay within the king’s power; everything that illimited wealth and unfettered artistry could produce, at the command and under the inspiration of a god-like Man who was himself an artist,2 — was designed to forward such an atmosphere.
1 J. D. S. Pendlebury, Tell-el-Amarna.”
2 J. D. S. Pendlebury, (Tell-el-Amarna,” edit. 1936, p. 92) suggests that Akhnaton quite possibly used himself to paint. “Two paint brushes of palm-fibre, several fish-bones for use of drawing quills, the end still stained with colour, and a good deal of raw paints were found in a private room of the king’s palace.”
Both the Great Temple of Aton and the king’s main palace were buildings of unbelievable splendour.1 The decoration of the latter, — its painted pavements in the new, free “Amarna style,” representing calves gambolling through high grasses full of poppies, or wild ducks waddling their way through marshes, (or, in the more public rooms, processions of the subject-races of the Empire: Negroes and Nubians, Libyans and Semites); its wall-frescoes picturing birds and butterflies fluttering over ponds covered with water-lilies, while silver-scaled fishes swam between the reeds; its painted ceilings, picturing flights of pigeons, — was, like that of the Northern Palace, a hymn to the loveliness of Life; the visible equivalent of the well-known songs of praise through which we infer the essential of Akhnaton’s religion. And one can hardly imagine the impression that one must have had on entering what seems to have been its immense reception hall, the 542 palm-shaped pillars of which bore capitals inlaid with gold and richly-coloured glazes.
And although the temple has been so utterly destroyed that nothing is left of it but the foundations, we can safely presume that it was no less beautifully adorned than the king’s own dwelling.
Indeed, even the ordinary middle-class house in Akhetaton, the type of which can be studied in the remains of the Northern Suburb of the City, was more lovely than many a rich flat of our modern world. Not only was it independent, — self-contained — and practically always situated within extensive grounds,2 but it had more than a sufficient number of rooms to secure privacy to the members of a large household and was provided with all the comfort that was possible in Eighteenth Dynasty Egypt. And the walls were painted with birds and garlands, less elaborately, of course, than those of the palace, but in the same nature-loving spirit, and the inside of it, though simple, “must have been a glow of colour,
1 See the description of them in Arthur Weigall’s “Life and Times of Akhnaton” (edit. 1922) — in Baikie’s “Amarna Age” (edit. 1926); in J. D. S. Pendlebury’s “Tell-el-Amarna” (edit. 1935), etc.
2 The house T. 36, 11 studied by J. D. S. Pendlebury, lay, for instance, in an enclosure of seventy yards by fifty. (See Pendlebury’s “Tell-el-Amarna,” edit. 1935, p. 102 and following.)
with the patches of bright paint and the gilded or polished furniture.”1
The remains of the whole place testify to Akhnaton’s attempt to make it the pattern and the centre of a world of beauty and happiness; of a world regenerated through utmost truth to Nature — faithfulness to the spirit of the Sun. And more eloquent, perhaps, than all the rest, are the ruins of the “workmen’s village” to the East of the City. There stood regularly planned “neat rows of cottages side by side,”2 along roads at right angle to one another. Each labourer shared with his family one of those little cottages, which comprised “a front room, used both as a kitchen and as a parlour, bedrooms, and a cupboard at the back Inside the houses, rough paintings on the mud walls hint at the effort of the individual workman to decorate his surroundings and to express his piety; the charms and amulets picked up on the floor show which of the many goods of Egypt were most in favour with working men; scattered tools and implements tell of the work of each, or of his pursuits in leisure hours.”3 And if, as it has sometimes been supposed, — as the single entrance to it, the “marks of patrol roads all round it,” the surrounding walls “in no way defensive” but high enough to “keep people in,”4 and its apparently intentional aloofness from the City, would perhaps suggest, — this “workmen’s village” was, in fact, a place of internment for men who had disobeyed the king, (what people call to-day a “re-education” camp, when they are polite, or a concentration camp, when they are not, or when they speak of “the enemy’s” institutions), then its evidence would be even more eloquent still. For, dreary as they may have looked, in their uniformity, those little houses all in a row were far better than any “coolie lines” of modern India (before 1947, at least), nay, better than the English workmen’s dwellings of the dark years of industrial growth, in the nineteenth Century. And their
1 J. D. S. Pendlebury, “Tell-el-Amarna” (edit. 1935), p. 109.
2 J. D. S. Pendlebury, “Tell-el-Amarna” (edit. 1935), p. 58 and 118. See also Sir Leonard Woolley, “Digging Up the Past,” p. 61-63.
3 Sir Leonard Woolley, Ibid., p. 62.
4 See J. D. S. Pendlebury, “Tell-el-Amarna,” (just quoted).
inmates — whether free labourers or “internees” — had “leisure hours.” And they were not asked — or “conditioned” — to, pay homage to the faith in power, as people are to-day under every capitalistic and non-capitalistic form of Democracy. “They clung to their old gods, and their favourite seems to have been Bes, the little dancing lion-dwarf.”1 Akhnaton was a forerunner neither of Christianity nor of Democracy nor of Marxism, nor of any man-centred faith of this world or of the next, — product of decay, typical of an advanced stage of the Age of Gloom or misapplication of a doctrine of despair and escape from earth. He was, as I said before, one of the very rare men “above Time” who, while refusing to accept the conditions of the Age of Gloom, did not turn their backs to this world; and perhaps the only such one endowed, in historical times, with absolute power. Only if one considers him — and it — in this light, can one hope to understand his creation: Akhetaton, centre of true solar theocracy and capital of a new earth.
* * *
Only if one considers it in its political symbolism — as an expression of Akhnaton’s claim to embody the oldest and true — the perennial-solar Tradition, in contrast to what that Tradition had become through the gradual rise of Amon (i.e. of Amon’s priests) to prominence, — can one grasp the right meaning of the most discussed and most misunderstood aspect of the “Amarna style,” namely, of the treatment of the king’s own figure, and of that of the members of his family, in nearly all but the very early paintings and reliefs of his reign.
In all these pictures “the skull is elongated; the chin, as seen in profile, is drawn as though it were sharply pointed; the flesh under the jaw is skimped, thus giving an upward turn to the line; and the neck is represented as being long and thin,” details to which one must add the prominent paunch and the abnormally large hips and thighs, “though from the knee downwards, the legs are of more natural size.”2 The explanation given for those anatomic abnormalities by many,
1 J. D. S. Pendlebury, “Tell-el-Amarna” (edit. 1936), p. 58.
2 Arthur Weigall, “Life and Times of Akhnaton” (edit. 1922), p. 59
nay, by most archaeologists, is simple — too simple, in fact. It rests upon the following reasoning process: in all its other aspects, (as one can see from the scenes of animal and plant life on the walls and pavements of the palaces,) the Amarna art excells in faithfulness to nature; it has represented Akhnaton with a misshaped head and an ungainly body; therefore he must have been afflicted with both.” Too simple, I say, for this is contradicted by several likenesses of the king such as the life-size lime-stone bust of the Berlin Museum,1 which is anything but out of proportion. The true explanation is to, Ire sought elsewhere: in the time-honoured tradition that “Ra-Horakhti had once reigned on earth,” and in the comparison of the strangest “portraits” of the king, queen and princesses with the Egyptian “wood and slate carvings and ivory figures of archaic times.” “The similarity between the treatment of the human body in this archaic art and the “new” art of Akhnaton at once becomes apparent,” writes Arthur Weigall, the one archaeologist who, to my knowledge, and whatever may have been his prepossessions about the Aton religion, hinted at the right significance of the strange “exaggerations” of the Amarna artists; “in all representations of archaic men, one sees the elongated skull, so characteristic of the king’s style; in the clay and ivory figures is the prominent stomach; and here also, most apparent of all, are the unaccountably large thighs and ponderous hips.”2 And he produces, in support of this statement, two royal heads and a statuette in archaic style discovered by Sir Flinders Petrie at Abydos and Diospolis,3 works of art in which the “Amarna features are obvious,” and he boldly holds Akhnaton’s “new style” for what it is: not the realistic portraiture of an ungainly model, still less the sickly creation of decadent artists in search of bizarrerie, but an “archaic renaissance” with a deep political meaning; the external sign of a return to the old idea of divine kingship, with its old implications.
This is indeed the only explanation of the “Amarna style” In the light of which the apparent contrast between the utter realism in the rendering of nature scenes (and in some of the
1 Now in Wiesbaden.
2 Arthur Weigall, “Life and Times of Akhnaton” (edit. 1922), p. 63.
3 See the pictures in Weigall’s quoted book (p. 64).
portrait painting and sculpture) and the strangeness of the distorted “portraits,” disappears. The figures of calves and ducks and papyrus-reeds and water-lilies merely had to be true to life — and decorative; the figures of the king, son of the Sun, had first (and even at the cost of external beauty) to be true to the meaning and purpose of his reign; they had, through unmistakable filiation to models as archaic as possible, to manifest, in a manner likely to strike the Egyptians, the filiation of Akhnaton’s new order to the “days of Ra,” past and to come; they had, nay, to be a sign that, with him, in Akhetaton at least, the “days of Ra” had returned.
The same intention, the same theocratic symbolism, is to be noticed in the fact — equally stressed by A. Weigall, — that the king is nearly always represented with the crown of Lower Egypt — by far the oldest of the “Two Lands,” and the immemorial seat of that Heliopolitan Sun-worship with which he tried so hard to connect his, In the minds and hearts of his subjects, — and that “the names of the new God were placed within royal cartouches”;1 also in the fact that, wherever one turns in Akhetaton, the person of the King is honoured, exalted — adored — along with the Disk with rays ending in hands, Sign of impersonal, cosmic Godhead.
This can be seen in the most simple, the most average private houses of the sacred City. Every house was, as stated above, provided with a more or less elaborate private chapel, the place of worship of the family. There, “on the back wall behind the altar” — the wall one faced when standing before the altar, in the attitude of prayer-would be placed a stele not merely picturing the Sun-disk, Symbol of the all-pervading He-She-It, “Heat-and-Light-within-the-Disk,” but “showing the King worshipping the Disk of the Sun.”2 And there were representations of the King, as well as written words in praise of Aton, in more than one part of the house outside the chapel; many a niche or false door, sunk into a wall for the sake of symmetry, was inscribed with prayers, and “one at least shows a scene of the king making an offering,”3 while “the
1 Arthur Weigall, “Life and Times of Akhnaton” (edit. 1922), p. 65. J. D. S. Pendlebury, l.c., p. 14.
2 J. D. S. Pendlebury, “Tell-el-Amarna” (edit. 1935), p. 102.
3 J. D. S. Pendlebury, Ibid., p. 109.
lintel of the front door” (in the same house) bore a picture of the owner of the house “worshipping the royal and divine Names, and saying a short prayer.”1
This can be seen also, and no less glaringly, in the twenty-five tombs in the desert hills, to the East of the City. “Taken together,” those tombs, where not a single reference to Osiris or to any of the old mythology of the Netherworld is to be found, and where only two funeral scenes are depicted,2 “only reveal one personality, one family, one home, one career and one mode of worship. This is the figure, family, palace and occupations of the King, and the worship of the Sun — which also was his.”3 Of course, scenes from the career of those men to whom the tombs were destined, — in the tomb of Mahu, for instance, scenes showing the latter’s efficiency as Commander of the Police, — were also represented upon the walls. But they are always connected, in one manner or another, with the person of the King. They tell the loyalty which the courtiers (outwardly at least) professed to him; their readiness to “hearken to his Teaching of life”; the generosity with which he lavished rewards upon them for their zeal in the discharge of their official duties and for their alleged orthodoxy regarding the Religion of the Disk. And the scenes of domestic life-the naturalness of which has been emphasised by all archaeologists, — show the life of the royal family. And the scenes of worship picture the King and Queen before the altar of the Sun. And in their prayers, the noblemen, owners of the tombs, beg Aton, the Source of life, Who is also the Ruler of Destiny, to grant them to continue serving the King beyond the gates of death, and proclaim, again and again, in beautiful words, Akhnaton’s divinity as Son of the Sun: “Thou hast formed him out of Thine own Rays... He is Thy Emanation...”;4 “Thy rays are upon Thy bright Image, the Ruler of Truth, who proceedeth from Eternity; Though givest him Thy duration and Thy years... As long
1 J. D. S. Pendlebury, Ibid. p. 103.
2 In the burial chamber of Princess Makitaton, and in the tomb of Huya.
3 Norman de Garis Davies, “The Rack Tombs of el-Amarna,” p. 18-19.
4 Tomb of Vita (Inscription).
as Heaven is, He shall be!”1 “Thou art eternal, Neferkhepe-rura Ua-en-Ra” (Beautiful Essence of the Sun, Only One of the Sun); “living and sound art thou, for He begat thee.”2
One has indeed to follow the stream- of history nearly three thousand years — namely, down to the relatively modern great Sun-state of South America, the Inca Empire, to find such an absolute identification of the person of the King with the Sun, Principle of cosmic Godhead. But there is an enormous difference — a difference in nature, in meaning, not merely in years, — between that latest in date of the traditional Sun-kingdoms3 and the short-lived City of the Horizon of Aton. The Inca State was perhaps the most eminently “totalitarian” State of all times (if I be allowed to apply that fashionable word to a reality centuries old), a State in which everything, — including private individuals’ marriages — was firmly and minutely regulated by the Government, and, in addition to that, a warrior-like State, — a State in which the necessity of war was, at least, fully recognised, although its kings were not wantonly aggressive. With its lofty solar religion, — very much the same as Akhnaton’s and, contrarily to that of Japan, the only religious force in the land,4 — and its great ideal of social justice, it was what I would call a State “against Time.” Akhnaton’s holy City was a place of individual liberty as well as a place of beauty, and his new order, an order of peace, for he was a Man “above Time.” They were fully so, however, only to the extent it was for him materially (and psychologically) possible to bring his dream of an earthly paradise into existence. And this was not possible for, as I said before, there is and there can be no State “above Time” in the Dark Age.
1 Tomb of May (Inscription).
2 Tomb of Ay (Inscription).
3 Japan, the one Sun-State of our contemporary world is much older. But I do not mention it in this connection because of the very long eclipse of the Emperors’ personal rule, (from the days of Yoritomo, the first Shogun, (1186-1199) to 1866.) Also because of the part played by thought currents other than State Sun-worship (Buddhism; Confucianism, etc.) in Japanese history.
4 Even before 551 A.D. (date of the introduction of Buddhism) Japan had other important gods besides the Sun-Goddess. Legend shows that for a long time the supremacy of the latter had to be won over the claims of her powerful and troublesome brother Su-sa-no-wo, the tempest god.
* * *
There can be none, because every State rests upon coercion — i.e. violence — nay, because, always, save at the very dawn of a new Time-cycle, — and all the more as one advances into an Age of Gloom, — life itself is inseparable from violence under some form or another. And archaeological evidence shows that, with all its loveliness, Akhnaton’s City was no exception to the eternal Laws. However much the sight of it may have been, as a whole, “like a glimpse of Heaven,”1 it bore, even materially, the signs of the Dark Ages: behind the beautiful estates that lined the roads in the North Suburb and the “second ring of medium-sized houses” at the back of these, “finally came the slums: a mere tangle of hovels, sharing common court-yards.”2 In spite of his endeavour to give everyone a place within his sacred territory; nay, in spite of the fact that he had, in his hymns, laid down the principle of the separation of races, implying the idea that only natural differences among men should be sanctioned and stressed in a society copied upon the eternal Order of heaven, Akhnaton could not, even in the City of his dreams, avoid the bitter struggle for space between the well-to-do and the poor, on grounds of wealth alone, struggle that had, in his days already, long become one of the permanent features of human life. It is indeed difficult to say whether, in that “tangle of hovels” — the back streets of the Northern Suburb, — no Egyptian lived, whom his sincere adherence to the Religion of the Disk and his qualities of character should have recommended to the king’s attention and won him a private house as comfortable as that which Pnahesi the Ethiopian (or the Negro)3 occupied to the South of the official Quarters.
There is more. As I said above, the so-called “workmen’s village,” some miles to the East of the capital, looks strangely like a model convicts’ camp, run under exceptionally humane conditions. Now, even if it were just a workmen’s village (which is, possible, despite the isolating walls, and the traces
1 Inscription in the tomb of May (tomb 14) at Tell-el-Amarna.
2 J. D. S. Pendlebury, “Tell-el-Amarna” (edit. 1935), p. 45.
3 Sir Wallis Budge, “Tutankhamon, Amenism, Atenism and Egyptian Monotheism,” p. 92.
of patrol roads all round it), still the fact would remain that there existed an armed police-force in Akhetaton, and that this force did not confine its activity to mere parades. This is unmistakably shown upon the walls of the tomb of Mahu, “Chief of the Police,”1 where malefactors are actually pictured “led handcuffed into the presence of the Vizier and other nobles, for examination.”2 There is, admittedly, no evidence at all of the death-penalty, or even of drastic repression methods, having existed within the sacred area (or, in fact, anywhere in Egypt) during Akhnaton’s reign. (Sir Wallis Budge’s assumption of the contrary is a purely gratuitous one, based, as he himself states, upon the mere fact that Akhnaton’s was an “Oriental” Court.)3 And even the priests of Amon — the King’s arch-enemies, — were merely dispossessed of their fabulous wealth, and, apparently, neither killed nor in any way persecuted (otherwise, this would have been recorded — and stressed — in such inscriptions as the Cairo stele, describing conditions under Akhnaton’s government, retrospectively, after the restoration of the cult of Amon). Yet, the mere existence of a force of coercion in Akhetaton shows that the City was not the earthly paradise of the king’s dreams.
The maintenance of a police was not the only willing or unwilling — conscious or unconscious — concession of the Man “above Time” to the necessities (or to the standing conditions) of this Dark Age. All archaeologists agree that not only was Akhnaton himself “no hunter,” but that there is in his reign no evidence of hunting, as though the cruel sport had been forbidden, or at least strongly discouraged, as contrary to the spirit of a religion which exalted the beauty and sanctity of Life. Yet, on the other hand, it is more difficult to deny the evidence of at least occasional animal-sacrifices in connection with the Religion of the Disk. Even though the offerings may have consisted “mostly of vegetables, fruits and flowers”;4 even though a passage of Sir Wallis Budge relating to the altars in the open courts of the Great Temple of Aton
1 Tomb No. 9, (southern series) at Tell-el-Amarna.
2 J. D. S. Pendlebury, “Tell-el-Amarna” (edit. 1915), p. 52.
3 Sir Wallis Budge, “Tutankhamon, Amenism, Atenism and Egypt, Monotheism, p. 107-108.
4 A. Weigall, “Life and Times of Akhnaton” (edit. 1922), p. 108.
would seem to suggest that no sacrifices were offered upon them, any more than on the altar which Queen Hatshepsut had erected to Ra-Horakhti in her temple at Der-el-Bahri,1 there remains the first inscription set up in commemoration of the foundation of Akhetaton, which states that the King offered Aton a great sacrifice “of bread, beer, horned bulls, polled bulls, beasts, fowl, wine, incense and all goodly herbs”;2 there remains the disturbing, even if not hundred per cent convincing, pictorial evidence of garlanded bulls,3 and of feasts in which the presence of meat and poultry is suggested.4 It may be, of course, that Akhnaton only allowed animal sacrifices in order to impress upon his people the filiation of his “new” cult to the immemorial Sun-cult of Heliopolis, of which such ritual blood-shed was a feature, — he needed spectacular concessions to deep-rooted tradition, if he was to impose upon Egypt, “peacefully,” a religion as “un-Egyptian” as his. It may be also that he realised that, if suppressed, the time-honoured rite, which at least regulated and restricted meat-eating to some extent, would only be replaced by a more extensive and more gruesome slaughter of animals in the name of gluttony alone (as it actually was to be, one day, in the Christian world). But whatever be the explanation one might put forward to reconcile his attitude in this matter with the lofty Golden Age wisdom that radiates from all we know of Akhnaton’s career, it cannot destroy the fact that the two are incompatible.
There never was and there never can be any killing of innocent birds and beasts, — be it as offerings to the Sun — in a
1 Sir Wallis Budge, “History of Egypt” (edit. 1902), Vol. IV, p. 122: “...it is possible that the idea of the altars was suggested to the architect Bek, the son of Men, by the altar which Queen Hatshepsut, had erected in her temple at Der-al-Bahari. It is an interesting fact that no sacrifices of any, kind were offered up either on the Queen’s altar on the altars of her successors, and it must be noted that the Queen says in bar inscription that she had built the altar for her father Ra-Harmachis, and that Ra-Harmachis was the one ancient god of the Egyptians that Amenhotep IV delighted to honour.”
2 Quoted by A. Weigall, “Life and times of Akhnaton” (edit. 1922), p. 83.
3 In the tomb of Merira, (tomb 4) at Tell -el-Amarna.
4 In the tomb of Huya, (tomb 1) at Tell-el-Amarna.
real Golden Age. And the toleration of this most ancient rite, even exceptionally, and with the most laudable practical justification, in Akhnaton’s holy City, merely illustrates with further forcifulness how impossible it is for a Man “above s Time” — nay, specially for a Man “above Time” — to create an earthly paradise within our Dark Age.
* * *
But the most tragically instructive instance of the application of a Golden Age wisdom to the earth in this Dark Age, regardless of the conditions of the latter, is to be studied in Akhnaton’s uncompromising “no” to war, in his refusal, as the head of an Empire, to accept the law of violence, which is the law of Time par excellence (and specially the law of Time in all Dark Ages.)
The story of the unrest in Syria and Palestine — i.e. in the whole northern portion of the Egyptian Empire, — in Akhnaton’s reign has been pieced together from some three hundred clay tablets covered with cuneiform writing — the diplomatic script of his days, — found in 1887 and 1891 among the ruins of Akhetaton, and representing the despatches sent to the King by vassal dynasts and Egyptian governors of the war-torn lands. We do not — and, unfortunately, shall never — know the whole story, for over two thirds of the clay tablets were lost through senseless mishandling, after their discovery.1 But from what we do know of it, the situation can be retrospectively summed up and characterised as “a great concerted anti-Egyptian movement”2 led by local vassal princes in close alliance with wild plundering elements, apparently desert tribes: the Sa-Gaz, in North Syria, and the Habiru (in wham some authors are tempted to recognise the “Hebrews,” in one of the invading waves that carried them to what they called their “promised Land”) in Palestine, while at the back of it, invisible organiser of all the trouble, stood Shubbiluliuma, the ambitious and crafty king of the Hittites, whose aim it was to extend his own domination at the expense of the Egyptian Empire.
1 Sir Flinders Petrie, “History of Egypt,” Vol. 11, p. 259.
2 S. Cook, “Cambridge Ancient History” (edit. 1924), Vol. 11, p 303.
The movement seems to have had two main centres: the land of Amor, in Northern Syria, and the Plain of Jezreel, in Palestine. The Amorite chieftain Abdashirta and his three sons — and, foremost among these, the famous Aziru, — and Ikatama, the “man of Kadesh,” and, in the South, Labaya (or Lapaya), Tagi, Milki-Ili, and others, were the most troublesome anti-Egyptian dynasts, — those whose names one reads over and over again in the complaining reports addressed to Akhnaton by loyal ones such as Abi-Milki of Tyre, Biridiya of Megiddo, and, above all, Ribaddi, the indefatigable “king” of Gebal (Byblos), and Abdikhipa, Governor of Jerusalem.
These both remained unflinchingly faithful to the end (even after Abi-Milki and many another staunch ally of Egypt had long gone over to the Sa-Gaz in sheer desperation, as no help had come to him from Pharaoh, in answer to his pathetic despatches.) Their messages are not only the most numerous (over fifty letters addressed to Akhnaton by Ribaddi alone have come down to us), but they are moving beyond words, even to this day, at a distance of three thousand three hundred years — moving, as completely selfless loyalty, (loyalty coupled with the certainty of disaster) always is. And at first, one can only experience bewilderment at Akhnaton’s attitude as he took knowledge of them; bewilderment and something more, at his apparent indifference to the fate of those who were dying for him with such faith. But let us recall in a nutshell the general course of events, as one follows it in the “Tell-el-Amarna Letters.”
The immediate impression one gathers from these most ancient diplomatic documents is extremely confusing. A number of local princes and chieftains, after equally lengthy and vehement protestations of their own loyalty to the King of Egypt, describe him the growing unrest in their particular areas, every one of them accusing his neighbour of being a friend of the Sa-Gaz (or of the Habiru) a liar and a traitor. It is only gradually, — as one reads further messages, — that one begins to understand who is really loyal and who is not. Then one reads of dynasts at first faithful to Egypt — such as Abi-Milki — who, one after the other, go over to the opposite — anti-Egyptian — camp. Their names are given in the letters of other local dynasts, who still hold on. But from the increasing
entreaty in their own messages — appeals for military help and protection — one concludes that no satisfactory answer had reached them from the distant Capital of the Sun, and that they have gone over to the enemy in sheer rage and disgust, not wanting to die uselessly for a king who did not seem to value their devotion to his cause. Soon, there are practically only two chieftains who have accepted to carry on, in the name of and for Egypt, the struggle against the Sa-Gaz and Habiru and whomever might stand on their side; two last sincere allies of Akhnaton as an emperor: Ribaddi and Abdikhipa. The letters of both of them give a rapidly darkening picture of the situation, and lay more and more stress upon the urgency of the Pharaoh’s intervention, if the Empire is to be saved.
The progress of the Amorites, under Abdashirta and his sons, towards the South (and towards the sea-coast) makes Ribaddi feel threatened in his stronghold. And yet, in the beginning, his demands strike us as being indeed very modest, “May it seem good to my Lord, the Sun of the Lands, to send me twenty pairs of horses,”1 writes he, in one of his early despatches. In another he merely asks for “three hundred men”2 to help him to hold Gebal (Byblos) against the increasing menace. But that aid is, apparently, never sent. And although Abdashirta is killed in a skirmish, the Amorites push forward, now in alliance with Arvad, a coastal town that has thrown in its lot with theirs. And they are besieging Simyra, another — important — harbour. “As a bird in the fowler’s snare, so is Simyra. Night and day the sons of Abdashirta are against it, by land, and the men of Arvad by sea.”3 Meanwhile, the elders of distant Tunip, in North-East Syria, send Akhnaton what is, certainly, one of the most moving official documents of all times: “Who could formerly have plundered Tunip, without being plundered by Men-kheper-Ra? (Thotmose the Third) ... May the king, our Lord, ask his old men if it be not so. But now, we no longer belong to Egypt” ... “Aziru will treat Tunip as he has treated Niy ... And when Aziru enters Simyra, he will do to us as he pleases, and
1 Letter 103, (Knutzon Collection).
2 Letter 93, (Knutzon Collection).
3 Letter 84, (Winckler Collection).
the King will have to lament... And now, Tunip, thy city, weeps, and her tears are flowing and there is no help for us. For twenty years we have been sending (despatches) to our Lord, the King of Egypt, but there has not come to us a word from our Lord — not one!”1
Still no aid comes. It is as though Akhnaton were deaf to all appeals: as though the fate of his dominions did not interest him or, as though, perhaps, — one wonders — the Syrian news never reached him.
More local dynasts — Zimrida, of Sidon; Yapa-addu, and others, — join the enemies of Egypt. Ribaddi sends the king a list of the towns that “the sons of Abadashirta” have taken, describes his own plight, cut off as he is from the ports of Northern Syria and surrounded by enemies closing in on him, and begs, again and again, for troops to be sent to him, to help him defend Simyra. For if Simyra falls, Byblos is sure to fall. But no troops are sent. And a line or two upon a clay tablet tell Akhnaton the result of his refusal to fight: “Simyra, thy fortress, is now in the power of the Sa-Gaz.”2
Then follows the whole story of Ribaddi’s desperate stand, from the midst of a starving town in growing rebellion against him, — alone; loyal, to his overlord to the bitter end, in spite of every sign of the latter’s indifference; — and his last pathetic appeal: “O, let not my Lord the king neglect the city”3 and his last brief news: “The enemy does not depart from the gates of Byblos....”
As Byblos fell, he was captured by Aziru, and delivered into the hands of the confederate Amorite chiefs, to be put to death in a manner one is left to imagine. We know it from Akhnaton’s one surviving letter, written to Aziru after the happening. The King’s grief and indignation, as the deed was brought to his knowledge, seem hardly compatible with his constant refusal to help the most faithful and the bravest of all his vassals.
The despatches from Palestine give the account of parallel events succeeding one another at the same tragic tempo:
1 Letter 41, (Winckler Collection) quoted (CLXX) by Sir Flinders Petrie “Hist. Egypt,” Vol. II, p. 292-293.
2 Letter 56, (Winckler Collection).
3 Letter 137, (Knutzon Collection).
increasing pressure of the Habiru from all sides, and increasing disaffection of the chieftains hitherto loyal to Egypt, as they receive no aid in answer to their distressed letters; intrigues of the most able hostile princelings in order to bribe or threaten into their alliance (and that of the Habiru) those who still hesitate, wondering where their interest lies; and, from the one man faithful to Egypt to the end, namely Abdikhipa, Governor of Jerusalem, further reports of spreading lawlessness, — plunder and murder — and desperate appeals for help, and desperate warnings that, if no help comes, the whole land will become the prey of the rebels and of their allies — “If no troops come this year, all the lands of the king, my Lord, will be lost”;1 — postscripts addressed to Akhnaton’s cuneiform scribe, with whom Abdikhipa seems to have been personally acquainted: “Bring clearly before the king, my Lord, these words: All the lands of the king my Lord are going to ruin.”2 And finally, the faithful Governor’s last report of disaster: “Now, the Habiru occupy the cities. Not one prince remains; all are ruined,”3 — and his last protest of loyalty, in, spite of all: “The king has set his name upon the Land of Jerusalem, for ever; therefore I cannot forsake the Land of Jerusalem.”4
There is no evidence that Akhnaton did anything to defend his last stronghold in Asia, be it at the eleventh hour; or that he tried to recover any portion of the lost territories. And thus “from the boundaries of Asia Minor and Northern Mesopotamia to the Sinai Desert, Egyptian domination now became a thing of the past — a thing, nay, that was, despite the efforts and partial success of the Pharaohs of the next dynasty, never to be again.”5
And along with the Egyptian Empire (and with Akhnaton’s prestige at home, which alone victorious war could have strengthened) disappeared the chances of the Religion of the Disk to remain the State religion of Egypt and to become, in the form Akhnaton had given it, a world-force. In Syria, harsh
1 Letter 183, (Winckler Collection).
2 Same letter.
3 Letter 181, (Winckler Collection).
4 Quoted by J. Baikie, “The Amarna Age” (edit. 1926), p. 183.
5 See “A Son of God,” p. 208.
Hittite domination replaced mild Egyptian rule. And if the Habiru of the Tell-el-Amarna Letters really be the all-too-well-known Hebrews, it is hardly necessary to point out what far-reaching consequences — totally unpredictable in Akhnaton’s days — their permanent settling in Canaan was to have for world history. This was not the last time that a ruler’s reluctance to war was to originate developments far worse (in the long run) than war would have been, nor — if the above suggestion be right, — the last time that a generous dream was finally to forward the ends of the least generous of all races. But it was the first — and last — time that such a powerful potentate, — the mightiest of his epoch, — took on such a terrible responsibility for the sake of and sacrificed so much to an ideal of peace rooted neither in a philosophy of decay (like the pacifism of most of our contemporaries) nor in a lofty, but other-worldly wisdom, such as Emperor Asoka’s Buddhism, but in a Golden Age conception of life, at the same time unquestionably generous and faithful to this earth.
For there is no reason to suppose, as some archaeologists seem to, that Akhnaton acted, or rather, abstained from acting, out of sheer ignorance of the situation. True, the Tell-el-Amarna Letters are confusing. True, the most decidedly treacherous vassals of Egypt, such as Abdashirta, or Aziru himself, express their allegiance to their “Lord, the King, the Sun of the lands” in the most glowing phrases (all the more glowing that they are more treacherous). True, there were at the Court of Akhetaton, elements of very, very doubtful loyalty (such as that Tutu, with whom Aziru was personally in correspondence, and to whom he used to send presents). And Akhnaton “may well have received a very censored and edited version”1 of the Syrian despatches. Still, of all that amount of appealing distress, something must have reached him. And there remained to him, anyhow, one reliable way of finding out the truth, and that consisted in going to Syria himself, as his forefathers had, one after the other. That way be never cared — or wished — to take.
On the other hand, “supineness and apathy”2 are not the
1 J. D. S. Pendlebury, “Tell-el-Amarna” (edit. 1935), p. 221.
2 J. Baikie, “The Amarna Age” (edit. 1926), p. 375.
proper words by which to describe his attitude, or one would not, in his one own surviving letter to Aziru, feel that sincere grief and righteous indignation at the news that Ribaddi has been handed over to the Amorite princes, his bitterest enemies — an indignation that prompts the king even to threaten his vassal with death. Nor would Akhnaton have done all he could and had his other most faithful supporter, Abdikhipa of Jerusalem, safely brought to Egypt according to the latter’s expressed wish, if he just had not cared what happened to those who defended the Empire in his name. No, the young king’s bewildering reaction to the Syrian war cannot be so lightly explained. There is, in fact, no logical explanation for it, outside that given by Arthur Weigall: “...Akhnaton definitely refused to do battle believing that a resort to arms was an offence to God. Whether fortune or misfortune, gain or loss, was to be his lot, he would hold to his principles and would not return to the old gods of battle.”1 Only, the ideal in the name of which he acted, (or, to be more accurate, refrained from acting), was not the Christian-like ideal of “brotherhood of all men” that Arthur Weigall supposes. It was a broader and more rational — truer — ideal; a cosmic ideal, in the light of which “peace on earth and good will towards men” were a mere implication of the established harmony between heaven and earth on all planes; the ideal of paradise here and now, in beauty and fullness of life; I repeat: a Golden Age ideal, faithful not to: this earth as it is, but to this earth as it was and will be, at the beginning of every Time-cycle, when strife is yet unconceivable.
In other words, he refused to act according to the law of violence, which is the law of any development in Time save in a Golden Age.
And yet lie did not turn from this fallen world — renounce the responsibility of temporal power, as Prince Gautama (the Buddha) and Mahavira (the Founder of the Jain religion, also a Kshattriya by birth) were to do, some eight hundred years later. But he lived in it and for it, as though it were not fallen. He refused to become what I have described in the beginning of this book as a “man against Time.” And yet
1 Arthur Weigall, “Life and Times of Akhnaton” (edit. 1922), p. 202.
he did not seek, beyond the loveliness of this sunlit world — and beyond its unavoidable violence — the eternal Principle of that refusal, but found it in the beauty of his earthly Golden Age dream alone.
In this lies his unique position among the famous men “above Time.”
The great Indian Emperor Asoka, son of Bindusara, who was to appear eleven hundred years after him, is the one towering historical figure with whom one might compare him: a man “above Time,” like himself, endowed, like he, with unlimited temporal power; like he, a king who held both hunting and war in abhorrence. (The world-famous apostle of “non-violence” in our times, late Mahatma Gandhi, is not in the same class as either Asoka or Akhnaton. His “nonviolence” is, in reality, the subtlest form of moral violence — a typical product of our Dark Age that distorts and corrupts all vital instincts, and calls them by the wrong names. And he is, — or was — a most realistic man “against Time,” who used that distorted violence as a weapon, identifying it — falsely, though sincerely, — with the real non-violence of those who are not of this world and who do not fight for worldly ends).
But there are differences between the Maurya potentate and the “`King of Upper and Lower Egypt, living in Truth.” First, a fundamental difference in the nature of their creeds; for, although Asoka might not be described as “an ascetic,” the creed in the name of which he protected all life (and first gave up war) was an ascetic one: a creed of renunciation of this world; a way explicitly intended to lead men out of the endless cycle of birth, death and re-birth, considered as a cycle of suffering. Non-violence was, to him, a consequence of that renunciation of the curse of earthly life — nay, of any form of individual life — while it was, to Akhnaton, an inseparable condition of life in beauty and truth, here and now. Then, an all-important difference in the history of the two potentates Asoka was a convert to his creed of detachment and love; Akhnaton was the originator of his, and had practised it from the beginning. This may be, from the standpoint of the
“soul” of the two great men, just the same. It is not at all “the same” from the standpoint of their creation in Time.
Chandasoka — Asoka before he became a Buddhist, — had not only taken violence for granted, as the most natural thing, but had exerted it himself, to the utmost extent. He had been a warrior, and a fierce one, — and, which is more, a victorious one. Dharmasoka — Asoka after the sight (and the experience) of the horror of war had changed his heart, — had Chandasoka’s career behind him. And, painful as the memory of it doubtless was to him — and ironical as the fact may be, — this gave him an immense practical advantage: he did not need to sacrifice an inch of his empire to his creed of non-violence: the people of Kalinga had been too ruthlessly crushed even to dream of rebellion. And thus, in the peace and safety won by his own sword at the time he still had been but a Kshattriya full of the lure of carnage and conquest, the great patron of Buddhism could devote his whole energy, and the revenues of a prosperous realm, to his new ideal of meekness and love towards all creatures — his new dream of escape from the bondage of Time. The consequence of his former ruthlessness — the existence of a strengthened centralised State, with increased resources — forwarded the unhindered development of his new creation: the Buddhist State, with its glorious laws regulating social welfare and restricting, and finally forbidding, the slaughter of animals, and its organised missionary activity infusing the spirit of non-violence and the yearning of renunciation — the ascetic contempt of this world within Time, — into human hearts, from Ceylon and Burma to Palestine, Alexandria, and even Greece and Italy.
Asoka never ceased taking the conditions of this Dark Age into full consideration: first, — when he was yet a man “in Time” — in order to conquer (through violence) and then, — as he rose “above Time” — in order to renounce this world, to reject it as his home, while still governing it in a spirit of non-violence — with infinitely more thoroughness and more logic than the Christians (with their dogma of personal immortality and their childish partiality towards “man” among all creatures) ever were to show. Arid he was, as the patron of the great other-worldly religion of peace and love, as successful as he had been as a warrior, and more so.
Akhnaton, who, although he had in him the will-power and uncompromising determination of a fighter, had never been a man of violence, lost everything for the sake of a creed that was anything but an ascetic one. He lost everything, and did not succeed in leaving the stamp of his Teaching upon the future, precisely because of his stubborn refusal to wage war, when war was the only way to that order and peace (and prestige) that he so needed, if his lofty solar philosophy was to continue to find expression in a State-religion. Nor did he, on the other hand, go as far as Asoka in the enforcement of non-violence in everyday life. He surely sang the loveliness of Life under all its forms, and was no friend of the chase. But no edicts of his forbade or restricted, as far as we know, the slaughter of creatures for man’s food, as Asoka’s did, and that alone must be looked upon as an abdication before the power of the Dark Age; as a recognition that he could not change its conditions of existence, or its scale of values.
But, as I already said, instead of combating these (in this and other expressions of theirs,) in the name of his religion of this world and of this life, and standing “against Time,” as other great teachers and leaders were to do in the name of various creeds — some worldly, some other-worldly — he was contented with bearing witness to the beauty of his Golden Age wisdom in the splendid new capital — Seat of Truth — that he had built, but which, in spite of all his efforts, was not the perfect oasis of peace that he had wanted. He alone was, in the midst of it, an oasis of true peace — of inner peace, — and of invincible cosmic joy. Deaf to the noise of strife, blind to the conditions of this Dark Age, he carried on his earthly paradise experiment, feeling himself strong enough to create new, conditions, at least within his immediate surroundings. He presided over solar rites in which solemn music, hymns and sacred dances1 played a great part; he burnt incense upon the altars of the Great Temple of Aton, under the open sky, so unbelievably blue; he entertained himself with his disciples (or those who pretended to be such ones) about the mystery of the divine Rays of the Sun — Light, which is
1 Sir Wallis Burge, “Tutankhamen, Amenism, Atenism and Egyptian Monotheism” (edit. 1923), p. 92.
Heat; Heat, which is Light; — he set before his people the example of domestic harmony, symbolising (in him, the King, and in the Queen) the ineffable harmony within the Twofold Principle — He and She — kernel of all things, while messengers brought him such letters as those of Ribaddi and Abdikhipa; such ones as that of the elders of Tunip: “Tunip, thy city, weeps, and there is no help for us...” And with the sword in hand, — needing only to utter a word in order to send the whole Egyptian army across the border, — he chose not to fight. He chose to remain to the end, in the midst of strife, the witness of a long-forgotten world, the return of which seemed impossible: a world of beauty, without strife.
The result was material — and moral — disaster: the plight of endless streams of Egyptian and Syrian refugees, pouring across the Sinai Desert;1 the king’s own premature death (perhaps due to-slow poisoning: he had enemies even in his near entourage); the systematic destruction of his Capital after a few years; the relentless persecution of his already unpopular faith (many supporters of which changed their minds anyhow, as soon as he was no longer there to reward them with gifts of “gold and silver”); the anathematisation of his name as “that criminal of Akhetaton” and, finally, his fall into total oblivion for thirty-three hundred years-until his diplomatic correspondence and then his two surviving hymns to the Sun were brought to light in modern times. Disaster, as complete as that of any movement crushed in the bud — and without the hopes of speedy resurrection that the latter has, when its followers are of a better metal than those of the Egyptian king, and when they are, also, in the Dark Age, prepared to use Dark Age methods.2 Disaster... And yet — within the endless downward evolution of history since the dawn of our Time-cycle, a unique stand: an extraordinary testimony to man’s immemorial yearning for the splendour of the Golden Age as it was: without the renunciation yet unknown
1 “They have been destroyed, and their towns laid waste, and fire has been thrown (into their grain)...; their countries are starving; they are like goats upon the mountains.” (Words of an Egyptian officer, who was in charge of those refugees. See Breasted, in “Cambridge Ancient history” (edit. 1924), Vol. 11, p. 125.
2 As it is, for example, the case, with the persecuted National Socialists of to-day.
known to it, and without the bitter struggle of the men “against Time”; a unique stand which springs, as I stated in other writings, from an essentially aesthetic standpoint, and which is beautiful in itself, despite the unavoidable failure implied in it.
Beautiful; and also instructive, inasmuch as the study of the imperfections of the Seat of Truth “like unto a glimpse of Heaven,” and that of the nature and consequences of Akhnaton’s “pacifism,” glaringly show the impossibility of carrying out, in our Dark Age, (or, by the way, at any moment of Time, save in a Golden Age itself) an earthly paradise programme through peaceful methods. Peace is not the law of action in a fallen world. One has either to accept violence — the condition of any development in Time, — and to fight, with the methods of the fallen world, against that world, and “against Time,” for a Golden Age ideal, or to project that ideal “outside” this visible and tangible earth, according to the words of Jesus of Nazareth “My Kingdom is not of this world” (and the words of the Christian hymn: “This world is not our home...”1) which express the attitude of all men essentially “above Time,” with the one outstanding exception of Akhnaton, King of Egypt.
1 A French Protestant hymn: “Non, ce monde n’ est pas notre patrie...”