Nicholas Reeves. Akhenaten: Egypt’s False Prophet. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2005. Paperback, 208 pages.
Apart from Tutankhamen, no pharaoh has captured our imagination more than Akhenaten ( Amenophis IV), whose monotheism temporarily interrupted the stream of Egyptian religion. Widely admired, especially by members of other monotheistic faiths, for his revolutionary theological innovation, Akhenaten, who lived over six centuries ago, is according to Reese remembered for the wrong reasons.
Reeves, a curator of Egyptian and Classical art at Eton College in England, wants to set the record straight. Using both textual evidence and archaeological findings, he succeeds in challenging the popular stereotype by showing rather convincingly that Akhenaten, was more interested in securing his own worship as a living deity.
Akhenaten’s peculiar appearance in artistic depictions has given rise to all sorts of medical speculations, but Reeves dismisses most of them and sympathizes cautiously with the suggestion that the pharaoh may have suffered from Marfan’s Syndrome. He leaves, however, no doubt about Akhenaten’s motif for having himself and his family portrayed in an innovative (here-and-now) way, which was to promote himself as a unique embodiment of his god Aten.
Reeves’s highly readable book, which is heavily illustrated, portrays the pharaoh as ambitious, cunning, and ruthless. More disturbing is the evidence cited by Reeves that this wayward pharaoh also cultivated incestuous relationships with his own daughters.
Of Akhenaten’s several wives, only the beautiful Nefertiti survived the inevitable palace intrigues. She seems to have been a gifted collaborator in his program of religious innovation. Nefertiti even became co-regent and after her husband’s death succeeded him as sole ruler, if only for a short period of time.
Akhenaten’s pronounced disinterest in his empire’s foreign relations caused enormous problems after his death in the seventeenth year of his rule. He appears to have been not only a failure as a prophet but also as an emperor. From a distance, and in light of the present work, this pharaoh in fact strikes one as one of the more tragic figures of history.
Whatever we may now think of Akhenaten as a person, he was the driving force behind an era of great cultural creativity, notably in art and architecture, which make him worthy of remembrance.
Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
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