Akhenaten’s Hymn to the Aten

O sole god without equal !
You are alone, shining in your form of the living Aten.
Risen, radiant, distant and near.
                                                             Great Hymn, 47 & 73-74.

colossus of Amenhotep IV(Akhenaten) Gem-pa-Aten temple at East Karnak “the Aten is found” – Cairo Museum

The Great Hymn to the Aten is an ancient Egyptian hymn to the sun god Aten.

In the tomb of Ay, the chief minister of Akhenaten (and later to become king after Tutankhamun’s death, p. 136), occurs the longest and best rendition of a composition known as the ‘Hymn to the Aten’, said to have been written by Akhenaten himself. Quite moving in itself as a piece of poetry, its similarity to, and possible source of the concept in, Psalm 104 has long been noted.

Akhenaten was not a usual character. He was an intellectual and philosophical revolutionary who had the power and wealth to indulge his ideas. He tried to change the Egyptian people to a concept of godhead which was both monotheistic and abstract.

He worshiped the sun (Aten) as the one true god and it is possible that the Hebrew prophets’ concept of a universal God was copied in part from this cult. The hymn gives us a glimpse of the artistic renaissance characteristic of the Amarna period.


The hymn suggests that Akhenaten considered Aten (the disk, orb, sphere, globe of the sun) as the only god, and creator of the universe, particularly in the verses translated as:

How manifold it is, what thou hast made!

They are hidden from the face (of man).

O sole god, like whom there is no other!

Thou didst create the world according to thy desire,

Whilst thou wert alone: All men, cattle, and wild beasts,

Whatever is on earth, going upon (its) feet,

And what is on high, flying with its wings.

The countries of Syria and Nubia, the land of Egypt,

Thou settest every man in his place,

Thou suppliest their necessities:

Everyone has his food, and his time of life is reckoned.

Their tongues are separate in speech,

And their natures as well;

Their skins are distinguished,

As thou distinguishest the foreign peoples.

Thou makest a Nile in the underworld,

Thou bringest forth as thou desirest

To maintain the people (of Egypt)

According as thou madest them for thyself,

The lord of all of them, wearying (himself) with them,

The lord of every land, rising for them,

The Aton of the day, great of majesty.

Composed by Arvo Pärt (b. 1935);
Performed by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir;
Conducted by Paul Hillier;

Akhenaten: Dweller in Truth

“Perhaps the legacy of Akhenaten, that changer of religion yet “Dweller in Truth” (with a capital “T”), lies in that all humans ought to search for the truth; it may be that then they will discover religion quite unexpectedly.”

Weakling or Warrior? An Analysis of Mahfouz’s Akhenaten

“You will never accuse me of meekness hereafter, Father, for I am swept by a sacred desire, strong as the northern winds, a desire to know the truth and record it, as you did in the prime of your youth,” declares Meriamun, the protagonist of Nobel Prize-winning Naguib Mahfouz’s novel Akhenaten: Dweller in Truth.

Meriamun is a man on a quest: he wishes to understand the mysterious circumstances of Pharaoh Akhenaten’s rule in the days of his father in the eleventh century, B.C.(2)  Akhenaten is known to Meriamun as “the heretic,” the crazed Pharaoh who brought destruction to his kingdom by declaring monotheism. To understand the life and rule of the infamous Akhenaten, Meriamun travels throughout Egypt with a letter of introduction from his father and interviews fourteen people closely associated with Akhenaten, including a high priest, relatives, friends, harem member, advisers, and the former queen herself, Nefertiti.

Reminiscent of Wilkie Collins’ format in his classic The Moonstone, the case to determine Pharaoh Akhenaten as sage or madman is intricate and even contradictory at times. Mahfouz helps readers negotiate the evidence through his treatment of religion, his integration of Egyptian cultural-historical norms, and his challenge against a modern tendency to believe every dilemma can be answered with a single value judgment.

Right Religion?

Religion is absolutely a major theme of Akhenaten. Meriamun’s interviews are often reduced to characterizations of Akhenaten as a pious martyr or as a weak madman unworthy of the throne.

Religion itself is treated respectfully, but the real (and intrinsic) question is whose religion is right? Though many criticize Akhenaten harshly for his failures as a Pharaoh, something any honor culture understands, Mahfouz also integrates terminology similar to that of modern Abrahamic religions. Ancient Egypt’s unusual monotheistic King Akhenaten, the “first priest of the One and Only God” (as Meri-Ra, a devout priest of Akhenaten’s God says) (106), is particularly ridiculed for his closure of the temples; Akhenaten declares, “The priests are swindlers” and the “temples are brothels, and there is nothing they hold sacred but their carnal desires” (107). The phrase “One and Only God” seems to have a high correlation with Egypt’s predominant religion—Islam—today, as it exemplifies the fundamental concept of Tawhid (the oneness of God) as based on the one hundred and twelfth Surah of the Quran, Surah al-Ikhlas: “He is Allah, [the] One”(Hilali and Khan). Deuteronomy 4:35 also confirms monotheism: “Yahweh, He is God; there is no other besides Him” (ESV).

What is the secret behind this frail, repulsive and rather feminine nature of Akhenaten's depiction in Amarna art-style.

With his clear monotheistic motifs, Mahfouz creates an impasse. He is no longer speaking just of an obscure Pharaoh and a decision to change his country’s religion; he is raising the more universal question of the acceptability of religious compulsion. One can believe the accounts of so many people who paint Akhenaten as a “heretic” (11, 79, 131, 133) and who emphasize his “frail” constitution (133), his “repulsive appearance” (11), his “feminine nature” (11),and his “ugliness” (80). One can believe that Akhenaten was indeed a “mouse that fancied himself a lion” (80) (read: “a fool”); in this case, the minister of Akhenaten’s chamber, Nakht, is right in his sad lamentation, “This is a story of innocence, of deception, and infinite grief” (131).

But Nakht also believed Akhenaten a man “noble, truthful, and compassionate” (93). Like Akhenaten’s personal physician, Bento, he believed that the Pharaoh was more than met the eye . . . “no gentle spring breeze, but a winter storm” (137). Bento remembers Akhenaten’s last words to him before his passing: “They think my God and I are defeated. But he never betrays not does he accept defeat” (142). These are the last words of the book, and they reveal something about the way people treat religion today.

Meriamun’s quest for truth is an approach with which many can identify. Every man negotiates his idea of truth in one way or the other; if he does not “choose” his religion, he at least makes decisions informed by a worldview that he accepts. Before beginning his quest, Meriamun quotes Qaqimna when he says,“’Pass no judgment upon a matter until you have heard all testimonies’” (3).

It is interesting that Meriamun searches for truth, not religion. While in the end he is uncertain if he has found the truth, he has discovered more religion. The book ends with only two real conclusions—Meriamun is certain of his “growing fondness for the hymns of the One God, and [his] profound love for the beautiful Nefertiti” (172)1. Perhaps the legacy of Akhenaten, that changer of religion yet “Dweller in Truth” (with a capital “T”), lies in that all humans ought to search for the truth; it may be that then they will discover religion quite unexpectedly. Akhenaten may be soft, but perhaps this is precisely what distinguishes him from his ancestors. The Pharaoh of the Biblical Exodus account hardened his heart again and again, exchanging the truth of God’s miracles in exchange for the lies of his magicians (Exodus 7:222, Romans 1:253). For anyone who has found himself following tradition before truth, Meriamun and Akhenaten make striking, if difficult to judge, characters.

Cultural-Historical Context

Beyond common human experience, Akhenaten provides glimpses into a more specific cultural-historical context. Mafouz’s choice of setting seems calculated; it is at once identifiable with the Egyptian people, yet so far removed from daily experience that it provides the same veiled pith of a critical joke. Someone familiar with Cairenes might recognize archetypal characteristics of an honor culture. Indeed, Pharaoh Akhenaten’s choices seem criticized the most because they are shameful to his people. For instance, the high priest ruefully recalls the young Pharaoh: “He was rather dark, with dreamy eyes and a thin, frail figure, noticeably feminine. His features were grotesque and disturbing. He was a despicable creature, unworthy of the throne, so weak he could not challenge an insect, let alone the Master Deity. I was disgusted but said nothing” (18).

Egypt is a visual culture, and appearances, particularly in public, are emphasized. There are certain conventions people must follow, even if it is as simple as the statuary domestic cup of tea. No wonder Mubarak remains ever-young, or that people keep silent until the time that they can call out dishonor without endangering their own reputations. It happens with shopkeepers. It happens with government. And it happens with Akhenaten.

The beauty of literature, and particularly Mafouz’s novel, is that people and ideas have some universal qualities. The only ambiguity for the casual reader might be the events themselves, as they are rooted in the politics of the period. Nevertheless, Mafouz makes his book highly accessible and imprints it with a particularly Egyptian ethos. The point hardly seems to be the events themselves, since they are often told out of sequence and from many different perspectives; more important is the search for truth and the characters who believe they know it. The players only become more difficult to judge, however, when they are more than figures on a search for truth—they are reflections in a modern mirror.

Values and Moral Dilemma

Queen Nefertiti, beauty and brilliance combined.

The universal qualities of religion and culture in Akhenaten also extend to values. Although cultural values can be relative (precisely because they are uniquely cultural), value judgments made by individuals in the novel are similar to the values many hold today. For instance, every interviewee volunteers his own (often differing) opinion of Akhenaten. As Ay, the sage and former counselor of Akhenaten says, “[Life] is a sky laden with clouds of contradictions” (27). Meriamun’s search reveals shared value systems—systems that value strength, religion, and loyalty.

Some condemn Akhenaten as weak; others recognize a quiet strength. Some see Akhenaten’s move to monotheism as religious suicide; others see it as the beautiful and right religion. Some see Akhenaten a betrayer of the people’s trust, an Oedipal adulterer, and his wife Nefertiti conniving, unloving, and disloyal (99); others see Akhenaten as a friend despite differences, a steadfast husband who neglected his entire harem (72) for Nefertiti, “beauty and brilliance combined,” who believes in his cause and does everything she can to stand by her husband (124). Throughout these conflicts, Mahfouz weaves his tale such that readers can empathize with any one of the characters because their actions may be dictated by experiences to which readers would respond no differently. The plot, as the cliché goes, thickens.

If Akhenaten lived so basely, then those who stuck by him because it was their duty are laudable for their sacrifice in service of the system; those who abandoned him entirely did what they thought was best for the kingdom.

For instance, the most captivating woman of Akhenaten’s inherited harem, Tadukhipa, is revolted by his weakness and decision to neglect the concubines, for harem women lived “an unbearable and utterly degrading life that bred further perversity,” and “when it became known that the idiot king wanted to fight sin with love instead of punishment” the women turned to each other and to the palace guards (74).

So who is right, the man Akhenaten who says he knows who God is, or the gregarious, hardened woman Tadukhipa, disgusted with the moral decline resulting from the Pharaoh’s rule? Few chose the former, and those who did live in the shadows of others’ doubt for the remainder of their lives.

The enigmatic Nefertiti says that she left her husband’s side only when she thought it would save his life; she thought that if she left, “he might falter and take the advice of his men” (170). Akhenaten did not falter. Those who followed Akhenaten to the end seemed to believe in conscience, they believed in God before and despite of His weak messenger (142). The people of Akhenaten could be anyone, for while history changes, moral dilemmas do not.


Most famous stone relief depicting the royal family of Akhenaten,Nefertiti and their three little daughters in a radically new and realistic trend.

Meriamun’s interview with the high priest ends with a long silence. Finally, the priest concludes, “We are still healing. We need time and serious effort. Our loss, inside and outside the empire was beyond estimate. [. . .] That is the true story. Record it faithfully. Do carry my sincere greetings to your dear father (25). Mahfouz imitates life when he does not give readers all the answers; he simply provides the records necessary for the gnawing discomfort of uncertainty.

Sure, arguments can be made to favor the dichotomy. Akhenaten was a weakling because he said thus! Akhenaten was a warrior because he did thus! But then, too, maybe he was both weakling and warrior. Or neither at all. As Iranian author Azar Nafisi notes in Reading Lolita in Tehran, “A great novel heightens your senses and sensitivity to the complexities of life and of individuals, and prevents you from the self-righteousness that sees morality in fixed formulas about good and evil” (131). Through Mahfouz’s craft, suddenly Akhenaten has little to do with the dilemma at all, for the conflict lies in the hearts of the people interviewed and splashed undecidedly in the minds of the readers.

Thanks to Shadows & Dust website

King Tut Mysteries Solved: Was Disabled, Malarial, and Inbred

King Tut Mysteries Solved: Was Disabled, Malarial, and Inbred

Ker Than

for National Geographic News

Published February 16, 2010

One of several, this golden "coffinette" (detail pictured) held part of King Tuts organs.

King Tut may be seen as the golden boy of ancient Egypt today, but during his reign, Tutankhamun wasn’t exactly a strapping sun god.

Instead, a new DNA study says, King Tut was a frail pharaoh, beset by malaria and a bone disorder—his health possibly compromised by his newly discovered incestuous origins. (King Tut Pictures: DNA Study Reveals Health Secrets.)

The report is the first DNA study ever conducted with ancient Egyptian royal mummies. It apparently solves several mysteries surrounding King Tut, including how he died and who his parents were.

“He was not a very strong pharaoh. He was not riding the chariots,” said study team member Carsten Pusch, a geneticist at Germany’s University of Tübingen. “Picture instead a frail, weak boy who had a bit of a club foot and who needed a cane to walk.”

Regarding the revelation that King Tut’s mother and father were brother and sister, Pusch said, “Inbreeding is not an advantage for biological or genetic fitness. Normally the health and immune system are reduced and malformations increase,” he said.

Short Reign, Lasting Impact of King Tut

Tutankhamun was a pharaoh during ancient Egypt’s New Kingdom era, about 3,300 years ago. He ascended to the throne at the age of 9 but ruled for only ten years before dying at 19 around 1324 B.C. (Pictures: “King Tut’s Face Displayed for First Time.”)

Despite his brief reign, King Tut is perhaps Egypt’s best known pharaoh because of the wealth of treasures—including a solid gold death mask—found during the surprise discovery of his intact tomb in 1922. (See pictures of King Tut tomb treasures or see them in person in  Toronto through April 30.)

The new study, published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, marks the first time the Egyptian government has allowed genetic studies to be performed using royal mummies.

“This will open to us a new era,” said project leader Zahi Hawass, the Secretary General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) and a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. (National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)

“I’m very happy this is an Egyptian project, and I’m very proud of the work that we did.”

(See “King Tut: Unraveling the Mysteries of Tutankhamun”—a 2005 National Geographic magazine report on forensic studies that recreated Tut’s face, among other developments.)

King Tut’s Close-Knit Family

In the new study, the mummies of King Tut and ten other royals that researchers have long suspected were his close relatives were examined. Of these ten, the identities of only three had been known for certain.

Using DNA samples taken from the mummies’ bones, the scientists were able to create a five-generation family tree for the boy pharaoh.

The team looked for shared genetic sequences in the Y chromosome—a bundle of DNA passed only from father to son—to identify King Tut’s male ancestors. The researchers then determined parentage for the mummies by looking for signs that a mummy’s genes are a blend of a specific couple’s DNA.

In this way, the team was able to determine that a mummy known until now as KV55 is the “heretic king” Akhenaten—and that he was King Tut’s father. Akhenaten was best known for abolishing ancient Egypt’s pantheon in favor of worshipping only one god.

(Pictures: “Who Was King Tut’s Father?” [2007].)

Furthermore, the mummy known as KV35 was King Tut’s grandfather, the pharaoh Amenhotep III, whose reign was marked by unprecedented prosperity.

Preliminary DNA evidence also indicates that two stillborn fetuses entombed with King Tut when he died were daughters whom he likely fathered with his chief queen Ankhensenamun, whose mummy may also have finally been identified. (See “King Tut Tomb Fetuses May Reveal Pharaoh’s Mother.”)

Also, a mummy previously known as the Elder Lady is Queen Tiye, King Tut’s grandmother and wife of Amenhotep III.

King Tut’s mother is a mummy researchers had been calling the Younger Lady.

While the body of King Tut’s mother has finally been revealed, her identity remains a mystery. DNA studies show that she was the daughter of Amenhotep III and Tiye and thus was the full sister of her husband, Akhenaten.

Some Egyptologists have speculated that King Tut’s mother was Akhenaten’s chief wife, Queen Nefertiti—made famous by an iconic bust (Nefertiti-bust picture). But the new findings seem to challenge this idea, because historical records do not indicate that Nefertiti and Akhenaten were related.

(See “Nefertiti’s Real, Wrinkled Face Found in Famous Bust?”)

Instead, the sister with whom Akenhaten fathered King Tut may have been a minor wife or concubine, which would not have been unusual, said Willeke Wendrich, a UCLA Egyptologist who was not involved in the study.

“Egyptian pharaohs had multiple wives, and often multiple sons who would potentially compete for the throne after the death of their father,” Wendrich said.

Inbreeding would also not have been considered unusual among Egyptian royalty of the time.

King Tut Plagued by Malaria, Required Cane

The team’s examination of King Tut’s body also revealed previously unknown deformations in the king’s left foot, caused by the necrosis, or death, of bone tissue.

“Necrosis is always bad, because it means you have dying organic matter inside your body,” study team member Pusch told National Geographic News.

The affliction would have been painful and forced King Tut to walk with a cane—many of which were found in his tomb—but it would not have been life threatening.

Malaria, however, would have been a serious danger.

The scientists found DNA from the mosquito-borne parasite that causes malaria in the young pharaoh’s body—the oldest known genetic proof of the disease.

The team found more than one strain of malaria parasite, indicating that King Tut caught multiple malarial infections during his life. The strains belong to the parasite responsible for malaria tropica, the most virulent and deadly form of the disease.

The malaria would have weakened King Tut’s immune system and interfered with the healing of his foot. These factors, combined with the fracture in his left thighbone, which scientists had discovered in 2005, may have ultimately been what killed the young king, the authors write.

Until now the best guesses as to how King Tut died have included a hunting accident, a blood infection, a blow to the head, and poisoning.

UCLA’s Wendrich said the new finding “lays to rest the completely baseless theories about the murder of Tutankhamun.” (Related: “King Tut Not Murdered Violently, CT Scans Show” [2005].)

King Tut’s Father Not “Egyptian Quasimodo”

Another speculation apparently laid to rest by the new study is that Akhenaten had a genetic disorder that caused him to develop the feminine features seen in his statutes, including wide hips, a potbelly, and the female-like breasts associated with the condition gynecomastia. (See “Men With Breasts: Benign Condition Creates Emotional Scars.”)

When the team analyzed Akhenaten’s body using medical scanners, no evidence of such abnormalities were found. Hawass and his team concluded that the feminized features found in the statues of Akenhaten created during his reign were done for religious and political reasons.

In ancient Egypt, Akhenaten was a god, Hawass explained. “The poems said of him, ‘you are the man, and you are the woman,’ so artists put the picture of a man and a woman in his body.”

Egyptologist John Darnell of Yale University called the revelation that Akhenaten’s appearance was not due to genetic disorders “the most important result” of the new study.

In his book Tutankhamun’s Armies, Darnell proposes that Akhenaten’s androgynous appearance in art was an attempt to associate himself with Aten, the original creator god in Egyptian theology, who was neither male nor female.

“Akenhaten is odd in his appearance because he belongs to the time of creation, not because he was physically different,” said Darnell, who also did not participate in the DNA research.

“People will now need to consider Akenhaten as a thinker, and not just as an Egyptian Quasimodo.”

(Read more about Akhenaten in National Geographic magazine’s “Pharaohs of the Sun.”)

“Beautiful DNA” Found in King Tut Study

The generally good condition of the DNA from the royal mummies of King Tut’s family surprised many members of the team.

Indeed, its quality was better than DNA gathered from nonroyal Egyptian mummies several centuries younger, study co-author Pusch said.

The DNA of the Elder Lady, for example, “was the most beautiful DNA that I’ve ever seen from an ancient specimen,” Pusch said.

The team suspects that the embalming method the ancient Egyptians used to preserve the royal mummies inadvertently protected DNA as well as flesh. (Related: “King Tut Move Designed to Save Mummy.”)

“The ingredients used to embalm the royals was completely different in both quantity and quality compared to the normal population in ancient times,” Pusch explained.

Preserving DNA “was not the aim of the Egyptian priest of course, but the embalming method they used was lucky for us.”