Moses and Akhenaten
by Ahmen Osman
(Bear & Company)
Sometime in the middle of the 14th century BCE, a pharaoh of the 18th dynasty named Amenhotep IV abolished the centuries-old pantheon of Egyptian gods and instead instituted a monotheistic religion based on the worship of the Aten, a single god without image or form. In the fifth year of his reign, Amenhotep IV moved his dynasty to Amarna, a newly completed city named in honor of this monotheistic god, and changed his own name to Akhenaten, translated as “living spirit of Aten.”
Understandably, Akhenaten was not a popular figure among the majority of Egyptians, in particular the temple priests whose millennia-old spiritual heritage was brushed aside and replaced by a new deity. When Akhenaten’s reign over Egypt ended, his son, the famous boy king, Pharaoh Tutankhamun (King Tut), re-instated the Egyptian pantheon. And by the time the 18th dynasty had ended, all records of the reign of Akhenaten were removed from official records. Akhenaten was all but erased from history until the city of Akhetaten was unearthed by archeologists in the 19th century.
Akhenaten’s mummy was never found.
The similarities between the monotheism of Akhenaten and the religion of the ancient Hebrews is too striking to ignore, especially since the story of the Hebrew exodus out of Egypt is dated sometime between mid-15th century and mid-13th century BCE. That puts the reign of Akhenaten arguably right in the middle of this monotheistic turmoil. The link was enough for Sigmund Freud to suggest, in his book Moses and Monotheism, that Moses was a follower of Akhenaten and brought Egyptian monotheism to the Hebrews.
But Egyptian scholar Ahmed Osman takes the relation one step further, putting forth the theory that Akhenaten and Moses were, in fact, the same person. The result is a compelling revision.
Joseph And The Arrival Of The Hebrews
Mr. Osman’s theory begins with the story of the Hebrew patriarch Joseph, who, as a child, was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. Joseph ended up in Egypt where he correctly interpreted the pharaoh’s dream, predicting seven good years of harvest followed by seven lean years. This interpretation likely saved the Egyptian populace from starving during the lean years and won Joseph an appointment in Pharaoh’s court as minister.
The lean years, however, were hard on the nomads of Canaan. Among those nomads were the ancient Hebrews, and ironically, according to the biblical account, it was Joseph’s brothers who traveled to Egypt to ask the Pharaoh if a small band of Hebrews could settle in Egypt.
“Joseph revealed his identity to them, but told them reassuringly that they should not blame themselves for having sold him into slavery because it was not they who had sent him ‘hither, but God; and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh.’
“A father to Pharaoh! I thought at once … of Yuya, a minister to two rulers of the Eighteenth Dynasty. Although Yuya was not apparently of royal blood, his tomb had been found in the Valley of the Kings in 1905. Little attention was devoted to him because he was considered comparatively unimportant. Yet Yuya is the only person in whose tomb the title … holy father of The Lord of the Two Lands, Pharaoh’s formal title — has been found.” (p. 2)
Mr. Osman claims that Joseph was the grandfather of Amenhotep IV, the pharaoh who would later change his name to Akhenaten. According to Mr. Osman, Joseph’s daughter was named Tiye, the woman who would grow up to be one of the wives of Amenhotep III and the mother of Amenhotep IV … known later as Akhenaten.
If the preceding is true, it would mean that Pharaoh Akhenaten is one-quarter Hebrew.
Akhenaten’s Early Years
It’s accepted that the threat of a Hyksos invasion into the eastern Nile delta is what caused the Egyptian pharaoh to worry about a growing Hebrew population in that area — for if the Hyksos were to invade, the pharaoh feared, the Hebrews might side with Egypt’s enemy. However, Mr. Osman puts forth another theory behind the pharaoh’s desire to kill all of the Hebrew’s first born sons — the order which led to the famous story of Moses being placed in the river Nile.
Mr. Osman claims that Pharaoh Amenhotep III worried that if his part-Hebrew son, Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV), the son of Tiye (daughter of Joseph/Yuya) …
“… acceded to the throne, this would be regarded as forming a new dynasty of non-Egyptian, non-Amunite [Amun, being the prevailing name in ancient Egypt for the primal creative consciousness of the universe], part-Israelite kings over Egypt. This is exactly the light in which the Amunite priests and nobles of Egypt, the watchdogs of old traditions, regarded Akhenaten … Consequently, the king, motivated by the possible threat to the dynasty and confrontation with the priesthood, instructed the midwives to kill Tiye’s child in secrecy if it proved to be a boy.” (p. 61)
Tiye, however, sent Amenhotep IV to her relatives in Goshen, to the settlement of the Hebrews in the eastern Nile delta, where he grew up with Hebraic monotheism.
“…once he knew that Moses had been born and survived, his attempt to kill all the male Israelite children at birth was abandoned.” (p. 62)
And according to Mr. Osman, Tiye didn’t simply intend to save Amenhotep IV, she intended for him to succeed his father on the throne.
“In order to ensure her son’s ultimate inheritance of the throne, she therefore arranged for him to marry his half-sister Nefertiti — the daughter of Amenhotep III by his sister, Sitamun, the legitimate heiress — and to be appointed his father’s co-regent [co-Pharaoh], with special emphasis on Nefertiti’s role in order to placate the priests and nobles.” (p. 62)
Akhenaten Takes The Throne
According to Mr. Osman, it was the declining health of Pharaoh Amenhotep III that afforded his wife, Tiye, the influence to see to it that her son Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) became the next in line. Mr. Osman claims that a co-regency began in which both Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV shared the role of pharaoh.
“[Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten], whose religious ideas were already well developed, offended the Amunite priesthood from the start of the co-regency by building temples to his monotheistic god, the Aten, at Karnak and Luxor.” (p. 62) And by the 12th year of Akhenaten’s reign, “he shut down the temples of the ancient gods of Egypt, cut off all financial support for them and sent the priests home.” (p. 63)
Three years later, according to Mr. Osman, Akhenaten was forced to flee Egypt. Akhenaten’s brother, Semenkhkare, was installed on the throne, but didn’t last, perhaps, more than a few days. Akhenaten’s son, Tutankhamun, then took the throne and he began to restore the old gods. Nine or ten years later, while Akhenaten was still in exile, Tutankhamun died (or, as has been suggested, was murdered) and the leader of the Egyptian army, Horemheb took the throne to finish off the Eighteenth Dynasty.
“The bitterness which divided the country at the time is indicated by the actions of Horemheb and the Ramesside kings who followed him. The names of the Amarna kings [Akhenaten, etc.] were excised from king lists and monuments in a studied campaign to try to remove all trace of them from Egypt’s memory, and it was forbidden even to mention in conversation the name of Akhenaten. In addition, the Israelites were put to the harsh work of building the treasure cities of Pithom and Raamses.” (p. 63-64)
Let My People Go
Upon the death of Horemheb, his vizier and leader of the Egyptian army, Ramses, took the throne and began the Nineteenth Dynasty. That is when, Mr. Osman claims, Akhenaten returned from exile to challenge Ramses’ right to the throne. Akhenaten failed but “eventually persuaded Ramses I to allow him and the Israelites to leave the country.” (p. 64)
And thus began the Exodus.
Mr. Osman brings up another interesting point worth mentioning. The name Moses clearly seems like an Egyptian name. We see it in pharaonic names like Tuthmosis and Ahmosis. But Mr. Osman points out that the name Moses is more likely a Greek pronunciation of the Hebrew name Moshe. (There is no “sh” pronunciation in Greek, and it was typical for Greek names to end in “s” — Hermes, Orestes, Pythagoras, Sophocles, Socrates, etc.) And Moshe, according to Mr. Osman, is an unusual conjunction of letters for a Hebrew name (“m” and “sh”). He suggests, rather, that Moshe is a Hebrew pronunciation of the ancient Egyptian word mos — which, he notes, means son.
“After Akhenaten fell from power, the Egyptian authorities forbade any mention of his name. Consequently, it seems to me that an alternative had to be found in order that his followers could refer to him … he was referred to officially in latter days as ‘The Fallen One of Akhetaten [today, known as Amarna]’ and ‘The Rebel of Akhetaten’. Faced with the accusation that Akhenaten was not the real heir to the throne, I believe the Israelites called him mos, the son, to indicate that he was the legitimate son of Amenhotep III and the rightful heir to his father’s throne.” (p. 67)
Such is Mr. Osman’s theory, and I personally find it a compelling historical challenge to the myth given in the bible. Moses and Akhenaten is deeply researched, with a great deal of source material used to back up these claims. Nevertheless, to make all of the dates line up, placing Akhenaten and the Exodus of the Hebrews in exactly the same time frame, it requires some archaeological juggling that deviates from the accepted timelines.
Radical ideas, however, by nature, are going to rock the boat. This one does exactly that.
Right or wrong, two things remain clear: 1) An Egyptian pharaoh brought monotheism to Egypt for a period of time; and 2) monotheistic Hebrews lived in the eastern Nile delta region within a period near or at that exact time. While we may or may not currently know the precise connection between these two facts, it seems they are linked in a substantial way.