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Tell el Amarna and the Bible

Tell el Amarna and the Bible
Title: Tell el Amarna and the Bible
Release Date: 2018-10-10
Type book: Text
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Tell El Amarna and the Bible



Charles F. Pfeiffer

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 62-20014

Copyright, 1963, by
Baker Book House Company

ISBN: 0-8010-7002-3

Fourth printing, April 1980



I. Discoveries at Amarna 9
II. The Restless Pharaoh 16
III. The Horizon of Aton 26
IV. Atonism 31
V. The Hymn to the Aton 38
VI. The Affairs of Empire 44
VII. Trade and Commerce During the Amarna Age 55
VIII. The Art of Amarna 58
IX. The End of an Era 62
X. Amarna and the Bible 67


Map of Ancient Egypt 8
Amarna Tablets 11
Courtesy, British Museum
Map of Akhetaton, the City of Akhenaton 15
Commemorative Scarab of Amenhotep III 18
Courtesy, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1935
Amenhotep III 18
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Akhenaton and Nofretete 21
Courtesy, The Brooklyn Museum
Seated Figure of Akhenaton 22
Courtesy, the Louvre
Seated Figure of Akhenaton (detail) 22
Courtesy, The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago
A Princess at Akhetaton 24
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Princess Manyet-aton 24
Courtesy, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Theodore M. Davies, 1907
King Tutankhamon 25
Courtesy, The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago
The Estate of a Nobleman 29
Courtesy, The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago
Hapi, God of the Nile 32
Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The Beneficent Aton 35
Courtesy, The Egyptian Expedition, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Akhenaton Worshiping Aton 37
Courtesy, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Amarna Style Head 59
Courtesy, The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago
Queen Nofretete 59
Courtesy, The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago
The Throne of Tutankhamon 63
Courtesy, The Cairo Museum
Tutankhamon and His God 63
Courtesy, The Louvre
Horemhab 65
Courtesy, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Everit Macy, 1923


The Amarna Age—the fifteenth and fourteenth centuriesbefore Christ—provides the archaeologist rich resources for thestudy of ancient cultures. The epic and mythological literaturefrom Ras Shamra, ancient Ugarit on the Phoenician coast, datesfrom this period, as do the Nuzi tablets written by Hurrianscribes in Mitanni. The Ugaritic texts give us an insight into thelanguage and religious thought of ancient Canaan, and thearchives from Nuzi offer a wealth of information concerning thesocial, economic, and legal structure of northern Mesopotamiain Patriarchal times.

During the Amarna Age the Hittite Empire was pushingsouthward from its center in Asia Minor, seeking to incorporateinto its domains both independent states and areas that hadacknowledged Egyptian sovereignty. Minoan Crete had alreadyreached her highest achievements and was fast approaching herend. Babylon had already enjoyed a period of prosperity andpower under the great Hammurabi, but she would not againbecome a major power for seven centuries—when Nebuchadnezzarwould lead her to fresh victories. Assyria was soon tosend her armies into Syria and Palestine and challenge Egyptfor control of the East, but she was still a minor power duringthe Amarna Age.

The present study is limited to events in Egypt and to Egypt’spolitical and military relations with her vassals in Syria andPalestine. The Amarna Tablets are our primary source of informationfor Egypt’s external affairs, and the artifacts and tombinscriptions from Amarna (ancient Akhetaton) help us toreconstruct life at the court of Akhenaton—the Pharaoh whosepersonality is apparent in every chapter.

The author expresses his indebtedness to the scholars whosebooks are listed in the bibliography, and to those organizationswhich made available the photographs which are an importantpart of the present study. The president and staff of the BakerBook House have shown every consideration in the planning ofthe series, Baker Studies in Biblical Archaeology, and in theproduction of this, the second volume.

Charles F. Pfeiffer

Central Michigan University

Mount Pleasant, Michigan





Early in the eighteenth century an Arab tribe known as theBeni Amran settled in a semicircular plain about one hundredninety miles south of Cairo. Here, clustered along the east bankof the Nile, they built the villages of El Till, El Hag Quandil,El Amariah and Hawata. When the Danish traveler F. L. Nordenvisited the area in 1773 he noted that the natives called it BeniAmran, or Omarne. The name Tell el Amarna, by which it ispopularly known today, seems to have been coined by JohnGardner Wilkinson, the amateur Egyptologist who did so muchto popularize Egyptian studies in Victorian Britain. Wilkinsoncombined the name of the village El Till (altered to the morecommon word tell, which means “mound” in Arabic) with thetribal name El Amarna, from the Beni Amran. The name Tellel Amarna is not strictly correct, for the ancient city of Akhetatonwhich occupied the site of Amarna does not have asuccession of levels indicating different periods of occupation,such as archaeologists identify in the mounds of Palestine andMesopotamia. Akhetaton was built to be the capital of PharaohAmenhotep IV, better known as Akhenaton, about 1365 B.C.,and was abandoned half a century later.

The Beginnings

Egyptian archaeology gained impetus in modern times followingNapoleon’s ill-fated Egyptian campaign. The savantswho accompanied the army of Napoleon studied Egyptianantiquities and discovered the trilingual inscription known asthe Rosetta Stone which provided scholars with the key to thedecipherment of hieroglyphic writing. That, in turn, enabledmodern students to get a firsthand view of life in ancient Egypt,10instead of depending on references to Egypt in classical literaturefor basic information.

A French scholar, Jean Francois Champollion, studied theRosetta Stone in the light of his previous work in Coptic, alate form of the Egyptian language which used a modifiedGreek alphabet. After four years of research, in 1822 Champollionpublished his conclusions which provided a firm foundationfor the science of Egyptology which was soon added to thecurricula of the major universities of Europe. Scholars, bothprofessional and amateur, began making their way to Egypt tocopy inscriptions and study antiquities.

The rock tombs beyond the Amarna plain did not escapethese early travelers. During his explorations in Egypt from1821 to 1831, John Gardner Wilkinson visited Amarna, and amore systematic study of the nearby tombs was made by aPrussian expedition directed by Karl Richard Lepsius from1842 to 1845. Amarna art and inscriptions found a place in thetwelve volume work of Lepsius, Denkmaler aus Aegypten undAthiopien (in English, The Monuments from Egypt and Ethiopia).The Prussians traced the ground plan of Akhetaton, observingthe lines of its ancient streets. They noted that some ofthe remains of the principal temple were still standing.

The Amarna Tablets

It was late in 1887, however, before Amarna yielded its mostspectacular treasures, and even then it took some time beforetheir value was recognized. When mud brick walls decompose,they form a nitrous soil which the Egyptians have learned touse as fertilizer. A peasant woman, digging for this fertilizeramong the Amarna ruins, came upon a quantity of small bakedclay tablets bearing cuneiform inscriptions. Some of the tabletswere as small as two and one-eighth by one and eleven-sixteenthsinches, while others were as large as eight and three-quartersby four and seven-eighth inches. Thousands of such tablets havebeen found among the ruins of ancient Sumerian, Assyrian, andBabylonian cities, where cuneiform was the normal means ofwritten communication from about 3000 BC, when historybegan, until the days of the Persian Empire (550-331 B.C.) whenAramaic, using an alphabet script, took its place. Cuneiform,however, seemed strangely out of place in Egypt. The womanwho had accidently come upon the tablets, not knowing theirvalue, is said to have disposed of her interest in the find11for ten piasters—about fifty cents. The enterprising purchaserknew that Europeans were paying for antiquities from Egyptand he sought means of disposing of them at a good price.

Amarna Tablets from the British Museum. The tablets comprise correspondence between the rulers of the nations and city-states of western Asia and the Egyptian Pharaohs Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV (Akhenaton).

An antiquities dealer showed wisdom in sending several ofthe texts to a noted Assyriologist, Jules Oppert of Paris, doubtlessthinking that Oppert might encourage the Louvre to purchasethem. Oppert had had extensive experience in archaeologicalwork in the Near East. He had directed a French expeditionat Babylon in 1852, and had subsequently been activein the work of deciphering cuneiform inscriptions. When JulesOppert saw the Amarna tablets, however, he summarily dismissedthem as forgeries. The story that they had been foundin Egypt may have been too much for him to take. Tabletswere also sent to the head of the Egyptian Department ofAntiquities, G. M. E. Grebaut, but he ventured no opinion concerningtheir worth. Perhaps he, too, was puzzled at the thoughtof cuneiform inscriptions in Egypt.

Since the authorities had shown no interest in the tablets,many of them were dumped into sacks and carried by donkeyto Luxor with the hope that dealers there might be able to12dispose of them through sale to tourists. In the process oftransportation many of the tablets were literally ground to bits.Those that survived may be but a small fraction of the originalarchive.

Chauncey Murch, an American missionary stationed at Luxor,learned about the tablets and suspected they might be of realvalue. He, along with friendly antiquities dealers, brought themto the attention of E. A. Wallis Budge, Keeper of the Egyptianand Assyrian Antiquities in the British Museum, who happenedto be in Egypt at the time for the purpose of adding to themuseum collection. Budge was enthusiastic with what he saw,although he was by no means the only one who had come torealize that these little lumps of baked clay would be of inestimablevalue to the linguist and the historian of the ancientEast. Although we have no way of knowing exactly how manyof the tablets were irretrievably damaged or destroyed, aboutthree hundred and fifty were preserved, and later discoveriesincreased the total number of Amarna tablets in the variouscollections to about four hundred.

Budge would have purchased the entire lot for the BritishMuseum, but the tablets were in the hands of several dealers,some of whom had made agreements with an agent of the BerlinMuseum for the sale of antiquities. As a result the British Museumand the Berlin Museum each acquired collections ofAmarna Tablets, and smaller quantities went elsewhere. Budgeacquired eighty-two for the British Museum and Theodore Grafof Vienna purchased about one hundred and eighty tabletswhich were sold to J. Simon of Berlin for presentation to themuseum. The Berlin collection was subsequently increased toover two hundred. Sixty of the tablets remained in Cairo, twenty-twofrom a later discovery went to the Ashmolean Museum atOxford, and the remainder are scattered among other museumsand private collections. The Louvre has six, two are in theMetropolitan Museum in New York City, and one is in theOriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

In 1892, Frederick J. Bliss, while excavating Tell el Hesi insouthern Palestine discovered a cuneiform tablet which mentionsa name known from the Amarna tablets. It evidently datesfrom the Amarna period. At Taanach, five miles southeast ofMegiddo in northern Palestine, Ernst Sellin discovered four moreletters in 1903. They date in the fifteenth century B.C., aboutthree generations before the bulk of the Amarna tablets. Aslate as the winter of 1933-34, members of the Egyptian Exploration13Society discovered eight additional tablets at the originalsite. Six of these were school texts and exercises used by studentsin the local academy where Egyptians were taught to read andwrite Akkadian.

Several of the Amarna tablets contain lists of signs and itemsof vocabulary. Others are practice copies of such Akkadianmyths as Adapa and the South Wind, Ereshkigal and Nergal,and the King of Battle epic. Most, however, comprise the diplomaticcorrespondence of the Egyptian Foreign Office during thereigns of Amenhotep III and IV (Akhenaton). The archivesincluded letters to and from Babylon (13 items), Assyria (2),Mitanni (13), Alashia (=Cyprus?) (8), the Hittites (at least1). Two letters, written in a Hittite dialect, probably involvethe king of Arzawa, a region along the southern coast of AsiaMinor. One letter is written to the kings of

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