The new king was about twelve years old when he came to the throne, and, for some time, he merely reigned while his mother governed. (Dushratta, King of Mitanni, writing to congratulate him on his accession, addresses himself to Queen Tiy, not to him directly, and, even in later letters of this period — which are addressed to him — asks him on several occasions to “refer to his mother about important matters.)1 In the sixth year of his reign, after he had decidedly taken power into his own hands, he proclaimed his faith in one God — the Sun, which he designated by the name of Aton (i.e. “the Disk”; the fiery Orb) — to the exclusion of all others; built a temple to Him within the sacred enclosure of Karnak, in Thebes; gave the quarter of Thebes where the temple stood the name of “Brightness of Aton, the Great One” and changed the name of the capital itself from that of Nut-Amon — the City of Amon — to that of “City of the Brightness of Aton.” After the conflict into which he had entered with the powerful priesthood of Amon had become quite open, and bitter, he also changed his own name from Amenhotep (meaning: Amon is at peace) to Akhnaton (“Joy of the Sun”) and finally forbade the cult of Amon, and of the many gods of Egypt altogether, and had their names erased from the monuments and from private inscriptions, even from those within his own father’s tomb. Then, as he fully grew to realise that he would never succeed in making Thebes the centre of the new world which he was planning to build on the basis of his new (or very old) faith, he left the City and sailed down the Nile in search of a suitable spot to lay the foundations of another capital upon. The site which appealed to his intuition lies some hundred and ninety miles south of that of modern Cairo. King Akhnaton had boundary
1 Sir Flinders Petrie, “History of Egypt” (edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 211. See the “Tell-el-Amarna Letters” (K. 28).
stones set up, with inscriptions relating the ceremonial birth of the new city, Akhetaton or “the City-of-the-Horizon-of-the-Disk,” and stating its demarcation in length and breadth. And two years later — when the new capital, for the building and decoration of which the workmanship of the whole Empire and even of foreign lands, had been mobilised, was practically inhabitable, — he moved to it with all his Court and about eighty thousand followers.
And there he lived nine years, — until his premature death — teaching his lofty solar religion to those whom he deemed fit to understand it, and governing his City and Egypt and the Empire according to what he felt to be its implications, but without taking at all into account either the unbending laws that rule any development in Time, or the hard facts that characterise any “Age of Gloom” such as the one to which both he and we belong. He built and adorned temples, presented offerings, composed and sang hymns to the Sun, and lived in idyllic domestic life which was, at the same time, an object of edification for his subjects. He explained or tried to explain to a narrow circle of disciples the mystery of the Rays of the fiery Disk — Heat, which is Light; Light, which is Heat — clear to his extraordinary intuition, but so difficult to express in words, that the thinking world was to take thirty-three hundred years to evolve a theory to account for it. He set forth new canons in architecture, sculpture and painting and (although we have no proof of this) probably in music also — for all the arts are necessarily connected. He preached love of all living things and peace and good will among men, and neither hunted nor led an army to battle. And when there was unrest in Syria and Palestine, and when letters came to him from Egyptian governors and from vassal princes, informing him of rebellion of other vassal princes and of spreading disaffection, of inroads of wild tribes and of local movements of resistance against Egyptian rule, and begging him for help, he appears to have preferred to lose the Empire that he had inherited from his warrior-like forefathers, rather than to deny, through prompt and decisive military action, his conviction that the law of love was to rule (and, in the first place, that it could and can rule) international relations no less than private dealings
He died at the early age of twenty-nine, whether of
natural death or of slow poisoning — it is impossible to tell. His new capital was systematically ruined; his life’s work destroyed; the few followers who had possibly remained faithful to him relentlessly persecuted, after the ephemeral reign of his immediate successor. His memory was solemnly cursed. To the Egyptians, who had returned to their many traditional gods, he became known only as “that criminal” — for it was a punishable offence even to utter his name. And he was gradually forgotten, and remained so for over three thousand years. It is not until our times that something of his Teaching and of the story of his life was, thanks to archaeological excavation, brought to light again, and that his greatness was recognised, — although his proper significance as perhaps the most eloquent known instance of a man “above Time” outside the host of such ones who have renounced the world, may not necessarily have been understood by most of his modern admirers, to say nothing of his detractors.
* * *
That is the essential of what we know for certain about Akhnaton’s life. It is not much. Yet, it reveals an exceptional personality, with very definite leading features which one extremely seldom finds together: an enormous will-power and untiring energy entirely devoted to the service of that which he experienced as Truth itself; a ruthlessly uncompromising mind and no less uncompromising feelings — the natural intolerance of absolute earnestness — and, along with that, such a reluctance to violence that one is forced to believe that it was the expression of a moral principle of his, no less than a deep-seated, unsurmountable trait of his nature; in other words that, in his eyes, to accept slaughter, even when it could have made possible the triumph of his religion, would have been to deny the basis of the latter, and was, therefore, out of question.
Gifted with this most unusual combination of qualities, and inspired and sustained by his absolute devotion to his God — Aton — the young king declared war upon centuries of Egyptian tradition (or, to speak more accurately, upon that Which Tradition had become in Egypt in the course of centuries,) when he was eighteen. The main point — clue to the real nature of the conflict between him and the priests (and people) of his time — is: “Who was that new God (or what was that
new conception of a very old God) Aton, by Whom he strove to replace the whole pantheon of the Nile Valley?”
Aton has been identified with “a tender loving Father of all creatures”1 by some of the most enthusiastic Twentieth Century admirers of the so-called “heretic” Pharaoh, and repeatedly compared by them with the personal God of the Christians — the “Father who is in Heaven” of the “Lord’s prayer” — obviously with the pious purpose of pointing out, in Akhnaton’s solar Faith, “a monotheistic religion second only to Christianity itself in purity of tone.”2 This view, however, seems to be more the product of Christian wishful thinking than that of a rigourous and impartial deduction. It is surely not compatible with the fact that Aton is, before all, an immanent God, or rather immanent Godhead Itself. And that fact is perhaps the one which emerges with the maximum of certainty from all the data concerning Akhnaton’s religion.
Already in the earliest known list of his titles,3 Akhnaton (who, at the time the inscription was set up, still bore the name of Amenhotep) is called “Wearer of diadems in the Southern Heliopolis” and “High-priest of Ra-Horakhti-of-the-Two-Horizons,” rejoicing in His horizon in His name: “Shu-which-is-in-the-Disk,” apart from “King of Upper and Lower Egypt” and “Son of Ra,” like all Pharaohs since the Fifth Dynasty, and “Nefer-kheperu-Ra, Ua-en-Ra” — “Beautiful Essence of the Sun, Only-One of the Sun” — as he was to call himself in every one of his inscriptions, to the end of his reign.
On the other hand, in the beginning of both the surviving famous Hymns to the Sun, which are the main source of our knowledge of the Aton religion, the God is designated as “Living Horus of the Two Horizons, Who rejoiceth in the horizon in His name: ‘Shu-which-is-in-the-Disk,’ the Giver of life for ever and ever”4 or “Horakhti, the living One, exalted in the Eastern horizon in His name: ‘Shu-which-is-in-the-Disk,’ Who liveth for ever and ever.”5 And in the Longer Hymn he is called, in addition to that, “the living and great Aton; He
1 Arthur Weigall, “Life and times of Akhnaton” (edit. 1923), p. 101-104.
2 Arthur Weigall, “Life and times of Akhnaton” (edit. 1923), p. 250.
3 In the inscription of Silsileh. See Breasted’s “Ancient Records of Egypt” (edit. 1906), Vol. II, p. 384.
4 Sir Wallis Budge, loc. cit., p. 116 (Shorter Hymn).
5 Sir Wallis Budge, loc. cit., p. 122 (Longer Hymn).
who is in the Set Festival, the Lord of the Circle, the Lord of the Disk, the Lord of Heaven, the Lord of earth.”1 What strikes us in those texts is the identification of Aton (or Aten) — the Solar Disk — with two very old Egyptian gods — Sun-gods, specially worshipped in the sacred city of On or Anu (the “City-of-the-Pillar,” i.e., of the Obelisk, which the Greeks were to call Heliopolis, the City of the Sun) — and the identification of those, in their turn, (and therefore of Aton also) with the mysterious Entity “Shu-which-is-in-the-Disk.”
Now, “wherever a solar god was worshipped in Egypt, the habitat of this god was believed to be the solar Disk, Aten or Athem. But the oldest solar god associated with the Disk was Tem or Atmu, who is frequently referred to in the religious texts as “Tem in the Disk”; when Ra usurped the attributes of Tern, he became “the Dweller in the Disk,” while “Horuakhuti (Horakhti) was ‘the god of the two horizons’ i.e., the Sun-god by day, from sunrise to sunset.”2 To Akhnaton, however, the “Dweller in the Disk,” Ra, is the “Sun by day” and is the Disk itself: Aton. In the inscriptions upon the boundary-stones demarcating the king’s new capital, Akhetaton, the God who is, henceforth, to be the sole God of Egypt, and of the Empire, is actually designated as “Ra-Horakhti-Aton.”3 And Sir Wallis Budge, whose words are all the more significant while he does not seem aware of their immense metaphysical implication, notes, in connection with King Akhnaton’s conception of the Sun as the sole object of worship: “But to him” (Akhnaton) “the Disk was not only the abode of the Sun-god, it was the god himself, who by means of the heat and light which emanated from his own body, gave life to everything on earth.”4
But that is not all. Shu — that mysterious Entity “which-is-in-the-Disk” — “we must translate by ‘heat’ or by ‘heat and light,’ for the word has these meanings.”5 Which signifies that
1 Sir Wallis Budge, “Tutankhamon, Amenism, Atenism, and Egyptian Monotheism” (edit. 1923), p. 122.
2 Sir Wallis Budge, loc. cit., p. 64-65.
3 See Breasted’s “Ancient Records of Egypt” (edit. 1906), Vol. II, p. 386. See also A. Weigall, “Life and Times of Akhnaton” (edit, 1922), p. 88.
4 Sir Wallis Budge, loc. cit., p. 80.
5 Sir Wallis Budge, loc. cit., p. 80.
Akhnaton worshipped the “Heat-and-Light-within-the-Disk” — the Radiant Energy of the Sun1 — which he looked upon not merely as inherent in, but as identical in, nature to the material Disk itself, and to supreme Godhead, whatever be the names by which men might try to characterise the latter, and under which they might worship It.
It is remarkable that, among those names, the young king chose to mention only those of Sun-gods of the Heliopolitan Tradition — doubtless because he considered this to be the most consistent solar tradition that Egypt had known, up till then; and one by far more akin to his own religious philosophy than anything that could be found in the Southern Egyptian school of Wisdom headed by the High-priest of Anon. Throughout his reign, Akhnaton was to stress the connection of his Teaching with the wisdom of the Heliopolitan seers of old, as well as with Egypt’s most ancient political tradition of divine royalty. (He himself, in his capacity of “High-priest of Aton,” took over the title of Ur-ma — “great One of visions,” i.e. “seer,” initiate, — which the High-priest of the Sun in Heliopolis had born from times immemorial.)
But that does not mean to say that his conception of the Divine was exactly that of the priests of Heliopolis. It was not. In particular, “the old Heliopolitan tradition made Tem, or Tem-Ra, or Khepera, the creator of Aten, the Disk, but this view Amenhotep IV rejected, and he asserted that the Disk was self-created and self-subsistent.”2 And Akhnaton’s notion of “Shu” — “Heat-and-Light-within-the-Disk” — which, to him, is supreme Godhead Itself and the same as the self-created and is self-sustaining Disk, is quite different from that of the “god” Shu, conceived (as in the old “Pyramid Texts”) as the radiation or emanation of Tem, or Tem-Ra, i.e. of the Creator of the Sun-Disk, different and distinct from it, and male counterpart of the “goddess” Tefnut (Moisture, also an emanation of Tem) who forms with him and with Tem the original Heliopolitan Trinity. It is the notion of Divinity conceived as Something absolutely impersonal, and undefinable; immanent in all material and non-material existence, and identical nature both to visible Matter (to the visible flaming Disk,
1 Sir Flinders Petrie, “History of Egypt” (edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 214.
2 Sir Wallis Budge, loc. cit., p. 80.
everlasting and self-created) and to invisible Energy — Heat-and-Light — also self-created and everlasting, and inseparable from Matter as Matter is from It.
And this is confirmed by the prayer inscribed upon the famous scarab discovered at Sadenga, in the Egyptian Sudan, and dating from the early period of Akhnaton’s reign. The text, though short (and mutilated), is extremely significant. The God to whom it is addressed, and who can only be Aton (for he bears some of the titles that characterise Aton in other texts) is called “great One of roarings” or “great One of thunders,” as though the king — and that, already before he had changed his name and entered into open conflict with the priesthood of Amon and with the traditional gods of Egypt, — had identified his one and pre-eminently solar God with a Storm-god. But, as I have tried to point out in another book,1 coming from him, the worshipper of “Heat-and-Light” in the Sun-beams, such an identification can hardly mean anything else but the recognition of the equivalence of that very same “Heat-and-Light” to thunder in particular and to sound in general and, above all, to Lightning (Heat-and-Light inseparable from thunder), and to that mysterious form of energy, the presence and tremendous power of which Lightning and Thunder merely reveal: electricity, possibly better known, to the wise men, at least, in remote Antiquity, than we modern people, in our conceit, care to believe. We cannot help thinking, here, of the “threefold Agni” of the Vedas — Sun, Lightning, and Fire upon earth (and within the earth); Heat, Light, and electric Energy in one, — as well as of the modern scientific Idea of the equivalence of all forms of energy, and of the fundamental identity of Energy and Matter.
All this makes it clear that Aton — the Solar Disk which is the same as the “Heat-and-Light-within-the-Disk” — is none other than He-She-It — That — which is the Essence of all material and immaterial existence; the undefinable Essence both of Matter and of Energy — “matter to the coarser, and energy to the finer senses”2 — which is God. Not any God to, be compared with the loving “heavenly Father” of the Christians or with
1 “A Son of God” (edit. 1946), p. 100-101.
2 “A Son of God” (edit. 1946), p. 103.
any personal God — least of all with the ill-tempered, narrow-minded and jealous tribal god Jehovah, created in the image of the Jews, — but the equivalent of the immanent, impersonal Tat — That — of the Chandogya Upanishad, no less than of das Gott (as opposed to “der Gott”) of the ancient Germans, and the one conception of Divinity that modern science, far from disproving, on the contrary, suggests.
Such a God can neither “love,” in the all-too-human, Christian sense of the word, nor hate; nor give “commandments” and distribute rewards and punishments in the manner of a human king; nor perform “miracles” if, by such, one means actions in real contradiction with the iron Laws of Nature, which are His Laws; nor be “the Maker” of the world “out of nothingness,” in the sense a craftsman is the maker of an object, external to himself, out of metal, stone or clay.
There is no common measure between Him — between Him-Her-It, — and the current conception of “God Almighty” as it exists to-day in Christian or in Mohammadan countries, or, rather, among pious people in countries where the influence of Christianity or Islam — any of the two great international monotheistic religions issued from Judaism, — has shaped religious and metaphysical ideas. And although He — He-She-It — be (substantially) less remote from the unknown and undefinable “Neter” or “pa Neter” — “God,” or the God behind all gods; formless, original creative Power, which existed of and by Itself, within the primeaval watery mass, Nenu, — of the most ancient Egyptians, than from that nowadays more popular conception of Divinity, He is different from him to the extent that “Neter,” according to the moral Papyri,1 is still, for all practical purposes, endowed with a certain amount of anthropomorphic personality. Aton — Cosmic Energy, Essence of all existence; “Ka,” or Soul of the Sun (to quote a word from Akhnaton’s own hymns) identical to the Sun-disk itself and Essence of the material world — corresponds to a thoroughly impersonal and positive conception of Godhead. And, provided one takes the word “religion” in the sense the average
1 See: “Precepts” of Kagemni (IVth Dynasty) and of Ptah-hotep (Vth Dynasty) of Khonsuhotep, or “Maxims of Ani”; of Amenemapt, (XVIIth Dynasty) (Sir Wallis Budge, loc. cit., p. 145-148.)
modern European does, i.e., in the sense of a system of beliefs centred around a personal God, an ideal of conduct “according to his will” and a definite conception of life after death, H. R. Hall is right in saying that Akhnaton’s “heresy” was “a philosophic and scientific revolt against religion”1 rather than a new religion.
* * *
Hall goes a little further and calls Akhnaton “the first example of the scientific mind,”2 meaning, naturally, the first one that we are in a position to link with a definite name and date and individual personality, for the “scientific mind” is as old as mankind or, at least, as old as the youngest among the superior races, the Aryan or Indo-European, one of whose glories it is to have evolved exact sciences out of logical thinking, and to have carried them to perfection. And Sir Flinders Petrie pays the Founder of the Religion of the Disk a magnificent tribute for his “really philosophical worship of the radiant energy of the Sun.” “No one,” says he, “seems to have realised until within this century, the truth which was the basis of Akhenaten’s worship: that the rays of the Sun are the means of the Sun’s action, the source of all life, power and force in the universe. This abstraction of regarding the radiant energy as all-important was quite disregarded until recent views of the conservation of force, of heat as a mode of motion, and the identity of heat, light and electricity, have made us familiar with the scientific conception which was the characteristic feature of Akhenaten’s new worship.” And, a little further: “If this were a new religion, invented to satisfy our modern scientific conceptions, we could not find a flaw in the correctness of this view of the energy of the solar system. How much Akhenaten understood, we cannot say, but he certainly bounded forward in his views and symbolism to a position which we cannot logically improve upon at the present day. Not a rag of superstition or of falsity can be found clinging to this new worship evolved out of the old Aton of Heliopolis, the sole Lord of the universe.”3
1 H. R. Hall, “Ancient History of the Near East” (ninth edit.), p. 599.
2 H. R. Hall, “Ancient History of the Near East” (ninth edit.), p. 599.
3 Sir Flinders Petrie, “History of Egypt” (edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 214.
Scientific — rational — seems indeed to be the word by which one should characterise Akhnaton’s conception of Godhead, in opposition both to the crude polytheism of the Egyptian masses and to the monotheism of the Egyptian élite of his days, and, even more so, to the later monotheism of the Jewish prophets and of the Christians and Mohammadans who look upon them as “inspired men.”
The expressions which one finds in the Hymns, pointing to Aton as to the one Creator, and exalting His love — “Maker of every land; Creator of whatsoever there is upon it”; “Mother and Father of all that Thou hast made”;1 “Thou fillest every land with Thy love,”2, etc. — are not to be taken in the sense they would have in the case of a personal God. Other words in the same poems throw light upon them, while rendering, in a more precise manner, the idea of “creation” in connection with Akhnaton’s impersonal God: “Thou Thyself art alone, but there are millions of powers of life in Thee, to make Thy creatures live”;3 “Thou hast produced millions of creations (or evolutions) from Thy one Self.”4 They suggest a creation which, far from being the exceptional act by which a God, distinct from the created world, causes it to spring out of nothingness (or, at the most, out of a primeaval Matter which is not He) consists in a gradual and endless manifestation into actual existence, of the different possibilities latent within perennial, unmanifested Reality.5 And the words “Father and Mother of all that Thou hast made” are neither the translation of an anthropomorphic idea out of keeping with that of a cosmic God such as Radiant Energy, nor a metaphor of mere literary import. They reveal an attempt at rendering, as forcifully as human speech can, the two complementary and inseparable aspects of the One Reality: the positive, active, or
1 Shorter Hymn to the Sun, transl. by Sir Wallis Budge, loc. cit., p. 116.
2 Longer Hymn to the Sun, transl. by Sir Wallis Budge, loc. cit., p. 122.
3 Shorter Hymn to the Sun, transl. by Sir Wallis Budge, loc, cit., p. 116.
4 Longer Hymn to the Sun, transl. by Sir Wallis Budge, loc. cit., p. 122.
5 See “A Son of God” (edit. 1946), p. 127.
masculine, forever urging new forms out of dim possibilities — the Purusha of the Sanskrit Scriptures — and the negative, passive (or, if active, not organisingly active) or feminine — the equivalent of the Sanskrit Prakriti — sensitive receptacle of all latent qualities, and matrix of actual existence; the One, everlasting Power of differentiation, and the everlasting and ever-differentiated underlying Oneness.1
As for the love of the One, impersonal, cosmic God, Aton, for the universe, it can mean nothing else but the relation of the Essence of all existence to the endlessly and orderly diversified individual lives, human and non-human, which are sparks of divine consciousness, more or less bright; an abstract, metaphysical relation of substantial dependence (illustrated in the word “bindest”), not an emotional one, for God conceived as “the Heat-and-Light-within-the-Disk,” identical to the Sun-disk itself, — radiant Energy, Essence of Matter and of Life, — can have no emotions. That the Egyptians, Akhnaton’s own subjects, had no illusions about this, can be seen in the fact — put forward by Sir Wallis Budge and emphasised by J. Pendlebury — that “there are none of the pathetic appeals to the Aton for help or cure that we find addressed to other gods in happier times”;2 that, indeed, such a God as the One Whose glory the young king proclaimed and sang, had “no time to worry about May’s headache or Sherira’s barrenness.”3
And the love of all men, nay, of all creatures, including plants, for Aton — the adoration of the divine “Ka” or Essence of the Sun by the whole scale of created beings, from the inspired Seer himself down to the humble water-lilies — is nothing more than the instinctive and universal love of life and sunshine, contemplated by a Man who really fell and worshipped the divinity of Nature; a Man who beheld the world and lived his own life in full consciousness of the Eternal manifested therein; in other words: a Man above Time. Such a Man saw the simple, everyday facts — birds circling round and round in the pure sky, with shrills of joy; beasts skipping about among the high grasses covered with morning dew; fishes, whose silver scales shine through the sunlit water, swimming up to
1 See “A Son of God” (edit. 1946), p. 127.
2 J. D. S. Pendlebury, “Tell-el-Amarna” (edit. 1935), p. 159.
3 J. D. S. Pendlebury, “Tell-el-Amarna” (edit. 1935), p. 159.
the surface of the river, and flowers opening themselves to the touch of the first sun-rays — in their real light; with the eyes of a man of the Golden Age, to whom the world appears as a visible Paradise because he is in tune with it and with himself. Not only did he recognise, in cool judgement (as anybody would) the grandeur of the daily miracle of conception and birth, but he felt it with all the piety of a perfect artist; he felt, the beauty of every new healthy pattern of Life — young bird, newly-born baby; from the standpoint of Eternity, equally irreplaceable — and the solemnity of its unique appearing and fleeting passage amidst the ever-moving infinity of beings, witnesses of Aton’s inexhaustible creativeness. And he sang what he felt. And his song was — and could only be — a hymn of adoration unmarred by a shade of sadness; foreign to the idea of suffering and death; a hymn in the spirit of every one of the endlessly recurring Golden Ages, in which all is well with the visible and invisible world in complete harmony with each other and with their common divine archetype; the expression of more-than-earthly love and joy rooted in this sunlit earth, in this divine earthly life.
H. R. Hall, apparently unable to see into the psychology of a “man above Time” or “outside Time,” calls the elation expressed in Akhnaton’s hymns a mere “cat-like enjoyment of the sun and of the fact that it is good to be alive.”1 He thus intends to stress what seems to him to be a lack of spirituality. Yet, undignified as his sentence may sound, he is literally right, provided that one remembers that, to a man “above Time,” who actually feels the divinity of Life behind and within all diving forms, the purring of a cat, comfortably rolled up in the warm sunshine, is a hymn to the loveliness and glory of Life, as holy, in its innocence, and at its level, as any human words of praise; all the more divine that it is more spontaneous, more sincere, less penetrated with “intellect” as opposed to sensation and intuition; provided that one remembers that, to such a man, the joy of the whole created world at the feeling that “it is good to be alive” is an act of adoration. Akhnaton’s own joy at the sight of the rising Sun was not different, in nature, from that universal joy. It was merely the supreme, fully
1 H. R. Hall, “Ancient History of the Near East” (ninth edit.), p. 599.
conscious expression of it: the joy which is inseparable from the direct knowledge of a Man “above Time”; from his experience of himself as part and parcel of the divine Cosmos, which he loves because it is so beautiful, and the hidden Essence of which he feels shimmering within his own nerves.
* * *
In that joyous cosmic consciousness lies the secret of the apparent amorality of Akhnaton’s Teaching, and its actual moral meaning.
As I said already, such a God as “the Heat-and-Light-within-the-Disk” can issue no “commandments” like an exalted tribal deity made in the image of its worshippers. His laws are none but the unbending Laws of Nature, expression of the inner harmony of His own being at every stage and in every detail of His manifestation in Time. There is, indeed, and there can be no other rule of conduct for His worshippers but to “live in Truth,” i.e., in tune with the eternal Order of the Universe, accomplishing the diverse tasks which are theirs while remaining inwardly at peace with themselves and with every created being. And that ideal of life — which may well seem vague to those who do not grasp its implications — is precisely the one put forward by King Akhnaton. (The famous title “Ankh-em-Maat” — Living in Truth — accompanies his name in every inscription of his reign apart from the very early ones) And the only definite information that can be gathered about his actual practical Teaching, from the inscriptions in the tombs of his professed followers at Tell-el-Amarna, is that he preached the love of “truth” in all walks of life. “The King has put truth into me, and my abomination is to lie,”1 declares one of the courtiers, named Ay, and “truth” cannot mean anything else but that which I have just said (and “lie,” its contrary), in the case of a religion centred around Solar Energy,
But neither Ay nor any other has attempted to make this clear and to describe the sort of conduct which he (or King Akhnaton himself) associated with “truth” and “living in truth.” None has even mentioned as an example, any action
1 Inscription in the tomb of Ay at Tell-el-Amarna.
which, in his eyes, corresponded to such an ideal of conduct. None has alluded to any punishments (or mere consequences) of sin, i.e., of untruth, in this life or another, or to any rewards (or consequences of faithfulness to “truth”) — apart from the very tangible royal presents which they received for having “hearkened to” Akhnaton’s “Teaching of life.”
We know in fact nothing of the ethical code of the Religion of the Disk, and nay, all appears as though it never had an “ethical code” in the ordinary sense of the word — a list of “do”s and “don’t”s — nor implied any “sense of sin.” But that does not mean that it had “no ethics.” It had, I repeat, the only ethics that go hand in hand with faith in an impersonal God Who is the “Ka” or Essence (Soul) of the fiery Orb and of Life itself; the ethics implied in “life in Truth” — life according to the logic of the Universe: according to the biological and social laws that express the will of Nature, the will of the Sun; the supreme finality of Creation.
It is difficult to say how far the king’s followers were aware of all that this means. But the king himself certainly was. It is, of course, possible that he did set up some rules of conduct, of the evidence of which no trace has been found. After all, an enormous amount of documents of his reign were purposely destroyed after his death by the enemies of the Aton faith, and surely any inscription or papyrus referring to his Teaching, was, when not protected by the sanctity of the tomb, destroyed before any other. But it would not be, on the other hand, at all surprising if he had remained contented with formulating his moral ideal in the motto “living in Truth” — his favourite motto — and with developing at most orally all that it implied. The history of his reign, in particular the official correspondence of his vassals and governors, forces one to admit that no man ever was more estranged to the reality of Time, and more unaware of the inherent weaknesses and passions of his contemporaries, than he. As we shall see in the next chapter, he was convinced that he could, in this very Age of Gloom, — his Age and ours, — build up an ideal State without having to resort to violence. It is natural that such a man, — pre-eminently “above Time,” or “outside Time,” — should have looked upon the implications of “life in Truth” as something self-evident, and not deemed it necessary to formulate
a “code” of behaviour. In a way, taking into account the fundamental difference between the two creeds, one could set his motto of “life it Truth” in parallel with Jesus Christ’s well-known sole commandment of love towards one’s neighbours which is the same as love towards God, the spirit of which Saint Augustine expressed most adequately in his laconic and forciful sentence: “Love! — and do whatever you please!” Akhnaton, — like Jesus Christ, a Man “above Time”; a Solar Being in the full sense of the word, — could well have said: “There is but one Law: to live in Truth, holding all forms of falsehood in abomination. Stick to Truth — and do whatever you please!”
And “Truth,” to him, meant love — love of all beings, not of man alone, not of man specially; love of the sun-lit world (with all it contains,) for the sake of its beauty. It meant, also, knowledge of the eternal Order and of the eternal Values, through the contemplation of beauty, — for in every Golden Age, (Age of Truth), the visible is the faithful image of insible Perfection; and Akhnaton, being a Man “above Time,” lived (in spirit) in a Golden Age.
And although nothing even hints at the existence of a code of ethics attached to the Religion of the Disk, in the amount of evidence yet unearthed, there are, in his Longer Hymn to the Sun, three remarkable lines which express, more eloquently perhaps than any others, the young king’s idea of man — three lines which have not attracted, as far as I know, the special attention of any archaeologists: “Thou hast put every man in his place. Thou framest their lives. Thou givest everyone his belongings, reckoning his length of days. Thou hast made them different in form, in the colour of their skins and in speech. As a Divider, Thou dividest the foreign people (from one another.)”
These words clearly show that, far from putting “all men” on the same level, Akhnaton stressed the differences between one human race and another as an expression of that Will of the Sun that has moulded the world or, in modern speech, as a result of the fact that man, like the rest of creatures of this earth, is a “solar product,” owing his very being to a combination of definite bio-physical conditions. He states here without ambiguity that all features that differentiate one people
from another — features among which the racial ones: form and colour, are not only all-important but fundamental: the first ones mentioned, — are the Sun’s work: — “As a Divider, Thou hast divided the foreign people...” — which logically implies that those differentiating qualities should be taken into account in human legislation, if one is to have a world in which men “live in Truth.” The existence of different — unequal-human races comes within the pattern of the eternal order; has to be, according to the finality which lies, as a guiding principle, within the play of the immanent Creative Power: the “Heat-and-Light-within-the-Disk.” One is not to mix or to forward the mixture of that which the Creative Power has divided, — nor, in any way, to hide or suppress the signs of division.
There is, here, of course, no question of struggle between races. There cannot be, in the mind of a man who is entirely “above Time”; who lives, in spirit; in a Golden Age, where all violence, nay, all conflict, is out of place. There is merely the idea of harmony between the different races, everyone of which has its place and purpose, its part to play in the universal concert, and should remain different in order to play it perfectly. There is a stress upon differences and division, which logically suggests that men have neither all the same rights nor all the same duties. And this is perhaps the ultimate reason why the ideal of “life in Truth” — life according to one’s place and purpose in the natural hierarchy of beings, — cannot be made explicit in any universal list of concrete “do”s and “don’t”s, such as modern Christian critics of the Religion of the Disk would have liked to have found. All one can say is that to “sin” is to lie; to deny the eternal Order of things which are, independently of man, by refusing to live according to it; to say “no” to the Will of the Sun.
One can agree with R. H. Hall that Akhnaton’s “enthusiasm for truth and for what was right was not really religious, but scientific.”1 if one thinks of a religion of the hereafter settled, like Christianity, upon impenetrable dogmas. But if one bears in mind that the Religion of the Disk is itself built upon a scientific foundation — upon intuitions concerning this
1 R. H. Hall, “Ancient History of the Near East” (edit. 1936), p. 599.
living visible world, that have, centuries later, proved to be in keeping with the data of science, even if they were, in the consciousness of its Founder, directly experienced (and anything but the result of observation and induction) — then one can only assert that science and such religion are not only in harmony with each other, but identical as regards their ultimate object; that the truth around which they are centred is the same. The real and only difference between them lies in man’s approach to that truth: mainly — although never solely, — through the data of material experience and through the deductive (or more often inductive) mind, in the case of science; mainly when not solely through mystical yearning and direct intuition, in the case of “religion.”
Morality — life in Truth, from the standpoint of the eternal (that was Akhnaton’s) — cannot be codified. It can be defined as the application of knowledge to right action i.e. to one’s contribution to the work of the Creative Power, in one’s natural capacity and from one’s natural place. We shall see that Akhnaton’s personal fulfillment of his own cherished motto consisted in bearing witness to the glory of all the Golden Ages or “Ages of Truth,” behind him and ahead of him, untiringly, even at the cost of material ruin and historical failure.
* * *
Archaeologists have more than once pointed out the foreign character of Akhnaton’s religion. Maybe the names of the One God — Aton, Ra, Ra-Horakhti of the Two Horizons rejoicing in His Horizon in His name “Shu-which-is-in-the-Disk” — were Egyptian, and nay, some of them, many centuries old; maybe, the king lost no opportunity of stressing the connection of his new cult with the venerable old Sun-cult of Heliopolis-and, as we shall see in the next chanter, the connection of his new art with archaic Egyptian art.1 “But” — notes Sir Flinders Petrie — “a glance at the character of the whole age marks it out as due to some completely un-Egyptian influence, which no Heliopolitan source could ever have originated.”2 While Sir Wallis Budge ascribes the failure
1 Arthur Weigall. “Life and times of Akhnaton” (edit. 1923), p. 62-63.
2 Sir Flinders Petrie, “History of Egypt” (edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 212.
of the Aton religion to the fact that it was “too philosophical to impose itself upon the Egyptian mind,” and “probably based upon esoteric doctrines that were of foreign origin.”1 And he wonders whether Akhnaton’s “insistence upon the beauty and power of light” was not a sign of “the penetration into Egypt of Aryan ideas concerning Mithra, Varuna, and Surya or Savitri, the Sun-god.”2
Since the discovery of the famous text of the treaty between Shubbiluliuma, king of the Hittites, and Mattiuza, son of Dushratta, it is a known fact that the kings of Mitanni — themselves Aryans — worshipped Aryan gods. Four of these gods are mentioned as guarantors of Mattiuza’s faithful observance of the treaty. Their names are practically the same as those of the Vedic gods Mithra, Indra, Varuna and the Nasatya Twins, and their identification with the latter “seems to be certain.”3 From Mitannian proper names, such as “Shuwardata,” one can also infer the presence of the Vedic Sun-god Surya (who was also revered by the Kassites, the Aryan kings of Babylon, under the name of Suryash) in the Mitannian pantheon. And the similarity between Akhnaton’s One God and Surya is indeed striking. Not only does the Sanskrit description of the divine Source of Light — “As the Vivifier and Quickener He raises His long arms of gold in the morning, rouses all beings from their slumber, infuses energy into them, and buries them in sleep in the evening”4 — correspond perfectly to the picture of Aton given in the Egyptian king’s hymns, (and to the Sun-disk with rays ending in hands, the Symbol of his religion,) but the idea of a both male and female (i.e. two-poled) Principle suggested in the other Sanskrit names of the Sun — for instance Savita, and Savitri, Savita’s Energy, — finds its parallel in the expression: “Father-and-Mother of all that Thou hast made,” applied to Aton.
This has prompted number of writers to emphasise the supposed influence of his father’s Mitannian wives — nay, of
1 Sir Wallis Budge, “Tutankhamen, Amenism, Atenism, and Egyptian Monotheism” (edit. 1923), p. 82.
2 Sir Wallis Budge, Ibid., p. 113.
3 Sir Wallis Budge, Ibid., p. 21.
4 Wilkins, “Hindu Mythology,” p. 33.
the many Mitannians who doubtless were to be seen at the Theban Court, — upon the child who was to become Akhnaton, the Prophet of Godhead experienced as Radiant Energy; “Heat-and-Light-within-the-Sun-Disk.”
To what extent such an influence should be taken into account, is, however, difficult to determine, first because we have no records of Akhnaton’s life before his accession to the throne, and second, because, apart from the mentioned treaty with the king of the Hittites, there are no Mitannian texts yet known, which refer to the Aryan gods, so that we cannot tell how far the Mitannian religious outlook embodied in their cult was similar to that of the Sanskrit-speaking Aryans and to Akhnaton’s; and finally because it is, in the two hymns to Aton that have come down to us, quite obvious that the reality of his impersonal God, “the Heat-and-Light-which-is-in-the-Disk,” appeared to Akhnaton himself as the object of a revelation from within; — as truth directly experienced, which he was the only one to understand because he was (as far as he knew) the only one to feel it. “Thou art in my heart,” says he, addressing himself to the resplendent Orb, — God’s visible Face, — in the Longer Hymn; “There is no one who knoweth Thee except Thy Son, Nefer-kheperu-ra Ua-en-ra. (Beautiful Essence of the Sun, Only-One of the Sun). Thou hast made him wise to understand Thy plans and Thy power.”1 And as I have tried to point out in other writings, these words, coming from one who cared as little for conventions as Akhnaton did, express the innermost certitude of a self-realised soul who can sincerely say of God: “I am He” — or “I am That” rather than the pride of a king of Egypt in his solar descent.2
Of course, Akhnaton did not underestimate the privilege of that solar descent — of that double aristocracy of his, as offspring both of the kings of the Nile Valley and of the kings of Mitanni. The mere fact that he erected shrines to the memory of several of his ancestors (as we shall see) would suffice to prove that he was fully aware of all that he owed them. Nor should one brush aside that which he quite possibly owed to his
1 Longer Hymn, Translation by Sir Wallis Budge.
2 See “A Son of God” (edit. 1946), p. 26 and 27. Also “Akhnaton’s Message” (edit. 1940), p. 5-6
contact, as a child, with the Mitannian and half-Mitannian — and Kassite — princesses of his father’s harem (and first of all with his own mother): memories of Aryan legends in which was exalted the triumph of the Forces of Light over those of Gloom, and — perhaps — the glory of a Sun-god with “long arms of gold,” the symbolism of whose image he may have felt very deeply, and never forgotten. Indeed, it must not have taken much to quicken the power of intuition and to awaken thought in such a child as he, marked out, already before his birth, to be a Man “above Time. “ Still, the part played by direct feeling must be given the first place in the genealogy of his conception of Divinity, i.e. importance must be given not so much to the name “Heat-and-Light-within-the-Disk” (which he found already existing), as to that which he put behind that name; as to that conception of impersonal, two-poled Reality which is both Matter and Energy — the Sun out of which sprang the Earth itself, and His life-giving Rays — and which manifests itself nowhere as well as in radiant Heat-and-Light or, (if we remember the scarab of Sadenga) Heat-Light-and-Electricity — and creative Sound — Its manifold, imponderable Vibration.
We can well admit that Akhnaton was not unfamiliar with Aryan symbolism; that he had quite possibly heard of golden-armed Surya; even of Agni, the threefold Fire. But we should picture him, already as a prematurely thoughtful child, and then as an ardently sensitive adolescent, alone before the sight of the gorgeous sunrises and sunsets of Egypt, or before the deep blue infinity of the cloudless Egyptian sky. We should imagine him absorbed in contemplation, carried away, in almost physical rapture, by the feeling of “Heat-and-Light, and nothing else” — the consciousness of the burning blue Void in which nothing exists but Sun, rays, — or by the grandeur of the contrast between Light and Darkness in a country where dawn is sudden and overwhelming, and where there is practically no twilight.1 And we should riot forget that he was half if not more than half Aryan, — that he had in his blood that enthusiastic devotion to Light and Life which had created,
1 That feeling is illustrated in the forciful words: “Thou risest, and Thy creatures live; Thou settest, and they die,” which those alone who have lived in tropical lands can really understand.
among the fair Conquerors of India, the myth of the threefold Fire as well as that of golden-armed Surya-Savitri and, among the Kelts, who had not yet crossed the threshold of history, the myth of Lugh Langhana — Lugh the Longhanded — the life-giving god of Light; — but that he had other blood also: the blood of that venerable old Southern race out of which had sprung the kings of Thebes and the priests of Amon. To a great extent, no doubt, he owed his deep meditative sensitiveness to that also remarkable half of his ancestry. He put the whole of his being — all the extreme, and apparently incompatible forces rooted within his double heredity — to the service of his one purpose: the glorification of Aton, the One God, “Heat-and-Light-which-is-in-the-Disk.”
For the sight of the fathomless blue of the sky, and of the gold and scarlet of dawn and sunset, had definitively torn him away from the gods of Thebes, exalted totems of very, very long before, to which the ingenious theological mind had given a more and more subtle symbolical interpretation. He could no longer feel attracted to them — in admitting that he ever had been, — after having merged himself, be it once, into the Soul of luminous Infinity. They seemed false to him; — clumsy, all-too-human caricatures of the One Reality. And they had, in his eyes, the pitiful ugliness of all caricatures, which becomes sacrilegious when connected with things divine. And much of that which was related to him of their legends must have shocked his Aryan mind athirst of logic. Some of it, of course, may well have appealed to his imagination. But the naked Truth which he felt, in his growing consciousness of the sunlit Void, receptacle of all life, was so immeasurably more beautiful! And from his early adolescence onwards, — perhaps even from his childhood onwards; such a man as he had surely been an exceptional child, — he knew that he could never worship anything but the “Sun and His Rays — Heat-and-Light — the Soul of the resplendent blue abyss. It is possible that other people’s utterances — his mother’s; his step-mothers; and those of any other Mitannians or half-Mitannians that he may have known — consciously or unconsciously suggested to him the idea of those Rays ending in hands — the arms of the Sun — that were to play such a characteristic part as the visible Sign of his religion. But it is his Aryan blood
that gave him his spontaneous joy in light and life and the unbending consistency — the scientific mind, coupled with uncompromising will-power — with which he conceived his Teaching and carried it out in his own life, and imposed it (as far as he could) with all its implications, upon Egypt and the Egyptian Empire.
* * *
Akhnaton’s attitude to death seems to be (as far as one can make it out) a result both of his scientific thinking and of his natural and systematic rejection of all that is negative.
From what remains of the tombs of his followers, one is induced to believe that the whole Egyptian tradition concerning the Tuat — the World of the dead — and the journey of the departed soul to the throne of Osiris, — the seat of Judgment — through all sorts of trials and dangers, appeared to him, if not as “ridiculous fictions”1 as Budge says, at least a s symbolical language, the accuracy of which could never be proved and had, after all, little importance. The idea of death seems to have inspired him neither fear, nor yearning, nor curiosity; like other negative ideas, such as violence, it simply had no place in his thought-world, which was the thought-world of a man of a Golden Age, faithful to this earth, and “long in duration of years” — of a man who, at least, felt himself to be so, in his realisation of the true world (the earthly Paradise) under (or beyond) the one which he saw without actually seeing it, and ignored.
One does not know enough of the Aton Teaching to be able to say whether the idea of the perennial Struggle between Light and Darkness — in the rhythm of day and night and on all planes — was stressed in it or not. In all that has survived of the Religion of the Disk, there is surely no hint at the negative qualities of the Sun; nothing foreshadowing in the least the meaning of the Greek name of the god of Light, which is a typically Aryan god from the Far North:2 Apollon — the “Destroyer.” It would seem that Akhnaton refused to
1 Sir Wallis Budge, “Tutankhamen, Amenism, Atenism and Egyptian Monotheism” (edit. 1923), p. 94-95.
2 Apollon Hyperboreios.
see anything outside beneficient Heat-and-Light in the divine Energy of the Sun-beams; anything outside beautiful, happy life, upon this earth.
He had to, in his time — some three thousand years after the Dark Age in which we are still living, had begun; and many myriads of years after the end of the latest Golden Age, in which all was perfect. He had to, being a man “above Time,” a complete “Sun-type” of a man, if he wanted at all to be “faithful to this earth”; to act upon earth as an earthly king and priest at the same time. His only alternative to that was either to turn from this earth or to impose his Golden Age Teaching by means of violence; to seek for himself and for others a way out of earthly conditions altogether, as the Buddha was to, some nine hundred years later; to live and act in this world without at all feeling bound to it, saying — like Jesus Christ was to, one day, — ”My Kingdom is not of this earth,” or else to become a man “against Time,” and to fight dispassionately for the triumph of his timeless Truth on earth with the only weapons that work within the bondage of Time, and specially within the Dark Age: fear, — terror — and occasionally bribery; intelligent, discriminate bribery, and well-conducted terror. He could take no other course because there is no other to be taken. He loved this beautiful earth too much to follow the first way: the way of escape from the earthly conditions of life altogether, which is that of most men “above Time.” His dream was that of an earthly Paradise. And his inborn reluctance to violence was too great — and too deep-rooted — for him ever to accept the conditions of victory in Time or “against Time”; to uphold, or even to stress any manner of destructiveness.
His God, Aton, essentially an immanent and impersonal God, has surely very little, if anything, in common with the rather naive “loving Father” of the Christians, despite what Christian admirers of Akhnaton’s hymns may say or write. He may well be “international,” even “universal”: the “Heat-and-Light within the Sun-disk” could hardly be anything else. But He — He-She-It, — is so as a cosmic Entity, Principle of all life, human and non-human; adored not merely by “all men,” but also by all living creatures — quadrupedes, birds, fishes and plants; — full of sollicitude for all creatures, i.e. shaping them
(from within) and making them all grow, indiscriminately, impartially, as only an impersonal God can. And there lies all the difference: Aton is the one God the modern scientific mind could acknowledge without difficulty.
And He represents, under His Egyptian names and in spite of them, and in spite of the historical connection of His cult with that of the solar gods of Heliopolis, an Indo-European conception of Godhead — the eternal Idea behind long-handed Lugh; behind the almighty Father-of-Light — “Lichtvater, der Allwaltende” — of the ancient Germans; behind golden-armed Surya-Savitri — not because Akhnaton, who took consciousness of Him through some direct experience, had been influenced by Aryan people (specially by people of Mitannian origin), but because he — Akhnaton — was himself at least half-Aryan, and because, being so, he could not find a better expression of his inner experience — an expression that would both correspond to his direct intuition of the Supreme and satisfy his logical mind.
But Aton is an Indo-European god, or rather the Indo-European conception of Godhead, without that element of destructiveness inseparable from the notion of perennial Struggle against Darkness and Chaos, which is present in most Aryan gods of Light and Life; an Indo-European God, conceived by a Man faithful to this earth, no doubt, but who lived entirely “above Time” or “outside Time,” according to the vision of a Golden Age world-Order, — while the Indo-European or Aryan race (the youngest of our Time-cycle) is essentially the race “against Time.”