THE WAY OF LOVE
We have seen how Akhnaton’s two hymns to the Sun which have come down to us suggest an idea of Godhead which, as Sir Flinders Petrie has so effectively pointed out, tallies with “our modern scientific conceptions.” But that is not all. The impersonal God whom the young king worshipped — the Energy of the Universe, made tangible in the power and glory of our parent star — is no less inspiring to the heart of the mystic in search of absolute love, than to the clear intellect of the rationalist in search of logical and experimental accuracy. He is the “Lord of Love” no less than the Lord of Truth.
In the shorter hymns we find such sentences as: “Thy love is mighty and great. . . . Thy light of several colours bewitcheth all faces”; “Thou fillest the Two Lands with Thy love,”1 etc. . . . and again, in the longer hymn, among others, the passage we referred to in the preceding chapter: “Thy rays encompass all lands. . . . Thou bindest them with Thy love,” and the well-known paragraph: “Thou makest offspring to take form in women, creating seed in men. Thou makest the son to live in the womb of his mother, causing him to be quiet, that he crieth not; Thou art a nurse in the womb, giving breath to vivify that which Thou hast made. When he droppeth from the womb on the day of his birth, he openeth his mouth in the (ordinary) manner and Thou providest his sustenance. The young bird in the egg speaketh in the shell; Thou giveth breath to him inside it to make him live. Thou makest for him his mature form so that he can crack the shell (being) inside the egg. He cometh forth from the egg; he chirpeth with all his might; when he hath come forth from it (the egg), he walketh on his two feet. . . .
1 Translation of Sir Wallis Budge, Tutankhamen, Amenism, Atenism, and Egyptian Monotheism (Edit. 1923), p. 117.
O how many are the things which Thou hast made. . . .”1 And a little further on, after the passage about the Nile and the rain and the variety of climates and races, follows another expression of devout admiration for the solicitude of the Creator: “How beneficent are Thy plans, O Lord of Eternity!”
As Arthur Weigall says, quoting the Christian Scriptures, never in history “had a man conceived a god who ‘so loved the world.’”2 But there is, between the love of Aton for the world and the love of the personal God of the Gospel, all the difference that separates a link of impersonal necessity from one of human attachment.
We must not forget the nature of Aton — the Disk, identical to “Shu,” Heat-and-Light, i.e., Energy-within-the-Disk — who is neither a god in the image of man, nor even an individual power of any description, but the ultimate impersonal Reality behind all existence. The love of such a God for the millions and millions of lives which He brought forth from Himself is something different from the love of an individual parent for his offspring. True, Akhnaton calls his God the “Father-and-Mother of all which He hath made.” But if our interpretation of Aton be the right one, then that double appellation, far from containing any anthropomorphic idea, most probably symbolises the two complementary aspects of the One ultimate Essence: the active, for ever urging new forms and new lives out of dim latent possibilities, and the passive, the sensitive receptacle of all those possibilities, matrix of actual existence; the One everlasting Power of differentiation, and the everlasting and ever-differentiated Oneness. The individual parent and the offspring, however closely linked, are separate bodies with a separate consciousness. The “Father-and-Mother” of the Universe and the Universe itself are not. The latter is the visible and diversified expression of the former invisible and indivisible One — the Energy within the Disk and within the universe, of which matter is but an aspect. The love of Aton
1 Translation of Sir Wallis Budge, Tutankhamen, Amenism, Atenism, and Egyptian Monotheism (Edit. 1923), pp. 128-129.
2 Arthur Weigall: Life and Times of Akhnaton (New and Revised Edit. 1922), p. 105.
for the world is the stable unifying power that underlies all that is diverse and transient — all that is created. “Thou bindest them with Thy love” means: “Through their common relation to Thee, the One Essence of all things, they are one in their diversity — ‘bound to Thee,’ and bound together within their apparent separateness.” In another version of the longer hymn1 we read: “Thou art Ra; Thou hast carried them all away captive; Thou bindest them by Thy love. . . .” The word “captive” would seem to indicate a link of complete dependence of the creatures upon the Creator. They are bound to Him as to the final condition of their existence.
In that link rests the secret of their link to one another. They are one in Him, because first of all they are one with Him, as children are one with a loving parent, and much more so.
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But apart from this relation of fact between the ultimate Energy and all that exists, the hymns clearly point out to a relation of intention. In Aton’s love “for all He hath made,” there is something more than the bond of physical and logical unity which we have tried to analyse. There is not, of course, that personal love, which only a god in the image of man can feel for each of his creatures; but there is some immanent finality which operates, in each individual case, as if it were the sign of God’s special individual care; a tendency to well-being which nature encourages and helps; an untiring goodness, which strikes one at every step as underlying the whole scheme of things.
That seems to be the truth expressed in Akhnaton’s beautiful passages about the kindness of Aton to the child and to the young bird, mere instances of His solicitude for all creatures. The marvel of pre-natal existence — the patient evolution of a cell into a full-grown individual — is recalled, with all the finality inherent to it, in a few words: “Thou art
1 Translation of Breasted, Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt (Edit. 1912), p. 324.
a nurse in the womb, giving breath to vivify that which Thou hast made. . . .” “Thou giveth breath to him (the young bird) inside the egg, to make him live. Thou makest for him his mature form so that he can crack the shell (being) inside the egg. . . .” God — i.e., Nature, for Aton does not stand for any supernatural entity — does His best. He “gives breath” to every young living thing; He equips it with organs marvellously adjusted; He helps it to grow, before its birth, and feeds it afterwards, for some time at least, that it may have a chance to fulfil its purpose which is to live, to enjoy the sunshine and to be beautiful, in the full-bloom of health and happiness. And though it is not said in the hymns — that are songs of praise to the glory of the Creator, not codes of human behavior — one feels, from the very tone of the king’s words, the moral truth that they imply. One feels that, in his eyes, it is man’s duty to collaborate with the universal Parent, the life-giving Sun; to love all creatures and to help them to live; not merely to do no harm to them, but to see to their welfare, to the utmost of his capacity. Life — the life of any creature — which is, in itself, such a masterpiece of divine love, is not to be considered lightly. And the welfare of anything that lives, especially of any creature that is helpless, is to be the object of our personal care. God Himself has pointed out the way to us by the example of His untiring solicitude.
It is remarkable that Akhnaton seems to give no less importance to the young bird — standing for the whole animal world — than to the human baby. The admiration he expresses for the loving care of Him Who brings the embryo to maturity and “provideth its needs” is equal in both cases. And one has the impression that the “Heat-and-Light-within-the-Disk” — his God — knows nothing of the childish partiality of the man-made gods in favour of the human species. Those gods, conceived, as some of them may be, centuries after the inspired Pharaoh, appear indeed, in the light of his, as glorified deities — which, no doubt, some of them originally were — raised by the pride of their worshippers to the leadership of a mere extended tribe, mankind,
a species among many others in the endless variety of creation.
In the hymn from which we have quoted the above passage, there is another reference in which different countries are enumerated: “Thou didst create the world according to Thy desire, Syria, and Nubia and the land of Egypt. . . .” Commenting on the fact that the two tributary nations are named before Egypt, Arthur Weigall, following the pious trend of thought that characterises his whole book, says: “Akhnaton believed that his God was the Father of all mankind and that the Syrian and the Nubian were as much under His protection as the Egyptian. The religion of the Aton was to be a world religion. This is a greater advance in ethics than may be at first apparent; for the Aton thus becomes the first deity who was not tribal or not national ever conceived by mortal mind. This is the Christian’s understanding of God, though not the Hebrew conception of Jehovah. This is the spirit which sends the missionary to the uttermost parts of the earth; and it was such an attitude of mind which now led Akhnaton to build a temple to the Aton in Palestine, possibly at Jerusalem itself, and another far up in the Sudan.”1
Before ascribing a definite date to the religious books of the East, especially the Vedas (which is not possible), it is difficult to say whether Aton was or not the first universal God “ever conceived by mortal mind.” But if, by his international spirit, by his belief in a God who was the Father of the foreigners as well as of the Egyptians, Akhnaton was in advance of the old Hebrew idea of Jehovah, then surely his conception of Aton, as free from every kind of human narrowness (loving the little birth and the little child, and all life alike), puts him no less in advance of Christianity itself — nay, in advance of any creed which makes man, and not life, the centre of its theory of creation and the basis of its scale of values. We personally believe that it is precisely this entire absence, not merely of nationalism and of imperialism, but also of any form of anthropomorphism (both
1 Arthur Weigall: Life and Times of Akhnaton (New and Revised Edit. 1922), p. 166.
moral and metaphysical) which raises the young Pharaoh far above so many later religious teachers and sets him, decidedly, ahead of our present times.
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The impersonal Energy which radiates as heat and light in the life-giving Disk of the Sun — Aton — loves the world and all that lives upon it. In other words, Nature is indiscriminately, impartially kind. The tragedies that we witness every day — suffering and slaughter inflicted upon creatures, and every form of exploitation of man and beast — are man’s doing, not Hers. God has given, to every young individual, health and the desire to enjoy the daylight. He intended it to live its span of years, not to die miserably. Even out of destruction and death He makes life spring out again, causing tender green shoots to appear on the branches of the mutilated trees, and new trees to grow out of the roots of those that were felled. To Him, life is an end in itself. And at every new attempt He makes to bring forth a living thing, again at its birth He lavishes upon it His gifts of health and beauty, possibilities of development into the perfection of its species, promises of happiness.
Such was the essential of Akhnaton’s Teaching concerning the love of God. He seems, at least from the little we now possess of his religious poems, to have ignored evil entirely; and perhaps he actually did so, for not only in the hymns, but also in the numerous inscriptions which cover the walls of his followers’ tombs, “the destructive qualities of the Sun were never referred to,”1 not to speak of all the crimes against life that are allowed to be committed under His face all over the earth. That omission, as we have already said in a former chapter,2 cannot be explained by supposing the king to have been blind to the existence of suffering as a fact. That would be absurd. True, the surroundings he had created for himself were exceedingly beautiful. But he knew
1 Arthur Weigall: Life and Times of Akhnaton (New and Revised Edit. 1922), p. 104.
2 In Chapter IV, p. 102.
that the wide world extended far beyond them, and beyond his own beneficent influence. Moreover, there never was a town on earth where people were totally free from anger and greed, cruelty and cowardice, the sources of the evil actions that produce suffering. And Akhetaton, though the “seat of Truth,” was surely no exception, for men dwelt there. And the young Prophet of sunshine and joy must have known how limited was his control over other people’s bad instincts, even at a few yards from his peaceful palace. Yet, he sang the love of God, in spite of it all. He deeply felt that there was, at the birth of every new life, equipped for happiness, the triumph of an inexhaustible Power of love, which governs the universe. The newly-born creature might not be left to enjoy the full-bloom of life for which its body and soul were made. The possibility of enjoying it was, nevertheless, the result of the whole finality of its pre-natal development, the outcome of a divine solicitude. Health and happiness were its birthright, according to the decrees of the immense immanent Love that sustains all creation, the Soul of the universe — God.
Seen in the light of the young king’s super-conscious insight into the mystery of existence, the effects of human wickedness, with all their horror, appeared perhaps as but surface ripples, hardly perturbing the calm abyss of eternal Life and infinite Love. That is possible. However it be, he did not ask the reason why such ripples exist, because he knew there was no answer to the question. It would seem that he brushed aside the problem of evil deliberately (along with the problem of death), as something which the human mind, however exalted, cannot solve. And instead of seeking in vain an explanation where there was none, he absorbed himself in the contemplation of the One unpolluted — and unpollutable — Source of health, life and love: the Energy within the Sun.
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No less than the love of God for the world, manifested in the untiring beneficence of our parent star, Akhnaton has
stressed, in the hymns, the love of all living creatures for their common Father, whose heat and light has brought them forth and sustains them, generation after generation.
All men love Him and bow down to Him, whatever be their other professed gods. “They live when Thou shinest upon them . . .” says the inspired author of the hymns; “their eyes, when Thou risest, turn their gaze upon Thee. . . .” “Every heart beateth high at the sight of Thee, for Thou risest as their Lord.”1 And also: “All men’s hands are stretched out in praise of Thy rising” . . . “O Lord of every land, Thou shinest upon them; O Aten of the day, great in majesty,”2 or, in the translation of Mr. Griffith, reproduced by Sir Flinders Petrie: “Thou art throughout their Lord, even in their weakness, O Lord of the land that risest for them, Aten of the day, revered in every distant country.”3
In fact, every nation in the neighbourhood of Egypt paid homage to the Sun under a different name. And however narrow might have been their conception of the God of Light, often brought down to the rank of a local god,4 and however debased might have been their forms of worship, still it was to Him that went their praise. They loved Him and revered Him without knowing Him.
And distant peoples and tribes of which the king of Egypt could not possibly have heard, also rendered divine honours to the same fiery Disk at His dawning and setting. It was a fact that, while Akhnaton’s poems were sung to His glory “in the hall of the House of the Benben Obelisk and in every temple in Akhetaton, the seat of truth,”5 the Aryan clans, slowly pouring into India, were exalting Him in the hymns of the Rig-Veda; wild tribes from the north of Europe and Asia sang the beauty of His hazy smile over endless snow-
1 Shorter Hymn, Translation of Sir Wallis Budge, Tutankhamen, Amenism, Atenism, and Egyptian Monotheism (Edit. 1923), p. 118.
2 Longer Hymn, Translation of Sir Wallis Budge, Tutankhamen, Amenism, Atenism, and Egyptian Monotheism (Edit. 1923), p. 131.
3 Sir Flinders Petrie: History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 216.
4 Breasted: Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt (Edit. 1912), pp. 13 and following; p. 312.
5 Shorter Hymn, Translation of Sir Wallis Budge, Tutankhamen, Amenism, Atenism, and Egyptian Monotheism (Edit. 1923), p. 117.
bound plains and dark forests; and at the eastern end of the earth, the primitive people of Japan — more than seven hundred years before their first recorded emperor — doubtless already hailed His rising out of the Pacific Ocean. And still farther to the east and to the south — beyond those virgin waves that it would have taken months and months to cross — men of undiscovered isles and continents praised Him, in speeches now long forgotten, with strange rites of which we shall never know.
And thus it was true that the whole world was full of His name. From the Nile to the Andes, and from the frozen beaches over which He sheds His midnight rays to the luxuriant isles that smile in His golden light, in the midst of phosphorescent seas, it was true that “all men’s hands” were “stretched out in praise of His rising.” Akhnaton probably did not know how big our planet is; nor had he any idea of the farthermost lands of dawn and sunset bordering the two great oceans. Yet, with a sure insight of truth, he proclaimed his God: “Thou Aton of the day, revered in every distant land.” He was aware of the universality of Sun-worship, that oldest and most natural religion in the world, of which still to-day one could find concrete traces in the rites and customs and festivals of more intricate, more anthropomorphic — and less rational — cults. He was aware also that, if any religion could one day claim to conquer the earth and unite all enlightened mankind, it could be none but this one. The worldwide concert of man’s praise to the Sun, of which the dim echo resounded in his heart, clumsy, childish, discordant as it was, filled him with joy and glorious hopes. It was the first expression of the whole human race groping in quest of the real God. Its final expression — the religion of integral life, in which reason and inspiration, knowledge and devotion would go hand-in-hand — could be but the worship of the One Essence of all existence, Cosmic Energy, manifested in the heat and light of our parent star; the rational cult of the Sun, which he had forestalled in Akhetaton, his sacred City.
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There is more. Aton is not the God of man alone. We have seen that He loves all creatures impartially and treats them with equal solicitude. It is shown in the hymns no less clearly that all creatures love and worship Him, each in the manner of its species. “Every creature that Thou hast made skippeth towards Thee . . .”; “All the beasts frisk about on their feet; all the feathered fowl rise up from their nests and flap their wings with joy, and circle around in praise of the Living Aten. . . .”1 “Beasts and cattle of all kinds settle down upon the pastures” . . . “the feathered fowl fly about over their marshes, their feathers (i.e., their wings) praising Thy ‘Ka’. . . .”2 “All the cattle rise up on their legs; creatures that fly and insects of all kinds spring into life when Thou risest up on them. . . .”3 “The fishes in the river swim up to greet Thee.”4 And it is not only quadrupeds and birds, insects and fishes that take part in the general chorus of joy and praise that rises from the earth to the Sun; “shrubs and vegetables flourish”5 when Thou risest upon them; “buds burst into flower, and the plants which grow on the waste lands send up shoots at Thy rising; they drink themselves drunk before Thy face.”6
There are two ideas, quite different from each other, expressed in these few quotations from the hymns: on one hand that all creatures rejoice at the sight of the Sun; on the other that they all worship the Sun. The first is a matter of everyday observation that many a sensitive soul would probably have stressed in a poem to the glory of the life-giving Disk; a commonplace truth which indeed has been emphasised in various antique songs of unknown date and authorship, no less than in many passages of modern literature, and which implies no special insight on the part of
1 Shorter Hymn, Translation of Sir Wallis Budge, Tutankhamen, Amenism, Atenism, and Egyptian Monotheism (Edit. 1923), p. 121.
2 In Griffith’s version: “Their wings adoring Thy ‘Ka.’”
3 Longer Hymn, Translation of Sir Wallis Budge, Tutankhamen, Amenism, Atenism, and Egyptian Monotheism (Edit. 1923), pp. 126-127.
4 Longer Hymn, Translation of Griffith. Quoted by Sir Flinders Petrie, History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 215, and following.
5 Longer Hymn, Translation of Sir Wallis Budge, Tutankhamen, Amenism, Atenism, and Egyptian Monotheism (Edit. 1923), p. 126.
6 Shorter Hymn, Translation of Sir Wallis Budge, Tutankhamen, Amenism, Atenism, and Egyptian Monotheism (Edit. 1923), p. 121.
whoever grasps it; an obvious fact. The second idea implies the belief in the unity of all life and the brotherhood of creatures, and provides the basis of a whole religious and moral outlook.
Apart from Sir Flinders Petrie, who sees in the scientific foundation of the Religion of the Disk its greatest claim to our admiration, most authors among those who appreciate Akhnaton’s Teaching seem to do so on account of his God being the God of all nations as opposed to the hosts of national and tribal deities worshipped all over the ancient world. The young Pharaoh’s conception of the brotherhood of man as a consequence of the fatherhood of the one Sun; his internationalism; his kindness to all human beings, including rebels and traitors; his “conscientious objection to warfare”1 — logical outcome of a lofty respect for human life — are the traits which appear to strike historians such as Breasted and Arthur Weigall, commentators such as the Rev. J. Baikie, and, in general, all people who can imagine no broader standards of love than those put forward in the Gospels.
But a closer reading of the hymns in a totally unprejudiced spirit would have revealed, it seems, a feeling of truly universal brotherhood much more comprehensive than that expressed, as far as we know, by any later religious teacher, west of India, with the noble exception of a few Greeks — such as Apollonius of Tyana — obviously influenced by Indian masters. The fatherhood of the Sun implied, in Akhnaton’s eyes, the brotherhood of all sentient beings, human and non-human. The point deserves to be stressed.
As we have remarked, there are two distinct ideas in the hymns, with regard to living creatures. The joy of life, and the excitement that the appearing of daylight produces in all beings, from man to fish — even from man to plant — is one thing. The feeling it reveals, no doubt, in the author of the hymns, a heart open to universal understanding and to sympathy for all that lives. But that alone does not necessarily imply any religious doctrine about the unity of man and
1 Arthur Weigall: Life and Times of Akhnaton (New and Revised Edit. 1922), p. 200.
beast. In fact, saints full of the same tender love for dumb creatures have honoured, in course of time, religions according to the teachings of which man remains the special object of God’s solicitude and the measure of all values; Saint Francis of Assisi, for instance, called all creatures his “brothers,” and long before him a follower of the Prophet of Islam, Abu Hurairah, so tradition says, preferred to cut off a piece of his mantle rather than disturb a cat that had gone to sleep upon it. Had Akhnaton only spoken of the thrill that the rising Sun sends through all flesh; had even touching stories come down to us concerning his kindness to animals, yet we would not be able to say, on those grounds alone, what was the exact place of animals in the Religion of the Disk. Such evidence would have borne witness to the king’s value as a man; but it would have added little to our knowledge of his Teaching.
Fortunately, he said more. Not only did he look upon the joyous demonstrations of the animal world at daybreak as marks of love for the Sun, but he also considered them as unmistakable expressions of adoration. Birds, said he, “flap their wings with joy, and circle round in praise of the living Aten.” And that also is not all. One holding the general views inherited from the Bible by modern mankind — believing, that is to say, that there is a difference of nature, an unbreachable gap, between man and beast — would perhaps be inclined to concede that animals do pay some sort of homage to the material Sun-disk that shines above them, without looking up to any more subtle God, Creator and Animator of the Disk itself. But Akhnaton, following to the end the logical implications of an entirely different view of the universe, boldly asserts, in the longer hymn, that the God Whom beasts and birds worship is the self-same invisible, intangible Essence of all being, manifested in the Sun, Whom man reveres “in every distant country” — the “Ka,” or Soul of the Sun; the Soul of the world. “The feathered fowl fly about over their marshes, their wings adoring Thy ‘Ka.’”
Not that the young Pharaoh probably believed animals to be aware of the nature of that all-pervading supreme Reality
to which we have referred in the preceding chapter. He did not hold all men, also, or even the majority of men, to be conscious of what they really worshipped in the visible Sun. The sentence we have already quoted: “Thou art in my heart, and there is none who knoweth Thee save Thy Son, Nefer-kheperu-ra Ua-en-ra . . .” (Beautiful-essence-of-the-Sun, Only-one-of-the-Sun) is sufficient to show what an aristocratic conception he had of what is, properly speaking, “religion” — an experience of the Divine within one’s self, which very few men can ever hope to obtain to the full. But just as he believed that men, of whatever country and creed, all tend to the consciousness of the One Essence and worship It in the Sun, in spite of their ignorance, so he held that beasts and birds, even insects and fishes — all living beings — dimly tend to the same ultimate knowledge, and already worship the same Principle of universal life, Cosmic Energy, without being able to conceive its nature, or even to think of it. They are, like the majority of men (and probably to a lesser degree than the average man, though of course nobody knows) vaguely aware of Something fundamental and supreme, which they feel in the heat and light of the Sun; in the magic touch of His life-giving beams. And they worship It, without knowing what It is, with movements and noises, or movements alone, each one to the uttermost capacity of his individual nature and of his particular species. That seems to have been Akhnaton’s view of the relation of animals to God. They were, in his eyes, religious beings of the same nature as man; capable of prayer and adoration, in a vaguer manner (for want of speech) but perhaps with no less elementary emotional intensity. Otherwise — had he not meant that — the word “Ka” would have no sense in the above references.
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Of plants, it is not said in the hymns whether or not, in their thrill at the touch of Aton’s golden beams, there enters any element of adoration. Yet, if the leap of the fish towards the surface of the water is considered as an act of “greeting”
the rising Sun, it seems hardly possible not to see in the water-lillies that “drink themselves drunk” (of His radiance) “before His face,” living creatures enjoying, at a lower level of consciousness, the maximum of ecstatic joy that their nature permits. The king’s words, “they drink themselves drunk,” seem to imply, in their case also, a sort of religious intoxication, a holy rapture, as the warm sun-rays enter the open flowers and reach down into their hearts.
In other words, far from setting up a definite line of demarcation between man and the living world outside man, and considering our species endowed with special rights by a god who made the rest of creatures for its use; far from forestalling, that is to say, the common view of later monotheistic creeds, from that of the Jews onwards, Akhnaton looked upon all sentient beings as children of the same Father — the Sun — and co-worshippers of the same ultimate God, Cosmic Energy, made visible and tangible in the Sun; as brothers, identical in nature, different only inasmuch as the consciousness of the supreme One is more or less developed in each individual. And just as all nations were united, in his eyes, by the fact that they all revere the “Father-and-Mother” of life in various tongues and with various inadequate rites, so were all living species united to one another and to man — and man to them — by the worship of the One Cosmic God.
For such was Aton, the God of all animals (and plants) as well as of all men; the God of all men, in fact, only because He was, primarily and essentially, the God of life in general — man being only a small part of the endless scheme of life. A learned historian wrote, as a criticism of Akhnaton’s Teaching, that the hymns contained hardly any more than an assertion of the pleasure to be alive, a “cat-like” enjoyment of the Sun.1 A true follower of the inspired Pharaoh would answer: “So much the better”; for the value of the Religion of the Disk lies precisely in the fact that it is perhaps the only religion fit for cats and all beasts no less than for men, and supermen. Its bold views concerning the oneness of matter and energy may well be understood only by a few
1 H. R. Hall: Ancient History of the Near East (Ninth Edit. 1936), p. 599.
human beings, even to-day. But its visible object of worship — the Sun — is, and indeed ever will be, the only manifestation of God which beasts, and birds, and fishes, and plants, and all possible forms of life can be expected to appreciate in their own way, no less than we do in ours, and to worship, if they are to worship anything. However simple be a creed, it can be at the most extended to all mankind — not beyond. Nor can any seer, any prophet, any deified hero receive the allegiance of creatures other than men. Nor can even any idol be worshipped by dumb beasts. But the Sun appeals to all, inspires all, is loved and worshipped by all, from the philosophising devotee of intangible Energy down to the cat, the cock, the fish, the sun-flower. And the young Founder of the Religion of the Disk himself — the perfect Man in whom shone both intellectual and religious genius — would have, no doubt, seen in the movement of the beautiful sensitive feline stretching out its velvet paws with pleasure as it winks at the Sun, and in the raising of his own hands in praise of Him, two parallel gestures of worship — two expressions of the universal love of finite, individual life for the unknown, infinite and impersonal Energy, Source of all life.
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The love of God for the whole world and the love of the whole world for God are thus clearly expressed in the shorter and in the longer hymns. The love of creatures for one another, especially of man for creatures (his fellow-men and others), is not referred to. The hymns are poems in praise of the splendour, power and goodness of God, nothing more; they contain but statements of fact; and the love of man for his brothers of different races and different species is not a fact, even to-day. But it is the natural feeling of whoever realises, as Akhnaton did, that all creatures, from the superman down to the meanest particle of life in the depth of the ocean, have sprung into existence out of the same divine Source — the Sun; that they are sustained by the action of the same vivifying rays and that, each one in its own way, they all adore the only God, Whose face is the resplendent
Disk of our parent star. And in that respect, one can surely say that it is implied in the hymns — nay, that it is the very spirit of Akhnaton’s Teaching.
The example of the young Pharaoh’s life, whenever available, reveals better than any song the practical implications of his religion. And there is sound evidence that, in various important circumstances, his action, or his restraint from action, was prompted by nothing else but that universal love, natural to a true worshipper of the Sun, which also pervaded his everyday life.
We have spoken of his love for his consort and children, nearly always represented at his side, in paintings and bas-reliefs, in the most unconventional attitudes. We have also mentioned his generosity towards his followers, on whom the contemporary artists portray him lavishing every possible mark of favour. But pleasant and instructive as they are, those scenes of idyllic married happiness and of friendly patronage should not be mistaken for instances of universal love. They no doubt show us, in Akhnaton, a delicate soul, sensitive to the innocent joys of family life and of friendship; they may add to the particular charm he possesses even apart from his Teaching; they appeal to us especially because they make of him, in our eyes, a man like ourselves; they bestow upon him the attractiveness of living life; the eternal actuality of the feelings which they betray bridges the gaping gulf of time, and makes the Founder of the long-forgotten Religion of the Disk young and lovely for ever. But there is, after all, nothing in them which deserves our moral admiration, save perhaps the perfect frankness with which the king allowed them to be rendered. Many men have loved but one woman and have lived with her a peaceful domestic life, without sharing anything of Akhnaton’s greatness. And all teachers are inclined to be kind to those who seem to show a keen interest in their message. As for the young Pharaoh’s affection for his little daughters, it is but natural. And if one infers, from the fondness he displays towards them, that he probably liked children in general, that is also a trait which many fathers would have in common with him — fathers who, on the other hand, seem to have little experience of that
all-embracing love of which we have spoken in the above pages.
More enlightening is the interest that the king appears to have taken in the welfare of the labourers who dug out the tombs of the gentry from the live rock, and for whom he had built the “model settlement” excavated in modern times in the vicinity of the desert hills, east of Akhetaton. We have said already a few words about that settlement,1 adding that similar ones were possibly built nearer the City or even within its boundaries, for the men working in its famous glass factories. The main point we observed about it was the relative material comfort and the leisure given to each worker (who felt prompted to decorate his rooms according to his taste, and found time to do so), and above all the fact that the place was entirely free from religious propaganda. That suggests that Akhnaton was sufficiently broadminded to see to his people’s happiness without expecting them, in exchange, to show in his Teaching an interest of which he knew they were incapable. He was no forerunner of the dreamers who prepared the French Revolution, and he probably did not believe in the dogma of equality among men any more than the world at large did in his days, or than sensible folk do at any epoch. He knew that the individuals who dwelt in the little four-roomed houses he had built for them, on each side of the long straight streets of the labour-colonies, had hardly anything in common with him save that they were, like all creatures, happy to see the daylight and that, even in the midst of their intricate superstitions, they unconsciously gave praise to the One God, Source of life, health and joy. Yet he loved them — not with the busy possessive zeal of a missionary in a hurry to bring numbers of people to accept his doctrine, but with the disinterested benevolence of a true lover of creatures, who has no aim but the well-being of those to whom he does good, and who knows that most men cannot rise above an ideal of very concrete happiness. He loved them sincerely and wisely, fully conscious both of the weaknesses that separated them from him (and that called for his toleration) and of their
1 In Chapter IV, p. 82.
oneness with him, in spite of all, through the common Father of Life (that called for his active interest in their welfare).
Another instance of Akhnaton’s impartial love for human beings is to be found in his attitude towards foreigners — nay, towards rebels, enemies of his country and of his power — and finally in his behaviour towards his personal enemies.
What one could call the young king’s “internationalism” and his “pacifism” are perhaps, of all the remarkable aspects of his mental outlook, the ones that appeal the most to many modern historians. And it does indeed stir anybody’s interest to find such traits as these (which only since yesterday are beginning to gain among us some popularity) developed, and that, to the extent we shall see, in a youth of the early fourteenth century B.C.
It has been observed1 that Syria and Kush (Nubia) are named before Egypt in the reference quoted above from the longer hymn. The detail is significant. But quite apart from it, the tone of the whole passage is in striking contrast with that of earlier Egyptian hymns addressed to the Sun-god considered as a local god,2 and especially with that of such poems as the famous Hymn of Victory composed by a priest of Amon under Thotmose the Third, both in honour of the great god of Thebes and of the conqueror of Syria, and characteristic of the spirit of imperial Egypt. And the history of the king’s dealings with foreigners, both friends and foes, fully confirms the impression left by his words.
The presence among his dearest disciples of a man like Pnahesi (or Pa-nehsi), an Ethiopian — others say a Negro3 — shows that he was free from any racial prejudice in his estimation of individuals, although he was the very last man to ignore the natural, God-ordained separation of races, nay, although he considered it as an essential aspect of that
1 Arthur Weigall: Life and Times of Akhnaton (New and Revised Edit. 1922), p. 164.
2 Breasted: Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt, pp. 13-14; also p. 312.
3 Sir Wallis Budge: Tutankhamen, Amenism, Atenism, and Egyptian Monotheism (Edit. 1923), p. 92.
diversity within order, which characterises Aton’s creation.1 But more eloquent than all is the impartial view he seems to have taken of the rights of foreign countries.
The loss of the Egyptian empire is the object of a further chapter. We cannot here expatiate on it in detail. But we can recall the substance of the astounding tale which the well-known Tell-el-Amarna Letters — Akhnaton’s correspondence with foreign kings, and especially with his vassals and governors in Syria and Palestine — tell the modern reader. When his Asiatic dominions were seething with ferments of revolt; when his loyal supporters and his officials, guardians of the “rights” of Egypt in conquered territory, were sending him desperate messages and begging for speedy help, the Founder of the Religion of the Disk deliberately withdrew from doing anything to keep Syria under his sway. When an Amorite princeling, Aziru, son of Abdashirta — what we would call to-day a Syrian “nationalist” — had managed to gather the majority of Syrian chiefs around him, and was attacking the few who had remained on the side of the imperial power, and forcing the Egyptian garrisons to surrender one after the other, then, far from trying to quell the rebellion, the king of Egypt did not stir. And when that same princeling, whom he had summoned to Egypt, appeared at last before him, Akhnaton, instead of having him summarily dealt with (as any imperial ruler would have done), received him kindly and sent him back as the practically independent master of Syria. Aziru was guilty of having had one of the most faithful supporters of Egyptian rule treacherously put to death. The Pharaoh loved the man, by name Ribaddi, who had in vain served him and died for him — so much so that he had even sent, once, a small detachment of mercenaries to his rescue, the only soldiers ever allowed, during his reign, to cross the Egyptian border. And he had written the murderer a long, stern letter, expressing plainly how highly indignant he was at the news
1 Thou settest every man in his place . . .
Their tongues are diverse in speech,
Their shape likewise, and the colour of their skins; for, as a Divider, Thou dividest the strange peoples.
of his deed. Still, he seems to have borne no grudge and entertained no desires of vengeance against him. He seems indeed to have been able to enter his spirit and to understand the ultimate motive of his action — the dream of all Syria united under the rule of Aziru’s own people, the Amorites — and to have forgiven him without much effort, as one forgives a crime of which one can penetrate the psychology entirely. Such an attitude is so unusual that it bewilders the mind of the student of history.
In fact, the whole story of Akhnaton’s dealings with his vassal States is amazing from beginning to end. It clashes with all one knows of the established relations between subject people of any race and at any epoch, and their natural overlord (i.e., the embodiment of the power that holds them by the right of war). It cannot be explained as the result either of incapacity or of negligence on the part of a king whose administration at home appears to have been firm, and whose sense of responsibility is out of question. It can only be regarded, as we shall stress later on, as one of those material tragedies — and moral triumphs — that follow the application of the noblest principles to the conduct of the affairs of a barbaric world. It shows that Akhnaton was not the man able to keep what Thotmose the First and Thotmose the Third had conquered. But it shows, also, that the reason why he could not keep it is that he was hundreds of years in advance of his times — and of our times. For the principle which guided him, in his systematic refusal to help his loyal vassals in their struggle against the “nationalist” elements of Syria, seems to have been that of the right of the Syrians, as a people distinct from the Egyptians, to dispose of themselves and solve their own problems. He saw clearly that some of them were in favour of Egyptian domination; the majority, however, seemed to be against it. The best course for him — whose unprejudiced sympathy extended equally to all mankind — was to let them fight out the question of their future status without interfering. The interest of Egypt, of his supporters, of himself (who had all to gain from the conservation of his empire and of his prestige, and all to lose by their loss) mattered little, if opposed to that idea of
the right of all nations to live free under the same life-giving Sun, the Father of all. And it is because he loved all men impartially in his universal God of life and love that Akhnaton believed in that right, as in something fundamental.
There is still more. While so many people, even to-day, try to defend the maintenance of a status quo resulting from old wars of aggression, it is, no doubt, staggering to think of a young man proclaiming — and that, not in words, but by his deeds — the brotherhood of all nations and their right to freedom, thirty-three hundred years ago. But one might argue that Akhnaton was, as his detractors call him, a “religious fanatic,” and that such people have no feelings but for what touches their cherished doctrines.1 The final test of his love for all men lies in his attitude towards the bitterest enemies of his Teaching, the priests of Amon.
We know that he closed the temples of their god; that he abolished his cult, and that the enormous revenues which his predecessors formerly lavished upon it he henceforth used for the glorification of the One God, for the embellishment of Akhetaton, and for different works of public utility. We also know that he confiscated the scandalous wealth of the priests and did away with their influence. But, apart from that, he caused no harm to be done to them.
Sir Wallis Budge, who seems bent on finding fault with all that Akhnaton did, compares him with the Fatimide Khalif Al-Hakim, who reigned in Cairo two thousand five hundred years later, and tells us that “it would be rash to assume that persons who incurred the king’s displeasure in a serious degree were not removed by the methods that have been well known at Oriental courts from time immemorial.”2 But he himself admits, after recalling Al-Hakim’s wholesale massacres of his enemies, that “we have no knowledge that such atrocities were committed in Akhetaton,”3 so that the
1 Sir Wallis Budge: Tutankhamen, Amenism, Atenism, and Egyptian Monotheism (Edit. 1923), p. 106.
2 Sir Wallis Budge: Tutankhamen, Amenism, Atenism, and Egyptian Monotheism (Edit. 1923), pp. 107, 108.
3 Sir Wallis Budge: Tutankhamen, Amenism, Atenism, and Egyptian Monotheism (Edit. 1923), p. 107.
fact of Akhnaton being an “Oriental” king seems to be the only basis on which the twentieth-century historian puts forth his damaging assumption — a very flimsy basis indeed. James Baikie has singled out Budge’s comment as a characteristic example of what prejudice can bring a serious writer to say, once it has got the best of his good sense.1 We add that, had any act of violence taken place, at Akhnaton’s command or with his consent, against the opponents of his rational creed, the scribes in the pay of the priests of Amon would surely not have failed to give us a graphic account of it, once the national gods had been restored under Tutankhamen. The absence of any such account suffices to lead one to believe that, beyond dispossessing them of their excessive riches, Akhnaton never harmed the men who hated him the most, though he had every power to do so. His behaviour — in contrast with that of those very same men, who pursued him with their bitter curses even after he lay in his grave — suggests that, in his eyes, the awareness of the universal fatherhood of the Sun implied a broad humanity; a sincere love extended, in practical life, to all men, including one’s foes; including those who, in their ignorance, scorn the real God in favour of dead formulas and spurious symbols.
* * *
It implied more. As we have said, it implied love towards all creatures, our brothers, which the Sun has brought into life not for our use, but for each one of them to flourish in health and beauty, and to praise Him to the utmost capacity of its species. Even the plants are created for a higher purpose inherent in their nature — ultimately, for the glorification of the One universal Energy — not for us. It is said in the longer hymn: “Thy beams nourish every field; Thou risest and they live; they germinate for Thee.”2
One would like to possess more positive evidence of Akhnaton’s personal attitude towards animals and plants in
1 James Baikie: The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 260.
2 The Longer Hymn, Translation of Sir Wallis Budge, Tutankhamen, Amenism, Atenism, and Egyptian Monotheism (Edit. 1923), p. 132.
everyday life. There can be no doubt that he loved them; a man who would have looked upon them just as an interesting, perhaps admirable, but yet inferior creation, deprived of a soul of the same nature as our own, would have been incapable of writing the two hymns of which the authorship is ascribed, with practical certainty, to the young Founder of the Religion of the Disk. A painting in which he is portrayed, as usually, in the midst of his family,1 shows one of the little princesses fondly stroking the head of a tame gazelle which her sister is holding in her arms — a scene which would suggest, to say the least, that pets were welcome in the palace and that the king’s children were actually brought up to love dumb creatures. Budge, moreover, tells us that “not only was the king no warrior, he was not even a lover of the chase,”2 a statement which is confirmed by the fact that not a single hunting scene, not a single inscription set up in commemoration of a successful chase — as there are so many, exalting the courage and skill of other Pharaohs — has yet been discovered in the amount of pictorial and written evidence dating from his reign. And, while waiting for some more decisive proof before giving the question a final answer, one may wonder if, along with so many other things, traditionally looked upon as normal or even commendable, the action of pursuing and killing beautiful wild beasts and birds for the sake of sport was not forbidden by him who sang the joy of life in all nature, or at least if he had not expressed for that sort of amusement a sufficient repulsion for his courtiers to refrain from indulging in it, throughout his reign. Such a disgust on his part would be fully in keeping with the spirit of the Religion of the Disk as revealed to us in the hymns.
The absence of records, or the state in which the existing documents have reached us, makes it difficult for one to say anything more about the application to the king’s daily life of that principle of truly universal love and brotherhood, surely implied in what we know of his religion. The paintings
1 In the tomb of Merira II.
2 Sir Wallis Budge: Tutankhamen, Amenism, Atenism, and Egyptian Monotheism (Edit. 1923), p. 92.
that portray him eating and drinking have not come down to us sufficiently well preserved for one to assert, without his imagination playing a great part in the guess, which were the items of the royal menu. And imagination always involves the habits and tastes of the author who hazards the guess. The “broiled bone,”1 for instance, and the “joints of meat”2 in honour of Queen Tiy, represented on the walls of the tomb of Huya, can as well be anything else but a “bone” and “joints of meat.” In fact, it is not easy at all to decide what the artist actually intended them to suggest.
The same thing can be said of the piles of offerings heaped upon the altar of the Sun in many a picture where the king and queen are portrayed worshipping. It is hard to make out what they represent, without a great amount of imagination. No scenes actually picturing animal sacrifices have so far been discovered, and the mere presence of bulls garlanded with flowers among the crowd that comes forth to receive the Pharaoh at the entrance of the temple of Aton, on the walls of the tomb of Merira, the High-priest, does not suffice to indicate — let alone to prove — that those creatures were destined to be slain in some solemn oblation. Nor can the fact that living victims, “both animal and human,”3 were offered to Ra in the temples built by the kings of the Fifth Dynasty throw any light on the ritual of the Religion of the Disk as regards sacrifices. Akhnaton did, in many ways, aim at a revival of very old ideas concerning the Sun, and the well-known connection of his cult with that in the most ancient centre of solar worship — the sacred city of Anu, or On — goes to support that view, no less than the strange archaisms in art that we have pointed out, quoting Arthur Weigall. But that does not mean that he accepted the old ritual as it had once been in use. We know that, merely by forbidding to make any image of his God, he suppressed a number of rites that had been essential in the cult of all the
1 James Baikie: The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 283.
2 Arthur Weigall: Life and Times of Akhnaton (New and Revised Edit. 1922), pp. 154-155.
3 Sir Wallis Budge: Tutankhamen, Amenism, Atenism, and Egyptian Monotheism (Edit. 1923), p. 62.
old gods of Egypt. What, exactly, he did away with, and what he kept of the past is not known. The only indication of living creatures being offered to Aton is to be found in the first inscription commemorating the foundation of Akhetaton. There, along with bread, beer, wine, herbs, fruits, flowers, incense and gold, geese, etc., are mentioned among the items offered at the ceremony which solemnised the consecration of the City’s territory. Curiously enough, in the second foundation inscription the enumeration is omitted.
It is stated also — on the same boundary-tablets of Akhetaton — that the “hills, deserts, fowl, people, cattle, all things which Aton produced and on which His rays shine” are consecrated to Him by the king, the Founder of the City; that “they are all offered to His spirit.”1 Were the geese and other living creatures enumerated in the first inscription selected simply so that the animal as well as the vegetable and mineral world might be represented in the ceremony, and “offered to the spirit of the Sun” in the same manner as the whole territory of the future City with all its inhabitants? Or were they actually destroyed according to the age-old custom? And if the traditional rites of sacrifice were observed on that solemn occasion, were they also a part of the daily worship of Aton in the new capital? One can answer neither of these questions with absolute certainty. Arthur Weigall believes that “the ceremonial side of the religion does not seem to have been complex. The priests, of whom there were very few, offered sacrifices consisting mostly of vegetables, fruits and flowers, to the Aton, and at those ceremonies the king and his family often officiated. They sang psalms and offered prayers, and with much sweet music gave praise to the great Father of joy, and love.”2 While Sir Wallis Budge tells us plainly that “we know nothing of the forms and ceremonies of the Aton worship,”3 but that “hymns and songs and choruses must have filled
1 Quoted by A. Weigall: Life and Times of Akhnaton (New and Revised Edit. 1922), p. 93.
2 Arthur Weigall: Life and Times of Akhnaton (New and Revised Edit. 1922), p. 108.
3 Sir Wallis Budge: Tutankhamen, Amenism, Atenism, and Egyptian Monotheism (Edit. 1923), p. 91.
the temple daily”1 — the only thing that can be asserted about the external side of the Religion of the Disk, without much risk of being mistaken.2
* * *
But even if one supposes that, at least up to the period of the foundation of Akhetaton — that is to say, while the religion of Aton had perhaps retained more points of resemblance with the old solar cult of Heliopolis than it did later on — and, maybe also afterwards, on certain occasions, some oblations of living creatures were made, in the traditional manner, to the Father of Life, that would throw very little light on Akhnaton’s personal attitude towards beasts and birds. It would, anyhow, in no way disprove the belief in the brotherhood of all creatures which we have attributed to him on the basis of the hymns he composed.
Blood sacrifices, so common in the ancient world (and still in present-day India, among the Shakta section of the Hindus), shock the modern man not because they imply a murderous violence — worse cruelties take place to-day, everywhere, in the name of food, dress, amusement and scientific research — but because the modern man fails to put himself in the place of those who once offered them. He cannot realise what they represented to the minds of those people; he does not understand their meaning. We know that many interpretations of sacrifice can be given, some of which are purely practical, but some of which also, on the contrary, involve an idea of disinterested gift to God; a useless gift of what belongs to Him already, one might say, but
1 Sir Wallis Budge: Tutankhamen, Amenism, Atenism, and Egyptian Monotheism (Edit. 1923), p. 92.
2 Sir Wallis Budge writes, however, in his History of Egypt (Edit. 1902), Vol. IV, p. 122: “. . . in its courts” (i.e., in the courts of the temple of Aton) “were altars on which incense was burnt and offerings were laid, and it is possible that the idea of the altars was suggested to the architect Bek, the son of Men, by the altar which the great Queen Hatshepset had erected in her temple at Dêr-al-Bahari. It is an interesting fact that no sacrifices of any kind were offered up, either on the queen’s altar or on the altars of her successors, and it must be noted that the queen says in her inscription on her altar that she built it for her father, Ra-Harmachis, and that Ra-Harmachis was the one ancient god of the Egyptians whom Amen-hotep IV delighted to honour.”
still a gift which the worshipper offers in a spirit of sole devotion. Viewed in that particular light, a blood sacrifice, notwithstanding the gruesome action it supposes, is infinitely less repulsive than the equally or more cruel things that the modern man tolerates or encourages: butchery, hunting, harpooning of whales, and scientific experiments at the expense of sentient creatures. It does not stress the difference between man and beast, nor does it imply the childish and barbaric dogma that beasts have been created for man to exploit at his convenience. It does not sever the tie of brotherhood between the offerer and the victim. In fact, in the early days of history — and among certain Shakta sects of Hindus, still not long ago — men were chosen as victims, and rightly so, no less than beasts. The oblation of life to the interest of mankind — not to God — the standing feature of an order in which religion is free from blood sacrifices without society being innocent of the blood of beasts, is definitely the denial of the sacred unity of life and of the duty of universal love, a permanent insult to the divine Source of all life.
Whatever may have been the ritual in the temples of Akhetaton, there is one fact which invites us to believe that Akhnaton strongly stressed, in his Teaching and by his behaviour, that all living creatures are our brothers through the Sun, our common Father. This is the definite mention, in the inscription on the first boundary-stone of the sacred City, of the solemn burial of the bull Mnevis (or Mreuris) in a tomb in the eastern hills, near the king’s own sepulchre and those of his nobles. “And the sepulchre of Mnevis shall be made in the eastern hills, and he shall be buried therein.”
Mnevis was the sacred bull symbolising the Sun incarnate in the eyes of the priests of On. By giving him a worthy place of rest in the cemetery of his new capital, the Pharaoh, no doubt, wished to point out the filiation of his cult to that which was perhaps the oldest form of Sun-worship in Egypt, and thereby to impress in its favour a nation naturally inclined to cling to tradition. But there surely was more than that in his gesture. Akhnaton, who cared so little for success, would not, it seems, have done anything simply for the sake
of policy. There must have been some deeper religious significance attached to the honours rendered to the old bull, apart from his being the holy animal of On. The Religion of the Disk was, after all, something quite distinct from the archaic cult of the Sun in On, though it had its roots in it.
What was this religious significance is nowhere stated. But if we bear in mind the spirit of the hymns, in which man, beast, bird, fish and plant are shown in turn to be the objects of the One God’s impartial solicitude, and, each one to the capacity of its nature, His worshippers, then it seems quite possible that Akhnaton desired to honour the bull Mnevis less as the sacred bull of On, traditional symbol of vigour and fertility, than as an individual beast standing for Animality in general, the mother of Humanity; standing for the sacred realm of Life, of which human reason is only a late aspect and the clear knowledge of truth the ultimate flower. By the special treatment he gave him, he might well have wished to remind his followers both of the kindness that man should show to all living beings — his brothers — and of the respect he should feel for the great forces of life at play within their dumb consciousness, more frankly and more innocently than in his own.
The inscriptions dating from the time of the great reaction against Akhnaton’s work emphasise the decay in which the shrines of the gods and their estates had fallen, during his reign, through neglect. “The sanctuaries were overthrown and the sacred sites had become thoroughfares for the people,” states the well-known stele of Tutankhamen in Cairo.1 It is remarkable that not a word is said about what happened to the sacred beasts — crocodiles, ibis, ichneumons, cats, etc. — that formed such a striking feature in the cult of the local gods. A real “religious fanatic,” enemy of the gods and of all that was connected with them, would probably have had those animals destroyed as living idols. But Akhnaton did nothing of the kind, or his enemies would not have omitted to mention it with pious indignation. Not only had
1 Quoted by Sir Wallis Budge, Tutankhamen, Amenism, Atenism, and Egyptian Monotheism (Edit. 1923), p. 5.
he had no quarrel with the living beings which human veneration had set apart as sacred, but perhaps even did he believe that, in the superstition to which they owed such unusual attention, there lay a solid kernel of truth. Whatever might have been the primitive state of religion with which their worship was linked, in the eyes of the mob, they perhaps appeared, in his eyes, as reminders of that great truth, centre of the real religion expounded in his own hymns, namely of the oneness of all life and of the brotherhood of man and beast, united in the common worship of their common Maker, Father and Mother — “the Heat which-is-in-the-Disk.” The silence of Amon’s scribes on their fate during the young Pharaoh’s reign inclines us to believe that they did appear as such to him, and that, thanks to his orders, they lacked neither the food nor the care that they were accustomed to enjoy.
This instance, along with the general tone of the hymns, strengthens our conviction that there was a religious meaning in the royal honours given to the Bull of On — the Beast of the Sun, that stood for all the sacred animals, perhaps as the most ancient, surely as the most exalted of them all; a religious meaning which was none other than that which we have tried to make clear.
If that be so — if our interpretation, that is to say, be the right one — then one should consider Akhnaton not merely as the oldest exponent of the rationalism of our age, the first man (at least west of India) to stress the scientific basis of true universal religion, but also as the forerunner of a world far more beautiful and better than our own; as the first prophet of a new order in which not only would there be no distinction between one’s countrymen and foreigners (and no germs of war), but in which the same loving kindness would extend alike to man and to all living creatures.
In fact, we firmly hold that, unless and until man learns to love his dumb brothers as himself, and to respect them, as children and worshippers of the same Father of all life, he will not be able to live at peace with his own species. He must deserve peace before he can enjoy it. And no society which tolerates the shameful exploitation of sentient
creatures that cannot retaliate, deserves to remain, itself, unmolested by its stronger, shrewder, and better-equipped human neighbours.
If, as we believe, and as the logical implications of his religion suggest, Akhnaton’s “internationalism” and “pacifism” were but a consequence of the broader and more fundamental principle of the brotherhood of living creatures; if his love towards all men proceeded from a deeper love towards all life, then one must hail in him perhaps the most ancient exponent of integral truth — at least the oldest one west of India — and, at the same time, one whose spirit the modern world seems still unable to understand; one from whom the yet unborn generations would do well to learn the way of life.