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It is clear from the evidence of the Amarna Letters that, had he consented to use violence, Akhnaton could easily have stemmed the tide of events and saved the Egyptian empire, thus giving a different direction to the whole political evolution of the Near East for many centuries.

Several modern writers have criticised him for not having done so, some indeed with as much bitter vehemence as though they saw in his “pacifism” a dangerous example to the present-day owners of foreign empires. But none seem to have noticed that, apart from all political considerations, the very history of civilisation in the Near East — and subsequently in the West — would probably have been much altered had the young Pharaoh cared to quell rebellion in his Syrian dominion in the fourteenth century B.C.

However useless it may appear to ponder over possibilities which have never materialised, yet we may be excused for doing so if the sheer vision of such possibilities helps us to realise more completely the true meaning of an extraordinary man, and to interpret his decisions with a keener knowledge of their remote consequences.

* * *

So let us suppose for a moment that, unlike himself, Akhnaton had yielded to the supplications of his few loyal vassals and sent them timely help against the Amorite chieftains and their supporters. Let us even suppose that he had marched in person into Syria, with archers and chariots and all the awe-inspiring apparel of war, as any of his fathers would have done.

It is highly probable — practically certain — that in such a case the “sons of Abdashirta” would have been utterly


defeated from the start, and the Syrian rebellion nipped in the bud. In spite of long years of peace, Egypt was still a first-rate military power and, moreover, the aid that was needed to re-assert her prestige was, in the beginning, extremely slight. (Let us remember Ribaddi’s letter to Akhnaton, before his position in Byblos became tragic: “May it seem good to the king my Lord to send me but three hundred soldiers and twenty pair of horses, and I will hold the city. . . .”)

The youthful Founder of the Religion of the Disk would have returned in triumph to his capital, and the new City of the Horizon of Aton would have gazed upon one of those impressive displays of warrior-like pomp such as Thebes had witnessed in former days. And the bitterness and resentment caused by the erasure of the name of Amon from every stone and by the king’s other decrees, and by his whole struggle against the national gods, would have been forgotten in a cry of victory; and Egypt would probably have accepted the rational worship of Aton, the One and Only God, without further murmurs.

Not that the people or even the nobles would have understood it, or felt its beauty, any better than they actually did. But they would have accepted it, as the expression of the sweet will of a popular king. The fact that, in spite of his revolutionary decrees, not a single rising is reported against his government in Egypt during all his reign, proves that Akhnaton was popular enough among his subjects, although of course hated by the priests. The only thing the Egyptians could not bring themselves to do for his sake was to renounce their traditional objects of worship in favour of a higher one. The only force that could have — and probably would have — led them to forsake even their beloved gods, at the command of him whom they still regarded as a god incarnate, was the prestige of victory added to that of royalty.

The orders of a monarch who has brought an empire to ruin, even if he be of divine descent, do not indeed carry the same weight as those of a triumphant king. There is, in armed success, a magic that commands respect, whatever be the personal views of the lucky warrior. One has seen in


modern times, nay, in our own days, men inferior by far to Akhnaton in genius and in character succeed in stamping their will upon a reluctant nation, just because they had, first, led that nation to victory upon the battlefield. And we believe that nothing would have reconciled the unwilling Egyptians to the new order installed by their inspired ruler as the knowledge that he had saved them and their empire from imminent danger. And if it be true, as some have suggested, that shadowy elements of treason lurked at the very court of Akhetaton,1 then nothing would have confounded the hopes of the king’s enemies at home so much as the sight of their Syrian accomplice, the crafty Aziru, led in chains through the streets of the capital, with some hundreds of other captives of rank.

The more we think of the situation created in Egypt by Akhnaton’s zeal for truth, the more we are convinced that brilliant military achievements beyond the Sinai Desert were the one and only means for him to secure the lasting success of his reforms at home.

* * *

The enduring success of Akhnaton’s religion in Egypt would have meant more than a change of cult. It would have meant new standards in art and in behaviour; sincerity of thought, freedom of expression, a critical, disinterested, truth-loving attitude in all walks of life; in one word, a new life.

What is left of the Amarna sculpture and painting shows us the beginning of an amazing return to personal inspiration in art, to naturalness, to freedom. With the failure of the Religion of the Disk, the artistic movement linked with it was stifled to death at its very outset. What it would have been, had it lived, is difficult to say. But one may imagine, from its earliest creations, which are well known to us, that it would have anticipated ideals of beauty that we now call “modern,” putting far greater stress upon expression than upon lines,

1 J. Baikie: The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 362.


and striving to reveal the inner nature, the “meaning,” so as to say, of things, rather than their exact or embellished physical likeness.

We can somewhat picture to ourselves the subsequent development of Egypt had her art, henceforth, been inspired by the Amarna standards, had her religion remained that which Akhnaton preached, and had there appeared, from time to time, especially among her ruling classes, true disciples of the One-who-lived-in-Truth, who would have modelled their lives upon his; had, in one word, her whole civilisation retained, even to a faint degree, the double mark of rationalism and of universal kindness and the essentially aesthetic outlook on life that characterised her only truly divine king. Then, even making the indispensable allowances for human wickedness and stupidity, the country, merely by seeking to walk in the trail of such a man as Akhnaton, would have put itself far ahead of all the neighbouring nations. It would have been a modern country in the midst of the Ancient World — but a modern country retaining all that was lovely in ancient life; a modern country without the horrors that our world of to-day has brought into existence by the import of greater technical efficiency combined with less reason, less inspiration, and less love.

* * *

But Egypt was not alone concerned. She occupied in the world, then, the position of a great power. Her gods, like those of all leading nations, were worshipped beyond her boundaries. It is possible, even probable, that the cult of Aton had not reached, in Akhnaton’s days, the limits of the Egyptian dominions. The elders of Tunip do not seem to have heard of it, otherwise how could they write to the king that “the gods of Egypt” dwell in their city? But there is little doubt that, had it once been able to establish itself firmly in the Nile Valley, the Religion of the Disk would have spread throughout the empire and even to allied countries; to all lands where the power of the Pharaoh was dreaded and his name held in reverence. From Napata to


Carchemish, over a stretch of twenty degrees of latitude, the name of Aton, the God above all gods, would have become familiar to people of the most various races; to the sturdy mountaineers of the regions bordering Assyria; to the subtle, mystic, pleasure-loving people of Syria; to the fair Northerners of Aryan descent who ruled the land of Mitanni, as well as to the dusky Nubians and Ethiopians, and to the Negroes of the farthest South.

How little those myriads of men would have grasped of the true spirit of Akhnaton’s Teaching it is useless to say. But even a partial and altogether outward knowledge of it would have sufficed to impress upon them the idea of the excellence of a natural worship, of cosmic significance, over their thousand and one man-made cults of local scope. It would have sufficed, also, to inspire all those who were susceptible of some refinement with the feeling of the beauty of the world and of the unity of all life.

And possibly Egypt and the adjoining countries would have remained, to this day, faithful to the cult of the One God manifested in the Sun. It seems indeed doubtful whether any later monotheistic creed would have found adherents among thinking people already acquainted for centuries with Akhnaton’s Teaching.

* * *

And that is not all. The worship of Aton, had it remained the State-religion of Egypt — of a victorious Egypt, mistress of her empire — would have undoubtedly influenced the whole evolution of Western thought and culture.

Even in her decline, after every sort of originality had been killed in her priest-ridden people, Egypt, which had sunk to the level of a third-rate nation, still exerted a lasting influence upon Greece. What would that influence have been, had Egypt remained powerful a few centuries longer, and had the simple and rational Sun-worship preached by Akhnaton continued to hold sway over her, instead of the more and more formal, the more and more fossilised cult of her primitive gods? A glance at these possibilities will be


enough to show what Akhnaton could perhaps have done, had he but consented to utter a word in favour of war.

As we have already many times remarked, the whole of the young king’s Teaching is characterised by an unusual rationality, allied to an overwhelming sense of beauty. It is probable that, in the days of its Founder — two hundred years before the Trojan War — no account of it reached the shores of Greece. And had, by chance, some exiled Egyptian ever carried it there, we do not know what impression it would have left upon the people of Tiryns and Mykaenae. But had the scientific-minded leaders of Grecian thought come in contact with the Teaching some centuries later, at the time Greece was ready to enter the maturity of her classical age, then, we believe, the history of Western civilisation would have been different.

The sceptical Athenian mind, while continuing to pay a customary allegiance to “the gods of the city,” would have welcomed that rational creed that put stress upon nothing which is outside the reach of man’s experience; that related no incredible deeds, no childish fables. The few who aspired to something more than intellectual certitude would have recognised the truth in a Teaching that implied the oneness and sacredness of life. And the Greeks at large would have felt in Akhnaton’s worship — and in his hymns, and in the story of his life, also — a thing of beauty unsurpassed even in their own land of light and harmony.

And slowly the time would have come for a great change in the consciousness of the ancient world; the time when, tired of conflicting philosophies as well as of rites and mysteries of which they had forgotten the sense, the Greeks would have begun to aspire to Something unknown which they could neither define nor invent; the time when, in one word, the need of a broader and kinder outlook even than that of the best Athenians would have begun to be felt throughout the Hellenised world. Then, instead of turning her eyes to any new creed, perhaps Greece would have simply drifted from the worship of her many gods to that of the Only One revealed to men and to all creatures through the flaming Disk of the Sun. And without sacrificing anything


of her passionate love of life and visible beauty, without also forcing herself to accept any dogmas “beyond reason” or “above reason” — or against reason — perhaps she would have made the fourteen-hundred-year-old Religion of the Disk the creed of her people for all times to come.

There would have been no conflict between an “old” and a “new” order, but merely a gradual absorption of the popular religions of Greece and Rome into the decorous simplicity of a more rational, more spiritual, and more ancient one, already held in regard by the elite of the Greek-speaking East.

And slowly but steadily, along with the culture and learning of the Mediterranean, the antique worship of Aton would have spread over barbaric Europe, replacing the popular cults of the North after those of Asia Minor, Greece and Italy. On the borders of the Danube and of the Rhine, on the misty shores of the Baltic and of the North Sea, temples containing no image but the Sun Disk with rays ending in hands would have been erected in honour of the One God — Cosmic Energy.

And one day, the Spanish caravelles would have carried the lofty symbol across the Atlantic, and the Religion of the Disk would have become the religion of the West.

* * *

Would the West, then, have been any better than it is? Probably not. Since with all the overwhelming loveliness of his living personality Akhnaton could not, in his days, improve human nature, it is doubtful whether his surviving Teaching — somewhat distorted, as might be expected, by clumsy interpreters — would have been able to accomplish that miracle.

Most probably the same passions would have disturbed the peace of the world. But they would not have been fanned by religious fanaticism, and that alone would have made an enormous difference. The opposition of the different national polytheisms to the universal worship of such a God as the Sun would never, it seems, have taken the form of such a


ferocious conflict as witnessed in the first centuries of the Christian era between the same old national cults and the Gospel preached by Paul of Tarsus. The adoration of light is a thing so natural — and, in its crude forms, so universally spread — that it would have been easy to convince both philosophers and barbarians of its excellence. The Emperor Julian would have been the first one to encourage a creed more rational and no less aesthetic than those of his Greek masters. And the Western world would never have known such atrocities as the ghastly murder of Hypatia or the mass-massacre of the Saxons. There would have not been any equivalent of the Crusades, or of the wars of the Arabs for the conversion of Infidels, or of the Holy Inquisition. Greed and cruelty would have remained, but in order to gratify such base passions it would hardly have been possible to exploit a religion free from puerile hopes no less than from superstitious fears, and whose Founder had never made a duty of proselytism.

No doubt, one day, the newly-discovered hemisphere would have been overrun by the same merciless adventurers in search of gold; and the same battles would have raged in Mexico, in Guatemala and in Peru, around the last bastions of American independence. But they would have been battles frankly fought for the possession of earthly goods, not for the triumph of the Faith, not for the salvation of souls, not “for the greatest glory of God.” The interview of Pizarro and Atahuallpa would have been different. In the God of the Inca, “Who lives for ever in the sky,” the Spanish conqueror would have recognised his own God. And both he and the Peruvian king would have felt that, whatever be their behaviour towards each other, they — and their people — had in common something vital. And, while subjugated by a superior science of arms, the fortunate people of the New World would have learnt to link what was the best in their own traditions with a purer and more rational worship of the Sun.

And that is not all.

It seems probable that, had it become and remained the religion of Europe and America (and Australia), the Religion


of the Disk would have largely contributed to bridge the gap between East and West and to hasten the day of universal understanding.

However different may appear the pre-eminently dynastic Sun-cult of modern Japan from the essentially universal, non-political cult of Aton, the fact remains that it is still Sun-worship. And a disciple of Akhnaton would not feel himself out of place amidst a group of pilgrims devoutly greeting, from the top of one of Japan’s sacred mountains, the rising in glory of the One eternal “Lord and Origin of life.” And, as for the Hindus, their highest conception of Sun-worship (expressed in the Gayatri Mantra, that every true Brahman recites at dawn, his folded hands lifted in praise to the rising Sun) is practically identical with that upheld by Akhnaton. It is the adoration, not of the material Disk, but of the Energy within the Disk. And if there be a country in which the Egyptian king’s Teaching still gives, to the very few who know of it, the impression of something entirely familiar, that country is surely India.

Now let us for a while try to imagine what the relations of Europe with the East would have been — nay, what the relations of India and the Far East would have been with the people of West Asia — had the timely success of the Religion of the Disk rendered the expansion of any later monotheism unnecessary and therefore impossible. The oppositions that lie at the bottom of the great conflicts of the Middle Ages — opposition of Christian Byzantium to Zoroastrian Persia; of Christian Europe to the growing power of Islam; of Islam, both to Christian Europe and to the older cultures of Persia and India — would never have existed, and the history of the Middle Ages would have been entirely different. Later on, European merchants and adventurers might well have aimed at political and economic domination over the technically less developed nations of Asia; but the idea of cultural domination, brought about through religious proselytism, would have occurred to nobody. At most, the people of Persia, of India and of further Asia might have learnt to look upon the Founder of the Western Sun-worship as an equal of their own greatest teachers, and his name,


already revered from Abyssinia to Iceland and from Peru to the Arabian Desert, would have become familiar to the limits of the earth. And the people of Europe and America would have considered with friendly sympathy foreign religions of a naturalistic, non-dogmatic character, if not always similar to their own, at least less different from it than they appear now to be.

In spite of the same colonial wars, prompted by the same lust for riches and power, there would have been more understanding, more cultural unity — or, in a way, less opposition — between East and West. And the world to-day would have been, if not more peaceful, at least better prepared to realise its fundamental unity within everlasting diversity. On the whole, it would have been, it seems, a better world.

* * *

This retrospective vision of centuries of would-be history is staggering. Yet we believe it is not the projection of a pure fancy. That gigantic dream of ours was, thirty-three hundred years ago, a living possibility. That more rational, more harmonised, more beautiful world, united under the symbol of the Sun-disk with rays ending in hands could have, and probably would have become the reality of to-day, had then the one man with a clear vision of the truth used his wealth and power to keep the empire of his fathers, and to force his will upon his people and upon men at large.

That better world — and that far-shed glory; that praise of men from ocean to ocean and from pole to pole, for ever — was the possible reward of a short and successful punitive expedition against a handful of agitators. Less than that; it was the reward of an order to Horemheb, or to any other of his generals, to march into Syria, without the king even taking the trouble of going there himself; the remote consequence of a mere word.

But, for the reasons we have seen — and perhaps for others, too — that word was never uttered.

While the distressed letters from his loyal vassals came


pouring in from Syria, Akhnaton quietly continued to greet the rising and setting Sun as though, to him, nothing else counted. He read the pathetic messages one after the other — in what spirit and with what reactions he alone knew. And he spoke not. He refused to set in motion the long series of events that would have given him, perhaps, in course of time, uncontested spiritual domination over the Western World.