Amarna and the Bible

I have an interest in ancient Egypt, particularly the Amarna period.  This was the period from around 1350 B.C.E onward when there was some kind of religious upheaval surrounding pharaoh Akhenaten.  Sigmund Freud and many others have speculated that this king was an innovator who initiated monotheism and influenced Moses.  But what intrigues me is the cache of mostly diplomatic letters we have found.  These letters came to King Ak (I am going to call him that as a parallel to King Tut for Tutankhamen) from kings and city chiefs in the territories controlled by Egypt.

Now if you take 1 Kings 6:1 (which says the Israelites came out of Egypt 480 years before the fourth year of Solomon’s reign) literally, the Exodus and Conquest of Israel should have happened before the Amarna period.  Yet, the Amarna letters clearly show that Egypt ruled Canaan at the time.  This is not the political situation in  Exodus, Joshua or Judges. So I take the Amarna letters as telling us that the settlement of Israel by the Hebrews happened later,  when Egyptian power in the region declined. 

Like many numbers in the Bible, those in 1 Kings 6:1 were probably meant to be symbolic. They contradict the genealogy of David given in Ruth 4:18-22 and 1 Chronicles 2:10-17. That genealogy puts Nahshon of the Exodus generation only  6 generations back from David–so less than 200 years back from Solomon.  That may not be precise either.  The point is that the 1 Kings 6 and the Ruth/Chronicles timetables cannot both be precise indicators of the date of the Exodus.

Anyways,  I am looking at the Amarna period because it helps us get a focus on biblical context, history and chronology.  

I am reading Amarna Sunset:  Nefertiti, Tutankhamen, Ay, Horemheb, and the Egyptian Counter Reformation by Aidan Dodson.  He takes the perspective of looking at the counter reformation that followed King Ak’s reformation.  You could question this use of Protestantism and Counter Reformation as an analogy to events in fourteenth century Egypt.  But as long as he doesn’t press it too far, it should make for an interesting approach.

Dodson has not written his books on Amarna in chronological order.  He has one called Amarna Sunrise that hasn’t come out yet.  Obviously, the new book will deal with an earlier period.  Dodson doesn’t always agree with himself.  By that I mean that he has a record of changing his opinion as new evidence becomes available.  So what he says in the sunset book may not agree with what he will say in the sunrise book.  It is a little confusing that his book about the aftermath of King Ak may not coincide with his book about the foundation of his  reign.  But I admire his willingness to change his views based on the latest information.

But that raises something that most people don’t get–that there isn’t much solid information.  Much of the reconstruction of the Amarna era comes from attempts to interpret the art found in tombs and public monuments.  Art is suggestive, not definitive. Of course, we have the texts of the Amarna letters.  But they are diplomatic texts and my impression is that they contain a whole lot of exaggeration and many outright lies.  So again, interpreting them is tough.  Aidan Dodson, though, should be a good, expert guide.


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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2 Responses to Amarna and the Bible

  1. Marianne says:

    Actually, it was during the reign of Akhenaten that some people called the Apiru in the Amarna letters conquered many Canaanite cities, killing all the rulers of same who remained loyal to the king of Egypt. Having no more vassals, Akhenaten lost his foothold in Canaan and the Egyptian empire was at its lowest point since it was established by the ancestor of Akhenaten, Thutmose I, around 150 years before.

  2. Thanks for your comment. Are you sure the Amarna letters really say that the Apiru killed all the loyal rulers and that Akhenaten lost his foothold? Egypt did not permanently lose its foothold for another couple centuries. But I agree that Akhenaten had a weak foreign policy.

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