Akhenaten and Tutankhamum: Revolution and Restoration

Article excerpt

Akhenaten and Tutankhamum: Revolution and Restoration. By David P. SILVERMAN, JOSEF W. WEGNER, and JENNIFER HOUSER WEGNER. Philadelphia: THE UNIVERSITY MUSEUM, 2006. Pp. xi + 196, illus. $24.95. [Distrib. by Hopkins Fulfillment Service, Baltimore]

Akhenaten and Tutankhamun provides a cohesive and useful summary of the Amarna Period, as illustrated by objects in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Many volumes have been written about Akhenaten and his revolutionary changes to Egyptian culture, but such works tend to be either fully academic or woefully uninformed and intended for unaware laypeople. The authors of the book at hand have produced a highly readable volume that bridges the gap and covers the era's most important aspects, utilizing artifacts and records in the Penn Museum's collection, supplemented by ancient texts and recent secondary sources. All three writers are well qualified for such an endeavor, demonstrating experience in seemingly all aspects of Egyptian culture, except perhaps the nuances of the period's art. The statement that Nefertiti's bust "exemplifies" the early art style (p. 66) is inexplicable, for instance. The book was written to accompany an exhibition highlighting the Museum's work at Tell el-Amarna, and the intended reader is one wishing to learn more about the subject without reading an object catalogue.

The organizational approach of thematic chapters is far more effective than a strictly chronological ordering of events; historical data is carefully incorporated where necessary. The authors discuss the preceding and subsequent reigns as they relate to Akhenaten's actions, stating for example, the factors that initially influenced this unusual pharaoh, as well as the government's posthumous rejection of his policies. The title is somewhat misleading, however, with only one chapter pertaining specifically to Tutankhamun.

The book progresses smoothly from prologue to epilogue, a history of the archaeological missions to Amarna. Chapter one, "The Evolution of the Pharaoh Akhenaten," is mostly successful in explaining how the ruler developed such novel ideas in traditionally oriented Egypt. The section on his upbringing during the prosperous reign of his father, Amenhotep III, includes the latter's own leanings toward sun worship and self-deification, and is hampered mainly by our lack of textual documentation regarding Akhenaten's personal motivations.

Chapter two covers the basic tenets of "The Religion of the Aten," from its manifestation in new practices to its eventual prohibition of the traditional pantheon. Akhenaten's message about the Aten--the sun god as a disk that bestows light and life--is clarified. One of the most unpopular features of the new religion was the elimination of the populace's direct access to their deities, as noted in this chapter. Important concepts stand out here, such as Akhenaten's "program to equalize royal and divine status" (p. 30).

Chapters three and four cover the site of Amarna, addressing its premeditated founding and most important structures, respectively. A concise discussion of how the city's architects built on virgin ground in adherence with the king's geographical and architectural prescriptions to facilitate the practice of Atenism describes the palaces, temples, and the activities carried out within them. "Amarna--A City of Pageantry" (chapter five) elaborates on the constructions that showcased the ruler and his religion. …