The Tell-El-Amarna Letters. -- By: John M. P. Metcalf

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 054:214 (Apr 1897)
Article: The Tell-El-Amarna Letters.
Author: John M. P. Metcalf

The Tell-El-Amarna Letters.

John M. P. Metcalf

I read some months ago that the only Professor of Egyptology of whom our American universities can boast, delivered an address in Chicago about “The World’s Greatest Reformer.” I felt confident that the subject of that address was the man to whom we owe the fact, that the most important archaeological find in recent years took place in Tell-el-Amarna. That man was Amenophis IV., an Egyptian king of the eighteenth dynasty. The same Professor has called him the “most interesting figure in Egyptian history.”1 He was all this because, in a land having such a mighty pantheon as Egypt, he sought to establish and perpetuate the worship of the god of the sun-disk, ‘Aten, as supreme, blotting out so far as possible the names, memory, and worship of the others; in a word, he sought to establish a sort of solar monotheism. He abandoned, therefore, Thebes, whose special god, Anion, shared the greatness of the capital, and built a new city far down the Nile, upon its right bank, almost half-way between Thebes and Memphis, upon the plains where Tell-el-Amarna now stands.

This city he called “Brilliance of the Sun.” Here he built a magnificent temple to the sun, and a palace as royal residence. This enterprise was only the more likely to succeed, if, after deposing the priests of Amon in Thebes

and blotting out the god’s name from the inscriptions, he should, in a new capital, away from the old associations, seek to advance the purposes of the reform. To this new city also Amenophis brought the royal archives, as a hieratic note upon one of the Amarna tablets informs us. Letter 23 in Winckler’s edition of the letters has an Egyptian note which has been thus translated :— “[Year] 2 + X, first month of winter, … day, at the time when the court was in the Southern capital (Thebes) in the castle, ḳìm i ḫwt. Copy of the Naharina letter which the ambassador Pt-r-zi, and the ambassador [Bubri] brought.” Part of the royal archives of Amenophis have come to us from the ruins of his royal city, but his efforts at religious reform were miserably defeated. With his death the movement came to an end, and the new capital was abandoned. It fell into decay, its royal archives were buried beneath the accumulations of time, only to see the light in our own day. In 1887, some Arabs discovered on the site of Tell-el-Amarna some of these archives, and they proved to be— not Egyptian papyri, not records in the hieroglyphics of the Nile Valley, but clay tablets inscribed with the cuneiform characters of the Euphrates Valley. A sensation was created at onc...

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