Egypt’s Lost City

In September 2020, a team of archaeologists, led by Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s former Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs, began excavations at a site in the country’s famed Valley of the Kings. Eight months later, their findings are now being released to the public. The lost city makes history as “the largest ancient settlement ever discovered in Egypt.”

The city’s most notable value is “its intact structures left standing ‘as if it were yesterday.’” It is even being compared to the Roman city of Pompeii, whose Mount Vesuvius eruption resulted in a perfectly macabre portrait of first century Italy.

An accidental discovery, it is being touted as “the second most important archeological discovery since the tomb of Tutankhamun,” the most famous of Egyptian findings uncovered nearly a century ago. The team found not only fortifications but also pottery, jewelry, tools, even fossils; they surveyed homes as well as shops; and they discovered one item of inestimable import, “a vessel containing two gallons of boiled meat … inscribed with the year 37.” 

The findings led the team to conclude in an official statement, “Historical references tell us the settlement consisted of three royal palaces of King Amenhotep III, as well as the Empire’s administrative and industrial center.”

These distinctive details also allowed the team to confirm the city as one of the foremost clues to Ancient Egypt’s great anomaly: the reign of Akhenaten.


The “Heretic PharaOh”

The pharaoh Akhenaten was not born with that name. He was born Amenhotep IV, the second son of pharaoh Amenhotep III. Amenhotep III, like the rulers before him, carried on the great tradition of polytheism in Egypt, where gods and goddesses were a dime a dozen. But when Amenhotep IV succeeded his father, he proceeded to turn polytheism on its head. Suddenly, Egypt’s religion was focused on a single god named Aten.

Amenhotep IV’s name change to Akhenaten in the early years of his reign was a tribute to this deity. The name simply translates as “devoted to Aten.” According to archaeologist Donald B. Redford, who has spent nearly 50 years excavating one of Akhenaten’s temples, the pharaoh’s faith led him to “[tax] and gradually [close] the temples of the other gods,” eradicating all visual manifestations of them. In contrast, Atenism “was reduced to the one simple act of offering upon the altar.”

Then, there was Akhenaten’s poetry, in particular one, known today as “The Great Hymn of the Aten.” Scholars, including C. S. Lewis, saw strong parallels with Psalm 104. Both works contain uncanny similarities in their praise of the Creator of the world. Both mention the Creator’s care over lions, birds, and humanity in that order; both note the Creator’s power over the mighty ocean.

Take, for example, these phrases from Akhenaten’s hymn, from Egyptologist Miriam Lichtheim’s translation:

How many are your deeds,
Though hidden from sight,
O Sole God beside whom there is none!
You made the earth as you wished, you alone. …

How excellent are your ways, O Lord of eternity! …

Those on earth come from your hand as you made them,
When you have dawned they live,
When you set they die;
You yourself are lifetime, one lives by you.

Then, compare them to these verses in Psalm 104:

O LORD, how manifold are Your works!
In wisdom You have made them all.
The earth is full of Your possessions (v. 24).

These all wait for You. …
You take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
You send forth Your Spirit, they are created;
And You renew the face of the earth (vv. 27–30).

In both there is a personal connection to the Creator. “You are in my heart,” declares Akhenaten. “May my meditation be sweet to Him; I will be glad in the LORD” (v. 34), sings the psalmist. These were two men who loved their Creator.

One God

We cannot know for certain if Akhenaten knew the true God of the Bible. For one, the depiction of Aten as the sun has been heavily construed with sun worship.

But it also cannot be denied that Akhenaten’s practice of his faith somewhat resembled that of the Jewish kings who remained loyal to God, they who “removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image” (2 Kings 18:4), they who “built there an altar to the LORD, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, and called on the LORD” (1 Chronicles 21:26).

After his father’s passing, Akhenaten relocated to an entirely new city, which he named Akhetaten—today known as Amarna. This is what Hawass’ team is most interested in: The artifacts found in the lost city have dated it to the year just before Akhenaten’s overhaul. They are thus hopeful that their excavation will help them to answer the long-debated question: “Why and how did the pharaoh’s controversial transformation take place”? They have even named the city The Rise of Aten.

Why would the ruler of the most powerful nation in the ancient world risk everything to defy cultural, political, religious norms? Why was he so zealous to glorify this one god? How did he know to do that?

“The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising,” declares Isaiah 60:3. The commission that God gave to His chosen people, the Jewish nation, was to share their knowledge of God with the entire world. Now that is the privilege and responsibility of every Christian who accepts Christ as his or her Savior.

For a powerful account of a witness who did just that, check out Pastor Doug’s free, online Bible study on “Philip as Missionary.

Learn the importance of being God’s witness to the world.

Kris W. Sky
Kris W. Sky is a writer and editor for Amazing Facts International and other online and print publications.
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