14 February 2015

Tutankhamen: Amenism, Atenism and Egyptian Monotheism

Tutankhamen: Amenism, Atenism and Egyptian Monotheism by E. A. Budge. Now that that mouthful of a title is out of the way, on to the review. This book was written by Budge at the behest of Lord Carnarvon himself. The book was originally published in 1923, the year after King Tut’s tomb was discovered, and Carnarvon wanted Budge to write the book in order to dispel some of the crazier misinformation that had been circulating since the discovery. Budge wrote this book which lays out the information available about the development of the cult of Amun, the cult of Aten, and how the two interacted and competed from the time of Thutmose III to the time of Tutankhamen. Also at Carnarvon’s request, several Egyptian hymns were included, printed with the hieroglyphs alongside the translations.

All right, I suppose I should begin by dealing with the negative aspects of this book. First of all, yes, the material on Egyptian religion is wildly outdated. All of the standard spellings of names have also changed, which can make reading it confusing. What did you expect from a book that’s 90 years old about a subject like Egyptology that has developed so dramatically over the last century? However, it must be said that Budge was ahead of his time in many ways. He rejects the ridiculously over-the-top adulation of Akhenaten introduced by men like Breasted even if he does swing the pendulum full force in the other direction by asserting that Akhenaten must have been at least “half insane” as well as “intolerant, arrogant, and obstinate” and a “megalomaniac”.

The other problem is that King Tut gets the top billing both in the title and on the cover of the book, but he isn’t talked about all that much in the book itself. Thutmose III and Amenhotep II and III get most of the attention on the Amun side of things and the Aten side of things in the book is dominated by Akhenaten, for obvious reasons. Tut might have been the selling point, but I think it was a bit of false advertising to get people to buy the book.

However, outdated though it is, the book is still a good read. It shows a historical perspective on this period of the field, considered by many to be the golden age of Egyptology.  Seeing Budges relationship with Carnarvon and getting that personal connection through letters and anecdotes is great. Also, as I said before, Budge was ahead of his time on many points and some of the material is still solid today. Just be sure you don’t’ use it as your introduction to this period of Egyptian history. The book is well-written, it has tons of pictures (always a plus in a book about Egypt), it has some good primary sources included, and you can plow through it fairly quickly.

3/5 stars

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