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John Ray

Book Reviews

John Ray's "Reflections of Osiris"

June 11, 2003

John Ray's "Reflections of Osiris"

This article has some unwarranted judgments as well as some clever insights. Right at the beginning where he uses the word 'heresy' (p. 60, second line), he is just superimposing a Christian terminology on Akhenaten. I enjoyed his personal response to Akhenaten (it is a face one would not quickly choose to contradict). But calling his Aten worship an 'austere form of monotheism' without any further discussion is just plain wrong. And still in that first opening paragraph, I strongly disagree with his statement that 'no other god had been worshipped there' (Akhetaten): although 'technically' correct, the place was part of the precinct of Thoth (Djehouty) and even when Akhenaten marked his boundaries, he included everything that previously was part of the Djehouty temple at Khummu.

I guess I object to his unprovoked conclusions that come across to an otherwise uncritical mind as factual, whereas they are his subjective, personal responses. Another case in point is, on the bottom of p. 61, where he equates Akhenaten's distorted body with an equally distorted mind. But then I am particularly sensitive to such nonsense because, unlike you, I am basically messy in my home and on my desktop, and it does not reflect as a disorderly mind. The disorder comes through in other ways - punctuality (or the lack of it) and not having research at my fingertips.

On page 63 he calls the gods' polygamy 'promiscuity' - it makes me think that he is writing to a conservative Judeo-Christian audience!

On page 64 there is an interesting reversal. Ray says that Akhenaten regarded Amun's worship as a 'great lie', but then misses the possibility that, if Akhenaten was a fanatic ( a consequence of a dualistic, conflicted life), and since "fanaticism was not part of Ma'at," then he should have completed that logical progression by saying that Akhenaten himself must have employed the 'big lie' because he adhered to Ma'at and even called himself "The One who Lives by Ma'at." So either Ray did not see his own sequential logic, or Akhenaten was not a fanatic and Ray is just plain wrong! Of course, I am just playing with concepts here. However, later he states quite clearly that Akhenaten had hijacked Ma'at. So I believe Ray is trying hard to produce a non-threatening book.

Ray actually does justice to the economic upheaval that Akhenaten caused by closing down the Amun Temples. I don't see it happening any other way.

When he comes to Horemheb, Ray's lack of notes bothers me: we don't know where his information comes from. The writing is quite positive and gives us a subjective contrast between Akhenaten and Horemheb. Ray states that Horemheb came from "the town of Hansu in Middle Egypt" and that he "seems to have had no links with the aristocracy." Of course, whenever a writer uses the qualifier 'seems' (and I do all the time together with 'probably' and 'most likely'), he is not sure if his statement is actually true. Hansu, or Hnes, was actually a provincial capitol and his father may have been its governor. There is a very good chance that Horemheb was born into an Aristocratic family. But if he was the son of the governor of Hnes, then he would have an obligation to return to Hnes and rule that city, and perhaps its province. Horemheb did not return ‘home’ very much, he was constantly at court or on campaign, so either one of his brothers ruled Hnes, or he was indeed originally a ‘nobody’, one of these liminal creatures drafted into the military, where he found his niche, his strengths and his skills and talents, and flourished. And that is the direction Ray takes.

According to Ray, Horemheb rose in the ranks of the army by sheer ability rather than patronage. Such a probability is different from my own assessment, which is that he had both patronage from Amenhotep-Son-of-Hapu (ASH) and ability.

Noting the way Horemheb may have risen in the ranks, Ray concludes that "Horemheb may have become adept at remaining as Number Two, especially in any situation where Number One was likely to be targeted." Ray cites Horemheb's choice to be represented as a scribe, but without once mentioning that Horemheb's scribe statues were modeled after those of ASH. Don't you think that if you saw ASH's scribal statue, then of Horemheb's, or Aye's or even Maya's, you might not be able to tell who is who!?

As a scribe, Horemheb would be under the patronage of Thoth. Ray says that "several of his later inscriptions stress his devotion to the god Thoth." Thoth is also the god of the Moon, Ray points out, by which the Egyptians measured time. But even more important to Ray is the fact that the Moon reflects the sun, an observation he claims the Egyptians could easily have made.

Ray called the moon the 'faithful reflection of the sun.' As such, "the moon, which always keeps its face towards the sun god, was is faithful executor; it derived its being from this association. The sun god of Akhenaten would not have been predisposed to share his light in this way, but the situation after Akhenaten's death was different. The true sun god was once again on earth, but unfortunately he had chosen to incarnate himself in the body of a small child, Tutankhamun. Such a solar being needed someone to reflect his light. An inscription on a stela from the tomb which Horemheb built for himself at Saqqara makes this point clearly. Horemheb is shown in adoration before the sun god, Horakhty, the moon god, Thoth, and the goddess Ma'at, the personification of truth and harmony who had been hijacked by the heretic."

I think this is a good assessment of Horemheb although Ray seems to be prejudiced against Akhenaten. He continues to write that "the combination of the moon god and justice is standard with Horemheb, and it is close to being a personal religion with him." I would not have come up with this conclusion myself, but I think it might be true.

Next Ray provides two texts from Horemheb's tomb. One is a thanksgiving to Thoth, whose epithet is "Lord of the netherworld who distinguishes the tongues of foreign lands." Then it continues with a prayer: "May you set the scribe Horemheb firmly by the side of the sovereign, just as you are at the side of the Sun." We have a hint here what Horemheb is after: the regency. Another text from the same tomb shows that he has actually attained that position where he calls himself, among other things, "One chosen by the King to be above the whole of Egypt to carry out the government of the two shores." According to Ray, this is the first time that such a position has been documented: "Horemheb had become the moon to Tutankhamun's sun."

Ray expresses surprise that, being the Number Two man under Tutankhamun, when this king died Horemheb did not succeed him! It was the High Priest of Amun, Aye, who succeeded Tut! Ray lists all the reasons why Horemheb should have become king, but since he didn't, Ray suspects that Aye and Horemheb struck a deal. Of course, I disagree with that because Horemheb disappears during Aye's reign, as if he went into (or was sent into) exile. Perhaps Aye implicated Horemheb in Tut's death, or the death of the Hittite Prince Zananza. Ray is aware that there could have been a problem between Horemheb and Aye when he notes that in his coronation decree Horemheb claims to have gone into the palace to clam it down when in went into a rage. Ray writes, "If this episode happened during the reign of Aye, it would signify a temporary hitch in the pact between the two men."

Ray then makes an interesting comment: "We have seen Horemheb's tendency to clothe political events in the trappings of mythology, and this may have been a genuine feature of his personality. The decrees which he issued as king have a realistic tone to them, and it is clear that he had few illusions about human nature. However, this need not mean that his piety was hypocritical, since he would have felt that the gods, who had been slighted by Akhenaten, were guiding him to make the necessary restitution.... Horemheb was no theologian, but he would have sensed that practical politics and divine will went hand-in-hand, and this was what the times needed."

Finally, Ray writes about Horemheb's kingship: "When time was come for Horemheb to come into his so-called inheritance, the text describes how Horus of Hansu set off along the Nile to the temples of Luxor and Karnak, where he introduced his adopted son as the rightful lord of Egypt. Amun, the god of Thebes, saw immediately that this was right, and crowned him there and then (c. 1323 BC). This is an unusual way for a king of Egypt to begin his reign, but the alliance between the god Horus and Amun can easily be seen as the mythological expression of the deal which had been made between Horemheb and Aye, the former Priest of Amun."

In my opinion, Ray completely misses the point that Horemheb may have literally marched on Thebes with his Army at the death of Aye and superimposed his kingship upon the Amun-Ra priesthood. There is a perfectly good reason for this way of interpreting what happened, because when Horemheb changes the priesthood and the bureaucracy, he fills the vacant positions with members of his army!!! These are the people he trusts.

All in all, Ray is kind to Horemheb and his assessment of the changeover to the Ramessides seems to be correct. I really appreciate having these several pages to read and to 'digest' Ray's points of view.


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