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The Tel el Amarna Letters Between Assyrian Kings and Egyptian Pharaohs

” … What the Babylonian chronologists called ‘the First Dynasty of Babylon’ fell in its turn, and it is claimed that a Sumerian line of eleven kings took its place. Their sway lasted for 368 years—a statement which is obviously open to question.

These were themselves overthrown and a Kassite dynasty from the mountains of Elam was founded by Kandis (c . 1780 B.C.) which lasted for nearly six centuries. These alien monarchs failed to retain their hold on much of the Asiatic and Syrian territory which had paid tribute to Babylon and the suzerainty of Palestine was likewise lost to them.

It was at this epoch, too, that the high-priests of Asshur in the north took the title of king, but they appear to have been subservient to Babylon in some degree. Assyria grew gradually in power. Its people were hardier and more warlike than the art-loving and religious folk of Babylon, and little by little they encroached upon the weakness of the southern kingdom until at length an affair of tragic proportions entitled them to direct interference in Babylonian politics.

[ … ]

The circumstances which necessitated this intervention are not unlike those of the assassination of King Alexander of Serbia and Draga, his Queen, that happened 3000 years later.

The Kassite king of Babylonia had married the daughter of Assur-yuballidh of Assyria. But the match did not meet with the approval of the Kassite faction at court, which murdered the bridegroom-king.

This atrocious act met with swift vengeance at the hands of Assur-yuballidh of Assyria, the bride’s father, a monarch of active and statesmanlike qualities, the author of the celebrated series of letters to Amen-hetep IV of Egypt, unearthed at Tel-el-Amarna.

This clay tablet is part of a collection of 382 cuneiform documents discovered in 1887 in Egypt, at the site of Tell el-Amarna. ... The majority date to the reign of Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) (1352-1336 BC), the heretic pharaoh who founded a new capital at Tell el-Amarna. This letter is written in Akkadian, the diplomatic language of Mesopotamia at the time. It is addressed to Amenhotep III from Tushratta, king of Mitanni (centred in modern Syria). Tushratta calls the pharaoh his 'brother', with the suggestion that they are of equal rank. The letter starts with greetings to various members of the royal house including Tushratta's daughter Tadu-Heba, who had become one of Amenhotep's many brides. ... Tushratta goes on to inform Amenhotep that, with the consent of the goddess Ishtar, he has sent a statue of her to Egypt. He hopes that the goddess will be held in great honour in Egypt and that the statue may be sent back safely to Mitanni. Three lines of Egyptian, written in black ink, have been added, presumably when the letter arrived in Egypt. The addition includes the date 'Year 36' of the king. W.L. Moran, The Amarna letters (John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1992) http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/l/clay_tablet_letter,_egypt_2.aspx

This clay tablet is part of a collection of 382 cuneiform documents discovered in 1887 in Egypt, at the site of Tell el-Amarna. …
The majority date to the reign of Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) (1352-1336 BC), the heretic pharaoh who founded a new capital at Tell el-Amarna.
This letter is written in Akkadian, the diplomatic language of Mesopotamia at the time. It is addressed to Amenhotep III from Tushratta, king of Mitanni (centred in modern Syria). Tushratta calls the pharaoh his ‘brother’, with the suggestion that they are of equal rank. The letter starts with greetings to various members of the royal house including Tushratta’s daughter Tadu-Heba, who had become one of Amenhotep’s many brides. …
Tushratta goes on to inform Amenhotep that, with the consent of the goddess Ishtar, he has sent a statue of her to Egypt. He hopes that the goddess will be held in great honour in Egypt and that the statue may be sent back safely to Mitanni.
Three lines of Egyptian, written in black ink, have been added, presumably when the letter arrived in Egypt. The addition includes the date ‘Year 36’ of the king.
W.L. Moran, The Amarna letters (John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1992)
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/l/clay_tablet_letter,_egypt_2.aspx

He led a punitive army into Babylonia, hurled from the throne the pretender placed there by the Kassite faction, and replaced him with a scion of the legitimate royal stock. This king, Burna-buryas, reigned for over twenty years, and upon his decease the Assyrians, still nominally the vassals of the Babylonian Crown, declared themselves independent of it.

Not content with such a revolutionary measure, under Shalmaneser I (1300 B.C.) they laid claim to the suzerainty of the Tigris-Euphrates region, and extended their conquests even to the boundaries of far Cappadocia, the Hittites and numerous other confederacies submitting to their yoke.

Shalmaneser’s son, Tukulti-in-Aristi, took the city of Babylon, slew its king, Bitilyasu, and thus completely shattered the claim of the older state to supremacy. He had reigned in Babylon for some seven years when he was faced by a popular revolt, which seems to have been headed by his own son, Assur-nazir-pal, who slew him and placed Hadad-nadin-akhi on the throne.

This king conquered and killed the Assyrian monarch of his time, Bel-kudur-uzur, the last of the old Assyrian royal line, whose death necessitated the institution of a new dynasty, the fifth monarch of which was the famous Tiglath-pileser I.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 21-3.

Miracles

“And as for thee, Joseph, the son of Jacob, shall be a symbol of thee. For his brethren sold him into the land of Egypt from Syria, the country of Laba (Laban), and on his going down into the land of Egypt there arose a famine in Syria and in all the world. And through his going down he called his kinsfolk and delivered them from famine and gave them a habitation in the land of Egypt, the name whereof is Geshen (Goshen). For he himself was King under Pharaoh, King of Egypt.

“Similarly the Saviour Who shall come from thy seed shall set thee free by His coming, and shall bring thee out of Sheol, where until the Saviour cometh thou shalt suffer pain, together with thy fathers; and He will bring thee forth. For from thy seed shall come forth a Saviour Who shall deliver thee, thee and those who were before thee, and those who shall [come] after thee, from Adam to His coming in the kin of your kin, and He shall make thee to go forth from Sheol as Joseph brought out his kinsfolk from the famine, that is to say the first Sheol in the land of famine, so also shall the Saviour bring out of Sheol you who are His kinsfolk. And as afterwards the Egyptians made [the kinsmen of Joseph] slaves, so also have the devils made you slaves through the error of idols.

“And as Moses brought his kinsmen out of the servitude [of Egypt], so shall the Saviour bring you out of the servitude of Sheol. And as Moses wrought ten miracles and punishments (or, plagues) before Pharaoh the King, so the Saviour Who shall come from thy seed shall work ten miracles for life before thy people. And as Moses, after he had wrought the miracles, smote the sea and made the people to pass over as it were on dry land, so the Saviour Who shall come shall overthrow the walls of Sheol and bring thee out. And as Moses drowned Pharaoh with the Egyptians in the Sea of Eritrea, so also shall the Saviour drown Satan and his devils in Sheol; for the sea is to be interpreted by Sheol, and Pharaoh by Satan, and his hosts of Egyptians by devils.

“And as Moses fed them [with] manna in the desert without toil, so shall the Saviour feed you with the food of the Garden (i.e. Paradise) for ever, after He hath brought you out from Sheol. And as Moses made them to dwell in the desert for forty years, without their apparel becoming worn out, or the soles of their feet becoming torn, so the Saviour shall make you to dwell without toil after the Resurrection.

And as Joshua brought them into the Land of Promise, so shall the Saviour bring you into the Garden of Delight. And as Joshua slew the seven Kings of Canaan, so shall the Saviour slay the seven heads of ‘Iblis. [i..e. Satan, the Devil] And as Joshua destroyed the people of Canaan, so shall the Saviour destroy sinners and shut them up in the fortress of Sheol. And as thou hast built the house of God, so shall churches be built upon the tops of the mountains.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, The Kebra Nagast, [1922], p. 110-1, at sacred-texts.com

Abrasax, the Invincible Name of Power

“The last class of documents undoubtedly contains a very large proportion of the magical ideas, beliefs, formulæ, etc., which were current in Egypt from the time of the Ptolemies to the end of the Roman Period, but from about B.C. 150 to A.D. 200 the papyri exhibit traces of the influence of Greek, Hebrew, and Syrian philosophers and magicians, and from a passage like the following (see Goodwin, Fragment of a Græco-Egyptian Work upon Magic, p. 7) we may get a proof of this:—

“I call thee, the headless one, that didst create earth and heaven, that didst create night and day, thee the creator of light and darkness. Thou art Osoronnophris, whom no man hath seen at any time; thou art Iabas, thou art Iapôs, thou hast distinguished the just and the unjust, thou didst make female and male, thou didst produce seeds and fruits, thou didst make men to love one another and to hate one another.”

“I am Moses thy prophet, to whom thou didst commit thy mysteries, the ceremonies of Israel; thou didst produce the moist and the dry and all manner of food.”

“Listen to me: I am an angel of Phapro Osoronnophris; this is thy true name, handed down to the prophets of Israel. Listen to me. (Here follow a number of names of which Reibet, Athelebersthe, Blatha, Abeu, Ebenphi, are examples) . . .”

In this passage the name Osoronnophris is clearly a corruption of the old Egyptian names of the great god of the dead “Ausar Unnefer,” and Phapro seems to represent the Egyptian Per-âa (literally, “great house”) or “Pharaoh,” with the article pa “the” prefixed.

It is interesting to note that Moses is mentioned, a fact which seems to indicate Jewish influence.

In another magical formula we read, (Goodwin, op. cit., p. 21) “I call upon thee that didst create the earth and bones, and all flesh and all spirit, that didst establish the sea and that shakest the heavens, that didst divide the light from the darkness, the great regulative mind, that disposest everything, eye of the world, spirit of spirits, god of gods, the lord of spirits, the immoveable Aeon, IAOOUÊI, hear my voice.”

“I call upon thee, the ruler of the gods, high-thundering Zeus, Zeus, king, Adonai, lord, Iaoouêe. I am he that invokes thee in the Syrian tongue, the great god, Zaalaêr, Iphphou, do thou not disregard the Hebrew appellation Ablanathanalb, Abrasilôa.”

“For I am Silthakhôoukh, Lailam, Blasalôth, Iaô, Ieô, Nebouth, Sabiothar, Bôth, Arbathiaô, Iaoth, Sabaôth, Patoure, Zagourê, Baroukh Adonai, Elôai, Iabraam, Barbarauô, Nau, Siph,” etc.

The spell ends with the statement that it “loosens chains, blinds, brings dreams, creates favour; it may be used in common for whatever purpose you will.”

In the above we notice at once the use of the seven vowels which form “a name wherein be contained all Names, and all Lights, and all Powers” (see Kenyon, Greek Papyri in the British Museum, London, 1893, p. 63). The seven vowels have, of course, reference to the three vowels “Iaô” (for Iaoouêi we should probably read Iaô ouêi) which were intended to represent one of the Hebrew names for Almighty God, “Jâh.”

The names “Adonai, Elôai,” are also derived through the Hebrew from the Bible, and Sabaôth is another well-known Hebrew word meaning “hosts”; some of the remaining names could be explained, if space permitted, by Hebrew and Syriac words.

On papyri and amulets the vowels are written in magical combinations in such a manner as to form triangles and other shapes; with them are often found the names of the seven archangels of God; the following are examples:–

 (British Museum, Gnostic gem, No. G. 33). (Kenyon, Greek Papyri, p. 123). (Ibid., p. 123. These names read Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Souriel, Zaziel, Badakiel, and Suliel).


(British Museum, Gnostic gem, No. G. 33).
(Kenyon, Greek Papyri, p. 123).
(Ibid., p. 123. These names read Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Souriel, Zaziel, Badakiel, and Suliel)

In combination with a number of signs which owe their origin to the Gnostics the seven vowels were sometimes engraved upon plaques, or written upon papyri, with the view of giving the possessor power over gods or demons or his fellow creatures.

The example printed below is found on a papyrus in the British Museum and accompanies a spell written for the purpose of overcoming the malice of enemies, and for giving security against alarms and nocturnal visions. (Kenyon, op. cit., P. 121).

Amulet inscribed with signs and letters of magical power for overcoming the malice of enemies. (From Brit. Mus., Greek Papyrus, Nu. CXXIV.--4th or 5th century.) (Kenyon, Greek Papyri, p. 123).

Amulet inscribed with signs and letters of magical power for overcoming the malice of enemies. (From Brit. Mus., Greek Papyrus, Nu. CXXIV.–4th or 5th century.) (Kenyon, Greek Papyri, p. 123).

But of all the names found upon Gnostic gems two, i.e., Khnoubis (or Khnoumis), and Abrasax (or Abraxas), are of the most frequent occurrence. The first is usually represented as a huge serpent having the head of a lion surrounded by seven or twelve rays.

Over the seven rays, one on the point of each, are the seven vowels of the Greek alphabet, which some suppose to refer to the seven heavens; and on the back of the amulet, on which the figure of Khnoumis occurs, is usually found the sign of the triple S and bar.

Khnoumis is, of course, a form of the ancient Egyptian god Khnemu, or “Fashioner” of man and beast, the god to whom many of the attributes of the Creator of the universe were ascribed.

Khnemu is, however, often depicted with the head of a ram, and in the later times, as the “beautiful ram of Râ,” he has four heads; in the Egyptian monuments he has at times the head of a hawk, but never that of a lion.

The god Abrasax is represented in a form which has a human body, the bead of a hawk or cock, and legs terminating in serpents; in one hand he holds a knife or dagger, and in the other a shield upon which is inscribed the great name ΙΑΩ {Greek IAW}, or JÂH.

Considerable difference of opinion exists as to the meaning and derivation of the name Abrasax, but there is no doubt that the god who bore it was a form of the Sun-god, and that he was intended to represent some aspect of the Creator of the world.

The name was believed to possess magical powers of the highest class, and Basileides, (he of Alexandria, who lived about A.D. 120. He was a disciple of Menander, and declared that he had received the esoteric doctrine of Saint Peter from Glaucias, a disciple of the Apostle) who gave it currency in the second century, seems to have regarded it as an invincible name.

It is probable, however, that its exact meaning was lost at an early date, and that it soon degenerated into a mere magical symbol, for it is often found inscribed on amulets side by side with scenes and figures with which, seemingly, it cannot have any connexion whatever.

Judging from certain Gnostic gems in the British Museum, Abrasax is to be identified with the polytheistic figure that stands in the upper part of the Metternich stele depicted on p. 153 and below.

Metternich Stele.

Metternich Stele.

This figure has two bodies, one being that of a man, and the other that of a bird; from these extend four wings, and from each of his knees projects a serpent.

He has two pairs of hands and arms; one pair is extended along the wings, each hand holding the symbols of “life,” “stability,” and “power,” and two knives and two serpents; the other pair is pendent, the right hand grasping the sign of life, and the other a sceptre.

His face is grotesque, and probably represents that of Bes, or the sun as an old man; on his head is a pylon-shaped object with figures of various animals, and above it a pair of horns which support eight knives and the figure of a god with raised hands and arms, which typifies “millions of years.”

The god stands upon an oval wherein are depicted figures of various “typhonic” animals, and from each side of his crown proceed several symbols of fire.

Whether in the Gnostic system Abraxas absorbed all the names and attributes of this god of many forms cannot be said with certainty.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. P. 177-80.

The Moral Precepts of Ptah-hetep

Moral Precepts of Ptah-hetep, Governor of Memphis, Advisor to King Pharaoh Assa, 5th Dynasty, 3500 BCE

CHAPTER XIII
MORAL AND PHILOSOPHICAL LITERATURE

Side by side with the great mass of literature of a magical and religious character that flourished in Egypt under the Ancient Empire, we find that there existed also a class of writings that are remarkably like those contained in the Book of Proverbs, which is attributed to Solomon, the King of Israel, and in “Ecclesiasticus,” and the “Book of Wisdom.”

The priests of Egypt took the greatest trouble to compose Books of the Dead and Guides to the Other World in order to help the souls of the dead to traverse in safety the region that lay between this world and the next, or Dead Land, and the high officials who flourished under the Pharaohs of the early dynasties drew up works, the object of which was to enable the living man to conduct himself in such a way as to satisfy his social superiors, to please his equals, and to content his inferiors, and at the same time to advance to honours and wealth himself.

These works represent the experience, and shrewdness, and knowledge which their writers had gained at the Court of the Pharaohs, and are full of sound worldly wisdom and high moral excellence. They were written to teach young men of the royal and aristocratic classes to fear God, to honour the king, to do their duty efficiently, to lead strictly moral, if not exactly religious, lives, to treat every man with the respect due to his position in life, to cultivate home life, and to do their duty to their neighbours, both to those who were rich and those who were poor.

The oldest Egyptian book of Moral Precepts, or Maxims, or Admonitions, is that of Ptah-hetep, governor of the town of Memphis, and high confidential adviser of the king; he flourished in the reign of Assa, a king of the fifth dynasty, about 3500 B.C. His work is found, more or less complete, in several papyri, which are preserved in the British Museum and in the National Library in Paris, and extracts from it, which were used by Egyptian pupils in the schools attached to the temples, and which are written upon slices of limestone, are to be seen in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and elsewhere.

The oldest copy of the work contains many mistakes, and in some places the text is unintelligible, but many parts of it can be translated, and the following extracts will illustrate the piety and moral worth, and the sagacity and experience of the shrewd but kindly “man of the world” who undertook to guide the young prince of his day. The sage begins his work with a lament about the evil effects that follow old age in a man–

“Depression seizeth upon him every day, his eyesight faileth, his ears become deaf, his strength declineth, his heart hath no rest, the mouth becometh silent and speaketh not, the intelligence diminisheth, and it is impossible to remember to-day what happened yesterday.

“The bones are full of pain, the pursuit that was formerly attended with pleasure is now fraught with pain, and the sense of taste departeth. Old age is the worst of all the miseries that can befall a man. The nose becometh stopped up and one cannot smell at all.”

At this point Ptah-hetep asks, rhetorically, “Who will give me authority to speak? Who is it that will authorise me to repeat to the prince the Precepts of those who had knowledge of the wise counsels of the learned men of old?”

“In answer to these questions the king replies to Ptah-hetep, “Instruct thou my son in the words of wisdom of olden time. It is instruction of this kind alone that formeth the character of the sons of noblemen, and the youth who hearkeneth to such instruction will acquire a right understanding and the faculty of judging justly, and he will not feel weary of his duties.”

Immediately following these words come the “Precepts of beautiful speech” of Ptah-hetep, whose full titles are given, viz. the Erpa, the Duke, the father of the god (i.e. the king), the friend of God, the son of the king. Governor of Memphis, confidential servant of the king.

These Precepts instruct the ignorant, and teach them to understand fine speech; among them are the following:

“Be not haughty because of thy knowledge. Converse with the ignorant man as well as with him that is educated.

“Do not terrify the people, for if thou dost, God will punish thee. If any man saith that he is going to live by these means, God will make his mouth empty of food. If a man saith that he is going to make himself powerful (or rich) thereby, saying, ‘I shall reap advantage, having knowledge,’ and if he saith, ‘I will beat down the other man,’ he will arrive at the result of being able to do nothing. Let no man terrify the people, for the command of God is that they shall enjoy rest.

“If thou art one of a company seated to eat in the house of a man who is greater than thyself, take what he giveth thee [without remark]. Set it before thee. Look at what is before thee, but not too closely, and do not look at it too often. The man who rejecteth it is an ill-mannered person.

“Do not speak to interrupt when he is speaking, for one knoweth not when he may disapprove. Speak when he addresseth thee, and then thy words shall be acceptable.

“When a man hath wealth he ordereth his actions according to his own dictates. He doeth what he willeth…. The great man can effect by the mere lifting up of his hand what a [poor] man cannot. Since the eating of bread is according to the dispensation of God, a man cannot object thereto.

“If thou art a man whose duty it is to enter into the presence of a nobleman with a message from another nobleman, take care to say correctly and in the correct way what thou art sent to say; give the message exactly as he said it. Take great care not to spoil it in delivery and so to set one nobleman against another. He who wresteth the truth in transmitting the message, and only repeateth it in words that give pleasure to all men, gentleman or common man, is an abominable person.

“If thou art a farmer, till the field which the great God hath given thee. Eat not too much when thou art near thy neighbours…. The children of the man who, being a man of substance, seizeth [prey] like the crocodile in the presence of the field labourers, are cursed because of his behaviour, his father suffereth poignant grief, and as for the mother who bore him, every other woman is happier than she. A man who is the leader of a clan (or tribe) that trusteth him and followeth him becometh a god.

“If thou dost humble thyself and dost obey a wise man, thy behaviour will be held to be good before God. Since thou knowest who are to serve, and who are to command, let not thy heart magnify itself against the latter. Since thou knowest who hath the power, hold in fear him that hath it….

“Be diligent at all times. Do more than is commanded. Waste not the time wherein thou canst labour; he is an abominable man who maketh a bad use of his time. Lose no chance day by day in adding to the riches of thy house. Work produceth wealth, and wealth endureth not when work is abandoned.

“If thou art a wise man, beget a son who shall be pleasing unto God.

“If thou art a wise man, be master of thy house. Love thy wife absolutely, give her food in abundance, and raiment for her back; these are the medicines for her body. Anoint her with unguents, and make her happy as long as thou livest. She is thy field, and she reflecteth credit on her possessor. Be not harsh in thy house, for she will be more easily moved by persuasion than by violence. Satisfy her wish, observe what she expecteth, and take note of that whereon she hath fixed her gaze. This is the treatment that will keep her in her house; if thou repel her advances, it is ruin for thee. Embrace her, call her by fond names, and treat her lovingly.

“Treat thy dependants as well as thou art able, for this is the duty of those whom God hath blessed.

“If thou art a wise man, and if thou hast a seat in the council chamber of thy lord, concentrate thy mind on the business [so as to arrive at] a wise decision. Keep silence, for this is better than to talk overmuch. When thou speakest thou must know what can be urged against thy words. To speak in the council chamber [needeth] skill and experience.

“If thou hast become a great man having once been a poor man, and hast attained to the headship of the city, study not to take the fullest advantage of thy situation. Be not harsh in respect of the grain, for thou art only an overseer of the food of God.

“Think much, but keep thy mouth closed; if thou dost not how canst thou consult with the nobles? Let thy opinion coincide with that of thy lord. Do what he saith, and then he shall say of thee to those who are listening, ‘This is my son.'”

The above and all the other Precepts of Ptah-hetep were drawn up for the guidance of highly-placed young men, and have little to do with practical, every-day morality. But whilst the Egyptian scribes who lived under the Middle and New Empires were ready to pay all honour to the writings of an earlier age, they were not slow to perceive that the older Precepts did not supply advice on every important subject, and they therefore proceeded to write supplementary Precepts.

–E.A. Wallis Budge, The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians, pp. 101-3.

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