Lisa's Reviews > Akhenaten: The Heretic King

Akhenaten by Donald B. Redford
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's review
Apr 30, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: ancient-egypt, amarna
Read from June 28 to July 01, 2012

Whether you'll find this book a good read depends largely on your opinion of Akhenaten. If your Akhenaten tends towards the idealist (i.e. the cruelly misunderstood king with a beautiful, sensitive soul), then your reaction will likely to be one of burning rage. If your Akhenaten is more the religious fanatic, you might well enjoy this book greatly, and agree with the author on a number points. If you don't have a particular opinion on Akhenaten, then this book will probably be interesting, in the least. If you don't know who Akhenaten is, well, you probably don't care about this book one way or the other.

As for me, I found this book absolutely fascinating. I do have my caveats, which I will explain shortly, but it is a remarkable read. The last section, in particular, the last chapter, is probably my favourite part in the entire book.

Redford's writing style is not always easy to get into, but in his favour, there are a few lines that made me smile, sometimes laugh and enjoy reading his take on Akhenaten and the Amarna period. At one stage, he talks about being irritated by the "tirelessly repeated" caption texts found at Akhenaten's temple at Karnak. At another, he describes Akhenaten as "no intellectual heavyweight". Of course, if you're an Akhenaten idealist you're probably getting your pitchfork and torch ready by now.

Obviously, Redford sits on the "fanatic" side of the fence when it comes to Akhenaten. I don't mind it too much since I end up sitting there most often myself. But there's a clear bias in his writing.

Redford's writing is also thought-provoking at times. For example, on page 215, he states, "…the unbelievable richness of his [Tutankhamun's] undisturbed tomb has so dazzled us that it is hard for us to think of him as a human being." My favourite quote, however, comes from the Introduction (p.4), in which he poses questions that, in my opinion, suggest why Akhenaten is such an intriguing figure:
But what of Akhenaten? Is this misshapen individual in any way like us? One thing that must be remembered is that 'reformer' has been over the past century and a half subjected to a wide variety of interpretations depending largely on the fashion of the decade or quarter-century. To the early scholars in the field Akhenaten was a disguised female or a eunuch from the south; to Breasted he became "the first individual in History"; to the perspicacious classicist Toynbee his sun-cult was the prototype of the Roman imperial Sol Invictus of the 3rd century; to Freud he becomes the mentor of the Hebrew lawgiver. To some is a forerunner of Christ, to other a great mystic whose teaching is still relevant.

As a sidenote, if anyone is interested in reading more about these different interpretations of Akhenaten, I can only recommend picking up Akhenaten: History, Fantasy and Ancient Egypt by Dominic Montserrat.

Akhenaten: The Heretic King is an invaluable reference on the Akhenaten temple at Karnak. However, there is an imbalance towards the Karnak portion of Akhenaten's reign in comparison to the Amarna (Akhetaten) portion of his reign, which Redford fully acknowledges in his preface.

The age of the book is another issue – now out of print, it was originally published in 1984. Readers will have to take some aspects of the book and its discussions with a grain of salt.

Donald B. Redford's Akhenaten: The Heretic King is a fascinating and valuable resource on Akhenaten and his reign, but Akhenaten fans are advised to stay away.

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Reading Progress

06/28/2012 page 57
06/29/2012 page 86
34.0% "Finding Redford's writing style a bit hard to get into, or maybe I'm just burnt out on Akhenaten."
06/29/2012 page 86
34.0% "Finding Redford's writing style a bit hard to get into, or maybe I'm just burnt out on Akhenaten."
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