Moses led the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt and into the Holy Land. The bible acknowledges that Moses was born and raised an Egyptian in elite circles. But some have wondered whether he rose to the very top and was indeed the Pharaoh Akhenaten.
Indulge me for a moment!
This is an intriguing theory about an enigmatic pharaoh who rejected the Gods of ancient Egypt and established a monotheist (one-God) cult around the Sun. Or the Aten to be more precise.
Some, even in academia, have argued that this one-God worshipping king of Egypt may have either been Moses or inspired him in some way. The father of psychology, Sigmund Freud, even believed that Moses had been a priest in the cult of the Aten who had to flee with his other believers when the old religion was restored and Akhenaten overthrown.
Akhenaten (or Moses if you prefer!) was famously married to the incredible Nefertiti whose beautiful bust is displayed at the Neues Museum in Berlin. Their depictions are almost touchingly domestic with the queen tending the children while Akhenaten sits nearby.
I was at the Neues Museum just a fortnight before it closed because of the Coronavirus. And I filmed some of the very distinctive artwork that was created under Akhenaten. It’s almost like the artist’s rule book was thrown out under his reign and new styles developed – reflecting his revolution in religion.
You’re not allowed to take photos or film the Nefertiti bust but I found an unfinished bust dating back over three thousand years. In some ways, this object was more alluring because you could see the artist’s smudges and tracing. Enjoy the little film I made below because it may be a long time before any of us get to see these treasures again.
One key difference between Akhenaten and Moses is, of course, that we know for 100% certainty that Akhenaten existed. We have his statues, his mummy (vandalised after death) and cartouches. Of Moses, we have the story but no confirmed grave or contemporary images.
For seven hundred years, all or part of modern day Spain and Portugal was under Muslim rule. In the year 711 CE, an Arab and Muslim led army crossed the Mediterranean from Morocco to Spain and conquered a Christian kingdom advancing across Spain and up into central France before being stopped.
This was in the decades immediately after the death of the Prophet Mohammed when the new Muslim religion had conquered north Africa, Arabia, the Levant, Persia and reached China and India.
The kind of caliphate that emerged in Spain has traditionally been seen as remarkably tolerant and reaching a very high level of cultural and philosophical sophistication.
It was a place where Muslims, Jews and Christians rubbed along together in what has been termed the ‘convivencia’. Churches, synagogues and mosques existed side by side in contrast to Christian run medieval Europe where Jews in particular were brutally oppressed.
It’s not true that Spain before the year 711 was a barbaric, underdeveloped post-Roman kingdom run by uncouth Visigoths but an emerging civilisation synthesising Roman and Goth culture with a high level of learning and architecture
The Arab/Muslim caliphate absorbed the civilisation of the Roman and Persian empires it conquered but independent of those influences, it was an arid desert faith with little culture
The conquest of Spain was a militaristic ‘jihad’ and modern scholars, embarrassed to say so, have downplayed the religious element of the invasion
Under Muslim rule, Jews and Christians in Spain were reduced to ‘dhimmi’ status forced to pay a special tax and often subject to pogroms and persecution – the much vaunted tolerance is mythical
Just because there was liberal thinking among the Muslim elite that ruled Spain doesn’t mean that applied to the general population who were subject to rigid control by Muslim clerics
I have been reading the book as a much needed corrective to some of the muddle-headed thinking about ‘convivencia’ in medieval Spain and Portugal. But I do wonder if the author has pushed his point too hard. I tend to agree with this blogger that at times, Fernandez-Morera is being as dogmatic as those he is criticising.
His targets are orientalist scholars over the last century in particular who have wanted to prove that under Muslim rule, tolerance and free thinking was not only possible – but happened in contrast to savage crusader and church run medieval Europe. Those crude stereotypes should be demolished but I was left wanting to know:
Where is the evidence for a great Visigothic civilisation?
Why did Jewish populations co-operate so readily with the Muslim invaders if Visigoth rule was so enlightened?
Weren’t there way more scholars coming out of Muslim ruled Spain than the Christian kingdoms in the north – Leon, Castile and Aragon?
It’s a fascinating and very topical discussion and despite my reservations, I recommend you read this book.