Pharaoh Akhenaten is notorious for his heresy; namely, his attempt to replace the traditional Egyptian pantheon of numerous gods with the singular, solar Aten deity. In carrying out these reforms, Akhenaten notably broke with the pharaonic artistic system and presented himself in a brand new guise. Akhenaten’s controversial career has led historians, medical practitioners, LGBT+ advocates and others to herald the king as the founder of monotheism, the originator of the Oedipus Complex, a gender-queer icon and an ancient example of Marfan and/or Froehlich’s syndrome.
The “sexless” colossus of Pharaoh Akhenaten (c. 1353 – 1334 BCE)
Akhenaten proclaimed that his breaking from convention was an essential part of his “living in truth”, but how can those who wish to reconstruct the career of this tantalising figure succeed when his persona is surrounded by so much conceptual baggage? A week and a half into my research, I’m still figuring that out!
Pharaoh Hatshepsut (c. 1478 – 1458 BCE) appears not as the “feminine” figure, who represents the goddess Hathor, but as the “masculine” figure, who wears the blue, Khepresh crown
My thesis focuses on the embodiment of gender identities which transgressed (or rather, transcended) the male-female binary and the link between such identities and the propagation of political and religious power. Believe it or not, the embodiment of masculinity was not necessarily sufficient for the curation of an image of absolute power in the Ancient Near East. In the example of Akhenaten, it may be that the androgynous artwork of the Amarna Period was intended to present the king as both “the mother and father” of mankind. As my research unfolds, I will be comparing the relationship between gender and power in Akhenaten’s royal iconography with that of Hatshepsut, a female Pharaoh who assumed the full masculine regalia of her office – false beard included. Following this, I will be seeing if any links can be drawn between these pharaohs and the presentation of Yahweh, the god of the Hebrew Bible, in the Book of Isaiah to trace the dialogue between gender and power from Egypt to Judah.
Nb. Hatshepsut and Akhenaten have both at times been seen as ancient witnesses of “transgender behaviour”. Whilst applying such vocabulary to these figures is arguably ahistorical and certainly anachronistic, exploring the conversations that the pharaohs were clearly engaging in should shed some light on the history of gender non-conformity and the implications that this had for persons of power. Many thanks to Dr. Nevader, of the Biblical Studies Department, here in St. Andrews, for supervising this endeavour!