The Amarna Period: Pillar of Fire, by Judith Tarr (1995)

Here is the comforting thing about a Judith Tarr novel.  You can be certain that at some point the heroine will meet a man with olive skin, an aquiline nose, snapping black eyes and dark curly hair, and that he will be exactly the witty and confident yet tender and respectful lover she requires.  In this book, none of the figures of the Amarna period are supposed to be that guy.  Instead, he is a Hebrew, and he wins the heart of the rebellious captive girl Nofret, who is a body-servant to the embattled Princess Ankhesenpaaten.  That’s comfortably sorted out in the first few chapters.  And what are the Hebrews doing in Akhetaten?

This is a novel of Akhenaten as Moses.  The theory that Moses and Akhenaten were an influence on each other, or even in fact the same man, attracted some philosophical and literary interest in the mid-twentieth century.  Sigmund Freud initially proposed the theory of influence, and Ahmed Osman is the chief expositor of the theory that they are the same man.  Tarr’s afterword does not suggest that she actually believes any of this, but she has created a well-crafted alternate history around the theory nonetheless.

Personally, I never saw the fascination of the idea, even when I was younger and had a soft heart for nonsense.  Why should Moses and Akhenaten have to have anything to do with each other?  Why does it make sense to decide that the Bronze Age was only allowed one (1) monotheistic preacher?  Nonetheless, Tarr is a professional, and provides a depth and dignity to the idea, as a fiction, that it does not possess as mere pseudohistory.  What results is a solid historical fantasy novel, well worth a read.

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