In Search Of… S03E24 King Tut

We begin with a little bumper about Tutankhamun, and then a little travelogue of Egypt. We intercut between people farming and shots of the pyramids. Shots of accountancy firms in Cairo or industrial laundries in Alexandria never seem to get a look in during these things.

Leonard Nimoy's In Search of King Tut
In Search of King Tut

The footage is pretty nice, but it comes right out of the “1970s Stock Egyptology Footage” drawer. Nimoy in a white suit gives again a very standard spiel about Egypt, British Empire, Rosetta Stone… Not very interesting so far. There’s some ropey looking reenactments of the court of Tutankhamun shot through a blurry lens for some reason.

Now the standard story of Howard Carter and Lord Carnarveon… Lots of shots of Egyptians carrying stuff through the desert. Same blurry lens. Nothing here that wasn’t in the earlier Tut episode. Disappointing. Music surprisingly pleasant… Opening the tomb… “I see wonderful things”…

Not sure yet what the point of this episode is.

We go into the curse yet again, but to my astonishment In Search Of... rejects the idea. No curse! Carter was clearly never cursed, so what was the big deal? Besides, no one seeing the King Tut exhibition that toured the US in the 1970s so we’re pretty clear of curses.

Huh. Okay, really not sure where we’re going with this. And then Nimoy claims that Tut’s death contributed to one of the biggest religious movements of all time.

Oh, In Search Of! I knew you wouldn’t disappoint for long.

One more shot of the Pyramids, and then we’re talking to Dr James Brashler. He’s a head of ‘Antiquities and Christianity’ at Claremont College. He also seems to have been hit right in the glasses by the 1970s. He talks a little about the Egyptian concept of the afterlife. Glad I’m not in one of his classes. He speaks in a halting way like he’s reading off a distant script.

Over some lovely imagery of water and the sun, Nimoy talks a bit more about Egyptian religion and mummies. Talking more about the priest class… Oh, I know where this is going! Akhenaten, right?

Reenactments of Tutankhamun and his court advisors, and then we’re talking to Gerald Larue of USC. He talks quite reasonably about Akhenaten’s heresy. Akhenaten tried to move Egypt away from polytheism to monotheism, to the disdain of the priests. He was succeeded by his son, Tutankhamun. It is thought that the priests took advantage of the malleability of the young king to restore the old religion.

Interestingly, nothing that either academic we have spoken to goes beyond this basic understanding of Akhenaten and Tut, but In Search Of immediately speculates that there were bands of followers of Akhenaten’s religion who dispersed into the desert.

See where this is going?

But we avoid going straight to the conclusion for an extended – and surprisingly touching – re-enactment of Tutankhamun’s romance with his bride, Ankhesenamun. The fact that she was Tut's half-sister is tactfully ignored, but hey it’s a pleasant scene if you can avoid thinking about that. The actors wander through a palm grove in their Egyptian costumes. The fuzzy lens is back as well, making it look like an old timey-commercial for ’20 Great Egyptian Love Song Classics’.

Dr Brashler gives a little talk about how Tutankhamun’s cause of death is uncertain. He speculates that Tutankhamun may have died of respiratory illness. Without skipping a beat, Nimoy breaks in to suggest Tut was poisoned. He suggests that the court priest Ay, may have murdered the young king to prevent him turning monotheist like his dad. The spooky death-scene music is awesome.

The priests now(?) created a pantheon of Egyptian gods, leading to a sweet montage of idols. And suddenly we’re talking about Moses. He suggests that Moses were influenced by the surviving followers of Akhenaten. Lots of shots of goat herders as Nimoy claims that the surviving Akhenatenists became a wandering desert tribe.

Hm, a wandering desert tribe with connections to Moses… Just where are we going with this?

Nimoy wraps up by talking about how Egyptology is a relatively new science, and it can teach us much.

So, interesting and frustrating. The episode is making one very big, very bold claim – that Akhenaten played a significant role in the history of Judaism. But it stops just short of making that argument explicitly. Putting aside whether Akhenaten’s religious policies were monotheistic as we understand the term today, directly saying that Judaism descends from the monotheistic worship of Aten is straight up heresy in three languages. It implies that basically Jews, (and by extension, all Abrahamitic religions?) all worship an aspect of Ra. I’m not a religious man, but I’m not touching that one.

Quotes

“Only now are we beginning to appreciate how Tut’s premature death may have had a significant impact on the development of the belief in one God.” – Nimoy.

Are we?

Summing Up

Rehash of King Tut: 4/10, Bizarre plot twist: 10/10, Nimoyness: 8/10, Romance music with a side order of creepy: 8/10, Straight-up heresy: 10/10. Overall: 40/50. Distinction.

 

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