Tutankhamen’s Gift is on all the classical-literature-loving curriculum companies’ lists for lower grammar students—usually 1st-3rd graders, those needing picture books or easy readers for history and corresponding literature. I almost bought it, because it is so highly recommended. I recently borrowed it and read it to Caleb in conjunction with our studies on ancient Egypt.
When Amenhotep IV became Pharoah, he changed the religion of Egypt to worship only one god instead of many. He tried to drive polytheism out of Egypt, closing temples and forbidding priests to perform ceremonies to all the gods. He changed his name to reflect his new belief. The Egyptians hated this.
After Amenhotep’s death, Tutankhamen became king, having not yet reached his tenth birthday (the famous King Tut,whose tomb was discovered). He restored polytheism to Egypt.
This picture book begins with Tut as a little boy, before he became pharoah. It describes his frailty, and how he loved to watch the craftsmen and artists make great monuments to the gods. He and the Egyptians were saddened and angered when the temples were destroyed during Amenhotep’s reign. But then Amenhotep dies, and a small child becomes pharoah and gloriously leads them back to their ancient faith. The people happily follow him, and he rules “with kindness and a true heart until the end of his days.”
1. The artwork—it excellently displays Egyptian-style art. The colors are lush. It looks like Egypt. The background of the pages even looks like handmade papyrus.
2. It wonderfully fits the unique qualifications wanted for classical history programs that combine literature with history. It contains historical information, but not in a dry manner, like other fact-filled books. It fits the “literature” category—a story, set in ancient Egyptian times. For the lower grammar age group, there is probably not a comparable book to choose for “literature” for that week of Egyptian studies.
The (Big) Negative
• Idolatry is welcome and portrayed in a positive, non-critical, non-judgmental spirit.
Not only does it present the bare facts of history—that Tutankhamen restored polytheism to Egypt—but beyond that, the author/editor wrote it with an approving tone towards polytheism, as well as sneaking in some postmodern self-awareness type statements.
I was disturbed in my spirit by it. I realize that the debate is old among Christian classical education proponents on how early to introduce ancient pagan religious beliefs to small children. I decided to lightly discuss it as it came up in Story of the World, and to highlight our great God at those times. I’m guessing that most Christians using these history curricula would say, “Oh no, just use the book to point out the differences between our God and the false gods of Egypt. Just use it to show what they believed and did, not what should be believed or done.”
I would normally agree with that, and I don’t usually censor material simply because it presents that other people worshipped false gods.
But the entire tenor of this book is positive towards idolatry and polytheism. There would just be too many sentences I disagree with, too much to discuss with my child to make me feel like it would be okay—not even approaching the standards I want to reach of the true, the good, and the beautiful. I would feel like I needed to have a discussion approaching the level of the logic or rhetoric stages to fix the erroneous statements and attitudes presented; and my not-yet-6-year old child cannot handle that type of discussion.
I found myself reading several statements that I wanted to stop to discuss or refute, but ended up just going on, thinking, “Oh he’ll not get it anyway,” or “He won’t remember that…” until I got to some statements at the end that I couldn’t pass by. In the end I found myself trying to pick one major argument against the book to discuss, since I knew that would be all he could take: “Caleb, this book makes it look good that he helped Egypt to worship all their gods, but that’s not really good, is it?”
Why am I reading something that makes it “look good” to restore polytheism? It didn’t have to be written in that manner. Literature or stories by their nature draw us in to love the heroes. Tut’s Gift makes you want to root for Tut, to be happy when he gets to do something great for “the gods.” It’s messing with, as C.S. Lewis put it, the “loves” and “joys” of my 6-year old. This is heteropathy—wrong or false feeling. It’s not promoting orthopathy (right feeling) towards polytheism.
So why would I want to present this book when I feel it would take so much “fixing”?
I tried to think why this book is widely used amongst Christians. Why would I use it?
Answer: Because I am a box-checker. Because I like to cross off lists, and all the lists say that this is the best option for this specific week of history for the literature selection for the lower grammar stage of children. Because everyone else is doing it. Because without this option, I might have to only use the textbook for that week. (gasp) Because probably my child wouldn’t really absorb it or “get it” or “take it all in” or remember it anyway.
Do the goods outweigh the bads enough to make me buy the book? This isn’t the type of book that I would want my child to love, for us to sit cozily on the couch repeatedly reading it and making memories. Is it really that important to a classical education to have a literature book corresponding with every week of history for 6-8 year olds that I need to read them a book, albeit artistically beautiful and seemingly accurate historically, that so positively portrays paganism?
Illustrative Quotes (The Proof Is in the Pudding—almost every page)
I usually would put quotes with my points to illustrate them, but this book has illustrative quotes on almost every page. Here they are.
The Title—The “gift” that Tutankhamen gave the gods was to lead the people of Egypt back into polytheism. This is the whole idea of the book.
“Do not worry,” said his menoi, “you are a bright child and someday your gift for the gods will be revealed.”
“The pharaoh believed it important to build things to glorify the many gods he and the Egyptians worshiped. It seemed there was always a new temple being raised. Tutankhamen would watch…”
“He gazed with admiration as craftsmen used hammers and chisels to sculpture images of the gods or scenes of great battles on those walls.”
“Tutankhamen often sneaked…to watch the artists create beautiful statues to place inside the temple…All this to please the gods and keep them happy! Someday, thought Tutankhamen, I too shall do something great to honor the gods.”
Then Amenhotep III dies, and IV takes his place.
“He commanded that all temples built to honor other gods be destroyed…But instead of using their great hammers and chisels to create things of grace and beauty, they used them to destroy. Images of the gods were scraped off the walls…the golden statues were…melted.”
“The people of Egypt whispered that the gods were angry and had forsaken them, and indeed it seemed true. ‘The gods have left us because they have no holy places in which to dwell,’ the people cried. Tutankhamen felt lost and alone without the comfort of the mighty temples his father had built.”
Then IV dies.
“We need a new leader to guide us,” they said. “Who will bring us back to the gods?”
“Then Tutankhamen heard a soft voice that came as if blown across the desert sands. It was a voice that grew from the hope and dreams of his great land, a voice that he alone could hear. ‘Evil is seen best through the eyes of a child. Only the young can banish it and cause the truth to flower once more.’” [picture of feminine spirit-y thingies behind Tutankhamen’s face with closed eyes] What is this statement with New Age overtones in the words and picture?
“I, Tutankhamen, am pharaoh, ruler of Egypt. I shall rebuild the temples and fill them with monuments to the gods so the people will again have faith. I shall lead the people of Egypt through their suffering and tears so they believe in themselves once more. This will be my promise to you and my gift to the gods.” [The whole “believe in yourself” thing is postmodern junk inserted into ancient thought. Doesn’t fit, for one thing.]