“N.Y.” (=Antun Zakari?)
A Neglected Pioneer of Neo-Pagan Egyptian
Particularist-Nationalist Ideology
I write this article as long-overdue recog­nition of the Christian-born writer “N.Y.” (=Antun Zakari?) who around 1926 pub­lished a volume Ta’rikh Tutankhamun, Muharriru Misr al-‘Azim (“The History of Tutankhamun, Egypt’s Great Liberator”) (Cairo: Maktabat Zaydan c.1926). “N.Y.” was the acronym for the Christian Antun Zakari, then secretary of the library of the Egyptian Museum. As the possibly cynical title indicates, on one level his book was a pot boiler to profit from the immense interest aroused among literate Egyp­tians by the November 1922 rediscovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun (reigned 1361-1352 BC), one of the last kings of Egypt’s ancient 18th Dynasty. The neo-pagan Pharaonist identification in modern Egyptian thought was to be finally debili­tated by the remoteness of ancient Egypt’s gods and goddesses from the conceptual frames of reference of Islam and Christi­anity. In contrast, the mutation in ancient Pharaonic civilization that Tutankhamun now evoked in Egyptian print-media was relatively intelligible to the Islam of modern Arabic Egyptians. The Pharaoh Akhnaton (reigned 1379-1362 BC) had imposed a proto-monotheistic cult of the sun-disk Aton. In Tutankhamun's reign (1361-1352 BC) the priesthood restored the worship of Amun. Nonetheless, the continuous publicity about Tutankhamun throughout the 1920s occasioned much discussion of Akhnaton's fleeting proto-monotheism, as against mainstream Phar­aonic cults more unintelligible and grating to the Arabo-Islamic Egyptian.
Yet N.Y.’s work on Egypt’s Great Lib­erator was less about that sickly teenage king too frail to liberate even himself than a tablet onto which “N.Y.” pasted ephem­era that he and others had published in the Egyptian press into a coherent account of ancient Egyptian civilization overall. It is rough by our standards today, but a great stride forward for the 1920s by a pioneer of the construction of neo-pagan particu­larist ideologies in the Arabic world of the 1920s and 1930s. It would not say much to the credit of our judgment were we to shrug off “N.Y.” and his extensive book as just a rag-bag of press cuttings banged together by a scribbler with impaired ide­als out to spin a quick gunaih Misri buck.

The Impact of the Tutankhamun Discoveries on Educated Egyptians
Egypt's limited independence was pro­claimed on 28 February 1922. On 7 No­vember of that year, Howard Carter dis­covered the tomb of Tutankhamun, one of the last kings of the 18th Dynasty. Among radically modernist-secularist young Muslims in the 1920s, al-Siyasah intellectuals excitedly impressed on their readers the dazzling craftsmanship and beauty of Tutankhamun's treasures and the wealth and power of the Pharaonic state that produced them. It must be stressed that the process of the bringing forth of the treasures was prolonged, which meant international and local press coverage of them unfolded over years. British archae­ologist Howard Carter discovered the steps leading down to the entrance gallery of the tomb in November 1922. But it took the following eight seasons (October to April) for Carter to salvage the trea­sures within the tomb and transfer them to the National Museum in Cairo. Every piece of the set of burial objects had to be emptied from the sepulcher and restored on the spot, a process that took six years. Thus, excavations and work within the tomb were completed only in 1928. The tomb thus provided a protracted vivid vi­sual record of a long-vanished Pharaonic era. The in background Muslim ‘Abdallah 'Inan in 1925 published in the Tory _al-Si­yasah_ a translation of an article by Carter that conveyed to Egyptians how well the art in the tomb caught, for example, mi­nor intimate episodes in the daily life of the youthful Pharaoh and his wife, or trag­ic sympathy for lions killed in royal hunts: “N.Y.” could not but reprint it in his vol­ume the following year. Coming from the outset of Egypt's life as a formally inde­pendent state, the excitement in Egypt and in the world press over the tomb and its art greatly encouraged educated Egyp­tians to adopt a Pharaonic national iden­tity: it could command respect for their new state in the states of the West.
Al-Siyasah commented as Tutankha­mun's mummy was slowly unwound that the precious jewels and articles succes­sively produced from each layer “reduce men's minds to perplexity”. They showed the “advancedness” (ruqiyy) and “wealth” (ghana') of Egypt in the age of that “Great King” [“Tutankhamun: al-Juththah wal-Nafa'is allati Ma‘aha” (Tutankhamun: the Corpse and the Treasures with it), al-Siyasah 15 November 1925; amplified by N.Y., Tarikh Tutankhamun p. 194]. In the weekly al-Siyasat al-Usbu'iyyah “pictures of Pharaonic objects or scenes frequently ac­companied articles dealing with Pharaonic Egypt”. The Wafdist al-Balagh al-Usbu'i and the modernist al-Majallat al-Jadidah, edited by the Fabian socialist Copt Sala­mah Musa, published multi-page photo-essays on Pharaonic subjects [Gershoni and Jankowski, Egypt, Islam and the Arabs p. 176]. Zakari bound into his book an opening section carrying scores of poorly reproduced photographs and sharp, inter­esting line drawings of the art objects of Tutankhamun's tomb and of other Phara­onic inscriptions, reliefs and statues.
From the above, we see how (a) Egyp­tians of Muslim background, such as Muhammad Husayn Haykal and his dear friend ‘Abdallah ‘Inan, and (b) other Egyp­tians of Christian origin such as Antun Zakari and Sayfayn worked together to re­store Egypt’s Pharaonic national Golden Age, through mutually-reinforcing Arabic writings, in the 1920s and 1930s.
The restoration of the Pharaonic defin­ing history of the Egyptian nation in the 1920s was greatly aided by acculturation to the West and its languages among edu­cated Egyptians. Much of the data and cultural specificities of Tutankhamun and his era was provided by the English-lan­guage and French papers and magazines that acculturated Egyptians constantly read. As Antun Zakari put it, “the news­papers of all the nations ... published co­pious descriptions ...; they reproduced in their illustrated press many photographs and sketches” [“N.Y”, Ta'rikh Tut 'Ankh Amun p. 28. The Illustrated London News provided Zakari with not just photographs of objects discovered in Tutankhamun's tomb but reproductions of earlier art of the mortuary cult of Horus that Za­kari integrated into a dense discussion of Pharaonic mythology. Ibid p. 90].
Not all materials and motifs from the ancient pagan past that “N.Y.” present­ed worked for a self-contained Egypt in the sense of an isolationism. In regard to publicity in Arabic of movement by Semites into Egypt, the neo-Pharaonist Antun Zakari translated the young Eng­lish journalist H.V. Morton's portrait of Tutankhamun's Thebes as a cosmopolitan trading city: Phoenicians, Syrians, Babylo­nians and desert Arabs (as well as some Cretans) rubbed shoulders in it with the autochthonous Hamitic Egyptians ["N.Y.", Tutankhamun pp. 49-51]. This imagined Pharaonic golden age set a pat­tern for exchanges between Egypt and the West, now to be fulfilled in modernity. Antun Zakari quoted a diffusionist Brit­ish astronomer that some ancient monu­mental structures, probably astronomical, in Brittany and the British isles were en­graved with the Pharaonic Egyptians' sa­cred cross with the circular head ('ankh), more evidence of inspiration from Egypt ["N.Y.", Tutankhamun pp. 137-8]. [=Now the traffic could flow the other way with Western institutions and liberalism flow­ing for adoption into post-1922 partly in­dependent Egypt].
The archeological recovery of Tut­ankhamun’s tomb and its superb artifacts made vivid Egypt’s 18th Pharaonic dy­nasty (1550-1292 BC), fertile in its fer­ment of religious thought, and in which Tutankhamun was but a fleeting monarch. In reality, the 18th dynasty had long been the best-attested of all Egypt’s dynasties in regard to temple sites, inscriptions and tombs. Thus, many of the embodiments of divinity and other stage-properties of the ancestral Pharaonic civilization and golden age as “N.Y.” reconstructed it are of the 18th dynasty: for example, Hator, the cow-goddess of love, motherhood, joy, music --- and fertility, as we shall see.

Religious Skepticism
The probably Christian “N.Y.” provides further evidence of the religious skepti­cism that neo-Paganism engendered (or ratified) in the intelligentsia that embraced it in the 1920s. His Christian origin valu­ably controls our tracing of the phenom­ena in the in origin Muslim Muhammad Husayn Haykal. Like Haykal, N.Y. sees Hebrew beliefs as derivative from ancient Pharaonic religion. The two broad causes for this new skepticism were (a) the in­herent nature of some material that the West’s archaeology, in which neo-pagan particularists naturally took a close inter­est, presented and (b) the innate tempta­tion of any partly West-patterned national­ism anywhere to claim the self-sufficiency of the national civilization it asserted. The continuity of the Nation down his­tory is asserted by claiming that religions which the particularist nation later adopt­ed had been originated in - and by - the Homeland. As with Muhammad Husayn Haykal, N.Y. is most ready to suggest the derivative nature of Hebrew belief. He notes George Smith’s expedition to Meso­potamia, financed by The Daily Telegraph, to the ruins of Ninevah to uncover in 1872 an [Assyrian? Caldanean?] version of the Flood story: “Mr George Smith predicted that the future will uncover a more ancient translation than that, which would prove a source for the inspiration preserved in the book of Genesis in the Old Testament (al-Tawrat)”. The discov­ery of a Sumerian version written twenty centuries before that in Ashurpanibal’s library had proven the truth of this pre­diction [N.Y. p. 81]. But N.Y., ever the neo-Pharaonist nationalist, then moves to argue that the Nile Valley was the original source of the story. N.Y.’s readers in 1925 may have thought that his argumentation of this thesis sounds somewhat strained. “Even though the story given in the grave of Seti I does not in narrating the story of the destruction [of mankind] mention the flood, it is clear that the Egyptian and As­syrian narratives have one origin” [p. 81]. On p. 83 N.Y. continues his argument that is growing more tortuous: an Egyp­tian myth of an ageing king who slew his subjects when they conspired to kill him “got mixed up… with the story of the Nile flood and the reddening of the flood of the Nile Waters with the blood of the dead: when that spread to foreign lands, it all got confused and mixed up with [other] tales until it was said that the flood caused people’s death” [NY p. 83].
The point is that N.Y. implicitly regards the Hebrew religion as having transmitted at third hand a garbled, degenerate version of what had originally been a Pharaonic myth. Being of Christian origin, howev­er, N.Y. does not simply (as Haykal did) question the truth of Judaism by ascribing what it claimed were God-inspired narra­tives of historical realities to the ancient Pharaonic religion, and thereby through Judaism also casting a shadow of doubt upon Christianity and Islam where they both endorsed the factuality of those events whether more or less. N.Y. also questions Christianity at its heart and core. He ironically hints, as we have seen, that the “story” (sic!) of Osiris rising from the dead to judge human beings after death is the origin and inspiration for the “life” of the Messiah [N.Y. p. 184]. N.Y. also prints material about a set of four scenes in the temple of Luxor in which the Queen Mutemwia, mother of Amenhotep III (18th dynasty: born c. 1388 BC) is repre­sented as “the Virgin Mother who has be­come pregnant without any man, and she the mother of the Eternal One”. Without directly claiming anything, N.Y. interprets these four scenes of the Luxor temple in such a way as to suggest that Pharaonic beliefs inspired Christian concepts of the nature and birth of the Christ: “the first scene… shows the god Thot, that is Mars or the Divine Word, as he gives the Virgin Queen the glad tidings that she shall beget a son. In the second scene the god Kenef is shown with Hator breathing life into her: this is the Holy Ghost… The fourth scene shows the scene of the Adoration. Here the child sits on the throne and re­ceives honor from the gods and gifts from people. Behind the god Kenef to the right are seen three men offering gifts with their right hands and life with their left” [N.Y. p. 141]. Although the consequence down the line might be the designation of Islam as derivative from Pharaonic tradition in some narratives where it parallels Hebrew and Christian narratives to some extent, what N.Y. is more directly and consciously claiming here is the derivative nature of Christianity. The implied parallel with the three Magi is a Christian tradition since no notice of them is to be found in the Qur’an; N.Y.’s account of the first scene where Thot the Divine Word gives the glad tidings to the Virgin Queen obvious­ly is phrased to echo Luke 1:26-34.
Despite his obvious belief that Juda­ism is a garbled version of neighboring Middle Eastern pagan mythologies, which would seem to be a standard feature of much neo-pagan particularist thought in both Egypt and Lebanon, “N.Y.” does not - any more than Haykal when he claimed that other-worldly mysticism and conse­cration to the Hereafter were of the very essence of Egyptians national character - regard the religious outlook as harm­ful or anti-rational. But the 1920s, with its atmosphere of a new start in Egypt, at times could open up into a quest for religious truth located in Pharaonic Egypt that would be independent. Whatever doubts he harbored about both the OT and NT, N.Y. claims that he is a man of religious faith, and believes that ancient Egypt has a religious revelation to offer for all mankind. Endorsing the efforts of modern Western spiritualists to make contact with the unseen, N.Y. mused that “it would be no exaggeration if we stated that the ancient Egyptians who were out­standing in Philosophy, the spiritual sci­ences, magic and chemistry and things di­vine knew about the spirits that which we do not know now, and that the spiritual scholars of today are nothing but children [compared with] the remarkable spiritual school [patterned by Pharaonic Egypt] that will rock the world one day”.
The neo-Pharaonist writings of Egyp­tians, both Muslim and Christian, in the 1920s came at the culmination of the thinning of data about literate Islam and literate Christianity among a generation that had been educated in French and (more and more) English under a Brit­ish colonial rule that harbored no love for classical Arabic. Many of them had lacked much full-time formal Christian or Islamic education. Islamic-educated writ­ers like the ex-Azharite Taha Husayn were not too eager to attack the classical Ar­abs in the name of an immemorial and continuous Egyptian nationhood in the 1920s. Such radical neo-Pharaonists as Muhammad Husayn Haykal and “N.Y.” knew little about the literate forms of Is­lam and Christianity so that their critiques often veered widely off the mark.
“N.Y.” used razor-sharp innuendo to­wards the Christianity of his parents. He played ironically with the word “inspira­tion” to imply that the inspiration for the central events and beliefs asserted by the writers of Christianity came not from God but from constantly mutating stories that had done the rounds of the Middle East, and which had been originally set off by the narratives of the Pharaonic Egypt much further back in antiquity. The question then arises if the assertions and figures of Pharaonic religion are to be regarded as myths as (in the particular­ist imagination) were the lines of stories they set off in the Middle East, or if they might be truth that died in being trans­ferred to other figures. Many Egyptian intellectuals, both Christian and Muslim, considered spiritualism in the 1920s and 1930s, and that seems to run against the rationalism of the modernist West. “N.Y.” implied that, although they were still at a childish stage in the quest, modern West­erners were groping to contact spirits that actually existed. He equated the magic and spiritual sciences of the ancient Egyptians with their chemistry and philosophy as all valid. Egyptian concepts would enable Westerners to make their breakthroughs to the spirits and their realm. It then be­comes a matter if N.Y. could then con­vert to a higher stage in which he would come to see the ancient Egyptian gods as not emanations of the classical Nation’s genius, but real beings to be worshipped, to be sure in the context of a proud na­tionalist polity, as giants towering over the assemblage of the spirits.
“N.Y.” could veer off into some ex­cesses. But, overall, he presented sober data from the Pharaonic golden age. Here he points us today to the New Age and the new religious movements and neo-paganisms to which many Americans and Australians have fled from the West’s secularist-ameliorism and the bigoted old religions that in tandem threaten the sur­vival of humanity today even more grave­ly than in the 20th century.