- continued -
Religion as a belief system is a very late concept in Western thought. It developed
mainly in allusion to antique authors - in the Middle Ages when large parts of Europe
were forcefully converted to Christianity. Prechristian systems were topologically
bound. Cultic integration was related to birth in a particular place or territory in
which certain cults were handed down since ancient times. The integration into cults
could not be changed at will.
If we follow modern Egyptology in regard to what we call religion today, this was
constitutionally related to the buildup of the Ancient Empire and supported this
empire politically throughout the Ancient, Middle and New Empires - with a clearly
structured system of interdependent local, regional and imperial cults. The cults and the integration
of the population of certain territories were the main characteristics of Egyptian
"religion", or constitution, not their belief-system!
Not only in Ancient Egypt, also in Mesopotamia, such constitutions supported by topologically
bound cultic systems were common and are generally called "theocracies". The cults
and their deities handed down since ancient times protected certain territories and supported hierarchical social systems (village chiefs, regional dukes, imperial
kings, etc.). They legitimated the chiefs, dukes and kings in their dominant role
as priests and mediators of the deities and their cults as well as rulers over the
Jewish religion too clearly reflects this constitutional characteristics of a theocracy.
Moses wrote his texts with the basic intention to lead the Hebraic population out of Egypt
and to create a new state for them which then was founded after the exodus. This
empire lasted about 500 years.
Note that Moses lived in the Egyptian New Empire under Ramses II (ca. 1290-1223 B.C.). As an adoptive
son of the royal family he doubtless knew about the territorial functions of the
Egyptian cult system. Most important is the fact that his constitution was primary
verbal (or written, not primary cultic), thus abstracting. Not only abstraction from the
imperial cult (Amun), but the verbal form allowed also to omit the regional and
local cults which physically supported the Egyptian model. He replaced these by Jewish
cult traditions (e.g. Sukkoth festival).
This verbally abstracted form was much more flexible in regard to spatial and substantial
interpretation than its original, the Egyptian model with its age old traditional
and topologically bound cult system. Relatively undisturbed by cross cultural impacts it had survived in the desert flanked Nile valley at Moses' time for about 1600 years (Thinite period 2850-2052) resp. developed over more than
2300 years (Negade I/II, since ca. 3600).
Thus, here too, by using the anthropological method against urban historisms, we become
aware that the value systems maintained by urban history might have had its roots
in prehistorical village cultures. I have written an essay on this topic. Its title
is "The eternally burning Thornbush, the Structure of Theocracy and the Euro-Western
scholastic Trauma". It maintains essentially that what today is considered as Jewish
religion, was basically an imperial constitution modelled in verbal (or written)
form according to the Amun cult of the Egyptian New Empire, borrowing in abstracted form
its imperial part, but including rural elements (eternally burning thornbush). The
latter was done in view of the Hebraic population which at those times was still
on a partly agrarian, partly cattle breeder level. This constitution was then the basis of
the Jewish empire which lasted for about 500 years. Later in the declining phase
of the Roman empire, this Hebraic constitution was synthesised with the Christian
movement (Nicaenum 325 A.D.) to make it Roman state religion (or constitution, 391 A.D.) for
about 80 years, until Western Rome collapsed (476, Romulus Augustulus). Finally the
essay shows the continuity of this constitutional element into the buildup of Christianity in post Roman Rome, first in the framework of the former Roman territories, later
as a pseudo-territorial world empire.
Without doubt, we gain new insights if we trace the urban history down to its rural
prehistory. Urban history is revealed as highly speculative, but at the same time
shows to be deliberately used as a basis for social and territorial control.
HISTORY / ARCHAEOLOGY
History is based on written documents, monuments or materially durable finds. These
sources are often fragmentary, even casually found. In general the theory of history
is aware of this.
However, sources are also conditioned as part of developmental processes. Historical
methodology is not sufficiently conscious of this. The problem is covered up by the
integration of sources into the presently valid classification system which then
dictates the pararmeters of their interpretation. Many of these interpretations can be considered
as retroprojections. To give some examples.
- The Egyptian cult system is considered as religion, but in fact what counts is the
continuous tradition of topologically bound cult practices and their complex interdependences.
- The Egyptian temple is taken as a part of high culture, but in fact it is in continuity
with primitive types of predynastic village-sanctuaries (W. Andrae 1930, 1933).
- The pharaonic system is interpreted as an early form of higher state, but in fact
it is a development from village constitutions based on the cultic demarcation of
Thus anthropology used in a global sense, covering all cultures comparatively, makes
us aware of such methodological limitations of history and prehistory.
In a recent article I have outlined this view. The title is "Habitat Anthropology
and the anthropological Definition of Material Culture". The paper suggests an ethno-pre-historical
approach to what constitutes the archaeological method. The focus is on material culture, but the paper hints to the rich sources of ethnology regarding perishable
object cultures which can not be represented with the archaeological method focussed
exclusively on durable materials. The main point of the argument is that cultural evolution could have manifested itself in man's interaction with non-durable
material culture, which, unfortunately, escaped the archaeological method.
The article thus indicates the potential to a systematic reconstruction of prehistory.
Used in general, this method opens tremendous new perspectives. In particular, it
questions the results of our present differentiating and disciplinary classifying
system, showing high continuities in the whole domain of human culture. To name just a
Ancient Near Eastern / Egyptian theocracies show a tremendous continuity. In fact
the Christian Roman church is still widely structured according to the principles of early theocracies (pope: 'pharaoh of Rome'!)
Polarity as a cognitive system originated in prehistoric villages very likely in
the Mesolithic period and still survives dominantly in rural areas but lives also
into our modern society in the social domains, in art and partly also in religion.
Very likely the "founder principle" <5> developed initially in Mesolithic settlements
and became definitely important in permanent agrarian villages of Neolithic times.
It is still an important criterium in all domains of modern culture and civilisation. It is important in political history, in the arts, in the history of inventions etc..
It is clear that with this type of structural approach, history shows a quite different
face. It can now be seen as an accumulation of continuities, as a tremendous collection
of survivals of very ancient times and very deep-rooted principles which integrate the ever new into structural continuities.
History changes its evaluations. The great figures it conventionally celebrates as
its heroes (e.g. Cesar) can now be seen within mandatory processes of cultural diffusion
and conservation of structural principles: Rome was forced to adapt to the values
of the culturally 'high' empires of the Ancient Near East and Egypt. Greek thought too was not so much innovative by itself, but stood similarly under pressure of spatial
extensions of the Ancient Near East, a history which at those times was at least
2000 years old. The spatial expansions of these early empires were the preparing
grounds for our modern capacity for highly abstract analytical rationalisms.
In short, in the anthropological frame, cultural history, in its larger traces, can
be read as a process greatly conditioned by increasing extension of space per-/con-ception
and transitions from local cultures with perishable cult archives made perennial
through cyclic reproduction of its nuclear demarcations. Anthropology shows us clearly
how the local evolved into the linear urban system and what the urban borrowed from
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