From Akhenaten to Moses

From Akhenaten to Moses: Ancient Egypt and Religious Change

Jan Assmann
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 192
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt15m7jrv
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  • Book Info
    From Akhenaten to Moses
    Book Description:

    The shift from polytheism to monotheism changed the world radically. Akhenaten and Moses—a figure of history and a figure of tradition—symbolize this shift in its incipient, revolutionary stages and represent two civilizations that were brought into the closest connection as early as the Book of Exodus, where Egypt stands for the old world to be rejected and abandoned in order to enter the new one. The seven chapters of this seminal study shed light on the great transformation from different angles. Between Egypt in the first chapter and monotheism in the last, five chapters deal in various ways with the transition from one to the other, analyzing the Exodus myth, understanding the shift in terms of evolution and revolution, confronting Akhenaten and Moses in a new way, discussing Karl Jaspers’ theory of the Axial Age, and dealing with the eighteenth-century view of the Egyptian mysteries as a cultural model.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-574-5
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-6)

    Akhenaten and Moses—two names that stand for the abolition of polytheism and the introduction of monotheism, a turn not only in religion but in the general intellectual orientation of humanity that changed the ancient world and brought about the world in which we are still living. All seven chapters of this book deal with this fundamental transformation. Their common subject is the question of change in the religions of Egypt and Israel and the search for the aspects and agents of religious transformation that affected not only the respective religions but the world in general. That this transformation was...

  5. 1 STRUCTURE AND CHANGE IN ANCIENT EGYPTIAN RELIGION
    (pp. 7-24)

    In 1967, Siegfried Morenz, a renowned specialist in ancient Egyptian religion, published a lecture in which he set out what he called “the structure of Egyptian religion.”¹ His definition consisted in positioning Egyptian religion within three pairs of oppositions: defining it as a national religion, not a world religion; a cult religion, not a book religion; and a historically developed religion, not a founded religion. This definition amounts to identifying Egyptian religion as a “primary” religion in contrast to “secondary religions,” which are defined as founded religions, all of which areeo ipsobook religions and world religions.² This definition...

  6. 2 MYTH AND HISTORY OF THE EXODUS: TRIUMPH AND TRAUMA
    (pp. 25-42)

    The Biblical story of the Exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt is probably the most influential story ever told. It is not only about the foundation of Judaism being annually retold and literally relived through every Seder night;¹ it also inspired revolutionary movements such as the Reformation, the Puritan revolt in England, and the emigration of the Puritans to America and the Boers to South Africa. It has also served as a symbol for movements of intellectual emancipation known as the Enlightenment, which Kant defined as “the Exodus of mankind from its self-imposed immaturity.”² It is not only...

  7. 3 FROM POLYTHEISM TO MONOTHEISM: EVOLUTION OR REVOLUTION?
    (pp. 43-60)

    During the first millennium BCE there occurred a fundamental change in the ideas about the divine that we use to describe, in modern terminology, as a turn from polytheism to monotheism. This turn is commonly understood as a process of evolution. After all that we have learned about evolution, however, in the course of 2009, the “Darwin year,” we are no longer able to use the term ‘evolution’ in such a naive and uninhibited way. Rather, we must carefully distinguish between natural and cultural evolution, or between a scientific and a humanistic concept of evolution.

    The most important differences between...

  8. 4 MOSES AND AKHENATEN: MEMORY AND HISTORY
    (pp. 61-78)

    Akhenaten is a figure of history without memory; Moses is a figure of memory without history. The two thus complement each other perfectly and are often associated, even identified, in modern literature. A figure of memory—what does this mean? What I mean by this formula is a person, historical or fictional, who lives in tradition, in myths, legends, pictures, works of history or fiction, whose sayings are quoted, whose tomb, if known, is visited, who may even receive a kind of cult. Moses is such a figure. He does not receive a cult and his tomb is not known,...

  9. 5 ANCIENT EGYPT AND THE THEORY OF THE AXIAL AGE
    (pp. 79-94)

    In a book written immediately after the end of the Second World War, entitledVom Ursprung und Ziel der Geschichte(“On the Origin and Goal of History”), the philosopher Karl Jaspers identified the centuries around the middle of the first millennium BCE as the origin of the modern world and coined for this period of general transformation the term “the Axial Age.”¹ By this term, Jaspers means the time when the first texts were written that we are still reading, when the first great individuals arose that we still admire, when the religions were founded that we still practice. In...

  10. 6 EGYPTIAN MYSTERIES AND SECRET SOCIETIES IN THE AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT
    (pp. 95-112)

    The eighteenth century was not only the Age of Enlightenment but also the age of secret societies—two apparently opposed tendencies, for we would normally associate light with publicity and secrecy with darkness and occultism. A missing link, however, is provided by a contemporary, and at that time novel, theory about the ancient mysteries, especially the Egyptian mysteries, that was first expounded by William Warburton in about 1740, but did not gain wide acceptance or begin to exert a domineering influence until a generation later, after Warburton’s work was translated into German by Johann Christian Schmidt. It enjoyed an enthusiastic...

  11. 7 TOTAL RELIGION: POLITICS, MONOTHEISM, AND VIOLENCE
    (pp. 113-130)

    The world is full of violence committed in the name of religion. Where does this violence come from? What does it have to do with religion? This is the question to which this last chapter will be dedicated. I speak from an Egyptologist’s or antiquarian’s point of view; I am asking about origins, not about contemporary movements, let alone about the future of religion. I will be going back in time, seeking the earliest occurrences of genuinely religious violence and their historical circumstances.

    One source of religious violence, perhaps the decisive one, seems to me to consist in the polarizing...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 131-148)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 149-156)