Jan Assmann, one of the most distinguished scholars of ancient Egypt working today, traces the concept of a true religion back to its earliest beginnings in Egypt and describes how this new idea took shape in the context of the older polytheistic world that it rejected. He offers readers a deepened understanding of Egyptian polytheism and elaborates on his concept of the “Mosaic distinction,” which conceives an exclusive and emphatic Truth that sets religion apart from beliefs shunned as superstition, paganism, or heresy.
Without a theory of polytheism, Assmann contends, any adequate understanding of monotheism is impossible.
Best Books for General Audiences, selected by the American Association of School Librarians, and Best Books for Special Interests, selected by the Public Library Association
Assmann describes in detail nine different images of death: death as the body being torn apart, as social isolation, the notion of the court of the dead, the dead body, the mummy, the soul and ancestral spirit of the dead, death as separation and transition, as homecoming, and as secret. Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt also includes a fascinating discussion of rites that reflect beliefs about death through language and ritual.
To account for the complexities of the foundational event through which monotheism was established, "Moses the Egyptian" goes back to the short-lived monotheistic revolution of the Egyptian king Akhenaten (1360-1340 B.C.E.). Assmann traces the monotheism of Moses to this source, then shows how his followers denied the Egyptians any part in the origin of their beliefs and condemned them as polytheistic idolaters. Thus began the cycle in which every "counter-religion," by establishing itself as truth, denounced all others as false. Assmann reconstructs this cycle as a pattern of historical abuse, and tracks its permutations from ancient sources, including the Bible, through Renaissance debates over the basis of religion to Sigmund Freud's "Moses and Monotheism." One of the great Egyptologists of our time, and an exceptional scholar of history and literature, Assmann is uniquely equipped for this undertaking--an exemplary case study of the vicissitudes of historical memory that is also a compelling lesson in the fluidity of cultural identity and beliefs.
The Book of Exodus may be the most consequential story ever told. But its spectacular moments of heaven-sent plagues and parting seas overshadow its true significance, says Jan Assmann, a leading historian of ancient religion. The story of Moses guiding the enslaved children of Israel out of captivity to become God's chosen people is the foundation of an entirely new idea of religion, one that lives on today in many of the world's faiths. The Invention of Religion sheds new light on ancient scriptures to show how Exodus has shaped fundamental understandings of monotheistic practice and belief.
Assmann delves into the enduring mythic power of the Exodus narrative, examining the text's compositional history and calling attention to distinctive motifs and dichotomies: enslavement and redemption; belief and doubt; proper worship and idolatry; loyalty and betrayal. Revelation is a central theme--the revelation of God's power in miracles, of God's presence in the burning bush, and of God's chosen dwelling among the Israelites in the vision of the tabernacle. Above all, it is God's covenant with Israel—the binding obligation of the Israelites to acknowledge God as their redeemer and obey His law—that is Exodus's most encompassing and transformative idea, one that challenged basic assumptions about humankind's relationship to the divine in the ancient world.
The Invention of Religion is a powerful account of how ideas of faith, revelation, and covenant, first introduced in Exodus, shaped Judaism and were later adopted by Christianity and Islam to form the bedrock of the world's Abrahamic religions.
Assmann explains that the Early Modern period witnessed the birth of the idea of dual religion with, on the one hand, the religion of reason and, on the other, that of revelation. This concept gained new significance in the Enlightenment when the dual structure of religion was transposed onto the individual. This meant that man now owed his allegiance not only to his native religion, but also to a universal 'religion of mankind'.
In fact, argues Assmann, religion can now only hold a place in our globalized world in this way, as a religion that understands itself as one among many and has learned to see itself through the eyes of the other. This bold and wide-ranging book will be essential reading for historians, theologians and anyone interested in the nature of religion and its role in the shaping of the modern world.