Theology Reconsidered: An Introduction

What follows is the Introductory chapter from a newly published, two Volume work entitled Theology Reconsidered.  The book can be purchased from Lambert publishing via their website; Volume I here and Volume II here.

 


When looking at the first mythological and philosophical works from antiquity, it is very easy to get lost in the “facts” surrounding these ancient works and lose sight of their true meaning and import to the people and cultures within which these works emerged from and out of.  Much of the modern academic and scholarly literature concerning these ancient “theo-philosophical” works falls into this category.  To a large extent, the purpose of this work is to try and “recover” said meanings of these ancient works as much as possible, and to look at them within a much broader theological, mythological and philosophical narrative that we find throughout Eurasia in the first millennium BCE, the so-called “Axial Age” of modern man.

In order to do this, we take a primarily intellectual journey through the mind of ancient man, as he sees the world and as is reflected in the earliest literary evidence of man, trying to understand these works not only within the broader “Eurasian” context, but also trying to look at them through the eyes of the ancient philosophers, theologians, priests and scholars who wrote these ancient texts, or in many cases were the ones to “compile” or “transcribe” these longstanding theo-philosophical traditions, but also to try and understand them within the theological, intellectual and socio-cultural context within which these works arose.  This broader meaning we call knowledge, which from a modern philosophical perspective is referred to as epistemology.

This knowledge is what Philo Judaeus takes great pain to describe in his exegesis of the Pentateuch, Genesis in particular, what the Neo-Platonists take pains to describe in their literature which arises in defense of their doctrines as Christianity takes root and begins to supplant and snuff out their schools of learning and wisdom, it is what is alluded to in the so-called hidden, or unwritten, teachings of Plato and that which is hidden, kept secret, by the followers of Pythagoras  and also in the Eleusinian mysteries and the alchemical Hermetic doctrines attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, and also what the Upanishads refer to as Brahmavidyā, or knowledge of Brahman, that from deep antiquity is believed to be passed down from teacher to disciple – as Plato refers to in his Seventh Letter as that which is “brought to birth in the Soul, as light that is kindled by a leaping spark, and thereafter nourishes itself.”.[1]

After the author completed his first major work, the Snow Cone Diaries, we considered the writing “experiment” complete, the Work was done.  Following that exercise, and for reasons we cannot completely explain, we found it necessary to flesh out some of the ideas therein, reflecting a continued interest, and ultimately curiosity, concerning the advent, development, and evolution of what we term theo-philosophical developments of mankind which abound in the historical record, following the intellectual journey as it were up until modern times, what we refer to herein as the Information Age, where Information is at our finger tips, where activity is “informed” by its surroundings (Quantum Theory), and yet while we all for the most part (and in particular in Western academia) ignore the wisdom of the ancients.

The Snow Cone Diaries was somewhat manufactured in the sense that it was intentionally modelled after one of the most influential books that the author has read written by a modern self-proclaimed “metaphysician”, or philosophologer (i.e. one who studies philosophy) named Robert Pirsig entitled Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, initially published in 1974 but which the author encountered and read during the summer between his freshman and sophomore years in college, years of great tumult and change for most, the author being no exception.

After college, as is documented in Snow Cone Diaries, the author spent several years pursuing a career in professional tennis which in the end amounted to more so than anything else a time period of intense reading and personal analysis and introspection that led the author, in a manner that can perhaps best be described as “chance”, or if you believe in such things, Fate as it were, to Eastern philosophy and mysticism.  The author had been prepared for this adventure somewhat as he had majored in Ancient History as an undergraduate at Brown University and had written his thesis on the “Origins and Influence of Hermetism”.  In a sense then, the author’s initial, and now very persistent and long lasting, foray into Eastern mysticism was a natural extension of the intellectual pursuits of his undergraduate years.

The impetus and source of the author’s interest in Eastern philosophy, Kuṇḍalinī Yoga specifically in fact, stemmed primarily, at least at the beginning, from an interest in the mental and psychological demands of the game of tennis at the professional level, where many matches were determined by an individual’s performance at key points within a given match.  After spending a 6-9 months on the professional tour, mostly travelling in Europe, It became very clear that an individual’s success (which was of course almost entirely measured in Wins and Losses) while depending of course on physical attributes such as power, strength and fitness, at the same time very much depended upon what is referred to in sports as the mental aspect of the game.

This somewhat revealing and interesting component of the game, which arguably is an aspect of all professional sports but is more accentuated as it were in tennis given that it is mono y mono so to speak, became even more pronounced when two opponents were somewhat evenly matched as it were, and victory hinged upon just a few points – which as it turned out happened more often than you might think.  The author became somewhat intrigued by this phenomena, if we may call it that, and he became fascinated with what in professional sports is referred to as The Zone.

As such, it became very clear that in order to get into The Zone, there was a very well documented and well-studied connection between what peak performance and what we might call “clarity of mind.  In turn, this clarity was connected to, and in many respects seemed to be dependent upon, what are even in the sports psychological literature referred to as the development and cultivation of various rituals and practices, both on and off the court, before, during and after matches, in order to facilitate and/or “bring about” these states of mind where peak performance could be “attained”, or in Eastern philosophical parlance, realized.[2]

With this background then, the author while he was playing and studying, began writing – primarily about the so called “mystical experience” which was such an integral part of the Eastern philosophical tradition and its fundamental relationship to The Zone as it was understood in Sports Psychology.  The effort was centered around (and to a large extent this is also true for the Snow Cone Diaries as well as the current work) an attempt to establish a rational grounding, or intellectual footing as it were, within which these states of mind could be better understood and as such better integrated, or at least somewhat integrated, into what the author now calls the objective realist intellectual framework that underpins not just Western academia, but also is clearly the very rational ground of the Western mind, or psyche.

For despite all the author’s education and training, mental and physical gymnastics galore as it were, no one had ever even broached the topic or discussed with him this idea of peak performance and its relationship to the cultivation of clarity of mind, and the related states of consciousness that were associated to these “states” as it were, despite the fact that it appeared to be an almost empirically proven correlation between the two – at least in Sports Psychology circles.  It also became clear over time that this goal of peak performance as it were was not just dependent at some level upon these so-called states of mind, but in fact that that there seemed to be a very direct, causal relationship between the two.  Furthermore, these very same states of mind that were described in the Psychological literature around peak performance were not only clearly an exteremly significant, and somewhat undervalued and under practiced, component of competing as a professional athlete at the very highest levels, but that they were also an integral part of the mystical experience as well as it was described in almost all of the Eastern philosophical literature.  And of course, after some reflection, these states of mind seemed to be an integral component to success in life, however one might choose to define such a thing.

Following the model of Robert Pirsig then, and because the author felt strongly that the ideas that he was exploring, presenting and analyzing were best understood only within the psychological and mental context within which the author himself initially encountered and confronted such ideas, the author felt compelled to take his initial more “academic” works and wrap them around a loosely fictional character which he named Charlie, as well create additional (also loosely fictional) characters to which Charlie was “responding” and “reacting” to in order to try and establish the empirical reality and power of the nature of mind, and along with it the fundamental truth and power of the ancient art of meditation and mysticism to which it is integrally tied.  For perhaps the hallmark of the Eastern philosophical tradition is the emphasis and description of the art of meditation and its relationship to the attainment of these states of mind, what the author calls the Science of the Mind as it were, an altogether Eastern discipline.

Using Charlie as his mouthpiece then, we essentially argue in the Snow Cone Diaries, as Pirsig had done before him, that not only are our current (Western) intellectual models lacking in some very basic and fundamental ways – given the lack of emphasis and focus on the mind and experience itself as basis of reality as we understand it – but that these limitations had, again as Pirsig had argued before him as well, significant implications on how society in the West functioned and how individuals within that society behaved toward each other as well as the nature of the relationship between individuals and (Western) society as whole to the world around them in general.[3]

Given the level of effort and personal sacrifices that were made to publish Snow Cone Diaries, and given that the author is by no means a full time writer and first and foremost has a demanding professional career and responsibilities as a parent that were and are first priority, we never thought that he would embark upon a subsequent work.  We thought we were done.  However, our interest in ancient philosophy and the art of meditation did not dwindle, and the author’s meditation practice continued to flourish and grow and (as it is wont to do as any persistent and schooled meditation practitioner will tell you) the practice itself continued to have a profound impact on us in the following ways as it pertains to this work specifically:

  1. Our own personal conceptions of the nature of reality and the disconnect between it and commonly held and systematically taught “belief systems” which we are taught from early childhood and are presented as “empirically true” in the West,
  2. a continued and increased dissatisfaction of the current prevailing “Western” worldviews and belief systems,
  3. a deeper appreciation for the eternal truths that the very first philosophers from classical antiquity, as reflected in the term the Axial Age, were trying to convey and seemed to be missed or passed over in much of the scholarly work surrounding these ancient texts and authors,
  4. that in fact there were many more parallels and commonalities between these various belief systems that were compiled in classical antiquity throughout “Eurasia”, much more so than was reflected in most if not all of the scholarly and academic work surrounding these traditions, and
  5. the disciplines surrounding the study of the philosophers of deep antiquity were “siloed”, in the sense that the Sinologists (Chinese) weren’t collaborating with the Vedic or ancient Sanskrit scholars and the “Classicists” who studied the ancient Greek philosophers didn’t seem to be collaborating with either of these two disciplines either

Given these facts, and after studying the various traditions from antiquity, again as reflected in the so-called Axial Age, even from a layperson’s perspective it seemed that there were underlying similarities and patterns that were being missed primarily because these disciplines in and of themselves independently requires such a rigorous and deep level of knowledge about the specific domain.  Those that could understand and read ancient Chinese script were not necessarily the same people that knew and could read Vedic Sanskrit, and these people of course were not necessarily the same people that knew ancient Greek or Latin, and in turn these people were not necessarily the same people that could read cuneiform of the ancient Sumer-Babylonians or the hieroglyphs of the ancient Egyptians for that matter.

However, given that we now live in the Information Age, and that the translations of many of these texts, as well as the underlying meaning and etymologies of the various terms and words of the ancient languages themselves as reflected in the ancient writing systems that developed in the 3rd and 2nd millennium BCE throughout Eurasia, are now readily available, the time seemed to be ripe for a generalist of sorts to pull together the knowledge from all these somewhat disparate domains and bring them together in some sort of cohesive whole, in a more comprehensive and somewhat more scholarly fashion than had been done in Snow Cone Diaries, which was more of a personal journey tan it was an intellectual or academic one.

So given that the disciplines and domains of study and research described herein continued to impress themselves upon the author, and given our continued interest in ancient philosophy, and writing even after the publishing of Snow Cone Diaries, we ended up publishing two interim works thereafter that summed up and further explored some of the more esoteric and less well known aspects of Hellenic philosophy and their subsequent influence on the development and foundations of early Christianity, as well as an exposition of the philosophy of the Far East, the latter being and area of research that was relatively new to the author and that was not considered in the Snow Cone Diaries.[4]

The Far Eastern ancient philosophical tradition, what is referred to as ancient Chinese philosophy, which is covered in detail in the current work, is intriguing for many reasons but for the sake of brevity in this Introduction, suffice it to say that the Yijing, what is more commonly known as the I Ching, is arguably the most fascinating and intriguing theo-philosophical work from antiquity, hands down.  And the more the author studied it and was exposed to its origins and influence throughout Chinese history, the more impressed he was with its place as one of the greatest and most intellectual achievements in the history of mankind, one that reached far back into Chinese antiquity (3rd millennium BCE at least) and one that undoubtedly rivaled the Vedas and Avesta as representative of some of the oldest theo-philosophical treatises of ancient man.[5]

Furthermore, as the author began to understand more and more of the nature, content, structure and origins of the Yijing, the most prolific and influential of all of the ancient Chinese “philosophical” works, if we may call it that, it became apparent that its basic architecture, particularly from a numerological and metaphysical perspective, shared many common characteristics of ancient Pythagorean philosophy, in particular as reflected in the symbol that perhaps more so than anything else has come to represent said philosophy, namely the Tetractys.  Following this intellectual thread as it were, the author published what was supposed to be a small academic piece on the similarities from a numerological and arithmological perspective between “Pythagorean” philosophy, or what we know of it, and classical Chinese philosophy as reflected in the I Ching, what is referred to in this work as its more modern Romanized form, i.e. the Yijing.[6]

 

This work in its current form is to a large degree an outgrowth and evolution of the intellectual journey that is documented and mapped in the Snow Cone Diaries, and in particular an outgrowth of research done after Snow Cone Diaries was written exploring the nature and origins of early Hellenic philosophy and its relationship to early Chinese philosophy as well as ancient Vedic or Indo-Aryan philosophy as reflected primarily in the Upanishads, the latter of which was rigorously and systematically studied at the Rāmakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York under the guidance of Swami Adiswarananda to whom this work is dedicated to.

So while this work can at some level be considered to be extensive revision and expansion of the academic and intellectual pursuits that are reflected in the Snow Cone Diaries, it is distinctive from the author’s first major work in many respects and represents a much deeper dive into the material covered therein, as well as covers topics and areas of inquiry that are not covered.  Having said that, this work is much more “academic” in the sense that it represents – at least from the author’s perspective – a much higher level of scholarship than is reflected in the Snow Cone Diaries, and of course the personal narrative, Charlie himself, has been put to rest (God rest his Soul).[7]

Given the extent of the material covered in this work, the author in no way intends to represent it as an exhaustive study of any of the specific topics that is covered herein.  In fact, each chapter or section of the work could be covered, and is covered, in much greater length in a variety of works that are cited as references and for further study and research.  The author has however taken great pains to try and refer to, and directly cite, the most influential and comprehensive works that cover the various topics in question and of course the interested reader can follow these lines of inquiry and these references to learn more about any given topic.

The specific source material that is used is not only cited directly throughout as footnotes, but is also covered from a much broader perspective in the Sources and Bibliography section at the end of the work.  Perhaps more so than other works from before the 21st century, an era the author refers to as the “Information Age”, this work stands directly on the shoulders of many academics and scholars that have toiled and taken great pains to open up the world of antiquity to the modern Western reader and scholar through countless translations and historical books and records, many of which are now electronically available and upon which easy access the author has greatly relied.

There are no doubt particular sections or chapters which the author has glossed over in a manner that may be considered to be “superficial”, particularly by academics and scholars who have spent the better part of their professional careers studying and writing about the specific topics in question.[8]  However, each of the lines of thought represented in each Chapter of each Part of this work represent a coherent and cohesive whole and in their entirety, and of course for the sake of brevity (as ironic a term that may be given the length and scope of this work), is intended to show as complete a picture as possible in one text.

The approach from a reference and bibliography standpoint is to have significant footnotes and references directly within the material itself rather than, as is the case with most academic works, at the end of a chapter or even at the end of the work.  The footnotes, the explanations and small intellectual excursions which are reflected in the extensive footnotes that are included directly in the text not only serve to give credit to the reference material and the work and analysis put in by other academics and scholars on whose research and work mine ultimately depends and builds upon, but also as sidebar notes that may be of interest to the reader that provide direct links and references to works that the reader can refer to if they are interested in a certain topic that is not covered in detail in this work.[9]

The footnote style that is used is essentially adopted from the writings of Swami Nikhilananda (1895 – 1973), one of the foremost Sanskrit and Vedic scholars in the West in the 20th century.[10]  Nikhilananda’s works have in no small measure influenced the author, as he studied at the Rāmakrishna-Vivekananda Center which he founded in the middle of the twentieth century which was led by the author’s teacher, Swami Adiswarananda from 1973 until his passing in 2007.[11]

In this context, Vedānta, and more broadly what we refer to as “Indo-European philosophy”  in this work, is a central and constant theme throughout this work, in particular with respect to the modern conception of ancient Indian philosophy as it is presented in the teachings and works of Swami Vivekananda (1863 – 1902), one of the foremost proponents and most influential of the modern “Indian philosophers”.[12]  From the author’s perspective, Vedānta, as reflective of one of, if not the, oldest and richest of the Indo-European theo-philosophical traditions, can (and should) be leveraged as an intellectual and theo-philosophical benchmark of sorts for the recasting of the definitions of knowledge and reality in the West, one of the main thrusts of this work.

 

The work is divided into 4 major sections, Books or Parts, following more or less the intellectual development of mankind since the dawn of “history”, history in this sense being marked by the invention and widespread use of writing after which we have a “direct” or “first hand” exposure to the mind of man, or at least into the minds of the authors of the works that are covered herein.

  1. On Creation and On Metaphysics, Parts I and II: how the ancients looked at the world and defined reality and knowledge (),
  2. On Theology and Physics, Part III: how we came to our current, modern conceptions of reality and knowledge in the West (Part III), and
  3. On Ontology Part IV: a deeper and more comprehensive look at the nature of reality, Being in the sense that it was looked at by Aristotle and Plato as understood through a modern Western intellectual lens, and in particular in light of the knowledge of the East.

The chapters and sections in each of the respective Parts, or Books, are designed and written as much as possible to be modular as much as possible.  By “modular” we mean to say that they are written with the intention, again as much as possible, of being stand-alone essays or dissertations of their respective topics such that the reader can read a particular chapter without necessarily reading preceding chapters.  That is to say, the design of the work itself is such that it need not be approached or “read” in a sequential fashion from start to finish.  And of course as such, some material and content is repeated in the various sections and Parts of this work so that said “modular” design is achieved.  Given the breadth of the topics covered herein, this type of modular design is not only intentional but is almost required in order for the work to have value.  For if it is not read, it of course cannot have the intended impact or influence on modes of thinking which to a large extent the intended purpose of the work.

One of the main underlying themes of the work, especially in Parts I and II, is an exploration and analysis of the potentially shared origins of not just the mythology of the first “civilized” peoples in Eurasia, which the “Laurasian” Mythos hypothesis of Witzel, but also an expanded version of said hypothesis which analyzes and discusses the potential shared the origins of “philosophy” – what is referred to again as theo-philosophy throughout following the terminology of Snow Cone Diaries which brings attention to the fact that the earliest systems of “philosophy” from antiquity are not just analytical or rational systems of thought, but are also fundamentally theological in nature.

Parts I and II of this work are primarily focused on this area in history, the 3rd to 1st millennium BCE when we have introduced into the historical record evidence and documents that outline the Mythos of these early Eurasian peoples, specifically the creation narratives (what we refer to as cosmological or theogonical narratives), which is followed by a detailed analysis of the subsequent theo-philosophical tradition which emerges from, and is fundamentally and intrinsically related to, the underlying comsogonical narrative, i.e. again the respective Mythos.

Part III focuses on intellectual developments that take place in the West post classical antiquity from the intellectual developments that characterize Hellenic philosophy, through the advent of more orthodox religious or theological developments, straight through the Enlightenment Era and Scientific Revolution periods of Western intellectual history where effectively the worldview is overturned and Science, as we define it in more modern terms, begins to eclipse the dogmatic religious and theological worldviews that had dominated the intellectual landscape in the West for some thousand years prior, the so-called “Dark Ages” .

Part III then goes on to look at scientific developments in the 20th century, Relativity Theory and Quantum Mechanics in particular, which call into question our modern (and pervasive) notions of deterministic, objective based frameworks of reality, what we refer to collectively as objective realism, which represent from the author’s perspective a somewhat unintended byproduct of the Scientific Revolution and which, given their limitations with respect to understanding reality from a comprehensive or holistic perspective (i.e. ontology, or the study of the nature of being or reality), require – in the same intellectual spirit and intent pursued by Kant, Pirsig and other more modern Western philosophers – a wholesale revision in order for not only the two theoretical pillars of modern Science (Classical Mechanics and Quantum Mechanics) to be understood in any meaningful way, but also such that the knowledge and wisdom of the East is integrated into our conception and understanding of reality as well.

Part IV covers in detail much of the material that was first introduced in Snow Cone Diaries with respect to the fundamental incompatibilities of Quantum and Classical Mechanics, going into (theoretical) detail not just with Relativity but also Quantum Theory, as well as some of the philosophical, and ultimately metaphysical, implications of Quantum Theory, covering two interpretative models in particular that the author thinks are relevant to the ontological questions that are the topic of Part IV – namely the Relative-State formulation of Quantum Mechanics by Hugh Everett as well as the pilot-wave theory that is attributed to Louis de Broglie and David Bohm.  The Metaphysics of Quality as presented by Robert Pirsig is also offered up as an alternate model for ontological inquiry given its adoption and incorporation of the direct perception of “intuitive” reality directly into its metaphysics as it were.

Part IV then offers up various alternative interpretations of reality that attempt to present and synthesize what we understand about the nature of reality both from a scientific perspective, as well as from what we might term a mystical or spiritual perspective, models which directly incorporate experiential reality into account when defining reality or the extent of knowledge itself, i.e. what is referred to as epistemology in modern philosophical nomenclature.  The models and analysis in Part IV directly take into account the role of active consciousness, cognition and perception, what in Quantum Theory has come to be known as the act of observation which from a Scientific perspective, at least again from the author’s standpoint, must be taken into account in any formulation of reality and in any definition of knowledge.

The alternative approaches to defining reality and knowledge that are presented and described in Part IV basically synthesize typically “Eastern” and “Western” worldviews, and from the author’s standpoint, are far better suited than existing philosophical or religious intellectual frameworks to prepare us not just as individuals to survive and thrive in the modern, Information Age, but also are much better suited to serve the society as a whole, from a national as well as global perspective, given the level of interdependence and interconnectedness of not just the human race, but also the natural world within which we live and depend upon for our survival moving forward into the future.

The last several chapters of Part IV, much more so than the author originally intended in fact, are dedicated to a fairly lengthy discussion of a relatively modern debate surrounding different ways or approaches to interpret, how best to understand, the life and teachings of the 19th century Bengali (Indian/Hindu) sage Rāmakrishna Paramhamsa, a tradition of course to which this author is closely linked from a theo-philosophical perspective.  Rāmakrishna in this sense, and how he is perceived and approached in these final chapters of this work, is the full manifestation of, and in turn the perfect example of, the limitations of Western “thinking” and the implicit epistemological restrictions and assumptions that while true, are fundamentally limited in their capacity to deal with anything that falls outside of the realm of Science proper and as such is dealt with as a case study of sorts for the need to integrate the Science of the Mind as it were into any ontological framework that we are to choose that would include the knowledge of the East along with the knowledge of the West.

This so-called mystical, or supraconscious experience, which is the intended result of the practice of the ancient art of meditation as it has been passed down to us through various classically Eastern theo-philosophical traditions – in the Upanishads in particular but also implicit in the writings and teachings of Plato and Greek Eleusinian mystery and Orphic traditions and of course in the teachings of Buddha as well – are presented as a necessary and integral component of any “redefinition” of reality and knowledge which, following any sort of rational interpretation of Quantum Theory must take into account the role of the observer and the act of cognition i.e. perception, into account in any coherent and complete model of reality.

Along these lines, various intellectual frameworks and models which include direct experiential reality are explored and discussed at length in Part IV, as well as in the Epilogue, with specific chapters dedicated to the re-interpretation of Upanishadic philosophy as presented by Vivekananda in the early 20th century as well as an objective analysis of the experiences and interpretation of the life of Paramhamsa Rāmakrishna in particular who according to tradition of course was the primary influence and inspiration for Vivekananda’s teachings and life in general.

Rāmakrishna as a mystic then, and mysticism  in general – specifically defined by the practices and experiences associated with the direct perception of the ground of reality and existence itself which is the hallmark of Eastern philosophy – is not only one of the main, recurrent (and under emphasized) themes of ancient theo-philosophy in all its forms throughout Eurasian antiquity as reflected in the material in Parts I and II of this work, but also from an ontological standpoint represents one of the other main thrusts of this work which is covered in Part IV as well as summed up in the Epilogue which follows Part IV.

This “Western” view of Rāmakrishna, which is primarily represented in the book Kālī’s Child (a work which is critiqued at length in Part IV and the first section of the Epilogue as well) is from the author’s perspective a perfect illustration of the fundamental limitations of Scientific inquiry as we understand it in the modern Ear in the West.  An intellectual domain that rests squarely on the implicit, and very often left out, assumptions of not just empiricism and rationalism, philosophical modes of thought which characterized the Enlightenment Era for the most part, but also causal determinism and again objective realism, which provide the very basis for epistemology (i.e. our scope and understanding of knowledge itself) in the West, be they recognized as such or not.

Therefore when it comes to understanding, or again interpreting from a Western intellectual perspective, fundamentally Eastern theo-philosophical constructs such as Satcitānanda, Brahman, Purusha, Dao, or Nirvana, all words and terms that fall outside of Science proper in the West given their lack of empirical, objective reality and yet at the same time reflect concepts and ontological principles that are fundamentally required to come to any sort of understanding of any great sage, saint or prophet in the history of man – Paramhamsa Rāmakrishna included.  The choices we are left with given the modern Western intellectual landscape are the need to either study these domains specifically where these words and their associated meanings originate from, or alternatively expand our intellectual domain in the West to include some sort of corollary to these ideas, what they inherently mean and signify – the latter of which is the approach that Pirsig takes by formulating a new metaphysics which he calls the Metaphysics of Quality but what he unfortunately falls short of doing, a topic covered at length in the Epilogue as well.

This analysis of course lends itself to one of the core and final arguments of this work, namely that the intellectual and metaphysical model that is applied to reality in the West, i.e. our ontological framework, while being extraordinarily powerful from a natural philosophical perspective, i.e. Science, is in fact an inadequate conceptual framework for the comprehension of the full scope of reality and therefore  is in need of wholesale revision and/or significant expansion and extension metaphysically and theo-philosophically speaking in order to support a more broad definition of reality through which a more complete and fuller understanding of existence itself can be at least approached.  Hence the title of Part IV of the work, On Ontology.

 


[1] See Plato, Letters.  Letter 7, aka Seventh Letter 341c – 341d.  From Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 7 translated by R.G. Bury. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1966.  See http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0164%3Aletter%3D7%3Asection%3D341c.  While the actual authenticity of the letter by Plato is debated by scholars it does for the most part reflect the writing style and philosophy as presented by Plato from the author’s perspective and so while perhaps not written by Plato’s hand, still nonetheless seems to accurately represent something akin to what Plato would write, specifically with respect to the specific part of the work cited herein.

[2] The Psychology of peak performance was spear headed in the Nick Bollettieri Academy in the 70s and 80s by the now well renowned and prolific Dr. Jim Loehr, now founder and Chairman of the Human Performance Institute.  See https://www.jjhpi.com/why-hpi/our-people/dr-jim-loehr.

[3] An overview of Pirsig’s work and his invention of a new mode of thinking to address some of the inherent limitations of the modern, Western worldview which he refers to as the Metaphysics of Quality are covered in some detail in the final section of this work.

[4] These works are Philosophy in Antiquity: The Greeks and Philosophy in Antiquity: The Far East respectively.  Both published by Lambert Academic Publishing in 2015.

[5] Tradition has it that Confucius is believed to have said that if he had fifty years to spare, he would spend it to contemplating and studying the Yijing.

[6] The original paper by the author regarding the similarities between Pythagorean philosophy and the Yijing is entitled “Numerology and Arithmology in Pythagorean Philosophy and the Yijing”, published in 2016 and can be found at https://www.academia.edu/27439070/Numerology_and_Arithmology_in_Pythagorean_Philosophy_and_the_Yijing.

[7] Two interim works were published by the author covering Hellenic philosophy and Chinese philosophy specifically that were leveraged as source material for some of the content herein, specifically some of the content in Parts I and II of this work.  See Philosophy in Antiquity: The Greeks (2015) and Philosophy in Antiquity: The Far East (2016), both published by Lambert Academic Publishing in 2016.

[8] In particular the author cites the sections on Enlightenment Era philosophy as well as Arabic/Muslim philosophy as examples of Chapters which could be expanded upon greatly and to a large extent do not do justice to the actors and individuals, and the belief systems which they put forward in their writings, described therein.

[9] The footnotes also incidentally serve as reminders and reference points to the author himself so as sections of material are revisited and/or reworked and/or revised, the pertinent sources are readily available.

[10] Swami Nikhilananda is a direct disciple of Sarada Devi (1853 – 1920), the consort and wife of the 19th century Bengali sage Paramhamsa Rāmakrishna (1836 – 1886).  He is also the founder of and subsequent leader of the Rāmakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York from 1933 to 1973 and is one of the foremost interpreters (and translators) of Vedic philosophy into English in the 20th century.  He has authored definitive translations with extensive commentaries on the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gītā, and he is also known for providing the definitive English translation of the Srī Srī Rāmakrishna Kathāmrita, commonly referred to in the West as the Gospel of Srī Rāmakrishna, a monumental work covering detailed teachings and events of the last few years of Rāmakrishna’s life as seen through the eyes of one of his foremost (householder) disciples, Mahendranath Gupta (1854 – 1932), or simply ‘M’.

[11] See https://www.ramakrishna.org/ for information regarding the Rāmakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York.

[12] Swami Vivekananda was the first to introduce Yoga and Vedānta to the West at the end of the 19th century.  He was the foremost student and spiritual successor of Paramhamsa Rāmakrishna, a figure who is dealt with at length in Part IV of this work.  Vivekananda’s modern conception of Vedānta and Indian philosophy more broadly, is also covered at length in Part IV of this work.

Egyptian Mythology: The Bedrock of Western Theology

Judaism and Zoroastrianism clearly represented some of the earliest forms of monotheism in the civilized world, and both faiths had their respective prophets which each set of followers believed had had their respective laws, or truths, handed down to them by the one and only God himself – the Yahweh of the Jews and the Ahura Mazda of the Zoroastrians.  But both religious systems were also clearly designed, or used, not only as a tool of realization and connection to the divine, but also to unite their people and consolidate power.  Underlying the spiritual and religious intent of the two religions/theologies, there was clearly a political motive behind their propagation and proliferation as well, this much seemed pretty evident to Charlie and this characteristic was certainly shared by the monotheistic religions that followed them, most notably Christianity and then Islam.

But where did these monotheistic tendencies or traditions come from?  The hunter gatherer societies that preceded the advent of civilization seemed to all be characterized by shaman like priests who professed direct access to and direct realization of the divine, and from these priests or shamans came various ritualistic practices and prayers – the hymnos of the Greeks, yasna of the Zoroastrians and yajna of the Hindus/Indo-Aryans – some of which even survived down to modern times and were captured in the various languages and scriptures of each of these powerful and lasting religious traditions.

So Charlie seemed to be struggling with the fundamental question as to how and why monotheism in its present day form emerged.  Was it simply a natural progression, an evolution as it were, of theological systems as civilizations emerged in the Mediterranean and Near/Far East in the second and first millennium BCE?  Was it a truly a more advanced form of theology and was the religion of the ancients a pagan system of worship that was to be shunned and abandoned?  Furthermore, the question of where these monotheistic traditions came from seemed to be not so straightforward?  Was there an element of cultural borrowing at work?  Did these traditions emerge from some previously established belief in a single, unified anthropomorphic creative principle from which the cosmos and in turn mankind emerged or did each of them evolve independent of each other?  The answers to these questions were crucial to Charlie’s thesis, as the extent of cultural borrowing as it related to the development of theology, religion, in ancient times, had become the essence of his thesis and he needed to explore the concept further to try and establish some semblance of order and progression, if possible, of the emergence of monotheism in the West.

And to shed some light on this evolution of monotheism which was so prevalent and ubiquitous in the modern world, Charlie had to turn back to the earliest known civilization in the ancient world, Ancient Egypt, a civilization where religious beliefs permeated all aspects of life, from which the King himself was looked upon as a manifestation of God on earth and where the journey of the soul in the afterlife, and the notion of last judgment, was the cornerstone of their civilization.

As looked upon the eyes of modern historians, the religious traditions of Ancient Egypt appeared to be bereft of monotheism, in the modern sense of the word.  But once which as Charlie dug deeper into the mythology and cosmology of the Ancient Egyptians, there appeared to him to be present some of the basic building blocks of later monotheistic traditions.  As Charlie peeled back the façade of Egyptian mythos and their polytheistic tendencies, their obsession with very specific rituals and practices associated with the care of the soul in the afterlife which so notably marked this great civilization, there appeared to be some of the core building blocks of the monotheistic traditions which succeeded them historically.  For based upon the archeological and historical evidence, it was quite clear that the civilization and religious beliefs of Ancient Egypt were far older than even the oldest monotheistic traditions such as Judaism and Zoroastrianism, and of course Christianity which was an even later development but emerged from the same region.

Ancient Egypt was a land conquered by many ancient civilizations over the centuries, and yet one with a deep and rich history itself, one steeped in the rule of the Pharaohs in the land of the North African Nile River Delta valley, an area inhabited by mankind since as least as far back as 30,000 to 40,000 years ago, and one which developed a rich and unique mythos and social structure which rested on the firm belief that their leader, their King or Pharaoh, was the human manifestation of the divine on earth, directly connecting the established authority and governance of the people with their worship and belief in god, which for most of Ancient Egyptian history was associated with Atum, or Atum-Ra.

Although various gods and myths were professed and crafted over the millennia in the Egyptian delta region of ancient history, there is one religious development in particular that has drawn much speculation and thought by later scholars, specifically Sigmund Freud, with respect to its relationship to the development of monotheism and its possible connection to Judaism as professed by Moses.

In the 14th century BCE, the King Amenhotep IV attempted to consolidate and synthesize all worship around a single god Aten, subsequently referred to as Atenism, who had historically been a relatively minor entity in the Egyptian pantheon and had been associated with the sun disc of the Egyptian god Ra.  Although all kings and pharaohs prior to Amenhotep IV had previously adopted a single deity as their royal patron as it were, there had never been an attempt to establish a single god as the supreme God of the state coupled with the enforcement by law of worship of just one single deity to the exclusion of all others, very much akin to the Jewish tradition where all other gods other than Yahweh were banned from worship as reflected in the ten commandments given to Moses by Yahweh himself on Mount Sinai as the story is told in the Old Testament.

It is this shared concept of exclusive worship bound by law, along with the strong Egyptian influence on Jewish history which is well documented in the Old Testament and the contemporaneous dating give or take a century or two between the life of Moses and the development of Atenism that led Freud to hypothesize that Judaism was simply an offshoot and transfiguration of Egyptian Atenism, morphed and transformed to fit the Jewish people and their history rather than an independent invention as professed by the Torah and Moses[1].

Atenism was surely a unique and distinctive departure from classical Egyptian polytheistic traditions no doubt, and a state authorized and sponsored monotheistic faith did appear on the face of it to share many of the same characteristics of Judaism, and Jewish history clearly was very tied to Egypt, but the direct association of Moses with Atenism seemed to be a stretch to Charlie, although perhaps both movements (if you could call them that) did originate from a single underlying monotheistic tendency, one which forked off the Jews as a separate people as they migrated out of Egypt and one which was ultimately rejected by the Egyptian people whose polytheistic tendencies were clearly just too deeply rooted to be carved out by law, no matter what divine authority it came from.

But to understand what this Atenism truly was, and how it fit into this melting pot of the rampant polytheistic forces that so marked ancient Egypt, and to understand why it was ultimately rejected by the Egyptian people, Charlie needed to get a better grasp on the socio-political, and ultimately theological and mystical, context within which it emerged.  And with Ancient Egypt especially, given its long history in the Nile River delta coupled with its deeply rooted religious socio-political system, a society which worshipped the King as a manifestation of God himself and the priesthood was extremely powerful and embedded in every part of society, one must have a bit of background on Egyptian history, some of the characters and narratives of Egyptian mythology, and of course as much of an understanding of the cosmological beliefs of this ancient people as possible, beliefs which as with all ancient civilizations underpinned their entire world view and social structure.

Before Ancient Egypt was conquered and ruled by foreigners starting with the Persians in the middle of the first millennium BCE, then followed by the Greeks under Alexander the Great in 332 BCE, then the Romans in 30 BCE for some 5 or 6 centuries and then the Muslims/Arabs for some thousand years plus thereafter, it was one of the most sophisticated and first of all ancient civilizations, with a system of writing and architecture that dates back to the 4th millennia BCE, making it one of, if not the, oldest civilization of mankind.  The beginning of Ancient Egyptian civilization is typically marked by the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt by its first pharaoh[2] in the latter part of the 4th millennia BCE, what modern historians have come to call the Predynastic Era which succeeded the Neolithic period in the Egyptian delta.

This period of unification of Upper and Lower Egypt is also the time period associated with the emergence of Egyptian forms of writing as well, at first with hieroglyphs which we find inscribed on the tombs of pharaohs from this period, and later in the tombs of the upper and middle class as hieroglyphic inscriptions became more common and the hieroglyphics evolved to include not only ideograms and logographic (picture) elements, but also alphabetic elements to capture specific pronunciations and annunciations of spells designed to capture the specific annunciations and words used by the Egyptian priesthood for specific ceremonies and rituals, most notably of course the burial of the dead.

Alongside the development of hieroglyphs which evolved for some two millennia (and was still used up until the 3rd and 4th centuries CE after Egypt came under first Greek then Roman rule), a sister script called hieratic[3] also emerged which although closely related to hieroglyphics was character and phonetic/alphabet based.  Hieratic was easier to write than hieroglyphs and like its sister hieroglyphs, was initially only used by priests and scribes to transliterate specific rituals and spells.  Eventually, in the middle and latter part of the first millennium BCE, hieratic evolved into a Demotic, a script designed for more secular use that in most instance was used to capture the language of the period of the same name, i.e. Demotic, which succeeded Middle and Late Egyptian which had been the language spoken by Egyptians for the preceding few millennia in some form or another.

The Egyptian Demotic language (not to be confused with the modern Greek language with the same name, i.e. demotic which is typically written with a lower case “d”) and the script that supported it that is referred to with the same name, i.e. Demotic, was prevalent in the middle and late first millennium BCE and was used for almost a thousand years up until the 5th century CE or so[4].  Both hieroglyphics and hieratic script are used throughout Ancient Egypt from the Predynastic Period (c 3100 BCE) all the way through the 6th century CE or so and it is through these writing systems, and the languages transcribed therein, that we can get a glimpse of the theology and religion of Ancient Egypt[5].

Our current historical view of categorizing Ancient Egyptian history into dynasties, typically marked by roman numerals, is derived from the first Egyptian historian Manetho, a 3rd century BCE priest and historian from Egypt who authored a three volume treatise of the history of Egypt entitled Aegyptiaca, or “History of Egypt”, a period of Egyptian history when it was under Greek, or Hellenic influence hence the use of Greek to author his work.  Manetho, according to later historians and excerpts of his work that do survive, gave a detailed and Egyptian perspective on the history of Egypt, beginning with the period of Egyptian societal consolidation under the rule of a single unified King or Pharaoh which he calls Menes circa 3100 BCE.  His work is presumed to have been motivated by providing an Egyptian perspective on the history of Egypt in contrast to the one provided by Herodotus several centuries prior, whose perspective was not only foreign but also lacking with respect to a proper chronology and depth of coverage.

Later, more modern Egyptian historians (aka Egyptologists) break down the periods of Ancient Egyptian civilization into different successive periods, each earmarked by the transition from one dynasty to another, where a dynasty doesn’t necessarily represent a blood lineage from one ruler to the next but some cultural or societal break in Egyptian history that denotes the transition into different period.  All Ancient Egyptian texts and inscriptions fall into one or more different periods, and Egyptologists typically use the dynastic classification to denote the period within which a particular text, form of writing, or inscription is found so in order to have proper context of the time period and socio-political context of a given theological text or inscription, it was important to be able to classify it in the appropriate dynasty and/or period.  The list below summarizes the periods briefly, covering some 4 thousand years from circa 3100 BCE up into modern times where Egypt came under Islamic influence[6].

  • Early Dynastic Period (c. 3100-2686 BCE).  Dynastic period begins with the first King or Pharaoh Menes (aka Narmer).  Covers Dynasties I and II.
  • Old Kingdom Egypt (c. 2686-2181 BCE).  III-VI dynasties.  Capital in Memphis.
  • 1st Intermediate Period (c. 2181-2055 BCE).  VII-XI dynasties.  Marked by conflict between Thebes in South and Heracleopolis in North.
  • Middle Kingdom Egypt (c. 2055-1650 BCE).  XI-XIV dynasties.  Period of (re)Unification.  Osiris becomes ever more important as a deity.  Capital in Thebes in XI dynasty and then and el-Lisht from XII to XIV.  First versions of Book of the Dead date from this period.
  • 2nd Intermediate Period (c. 1650-1550 BCE).  XV-XVII dynasties.  Marked by foreign rule, or rule by “Hyksos”, or “heqa khaseshet” in Egyptian which is roughly translated as “ruler(s) of the foreign countries”[7].
  • New Kingdom Egypt (c. 1549-1077 BCE).  XVIII to XX dynasties.  Also referred to as Egyptian Empire Period where Egypt attained its greatest territorial extent to the south into Nubia and North into Near/Middle East.  Amenhotep IV (c. 1352-1335 BCE), with whom Atenism is associated is a King from the XVIIIth dynasty, roughly from the middle of this period.
  • 3rd Intermediate Period (c. 1069-653 BCE). XXI-XXV dynasties.  Marked by political instability and fractured rule.
  • Late Period Egypt (c. 664-332 BCE).  XXVI-XXXI dynasties.  Last period of Egyptian independence until Persian conquest – 1st Achaemenid Period 525-404 BCE and 2nd Achaemenid Period 343-332 BCE – until conquest by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE after which Egypt falls under strong Hellenic influence.
  • Ptolemaic Period (c. 332-30 BCE).  Dynasty of Hellenic descended pharaohs begins, Alexandria is established as the capital and becomes the intellectual epicenter of the ancient world with the creation of the Library of Alexandria under Ptolemy I.  Period lasts until Roman conquest in 30 BCE.
  • Roman & Byzantine Egypt (c. 30 BCE-641 CE).  Egypt falls under Roman and subsequent Byzantine rule and influence.
  • Egypt under Islamic Influence (639 CE-18th century).  Islamic invasion and conquering of Egypt during the Muslim conquests in 639 CE.  Egypt falls under Islamic influence for over a thousand years until modern times.

The dynastic period of Egypt lasting some three thousand years or so reaching far back in antiquity is characterized not only by a rich and unique pantheon of gods and their associated mythology (and ritual) that not only emphasized the belief in their ruler as a manifestation of god on earth whose authority derived from divine provenance, but also by a marked with what can only be call an obsession with the transmigration of the soul and the belief in an afterlife, emphasis that perhaps derives from the context within which almost all of this material and inscriptions survive down to us, namely first through Pyramid and Coffin (sarcophagus) inscriptions in the 3rd and 2nd millennium BCE, and then later on papyrus documents as the literature become more widespread and prevalent in society, and more standardized as what is known today as the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

This extant material, inscriptions in hieroglyphics within pyramids, tombs and on sarcophagus and then later in hieratic and hieroglyphic script on papyrus, indirectly refers to and incorporates their cultural and spiritual belief system and worldview, corresponding to what today we would call religion.  All of this material was in fact crafted and designed specifically to protect, guide, and preserve the bodies and souls of the Egyptians into their journey into the afterlife, perhaps better translated as the netherworld, giving rise to their practices of mummification and pyramid and tomb building which were attempts to preserve the body, and its soul, for its journey beyond life into the afterworld.

The incantations/spells/utterances which we find as part of this literature were designed for this purpose were initially reserved only for the Kings and Pharaohs in the early dynastic period and Old Kingdom, what has become to be known as the Pyramid Texts, and then later adopted by the Egyptian aristocracy as well during the First Intermediate Period and Middle Kingdom, known as the Coffin Texts, and then finally in its most mature and standardized form which was adopted more broadly by the general population in the New Kingdom dynasties through the Ptolemaic Period as the Egyptian Book of Dead which existed in a variety of renditions and began to be written down on papyrus scrolls and buried along with the dead[8].

Egyptian mythology is undoubtedly best known for this association, perhaps more aptly described as an obsession, upon the burial and rituals associated with death and the extensive steps taken to prepare the soul (most commonly associated with the Egyptian term Ba) for its journey into the afterlife, and it is from this context surrounding death and the afterlife for the most part from which we gain insight into Ancient Egyptian religious beliefs.  Therefore Ancient Egyptian religion is closely associated with these sophisticated and wide ranging spells and incantations and their associated mythology surrounding death and the journey of the soul in the afterlife.

The Egyptian notion of Ba was somewhat different than our conception of the soul, perceived to be the aspect of the individual in toto which was permanent and persisted beyond death, perhaps best described as the fundamental essence of the individual which was deathless and timeless.  Ba was also used in reference to inanimate objects as well, denoting the more broad meaning of the word in Egyptian to describe the essential nature of a thing, either animate or inanimate, with perhaps a close correspondence to Aristotle’s notion of being qua being, or that which characterizes the primary essence of a thing and defines its existence, which he outlines in his Metaphysics.

Furthermore, as reflected in the Book of the Dead which represents the most mature form of the Egyptian religion/theology as it stands from the latest part of Egyptian antiquity, special importance was given to not only the individual’s name which was given to them at birth, ren or rn, which the Egyptians held supported the continued existence of the soul as long as it was kept alive and spoken, but also special significance was given to the heart, ib or jb, which was looked upon as the seat of all human emotion, feeling, thought, will and intention and was used in the Egyptian Weighing of the Heart ceremony where the individual’s heart was weighed/balanced against the feather of Maat which represented truth, justice, or order; the outcome of such balance determining the ultimate fate of the individual.  It was interesting to note that this ceremony as depicted in the Coffin texts and then later encapsulated in the Book of the Dead most certainly has parallels to the Christian moral framework based upon the notion of last judgment.

Clearly Ancient Egyptian religion, as reflected first in the Pyramid Texts from the Old Kingdom, the Coffin Texts from the Middle Kingdom, and then further structured and canonized in the Book of the Dead in its various forms which persisted into the latter part of the first millennium BCE and into the Common Era (CE) even after Egypt came under foreign rule by the Persians, Greeks and then Romans, their relationship and perception of the divine was complex and multifaceted and characterized by the worship of many different deities in a variety of forms, each reflecting some aspect of nature and/or some anthropomophocized (or pseudo-anthropomophocized as the case may be) aspect of God, consistent in fact with almost all of the middle and late Bronze age contemporaneous cultures and civilizations in the Mediterranean region and even into the Near and Far East.

But to what extent was Egyptian cosmology or theology adopted by its sister cultures and peoples to the North and East?  Interestingly, Herodotus in fact actually points to a very direct relationship, and ultimate source, of at least some of the Greek pantheon directly from Egypt.  From his Histories from Volume I Book II, verses 50-53, we have:

50. Moreover the naming of almost all the gods has come to Hellas from Egypt: for that it has come from the Barbarians I find by inquiry is true, and I am of opinion that most probably it has come from Egypt, because, except in the case of Poseidon and the Dioscuroi (in accordance with that which I have said before), and also of Hera and Hestia and Themis and the Charites and Nereïds, the Egyptians have had the names of all the other gods in their country for all time. What I say here is that which the Egyptians think themselves: but as for the gods whose names they profess that they do not know, these I think received their naming from the Pelasgians, except Poseidon; but about this god the Hellenes learnt from the Libyans, for no people except the Libyans have had the name of Poseidon from the first and have paid honour to this god always. Nor, it may be added, have the Egyptians any custom of worshipping heroes. 51. These observances then, and others besides these which I shall mention, the Hellenes have adopted from the Egyptians; but to make, as they do, the images of Hermes with the /phallos/ they have learnt not from the Egyptians but from the Pelasgians, the custom having been received by the Athenians first of all the Hellenes and from these by the rest; for just at the time when the Athenians were beginning to rank among the Hellenes, the Pelasgians became dwellers with them in their land, and from this very cause it was that they began to be counted as Hellenes. Whosoever has been initiated in the mysteries of the Cabeiroi, which the Samothrakians perform having received them from the Pelasgians, that man knows the meaning of my speech; for these very Pelasgians who became dwellers with the Athenians used to dwell before that time in Samothrake, and from them the Samothrakians received their mysteries. So then the Athenians were the first of the Hellenes who made the images of Hermes with the /phallos/, having learnt from the Pelasgians; and the Pelasgians told a sacred story about it, which is set forth in the mysteries in Samothrake. 52. Now the Pelasgians formerly were wont to make all their sacrifices calling upon the gods in prayer, as I know from that which I heard at Dodona, but they gave no title or name to any of them, for they had not yet heard any, but they called them gods ({theous}) from some such notion as this, that they had set ({thentes}) in order all things and so had the distribution of everything. Afterwards, when much time had elapsed, they learnt from Egypt the names of the gods, all except Dionysos, for his name they learnt long afterwards; and after a time the Pelasgians consulted the Oracle at Dodona about the names, for this prophetic seat is accounted to be the most ancient of the Oracles which are among the Hellenes, and at that time it was the only one. So when the Pelasgians asked the Oracle at Dodona whether they should adopt the names which had come from the Barbarians, the Oracle in reply bade them make use of the names. From this time they sacrificed using the names of the gods, and from the Pelasgians the Hellenes afterwards received them: 53, but whence the several gods had their birth, or whether they all were from the beginning, and of what form they are, they did not learn till yesterday, as it were, or the day before: for Hesiod and Homer I suppose were four hundred years before my time and not more, and these are they who made a theogony for the Hellenes and gave the titles to the gods and distributed to them honours and arts, and set forth their forms: but the poets who are said to have been before these men were really in my opinion after them. Of these things the first are said by the priestesses of Dodona, and the latter things, those namely which have regard to Hesiod and Homer, by myself.[9]

From Herodotus’s perspective then, there was clearly some cultural borrowing that had taken place between the Greek and Egyptian cultures, one that clearly grew more integrated and synthesized as time passed and the Greek and Egyptian (and Later Roman and Byzantine) cultures became more closely tied and interwoven.  Over the centuries, particularly in the last half of the first millennium BCE into the Common Era when Egypt came under Greek and then Roman rule, its mythos and pantheon become merged and synthesized with their Greek and Roman counterparts, perhaps best exemplified in the Greco-Egyptian god who came to be known in the Roman era and into the Middle Ages as Hermes Trismegistus, a pseudo-mythical figure to whom the Hermetic doctrine was attributed who represented a synthesis and consolidation of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth.

The Corpus Hermeticum, which represents the core of the Hermetic doctrine, became a fairly widespread and popular philosophical system throughout the Mediterranean in first millennium CE, in many respects akin to Gnosticism which emerged in the Mediterranean at around the same time.  Hermes Trismegistus, or Hermes Thrice Great, was so called because he was said to have mastered the three great pillars of ancient wisdom or knowledge; namely astrology, alchemy and theology or as stated in the Poimandres, one of the initial chapters in the Corpus Hermeticum, Hermes was the greatest philosopher, the greatest king and the greatest priest.

The complete doctrine surrounding Hermeticism, originally written in Greek somewhere between the third and fifth centuries CE and then later translated into Latin in the 15th century, includes not only the Corpus Hermeticum but also The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus and The Perfect Sermon or the Asclepius.  The doctrine reflects many Greek philosophical, Neo-Platonist, Gnostic and even Christian influence reflecting the prevailing pseudo-mystical, religious and theo-philosophical traditions that were emerging at that time in history in the Mediterranean a few centuries after the death of Christ as Christianity was in its infancy and before Christianity took full root in the Mediterranean in the latter part of the first millennium CE.

Hermetic doctrine as outlined in the Corpus Hermeticum speaks to the mystical and philosophical secrets of mankind that are taught to Hermes himself by a mythical figure named Poimandres who is identified with God, the form of the work in many respects resembling Platonic dialogues, where teachings and discourse, a form of dialectic, are used to convey meaning to the reader rather than a revealed scripture of sorts reflecting the Neo-Platonic influences on the tradition.  The treatise also includes a pseudo Gnostic cosmology which describes the establishment of the world order via Logos and Nous, Reason and Intellect respectively, displaying not only Gnostic characteristics, a contemporary philosophical movement that was one of the early competitors to Christianity, but also clear traces of of the philosophy of Anaxagoras, which are also seen in the Derveni papyrus, with its prominence of the role of Nous in the underlying structure and shape of the cosmos.  Speaking to its precursors to chemistry and science, Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing from which our modern image of two serpents encompassing a staff comes from, plays a prominent role in the Corpus as a disciple of Hermes to whom the teaching is originally passed down to.[10] 

From the early dynastic period of Egypt as reflected in the Pyramid and Coffin Texts, and then later in the New Kingdom as reflected in Book of the Dead, we see a prominence of the notion of the importance of the protection and preservation of the established order of the universe, or Maat, that existed in eternal conflict with evil, or darkness, typically drawn as a serpent or snake in the earliest texts, and then later coming to be referred to as ı͗zft, or Isfet, which meant “injustice”, “chaos”, “violence” or was even sometimes used as a verb meaning “to do evil”.

By the VIIIth dynasty onward, this serpent which represented the forces of darkness and evil became personified as the god Apep, and his battle with the forces of good played which played such a prominent role in New Kingdom Egyptian mythology as reflected in the epic battle between Apep and the sun god Ra, who represented the forces of light and good, which were believed to struggle each night as the Sun passed down through the horizon into the underworld, the place where Apep lie in waiting.  In this context Apep, who eventually was replaced by Set in later Egyptian mythological tradition, came to represent the god of the underworld, or the Hades of the Greek tradition.

We see even in a Coffin Text inscription[11] specific reference to the requirement of the dead being cleansed of Isfet in order to be reborn in the netherworld, or Duat, speaking to the fundamental and very old Ancient Egyptian notion of the universe being a battleground of the forces of good and evil, light and darkness, both at the cosmic level and at the spiritual or individual level.  These very same themes can also be found in the Zoroastrian tradition of the Indo-Iranian/Persian peoples to the East where Ahura Mazda and his band of angels are in constant struggle with Angra Mainyu and his band of demons (devas) who represent falsehood, darkness and evil, as well as of course in the Christian tradition, where God and his counterpart the fallen angel Satan are also portrayed as opposing and dueling forces of the world.  Another interesting Christian parallel to the Egyptian Isfet can be found in the Judeo-Christian Garden of Eden story where it is the serpent who tricks Adam and Eve into eating from the Tree of Life, plunging mankind out of the Garden and into the mortal world of endless toil, death and suffering.

But despite the different creation myth variants and different versions of the Egyptian pantheon that can be found throughout dynastic Egypt as the capital shifted between Memphis, Thebes, Heliopolis, and then later in Hellenic Alexandria, there was always present this firm belief in the in the importance of order. Maat, in the world, and its epic struggle with chaos and evil, Isfet or Apep, that defined the universe as well as the internal world of the spirit.  We see these same themes and notion of eternal struggle not only with Zoroastrianism and Christianity, but also with the Greeks as well, reflected in the epic battle between Zeus and the Titans in the Theogony, whereafter the Titans were forever bound and chained within Tartarus, the realm of the dead overseen by the Greek god of the underworld Hades, corresponding almost precisely to the Egyptian netherworld Duat and its presider Apep.

And amongst the foremost Cottus and Briareos and Gyes insatiate for war raised fierce fighting: three hundred rocks, one upon another, they launched from their strong hands and overshadowed the Titans with their missiles, and buried them beneath the wide-pathed earth, and bound them in bitter chains when they had conquered them by their strength for all their great spirit, as far beneath the earth to Tartarus. For a brazen anvil falling down from heaven nine nights and days would reach the earth upon the tenth: and again, a brazen anvil falling from earth nine nights and days would reach Tartarus upon the tenth. Round it runs a fence of bronze, and night spreads in triple line all about it like a neck-circlet, while above grow the roots of the earth and unfruitful sea. There by the counsel of Zeus who drives the clouds the Titan gods are hidden under misty gloom, in a dank place where are the ends of the huge earth. And they may not go out; for Poseidon fixed gates of bronze upon it, and a wall runs all round it on every side. There Gyes and Cottus and great-souled Obriareus live, trusty warders of Zeus who holds the aegis.[12]

So at this point Charlie was starting to see many of these Ancient Egyptian mythological themes, deities and underlying cosmic principles in many, if not all, of the civilizations of its neighbors with which they clearly had some form of contact, either via trade and travel or in later times through war, and subjugation.  We also see explicit reference to the borrowing and renaming of Egyptian gods by the Greeks from Herodotus, a fairly objective and reliable source of Ancient History for the Greeks, Persians and Egyptians in the Mediterranean from the middle of the 5th century BCE.

Furthermore, Charlie also saw a clear Egyptian influence on later, mostly Hellenic/Greek, theo-philosophical traditions which emerged in the Mediterranean during the time of Hellenic and then later Roman/Latin influence in Egypt as evidenced by the clear Greco-Egyptian tradition associated with Hermes Trismegistus which had Greek philosophical undertones throughout and yet at the same time was associated with the Egyptian god of wisdom, learning and knowledge Thoth.  We even have perhaps the most widely used and prominent translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, i.e. the Septuagint, commissioned and taking place in Egypt during the Ptolemaic Period in Alexandria, the city founded by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE after he conquered Egypt which subsequently became the intellectual capital of the ancient Mediterranean for some four or five centuries, pointing quite directly in fact to Egyptian influence on the Judeo-Christian tradition that was to dominate the religious landscape of the Western world for some two thousand years.

But Charlie remained curious as to how strong these monotheistic tendencies were within Egypt, forces that no doubt had some level of influence on the monotheism movement started by Amenhotep IV in the XVIIIth dynasty (circa 1340 BCE), Atenism, as short lived as it was, and forces that undoubtedly at some level shaped the formation of the religion of the Jews via from Moses who if he lived, lived no more than one or two centuries removed from Amenhotep IV’s rule over Egypt and who clearly had strong ties to Egypt as so well documented in the Old Testament.

Was there a thread of monotheistic thought and belief that evolved from and within Ancient Egypt that spread to the East or was Atenism simply a fluke espoused by a deranged King that was fundamentally rejected by an uncivilized, pagan and primitive populace?  Was monotheism as reflected in the Judeo-Christian (and Zoroastrian) traditions borrowed from the Egyptians, as Freud would have us believe, or was it an independent invention given to Moses by God himself on Mont Sinai as the Jews, and Christians, have been teaching us for some 2500 years?

Although the connection could not be directly established, Charlie did see a lot of evidence for the origin of much of Western and Near Eastern civilization mythos, and to a lesser extent perhaps Hellenic philosophy and Judeo-Christian theology, from Ancient Egypt given that their mythological tradition could be traced much deeper into antiquity (as seen in the Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts from circa 2500 BCE and then the Coffin texts from a few centuries later) and given the evidence of social and cultural contact and exchange that clearly took place between the Egyptian and their direct neighbors to the North and East, namely the Canaanite/Semitic people, the Greeks, and even the Persians, from the second millennium BCE onwards.

What was clear however, was that something very interesting and unique in Egyptian socio-political and religious history occurred under the reign of the XVIIIth dynasty King Amenhotep IV, who ruled sometime during the second half o the 14th century BCE (~1350-1330 BCE).  And although its influence and prominence lasted but a decade or two, it did represent one of the earliest documented forms of monotheism in the ancient world and one that shared the fundamental and distinct characteristic of modern day monotheism as prescribed by Moses and the Jews which forbid the worship of all other gods except the one true God – which in this case was Aten, a mythical figure that was associated with the Egyptian sun god Ra.

Ra, or Re, had always held great significance and relevance to the Ancient Egyptians, he was one of the principal gods in the Egyptian pantheon even from early Old Kingdom Egypt (he is prominently portrayed in the Pyramid Texts for example) and represented the force of light and good in the world and was the protector of Maat, or the world order.  Prior to the reign of Amenhotep IV, the sun god was worshipped as in the temple of Heliopolis, an ancient Egyptian city dating back to Old Kingdom Egypt which was, according to Herodotus, an intellectual and historical center of Ancient Egypt as well.  In later Egyptian history, as it entered into the Middle and New Kingdom, Ra also became also associated with Amun as Amun-Ra, and Atum as Atum-Ra in various competing pantheons from the different centers of worship in Ancient Egypt.[13]  Ra however, sometimes written as Re, in all the traditions was looked upon as one of the most revered and most powerful gods of the entire Egyptian pantheon, whose daily struggle against the forces of darkness as he set on the horizon each day was one of the most prevalent and powerful mythological themes of the ancient Egyptian people.  Aten, which historically was associated with the disc of the sun itself, had not been much of a player in Egyptian mythos up until Amenhotep IV’s rule, certainly nowhere near as prominent as Ra himself.

But in the early part of Amenhotep IV’s reign, for reasons that can be looked upon as socio-political, i.e. as a means to perhaps consolidate his power, Amenhotep IV established what has come to be known as Atenism as the official religion of the state, and proclaimed that Aten be worshipped to the exclusion of all other gods, not only outlawing the worship of all other gods even in individual homes, but also even going so far as to oversee the systemic destruction of idols and all other references to other gods in the Egyptian pantheon throughout the land, gods and goddesses that had been worshipped for millennia, making it one of the earliest forms of monotheism in all of mankind’s history.

This development marked a significant divergence from standard Egyptian policy and practices that preceded it which had, like almost all ancient civilizations in antiquity to some degree or another, accepted the various gods and goddesses of the Egyptian pantheon permitted religious freedom of worship throughout the kingdom, as long as of course the King himself was looked upon as the penultimate manifestation of the divine on earth.  Amenhotep IV not only forbade the worship of all other deities other than Aten, he changed his name to Akhenaten, or “one agreeable to Aten”, and constructed a new capital city called Akhetaten in the deities’ honor, modern Amarna.

An excerpt from a hymn to Aten found in identical form in five ancient Egyptian tombs illustrates at least some of the basic monotheistic conception of Aten that was proselytized by Amenhotep IV, mainly associating Aten with the characteristics historically associated with Ra but somewhat unique nonetheless in the forced worship of Aten and the exclusion of other forms of worship.

Splendid you rise, O living Aten, eternal lord!

You are radiant, beauteous, mighty,

Your love is great, immense.

Your rays light up all faces,

Your bright hue gives life to hearts,

When you fill the Two Lands with your love.

August God who fashioned himself,

Who made every land, created what is in it,

All peoples, herds, and flocks,

All trees that grow from soil;

They live when you dawn for them,

You are mother and father of all that you made.[14]

Unique to Atenism relative to the other ancient monotheistic faiths is of course is it’s socio-political features, i.e. there is no revealer of truth or scripture to which it adheres as is the case with other monotheistic traditions that emerged from ancient Western civilization, outside of Amenhotep IV himself.  Atenism is simply the decree of truth from the ruler of the day in what can perhaps best be looked at as an attempt at the consolidation of power by Amenhotep IV, a decree which was subsequently overturned, and the destruction of all temples of Aten ordered, under the ruler Horemheb who followed Amenhotep IV to power.  But there are uniquely monotheistic traits to Atenism as it was professed and doled out to the Egyptian people, and to this extent it is worth consideration and study within the context of the development of monotheism historically, and of course as pointed out by Freud, its relationship with to Judaism, although it cannot be directly established, Charlie could not completely ignore either.[15]

Although the Egyptian cosmology of the various temple cults and traditions that existed in Ancient Egypt can be inferred and deduced from the Pyramid Texts and Coffin Texts, and even from the much later more canonized Book of the Dead, the first, and only in fact, real coherent cosmological tradition of Ancient Egypt can be found, exist in two similar variants from a single papyrus found in Luxor (ancient Thebes) in a papyrus authored or commissioned by a priest named Nes-Menu or Nes-Amsu, written in Late Egyptian in hieratic script.  The papyrus dates to the Ptolemaic Period, as it refers directly to Alexander the Great, and deals specifically with spells and incantations that are designed to guard against the evil god Apep, its insertion into the papyrus implying perhaps to the secret potency and mystical powers that were believed to be contained within the creation story/cosmology as well its relevance to the ultimate protection against the forces of darkness and evil.

The initial narrative, which is somewhat shorter than the second one, is included in full below and one of the most marked characteristics here to Charlie at least was that there was in fact a single creative principle that was called out from within which the universe emanates, a god called Neb-er-tcher, according to Wallis Budge one of the most preeminent Egyptologists of the modern era, becomes associated with the Judeo-Christian God in Coptic literature from later Roman/Latin times.[16]

[These are] the words which the god Neb-er-tcher spoke after he had come into being: “I am he who came into being in the form of the god Khepera, and I am the creator of that which came into being, that is to say, I am the creator of everything which came into being. Now the things which I created, and which came forth out of my mouth after that I had come into being myself were exceedingly many. The sky (or heaven) had not come into being, the earth did not (exist, and the children of the earth, and the creeping things had not been made at that time. I myself raised them up from out of Nu, from a state of helpless inertness.  I found no place whereon I could stand. I worked a charm upon my own heart (or, will). I laid the foundation [of things] by Maat, and I made everything which had form. I was [then] one by myself, for I had not emitted from myself the god Shu, and I had not spit out from myself the goddess Tefnut; and there existed no other who could work with me. I laid the foundations [of things] in my own heart, and there came into being multitudes of created things, which came into being from the created things which were born from the created things which arose from what they brought forth.  I had union with my closed hand, and I embraced my shadow as a wife, and I poured seed into my own mouth, and I sent forth from myself issue in the form of the gods Shu and Tefnut.  Said my father Nu: ‘My Eye was covered up behind them (i.e., Shu. and Tefnut), but after two hen periods had passed from the time when they departed from me, from being one god I became three gods, and I came into being in the earth.’  Then Shu and Tefnut rejoiced from out of the inert watery mass wherein they and I were, and they brought to me my Eye (i.e., the Sun). Now after these things I gathered together my members, and I wept over them, and men and women sprang into being from the tears which came forth from my Eye.  And when my Eye came to me, and found that I had made another [Eye] in place where it was (i.e., the Moon), it was wroth with (or, raged at) me, whereupon I endowed it (i.e., the (second Eye) with [some of] the splendour which I had made for the first [Eye], and I made it to occupy its place in my Face, and henceforth it ruled throughout all this earth.  When there fell on them their moment through plant-like clouds, I restored what had been taken away from them, and I appeared from out of the plant-like clouds. I created creeping things of every kind, and everything which came into being from them. Shu and Tefnut brought forth [Seb and] Nut; and Seb and Nut brought forth Osiris, and Heru-khent-an-maati, and Set, and Isis, and Nephthys at one birth, one after the other, and they produced their multitudinous offspring in this earth.”[17]

Here we find then, in the latter part of the first millennium BCE after Egypt had come under direct Greek influence, not only a more structured and standardized creation myth, but also the insertion, or at least explicit documentation, of a single, creative divine pseudo-anthropomorphic principle, a cosmology that in many respects was similar to its counterpart in Greece as reflected in Hesiod’s Theogony or in Orphism, albeit in a different style of prose, with a different pantheon of gods, and a different cultural context.

The cosmology outlined in the papyrus of Nes-Manu however, with the carving out of a single divine creative principle from which the universe, the gods of the Egyptian pantheon, and then ultimately mankind, emerges does represent the early stages of monotheistic theology in some respects, although perhaps in a less evolved form and of course absent of the legal mandate of a single form of worship that was such a prominent characteristic of Judaism and then later Christianity.  Atenism however, as failed as it was due undoubtedly to the resistance it met by the people and priests who did not ascribe to Aten as the one and only true God, did in fact display these same restrictive, and politically motivated tendencies.  Whether or not the Jews (Moses) and the Christianity as it was adopted by the Romans borrowed Amenhotep IV’s methodology remained an open question of course.

What Charlie could surmise however, and what did seem clear, was that in Ancient Egypt, similar to the ancient Sumer-Babylonian, Persian, and Greece civilizations, there existed an implied and esoteric and mystical monotheistic tendency that was reflected in their respective cosmological narratives, while at the same time there was an accepted localization of beliefs that allowed for the worship of specific deities with specific modes of worship in each town or city, as long as they adhered to a basic pantheonic structure which was characteristic of the civilization as a whole.

This structure of religious authority which allowed for independence at the city or town level, while still adhering to what could be called state sponsored religious practices that were mandated or practiced by the governing authority, the King in the case of ancient Egypt, is in many respects similar to how the United States is set up, with some powers given to the States to mandate and enforce, whilst other powers – like the power to hold an army and defend the nation – is mandated and enforced at the federal level.  Our model is wholly secular of course but the analogy seemed pretty clear to Charlie at least.


[1] Freud’s Moses and Monotheism originally published in 1937 in German and subsequently published in English in 1937.  In it, Freud hypothesizes that Moses was not a Hebrew or of Semitic descent, but was in fact an Egyptian nobleman and perhaps even a follower of Atenism.

[2] Menes, aka Narmer is the first pharaoh said to have united Upper and Lower Egypt.  It is notable that the Ancient Egyptians did not use the term pharaoh; this word is taken from the Old Testament context and then later applied to Ancient Egyptian history.  King is a more appropriate term but we will use King or Pharaoh interchangeably throughout.  For more information on the etymology and history of the term pharaoh see http://ashraf62.wordpress.com/ancient-egypt-knew-no-pharaohs/.

[3] The word “hieratic” was first used by the Christian theologian Saint Clement of Alexandria who lived and wrote in in the late 1st and early 2nd century CE and is derived from the Greek word hieratika which literally means “priestly writing”.

[4] Demotic, the language, was succeeded by Coptic, which was the most common Egyptian language spoken up until the 17th century CE.

[5] Demotic was succeeded by the Coptic writing system/alphabet (and the Coptic language which it is designed to render) which started to take root in the 3rd century CE and is still in use in some Egyptian churches and other places today.  The Coptic alphabet is based upon the Greek alphabet with strong Demotic influence.

[6] The primary source for the Dynasty, Kingdom and Period list included here is from the History of Egypt section of Wikipedia.  For more detail see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Egypt.

[7] Hyksos were a Canaanite/Semitic people of supposedly Indo-European descent with some notable Hurrian influence as well.  Hyksos were known for practicing horse burials and having a chief deity who was storm god, later associated with the Egyptian god Seth.

[8] The Book of the Dead in Egyptian is actually titled, in Egyptian, rw nw prt m hrw which is more accurately transliterated into English as the “Book of Coming Forth by Day” rather than the more popular name it has been given by modern scholars and historians, the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

[9] Excerpt from THE HISTORY OF HERODOTUS, translated into English by G. C. MACAULAY, M.A. from an edition dated 1890, published by MacMillan and Co., London and New York.  Note that the term Pelasgians is used by Herodotus in this context to denote the precursor Hellenic populations that lived in the area of ancient Greece prior to classical Greece in the time before the Trojan War or so, circa 1200 or 1300 BCE.

[10] Hermeticism later transformed into the pseudo-science of alchemy during the Middle Ages, becoming more associated not with spiritual transformation and knowledge but the manipulation and transformation of material objects, specifically into gold, out of which emerged modern day chemistry in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.  Notable scientists who were influenced by the Hermetic/alchemical tradition include Isaac Newton from whose work with alchemy is believed to derived inspiration to his creation of the modeling and notion of gravity, as well as Carl Jung who looked to alchemy to provide a language and framework for the transformation of the soul, or individual psyche, into its full potential, a process which he referred to as individuation.

[11] Coffin Text 335a, reference from Rabinovich, Yakov. Isle of Fire: A Tour of the Egyptian Further World. Invisible Books, 2007 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isfet_(Egyptian_mythology).

[12] From  http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/hesiod/theogony.htm.  The Theogony of Hesiod, (ll. 713-735).  Translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, 1914.

[13] Amun being associated with the centers of worship in Thebes and Atum being associated with Heliopolis, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Egyptian_creation_myths for more details.

[14] Translation from M. Lichtheim. Ancient Egyptian Literature: A Book of Readings. Vol. 2, pp. 91-92.  Taken from https://pantherfile.uwm.edu/prec/www/course/egypt/274RH/Texts/ShortAtenHymn.htm

[15] The stark contrast of Atenism relative to the Egyptian religious precepts which preceded it, as well as the timing of Amenhotep IV’s rule which coincides within a century or two of Moses’s exodus from Egypt, has given rise to considerable scholarly debate as to whether or not the monotheistic principles embedded in Atenism were a foreign construct that was borrowed and adapted by Amenhotep IV from some outside influence, or perhaps even (as was suggested by Sigmund Freud), that Atenism was the source from which Judaism’s monotheistic tradition sprung.  See Freud’s 1937 work Moses and Monotheism where Freud theorizes that Moses was in fact of Egyptian descent rather than Jewish, and that he borrowed the principles of Atenism in his formation of Judaism.  For more details, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moses_and_Monotheism,

[16] Source: E. A. Wallis Budge, Legends of the Egyptian Gods.  Originally published in 1912 by Kegan Paul, Trench and Tribner & Co. Ltd, taken from new 2008 edition, published by The Book Tree.  Introduction pg. xviii.

[17] From http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/texts/history_of_creation.htm.  Source: E. A. Wallis Budge, Legends of the Egyptian Gods.

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