44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 2001
First published in 1984, this book is finally available in English. The author offers his views on Ancient Egyptian religion, theology and piety. In the various chapters (The Cosmos, Myth, The New Gods, Theodicy and Theology), he explains the difficulties when discussing Ancient Egyptian thought, rituals and cultic beliefs. This book attempts to compare religions based on what is known about the Ancient Egyptian religion. Well researched, this is most definitely a serious book for scholars and students interested in the subject. Recommended reading for all.
37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2001
The Search for God in Ancient Egypt by Jan Assmann (Cornell University Press) (PAPERBACK) provides a fresh synthesis of the main characteristics of Egyptian religion. Unlike the more hermetically minded scholars, Assmann sticks to the records as preserved and seamlessly draws on current religious theories about how cults function and the divine presence is ritualized to reveal the strangeness and beauty of Egyptian religion in a coherence misplaced from earlier accounts.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 18, 2013
Assmann's wonderfully easy, careful writing reveals all the features of Egyptian religion a way no other book achieves. He explores religion in two terms: 'divine presence.' These terms meaning sacred (transcendent), and mundane (immanent) realms. The distinction extends Durkheim's distinction of sacred and profane, because divinity was present in the world for the Egyptians. 'Divine presence' for the Egyptians meant realizing plenty (ma'at) over against lack (isfet) both in the divine order by pacifying the gods and in the mundane order by instituting ethical conduct. He studies the 'narrow view' of religion: pacifying the gods. He leaves the wide view - ethical conduct - aside a task of sociology.
To arrive at the Egyptian 'narrow view,' Assmann distinguishes 'implicit theology' from 'explicit theology.' Implicit theology is his theory of how the Egyptians thought that he drives from interpreting texts. Explicit theology means whatever theory the Egyptian natives may have had, but the Egyptians 'never referred to [explicit theology] in practice.'
His 'implicit theology' is not 'reading into' the liturgies, but summarizing their consistent literary devices. An example of 'implicit theology' is the consistent progress in the ancient liturgies from names, to embodiments, to statues. Such consistent liturgies reveal civil, natural, and mythical levels of religion. Studying implicit theology in the liturgies over the 3,000 or so years of the dynastic periods reveals that polytheism played the particles to waves of monotheism.
A transition from localized polytheism to national monotheism occurred over the course of Egyptian history. During the transitions from Old to Middle to New Kingdoms, immanence in local cults of city gods transmuted to ruler god, primeval god, creator god, sun god, and to the ethical authority of personal devotion. The solar cult of the Amarna period, so often portrayed as Enlightenment, was a conservative repression that persecuted any personal experiences of the older religions of Ammon by interposing the royal couple between the Aten and people. The unexpected consequences of the persecution was the 'breakthrough' to the 'fourth dimension' of personal ethical consciousness, the same general development that describes the 'axial age,' the appearance everywhere of the historic religions at the end of the ancient world. Assmann's communicates the consistent beauty of the major hieroglyphic liturgies by demonstrating the logic of the litanies. Egyptian 'polytheism' was simply the symbolization of transcendence in immanence -- all the 'forms' (cheperu) of immanent experience are manifestations of searching for transcendent God. 'Search' in this context does not mean conscious theologizing.
on May 19, 2014
I have read much on Egypt, I have studied Egypt and Comparative religions at university. That was a long time ago and this is my first introduction to Jan Assmann. At first I found the text aggravatingly dry and academic and wanted more Egyptian soul. However, I persevered and was rewarded by an enthralling new way of looking at Egypt, which IS all about soul and religion and a mystical way of seeing life. I would have liked more illustrations/pictures, which is why I only gave 4 stars. I look forward to reading some more of this author.