Disrecognized Space

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Religions of the Ancient World – Assignment 4: Essay

Did geography or anxiety about the unknown play the major role in determining the character of ancient Egyptian and Greek religions? Discuss this question with reference to aspects of Egyptian and Greek religion you have studied in this unit.

A major aspect of religion is to explain the unknown but, while this is common to all religions, geography is a predetermining factor that shapes the nature of this explaining, as well as other aspects of individual religions.
It would be, of course, too simplistic to claim one factor as the most important or only explanation for a religion’s nature, especially over the course of thousands of years or between different groups or even individuals. This essay will, however, demonstrate how geography is one of the more important factors.
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Religions of the Ancient World – Assignment 3

7.1
The reign of Akhenaten and his religious changes remains a contentious area for much contradictory discussion. Ray (1990, p. 27) and Montserrat (2000, p. 12) warn that Akhenaten is very much a modern construction, viewed through the particular distorting lens of whichever scholar is writing about him. The fragmentary nature of the surviving records both makes finding the ‘truth’ difficult while simultaneously allowing such myriad interpretations to be claimed as manifestly correct. Some aspects of Akhenaten’s religion are clear: he raised the Aten to the status of the supreme god, while attempting to erase the cult of Amun and the worship of other gods (Ray 1990, p. 28). The Aten was not represented in the traditional manner as either human or animal (Montserrat 2000, p. 41). He moved the capital to Akhetaten (Armana) though such a process was not unknown (Montserrat 2000, p. 17) and also changed his own name to reflect the new importance of Aten (Montserrat 2000, p. 21). The temples at Akhetaten were open to the sun. He situated his tomb on the East bank of the Nile, not the West (Reeves 2001, p. 140). More fundamentally, the worship of the Aten was not directly available to the people, but was intermediated by the king and queen (Montserrat 2000, p. 23) who formed a divine triad with the Aten (Reeves 2001, p. 146). These changes in society extended to a new style of art as well (Montserrat 2000, p. 36). These changes were profound, but to what extent they were accepted throughout Egypt is difficult to determine. Akhenaten has been claimed as the first monotheist, but it is more probable he was a henotheist (Montserrat 2000, p. 38) and that the changes he instituted were a refining of pre-existing views (Montserrat 2000, p. 40). Whether he believed in his new religion, or whether it was a cynical political exercise, keeps scholars occupied but is difficult if not impossible to resolve with the evidence available. Akhenaten’s reign nonetheless represented a dramatically different attempt at defining Egyptian religion and art even if, ultimately, it was unsuccessful as later kings erased his changes.
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Religions of the Ancient World – Assignment 2

4.2
The tombs found in the Valley of the Kings changed over time in their layout, but a broadly typical schematic involved a number of passages which symbolised the journey of the sun and the world of the gods (Theban Mapping Project 2002). After the initial passages, a niche was provided for the gods and two doorkeepers’ rooms. After these a number of halls descended to the burial chamber (the ‘House of Gold Wherein One Rests’) and a final ‘Treasury’ or store room. An interesting example is KV10, the tomb of Amenmeses (Theban Mapping Project 2006). The plan of the tomb (http://www.thebanmappingproject.com/sites/pdfs/kv10.pdf) follows the general layout of a series of separate passages, with niches, descending via a final ramp to the burial chamber and terminal storeroom. Interestingly, the tomb was reused though it was never actually finished.
Tombs in the Valley of the Kings differed from the pyramids most obviously since they were cut into the rock rather than built. This meant that they could be built more quickly as well and, while not as obviously imposing as the largest pyramids, their decorations were superior (Kjeilen n.d.). They were also, at least initially, less obvious to tomb robbers (Der Manuelian 1997, p. 194).
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Religions of the Ancient World – Assignment 1

1.3
Two important factors that shaped and facilitated the emergence of Egyptian civilisation are climate and geography. The climate around Pre-Dynastic times was moister than it is today (Murnane 1983, p. 19) which led to suitable conditions for plant and animal life to develop along the Nile and consequently to provide a rich source of food for humans to utilise. Brewer and Teeter (2007, pp. 32-33) note that the drying of the climate led to the increasing importance of agriculture and hence a settled lifestyle. This, in turn, led to the development of city-states and a unified civilisation (Brewer & Teeter 2007, p. 38).
The geography of Egypt meant the regular inundation of the Nile provided a rich source of fertile land for growing crops (and hence establishing a stable economy and the development of a civilisation). The significance of this to Egyptians is reflected in the division of the Egyptian year into three periods marked by the stages of the Nile flooding (Murnane 1983, p. 20). Contrasted with this, the desert surrounding the Nile provided a buffer against other developing civilisations. How important this was can be seen by how Egyptian society changed as a result of incursions by the Hyksos and other peoples in the Second Intermediate Period (Brewer & Teeter 2007, p. 46), spending more time defending its borders. This geography led as Murnane notes (1983, p. 23) to the Egyptian peasantry viewing Egypt as a duality, ‘Black Land’ and ‘Red Land’, Nile and desert. This dualism permeated Egyptian society and culture. Continue reading