I said last week that I’d bought two books written by Dr. Breasted, and would write reviews when done. When I started The Dawn of Conscience, it immediately became apparent that I was entering a journey that might prove more traumatic than anticipated, a journey back 40 years in my life.
From his first words, Dr. Breasted fell into a trap which modern archaeology now recognizes and strives to avoid, although not so a century ago. Here’s the trap: When someone claims to know the heart of a civilization by reading only the public proclamations and monuments of its elites, such person can be fairly likened to one who gullibly believes politicians. Would you stake your life on the words of politicians of any stripe? Mesopotamian kings, Egyptian pharaohs, and courtiers were politicians of their times.
Hittite 3-man Chariot fighting Ramses II on Egyptian 2-man Chariot
We in the West still nurse the illusion that we can “kick the bums out” through elections after their promises prove lies. There was no such illusion in Dynastic Egypt. No surviving soldier would dare gainsay Pharaoh’s account of the Battle of Kadesh, where Ramses II claimed total victory over the Hittites and Breasted seemed to have believed him completely—mainly because Ramses II’s inscription was the only source available to Breasted. Later archaeology tends to conclude that the battle of Kadesh was as best a draw for Egypt, since they failed to take the city of Kadesh and their earlier hegemony in that region was not regained.
Hittites Attacking Ramses II’s Re Division at Kadesh
Dr. Breasted might fairly be credited as the father of American Egyptology. His ambition to read all the above-ground Egyptian hieroglyphics led to prodigious insights into Egyptian history, but his enormous reading caused him to overreach and think he had found—not just that the Egyptians had a conscience before the Israelites, by definition—but that the very beginning of man’s conscience evolved in Egypt. He, like most scholars in his age, was trying to apply The Origin of Species thesis to every field of study.
Applying Darwin to dynastic Egyptology is an obvious overreach. Doing so leads the true-believer to choose only sources that support his thesis that all cultures must be home grown. The truth suffers when true-believers have power and apply it to squash all opposing views. What about contemporaneous Mesopotamian texts in cuneiform such as the Code of Hammurabi?
I googled “ancient conscience” for other viewpoints and found Dr. Flinders Petrie’s Religion and Conscience in Ancient Egypt, which I promptly bought and added to my sources. I picked his viewpoint because I know that he espoused the “Dynastic Race Theory” (Egypt’s dynastic culture came from an external source, perhaps through conquest) in direct opposition to Breasted’s Darwinian theory of a homegrown culture.
Petrie’s perspective seems to have been squashed by the weight of the guys who lived longer than him, for Breasted’s evolutionary theory is now espoused in many countries on a jingoistic basis e.g. Indian theorists that say the entire Indus Valley Civilization was home grown—denying that an Indo-European culture overwhelmed the early Harappan culture–while ignoring the huge fact that most of India now speaks variants of the Indo-European language as you can see in the map below.
And, of course, you can see that a “home-grown” bias will always get the nod in our politically correct culture of “inclusiveness,” where every culture, religion, and language is “equally valid”(whatever that means to you.)
But why did I say that buying into Breasted’s “homegrown” thesis on culture and religion would send me back 40 years in my life? I once suffered from the illusion that ancient Egypt’s Isis and Osiris myth and Sumer’s Inanna and Dumuzi myth were both sources (among many sources) from which my then nominal religion of Christianity was supposedly fabricated.
It’s amazing how easily we can start down a path like this. In my case, while searching for vacation reading at the Yale Co-op, I bought Mary Renault’s novel The King Must Die, which first confronted me with the relationship between ancient religions and the sowing and harvesting cycle, where a gullible youth was made “king for a year” at a harvest festival and planted in the ground at the festival of sowing. From there, it was a short trip to Sir James Fraser’s The Golden Bough and his view that all religions share central tenets—an important precursor to today’s politically correct “all religions are the same and equally good or equally bad, depending only upon what works for you.”
I drank that Baby-Boomer Kool-Aid and scrapped the last vestiges of the mores I had inherited from my parents, neighborhood, church upbringing, private and public schooling, and good company. However, shortly afterwards, I confronted an inconvenient truth that demanded an immediate decision.
Having barely survived that cup of Kool-Aid, I’m now an implacable foe of the herd-instinct that our academic overlords now inculcate, AKA political correctness—a blatant form of thought control—the latest flavor of that ancient Kool-Aid.
Thanks for visiting,