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Of God and Gods: Egypt, Israel, and the Rise of Monotheism [Paperback]

Jan Assmann

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Book Description

May 21 2008 George L. Mosse Series
For thousands of years, our world has been shaped by biblical monotheism. But its hallmark—a distinction between one true God and many false gods—was once a new and radical idea.Of God and Godsexplores the revolutionary newness of biblical theology against a background of the polytheism that was once so commonplace. Jan Assmann, one of the most distinguished scholars of ancient Egypt working today, traces the concept of a true religion back to its earliest beginnings in Egypt and describes how this new idea took shape in the context of the older polytheistic world that it rejected. He offers readers a deepened understanding of Egyptian polytheism and elaborates on his concept of the “Mosaic distinction,” which conceives an exclusive and emphatic Truth that sets religion apart from beliefs shunned as superstition, paganism, or heresy. Without a theory of polytheism, Assmann contends, any adequate understanding of monotheism is impossible

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Review

"An important contribution to the fields of Egyptology, Biblical studies, and the general study of religion." - Israel Knohl, Hebrew University, Jerusalem"

About the Author

Jan Assmann is professor emeritus of Egyptology at the University of Heidelberg. He is also Honorary Professor of Cultural Theory at Konstanz University and had been a visiting professor at the école des Hautes études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, Yale University, the University of Chicago, and the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. A prize-winning scholar, he has published extensively on religious history and ancient Egyp

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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A rare analysis of religion and violence Feb. 26 2013
By Martin Gurri - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a scholar's book parsing the relationship between religion - both polytheistic and monotheistic - and violence, obviously written under the vast shadow of 9/11. Jan Assmann is a German Egyptologist with a smile-inducing last name, but he is interested in understanding his subject rather than scoring points against religion. Neither monotheism or polytheism are inherently violent. Both, as practiced in ancient Israel, Egypt, and the Fertile Crescent, inspired violent outbursts at times. By the depth of the author's knowledge and the fairness of his judgments, this book stands above and apart many of the recent rants inspired by this subject.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential May 20 2014
By Q - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It's ironic but also appropriate that an Egyptian specialist has written a definitive defense of the revolutionary character of ancient Hebrew monotheism (contra the "evolutionary" view that monotheism is a "natural" development of polytheism, via the recognition that "all gods are one") His key claim, here and in his other books, is what he calls the "Mosaic distinction," that Mosaic monotheism divides the world into good and evil, true worship and idolatry, the one, only true God and false idols. The truth of this claim should be apparent to readers of Homer. Homer doesn't demonize either side of the Trojan war. There are no "good guys" and "bad guys" as such, just more or less flawed yet heroic warriors (as well as priests, women, children, parents, gods, etc.)

The larger question is whether the Mosaic distinction fosters more religious violence than otherwise. He considers both sides without taking a definite stand. He does claim, however, that monotheism taken rightly should critique religious violence. Frankly, I found the issue of violence to be a side issue and more or less a concession to a sensational topic after 9/11.

Assmann really knows the Egyptian and Near Eastern polytheistic background to Judaism, and the key differences between them. For example, in polytheistic religions, the King stood in for god and administered justice. Also, the legal system was separate from religious cultic practices. In Judaism, justice is integrated deeply into religion, with the prophets constantly denigrating sacrifice in favor of taking care of orphans and widows etc. At the same time, the Hebrew God doesn't support the institution of kingship but just the opposite.

Overall, the book is full of valuable insights. I don't agree with some of his points, but his work is mostly solid and well-nigh essential for scholars writing on this period. It is also of interest for anyone who is seriously interested in monotheism (Judaism, Christianity, Islam).
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Definitive Dec 19 2013
By Zackary Yeager - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is dry and to the point. One read through and you will have a leg up on most people, especially Bible Thumpers.

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