Cover image for The mind of Egypt : history and meaning in the time of the Pharaohs
The mind of Egypt : history and meaning in the time of the Pharaohs
Assmann, Jan.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Ägypten. English
Publication Information:
New York : Metropolitan Books, [2002]

Physical Description:
xi, 513 pages : illustrations, map ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
DT83 .A8813 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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From one of the world's greatest Egyptologists, an original and brilliant study of the inner life of ancient Egypt

The Mind of Egypt presents an unprecedented account of the mainsprings of Egyptian civilization-the ideals, values, mentalities, belief systems, and aspirations that shaped the first territorial state in human history. Drawing on a range of literary, iconographic, and archaeological sources, renowned historian Jan Assmann reconstructs a world of unparalleled complexity, a culture that, long before others, possessed an extraordinary degree of awareness and self-reflection.

Moving through successive periods of Egyptian civilization, from its beginnings in the fifth millennium b.c.e. until the rise of Christianity 4,500 years later, Assmann traces the crucial roles of the pharaohs, the priests, and the imperial bureaucracy. He explores the ideal relation of man to God and explains monumental architecture and ritual celebrations as expressions of that ideal. Most strikingly, he focuses on the meaningful world of ancient Egypt-the multiple notions of time, the structures of immortality, and the commitment to the principle of social justice and human fellowship.

Widely acclaimed for his cross-disciplinary approach, Assmann has produced a tantalizing study of an ancient civilization, even as he has opened new directions in historical investigation.

Author Notes

Jan Assmann is professor of Egyptology at the University of Heidelberg.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

A renowned Egyptologist plumbs the depths of the ancient Egyptian psyche in this multilayered cultural analysis. Utilizing literary, iconographic, and archaeological sources, Assmann traces the evolution of the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom, the New Kingdom, and Egypt as a conquered territory. Rather than presenting a strictly linear and fact-filled history, he successfully attempts to portray and illustrate the development of a uniquely Egyptian mindset by exploring the ideals, emotions, politics, legal system, religious beliefs, and moral codes that defined and characterized antiquity's most technologically advanced and psychologically complex civilization. As ideas and attitudes progressed or shifted, a distinct, yet often fluid, Egyptian mentality emerged. An examination of this mentality provides an original twist on the well-documented events that shaped Egyptian history. --Margaret Flanagan

Publisher's Weekly Review

Originally published in 1996, this is both an intellectual history of ancient Egypt and an exploration in which "the course of events forms the backdrop and the discourses generating and reflecting meaning occupy the front of the stage." In other words, here's a book about history and how it's made and interpreted as much as it is about Egypt. Assmann's dense and scholarly tome draws on a wide variety of sources, from literature and archeology to iconography, to trace a portrait of Egyptian civilization from 5000 B.C.E. to the beginnings of Christianity. It has no central thesis, as such, but examines a fascinating array of material, some of it well known (Piye's victory stele) and some of it more obscure (a wide variety of hymns and literary lamentations). The translation is by and large excellent, and yet the book is still rather difficult to wade through. The author's preoccupation with theory may trouble readers who are accustomed to a more narrative presentation; his application of the concept of Cosmotheism is traditional, for example, and so the introduction of terminology like Cosmohermeneutics seems to complicate things unnecessarily. Assmann (Moses the Egyptian; The Search for God in Ancient Egypt) is a distinguished Egyptologist, and this book will appeal greatly to the field's academics and professionals, as well as seriously dedicated Egyptophiles. Unfortunately, one of the major attractions in any publication on ancient Egypt is absent good photographs of the culture's spectacular legacy in art (there are only eight illustrations). There are, however, endnotes, a basic chronology, and a useful key to the Egyptian gods. (Apr. 12) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Not since J.H. Breasted's classic 1912 publication Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt has an attempt been made to explore systematically the evolution of Egyptian thought across 3000 years of civilization. Assmann, director of the Egyptological Institute of Heidelberg University and a prolific author, accomplished this feat in his 1996 Egypten: eine Sinnegeschichte. Now this authoritative work has been translated into English to benefit a wider audience. Assmann states that without the survival of Egyptian literary, biographical, and religious inscriptions, "we would not know how this civilization saw itself, how it set itself off from its neighbors, what central values it cherished, what social and religious norms it developed; nor would we know in what ways Egypt related to its own" or "how it saw the relation between gods and humans." Beginning with a discussion of the unique Egyptian concept of two infinities (linear and cyclical), Assmann leads the reader step by step through the Egyptian mind as preserved in texts written in hieroglyphic and hieratic, reflecting changes in attitude and world view resulting from internal and external social and historical factors. Extensive endnotes make up for the lack of a formal bibliography. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries. Edward K. Werner, St. Lucie Cty. Lib. Syst., Ft. Pierce, FL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. vii
Introduction: The Meaningful Form of Historyp. 1
Part 1 The Predynastic Period and the Old Kingdom
1. The Beginningsp. 27
2. The Old Kingdomp. 46
Part 2 The First Intermediate Period
3. Historical Outlinep. 81
4. Tracesp. 86
5. Messagesp. 93
6. Memoriesp. 106
Part 3 The Middle Kingdom
7. Historical Outlinep. 117
8. State, Script, Education: Despotism Illuminated from Withinp. 121
9. The Politicization of Connective Justicep. 135
10. Wrath and Love: The Two Faces of Power and the Rhetoric of Decisionp. 143
11. The Foundation of Connective Justice in the Hereafter: The Judgment of the Deadp. 157
12. The Two Worlds and the Language of Despairp. 169
13. Representation, Mediacy, the "Riven World," and the Problem of Evilp. 183
Part 4 The New Kingdom
14. Historical Outlinep. 197
15. Cosmotheism as a Form of Knowledgep. 204
16. Akhenaten's Revolutionp. 214
17. Personal Piety and the Theology of Willp. 229
18. Ramesses II and the Battle of Qadeshp. 247
19. Changing the Structure of the Pastp. 272
20. The Decline of the New Kingdomp. 280
Part 5 Theocracy, Polyarchy, Archaism
21. Tanis and Thebes: The Age of Divisionp. 287
22. Libyan Polyarchy and the State of Napatap. 312
23. Memory and Renewal: The Ethiopian and Saite Renaissancep. 335
Part 6 Egypt under the Persians and Greeks
24. Historical Outlinep. 367
25. The Demotic Chronicle and the Political Messianism of the Late Periodp. 377
26. The Cultural Construction of Otherness: Trauma and Phobiap. 389
27. Re-Membering Osirisp. 409
Conclusion: Egypt as Trace, Message, and Memoryp. 421
Abbreviationsp. 435
Notesp. 437
Chronologyp. 477
Key to the Egyptian Godsp. 485
Indexp. 487