A Tentative Preface for Work in Progress in 2017,
“Egyptian Light and Hebrew Fire” revisited
Following years of preparation – some spent faint-heartedly and some full of enthusiasm -- the book, Egyptian Light and Hebrew Fire was accepted by the State University of New York Press (SUNY) for publication, in 1991. For this help I will remain forever grateful. The book was kept in circulation into the early years of the new century. But then it went out of print and died an official death. According to the contract that was in force, the rights reverted to the author. I placed some sections of the book on my website as a stop-gap measure, for a meager chance of survival. Inquiries about the availability of the book persisted. And all the while I was not willing to let the year 1991 remain the apex of my learning and my labors.
The year is now 2016, and during the interim a number of points affecting our knowledge of the history of religions have been learned -- which now do call for a revision and an expansion of my 1991 views. Over the course of twenty-three years I had been recommending Egyptian Light and Hebrew Fire… as my best formulation of the brand of “history of religions” that I was able to teach. All the while, people who continue writing books into old age, prove increasingly that they are finite beings. And finite beings do change. I have been given the opportunity to rethink this book more than a quarter of a century longer. The work has begun to show some wear and tear, some crackled logic here and there. It calls for a fresh synopsis of what I now believe to have happened in the evolution of Western cultures and religions -- to the extent that any historical change can be grasped by creatures with minds like ours.
Humanity did not begin with ancient Egypt. It did not begin in accordance with any story about human origins that anyone now living has heard of. Ultimately, all things began, somehow, at the beginning of anything and everything – that is, at the beginning of all the realities together among which we now dwell and have our being. The matter of those other realities also “matters” in us.
In 1995, at Goebekli Tepe in eastern Anatolia, diligent archaeologists have lifted the curtain on the prehistory of present-day civilizations. In the year 2011, finally, the news about Goebekli Tepe came to my attention, and it dawned on me instantly that my historian’s perception of five-thousand-plus years of civilization had just been doubled to about twelve thousand years of apparently “civilizational” monument construction. This archaeological site, in eastern Anatolia, scored some five to six millennia beyond the age of Stonehenge.
Within hours of reading about the ancient hunter temples at Goebekli Tepe, I began searching the archaeological records. Nine months later I visited this most ancient site to see the data with my own eyes. Before I arrived in eastern Anatolia I had already begun to sketch my next evolutionary book: Stone Age Religion at Goebekli Tepe. It was published two years later, in 2013. Now it can be read in four languages -- English, German, Turkish, and Chinese.
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Up to the year 2013, my 1991 book Egyptian Light and Hebrew Fire represented my best personal introduction to the history of religions field. This is how I have been introducing that subject matter through the years. But this book had gone out of print about a decade before “Stone Age Religion” could be written or published. On that account it was necessary, in 2013, to reintroduce my basic methodology and orientation as an introduction to the Goebekli Tepe volume, in chapters Ten through Twelve. A ten-thousand-year-old Stone Age religion could not be introduced without similar basic introductory thoughts. These three chapters are therefore made available at the “History of Religions Menu-Page” of this website, at point 2013 in the menu-sequence.
This recent methodological formulation would over time probably have displaced my older similar Introduction in Egyptian Light and Hebrew Fire, without causing much confusion. However, as it happened, the Egyptian volume also contained a number of slightly defective impressions of my thinking from earlier years which, after the discovery of Goebekli Tepe, no longer should be left standing. I have accepted the challenge of doing a revision of the earlier work. With ancient Egypt and ancient Mesopotamia not being the oldest megalithic civilizations anymore, as they were still regarded in 1991, my interpretations regarding Heliopolitan theology have lost their focus. Nevertheless, most of what I have written about my pre-1911 perspective does seem to be still valid. But fresh insights pertaining to the prehistory of Egypt, published in 2013, must now be integrated into the materials. We are now more aware of the fact, that before there was a religion of “Light” in Egypt, at Heliopolis, there prevailed turmoil, gloom and darkness—perhaps causing light to be noticed all the more brightly, later. It was the dark side of hunter and killer cultures that reasserted itself and spread. Civilizational imbalances (darkness) have evoked a number of universalistic movements of “salvation religion” to spread from the Near East. Hints of darker prehistories of cultural transition, which gave us Near Eastern civilizations, have now been added to our historical data. And these data must be reconsidered in the context of our general awareness of human evolution in general.
By the same token, whatever Egyptian history there might have been, that affected Hebrew storytelling about original contacts with Egypt, needs also to be clarified in light of what has been learned. All the shortcomings that together I find in my quarter-century-old book on Egypt, seem to whisper that the time for a revised and expanded edition has come.
I will not try to make my introductions conform to statements that I have recently composed for Stone Age Religion at Goebekli Tepe. Nothing that I ever have written about my research has become a norm for myself. I hope to revisit my earlier words and grammatical formulations to clarify Egyptian Light and Hebrew Fire, to obtain perhaps a little more historical depth and better contrast. I will, of course, add any worthwhile thought that comes to mind, regardless of whether or not it does agree with earlier statements. I will not try to protect any recent formulations in the Goebekli Tepe volume. Over time, both books will speak for themselves. They will provide stimulation for rethinking and, thereby, reveal their own shortcomings without extra efforts on my part.