4. Idea For A Universal History

   

 
 
Egypt: A Synchronous 'Axial' Effect 

  

Section 4.4.2




 
World History 
And The Eonic Effect

Civilization, Darwinism, And Theories of Evolution
4th Edition
The Book
By  John Landon

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 CHAPTERS:
 

 

 
 

 
4. Idea For A Universal History  
    4.1 A Short History of The World  
       4.1.1 The Modern Turn: Looking Backward          
    4.2 Big Histories, Universal Histories  
       4.2.1 In Search of The Big Bang 
       4.2.2 From Life's Origin to The Dawn of Human Culture  
    4.3 Neolithic Beginnings  
       4.3.1 Fields of Diffusion  
       4.3.2 Genesis of the Great Religions 
       4.3.3 The Tower of Babel           
   4.4 Egypt, Sumer and The 'Rise of Civilization'  
      4.4.1 Sumer and The Cuneiform Civilization
      4.4.2 Egypt: A Synchronous 'Axial' Effect
NOTES  
   4.5 From Akkad to The Assyrians...and Israel...  
      4.5.1 The Indo-European Migrations 
      4.5.2 The Curse of Mideonic Empire 

Next: 
 5. Symphony of Emergence

 
  
        

    World History And The Eonic Effect: Fourth Edition

     4.4.2 Egypt: A Synchronous 'Axial' Effect 

 

The great civilization of Egypt emerges and crystallizes rapidly, and then stabilizes for the remainder of the epoch, a direct indication of the dynamics of the eonic sequence. The great pyramid age with which Egyptian history is associated in our minds climaxes early in the fourth dynasty period and is soon over. These projects are ambiguous: do they represent the onset of slavery, or is this period still animated with the enthusiastic participation of a willing population? Whatever the case, by the end of the Egyptian age the rigor mortis of theocratic despotism will have become the object of a Mosaic myth of liberation. The saga of Egypt begins with the unification of the Upper and Lower kingdoms dead center in the interval marked as one of our transitions, and this symbolism will persist throughout the whole of the Egyptian era, as will the mystique of the divine Pharaoh.

Eonic Effects It is impossible to grasp this history without the discrete-continuous interpretation seen in the eonic effect. That Egypt spends most of its history in decline is at first impossible to grasp, but an immediate insight given our perspective on ‘eonic effects’, or phenomena.

The rise of the Dynastic Pharaohs is spectacular, and a new form is set for millennia. The lopsided history of the Pyramid Age in the early third, followed by discontinuation, is an obvious clue. Many archaeologists have remarked on the speed of emergence of higher civilization, i.e. our transition, and in fact the phenomenon of thresholding is obvious from the contrast of scales, before and after, especially in the case of Egypt. From its modest Predynastic period, the phenomenon of the Egyptian civilization that we know rises from the desert into its monumental grandeur. And then stops. Very early on the momentum of innovation freezes as Egyptian civilization becomes set:

5500 to 3100 BCE: the Predynastic period

3300 to 3000: statistical region of ‘transitional interval’, in the eonic model

3300 to 3100: Late Gerzean

3100?:  Unification of Upper and Lower Egypt by Menes/Aha

3100 to 2700: Early Dynastic period

2700 to 2140: Old Kingdom

2180 to 2130: First Intermediate period

2130 to 1785: Middle Kingdom

1785 to 1550: Second Intermediate period

1550 to 1080: New Kingdom

1080 to 664: Third Intermediate period

664   to 332:  Saite, then Late period, ending in Ptolemaic[i]

This history gives almost perfect expression to existence within an epoch, beginning with a transitional interval, the creation of a new civilization within the confines of the world of the Nile, its beginning, middle and end, and passing away or dissolution at the next stage of the eonic sequence as the center of gravity of development moves to a new location. In a way, Egypt is misleading since our tale is not about civilizations, but transitions, and their oikoumenes and diffusion fields, and it is unique in the way its isolation creates a world or civilization unto itself. Our perspective is perfectly adaptable in that case. As we examine the Sumerian transition we see that the ‘civilization’ is an oikoumene with ‘Sumerian’ traces in a field of multiple distinct cultures, a kind of generalized ‘cuneiform’ civilization with the soon forgotten Sumer’s innovations always in the background.

 As noted, the world of Sumer, perhaps quite properly, lacked any kind of centralized organization, and as with the Greek city states reaped the fruits of diversity and innovation even as the lack of unity generated conflict and the pressure toward empire. Egypt by contrast was in many ways the world’s first nation state, and the beginning of its drama lies in the unification of Lower and Upper Egypt by Pharaoh Narmer (who may also be the same as Aha) around -3150. This unification is recorded in the so-called Narmer Palette showing the triumph of the first national Pharoah, and this emblematic token almost resembles the American bald eagle in the enduring significance of its symbolism for an entire epoch.

It was the later Egyptian-Greek historian Manetho who first wrote down a chronicle of the history of Egypt , in the process setting the tradition of thinking of Egyptian history in terms of dynasties. The first two dynasties, called the Thinite by Manetho, from 3150 to 2700 BCE, should induce caution, since we know very little about them, and yet they represent the first realization period of the equally obscure transition interval. The majestic period of the Great Pyramids starting in the Fourth Dynasty might already show signs of deviation from the initial essential tone of the beginning period.[ii]

3300 to 3000 BCE:  statistical region of eonic transition

3100 to 2890:  Archaic period

3100 to 2890:  Dynasty 1, Menes/Namer (Aha)

2890 to 2696:  Dynasty 2

2696 to 2181:  Old Kingdom

2686 to 2613:  Dynasty 3, Djoser

2613 to 2498:  Dynasty 4, Snefru, Khufu, the Pyramid age

 This periodization fits our eonic sequence very well indeed, but we should like a lot more information about the era just before and after the unification, since this is when we suspect the primordial innovations and relative transformations in culture, economy and religion are occurring that will fret an entire era to come. We should note the way in which our ‘epochs’ tend to fall into beginnings, middle and end, followed by the onset of a new transitional phase. The Archaic and Old Kingdoms hold the momentum of the transition, and then after that the history of Egypt is a kind of equilibrium after punctuation that remains relatively unchanged until the end. And we can see that while the disastrous fall into a Dark Age characteristic of the next cycle in Europe is not present in this case, the reality at several points comes close at a number of points.

Egyptian religion hides many secrets, and we can only throw up our hands when we encounter the later term ‘hermetica’ to describe the remnants of this religious complex as its fragments float down the ‘Nile of History’ as they are dispersed in the wake of the Axial Age to come in the next epoch. That Axial Age will recreate a new era of religion as a veil of ignorance and amnesia descends over the previous stage. And yet we can see that something, we are never quite sure what, has filtered into the later monotheism of the Israelites, to say nothing of the polytheism of the Greeks. And we can surely detect the echoes of this great and mysterious tradition of Egyptian religion in the proliferation of Gnosticisms that interact with and become visible in the period of the crystallization of Christianity. There are of course two streams of influence, two great diffusion fields, and the sage of Abraham leaving the Sumerian city of Ur in a migration to Canaan must be matched with the myths of Moses in Egypt .

It is difficult, if not impossible, for the modern mind, if it is conditioned to reductionist scientism, to make any headway with the at first preposterous character of Egyptian religious forms. The preoccupation with death and the afterlife might seem excessive to the point of abnormality, but is this fair? It might help to consider the legacy of Tibetan Buddhism with its Book of the Dead, to match that of the Egyptian, to suspect the hidden meanings behind the elaborate and labyrinthine rituals of this more ‘primitive’ stage of world of the pilgrims of Egypt. One thing is clear, which is that our modern scientific skepticism, which we should not relinquish, should not blind us to the harmonic overtones of profundity that hide behind and match the outer forms of popular belief. Otherwise we should underestimate this legacy, and as equally fail to see that behind the outlandish extravagance of Egyptian polytheism, so misleading on the surface, lies one of the sources of the monotheism to come in the next era of our eonic history. The story of Moses is a giveaway in that regard, and is really a myth of diffusion.

 We see that this double emergence Sumer and Egypt is structurally similar to that of the Axial Age with its synchronous effect, the same trick in a more inchoate form. These two civilizations will set the tone for an entire epoch to come and will be the generative sources in the lineage of civilizations until the next step in our sequence in the Axial period 2400 years later

The Egyptian Sidewinder There is a kind of mainline to our eonic sequence, here Sumer, and a set of sidewinders, so obvious in the Axial period. The case of the sidewinder Egypt can be understood by analogy with the Axial Age, where Rome, India and China, etc, pop into the eonic sequence and become sidewinder streams, and remembering that the eonic effect shows intermittent sequence, and (often) synchronous emergence in the phase of transition. Consider China or India in the Axial Age. Isolated, they suddenly ping in echo to the Axial concert. All other interactions are by diffusion, before and after the Axial global convulsion. The eonic sequence finds a mainline in the Greek/Israelite frontier transitions, but India and China suddenly show relative emergence in an Axial echo as sidewinders to the mainline. China, far away and isolated, is still in the diffusion field of the earlier era and is ready for the relative beginning overlaid on its stream evolution. Something similar is obviously evident in Egypt, which has a parallel gestation in the diffusion field of the Neolithic, then suddenly shows synchronous take-off in concert with Sumer.

Roman/American Sidewinders Two other later notable sidewinders, that show the effect, are the Roman republic’s emergentism, that arises in tandem with the farflung field of Greek city states stretching even into Italy and with their many republican experiments, and the American which becomes an instant adjunct to the English transition, then near its divide suddenly becomes a full-blown core transition area at the end of the eighteenth century. The North American field is really a flow zone for the English transition, and the relationship of small to large region is no accident.

This is not textbook teleology! The sudden appearance of side bets next to to the mainline of the eonic sequence has the clear effect of increasing the overall potential of the system. Despite the confusing appearance, this tandem effect in Sumer/Egypt is thus suddenly recognizable, and completely isomorphic to the case of the Axial Age. There is also every possibility of direct diffusion of many Egyptian elements, e.g. hieroglyphic writing. But these technological loans, if any, can’t explain the autonomous integrated cultural advance perfectly correlated with high-level eonic periodization. Such complex integrations don’t diffuse. Note that in this kind of mechanism, sidewinders can seem to skip a stage. This splitting of streams shows us there is no unique mainline, and also shows a more efficient way to accelerate development toward globalization  as the eonic sequence splits and jumpstarts sidewinders that have had good prior diffusion. It is worth keeping this point in mind if the impulse to indulge in facile teleological thinking arises. The baton passes very quixotically between civilizations and always resurfaces in a new frontier zone.

The Pyramid Age….

Slavery: a suspicion As we study the rise of civilization we see that slavery is not a normal or standard phase of civilization but a deviation of the mideonic eras as a pathology of civilization. The condition becomes endemic and persistent, but the reality is that micro-action deviates from the mainline over time, and we must notice that the corrective comes from the mainline: the eonic emergence of abolition in the modern transition.

The Great Pyramids: a test case? A false kind of unconscious teleological thinking often enters into our thinking about slavery. We have a feeling that it was an inevitable stage of civilization, that the amount of labor involved required this as a sacrifice of the ages, or an inevitable condition of man prior to the liberation of the Industrial Revolution. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking even permeates the assumptions of Karl Marx whose theories of historical materialism are affected by it, as he stripped his system of all forms of ‘sentimental idealism’. It is thus remarkable to consider the very early example set by the building of the Great pyramids, which were not built by slaves but a kind of conscript labor or corvee, as with military service in later societies. This instance puts to shame the later emergence of the slave institutions as degenerations of elite exploitation, not stages of techno-economy, and is a liberation from the implicit cynicism of too much elite legitimation of the forms of economic domination as forms of historical inevitability.[iii]

The early phase of Egyptian civilization seems to have been able to integrate its labor force into a cultural project that clearly declined later into the kind of despotic system so common later (and as portrayed, millennia later, in the Mosaic myths of the exploited Israelites in Egypt). It is staggering to consider the alternate history of civilization in which all its monumental projects were constructed without slave labor. Thus another brand of Marxist protest might be that elites corrupt the gifts of the eonic sequence, and move to destroy free labor. We consider this kind of idealistic view impossible, but the Egyptian case suggests otherwise.

This example should also remind us that the action on two levels in our eonic model is crucial for our understanding. Macro-action and micro-action intersect and diverge, leaving a confusing situation where ‘touching the ideal’ contrasts with the mideonic deviations of ‘history as usual’. It also points to the reality, that without the ‘eonic feedback’ process, generating a new direction, the stream of free action is all too liable to produce degenerations. And it is important to consider that later Greek civilization is both a slave society and the source of a first democratic experiment, the birthplace of the idea of freedom. How do we explain this contradiction? There could be no better example of a schizophrenic system operating on two levels simultaneously. Even as slavery (relatively mild in the Archaic period) takes hold and becomes institutionalized the future is being seeded during the transition with a solution, a new idea, a seed planted for the future, one that will die out after the Axial interval and yet recur in the next phase of the sequence.  

This transitional effect is just as visible by its contrast with what follows and can also be seen by zooming out and looking at the long periods after the transitions: The plateau stability or even fall-off is suddenly obvious, especially in Egypt, where the lack of cultural innovation after ca. -2000 haunts its history to the end. Even if we can’t close on rich data at the level of decades to find a divide, we can see the obvious high level fact that the whole system descends a step and never recovers, whether we call that medievalism or not. Thus,

Mideonic Slowdown As Cyril Aldred notes of Egypt, the institutions of kingship remained ‘frozen at the moment’ of their creation, while the first four dynasties essentially created the forms of the entire Egyptian civilization, “as soon as a solution had been sanctioned…there was no further development.” Much of the Egypt with which we are familiar is from a much later stage. It is thus easy to spot in broad outline the basic factor of relative transformation.[iv]

Egypt is often said to be one of the first of the ‘religious’ cultures visible later in the Hebraic and Indic traditions. Or so many have said. We should undoubtedly explore this idea, and, finally, vigorously reject such a distinction. And later reject it as vigorously in the case of India and ‘Israel’, although not with quite the ‘grim determination towards economic facts’ as the historical materialist. And yet this religious dimension is very real, and now very difficult for us to understand. This factor is overrated and underrated by all students. How depict such a primitive cream puff of Paleolithic religious nonsense as esoteric? Actually, that confusion is part of the charm of the beguiling Egyptian nexus, whose mystery we still fail to understand. This civilization will fool you. It seems rather that we see, on the outer level, an element of the theocratic in the creation of an integrated population, almost the first nation-state. And religion is one of its keynotes. But the considerable imputation of esoteric mysteries to what is obviously, to use our stream and sequence language, the sudden amplication of a Neolithic stream religion, and in many ways primitive, religious legacy, is the more obvious explanation. This legacy nonetheless develops a mysterious esotericism, which will spring from behind the exterior of its religious forms to resurface in many strange places, from the Greek mystery cults, to the Gnostic traditions of the coming age of monotheism. It is important to acknowledge this dimension of Egyptian civilization, and yet to be wary of the near plague of speculative Egyptology that has produced an imaginary Egypt. This aura arises because men of great consciousness can exist in a state of primitive knowledge. This confusion arises over and over again in our history. In any case, the flotsam of religious Egypt, ‘hermetica’, has confused later times, and the secret of the Egyptians remains as mysterious as ever. The coming tale of Moses will betray this secret side of Egypt, although the resulting saga is more Hollywood than history, and the period of Egypt in question far later, and already quite in decline.

The primitive grandeur of civilization arriving in stone is the better tale here of what seems an experiment in theocratic monarchy, and the first true case of ‘state integration’ of a whole people, this next to the more diffuse case of the Sumerians, with their bright beginning in a matrix of city-states, so soon to pass away into empire. If our periodization is correct, then something is going to be lost early and the period after the rough divide ca. -3000 might show almost immediately the characteristic deviations of mideonic civilization in action. This is clearly enough from both zones of our eonic sequence, Sumer and Egypt. We might thus miscalculate the Pyramid Age which might already show the beginnings of decline from an unknown and invisible peak.

Our data warns us that even as Egyptian history starts to become visible it might already be a departure from its initial conditions. We simply do not know, we can’t quite detect the ‘relative transforms’ that token the sudden onset of micro-action. However, the initial period, the first ‘third’, of the Pyramid Age surely gives us the rough idea. But we can see social mechanization setting in fairly rapidly, and it may be that the gigantism of the Great Pyramids is already a distortion of the basic ‘tuning’. In any case, the question of the labor force that constructed the Pyramids has produced a debate, and some probably false conclusions about slavery in Egypt. It seems rather that the classic first case of social state integration produced a willing labor force without slavery, in the form of a kind of corvee, or conscript labor.  

 

    Notes

   Web:  chap4_4_2.htm

 

[i] Michael Hoffman, Egypt Before The Pharaohs (New York: Knopft, 1979), p. 15.

[ii] Nicolas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1992).

[iii] Bob Brier & Jean Pierre Houdin, The Secret of the Great Pyramid: How One Man’s Obsession Led to the Solution to Egypt’s Greatest Mystery (New York: HarperCollins, 2008), Kevin Jackson & Jonathan Stamp, Building The Great Pyramid (Toronto: Firefly Books, 2003).

[iv] Cyril Aldred, Egypt to the End of the Old Kingdom (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965), p. 52.

 

 
 


 

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Last modified: 09/23/2010