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Rage and the Word:

Gilgamesh, Akhenaten, Moses and the

Birth of the Metaphysical Age

John David Ebert

2014 John David Ebert

All rights reserved

Post Egoism Media | Eugene,Oregon

I would like to thank the following individuals for help with this manuscript: Darryl Cooper,
J.D. Casten, Michael Aaron Kamins and John Lobell.

Table of Contents

Preface on a Broken Torso

Part One:
Gilgamesh and Akhenaten
at the Edge of History
Cultural Terrariums

How Gilgamesh Became the Lord of the Dead

Our Two-Fold Origin
The Bull of Heaven
The Death and Burial of Enkidu
Exodus and Wandering
The Pearl

Akhenaten and the Birth of Monotheism

Egyptian Theology: A Primer
The Truth Event
The City of the Sun God
What Was Missing
The End of the Beginning of Monotheism

Concluding Remarks to Part One

Part Two:
The Three Great Monotheisms
Dark Age
The Event

Moses, Architect of a New Cultural Biosphere

Theological Embryogenesis
The Hebrew Avatar
The Accident of History

Rage and the Word

The Interiorization of God
Pious Fraud
The Final Glimpse


Preface on a Broken Torso

The following work is only the fragment of what remains from a larger work on the history of
Western religious systems, a sort of broken torso minus head and legs, perhaps, but which,
nonetheless, if properly arranged in a glass case, can still function on its own. I began work on it in
2010 after a friend of mine connected me to a New York literary agent who suggested that I write
something about the dialogue between religion and science for him that he could then show around to
the New York houses. But after I sent him the first few chapters, this agent (who shall remain
nameless) said to me: You know, John, I dont sense a bestseller here. Well, of course, neither did
I, for the idea that I was to be writing for him a trashy bestseller along the lines of a Malcolm
Gladwell or Daniel Pinchbeck book was news to me. I told him to go fuck himself, more or less, and
stopped working on the manuscript after writing the three chapters on Gilgamesh, Akhenaten and
Moses which follow.
The book was to have been a longer text that would have continued by exploring Christ and
Mohammad, and then contrasting the architects of the Western religious worldview with those of its
great scientific architects, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein. An old-fashioned
project, perhaps, but it might have been interesting nevertheless.
However, the broken torso of a book as it now stands does function as a kind of self-contained
prologue to the metaphysical age, and it can be read as such. The Axial Age described by Karl
Jaspers in his 1949 book The Origin and Goal of History began at 500 BC, but as these essays show,
I think that 1300 BC might then be regarded as a key period of prologue in which the basic archetypes
of discontent with the state religions of decaying world empires is examined. Todays great world
religions, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism, are the direct inheritors of the life histories of the
three great minds of Gilgamesh (or at least, his Babylonian editor / poet), Akhenaten and Moses.
Not a bestseller?
But a readable book?
I leave that for the reader to judge for himself (or herself), as the case may be.

Part One:
Gilgamesh and Akhenaten
at the Edge of History

The parents of Hebraic civilization were, of course, Mesopotamia and Egypt.

Fitting, therefore, that we should begin with a glance at the life stories of Gilgameshwho was,
after all, a real historical rulerand the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten. In the one case, the life of the
real, three dimensional Gilgamesh has dissolved into shadow, his existence having inscribed itself in
Western memory only as a figure out of myth and legend, a two-dimensional figure that is flatter and
more iconic, yet somehow, more real than the real Gilgamesh ever was. In the case of Akhenaten, we
have not mythology, but biography, although it is a very thin, insubstantial biography constructed by
archaeologists out of traces and shadows of his existence, for if the Egyptians had had their way, the
real Akhenaten would have been effaced from the worlds memory altogether. In both cases, then, we
are dealing with shades: ghostly and ephemeral figures whose existence is more subtle and mental
than physical.
They will, though, hold the place of functions in our narrative; those, mainly, of Father
Mesopotamia and Mother Egypt, the cultural progenitors of Hebraic civilization, an affiliation which
the Hebrews themselves preserved in the two shadowy figures of Abraham and Moses; Abraham,
who originated in the city of the moon god Sin, the ancient city of Ur, who connects the Hebrews to
Mesopotamia, while Moses, the man with the Egyptian name, who spent most of his life growing up
in ancient Mishrias the Babylonians called itpreserves the thread of linkage connecting the
prehistoric Habiru with Egypt. Thus, before excavating the origins of the three great monotheisms of
Judaism, Christianity and Islam, it will help us to look back first at the final religious developments
that took place during the terminal phases of this first generation of civilization, as Arnold Toynbee
called these early societies.
The genesis of Mesopotamia is a long and turbulent flow that pours across the valleys of
Natufian Palestine and up over the hills of the Taurus Mountains that gave birth, around 6000 BC to
the Halafian civilization, and then on down to the dry, alluvial flood plains of riverrine Mesopotamia
where, with the emergence of the Samarrans, the earliest origins of the Sumerian people themselves
may be discerned eking out a living by digging canalsthe worlds firstinto the muddy ground in
order to channel, and direct, the flow of waters from out of Mother Earth. If civilization, as Deleuze
and Guattari pointed out, is largely based upon the coding and controlling of flows of all kinds, then
the very first flow that made this proto-civilization possible was that of water: coded, dammed,
dyked, blocked and channeled, the emerging Paul Klee pattern of gridded fieldsa reticulated
geometry of ragged squares and irregular rectangles--in time soon carved history out of nature, and by
3500 BC the Event of Civilization had transpired.
In Egypt, the pattern was largely the same, only instead of Two Rivers, there was one river and
Two Lands: the Red Land of the desert and the Black Land of the fertile soils along the Nile river, a
pattern reiterated geographically in the dichotomy presented by Upper Egypt (the god Set) and Lower
Egypt (Horus). The ancient, millennial clash of these two gods and their lands ground up between
them the figure of Osiris as the muddy river god whose broken, mangled body decayed into the

flooding waters and gave rise to the first green shoots from out of the black soils. Egypt, then, was a
machine run by two pistons: the back and forth passing along the eastern horizon, from Horus to Set
and back again, of the Eye of the Sunmediated by Thoth, the god of the balance and judge of the
By the time when Babylonian scribes were impressing clay tablets with the story of Gilgamesh,
these two civilizations were already incredibly ancient: huge withered trunks lying across the land,
slowly crumbling into the mud and silt of the river waters that perennially washed away their effluvia
into the dim and distant basin of Times vast canal. By the middle of the second millennium BC,
Mesopotamia had been exhausted of its spiritual and cultural possibilities, and Egypt, too, was in
process of petrifying into the final, stiffened form of Empire. Gilgamesh and Akhenaten were merely
brief moments of spiritual incandescence that illuminated from within the hollow shells of these
decrepit societies with a fugitive burst of luminous shadows that soon fell silent once again.
Gilgameshthe literary Gilgamesh, that iswas a universal hero of the Near Eastern
imagination admired by almost all of its peoples, for copies of the Epic have been found amongst the
Hittites, the Hurrians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Canaanites, etc. His popularity was
enormous: the fact that he was, in essence, a god of the dead, patron spirit of the cult of the ancestors
and the shades of the underworld notwithstanding. Mesopotamian civilization signs off, in other
words, with a god of the dead as its supreme literaryand also religiouscreation.
Egypt, on the other hand, with the pharaoh Akhenaten and his rejection of the suns nocturnal
journey through the world beneath the earth, signs off with a cult that explicitly rejects the realm of the
dead and the afterlife altogether. Of course, this was not a permanent situation, for after Akhenatens
passing, Egypt reverted back to its impossibly ancient cults of the dead, with an even greater
profusion of afterlife cults and manuals than ever before. Nevertheless, by that point, it had produced
a religious mutant who had manifested a cultural paradox which had negated its own cult of the dead
and, as the Austrian philosopher Franz Borkenau pointed out, was a harbinger of things to come, for
with the advent of the Hebrews and the Greeks, interest in the afterlife would begin to wane.
Akhenaten, with his visionary imagination, had already foreseen what was coming.
Cultural Terrariums
But one of the primary concerns of this book is the issue of cultural terrariums: that is to say, of
what it means for a people to live in or without a particular cultural macrosphere, to borrow a term
from the contemporary German theoretician Peter Sloterdijk. And so the attentive reader should,
ideally anyway, keep his eye on the processes whereby these great cultural creators demolish and
continually rebuild new cultural habitatsthe civilizational equivalents of Crystal Palacesas
bounding and containing environments for the human being-in-the-world. For the human being, as
Heidegger pointed out, is never simply in the world, but always exists within it in a certain, very
particular way.
Civilizations, in other words, are like macro-scale fish tanks which have been designed along
certain very specific cosmological principles as special containers within which the human can exist
as a kind of organism on display in a particular habitat suited to an epochal idea of his mode of being-

Gilgamesh, for instance, as we will see, becomes troubled, not just by the problem of death, but
by the failure of the design of the city of Uruk to meet the needs of the human-being-aware-ofmortality as a certain kind of extant entity. The new kind of human being whose advent he represents
he is the forerunner of the type of Axial Age savior later incarnated in the Buddha, Christ, Lao Tzu,
Pythagoras, etc.has attained a different kind of anguished awareness of the problem of death, an
awareness whose needs can simply no longer be met by the old-fashioned goddess religion of ancient
Uruk. A religion of whores and transvestites now seems trivial and unimportant to him in the face of
this new awareness of Death and so he leaves the terrarium of Uruk behind and goes out into the
cosmos where he discovers the lineaments of an entirely new and different kind of terrarium, one that
is grounded in macrocosmic alignments and astronomical imagery. Once this new kind of cosmos-ashuman-zoo has been discovered, he returns to the city of Uruk to demolish its walls and rebuild them,
and the temples which they contained and protected, in accordance with the new cosmic groundplan.
Likewise, with Akhenaten: the birth of a new religion of the sun god requires him to leave the
old terrarium of the city of Thebes behind and rebuild an entirely new one as a city in the desert with
roofless temples that are open and exposed to the sky. Thus, in his new ground plan, the sky is
integrated into the city-as-terrarium in a way that had not been the case before, and a new intimacy
with the sun god is thereby attained on the part of the mortal human being.
Later in our narrative, the challenge of Moses will be similar, for it will be his primary task to
redesign for the Hebrews an entirely new cosmic container based on new principles in which the
human beings existence as the subject of a single, portable deity must be taken into account.
Thus, one of the main subtexts of our narrative will be an examination of how the human being is
to live within the world in certain very particular artificial environments that are designed by new
religions as ground plans that lay out the blueprints for how he will exist. The city as World, as
artificial World, that is, becomes a key component in understanding the function of how religion
works and how it differs in this respect from the Scientific Civilizationin which the city becomes,
not a World, but a Machine--that will later come to displace it.
But for now, we are firmly embedded in the middle of the second millennium BC, where a
certain spiritual restlessness is beginning to settle over the land, and a certain king is gazing out from
his vantage point atop the mud brick walls of the very city which he had built with his own hands,
watching as the desert sun melts into the horizon, liquefying into a gold pool at the edge of the world.

How Gilgamesh Became the Lord of the Dead

Thy will be done on earth,
As it is in Heaven
--Matthew 6:10
The Babylonian Osiris
The earliest version of the Gilgamesh Epic that we possess dates back to the Old Babylonian
period of about the 18th century BC. This is precisely the time in which Biblical scholars used to
situate the existence of Abraham, identifying king Amraphel of Genesis 14 with Hammurabi of
Babylon (c. 1792 1750 BC). Nowadays, however, Abraham is regarded as an invention of the
eighth century BC, a local chieftain, perhaps, of the city of Hebron in Palestine whose legend was
promoted following the citys annexation by Idumea, as a token of commonality offered to the
population of the South by the people of Jerusalem.1
In ancient Egypt, meanwhile, the 18th century was a period of disintegration, the time of the
collapse of the 12th Dynasty and the end of the Middle Kingdom (the last of the pyramids had, not too
long before, been completed under Amenemhat III [1860 1814 BC], who built two of them, at
Hawara and Dahshur); in Mesopotamia, on the other hand, it was a time of great expansion, the rise of
the Babylonian Empire of Hammurabi the Great.
Abraham and his kin, as the Bible narrates, originated from the city of Ur, the city whose patron
deity was the moon god Sin,2 and migrated north to Haran, a major city of the Indo-Aryan-speaking
Mitanni. It was in Haran that Abram, as his name then was, first heard the call of his god El Shaddai
(Lord of the mountain), who commanded him to travel south to Canaan, where this godapparently
a brand new one--promised to give his descendants this land. Abrams act of obedience in setting
out for Canaan is the first explicit such act in the Genesis narrative since Adams original sin of
disobedience in the Garden, and it is an act that begins to restore mankindor perhaps just the
Habiruto a path of realignment with the Divine Plan.
Gilgamesh, however, had been an actual king who had ruled early in the First Dynasty of the city
of Uruk sometime around the year 2700 BC, a city located just to the north of Ur, and one of the most
ancient in the world. Indeed, writing was invented in this city sometime around 3500 BC, and there is
a cycle of legends which attributes its invention to Gilgameshs grandfather, a king named Enmerkar, a
man who was directly descended from the sun god Utu, for Enmerkars father was Meskiaggasher,
whose father, in turn, was Utu. Thus, Gilgamesh, the son of Enmerkars son Lugalbanda, was directly
descended from a dynasty of solar kings in the city of Uruk, whose patron gods of old had been Inanna

the goddess of the planet Venusand An, the god of the pole star.
We dont know much about the real Gilgameshin the Sumerian language, his name was
Bilgamesbut we do know that he lived at about the same time as the royalty of the First Dynasty
of nearby Ur were being buried in their famous Royal Tombs discovered by Sir Leonard Woolley in
the 1920s. Indeed, in a Sumerian tale known as The Death of Bilgames, he too is shown being
buried in a lavish tomb adorned with rare treasures, a tomb that, according to the poem, was located
beneath the river Euphrates, which had to be dammed and moved aside for the purpose.
In this same story, it is told that the gods decided to award Bilgames a special role in the
underworld, for not only was he descended from a goddesshis mother was the cow goddess Lady
Ninsunbut he had performed a series of amazing adventures that had left an impression upon the
gods, as they explain to him:
In the assembly, the place of [the gods] ceremonial,
[the lord] Bilgames [having] drawn [nigh,]
they said to him, the lord [Bilgames, on his account:]
Your matterhaving traveled each and every road,
having fetched that unique cedar down from its mountain,
having smitten Huwawa in his forest,
having set up monuments for future days,
having founded temples of the gods,
you reached Ziusudra in his abode!
The rites of Sumer, forgotten since the distant days of old,
the rituals and customsit was you brought them down to the land.3
As the result of his mighty adventures, and especially the one concerning his quest for
immortality that took him to the abode of the original Sumerian flood hero Ziusudra, the gods awarded
him the role of the judge of the dead in the underworld. In other words, they made him a god, as the
poem says:
Bilgames, in the form of his ghost, dead in the underworld,
shall be the governor of the Netherworld, chief of the shades!
He will pass judgement, he will render verdicts,
what he says will be as weighty as the word of Ningishzida and Dumuzi.4
Gilgamesh became, then, a sort of Babylonian Osiris, for within about a century of his death, he
was already being worshipped as a god of the dead. By about 2400 BC, at the city of Girsu, funerary
offerings were being made to dead rulers at a locality called The Riverbank of Gilgamesh.5 And
when, in the Sumerian poem known as The Death of Ur-Nammu, that ruler is described as
journeying to the Netherworld, Gilgamesh is there listed as one of the rulers whom Ur-Nammu must

bribe with gifts in order to incur a good judgment and a fine place for himself in the real estate of the
Underworld. He was, apparently, not a minor deity, either, for a god list from the Sumerian Third
Dynasty of Ur (2112 2004 BC) lists him in the company of some major deities:
Enlil occupies Nippur
Mother Ninlil occupies E-kur,
Nanna-Suen occupies the sky,
Inanna occupies all lands,
Enki occupies the carp-waters, (E)-unir (i.e., the Apsu),
Nergal occupies the great Netherworld,
Hero Ninurta occupies battles,
The steadfast vizier Nuska occupies the pure throne-dais,
Bilgames occupies the office of lord,
Ninshubur occupies the land.6
So, Gilgamesh was the god of the underworld, a god who joined the ranks of such underworld
deities as Ereshkigal, Nergal, Dumuzi and Ningishzida. The fifth month of the Babylonian Calendar,
moreover, the month of Abu, was sacred to him, for it was the month in which shades, ghosts and
spirits of the dead were honored. At the end of this month, there was a Babylonian All Souls Night
when the spirits of the dead were considered especially prone to return to the land of the living. The
gates of hell were briefly open as ghosts came and went. It was by his [i.e. Gilgameshs] leave that
the deceased ancestors could participate in the offerings made to them, remarks Andrew George.7
Gilgamesh, moreover, was the only mortal in the history of Mesopotamian religion ever to have
been elevated to the status of a major god of the Babylonian pantheon. He was unique in this respect,
just as unique as Ziusudra, the Sumerian Noahin the Epic he is called Uta-napishtiwho was the
only mortal ever to have been awarded the status of immortality by the gods, which was precisely the
reason why, in the Epic, Gilgamesh sought him out. Uta-napishti was never worshipped as a god,
however, and in the Epic, Gilgameshs encounter with him is portrayed as a disappointment, for
Gilgamesh fails to pass the test which the Flood hero imposes upon him of staying awake for seven
nights in a row. Then, when, at his wifes behest, Uta-napishti relents and tells him where he can find
a plant that will confer upon him new youth, Gilgamesh goes to the place where it is located, dives
down to the bottom of the ocean and retrieves it, only to have it eaten by a snake while he is bathing
in a well, thus costing him his chance at immortality.
In disappointment, and heavy with a keen sense of his own failure, Gilgamesh returns to the city
of Uruk, condemned, apparently, to live the life of a mere mortal, as we all are. Thus, the moral which
Near Eastern scholars have drawn from the story, that all mortal men are doomed to die and that the
quest for immortality is doomed to failure, seems actually not to square with the traditions concerning
Gilgamesh in which, at the end of his life, he was awarded a kind of immortality after all: that namely
of the status of a god of the underworld. Indeed, this was a commonly known fact about him, and to

append the earlier Sumerian tale of The Death of Bilgames to the end of the epic was apparently
thought by its Old Babylonian author to be completely unnecessary since everyone knew very well
what ultimately became of him.
He was the one man in Mesopotamian history who did win through to immortality, albeit at the
end of his life. The tale would appear, then, to be an aetiological one, in which the task the original
author of the Old Babylonian Epic set himself was to explain exactly how and why Gilgamesh became
a god of the underworld, and therefore to describe the process by way of which the human being can
attain to the status of immortality, not as has been traditionally thought, to explain why all men are
doomed to die.
As the teachers and prophets of the worlds Axial religions well knew, the human being is not
doomed to die, after all, for there is a pathfirst sketched out by Gilgameshby way of which he,
too, can attain to the status of immortality by means of yoga, gnosis, nirvana, alchemy, etc.
For our nature, as the prophets of the Axial religions taught us, and as the author of the Old
Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic seems to have been well aware, is twofold: we are both mortal and
divine. Our mortality, bounded by the limits of biological ageing, is obvious; what is not so obvious,
and so difficult to find out that it requires an arduous quest of the nature and scale as that first
described in the Gilgamesh Epic, is our immortal nature, that divine Pearl of Great Price that lies
sunken deep beneath the threshold of consciousness, where it is hidden, but which, captured by the
metaphors of diving, seeking and digging upprecisely what Gilgamesh does at the end of the Epic
when he is digging for the Plant of Eternal Youthcan be found only by following one or another of
the various paths taught by the prophets of self-salvation: Buddha, Mani, Christ, Lao-tzu, and so forth.
Thus, in a book about the foundations of Western religion, I want to start with the Gilgamesh
Epic in order to illustrate that he was indeed, as tradition ascribes to him, the Opener of the Way, for
his restlessness and dissatisfaction with the official state religion of the city of Uruk should be
understood as prophetic of the coming of the religions of self-salvation taught by the great Axial Age
prophets, all of whom, without exception, rejected the official religions sanctioned by the state
apparatuses of their various cities of cultural origin.
The pharaoh Akhenaten rejected the official priesthood of Thebes, the religion of Amun; Jesus
rejected the official religion sanctioned by the priests of the Temple in Jerusalem; Mohammed
rejected the polytheism of Mecca; and even Moses rejected the religion of the Egyptian state
apparatus. The point which I will be making, then, about the founding of the great Western
monotheisms, is that they were all religions erected out of a dissatisfaction with the reigning
religions of the cities of their time. They are attempts to meet, and address, spiritual needs that were
not being met by the official priesthoods of their day.
Thus, the peculiar restlessness, anger and zealotry that characterizes the great Western
monotheisms are first clearly foreshadowed in the story of Gilgamesh, who, so far as I know, is the
first character in religious history to disengage himself from the protective macrosphere of his own
city and set off on a quest into the Cosmos at large in order to find answers to the problem posed by
his own mortality, answers not met by the official state religion of his native city.
The Western tradition, then, is one characterized by Rage in precisely the sense in which Peter

Sloterdijk, in his Rage and Time, characterizes the wrath of Achilles as essentially thymotic in
nature. Gilgameshs destructive rejection of the religion of Ishtar, which brings down the rage of the
goddess upon him and his city and results in the death of his friend Enkidu, is countered by
Gilgameshs utter rejection of the very city over which he had been king, and his determinedand
very wrathfulquest through the Cosmos for some kind of religious satisfaction. Indeed, he is
portrayed as so angry that the characters whom he encounters in the latter part of the Epic, such as the
barmaid Siduri and the boatman Urshanabi, are frightened by his approach. Siduri cowers on the roof
of her tavern in fear as she spies him coming, and Urshanabi must defend himself with an axe as
Gilgamesh assaults and destroys his crew of stone slaves who row his boat for him.
From Gilgamesh to 9/11, then, it is Rage which has been the signature characteristic of Western
religion, has in fact given it its peculiar destructive zeal, and so it is with Gilgamesh rather than with
Achilles, that we will begin.
Our Two-Fold Origin
So, to restate the problem: the human being has a twofold origin. He is both mortal and
immortal. He is an immortal being wearing the clothing of a mortal body condemned to perish.
Thus, Gilgamesh and Enkidu, from this point of view, personify both aspects of our nature.
Enkidu, the hairy one, is mortal: in the Epic, it is his birth and his death that we witness. Gilgamesh is
the immortal aspect of our nature: as the Epic opens, he is already in existence, and when it closes, he
is still very much alive. When the Epic begins, the author points out that he is two thirds divine, one
third mortal, for his mother was the goddess Ninsun, while his father was the human mortal
Lugalbanda. In the Epic, Enkidu is the hairy wild man who is made by the gods out of clayexactly
as they made the first human beingsand placed out in the countryside, where he frolics with the
wild herds of gazelle. His story recapitulates the evolution of humanity from Nature to History. His
mode, therefore, is that of temporality, of the flow and evolution of beings caught in the meshwork of
Times loom.
The two heroes, furthermore, were equated with the Babylonian Gemini, named Meslamta-ea
and Lugal-irra. As a Late Babylonian cultic text points out: Lugalirra is Sin, the first born son of
Enlil. Meslamtaea is Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh is Nergal, who dwells in the Netherworld.8 Now, Sin
was the Babylonian god of the moon, and Enkidu, as I pointed out, was identified with the temporal
rhythms of birth, cultural evolution and death. Of the two, he is the lunar power; Gilgamesh was
directly descended from the sun, the immortal power.
Thus, Enkidu is the mortal, animal aspect of our nature; Gilgamesh the immortal. The logic of the
narrative, then, in which Enkidu dies, demands that Gilgamesh eventually go on to attain immortality,
as we know that he does, since he becomes the Lord of the Dead. The semiotics of the narrative tell
us, then, that this is not a story in which Gilgameshs failure becomes illustrative of the fate of all
mortal men to die, for Gilgamesh, in fact, is the first human being to break the barrier separating men
from the realm of the gods. Prior to his advent, Mesopotamian cosmology had kept a clear and careful
separation between the realm of the godslocated in the heavens abovefrom the mortal realm of
human beings doomed to die upon the earth below.

It is worth pausing a moment here to review some of the details of Mesopotamian cosmology:
the earth, Ki, was separated in primal times from the god of the heavens, An. The earth was
visualized as a flat disc surrounded by a ring of ocean, and composed of three levels: the ground
itself; the Abzu located directly beneath the ground and thought to be the source of all of its
freshwaters; and beneath that, the Netherworldknown variously as ershetu, Irkalla, Arallu, kur,
Ganzir, etc. The Netherworld could be accessed by means of a staircase located in the West leading
down to the realm ruled over by the goddess Ereshkigal, the mistress of the Great Below and sister of
Inanna, the goddess of the planet Venus and mistress of the Great Above. The heavens, too, were
regarded as having three levels: the uppermost was known as the Heaven of Anu, the god of the pole
star; the next one down was the Middle Heavens, associated with a group of gods known as the Igigi;
and finally, the lower heavens, made out of jasper and upon which were inscribed the various
constellations.9 Thus, the cosmology of the pre-metaphysical age of myth.
The planets were referred to as bibbu, meaning wild sheep, and they were thought to emerge
out of the constellation of the Sheepfold, located on the eastern horizon. It had three gateways
corresponding to the Three Paths described in the Babylonian Mul-Apin tablets as the Ways of Anu:
the celestial equator; Enlil, the northern celestial hemisphere; and Ea, the southern celestial
hemisphere. The planets were all identified with gods: Enlil and Ea with Jupiter and Mercury,
respectively; Nergal, another god of the dead and husband of Ereshkigal, with Mars; Enlils father
Ninurta with Saturn; Sin with the moon and Utu (Babylonian Shamash) with the sun. All were
immortal beings.
The heavens, in this cosmology, and as they would remain until the days of Isaac Newton, were
identified with Eternity, the realm of eternal cycles of inevitableand astrologically predictable
returns. The earthly realm, that of the goddess Ki, was the realm of temporality, of corruption and
generation, of ebb and flow, birth and death. The two realms were forever separated: humans, down
here, were mortal; the gods, up there, were immortal.
Until Gilgamesh, that is, broke the barrier between them. And he did this by traveling along the
path of the sun god Shamash, i.e. the ecliptic, the road along which the planets travel through the
zodiac. Gilgamesh was the first mortal who was privileged to take the path of the Sun God, as the
text says.
The story of the Gilgamesh Epic, then, as created by the still unknown author of the Old
Babylonian Epic, was a tale of the journey of a warrior hero through the twelve signs of the zodiac, a
realm forbidden human beings ever to enter.
The Journey to the Cedar Forest
The earliest version of the Epic dates, as we have said, from about the 18th century BC, but
earlier stories about Gilgamesh, written in Sumerian, are much older. These stories are episodic,
however, and were never linked together to tell a single coherent narrative. Most of them appear to
date from the Third Dynasty of Ur (2112 2004 BC), a dynasty whose rulers had a particular liking
for Gilgamesh, and who seem to have regarded him as their patron deity. The five or six extant
Sumerian tales of Gilgamesh ultimately date back to this period, and include Bilgames and the

Netherworld, Bilgames and the Bull of Heaven, Bilgames and the King of Akka, Bilgames and
the Cedar Forest and The Death of Bilgames.
But it was the mysterious Babylonian author of the 18th century BC who first put these stories
together to create what scholars call the Old Babylonian Version of the Epic, which survives,
however, only in fragments, and is mostly incomplete. The version of the Epic upon which we have
come to rely, therefore, and which is much more complete, is known as the Standard Babylonian
Version, which differs only in its details from the Old Babylonian Version. The structure of the story
is recognizably the same in both versions. The SBV was edited by one Sin-leqi-unnini, an exorcist
and priest of Babylonian religion who lived sometime around 1200 1000 BC.
The genius, however, of the Old Babylonian author of the epic, was his idea that the Sumerian
episodes could be unified by forging them together as a complete journey through the twelve signs of
the zodiac. We have already seen that Gilgamesh and Enkidu themselves represent the Babylonian
constellation of Gemini.
When Gilgamesh and Enkidu first meet, they fight each other in a doorwaythe Babylonian
Gemini were guardians of the Entrance to the Netherworld that is located between Taurus and Gemini
at the point where the Milky Way crosses the ecliptic. Neither can best the other, so they agree to
become friends. And the first thing they do is plan an adventure that will immortalize their names:
they will become the first heroes to journey to the legendary Cedar Forest of Lebanon, where they
will kill its guardian and cut down the great central cedar tree whose branches reach up to the
In the original Sumerian prototype of this episode, known as Bilgames and Huwawa, the
reason given for this expedition is that Bilgames is troubled by death and he wants to make a name for
himself so that something will be left behind him when he is gone. As he tells the sun god Utu: I
raised my head on the rampart / my gaze fell on a corpse drifting down the river, afloat on the water: /
I too shall become like that, just so shall I be! Then he resolves, Since no man can escape lifes
end, / I will enter the mountain and set up my name.10
Of course, the problem of death becomes, in the Old Babylonian version, the motivation that sets
Gilgamesh off on his quest to find Uta-napishti, the Flood survivor. But what the older Sumerian text
reveals to us is that the essence of the myth has been motivated all along by an attempt to find a
solution to the problem of death. Gilgamesh is the man troubled by death par excellence, just as the
Buddha will later be.
When, in the Epic, he and Enkidu set forth on their journey north along the west bank of the
Euphratesfollowing in the footsteps of Sargon the Greats empire, which was said to have extended
from the Upper Sea, i.e. the Mediterranean, to the Lower Sea, i.e. the Persian Gulf--they travel to the
Cedar Mountain, which is identified with Lebanon. There, they find the guardian of the forest, a
monstrous ogre named Humbaba, and do battle with him. When they kill him, an interesting thing
happens: the Cedar Mountain splits in two, as an earthquake rips it in half to become two mountains,
the Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon, down the middle of which the Bekaa Valley stretches.11 Thus,
Gilgamesh and Enkidu are portrayed in the Epic as essentially creating the landscape of what will
later become Biblical Palestine.

After disposing of Humbaba, they proceed to cut down the great cedar tree, which crashes to the
ground. Then they begin a logging campaign, in which Enkidu ties up bundles of cedar logs like
sheaves of barley, and straps them to rafts to be sent back down the Euphrates to Uruk. This image
casts Enkidu in the role of the constellation which the Mesopotamians called the Hired Man,
identified with our Aries. The Hired Man was hired in the springtime in order to help bring in the
wheat harvest in bundles of sheaves, but the author, in the spirit of a Paul Bunyan-esque exaggeration,
magnifies the sheaves as bundles of cedar logs, for Gilgamesh and Enkidu are, of course, to be
thought of as larger than life heroes.12
The Bull of Heaven
Once they have returned to Uruk, Gilgamesh, one fine warm, spring afternoon, happens to be
cleaning himself and his weapons in the river when he is approached by the goddess Ishtar, who is
attracted to his rugged masculinity and the fame which his deed has brought him. Come, she says,
be you my bridegroom! / Grant me your fruits, O grant me! / Be you my husband and I your wife!13
But Gilgamesh wants nothing to do with her. He replies, scathingly: [Who is there] would take
you in marriage?14 Then he proceeds to recount a litany of her lovers, all of whom have met
misfortunate ends as the result of erotic entanglements with her. The woman that he rejects here is
most likely not Ishtar herself, but the main priestess of her cult, which happened to be the central
religion of the city of Uruk. It was, moreover, famously decadent as a religion of whores,
transvestites, sexual inverts, eunuchs and other such colorful figures who would have been repugnant
to a hyper-masculine hero like Gilgamesh. Servitude to the Great Mother, whose later incarnation in
the religion of Cybele famously demanded the sacrifice of its priests genitals in an act of sacred
castration, is of no interest to Gilgamesh, and so Ishtar withdraws to heaven to consult with her father,
the sky god An. She demands that he turn over to her the yoke of the Bull of Heavena figure which
few scholars have trouble recognizing as the sign of Tauruswhich he does, and she unleashes it
upon the hapless city of Uruk, where it drinks up all the water in the canals, eats up the date palms
and crashes into its walls.
Gilgamesh and Enkidu, however, in the performance of the worlds first bull ring, make short
work of the bull, killing it and carving it up into pieces that are distributed to the citys poor, while
Ishtar receives only one of its haunches. (Her cult, in other words, has been reduced to receiving only
a piece of the bull instead of the entire offering). Gilgamesh saves the horns for himself and hangs
them in his bedroom as a cult offering to his father Lugalbanda.
Thus, the episode of Taurus.
The Death and Burial of Enkidu
In the next episode, which is recounted on Tablet VII of the Standard Version of the Epic, the
gods hold counsel and decide that for their crimesi.e. the slaying of the Bull of Heaven and
Humbabaone of the two warriors must die, and of course, this turns out to be Enkidu. The episode
itself thus corresponds to the sign of Gemini, in which, as in Greek mythology, Castor is mortal while
Pollux is immortal, and one of the two is fated to die. Enkidu does not die a heros death, but a slow,

horrible wasting disease that confines him to his bed, while he recounts terrifying dreams in a
delirium to Gilgamesh.
Enkidu then dies, and Tablet VIII recounts his elaborate funeral. The author of the epic has here
borrowed imagery from Bilgameshs funeral in the Sumerian poem of The Death of Bilgames,
which has now been transferred to Enkidu, for the role which Gilgamesh had refused to playthat,
namely, of the dying and reviving spouse of Ishtar, i.e. Tammuz (Sumerian Dumuzi)now redounds to
his companion Enkidu, who must play the role in his stead. Indeed, all of nature is depicted as
mourning for Enkidu in exactly the same manner in which, during the month of Tammuz, the fourth
month of the Babylonian calendar (June-July), festival mourning rites for the dead god Dumuzi had
been instituted in Mesopotamia since the founding days of civilization. Summer is the death season in
Mesopotamia, rather than winter, since the heat is unbearable and kills off all the vegetation. The
river is at its lowest ebbthis had been personified by the Bull of Heaven drinking up all the water
and Dumuzi is mourned for having gone to the underworld in order to replace his bride Inanna.
According to the Sumerian myth, the condition for her resurrection from the dead had been that she be
replaced by someone else. Since Dumuzi had failed to display proper mourning rites for her death,
gallu demons were sent to fetch him and he was carried off to the Netherworld so that Inanna could
return to the Great Above.
The month of Tammuz is the month of the astrological sign of Cancer, which the Babylonians
termed Nangar, the Carpenter, on the basis of an apparent analogy between the serrated claws of the
crab and the saw of a carpenter. Enkidu, it turns out, had been a very handy carpenter, indeed, for
immediately after the two had slain Humbaba, he had proceeded to construct a special door for the
Enlil temple at Nippur. So he is apparently both the Carpenter and also Dumuzi in this episode.
Now, at this point along the ecliptic there appears what is known as the northern entrance to the
Underworld, for the Milky Way intersects the ecliptic like a giant arch across the sky, at two points:
between Taurus and Gemini and between Scorpio and Sagittarius. Enkidus death appears to
represent the entry into the underworld via this northern entrance. In the Bull of Heaven episode, there
had occurred a moment when the Bull had snorted and caused a crack to open up in the earth that
swallowed several hundred men. Then, the bull snorts again and causes a hole to open up in the
ground and swallow Enkidu halfway into it, as follows:
At its third snort a pit opened up,
Enkidu fell in up to [his] waist.
Enkidu sprang out and seized the Bull of Heaven by [its] horns.15
This image recalls a similar image from the earlier Sumerian poem of Bilgames and the
Netherworld in which Bilgames and his friends, the young men of Uruk, had been engaged in playing
a game with two objects known as a pukku and a mikku (scholars still debate the meaning of these
terms). But the women of the city become so flustered by all the noise that they ask the gods to do
something about it and they cause a hole to the Netherworld to open up and swallow the two objects.

Bilgames is so distressed by the loss of these objects that he says,

O my ball! O my mallet!
O my ball, which I have not enjoyed to the full!
O my. . ., with which I have not had my fill of play!
On this day, if only my ball had stayed for me in the carpenters workshop!
. . .who will bring it up for me?
His servant Enkidu answered him;
My lord, why are you weeping? Why are you sick at heart?
This day I myself will bring your ball up for you from the Netherworld,
I myself will [bring] your mallet up for you from Ganzir!16
Enkidu then descends through this hole to the Netherworld, but he never manages to make it back
up, for he fails to follow certain taboos which Bilgames had prescribed for him. The sun god Utu, on
his journey below the earth, manages to bring up Enkidus shade, which then proceeds to describe to
Bilgames the horrors of the Netherworld.
So, these two holes, the one in the Standard Version of the Epic in which the episode of the Bull
of Heaven is recounted, and the other in the earlier Sumerian tale of Bilgames and the Netherworld,
would seem to mark the point of opening to the land of the dead that occurs between the signs of
Taurus and Gemini, and which it is Enkidus fate, one way or another, to fall into.
Exodus and Wandering
In the next episode, Gilgamesh, severely depressed by his friends sad fate, and terrified by the
thought of his own mortality which it portends, decides to undertake a sort of mini-Exodus from the
city of Uruk and to travel off into the wilderness in quest of the one man in existence who might
actually know something about immortality: this is the Flood hero, Uta-napishti who, as tradition
ascribes, had been placed by the gods in the land of Dilmun, located, according to the epic, at the
mouth of the rivers. Since the Tigris and the Euphrates dump out into the Persian Gulf, this must refer
to the tradition which identifies Dilmun with the island of Bahrein (in the earlier tradition of the story
of Ziusudra, Dilmun lay somewhere to the east, probably on an island located beyond the worldencircling ocean). But the Standard Version of the Epic refers to the tradition which identifies Dilmun
with Bahrein, and so that is where, on the literal geographical plane of the story, Gilgamesh now
Gilgamesh, at this point, is in the traditional role of the World Savior who, aware of the problem
of death and suffering, now decides to set out in order to find the cure, just as the Buddha, after his
vision of the sick man, the old man and the corpse, decides to leave the city of Kapilavastu behind
and journey out into the wilderness in order to find the cure for death and suffering on his own. He
ends up founding a world religion; Gilgamesh, however, is not sophisticated enough to know that that
is what the situation requires. He knows only that his mind is fraught with suffering and he seeks a

legendary sage whom he thinks might be able to help him find a way to attain immortality. He is very
His dissatisfaction with the official state religion of Uruk has led him to conclude that he must
find another way, out beyond the protective macrosphere of the confining walls of the city of Uruk
which he himself had built. He must go on a Vision Quest in which he will come into contact with
cosmic powers directly, unmediated by any priesthood and out beyond the protective walls of the
boundary of civilization. This is the first occurrence in the history of religion of the kind of stirrings
that will later lead to the founding of the religions of self-salvation inaugurated in India by the sage
Yajnavalkya, who, about the ninth century BC, will reject the official state religion of the Brahmins
and institute the practice of yoga instead; or, in Palestine, of the kinds of discontent that will lead
Jesus out into the surrounding deserts of Judaea, where he will come under the influence of the sage
named John the Baptist, a former Essene, who will introduce him to the mysteries of the messianic
tradition; in China, it is the same disaffection for the official state religion of Confucianism that will
lead Lao-tzu to head off into the wilderness and found Taoism.
Gilgamesh is the prototype for all of these prophets of the Axial Age, although he is lacking in
the kinds of mental subtleties that would have enabled him to found a religion on his own. He is a
warrior, and he sets offlike Achilles--with a warriors rage, which he first vents on a pair of lions
who have been stalking him along the river. On the astronomical plane of signification, this
corresponds to the sign of Leo: Gilgamesh cuts off the skin of the lion and wraps it around himself,
thus reverting to the level of a Paleolithic hunter. But the lion is also a solar symbol, and on the
storys astronomical plane, he is traveling along the path of the sun god Shamash, that is to say, the
Now, the text is fragmentary at this point and a cluster of lines is missing, lines that would likely
have supplied us with our analogue for Virgo. We dont know what the episode would have been,
although it is known that Ishtar was, in some traditions, associated with this sign. The month that
follows Abuthe one sacred to Gilgamesh and corresponding to Leowas known as Ululu, which
was a month sacred to Ishtar.
At any rate, Gilgamesh now approaches the Mashu mountains, a pair of mountains between
which the sun rises each morning (and which resembles the Egyptian hieroglyph akhet, the pair of
mounds between which the sun rises and which served as the model for the pylons of their temples at
Thebes). This is also the entrance to the underworld that occurs between Scorpio and Sagittarius.
Thus, just as Enkidus shade had descended into the underworld via the northern entrance, so
Gilgamesh goes, while still alive, through the southern entrance, that is to say, to the realm of the
southern constellationsthose of the Way of Ea--associated with the latter half of the year.
Now, the two Scorpion people, a man and a woman, who are guarding the gate here actually
represent the claws of the sign of Scorpio, a very large constellation which was later divided into
two constellations by the Greeks, who separated out the claws as the scales of Libra. So the Scorpion
men here actually correspond to the sign of Libra rather than Scorpio. They recognize the divine
nature of Gilgamesh (maybe hes glowing with a numinous aura), and they let him pass.
He then journeys down through a tunnel to an underworld full of gardens of jewels and precious

gems. He travels through the twelve hours of an abbreviated and compressed version of the suns
night sea journey beneath the earth, for whereas these twelve hours correspond to its daily journey, he
himself is on a pathway that corresponds to its annual journey through the zodiac.
After traveling for a timeon the storys literal plane, he is simply making his way south down
the bank of the Euphrates, past gardens of date palms and women carrying clay pots on their heads
and tiny brown villages with flat roofs, where he is coming now to the soggy realm of the marsh
dwellers who live to this day in this same areaand soon the mud brick tavern of the innkeeper
known as Siduri comes into view.
Now it was Hertha von Dechend who, in her book Hamlets Mill, identified Siduri as the
constellation of the Scorpion goddess known as Ishhara (pronounced Ish-khara).17 Her tavern
located at the edge of the entrance to the underworld is found scattered universally throughout
mythology: in Nicaragua, she is the scorpion goddess who is many-breasted and therefore provides
nourishment to the souls of the dead, just as Siduri the barmaid provides them with such decoctions as
pulque, soma, ginseng, peyote, psilocybin, etc. In Egypt, she is the scorpion goddess known as Selket,
and in Catholic mythography, she is Saint Gertrude, who provides the souls on their first night of
death with room and board.
I would also add to von Dechends analysis one further clue, which is that the Akkadian name
for barmaid which is used to refer to Siduri is sabitu, an apparent homophone for sebittu, the Seven
Great Ones of whom it was said that Ishhara was their mother, for they were the Pleiades located
directly across the sky from her above the bulls back.
When Siduri sees Gilgamesh coming, she is terrified and draws the bolt across her door and
hides up on the roof, where she watches him approach. She says to herself, For sure this man is a
slayer of wild bulls: / whence did he make straight for my gate?18 The constellation known as
Pabilsag was the Babylonian name for Sagittarius, which was also pictured as a centaur and was
known as a dangerous huntsman. There is an interesting Sumerian tale known as Pabilsags Journey
to Nibru, in which Pabilsag is there referred to as a wild bull. As he travels by himself along the
road, moreover, he soon encounters a house in which a lonely maid named Ninisina accosts him and
begs him to marry her. The text reads:
And as the warrior Pabilsag set off in Enlils direction, as he set off, now he turned in front of
that house in Isin. And then my lady in Isin came out. . .at the spacious house, the house of
Isin, she. . .her hair, then shethe hair in curlsIts (her?) faceShe addressed Pabilsag
joyfully: Good lookingthe house of Isin! Warrior Pabilsag. . . born to Nintud. You who are
traveling from Larag tothat house in Isin, say to your father, May she be my spouse! Say
further to Enlil, . . .with me. Fix your sights on it, fix your sights on it, and may you be its
lord. The house of IsinMay you, Pabilsag, be its lord, and may I be its lady!19
Now it would appear that this scene formed the authors model for the encounter of the
wandering Gilgamesh with the lone barmaid Siduri at the edge of the ocean, for it is structurally the

same, with the exception that its main erotic semiotic is reversed into its opposite, for Siduri is here
clearly terrified by Gilgameshs rough appearance. This episode, then, casts Gilgamesh himself in the
role of Pabilsag, the centaur of Sagittarius.
Gilgamesh at this point looks like something out of a Mad Max movie, but his confession to her
of his life story eases her apprehension somewhat. After finishing, he says brusquely, Now, ale-wife,
what is the road to Uta-napishti? / What is its landmark? Give it to me! / Do give me its landmark! / If
it may be done, I will cross the ocean! / if it may not be done, I will roam the wild!20
She tells him that crossing the world ocean has never been done by anyone before, that it is a
feat normally exclusive to the sun god Shamash. But she admits that there might be a way: he should
go to find Urshanabi, who happens to be in a nearby forest cutting down cedar trees with his stone
men. Possibly, he will agree to take Gilgamesh across the Waters of Death (i.e. the Milky Way).
At once, Gilgamesh sets off in a rage:
When he heard this,
he took up (his) axe in his hand,
he drew forth the dirk [from] his [belt,]
he crept up and rushed down on [them.]
Like an arrow he fell among them,
(his) shout booming through the midst of the forest.21
Urshanabi, startled, rushes at him to defend himself with an axe, but Gilgamesh knocks him aside
and then proceeds to smash the Stone Ones who are already attempting to make off with the boat.
Ushanabi, beaten, listens as Gilgamesh tells him his story, the same story he had recounted to Siduri.
Urshanabi then calmly explains to him that he has just destroyed the Stone Ones, who had provided
his boat with its primary means of crossing the Waters of Death and that if Gilgamesh wants to get
across he has to go into the forest and cut down 300 punting poles, each one of which can only be
dipped into the water once, before it is useless and must be discarded. Urshanabi and Gilgamesh
together make the crossing, and when they run out of punting poles, Gilgamesh takes Urshanabis
garment and rips it in two to make the worlds first sail out of it.
Urshanabi appears to represent the Babylonian constellation known as the Cargo Boat, which
occurs on the ecliptic at about this point. He is Uta-napishtis official boatman and servant, and
corresponds to the archetypal ferryman of the dead, who runs souls up and down the Milky Way (in
Greek myth, the River Styx; in Babylonian, the river Hubur).
On the storys literal plane, though, Urshanabi is taking him down the Persian Gulf to the island
of Bahrein.
The Pearl
The island of Bahrein seems to have been a special place in Mesopotamian cartography. It was
the one place in the Persian Gulf at which there were to be found a number of freshwater springs both

on and around the island, some of them located beneath the waters. Also, some sort of baptismal cult
was practiced there, for a number of sacred wells, dedicated to the god Inzak, the son of Enki (i.e.
Ea), have been found all over the island. It seems also to have been an attractive place for people to
be buried, for thousands of tombs, of all different kinds and styles, have been found located all over
the island. Indeed, it may have been thought that being buried on Dilmun was desirable precisely
because of its proximity to the life-revivifying waters of the Abzu, the source of the worlds
freshwaters in exactly the same way in which, in Medieval Christian iconography, it was thought that
the four rivers of Eden fell from the top of Mount Purgatory at the bottom of the earth and became
thereby the source of all the worlds waters. In any event, it seems an appropriate place for the gods
to have stationed Uta-napishti, the survivor of the Great Flood, as perhaps the ministering priest of its
baptismal cult. Uta-napishti is referred to in the texts as the Living One, and so it is no surprise
when we learn that the constellation of Aquarius, the water-bearer, was known as the Great One, for
Uta-napishti seems to have been its iconic equivalent.
He is unnerved to see Gilgamesh approaching together with Urshanabi, (just as the dead, in
Dantes Inferno are surprised to see Dante, a living man, entering into Hell along with Virgil as his
guide), but upon arrival Gilgamesh recounts his tale, the same autobiography he had unfolded to both
Siduri and Urshanabi. Gilgamesh then asks him, How was it you attended the gods assembly, and
found life?22
We can imagine Gilgamesh and Uta-napishti seated on the floor inside the cool interior of one of
the islands barasti huts, a box-like shape fashioned of woven palm fronds with a floor made out of
crushed white seashells. The Living One, perhaps eating oysters, then proceeds to recount to
Gilgamesh the story of how he survived the Great Flood. I will disclose to you, Gilgamesh, a secret
matter, he says, and I will tell you a mystery of the gods.23 Uta-napishti then explains to him how
the god Ea warned him of the coming flood that the gods were about to unleash by whispering to him
through the wall of his hut at the city of Shuruppak. Now it so happens that one of Eas attributes was
the goat-fish, and as a matter of fact, he later became the constellation of Capricorn.
Presently, he instructs Uta-napishti to build an ark in the shape of a cube, her breadth and length
should be the same, he says, which is, of course, a nonsensical design for a boat until we realize that
the ark isnt meant to be a boat at all, but rather a reference to the constellation of the Pegasus Square,
located between the two Pisces fish, and which was referred to as 1 Iku, the ideal measurement for
a field.24 The city of Babylon itself was laid out in this rectangular fashion, with the Tigris and
Euphrates rivers thought to correspond to the two cords of the Pisces fishes.
The flood is unleashed and Uta-napishti, together with his family, survives it. The ark is washed
ashore at the top of Mount Nimush, and Uta-napishti then lets a dove fly forth to look for new land.
When the dove returns, he sends out a swallow, and when it returns, he sends forth a raven. Now in
Babylonian astronomy, one of the two Pisces fishes actually was not a fish at all, but a swallow. And
the other fish was sometimes depicted as a mermaid goddess named Annunitum, who appears in the
story as the birth goddess Belet-ili, who mourns the gods destruction of the human race and then
commemorates it with a necklace made out of lapis lazuli flies, a necklace that may serve as the
prototype for the Biblical rainbow which God provides as a sign that he will never again wipe out

the human race. On the Babylonian ecliptic, by the way, it is interesting to note that there is also a
nearby constellation known as the Rainbow.
The gods then decide to make Uta-napishti and his wife immortal and to place them at the mouth
of the rivers. The Living One, pausing at the conclusion of his tale, then asks Gilgamesh how he
thinks he would ever get the gods to convene in assembly over himwhich is, of course, exactly
what they will do at his deathand imposes upon Gilgamesh the shamanic task of trying to remain
awake for seven days in a row. Gilgamesh is a warrior, not a shaman, and so he is unable to
accomplish this feat and Uta-napishti is about to dismiss him as unworthy of his time, when his wife
prevails upon him to make sure that Gilgamesh is not sent back empty-handed. So he tells the warrior
where to find a plant of eternal youth and Gilgamesh goes diving for it somewhere off the coast of the
island. He ties a rope to his foot, dives down, finds the plant and brings it back up to the boat. While
he is otherwise occupied, however, a snake comes along and eats it.
My suspicion, however, is that the plant is actually not a plant at all: Wayne Horowitz, in his
Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography, suggests that it might actually be a coral reef.25 I suspect, though,
that it may have been a pearl. The way in which Gilgamesh dives for it is exactly the way that divers
off the shores of Bahrein dive for pearls to this day, tying a rope to one foot. Not only that, but
Geoffrey Bibby, in his book Looking For Dilmun, reveals to the reader that during his digs on the
island, he found clay pots with snake skeletons curled up inside them, into the mouth of which had
been placed a single pearl. One of the pearls mythological attributes is to confer eternal rejuvenation
upon its owner, just as the snake sheds its skin perennially.
If it is a pearl, then the image of Gilgamesh diving down to retrieve it and bring it up into the
daylight is a direct visionary analogue for the main image of the Axial religions and their technology
of self-salvation: in yoga, one dives down into ones consciousness to find the pearl of the jiva or
the purusha as it is variously called, which is the indestructibleand immortalcore of ones own
very being. It is the jiva which transmigrates from one lifetime to the next, putting on and taking off
bodies like sets of clothing. Karma infects it like dirt, and it must be cleansed through purifications of
various sorts that will allow the jiva to shine through once again with perfect clarity.
So, in a way, Uta-napishti has given Gilgamesh a mythic analogue for the task of finding and
bringing up into consciousness his own true immortal self. But Gilgamesh is not quite bright enough to
understand the point, and so it eludes him, just like the snake, and he returns with Urshanabi to the city
of Uruk, his quest an apparent failure.
But Uta-napishti must have had other conversations with Gilgamesh which have gone
unrecorded, for as the Prologue of the epic that was specifically appended by Sin-leqi-uninni states,
Gilgamesh restored the cult centres that the Deluge destroyed, / and established the proper rites for
the human race.26 He did not, then, just return to Uruk empty-handed, but rather with specific
instructions for reforming its cults in accordance with ancient practices revealed to him by Utanapishti, the only man in existence who would have had knowledge of how they were originally
performed in the days before the Flood came and wiped them out. The text doesnt reveal any details
as to the nature of these reforms, but given that we have seen Gilgameshs disgust with what he must
obviously have regarded as the corrupt and decadent practices of the citys official religion, it is

apparent that upon his return, he instituted some sort of sweeping reform of its temples, perhaps
chasing out Ishtars retinue of whores, transvestites, eunuchs, etc. He may have demolished and then
rebuilt the citys walls at this point, too.
Thus, reading between the lines of the text, it becomes evident that Gilgamesh instituted some
type of Truth Event analogous to that of the pharaoh Akhenatens, who would later see himself as the
great conservator of Egyptian culture, whose primary task it was to restore the ancient cults of ReHarakhty that had been forgotten and covered over by the decadent Amun priesthood.
Gilgamesh did not then return to Uruk empty-handed at all, but with new knowledge of special
cultic practices gained during his conversations with the ancient sage Uta-napishti. He completely
reformed the temples using this new knowledge as a basis, a knowledge perhaps informed with
astronomical details gained by his initiatory journey into the mysteries of the zodiac, just as Roman
soldiers would later be initiated into the mysteries of the zodiac in the religion of Mithraism.
And so his quest, contrary to popular opinion, was no failure: for as the Sumerian poem of The
Death of Bilgames tells us, the gods did, at the end of his life, convene in that very assembly which
Uta-napishti was so skeptical of them ever doing for another human mortal again, where they gathered
in the Great Below to award him, for all his labors, the status of judge of the dead in the Babylonian
Thus, the Gilgamesh Epic tells us, in careful detail, the exact process by way of which a human
being was transformed into a god in ancient Babylonia.

Akhenaten and the Birth of Monotheism

The religious pattern of Western monotheism that becomes evident when the lives of Moses,
Christ and Mohammed are drawn out on the blackboard is already clearly sketched out in the life of
the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten, the Wests prototypal monotheist. There is no way to describe the
founders of the three great monotheisms of the West without first glancing back at the pattern laid
down by Akhenaten, whose great experiment already forecasts their advent.
It is no accident that the Wests first monotheist is also its first religious fanatic, for Akhenaten
was the first to begin persecuting the beliefs of others. His religion of the sun god did not just amount
to all the Egyptian religions plus the religion of the Aten: though it may have started this way, it
gradually became more and more severely restrictive and intolerant until, with the construction of the
worlds first utopian city, Akhenaten sent armies of men out across the Two Lands of Egypt to erase
not only the name of the hated god Amun from all of the monuments, but also any occurrence of the
plural word gods. Temples were shut down, their priesthoods exiled; monuments were defaced; the
practice of festivals forbidden; the worship of any other gods than the Aten proscribed; the Osiris
cults and indeed, the entire cartography of the underworld, done away with.
Akhenaten was not only the first founder of a new religion that we have on record as being
created by a single individual, but unlike Christ, Moses and others such as the Buddha, he was the
first such religious founder to have the power of an entire state apparatus at his disposal. Akhenaten
was no democrat, but an autocratic tyrantnothing unusual for civilization at this timewith the
power to realize any transformation of the state he wanted. His religion, like that of Christs, may
have been a religion of love, but, also like Christianity, it was not a religion of tolerance.
Indeed, Akhenaten establishes the prototype for the religious zealot with which the West,
unfortunately, has become familiar over the millennia. His acts already look forward to those of the
Emperor Theodosius the Great who, at the conclusion of the fourth century AD, would proscribe
paganism and have all of its cults and practices shut down, including the writing of Egyptian
Akhenaten was the first man in history to go to war against polytheism.
Now we must try to understand why.
Egyptian Theology: A Primer
Prior to the time of Akhenaten, Egypts mythical cosmology had been three-dimensional and
thanatocentric, that is to say, centered around the idea of the survival of the dead in the underworld.
Spatially configured, we could imagine the Egyptian picture of the cosmos during the time of the New

Kingdom in terms of the four aspects of the sun god Re: in his mode as the god Khepri, he was the sun
at dawn; at noon, he was known simply as Re; at sunset, he was the god Atum, an ancient creator deity
first referred to in the Pyramid Texts. In his mode at the sixth hour of the night, midnight, he became
Osiris, the god of the dead in the underworld. Known as Re-Harakhty (Horus of the horizon), then,
he was the god of both sunrise and sunset.
The Egyptians, during the New Kingdom, had evolved a complex cosmology written out in what
are called The Books of the Netherworld, a series of vignettes that were painted upon the walls of the
tombs of the pharaohs who were buried in the Valley of the Kings, beginning with Tuthmosis I (1506
1493 BC). The first of these books, which originated with this pharaohs tomb, was called the
Amduat, or The Book of What is in the Netherworld, which described the journey of the sun god Re
in his solar barque through the twelve hours of the night. Along the way, he encounters various
helping deities and demons who try to stop him, such as the Apopis serpent. At the sixth hour of the
night, Re is united with the corpse of Osiris from whence he is regenerated and prepared for rebirth.
The deities known as Seth and Selket slay the Apopis serpent for him, and his solar barge travels
through the body of a huge serpent until he is reborn in the form of the scarab beetle known as the god
Khepri on the eastern horizon at dawn. This netherworld cartography was painted on the walls of the
tombs of the pharaohs clear down to the time of Akhenaten, who was the first pharaoh to eschew the
rites and myths of the Egyptian netherworld, known as the Duat.
In his youth, Akhenaten may have served as the High Priest of the god Ptah in Memphis, although
he also resided for a time in a palace at the city of Heliopolis, whose official god was Re-Harakhty, a
god which Akhenaten adopted as his own. The god which Akhenaten later referred to as the Aten was
actually the visible form of Re-Harakhty as the disc of the sun (Aten means simply disc).
The cult of the sun god Re at Heliopolis was extremely ancient, for Re had been the primary
deity of the Old Kingdom since the time of the great pyramids of Gizeh, at which time we start finding
his name turning up as part of the name of its reigning pharaohs (Khaf-re and Menkau-re). By the
Fifth Dynasty, great sun temples are being built to glorify him, with huge obelisks erected as frozen
sunbeams petrified in stone. The cult of the Heliopolitan priesthood was, then, as far as the young
Akhenaten was concerned, the great, authentic religion of the founders of Egypts past.
During the Middle Kingdom, however, the cult of Re had fallen out of favor due to the rise of a
hitherto obscure god from the city of Thebes known as Amun. After the civil wars associated with the
time of the First Intermediate Period, the center of Egyptian government shifted from Memphis in the
northcapital of the Old Kingdomto Thebes in the far south, which would from henceforth until the
Nineteenth Dynasty, become the new political capital of Egypt (although Memphis would always
remain its administrative capital). Amun happened to be its local deity, and since the rulers of the
Twelfth Dynasty hailed from Thebes, the god Amun began to come into prominence as Egypts new
patron deity. Correspondingly, we start finding pharaohs with the name of the god as part of his throne
name: Amenemhet I, Amenemhet III, and so on.
In the seventeenth century BC, Egypt was conquered and ruled by a series of Semitic rulers from
Palestine known as the Hyksos, or Shepherd Kings. They ruled Egypt from the city of Avaris in the
Delta for nearly a century and a half until they were expelled by Theban rulers. The pharaoh Ahmose

was the first to completely expunge their presence from Egypt, and so, once again, a new dynasty, the
18th, ruled Egypt from the city of Thebes as its capital and with the god Amun as its patron. To Amun
was given the credit for helping the Egyptians to expel the Hyksos, and consequently we have more
rulers who have taken his name: Amenophis I, Amenophis II, Amenophis III, and Akhenaten himself,
whose original name was Amenophis IV.
Amun was known as the Hidden One, and he was a god of war and also, under his aspect as
Amun-Min, a god of fertility. An attempt was made on the part of the Theban priesthood to compete
with the old priesthood of Heliopolis by syncretizing their god with Re in the form of Amun-Re.
But the young pharaoh, Amenophis IV (i.e. Akhenaten), having spent his apprenticeship years in
the north of Egypt at the cities of Memphis and Heliopolis, regarded Amun as a mere usurper. It was
Re-Harakhtly, not Amun, who had been the god of his ancestors of the Old Kingdom, and so it was the
god Re-Harakhty, under his aspect as the Aten or visible sun disc, that Amenophis IV worshipped and
eventually made the great, one and only god of Egypt.
In doing so, however, Akhenaten eventually banished the deities of the underworldperhaps
even more ancient than Re, ironicallyOsiris, Sokar, Anubis, Thoth, etc., together with the entire
Egyptian New Kingdom cosmology of the journey of the sun god Re to his union with Osiris in the
depths of the Duat. Despite the fact that the older cults of Osiris had been synthesized with those of
Re in the period of the building of the pyramids and in the writing of the Pyramid Texts, Akhenaten
wanted only Re, and so he cut, as it were, the three dimensional Egyptian cosmos in half, retaining
only the upper half, the realm of the sun gods journey from one horizon to the other, and discarded his
journey through the underworld altogether.
As we have seen, in Gilgameshs journey through the entire zodiac, both the upper and the under
worlds were taken into account, for Gilgamesh was lord of both: in the upper, daylit world of history,
he was Gilgamesh, the famous king of Uruk; in the lower nightworld of Irkalla, he was Gilgamesh,
the Lord of the Dead.
But for Akhenaten, Egyptian cosmology would be only a world of Light; a two dimensional
world of light without shadows, of the sun without its nightsea journey through the underworld, of the
living without the dead, of Re without Osiris. In his religion of the Aten, all other gods would be
banished, and a strangely flat, two-dimensional world of light, and light only, would be put in their
place as the religion of the one true god, Aten, with Akhenaten as his son and human avatar upon
If Amun was the Hidden One, Akhenatens task, as he saw it, would be to shine light upon all
the dark, murky chthonic depths of Egyptian religion and society, to pull the roofs off all the temples,
to open and expose them to the bright, turquoise expanse of the Egyptian daytime sky. Thus, the
expulsion of all the Dionysian dimensions of Egyptian culture in favor only of its Apollonian
beauties; a world of surfaces without depths, of light without shadows, of Good without Evil; this
was the Vision of Akhenatens new religion.
To flatten Egyptian culture out by forcing it into the mold of a god who was ubiquitous, just as
light is ubiquitous; a god who sees all things everywhere, and for whom no one could hide, since
there are no dark corners left for anyone to retreat to:

The worlds first divinely inspired Panopticon, in other words.

The Truth Event
The peculiar geometry of the flattening out of the Egyptian mentality which Akhenaten imposed
upon his culture also extends to its famous art style, in which the figures of Akhenaten and his family
appear as strangely elongated forms, with extended skulls, long arms and torsos and legs, as though
they had been compressed with enormous force and then squeezed until they had flattened out and
lengthened, like Giacometti sculptures.
When these images of Akhenaten were first unearthed by archaeologists in the nineteenth century,
it had been thought that they were naturalistic representations of a sickly ruler whose body had
obviously been deformed by some sort of illness, Frohlics Syndrome, perhaps.27 But in fact, as early
representations of the young Amenophis IV show, he was not at all deformed, as the yellow limestone
statuette of him in the Louvre reveals, and as he is depicted on reliefs such as those from the tomb of
his fathers vizier Ramose indicate. Physiologically, he was perfectly normal.
The so-called Amarna style, then, is not naturalistic at all, but rather very highly stylized as part
of the transformation of his own image avatar in Akhenatens minds eye with the birth of his new
religion. And although the Amarna style radically departs from the canon of traditional Egyptian art, it
is not true to say that it is a complete innovation, either.
Rather, as Arthur Weigall, who, in the 1920s, wrote the very first biography of Akhenaten, was
the first to point out, the Amarna style was actually a retrieval of an extremely archaic canon of
Egyptian proportions, one dating back, it seems, to the art of the predynastic period before the Old
Kingdom. On several of these Egyptian Neolithic ivory statues of rulers, and also on relief work, we
find forms represented with the same exaggerated proportions, with long, narrow faces, elongated
torsos, rubbery arms and thick, bulky thighs. It is very likely, as Weigall pointed out, that Akhenaten,
during the days of his apprenticeship in the north, had encountered some of these ivory figurines and
assumed that they represented the original canon of Egyptian art.28
Akhenaten, then, saw himself as a conservator of archaic Egyptian culture forms, not an
innovator. He was attempting an act of restoration, not some bizarre new stylistic eccentricity, and
trying to go back in terms of both its religion and its art style, to the early days of the founding fathers
of ancient Egypt which he felt that the priesthood of Amun had unlawfully usurped.
The Truth Event of the birth of Akhenatens religion, thenwhich he unveiled for all of Egypt to
see at the Sed Festival of his third year of rulership at Karnak in Thebes with the building of the socalled Gempaaten Templewas actually an act not all that dissimilar from Heideggers description
of the truth event as aletheia, or unconcealment: truth, for Heidegger, is not a matter of simple
matching, or correspondence of the agreement of knowledge with its object; rather, it is an act of
unconcealment, in which a dialogue with entities actually creates a clearing (Lichtung) or open
region in which certain aspects of the entity in question are brought forth out of concealment and into
the light of unconcealment.
Such a truth event, for Heidegger, necessitaed an abbau, or destruction, in which certain
concealmentsi.e. worn out ideas and clichs such as the subject-object dicothomyare weeded

out, as it were, in order that previously buried or repressed entities may be seen in the light of the
open region in their true nature. As he puts it:
a phenomenon can be buried. This means that it was discovered before but once again got
covered up. This is not a total concealment. What was discovered before is still visible,
though only as a semblance. But so much semblanceso much being; this concealment
understood as disguise is the most frequent and most dangerous kind, for here the
possibilities of deceiving and misleading are especially great. The originally seen
phenomena are uprooted, torn from their ground, and are no longer understood in their
origins, in their extraction from their roots in a particular subject matter.29
Such, for Heidegger, was the fate of the Wests understanding of Being since Plato: for the PreSocratic philosophers, Being had been immanent in the marvel of phenomena, in the physis of things
flashing forth and then vanishing again and the attendant wonder that this process inspired in these
philosophers. Beginning with Plato, however, this understanding of Being was covered up, for with
him, Being became transcendent, above and apart from phenomena, and accessible only to the mind as
the Platonic categories. Truth, ever since, had been covered up and forgotten by Platos concealments
until Heideggers act of abbau or destruction created a fresh clearing by weeding out the clichs of
philosophy and its then worn-out understanding of Truth as correspondence in order to bring forth out
of centuries of concealment this understanding of Being as immanent within phenomena.
So, too, Akhenatens Truth Event: the ancient religion of the Old Kingdom, the cult of the sun god
Re-Harakhty, along with the art style of the ancient tribal founders of Egypt, had been forgotten,
repressed and covered over by centuries of inauthentic religious history, in which the god Amun, and
his Theban priesthood, had slowly usurped, and covered over this original religion. Akhenaten, in
unveiling his new art style at Karnak in Thebes in the first few years of his reign, was performing an
act of restoration, an abbau or deconstruction of Egyptian religion in order to recover its lost and
authentic culture forms.
Now this Event, as I have said, was made actual at the time of his Sed Festival, celebrated to
mark the third anniversary of his accession to the throne. He had not yet built, or perhaps even
imagined, his new city of Akhetaten. That would not come until Year Five of his reign.
But it was in Year Three when, at the ancient religious capital of Thebes, in the temple precinct
at Karnak, Akhenaten unveiled the so-called Gempaaten Temple which he had spent the previous year
or so having constructed to the east of the gigantic Temple of Amun. It was in the great relief work
and colossal statuary of this temple that the new art style was revealed for the first time: in the faade
of the south colonnade, for instance, we see a row of sandstone statues of Akhenaten with his arms
crossed over his chest in the traditional gesture of rulership with flail and crook, but his body is
distorted, with a potbelly, short legs, long torso and spindly arms; his skull, furthermore, is shockingly
narrow, as though it had been pinched by a giant.
In the representations of himself along this row, his headgear alternates the feathered crown of

the air god Shu with the Double Crown of the god Atum, Shus father. Another statue found at this site,
which was originally thought to represent Akhenaten as a woman, since it is naked and has no
genitals, may actually be a representation of his wife, Queen Nefertiti in the role of the goddess
Tefnut, Shus sister. Elsewhere, such as in the case of the famous sculptured head of Nefertiti in the
Berlin Museum, she wears the flattened crown which is identified with the headgear of Tefnut in her
mode as the Sphinx.
Now, what is interesting about this cosmology is that it is not yet fully monotheistic: other gods
are admitted into the pantheon, gods associated with the Heliopolitan Ennead. According to this
ancient cosmogony, in the beginning, a primeval mound had emerged from the watery abyss of Nun,
upon which sat the god Atum, who then masturbated, and from his semen sprang forth Shu and Tefnut,
the gods respectively, of the atmosphere and earthly moisture. From their union spring the primordial
pair, Geb, the earth god, and Nut, the sky goddess, whose act of copulation Shu, as the personification
of the rising air, then proceeds to separate, raising Nut with his arms up to become the Milky Way, the
heavenly Nile. Geb, lying upon the ground, has one of his knees raised, and that raised knee
symbolizes the pyramid, or the primordial mound upon which Atum had arisen in the beginning.
Now Atum, as we have noted, was also associated with Re-Harakhty in his mode as the setting
sun. Akhenaten had earlier depicted his god Re-Harakhty at Karnak on relief work from one of the
pylons there which show this god still in human form as a hawk-headed man carrying a disc of the sun
on his head. In a slightly later relief from Karnak, Re-Harakhty is no longer depicted
anthropomorphically, but for the first time, as a sun disc with rays extended, each ray ending in a
human hand, while Akhenaten is shown making offerings to his god, his physical form still
represented in accordance with the traditional stylistic canon. This new vision of the sun disc with
extended hands is a total innovation, as far as we know.
Egyptian deities often occur as triads; hence, Amun, together with his wife Mut and their child
Khonsu, were the Theban triad; Osiris, Isis and Horus constitute another such triad; while Ptah, his
consort Sekhmet, and their child Nefertum, represent yet another. It would seem then that, based on the
observable iconography at Karnak, Akhenaten and his god Aten, together with his wife, Nefertiti,
were analogizing themselves to the triad of Atum and his two children Shu and Tefnut. But these are
all varying modes and hypostases of the one god Re-Harakhty, for Atum, as we have seen, was a
manifestation of this god at sunset, while Aten represented his visible form as the disc of the sun.
So, at this point, the religion of Akhenaten was not yet a full monotheism: the worship of other
gods was still allowed, and Akhenatens own religion still drew from the iconography and names of
other gods.
But not for long.
By the Fifth Year of his reign, Akhenaten would have his name changed from Amenophis IV (i.e.
Amun is satisfied) to Akhenaten (he who effectuates or serves the will of the Aten). And in that
same year, he would begin work on building a city for his new god, which he called Akhetaten, (the
horizon of Aten). Shortly thereafter, the name of the god Amun would be stricken from monuments
throughout Egypt, and the worship of all other gods condemned.

The City of the Sun God

Were not entirely sure what event finally so exasperated Akhenaten that he decided it was
necessary to abandon the city of Thebes altogether and go further downriver to found a new city on
virgin soil, but that some such event took place seems to be implied by the following inscription from
one of the boundary stelae which Akhenaten had erected on the site of his new city:
As for thein Akhetaten:
--it was worse than those things I heard in regnal year 4;
--it was worse than [those things] I heard in regnal year 3;
--it was worse than those things I heard [in regnal year 2;
--it was] worse [than those things I heard in regnal year 1];
--it was worse [than] those things [Nebmaat]re [Amenophis III] heard;
--[it was worse than those things whichheard];
--it was worse [than] those things which Menkheperre [Tuthmosis III] heard;
--[and it was] worse [than] those things heard by any kings who had ever assumed the white
We dont know what event this refers to, but as Nicholas Reeves goes on to point out, it would
seem that some event at Thebes, perhaps an assassination attempt, so offended him that he decided it
was necessary to withdraw from the city altogether and build his own city, from scratch, right in the
middle of the Egyptian desert at a site roughly 250 miles from Thebes to the south and 200 miles from
Memphis in the north.
Thus, Akhenatens act of withdrawal from the state apparatus and flight into the desert in order
to found a new city to become the vessel for his nascent religion parallels the withdrawal of
Gilgamesh from the city of Uruk, together with his flight into the deserts of southern Mesopotamia in
quest of immortality. Gilgamesh finds Utna-pishti stowed away on a sacred island; Akhenaten creates
a city as an oasis in the desert; but both acts are, in sense and significance, mirror images of each
other. Both acts were types of Exoduses, both were types of Vision Quest, and both, in their own
ways, failed.
For Akhenaten, what was important about this desert site, known locally as Tell el-Amarna, is
that it was on virgin soil: nothing, save maybe a small ramshackle village or two, had ever occupied
this spot on the eastern bank of the Nile a few miles upriver from the city of Hermopolis (sacred to
the moon god Thoth) on the western bank. Here the cliffs curved away from the land, leaving a
lowland area about eight miles long and three miles wide, thus creating a natural bay in the desert
area east of the cultivation along the riverbank. There was, however, an important and interesting
cleft in the rocks along the cliffs bordering this site, a cleft that mimicked the architectural
arrangement of the two pylons of the temples at Thebes which are meant to represent twin mountains
like the Mashu mountains in the Gilgamesh Epic--from between which the sun emerges out of the
underworld each day. It was in the area of this cleft that Akhenaten had his own Royal Tomb built,

with a cemetery for the nobles of his court located a couple of miles to the north and one a couple of
miles to the south.
Though Akhenatens religion was an act of conservation, its exigencies were making it necessary
for him to innovate after all, for his relocation of the cemeteries to the east of the city was contrary to
the tradition of locating the Egyptian necropolises on the west bank of the Nile, where the dead
followed the setting sun down on his night sea journey into the realm of Amenti. In Akhenatens
cosmology, as we have seen, the underworld was not even recognized, except to say that each
morning, when the sun rose, the dead emerged from it into the daylight along with everyone else and
mingled about in the temples, where they received offerings. People were still mummified, it is true,
and buried in tombs burrowed into the rocks; they were still equipped with grave gear like shabtis
and canopic chests, but the inscriptions on these objects were carefully modified to give all praise to
the Aten as the source of the power of resurrection. Osiris was not to be spoken of, and neither were
any other of the mortuary divinities of Egypt.
The Great Aten Temple was aligned with this cleft, and was open to the East so as to receive the
radiant powers of the Aten disc when it arose each morning. Indeed, the entire city was conceived in
such a way as to imagine that all of its power radiated from the Aten, and from the cleft in the rocks
where the Royal Tomb of Akhenaten was laid out, again contrary to tradition so that it emanated,
rather than received, the suns power, as though the tomb were somehow the causal source for the
energies of the entire city.
Indeed, Akhetaten was a dream city of two dimensionality, laid out in such a way as to
eliminate shadows, depths and dark corners wherever possible. There are no tall buildings here, the
tallest structures are the twin pylons of the Great Aten Temple; there are only flat, bone-white
buildings of one, occasionally, two storeys, spread out across a vast, flat white plain of desert
landscape, the lime-green fronds of palm trees stirring with the occasional faint desert breeze.
Sunlight soaks the city, banishing the shadows. The buildings compose a vast field of squares and
rectangles; curves are as anathema here as are shadows. The structures are built of mud brick cased
with limestone, upon which bright, multi-colored reliefs of the sun disc and the Royal Family are
painted. Some of the buildings are equipped with balustrades of alabaster, granite and hard limestone.
There is a lot of open space with large roofless corridors and long, expansive courtyards, for there
are no dark shadows within which to hide from the searing gaze of the reddish copper disc of the
burning Aten. The nearby suburbs are composed of fields of box-like houses stretching as far to the
horizon as the eye can see. They are one or two storeys high, brown and tan and umber boxes of
mudbrick with very few trees about.
This was Akenatens dream city, the translation into physical structures of the religious vision
beheld by his middle eye, a world in which all depths have been banished, a world in which darkness
no longer exists, a world in which even the realm of the dead has been peeled away like the skin of an
orange from the worlds underside. Here there is no longer any need for a Judgment of the Dead, for
you are always on trial here, since you are always watched over by the luminous crimson gaze of the
Aten disc, which sees all.
It is a shallow, two dimensional world, as close as it is possible for a city to approximate pure

surfaces shorn of depth. There is no blood here (Akhenaten banished the custom of sacrificing war
prisoners); war itself does not even exist; violence is a thing of the past; the Empire crumbling in
Palestine as its kings send clay letters of distress to Akhenaten, letters telling of their kings towns
being sacked and raided by bands of Habiru and Amorites, go largely unanswered by Akhenaten.
Violence, war and empire belong to the world of three dimensions, the world of depths as well as
surfaces, but this was not a world that Akhenatens religion was willing to admit existed. In the
religion of the Aten, shadows were banished, and nothing existed but the blistering sunlight that casts
no shadows, for at Amarna, it is always noon.
Consistent with this vision, there were no underclasses or poor people at Amarna: this was a
city of villas and palaces; slaves and servants had no houses of their own but lived within their
masters households. All inhabitants were assigned their set functions, so there was no opportunity for
an urban proletariat to take root.31 To the north and south, sections filled with villas surrounded an
official center containing a palace, temples, barracks, government bureaus, storehouses and archives.
There was no set quarter for workshops. A street life could not have developed at Amarna.
The city was laid out along the Nile on a roughly north-south axis, with a large central road
going down its middle. This road was approximately 30 feet wide, and it was apparently used as the
main axis by means of which Akhenaten traveled in his horse-drawn two-wheeled chariot. Akhenaten
never seems to have gone anywhere in the city except via chariot, and he is the first pharaoh in
Egyptian history to be depicted in the artwork using it for other than military purposes. An ecstacy of
speed, as Erik Hornung puts it, pervades these chariot scenes.32
Thus, in the case of Akhenaten, we have a classic example of how the founding of a religion
makes possible the creation of an entire world. The religious vision precedes the construction of
civilization, without which civilization cannot exist and would never have come into being in the first
place. Akhenatens example provides us with an illustration in miniature of the fact that the Visions
that come to the founders of religions are what bring civilization into being in the first place. The
Visions provide culture with its blueprint.
What Was Missing
However, there were things missing from Akhenatens particular vision, things which, by now,
should be evident, for it was only half of a cosmology. It is like Zoroastrianism without the god of
darkness; it is only a religion of Light; Darkness has no ontological reality in this world whatsoever.
And consequently, there is a failure in Akhenatens religion to address the question of Evil:
human suffering is not admitted to exist at all, for the Aten is a beneficent god who sees to the welfare
of all his worshippers. Akhenaten himself is to be imagined in a way similar to how Rudolf Steiner
pictured Jesus Christ, as a human avatar of the sun god, come down to earth on its behalf, in order to
address, not human suffering, in Akhenatens case, but only to provide for human well-being. To admit
of suffering in this cosmos would be to admit to a failing in the Aten, and Akhenaten simply was not
prepared to do any such thing. His god was a perfect god: simple, serene, beatific. Evil was not a
problem because it did not exist.
It is, therefore, not a surprise that he never bothered to go to war in Palestine to prevent the

disintegration of the Egyptian Empire, which tumbled into virtual non-existence on his watch. He sent
a half-hearted campaign on one occasion to Nubia, but that is about it. The Aten was not a god who
promoted warfare.
However, when the city was completed around Year 9 of Akhenatens reign, he made a change in
the so-called didactic name of his god, in which he dropped the names for Shu and Harakhty from the
Re-form of the Atens name. The new name of the god was: Live Re, Ruler of the Horizon,
Rejoicing in the Horizon in His Name Re, the Father, who has come as the Sun-disc.33 The plural
word gods at this time was now stricken from all the monuments, and Akhenaten himself launched a
campaign of terror and persecution against, not only the priesthood of Amun, but against all the gods
of Egypt. As Nicholas Reeves describes the situation, around the Year 10 of Akhenatens reign:
An order went out from the palace to smash up the divine statues and hack out the names and
images of these gods wherever they occurredon temple walls, on obelisks, on shrines, on
the accessible portions of tombs. This was accompanied by a focused attack on the divine
birth scenes both of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri and, to a lesser though still discernible
extent, on the similar reliefs of his father Amenophis III also, at Luxor; mythological fantasies
of this sort were no longer to be tolerated. But it was not only the Theban gods Akhenaten had
in his sights: since there was only one true deity, the Aten, the plural hieroglyphic group for
gods was similarly excised wherever it was found. Henceforth there would be recognized
but a single power, and that was Akhenaten himself.
This campaign was no academic exercise, but a true persecution which generated a real and
tangible fear among the Egyptian people: for it was not only from Egypts large, public
monuments that the offending hieroglyphs were excised. As the archaeological record shows,
small, personal items such as pots for eye make-up and commemorative scarabs were dealt
with in the same relentless fashion. Fearful of being found in possession of such seditious
items, the owners themselves gouged or ground out the three offending signs which articulated
the god Amuns name, even in tiny cartouches containing the old kings birth name. Such
displays of frightened self-censorship and toadying loyalty are ominous indicators of the
paranoia which was beginning to grip the country. Not only were the streets filled with
pharaohs soldiers (predominantly Nubian and Asiatic); it seems the population now had to
contend with the danger of malicious informers.34
And so, the only Evil in Akhenatens religion apparently came from its founder himself in the
form of a zealous, monotheistic persecution of the cults of all the other gods. Akhenaten is the first
man in Western history to go to war against polytheism: his actions are a preview of the coming
attractions fulfilled by the religious reforms that took place under King Josiah in Judah, and under
Ezra after the return of the Jews from their Babylonian exile, and then later, with the Emperor
Theodosius. As Arthur Weigall, in his proto-biography of Akhenaten, wrote:

The erasing of the name of Amon had been, after all, a direct war upon a certain priesthood,
and did not very materially affect any other localities than that of Thebes. But the suppression
of the numerous priesthoods of the many deities who held sway throughout Egypt threw into
disorder the whole country, and struck at the heart not of one but of a hundred cities. Was the
kindly old artificer Ptah, with his hammer and his chisel, to be tumbled into empty space?
Was the beautiful, gracious Hathorthe Venus of the Nileto be thrown down from her
celestial seat? Was it possible to banish Khnum, the goat headed potter who lived in the
caves of the Cataract, from the life of the city of Elephantine; the mysterious jackal Wepwat
from the hearts of the men of Abydos; or the ancient crocodile Sebek from the ships and fields
of Ombos? Every town had its local god and every god its priesthood; and surely the Pharaoh
was mad who attempted to make war upon these legions of heaven.35
Indeed, whenever it was necessary to refer to the names of specific gods, such as Mut or Ptah,
Akhenaten banned the use of their hieroglyphs, insisting that the words be spelled out phonetically
instead. This aniconism is already looking ahead to Mosess descent from Sinai when he sees that the
Hebrews have reverted to the religion of the golden bull and he smashes the tablets of the laws
against the rocks in a furious outburst of pious, aniconic rage. He has just spent forty days and forty
nights at the top of the mountain communing with Yahweh and inventing a new script, the phonetic
alphabet, in which graven images of any kind need no longer be used in order to communicate, and
when he descends to the base of the mountain and sees that the Hebrews have reverted back to a
religion of iconic gods worshipped in graven images, it is not surprising that his response would be
so vitriolic. It is, however, the archetypal response of Western monotheismbeginning with
Akhenatento polytheistic ways of worship.
The End of the Beginning of Monotheism
And then, around Year 12, disaster began, slowly but surely, to creep its way in.
The religion that was incomplete because it had been built on a cosmology emphasizing only one
side of the world, namely, the bright half, the realm, that is, of Apollo or Vishnu or Re (while the
necessary supplement provided by Dionysus, Shiva and Osiris was carefully edited out) began to
chip, then crack, and then the cracks to ramify, as Akhenatens brittle symbolic edifice, not sufficiently
rooted to withstand impacts from the realm of the Real, began to collapse.
If religion is an extension of the human immune system which provides a protective macrosphere
around the psyche sheltering it from the impacts of the Real, then we may say that with its collapse,
the psyche will become very quickly prey to disease, and indeed, at this time, a plague was
apparently running rampant throughout both Egypt and Palestine.
In Year 12, Akhenatens second beloved wife, Kiyapossibly the mother of Tutankhamun
died. In Year 14, his mother Queen Tiy, died. In the same year, his second daughter, 11 year old
Meketaten, died. It is possible, though we have no substantive proof, that this cluster of deaths was
the result of the plague, as Donald Redford remarks: The sudden deaths attested from about year 11

on might find an explanation in the effects of a plague which, as Professor Helck has pointed out, was
ravaging the Levant at this time.36
Now Nefertiti disappears from the inscriptions at about this time as well, and it used to be
thought that her death was followed by the accession of a co-regent to the throne named Smenkhare,
the evidence for whose actual existence has always been a bit scanty. Smenkhares name starts turning
up in the inscriptions in about the Year 15, but as Nicholas Reeves has shown, it is more likely that
Smenkhare was actually Nefertiti herself, for both personages bore the same nickname of
Nefernefruaten. Not only that, but a stela from Berlin which shows the royal couple, Nefertiti and
Akhenaten, but which has four cartouches inscribed above them, apparently indicates her corulership, since only the pharaoh was allowed two cartouches, while his consort only had one.37
Amarna, at this time, was also running out of money. The shutting down of the Amun priesthood
also shut down the states primary source of revenue, and the collapse of the Egyptian Empire in
Palestine also meant that no more tribute would be coming in from its subject peoples.
Akhenaten died in Year 17 of his reign; we dont have any idea how. Perhaps it was the plague,
or perhaps the stress of the realization that his utopia was collapsing inward on him like a black hole,
was too much for him to bear. In any event, his reign was survived by Nefertiti-Smenkhare, who ruled
for another year before she, too, disappeared from the records.
But before she died, the desperate straits that she had found herself in is indicated by a letter
written by one of the priests associated with Year 3 of her reignin which she is referred to by one
of her throne names as Ankhkheprure-Nefernefruatenby a man named Pawah who, it appears, was a
priest of Amun in the mortuary temple of Akhenatens co-regent, Nefertiti. The letter is actually a
prayer to the god Amun:
Come back to us, O lord of continuity! You were here before anything had come into being,
and you will be here when they are gone. As you have caused me to see the darkness that is
yours to give, make light for me so that I can see you. As your ka endures and as your
handsome, beloved face endures, may you come from afar and allow this servant, the scribe
Pawah, to see you! Grant him the condition of Re awaits him!, for indeed the following of
you is good.38
Thus, no sooner is Akhenaten dead, than the priests of Amun associated with the reign of
Nefertiti are already begging Amun to return and lift them out of penury.
There is also another sign of Nefertitis desperation in the form of a letter that was written to the
Hittite king Suppiliumas, from an unnamed pharaohs widow, asking the king if he will send her a son
to marry, since the previous pharaoh had died without a son to follow him. My husband died, the
letter reads. A son I have not. But to you, they say, the sons are many. If you were to give me a son of
yours, he would become my husband. Never shall I pick out a servant of mine and make him my
husband!I am afraid.39
It was originally thought that this letter was written by Ankhesenamun, the wife of Tutankhamun,

after his death. But since it has been pointed out that the time frame between the death of Tutankhamun
(in December, with his burial 70 days later in early March) and the writing of the letter (which Hittite
archives indicate was received in the autumn) would have to have been about nine months, it seems
unlikely to have been penned by her. Nine months is too long a time to go by for such a crisis situation
and as Reeves points out, the author of the letter is more likely to have been Nefertiti, who is referred
to in the letter only by the mysterious name of Dahamanzu. The Hittite king, though suspicious, did
indeed send a son by the name of Zanzana, but he was assassinated en route, presumably by forces
inimical to the kings plans.40
In any event, Nefertiti-Smenkhares reign was followed by that of the famous boy-king
Tutankhamun, who ascended the throne at about the age of nine years old and ruled itundoubtedly
under the advice of Ay, the brother of Queen Tiy, and also master of Akhenatens chariotry and one of
his trusted advisersfor about nine years. Ay seems to have advised him to change his name from
Tutankhaten to Tutankhamun and to abandon the city of Akhetaten and return to Thebes. Indeed, the
city was evacuated with some haste, for animals were found left behind to starve to death. Very soon,
it had become a ghost town, with the desert sands proceeding to efface it from memory.
Recent genetic studies have shown that Tutankhamun had a club foot and was definitely the son
of Akhenaten by one of his sisters, which one we dont know. He contracted malaria several times in
his life and may possibly have died of the disease. The old theory that he was killed by a blow to the
head, and hence, possibly murdered, has now been disproven by this same study, which showed that
the hole was made during the mummification process and not by an aggressor.41
Ay ruled immediately after Tutankhamun, for a brief period of about three years. He died without
offspring and after him, whether on Ays nomination or perhaps by military coup is unknown, the war
general Horemheb stepped forward to replace him. Horemheb had been busy in Palestine attempting
to restore the empire and he was only too happy to take control of Egypt and steer her back toward the
course of empire once more.
But Horemheb, who had been one of Amenhotep IIIs primary generals, was a practical man, and
he realizedprobably due to pressures put on him by the Theban priesthoodthat all traces of
Akhenatens religion would have to be eradicated if the country was ever to be restored to a state of
peace. Ay and Tutankhamun had tried to fly a middle ground by keeping the Aten religion in the
picturethe rayed sun-disc is depicted on the back of Tutankhamuns throne chairbut Horemheb
proceeded to eradicate it. As Donald Redford remarks:
Not one block was left upon another at Akhetaten. Walls were torn down to their foundations,
mud-bricks pillaged, and steles and statuary hopelessly smashed. Thereafter the ruins
provided a quarry for over a century, most of the known blocks gravitating across the river to
Hermopolis, where the Ramessides used them extensively; but some ended up as far away as
Abydos, over 100 miles to the south. The fate of the sun-temples at Memphis and Heliopolis
can only be imagined; the one at Memphis was undoubtedly torn down.42

The four temples which Akhenaten had built in Thebes were dismantled and their blocks were
used by Horemheb as masonry fill for new pylons at Thebes and Luxor. Thus, swallowing up the
blocks of Akhenatens temples inside the new pylons, Horemheb actually reversed Akhenatens Truth
Event, placing back into concealment that which Akhenaten had brought forth into the unconcealment
of the open region of Egyptian waking consciousness. And in doing so, he inadvertently preserved the
remains of Akhenatens temples for archaeologists to later piece together.
But the precedent had already been set: Western monotheism had come into being, perhaps a few
centuries too early, but the Event had taken place, and the new symbol system that had come forth
from out of the collective unconscious was merely anticipating, by centuries, what would eventually
become the religious norm of Western civilization.

Concluding Remarks to Part One

In terms of the evolution of human consciousness, as described by Julian Jaynes in his book The
Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, the second millennium BC was
indeed the epoch of the disintegration of the bicameral mind, that is to say, of the kind of mind
overburdened by the commands of the voices of the gods. It is evident that both Gilgamesh and
Akhenatenhighly self-determined individuals--are already preparing the human psyches eventual
divorce from identification with astral beings and divinities which speak through him as a
The solidification of the boundaries of the ego finds its analogue in the Standard Version of the
Gilgamesh Epic in which both the Prologue and the Epilogue dwell on the walls of the city of Uruk,
walls which, according to legend, had been built by Gilgamesh himself. The wall is the membrane
which divides the self from the Other, the citys inhabitants from the dusty, shambling Martu, and the
individual psyche from the astral spirits and beings that are forever seeking to possess and use it for
inscrutable purposes of their own. It is perhaps not a coincidence that the man who composed these
lines, Sin-leqi-unnini, was himself an exorcist.
The disentangling of the human mind from dominance by spiritual powers was a long and
difficult process, but its eventual completion earned him a fresh store of psychic and vital powers that
enabled him to overlay the earth with a thick crust of machines and even travel to the moon inside one
of them.
In the case of Akhenaten, his rejection of the entire world of the astral plane, of all of Egypts
divinities, and his attempt to build a world religion in which they did not take part is suggestive of a
desire to stabilize the psyche and thus to prepare for the advent of what will later become the fully
developed three-dimensional personality that is no longer so open behind as Thomas Mann once
put it in his Joseph novels; open, that is, to the process of archetypal echoing of events. In the revolt
of Akhenaten, the human ego, perhaps for the first time in ancient Egypt, attempts to stand upon its
own two legs, which is perhaps why James Breasted called Akhenaten historys first true individual.
But, by contrast with what would eventually develop in the cosmologies of Western science, the
Gilgamesh Epic, which tells the tale of how a human being who, having journeyed along the ecliptic
through the zodiac is eventually given a place within the cosmos by the gods who have taken notice of
his deeds, it is important to notice that in this ancient cosmology, the human being is still a central
actor on the stage. His deeds do not go unnoticed by the gods, who give him a place in their own
world. The cosmos, therefore, and the gods within it, far from being indifferent to his existence, is
actually responsive to his needs and anxieties and even finds him worthy of elevation to the status of a
god. In the cosmology of science, on the other hand, as it develops from the days of Copernicus

onward, such a thing will become an impossibility, for eventually the human being will find himself
alone and abandoned by an indifferent cosmos in which the audience of gods has vacated the theater.
Only the sound of the human beings own voice echoes through the auditorium. But no one, by then,
will be listening any longer.
But those are days, at this point in our narrative, that are still far in the future, for now we are
concerned with the process whereby religion makes worlds as extensions of the human immune
system, worlds which are essentially wombs inside which he is protected from the impacts of the
Real. The process of deworlding the human being, of isolating his ego from the voices of the gods and
of cutting him out as a figure against the ground of a larger, more empty and indifferent cosmos, has
yet to unfold.
For now, the world is not made by science, but by religion, and it is a world, indeed, in which
the gods are listening. . .

Part Two:
The Three Great Monotheisms

The desert gave birth to civilization.

Mesopotamia and Egypt both came into being in hot, dry desert climates alive with palm fronds,
braying donkeys and the squeaking of shadufs drawing up water from wells. Camels, Bedouins, veils
and dust: mud brick buildings, red granite cliffs, turquoise skies and crescent-shaped boats going up
and down rivers and waterways. Canals splayed across the land like dendrites in a primitive nervous
system shooting strips of water across muddy fields to nourish thin and spindly shafts of grain. Heat,
flies and dusty pink horizons. Groves of date palms and tamarisk trees the only shelter from a burning
disc in the heavens that settles at dusk to a glowing coal where the sky meets the earth.
Such is the world from out of which High Civilization emerged: mathematics and writing,
astronomy and sculpture, monumental architecture and cylinder seals, gods and theogonies. A world
of mental striations as topologically convoluted as a farmers network of fields interlaced by canals
and ditches. A world of cracked plaster walls and crumbling roofs; of frayed reedwork boats and
threadbare linen clothing; of cows, sheep and goats.
This is the world of the first great cities. But take note: it is also the world that gave birth to the
three great monotheisms, founded by Moses, Jesus and Mohammed: all religions favored by the
desert, and all inimicalutterlyto life in cities. The three monotheisms bear the hatred of cities
within them like striations in woodgrain: the Bedouins antipathy to life in cities, for they were all
born, these godsthis Godout in the red granite cliffs beneath sagging palm fronds where lizards
dart across rocks. As the French theoretician Regis Debray put it: The city closes man in on himself;
the desert opens him up to the Other. The polytheist prefers the vegetal, embellishments and valleys;
his despiser prefers the mineral, abrupt canyons, limestone cliffs limned with geological
The desert is the home of monotheism, as Ernst Renan once put it.
And monotheism is a type of religiosity that is inherently, and structurally, opposed to life in
cities, for it is a religion of nomads and camel drivers; of goat-herders and men living in tents, like
the prehistoric Jacob wandering with his sons across the desertscapes of Palestine. The 10th
Commandment, Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors house, may actually be an injunction to the
nomad to keep his eyes on the grainy, shimmering horizons and the arcing wave-shaped, wind-blown
dunes and away from the cities of the plain, nestled and secure within the mental wombs of their
ancient protective gods.
And, just as in chaos theory, in which large effects ultimately result from very small initial
conditions, so the monotheistic shepherds antipathy to cities will later become the general
incommensurability of the Abrahamic worldview with science. The Scientific Civilization, also built
by the West, is a civilization that comes out of life in cities, that is to say, the Medieval world of
walled cities, towns and hamlets whose capitalistic metabolism nourished the very conditions out of
which the scientific mentality could grow and thrive; the Monotheistic Society, though, is a world
rooted in the horizontal life of nomads, goats, donkeys, camels and tents. Hence, in the Book of

Genesis, Cain (whose name means smith) is cursed from the very beginning: nothing good, this text
says, can come from technology or the worldview that leads to life in cities. Cains son Enoch is the
builder of the worlds very first city, and his descendant Tubal-cain becomes the worlds first master
of metallurgy. It is thus no coincidence that the Bible portrays Cain as the one who introduces murder
into the world, for the Abrahamic vision thereby equates technology with cities, corruption and death.
The city builder who, unlike the nomad, is locked into place and is therefore constrained to move
vertically, can only ever give birth to his Towers of Babel, those impious and hubristic ladders to the
heavens which confer on the city builder his heaven-storming arrogance.
Cain is the farmer; Abel the shepherd. But the excess produce of the farmer will require huge
silos and storage buildings within which to store the grain, and soon, this will lead to the necessity
for protective enclosures such as walls, armies and temples. One of the very first cities, in fact, the
Samarran site of Tell es Sawwan (circa. 6000 BC), was nothing more than a collection of seven large
storage silos for grain which, in later levels of the site, gave birth to a walled compound, one of the
worlds first walled settlements, in fact. Gilgamesh was later regarded as a builder of walls, but the
animal man Enkidu, on the other hand, climbs his way up from the deserts to the inside of the
protective womb of Uruk itself: he was precisely the sort of dusty fellow that Gilgamesh had built his
walls to keep out. However, Gilgameshs partnership with this proto-Martu was prophetic of the
future of Near Eastern religion, which would unfold, not from the life of the city dweller, as in the
days of the ancients, but from the dwellers in tents who had, from time immemorial, circled the cities
as roving satellites. Gilgamesh was, in a sense, the lord of civilizations past (hence, the true
significance of his role as keeper of the dead, for the dead are merely bits of fossilized Past); while
the future belonged to the Enkidus who claimed the world of cliffs and valleys, steppes and plains as
their home.
The worlds most ancient deity of writing, the Sumerian goddess Nisaba, also happened to be
the goddess of grain, for writing was originally invented in Sumer as a means of keeping track of
economic flows going in and out of the temples: grain to this god and its priesthood; barley for that
man and his fieldwork, etc. Thus, writing, like the first walls, and the farmers act of reaping and
threshing and storing his grain, is part of the new womb-world of enclosures that the first cities
brought into being.
But it is precisely such enclosures that the monotheistic shepherd blows apart: the Tower of
Babel must be stopped by introducing foreign languages to break down its lines of communication so
that it can no longer be built; the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah must be flattened by divine wrath for
their incubation of bizarre and polymorphic forms of sexuality; the earliest cities themselves wrecked
by a gigantic Flood, which washes them away like so much ruined silt and debris from the rivers ebb
The monotheistic nomad, and his invisible God, wants nothing of enclosures, which recall too
much of the womb and the Great Mother. He wants only open, endless vistas shimmering from one
muddy horizon to the next; wants only the freedom to move about unconstrained and wander from one
desert spring to the next; wishes only to follow the ancient desert trails of his Bedouin forebears who
have tracked the endless, featureless wastes of the desert scrub before him.

For our blackboard, then, another formula: Bondage vs. Freedom; arborescence vs. mobility;
submission to a king vs. the shattering visions of the Prophets.
Dark Age
The main event that separates the mentalities of Gilgamesh and Akhenaten from those of the
Abrahamic founders is the Dark Age of the 12th Century BC that descended upon the Eastern
Mediterranean. It was at this time that the Hittite Empire collapsed; the Mycenaean civilization was
destroyed; towns and villages all along the Palestinian littoral sacked and burned; and the invasions
of the Sea Peoples, which flooded Egypt first in 1225 BC, and then in a second wave around 1184
BC in the time of Ramses III. Populations and peoples were on the move everywhere: the Trojan War
had recently taken place, and very possibly, the Exodus occurred at about this time also. Peoples and
tribes were in motion, undergoing a massive Volkerwanderung. A major drought, too, had settled in,
perhaps one of the causative factors of this dark age.
As Julian Jaynes wrote in his Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral
Mind, the cumulative effect of this disaster was to weaken the influence of the gods upon the human
mind, for it threw the very concept of authority, in both heaven and on earth, into question. As Jaynes
points out, Mesopotamia seems to have reverted to the magical consciousness structure as a fallback
in this age of the silence of the gods, for at this time in the Near East, there is an explosion of interest
in divination, omens, astrology and other magical practices as part of a desperate search to confer
meaning upon catastrophe.
This sweeping and clearing of the old gods from the stage of world historythe death of the
pre-metaphysical age--resulted in the creation of a new mentality of subjective individualized
consciousness amongst both the Hebrews and the Greeks (i.e. the birth of the metaphysical age
proper), for the breakdown of what Jaynes termed the bicameral mind corresponds to the period of
the advent of what the Swiss philosopher Jean Gebser called the mental consciousness structure, or
what Martin Heidegger called the metaphysical age. The old age in which the actions of men were
almost entirely determined by the commands of their gods was over (the mythical age), and already
with The Odyssey, we begin to see the horizons of a new kind of self-motivated human consciousness
that is beginning to shape itself in despite of the wishes of the gods. As the civilization of ancient
Greece evolves, the voices of the gods become ever more and more distant and the human ego,
together with its rationalistic thought processes, begins to step forward and command center stage.
In the Near East, this development is manifested by the Hebrew invention of the one, true,
invisible God. The swarming chaos of polytheism is gradually, as Hebrew consciousness evolves,
diminished as consciousness becomes centered in the axial relationship between the subjective human
individual and his God. The voices of the many gods are gradually drowned out over the centuries as
the one god, an invisible one, emerges to command dominance.
With the three transformations represented by Moses, Jesus and Mohammed, this god undergoes
a process of evolution and metamorphosis. Nietzsche, in his Zarathustra, wrote of the three
metamorphoses of the Spirit as the transformation from the camel, to the dragon, to the child, but in
the case of the three monotheisms, the transformations proceed from the donkey to the lamb to the

The Event
But, in reality, we are dealing with three separate events of world history, events of the kind
described by Alain Badiou in his book Being and Event. Here is how he describes his event theory in
his book Ethics:
Let us say that a subject, which goes beyond the animal (although the animal remains its sole
foundation). . . needs something to have happened, something that cannot be reduced to its
ordinary inscription in what there is. Let us call this supplement an event, and let us
distinguish multiple-being, where it is not a matter of truth (but only of opinions), from the
event, which compels us to decide a new way of being. Such events are well and truly
attested: the French Revolution of 1792, the meeting of Heloise and Abelard, Galileos
creation of physics, Haydns invention of the classical musical style
From which decision, then, stems the process of a truth? From the decision to relate
henceforth to the situation from the perspective of its evental supplement. Let us call this a
fidelity. To be faithful to an event is to move within the situation that this event has
supplemented, by thinking (although all thought is a practice, a putting to the test) the situation
according to the event. And this, of coursesince the event was excluded by all the regular
laws of the situationcompels the subject to invent a new way of being and acting in the
Thus, Badiou introduces the idea that new chains of causes and effects are set into motion by
certain specific human beings who maintain fidelity to an event, which irrupts as a singularity within
the banalities of the status quo of a social situation. Through what Badiou calls an interpretative
intervention, an event is named and designated as belonging to the situation, and through fidelity to
this event, truth is brought into being as a universal singularity along with the very idea of a human
subject. The event of culture subjectivates us, according to Badiou, demarcating the human subject
from other ordinary human beings.
The Christ-event, for example, unfolds, according to Badiou, in the following manner: his death
and crucifixion are interpreted by the apostles as not just any ordinary death of a man, but rather, as
the death of God (hence, interpretative intervention); the evental site of this event is Palestine, and its
metastructure is the Roman imperium which forms the state of the situation within which the event
takes place. Through fidelity to this event, the human being becomes a Christian subject and the death
of God become man a universal Truth.45
Human cultural history is thus made up of ruptures and discontinuities in which the
incommensurability of a singular event with the status quo of a situation acts as a means of moving
history forward, but not, in Badious cosmos, with any sort of direction, for history is meaningless
and based upon mere chance, in his view. No spiritual forces intervene: only human fidelities to

cultural events that make them true and therefore world-transforming.

In the case of the three great monotheisms, we are faced with three such ruptures in the banal
flow of Western religious history: what I would call the Sinai Event, the Christ Event and the Event of
the Cave. It is through fidelity to the Event which occurred at the top of Mount Sinaiand also at its
foot, when Yahweh first announced His presence in history through the burning bush that spoke to
Moses and told him to go back to Egyptin which Moses brought down the Decalogue and along
with it, the entire body of rules, laws and proscriptions that formed the functioning body of the
Hebraic religion. It is through fidelity to this unique Event, this historical singularity that ruptures
history irrevocably in half, that the contemporary Jew subjectivates himself as a Jewish subject of his
Likewise, a similar fidelity to the Event of Christs crucifixionand especially, the witnessing
of his resurrectiontransforms the modern Christian into a Christian subject, i.e. the member of a
world-shaping religion.
And it is through fidelity to the Event of the Cave, in which Gabriel descended to dictate the
Koran to Mohammed, that the modern Muslim constitutes himself as a subject. That one event created
the First Cause of a new chain of causes that has effectuated a transformation of world history ever
since, and the modern Muslim constitutes himself through his fidelity to that one, single, originating
Badious philosophy, though, is designed to emphasize the subject who is faithful to the event
rather than the initial creator who set the event in motion in the first place. He rather uncomfortably
terms such creators intervenors as a means, perhaps, of evading the old idea that history is created
by the Great Man. However, the problem is that an interpretative intervenor comes after the fact of an
event that has already long since transpiredjust as the dream precedes its befuddled analysis--for
the intervenor only brackets and sets aside the event as culturally significant. He does not initiate it.
Badiou, wishing to avoid the cult of the Great Man, quietly steps around the event as origin and
focuses upon the faithful who make the event into a historical reality by deciding upon its status of
belonging to the situation.
But without the visionary imaginations of Moses, Christ and Mohammed, there would, of course,
be no religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. These religions began somewhere, and they did
not begin in the minds of the faithful who indeed made them a historical reality, but rather in the
creative imaginations of three desert dwellers who, like Gilgamesh and Akhenaten, were completely
dissatisfied with the state of the situation of their times.
It is from their imaginations that entire worlds have come into being, whole civilizations that
have been built, brick by brick, on the groundplans laid out by their visionary fever dreams. While I
have no wish to regress back to the nineteenth century Great Man theory of culture, it is nonetheless
important to locate the origins of these religions somewhere, and that somewhere happens to lie in the
creative imagination of the desert dwelling nomad who was still embedded inside a cosmos made out
of gods, demons and jinn which could still speak and converse with him.
It is the world-making potentialities of these visions that I am interested in investigating here, for
each one drew up a new metastructure, a new macrosphere within which the human being was, from

henceforth, to constitute himself as a subjectivity. Not a member of a particular city any longer, but a
being contained inside the mind of a God, whose mental space would come to replace the physical
world space defined by the mudbrick and stone of his earlier walled cities.
Indeed, these new walls were made out of subtler stuff than mud and stone. They were now to be
made out of ideas. Thus, the new world space inside which the human being is to be contained is a
mindspace, and it is this mental wombsphere which comes to replace the physical city state as
macrosphere. That is the innovation of the Three Great Monotheisms.
The human being becomes an embryo that now lives and dwells and is fed and nourished inside
the mind of a God. Where he lives no longer matters.
All hail to the Nomad and his Nomadology.

Moses, Architect of a New Cultural Biosphere

Theological Embryogenesis
Moses and Homer, wrote the Austrian philosopher Franz Borkenau in his book End and
Beginning, continue Akhenatens struggle against the cults of the dead.46
Indeed, we have seen that whereas Mesopotamian civilization signed off, in the Gilgamesh Epic,
with a man who became the god of the dead and the patron spirit of an ancestor cult, in the case of
Egypt, Akhenaten was entirely opposed to the worlds underside, that is to say, of the suns nocturnal
journey beneath the earth at night, and also the human souls residence in the Afterlife beyond death.
With the advent of Moses, on the other hand, we are faced with a vector pointing entirely into the
future, for Moses is not a figure produced by a society in its twilight, but rather one that is a
manifestation of the first pink wash on the dawn horizon. Gilgamesh and Akhenaten are terminal
phenomena: they are patinaed with a greenish hue of decay and cultural debility. Moses (and also
Homer), on the other hand, are embryonic phenomena of a new age, the Metaphysical Age, that is,
and neither were much interested in the cult of the dead and the afterlife.
Moses, though he was an old man (in fact, the Bible says he was eighty when he started out on
the Exodus) is nevertheless a signifier that points toward the future, not the past. His itinerarywhich
can be plotted as a trajectory in the shape of an inverted triangle that leads him from three mountains:
from the pyramids of Giza to Mount Sinai, and then ultimately onward to Mount Pisgah overlooking
Palestinefaces east, the direction of the newborn sun, as he gradually makes his way from Egypt
through the deserts of the Sinai as though in imitation of the suns West to East nocturnal journey
beneath the earth. Indeed, the Exodus is a disguised night sea journey through the underworld in which
monsters and demons are encountered in such altered forms as that of the pharaoh who chases them
through the Red Sea, or the giants of Anak which the Hebrews encounter once they have reached
Palestine, or the Amalekites with whom they do battle. At the spot where Moses dies, somewhere
atop Mount Pisgah, he is imitating the suns rise between the Mashu mountains in the east, where he
stands, just like the dawn sun, overlooking the valleyand the future--to the west.
Indeed, so little does Moses have anything to do with the past and the cult of the ancestors
generally, that the Bible professes ignorance as to the exact location of his burial site. The message,
then, is clear: the dead now are unimportant; what matters is the future, the dawn, the Promised Land.
As he sets out from Egypt, then, Moses is to be imagined as a vessel, his skull functioning as a
sort of proto-Ark inside which the embryo of a newborn god is incubating.
We dont know if Moses ever really existed or not, but the same doubts raised about him have

also been raised in regards to just about every other semi-historical figure of religious history, Laotzu, for instance, or Osiris or Orpheus. Such men might have existed once, in the early pre-dawn
horizons of their cultures, but their historicity has long since been replaced by myth, which
remembers their essence rather than their phenomenal being. If I were a betting man, however, I
would put my money on the historicity of Moses, mainly because the Hebrews are a people unique in
history in that they forgot nothing that ever happened to them. The Egyptians, on the other hand, had a
more selective memory: they tried to forget Akhenaten and Hatshepsut, as well as a few other
undesirables; the Hindus were amnesic, for they forgot everything except their theological ideas; of
their history, they preserved not a trace. The Hebrews, on the other hand, carefully preserved every
event that ever happened to them, since they regarded history as the manifestation of the divine
working out of Gods will. To remember history was also simultaneously to be pious in the
observance of His Ways. This doesnt mean, though, that they didnt tamper with the timelines: the
Bible is a patchwork mosaic that attempts to fuse different traditions from different tribes together
into a coherent, but not always very seamless, whole.
However, in the earliest text of the Bible, the so-called J text, written in the south--in Judah, that
is--sometime between 900 - 700 BC, the Moses legend is already there, fully worked out. These were
the same centuries in which Homer, across the Mediterranean, was writing down and remembering
the Trojan War, and in which the Hindus, in the opposite direction, were creating the Upanishads. The
Trojan War, moreover, is supposed to have taken place in the same century as that in which most
scholars tend to situate the Exodus, namely the thirteenth century BC, so that the time span of latency
between the days when the real Agamemnon and the real Moses might have lived, and the time in
which their legends first surface in writing is about the same, five or so centuries. Of course, this
doesnt prove anything, but the time span of five centuries of latency does seems to function as
something of an archetype: it is roughly the lag between the appearance of the Buddha and his first
biographies in the Pali Canon, and it also happens to be about the same time span from the occurrence
of the historical King Arthur (not a king, however, but a dux bellorum) in the fifth century AD, and his
first appearance in Geoffrey of Monmouths History of the Kings of Britain in the early twelfth
But what matters for our purposes here is not so much whether Moses was a real personage or
not, but rather the meaning and importance which the Hebrews ascribed to him as the founder of their
culture. Authorship of the entire body of laws, rules and proscriptions associated with Judaic history
is (impossibly) ascribed to him, so that in Hebrew religiosity, he functions in the role of a Prometheus
or one of those early kings in the Shah-namah, like Jamshidthe inventor of architecture and the first
cities--who create the basic archetypes of civilization. Unlike Christ or Mohammed, of whose
existences we can be reasonably more certain, Moses is a function in the Hebrew religion: he is x,
the unknown and unknowable First Mover of the entire civilization.
In reality, there were probably many exoduses, and the one which scholars generally ascribe to
the time of Ramses II (1279 1213 BC) was likely only one of these, for the Habiru, along with other
Semitic groups of Canaanites, Hyksos and Amorites, had been shuttling back and forth between Egypt
and Palestine since at least the First Intermediate Period of Egypt (circa 2100 BC). The invasions of

the Sea Peoples, too, which included the Peleset, or the Philistines who gave their name to the land of
Palestine, took place at about this time, and were no doubt the cause of massive population
displacements and confusions amongst which the proto-Hebrews were likely to have gotten mixed up.
The significance of the Exodus, though, is that it represents the detachment of a tribal social
formation from the Egyptian state apparatus. The myth remembers an historical schism, a break, a
rupture of continuity with what had gone before. Moses was the Divider, the Great Separator, of the
Hebrew social formation from the body of mother Egypt. He was, as his name implies (to draw
forth), an obstetrician.
The crossing of the Red Sea, then, is primarily a gynecological image, for it is that of a birth
canal through which a newborn people passes as an embryo being expelled from the dying body of a
greater, and far older, mother civilization that was entering into its terminal phases. The image marks
one of historys great ruptures, and its significance for religious history is comparable to the day,
millions of years ago, when a reptilian egg hatched and the first mammal crawled out of it: a new
creature not seen by the world before; a creature with fur, and a womb, and a complex ear constructed
out of three bones with a single jawbone.
A singularity, in other words.
The Hebrew Avatar
Somewhere behind all of this stageshow, though, the hand of myth looks over the shoulder of
history, guiding the hand that writes.
Later, God will send His Son into the world in order to rescue the fallen human soul from its
bondage to the original sin of Adam that stains and deforms the human Image: Christ is Adam before
the Fall, an image of human perfection that is sent into the world in order to repair and redeem the
damage done by the Fall.
In the days of the prehistoric Habiru, however, God sends his chosen representative, Moses,
back into Egypt in order to capture and redeem the fallen Israelites from their state of bondage. Moses
is designated by Yahweh to play the role of the Redeemer, just as in the Manichean myth, the
Anthropos suits himself up in an armor of Light to do battle with the demons of darkness and ends up
being defeated by those demons, who tear off his armor of Light and devour it, thus trapping Light into
primordial darkness. The Holy Spirit is then sent down to rescue the fallen Anthropos and restore him
to the state of perfection in the Kingdom of Light.
And just as Gilgamesh dives down to the bottom of the Abzu to retrieve the pearl, so Moses
descends into the underworld of Egypt to retrieve the fallen Israelites. Such is the role of avatars, for
they are always diving and rescuing things: in Hindu myth, for example, Vishnu descends into the
world as the Boar Avatar in order to dive to the bottom of the ocean and rescue the goddess Earth,
who has been abducted by an elephant demon. He must do the same thing again when he incarnates as
Rama in order to rescue Sita from capture by the demon king Ravana.
The structure of the Moses story, then, is inherently mythical. It is not yet fully historical; it is an
example of history caught in the moment of awakening, still heavy with the somnolence of dream and
myth, as yet untouched by the light of day and its historical processes. The story has the semiotics of

an avataric myth, with Moses performing on the stage of history as a puppet of Yahweh who moves
him about like a little stick figure in a Paul Klee marionette theater.
The Accident of History
The cultural ecology, however, within which the Exodus takes place, has the look and feel of an
age of cosmic catastrophe: massive population disruptions; manna from heaven; a pillar of fire at
night and a column of smoke by day; the drowning of pharaohs army; epic battles with the Amalekites
and the Canaanites; the near starvation and death of the Hebrews, etc. The imagery of Exodus, as
Immanuel Velikovsky once pointed out, is that of some great catastrophic event.
And indeed, the event is sandwiched historically somewhere in between the eruption of the
volcano on the island of Thera (Santorini) in the seventeenth century BC and the thirteenth century BC
Dark Age of massive population disruptions, invasions of Sea Peoples flooding and smashing into
Egypt and Palestine. These peoples have the feel of refugees about them, for they were not just
warriors, but entire families, men, women and children pushing ox-carts and carrying battle axes and
tents, looking for new homes. The Exodus clearly refers to these times of chaos and confusion that
mark the pralaya, or disintegration of civilization from one World Agethat of Bronzeto the next,
that of Iron.
It is thus not too difficult to see the wandering Hebrews, against this dark blue canvas of night,
Death and falling stars, as a displaced population jarred loose from its cultural container by some
sort of cosmic accident. In our own times, beginning with the refugees of Hurricane Katrina, migrant
populations displaced from their bounding terrariums by catastrophewar in Iraq; civil war in
Libya; earthquakes in China, Sumatra, Chile and Japanare on the rise, and with rising sea levels
and increasing flooding of coastal zones as an inevitability of our future, it seems we are to grow
accustomed to these shifts as an increasingly common site. Such catastrophes mark the disintegrations
of World Ages, when one world comes to the end of its horizons and begins to shift and disintegrate
into another.
Back in the thirteenth century BC, then, the age of the first generation of civilization, the empires
of Egypt and Mesopotamia were sliding to an end, as the second generation of civilizationGreeks,
Hebrews, Indians and Chinesebegan to construct and orient itself on the stage of world history.
The figure of Moses is thus an avatar indeed; an avatar of the kind that is called forth by crisis
and emergency to lead and redirect populations that have torn loose from the bounding containers of
world history and been flung forth into the chaotic state of historylessness. In the wilderness of the
Sinai between Egypt and Palestine, the Hebrews are a population that has fallen through the gaps of
history as a seismic shift of subducting historical plates begin to grind against one another. The task of
Moses is to shepherd this population from its regression back to a state of nature and lawlessness into
a new historical container that is oriented and governed by laws, rules, codes and proscriptions.
Moses, then, is an architect who must design a new historical terrarium within which a people
can be returned to the state of History and cultural evolution.
Rage and the Word
The beginnings of that process of redrawing the groundplan for a new cultural biosphere take

place in the Sinai Event, for whereas the crossing of the Red Sea shows us the birth of a people, the
Sinai Event gives us the birth of a religion.
From the pyramids of Egypt to Mount Sinai: it is as though Moses, having been born and raised
in Egypt, went looking specifically for a mountain analogue to the great pyramids which, having spent
his apprenticeship years studying in the city of Heliopolis, he would have been quite familiar with.
But the shift in historical structures overlays the archetype of the Mountain with a new geometry: in
Egypt, the mountain had had a thanatological significance, for it was the home of the dead pharaoh
and was aligned with the circumpolar stars, toward which it was designed to shoot the pharaohs ka,
stars known as the Deathless Ones because they never set below the horizon. In the Sinai peninsula,
on the other hand, the mountain tells Moses how to live: for it is there that all the laws governing
Hebrew society are handed to him by his god Yahweh. And it also there that the Hebrews grow a
protective exoskeleton in the form of an invisible god inside of whose mind they are enabled to
dwell. The god of the mountain, though, doesnt tell Moses anything at all about death. For the Age
has now shifted its axis and Sheol, the Hebrew underworld, holds no more interest for Moses than
did Amenti, the Egyptian underworld, for Akhenaten.
But the important thing about the Sinai Event is what it tells us about how this new god, this
Hebrew god, was a very different god from all those who had gone before Him, for the Sinai Event is
a coded memory of the origins of the alphabet, which it pictures Moses inventing at the top of the
mountain, with Yahwehs help. The god of the Hebrews is a god intimately connected with writing,
particularly with the Hebrew alphabet.
As Regis Debray points out, the essence of the Sinai revelation was that, from henceforth, the
meta is to be found in the mini,47 meaning that god is no longer to be accessed in temples, megaliths
and huge, monumentaland therefore immovableconstructions. He is a portable goda god of
nomads and wanderers--not tied to this or that location, and so the primary means of accessing him is
through writing. Heremeneutics may have been an invention of the Protestants, but it is the Hebrews
and especially the later Pharisees--who invented the idea of the priest as a scholar, carefully
scanning, from right to left, lines of Hebrew text written down upon scrolls, for clues to His
inscrutable will.
The Sinai Event preserves and compresses a memory of the invention of the alphabet, for the old
theory that it was invented by Phoenicians in the fifteenth century BC seems to have been wrong. The
earliest alphabetic inscriptions found anywhere in the world are termed Proto-Sinaitic, and they were
scrawled by Canaanite workers on the walls of a mountain called the Serabit el Khedim in the Sinai
peninsula in the eighteenth century BC. This was a turquoise mine that had been set up by the
Egyptians of the Twelfth Dynasty, a mine which largely employed Canaanite workers who spoke a
language called Old Hebrew. The thirty or so inscriptions found on the rocks and on some statues
from a nearby temple to the goddess Hathorthe patron deity of turquoisereveal that the alphabet
was simply a transformation of certain Egyptian hieroglyphic signs. The word for snake in
Egyptian, for instance, is written with a zig-zag shape of a cobra which these early Canaanites (from
about 1800 BC) identified with their word for snake, nahash, which then became the letter N. The
letter N is actually a stylized cobra.

The Egyptian cow goddess Hathor is referred to in these inscriptions as Baalat, meaning the
mistress of the Canaanite thunder god Baal, whose primary animal was the bull. That the first letter of
the Hebrew alphabet, aleph, is simply a stylized bulls head turned upside down should perhaps give
us pause here, especially when we recall that upon Moses descent from the mountain, the Hebrews
are depicted as having regressed back to the worship of a golden bull. This may be a dim memory of
the temple of Hathor which the Egyptians built at the site of their turquoise mine and which marks the
spot where the alphabet was invented in the eighteenth century BC. That the image was inserted into
the text by priestly editors concerned with condemning Jeroboams worship of the bull god Baal may
be beside the point, for the essence of the Sinai revelation was that God is identified with His Word,
as revealed in the tablets of the law which Moses brings down from the top of the mountain and
smashes in a rage upon the ground.
Notice that Moses then orders three thousand Israelites to be slain for participating in the
worship of this now outmoded deity, for the Western religious characteristic of rage that I remarked
upon in the Gilgamesh essay here surfaces once more in the intolerant outburst of Moses zealotry for
his new god. Rage and the Word: Moses smashing his tablets; Akhenaten effacing the monuments;
Gilgamesh attacking Urshanabi. Indeed, rage is the shaping force of the Western religious mentality.
The Ark of the Covenant, accordingly, is constructed at Sinai as a physical exteriorization of the
mind of Moses, for the god that once dwelled there will now dwell inside the ark in the form of His
commandments. The written Word is the sacred revelation of this new religion, and the Word of God,
enshrined by the ark as a sort of portable temple, must be protected at all costs.
Nomads are usually illiterate, but with the Hebrews, all that is changed, for they are the first
literate nomads in history, indeed, the first nomads to conceive of an entire religion that revolves
around the written word.
The Interiorization of God
And the consequences of this new religion of the Word?
When Moses comes down from his second encounter with Yahweh atop the mountain, the Bible
says that his face was so radiant that nobody could bear to look at it and consequently that he had to
wear a veil over his face for the rest of his life. (Exod. 34:33) He only took off the veil whenever he
went inside the tabernacle to commune with his god.
In other words, the encounter of Moses with Yahweh resulted in the complete erasure of his face.
The face is an image, and, like the golden bull, it too must be destroyed in this new religion of
aniconism. All surfaces, in fact, must be effaced in this new religion of the Word, in which humanity
now hearkens to an invisible god whose voice is clearly audible in the mind. It is the interiorization
of this voice, now, which begins to create, for the first time ever, the concept of the conscience. The
god is to exist now not within the dark reaches of some interior sanctum of a forbidden temple, but
rather inside the labyrinthine corridors of the human mind itself.
Yahweh is a god of depths, not surfaces. In this respect, the Hebraic world view is precisely
opposite to that of Akhenatens monotheism, which had been a religion only of surfaces shorn of

Thus, it is the memory and not the physical body which will serve henceforth as the new locus of
the socius. The cosmos of laws and taboos and proscriptions, of which there are hundreds in the
Mosaic revelation, is a cosmos that is not to be inscribed, as in most tribal societies, upon the
physical body, but upon the memory via the instrument of writing in the new medium of the alphabet
that Moses has invented for this purpose. It is the alphabet that will make possible the inscription of
these laws upon the memory, for the breaking of the Laws, Moses demonstrates repeatedly, will be
punishable by death.
It is an internal world of memory and conscience, in other words, that Moses is bringing into
being here. The alphabetic script and the Mosaic Laws which are communicated by means of it serve
to inscribe the memory in a new and complex way: henceforth, the memory will be expanded via
writing in such a manner that a new ethical cognitive space is brought into being internally within the
devout human subject. The memory of the Israelite will become so overcoded with laws and rules of
conduct, that conscience will sting him no matter what he does or where he goes. If he picks up sticks
on the Sabbath, he will be stoned to death; if he steals, he will be maimed; if he practices divination,
he will be executed, etc.
This is partially the reason, then, for the dark, punishing aspects of Moses as a personality, for
the severity of his punishments is part of the key to burning these laws into the memory like etheric
tattoos.For instance, when the Hebrew men have been seduced by Moabite women, Moses orders the
men to be publicly executed by hanging. (Num. 25:5) He then has all the Midianites put to death for
helping to seduce the men of Israel, and when the Israelite soldiers return to camp with a line of
women and children they have taken as prisoners of war, Moses tells them to kill all the male
children and all those women who have given birth to them, leaving only the virgins, whom he turns
over to his soldiers. And when it comes time to suppressing the insurrection of Korah and his 250
followers, Yahweh causes the ground to open up and swallow them all, and those who are not killed
in the earthquake are then burnt to ashes by a fireball which he sends upon them.
It is Rage, then, that serves as the engine for the burning and engraving of the Hebrew mind with
laws and taboos, and which has the effect, in turn, of creating the new interior landscape of human
conscience. And this is important in the evolution of human consciousness, because eventually the
voice of the god will drop out and stop being heard altogether; but the interior voice will remain left
behind as His trace, and this interior voice will become the source for the self-determining human
personality that is capable of functioning on its own without the admonitions of a god there to remind
him of what to do and when to do it.
Religion brings forth worlds in the form of Ideas that function as extensions of the human immune
system. Those Ideas, in turn, are physicalized when they take on form as the construction of a civic
exoskeleton composed of the bricks and mud of cities which serve as protective vessels, or what the
philosopher Peter Sloterdijk calls macrospheres, inside which the human being exists in a sort of
protective terrarium. When that terrarium, or sphere, shatters, an ontological crisis results that is often
referred to as the death of God, in the case of Western Europe, or the silencing of the gods in the

case of the ancients. We have already seen how the crisis inflicted by the Dark Age that terminated the
Bronze Age in the thirteenth century resulted in what Julian Jaynes has termed the breakdown of the
bicameral mind, in which the voices of the gods are heard no longer, and artificial religious
substitutes are sought in the form of oracles, sibyls, diviners, astrologers and other such sages.
With the secession of the Hebrews from the protective macrosphere of Egyptian society, a
similar kind of crisis resulted, a crisis to which the Hebrews responded with the creation of a new
kind of exoskeleton in the form of the Voice of a single, invisible god, a god who could not be seen, as
the gods of old had been, but one that could clearly be heard in the form of injunctions and
prohibitions. This, too, was part of the Sinai Event, for it was at Sinai that the Hebrews as a people
were taken up inside the mind of a god named Yahweh: from henceforth, they would function as the
neurons and dendrites of His mind, a single People as a single organism bound together by the Idea of
His Presence watching over them. This event was tantamount to an etherealization of the very idea of
the city itself, which is now substituted by an entirely mental exoskeleton that acts as a sort of
protective bubble of the divine that travels with the Hebrews wherever they wander. Later, in the
Book of Deuteronomy, as we will see, this traveling sphere of God will become anathematized when
the temple once again, as in Egypt, becomes axially rooted and God becomes tethered to the city of
Jerusalem, his new fulcrum.
But for now, the nomadic Hebrews build for themselves a portable temple, a tabernacle, within
which to house the Ark as Gods throne in the center of the camp. Around this tent, openlike
Egyptian templesto the east (thus facing sunrise, and the future), the Israelites arranged the tents of
their various tribes in radial fashion, with donkeys and perhaps a few camels out on the periphery.
This is a defensive, military formation, for Yahweh, at Sinai, has given them a new mission: the
conquest of Canaan.
The leader of this conquest, however, would not be Moses, but a man named Joshua, who seems
to have been a kind of northern clone of Moses. Since an Habiru warrior named Yahuya is
mentioned in the Tell el Amarna letters as leading a series of conquests of various cities in the north
of Palestine in the fourteenth century BC (i.e. the time of Akhenaten), it is evident that Joshua and
Moses existed in two different timeframes separated by at least a century, so the two could not have
known each other. Joshua was the leader of a northern conquest that eventually settled upon the city of
Shechem as its capital and established the northern kingdom of Israel as a union of various disparate
tribes in the fourteenth century BC.48
The tradition represented by Moses, on the other hand, implies that the Habiru of the Exodus of
the thirteenth century entered Palestine from the south, conquering the cities of Debir and Hebron first.
These would have been tribes associated with Judah, Simeon and the Levites, and eventually their
conquests would have formed the southern kingdom of Judah, which is the kingdom from which the
cult of the god Yahweh apparently came and was introduced gradually into the north, especially
during the time of David, who was a southerner and a Yahwist.
So the conquest ends with the creation of two entirely separate kingdoms, Israel in the north and
Judah in the south with two different gods, Yahweh in the south and Elohim in the north. Elohim,
significantly, is a plural term and points to the persistent, and ineradicable, polytheism of the north.

But Joshuas assault on the city of Jericho, in which the walls of the city come crashing down
after the Israelites circumambulate it seven times and blow their horns, which signals the beginning of
the Conquest in the Bible, should be compared with Gilgameshs demolition and then reconstruction
of the walls of the city of Uruk when he returns from his own self-imposed exile. The new ideas of a
new religious vision, a vision conferred upon the individual out in the cosmic wastes of the desert,
demands the demolition of existing structures, and their rebuilding in accordance with the new Ideas.
If you change the Ideas, then the physical exoskeleton incarnating those Ideas must be revised to
accord with them.
Thus, in the Hebrew invasion of Palestine, the cities must be destroyed and rebuilt in accordance
with the new idea of a jealous God who will tolerate no rivals. Just as Akhenatens radical new
vision required him to create a new city from scratch, so too, the Hebrews must demolish the old
ways of the old cities and rebuild them in accordance with the idea of a monotheistic god.
However, Hebraic monotheism, of course, remained mainly an ideal: it was rarely, if ever,
attained in reality, for the Israelites were stubborn polytheists and the radical zealotry and fury of a
Mosaic monotheism really only became the norm for the Hebrews after they returned from their
Babylonian exile.
Pious Fraud
According to the Bible, meanwhile, the Hebrews have marched and fought their way east and
then north and now remain perched at Mount Pisgah, ready for the assault upon Jericho. Yahweh tells
Moses to elect Joshua as his successor, which he does. His brother Aaron has died and been replaced
by Eleazar, his son. His sister Miriam is long since gone. He is a very old man now and he is ready to
be gathered unto his people, as the phrase goes.
But first, according to the Pentateuch, he delivers a long speech to the Israelites composed of a
freshand rather overwhelmingbatch of new laws that is essentially the substance of the Book of
Deuteronomy. Now this book, in its entirety, dates from the seventh century BC, during the time of
King Josiah, after the northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians in 722 BC, and so it
represents an entirely Judean point of view. And one of its most important argumentswhich its
author has gone back and retroactively placed into the mouth of Moses, the great founding father of
Judah, as a way of sanctioning its authenticityis that Yahweh now should no longer be worshipped
in any place other than the Temple in Jerusalem, which is now the only valid place of worship, thus
reversing the original set of ideas created at the Sinai Event of a portable god that could be
worshipped anywhere. The divine sphere that had encased the Israelites during the years of their
Volkerwanderung had, by the seventh century, shattered. Yahweh could float about no more, for he is
no longer to be worshipped under that tree or atop yonder hill, and most certainly not in the temples
erected for him and adorned with golden bulls at shrines set up by King Jeroboam in Israel at Dan and
Bethel. By the time of the reforms of King Josiah, which represent a sudden outburst of desperate
zealous persecution of all other forms of Canaanite worshipi.e. the Baal cults, the Asherim, etc.
Yahwistic monotheism has narrowed to the point of only tolerating the worship of this god at one
location upon the surface of the earth, and that location is to be found in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Thus, the words spoken by Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy as he is making ready for death were
never words spoken by him at all, but represent a much more severe point of view imposed from the
later seventh century BC.
Suffice it to say, however, that after giving his speech, Moses climbs to the top of Mount Pisgah
for his final view of the world.

The Final Glimpse

He has been atop a sacred mountain once before, many years ago, when he had been involved in
the tedious process of creating a new religion that would serve as a protective shell around his
people: a mysterious bubble of divinity, whose source lay inside the Ark, that portable substitute for
the interior of Moses mind where the new god had once dwelt exclusively. Those had been violent
and troubled times.
Now, Yahweh has forbidden him entrance to the Promised Land. Back at Kadesh-barnea, he had
struck the rock of a cliff face with his staff in order to make water flow for the thirsty Hebrews, when
Yahweh had told him only to speak words to the rock. Apparently, this inattention to detail was
tantamount to a giving of preference to magic as over against prayer, for the traditions of magic,
divination and sorceryholdovers from the silence of the gods at the end of the Bronze Age
collapse--were in process of being left behind as the Voice of a single god had come to replace those
of the many.
Moses is allowed only a glimpse of the Promised Land, from the top of Mount Pisgah. He
stands, an aging old man leaning on his staff, the wind rumpling his robe, as he gazes out over the
His mission is accomplished. He has played midwife to the birth of an entire people, a people
who are ready to shape history in accordance with a new set of religious ideas and practices. A
people with, already, a difficult past and, at this point, an unimaginably difficult future.
They do not yet have a History. Only a geography. History requires embeddedness in cities, and
they are still roaming free over the countryside, a nomadic war machine that flattens the striated
spaces of every city in its path. Soon, the war machine will have fallen and become captured once
again by a state apparatus, in this case, the city of Jerusalem, which David will capture from the
Jebusites. But those days are, at this point, far off.
For now, there is only the late afternoon breeze stirring a few strands of brittle grass that flicker
in the wind; and the blue dome of the sky; and the brown dirt and the jagged rocks of the mountain. It
is a hard world to live in; and an even harder one to leave.
Moses, with a sigh, dies quietly on a golden brown afternoon beneath a terebinth tree, perhaps.
He is buried in an unmarked grave, so that his bones cannot be turned into relics and worshipped.
No man, we are told, knows the place of his burial to this day (Deut. 34: 6).
He was 120 years old.

Thus, the prologue to the Axial Age, which Gilgamesh, Akhenaten and Moses represent. After
them comes the Axial Age proper, which Karl Jaspers in his 1949 book The Origin and Goal of
History sketched out as that epoch between about 500 BC down to about 200 BC when there
appeared across the board in China, India, the Levant and Greece, a series of teachers and prophets
of religions of self-salvation. The pattern is more or less the same for each: a prophet who has
become disillusioned with the official state religion of a decaying world empire leaves the city and
goes out into the wilderness where he discovers one or another technique for accessing the World
Soul and then returns to teach the urban city dweller his method. Thus, we have Lao-tzu in the fifth
century BC in China, disillusioned with the Chinese state apparatus which Confucius did everything
in his power to uphold, heading off into the woods and hills in search of the simple life in lived in
accordance with the Tao; while in India, circa 800 BC, we have Yajnavalkya in dispute with the
Brahmin priests in the Chandoyga Upanishad, where he is there described as teaching them the ways
of yoga and reincarnation through the achievement of a micro-macrocosmic correspondence between
Atman and Brahman; and in Greece, we have Pythagoras, around 530 BC leaving the polisphere
behind to set up a school based upon the revelation of sacred mathematics at Croton.
From about 500 BC, then, according to Jaspers, down to about 200 BC, the Axial Age emerges
in reaction to the landscape of social disintegration of the first generation of civilization that had
begun with the Mesopotamians and the Egyptians. By 200 BC, a series of empires is beginning to
form that marks for Jaspers the end of the Axial period proper: in China, we have the formation of the
Chin Empire under Tsin shih-haung di; in India, we have the formation of the Mauryan Empire under
Ashoka; and at about the same time in the Mediterranean, the first of the Carthaginian wars is taking
place, the issue of which will become the Roman Empire. But we must also note the Maccabean
revolt that is occurring in Palestine at about the same time, 160 or so BC, in which the Maccabeans
create, not an empire, but a Jewish city state.
Thus, Heideggers metaphysical age from Plato to Husserl is essentially tantamount to the
unfolding of the philosophical consequences set up by the prophets of the Axial Age from out of
whose philosophical systemsat least in the West from Pythagoras and Plato onwardthe
metaphysical age emerges. By the time of Nieztsches nihilism and his announcement of the death of
God, together with Heideggers destruction of metaphysics, the metaphysical age has entered its
twilight, and along with the deconstruction of Derrida, it is dismantled and put to rest at least, a grand
three thousand year arc. (Derridas assault on Western logocentrism may be regarded as
Maccabeanism by other means).
However, as we have seen, there is a prologue to the Axial / metaphysical age overlooked by
Jaspers, which is already being announced in the disillusionments of Gilgamesh, Akhenaten and

Moses. Gilgamesh, in an epic constructed by the Babylonians of about 1700 BC has come to reject
the official state religion of Inanna / Ishtar worship and sets off into the wilderness on his own in
search of something better. The end result, as we have seen, is his transformation into the Judge of the
Dead in the underworld, along with a cult of the dead that came into being in association with his
name. Akhenaten, too, was similarly disenchanted with the official religion of the crumbling state
apparatus of Thebes and decided to resort to the wilderness in order to create the worlds first
utopian colony. It was a disaster, but if Freud was right, it may not have been a disaster without
beneficial results, since Moses, who seems to have been an Egyptian, may have carried on the
monotheistic / aniconism of Akhenatens abortive religion into the wilderness of Sinai, where it
became the formative event for the nomadic worship of the One True (and Invisible) God. In any
event, the restlessness with official state religions of these three protagonists is evident and should be
taken into consideration as establishing the prototypes for the kinds of philosophers and prophets that
came into being circa 800 BC 500 BC in the epoch of Jasperss Axial Age.
The metaphysical age is now over and done with, for all its Transcendental Signifieds have
collapsed and we are left, today, to sort out the consequences. But in examining the lives of these
three early religious figures, we can already see how their discontent and their subsequent
innovations sent perturbations emanating out across history, waves that rippled across generations to
disturb and dismantle whole societies while making new ones possible. The great world religions of
todayIslam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianitywere the ultimate end result of the discontent
of Gilgamesh, Akhenaten and Moses and so, in that sense, they are indeed architects of the world that
we have inherited.
From the standpoint of philosophy today, in which the metaphysical certainties of the
transcendental signifieds that built these world religions have crumbledNietzsches Twilight of the
Idols: Or How One Philosophizes With a Hammer announces the first blow that is dealt to them
and so, one must regard the great world religions with skepticism as fossil structures that are no
longer effective in orienting the individual of the global ecumene to the stresses and tensions of a
decaying world order. Inside the world interior of capital, as Peter Sloterdijk has articulated it, there
is only the realm of the consumer and the monotype of getting and spending as his sole authentic
activity. But meanwhile, such a one dimensional man is not fully rounded out enough to have his
spiritual need for transcendence met, and so skepticism remains a religion for the few, those
ensconced in hyper-electronified world cities while the peasants and farmers of the countryside and
the various Bible and Koran-belts of the world remain just as religious as they have always been.
We are living, as a planetary people, in two worlds today: the uncertain and brittle skepticism of
the late consciousness of dying world cities, and the metaphysically certain worlds that are rooted in
the ancient and undying way of life of the farmer, the nomad and the peasant. The bivalent ontology,
then, of city vs. countryside is one polar opposition that has survived the best efforts of
deconstruction to nullify and undermine it, and remains, basic and still standing, an unresolvable
That opposition, as we have seen, was already announced the moment that Gilgamesh left Uruk
to wander through the deserts of Mesopotamia.

Chapter Notes
How Gilgamesh Became the Lord of the Dead
1 Regis Debray, God: An Itinerary (London: Verso Books, 2004), 31.
2 Indeed, his fathers name, Terah, was apparently a variation of Yerah, the Palestinian moon
god. See Michael Grant, The History of Ancient Israel (NY: Charles Scribners Sons, 1984),
3 Andrew George, The Epic of Gilgamesh (NY: Barnes and Noble Books, 1999), 198.
4 George, ibid., 199.
5 Thorkild Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness: A History of the Mesopotamian Religion
(Yale University Press, 1976), 211.
6 A.R. George, The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic, Volume I (Oxford University Press, 2003),
7 George, ibid., 124.
8 George, ibid., 130.
9 Wayne Horowitz, Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography (Eisenbrauns, 1998), 12-14.
10 George, The Epic of Gilgamesh, 151.
11 The Cedar Mountain splits in two almost as though it were meant to be a Western echo of the
Mashu mountains, or the twin mountains that Gilgamesh will later encounter in the East,
where the sun rises and which is guarded by the Scorpion Men.
12 This constellation is visible on the Babylonian Star Map in the frontispiece of Gavin Whites
book Babylonian Star Lore (London: Solaria Publications, 2008) as a ram. Interestingly, we
notice that just to the left of the Ram is a constellation known as the Old Man, which
corresponds to Perseus, and we note that he is carrying a severed head. This head
corresponds to that of Medusa in the Greek myth, but in the Gilgamesh Epic, it seems to be a
reference to the fact that Gilgamesh severs the head of Humbaba so that he can take it with
him to the throne of Enlil in the city of Nippur. Humbaba, too, has the Medusa-like ability to
freeze his victims with a stare, as he does to both Gilgamesh and Enkidu during their battle.
Thus, this casts Humbaba in the role of an ancestral ghost of the underworld who must be
ritually purged and sent back to the underworld during the rites of spring. The Babylonian
Akitu, or New Year, festival, corresponds to the ancient springtime festival of the Greeks
known as the Anthesteria, when the spirits of the dead would run loose and would have to be
chased back to the underworld as the New Year began.
13 George, ibid., 48.
14 George, ibid., 49.


George, The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic, 627.

George, The Epic of Gilgamesh, 183-84.
Hertha von Dechend, Hamlets Mill (Boston: David R. Godine, 1992), 295.
George, The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic, 679.
This text may be found online here:
George, ibid., 683.
George, ibid., 685.
George, ibid., 703
George, ibid., 703.
See the illustrating facing page 434 in von Dechend, ibid.
Horowitz, ibid., 105.
George, ibid., 541.

Akhenaten and the Birth of Monotheism


See Fig. 24 in Cyril Aldred, Akhenaten: King of Egypt (London: Thames & Hudson, 1996),
Arthur Weigall, The Life and Times of Akhnaton, Pharaoh of Egypt (London: Thornton
Butterworth, Ltd., 1922), 63-64.
Martin Heidegger, History of the Concept of Time (Indiana University Press, 1992), 86-87.
Nicholas Reeves, Akhenaten: Egypts False Prophet (London: Thames & Hudson, 2005),
Erik Hornung, Akhenaten and the Religion of Light (Cornell Universisty Press, 2001), 66.
Hornung, ibid., 44.
Donald B. Redford, Akhenaten: the Heretic King (Princeton University Press, 1987), 186.
Reeves, ibid., 154-55.
Weigall, ibid., 220.
Redford, ibid., 187.
Reeves, ibid., 169.
Reeves, ibid., 164.
Reeves, ibid., 175.
Reeves, ibid., 176.
The article, King Tuts Family Secrets by Zahi Hawass can be found online here:
Redford, ibid., 227.

Part Two: The Three Great Monotheisms

43 Regis Debray, God: an Itinerary (London: Verso Books, 2004), 39.

44 Alain Badiou, Ethics: an Essay on the Understanding of Evil (London: Verso Books, 2001),
45 Alain Badiou, Being and Event (London: Continuum Books, 2007), 212-13.
Moses, Architect of a New Cultural Biosphere
46 Franz Borkenau, End and Beginning: On the Generations of Cultures and the Origins of the
West (Columbia University Press, 1985).
47 Regis Debray God: an Itinerary (London: Verso Books, 2004), 86.
48 T.J. Meek, Hebrew Origins (Harper Torchbooks, 1960), 21.