Comments for 'The Sacred History of Being'

A new page, which will be added to, as and when.

TY, October 30, 2016


From Simo Parpola, April 14, 2017.

Many thanks for sending me your book, The Sacred History of Being. I read it with great interest and appreciation. It is well written and planned, the result of many years of serious thinking and research, and I really hope that it will attain its goal and help shake the outdated paradigm of the Greek origin of philosophy that continues to be maintained in academic circles. I'm sure that much of the Mesopotamian evidence that you present is totally new to your readers and should induce them to revise their views.

I liked your discussion of the "subjective element in the identification of quality evidence that makes good science so hard to do" (pp. 66-67) and the "unwillingness to go beyond what can be commonly understood" (p. 79), and I learned a great deal about philosophy in general as well in reading the book.


Best wishes and warm regards,


I replied, April 15, 2017:

Dear Simo,

I' am so pleased that you found my book to the point. And well written (that took a lot of time, and was intentional).


Best wishes, Thomas

Tweet by Nick Zacharewicz @NickSCZach (January 2017):
"All about how history is built by inclusion and omission. Even written histories have to hang together like a good story."


I had an interesting conversation with Ben Thomas about the book at the beginning of September. This is an edited version of the exchange, published with his permission.

Ben Thomas (@writingben) Sept 1 2016

I'm about halfway through your book, and I'm absolutely fascinated -- not only because you're casting light on some of the most neglected and dismissed aspects of pre-Classical thought, but because a lot of your assertions resonate deeply with some of my own conclusions. For example, I've done no formal research on Kaballah or Assyrian iconography -- but ... it occurred to me that the gods of the Mesopotamian pantheon fit perfectly into the sephirotic diagram. I even drew a series of doodles in which I inserted the cuneiform symbols for the gods in their corresponding places on the diagram.
[…] I say these things to point out that even with no formal background in this field, and without any exposure to your work or thought, was drawn toward the very same ideas you explore in your book, by my sheer love for the aesthetic and thematic textures of ancient Near Eastern thought. Finding those ideas in your book is an intensely thrilling experience for me.

I replied:

Many thanks for your initial reactions to my book. As you will see later in the book the relationship between the Kabbalah and the Mesopotamian pantheon is established pretty firmly. I wasn't the one to find it - The Assyriologist Simo Parpola wrote a paper about it in 1993. We had a discussion about that relationship between late 2004 and early 2006. It is interesting however to discover that the possible relationship was suspected by others quite independently.

Sep 1

The important point is that the sefirotic diagram features a transcendent absolute. No problem if the origin of the Kabbalah is in the medieval period. If it can be traced back to the 14th cent BCE however, then the history of philosophy needs a rewrite.

Sep 1

However I will not spoil the experience of the book for you, if I can avoid it. That it argues that the history of philosophy needs some revision is in the advertisement for SHB.

Ben replied the following day:
Just finished the book, and left a very positive review on Goodreads. I really do think it deserves more attention than it seems to be getting, and I hope it will as more people read it. As I said in my earlier message, your thesis helps a lot of disparate elements -- symbols, artistic choices, odd passages of text, similar traditions -- fall into place in a very logical way. Regarding the mes, do you think they were strictly abstract attributes, or is it possible that they were instantiated in physical objects at some point in the tradition? For example, in the story of Inanna and Enki, it's clear not only that Enki stores the mes in a particular place in the E-Abzu, but that Inanna is able to display them to the people of Uruk. I wonder if there was an older Sumerian tradition of "making mes" in some physical sense.
Sep 2

I replied:

Many thanks for your comments, and for the positive review, which hits the mark. I'm impressed that you got through it so fast! As regards the Mes, there are abstractions, and images of abstractions. So they could be instantiated in physical objects, just as the gods could be instantiated in statues. It was also possible for the melammu of the gods to be put on, and taken off. So properties and attributes can be moved around. There is evidence for example that properties and attributes have passed from one god to another in the liturgy of the Babylonian New Year Festival, possibly in response to political changes. The understanding of the Mes in Sumer was essentially the same as later on (the term is Sumerian), but I chose not to go there for the purposes of this book
Sep 2

Ben replied:

That makes a lot of sense about the mes.... It's clear that the ancient Mesopotamians didn't draw the lines between the physical and the abstract in the same ways we do -- and as you point out in the book, anyone with divine status could step across those boundaries. [....]
The following review was left by Ben Thomas at the Goodreads page for The Sacred History of Being, and he gave the book five stars.

The ancient Greeks didn't invent philosophy. They themselves acknowledged the intellectual debts they owed to older Egyptian and Babylonian thinkers. Yaeger's thesis in this book is that we actually have abundant evidence of the nature of ancient Mesopotamian philosophy - not in the form of written texts, but through artistic symbols and literary metaphors. Through these allusions, a picture of a rich Mesopotamian intellectual tradition emerges: a tradition that may be the common ancestor of many esoteric doctrines found throughout the ancient Mediterranean. 

Finally, Ben also mentioned the book on (September 27), in response to a user question:

One of the most thought-provoking books I’ve read .... recently is The Sacred History of Being by Thomas Yaeger, which is available in ebook format. This book makes (what’s in my view) a very strong argument that the ancient Greeks didn’t invent philosophy at all, but were drawing on deeply rooted, well-developed Eastern traditions that were widely known throughout the world at that time. This thesis is a very controversial one — not “historical canon” by any means— but in any case, the book provides an excellent introduction to the history of ideas in ancient Asia.

Comment From 'Texelar' (Paul Boudreau) on the list of questions relating to The Sacred History of Being, October 16 2015, shortly before publication of the book:

Interesting stuff! They are all questions worth asking. My personal interests end temporally where the Greeks took up the banner of higher thought. I make my case here:

There is so much evidence for cultural elevation before the time of the Greeks that it is a wonder we have the modern concepts of "progress". You capture it with your Question #30.

I replied:

Texelar, hi. Thanks for your comments, and for the links to your blog pages.

The intellectual world before the Greeks of the middle of the 1st millennium BCE *was* very sophisticated. But it and the moderns for the most part speak different conceptual languages, with different assumptions and understandings. So it is possible for the moderns to fail completely to recognise what they are looking at.

One of the functions of SHB is to explore and explain some of the sophistication and the complexity of ideas in the ancient world (and not just in Greece). Another is to show intellectual continuities between Greece and other cultures; and also the continuities which exist between the 2nd millennium BCE and the 1st.

Certain technical details of ancient civilisations, their art, their poetry, their architecture, their rituals, etc., illustrate how they understood the nature of reality, once you understand something of the armature of ideas they employed to understand their world. SHB is very much focussed on these technical details, which have been described before, but not much subjected to interpretation.

We have the modern concept of progress because we choose to look at the past from the point of view of the present. It's where we are, after all. Hard to bear the idea that we represent a shadow of what once was.

Best, Thomas.

Page updated January 27 2017, and June 21, 2017.

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