The Sacred History of Being (2015)

(New Cover, issued March 12 2017. The image links to the book page at Smashwords)

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

The Subject 

The Sacred History of Being has as its radical thesis that knowledge rather than belief was at the heart of ancient religion, both in Greece and the ancient Near East. And that the source of all knowledge was understood to be Being itself. 

 Formerly argued by classical scholars to have been first discussed by the ancient Greeks in the middle of the first millennium B.C.E., the articulate concept of Being can now be traced as far back as the middle of the second millennium, and the state of Assyria.

The Greeks themselves had several stories about the origins of philosophy, a discipline which essentially deals with abstractions, including that it originated elsewhere, but that is not the received narrative. The consequence of this, is that all historians of ideas, when constructing their accounts of the intellectual development of man before the arrival of Parmenides and Plato, have had to negotiate the Greek invention of philosophy, and the corollary, that articulate discussion of the abstract concept 'Being' didn’t happen before this. 

This can now be shown to be a faulty understanding, resulting in many absurdities. The Old Testament has examples where God declares his identity with Being itself (‘I am that I am’, better translated into English as ‘I am that which is,’ and ‘I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God', for example), but these are not regarded by scholars as evidence of a sophisticated discourse around the idea of Being. Instead these statements indicate inchoate ‘notions’ about the nature of god, rather than anything more profound. The statement in Malachi, however, that 'I do not change', is an explicitly philosophical understanding of the nature of God. 

The Sacred History of Being unpicks this log-jam in the history of ideas, largely the legacy of classical scholarship from the late eighteenth century onward.

Around late November 2016, 'The Sacred History of Being' entered the bestseller lists at Smashwords, in the categories of Philosophy and History

Chapter List for The Sacred History of Being

This is the full chapter list for the edition of The Sacred History of Being, published on November 2, 2015. 


Part One.

A Sense of the Past.
How old is Philosophy?
The Arrival of the Idea of Being.
The West and the Other.
The Golem.
Change and what is Permanent.
The Ontological Argument.
The Ontological Argument in Anselm.
The Ontological Argument in Descartes.
The Nature of Reality in Berkeley.
Hume and Kant on Reality.
The End of the Ontological Argument.

Part Two.

The Sweet Song of Swans.
The Academy.
The Platonic Theory of Being.
Plato’s Theory of Vision.
The Paradox of Knowledge.
Eleven attributes of Being.
Pythagoras and Totality.
Solon in the court of Croesus.
The Complexion of the Dead.
Being in Homer.

Part Three.

Ocean and the Limit of Existence.
The Fifty names of Marduk.
The Idea of Being in Israel.
Understanding Creation as a Sacred Tree.
Being, Kabbalah, and the Assyrian Sacred Tree.
The Making and the Renewal of the Gods.
The Ritual sequence and its purpose.
The Nineveh ritual.
The Babylonian ritual.
Finding the Name of the Sacred Tree.


Thomas Taylor on the Ineffable principle.
Oannes and the Instruction of Mankind.
Ashurbanipal on the exercise of Kingship.
Select Bibliography.

Available Full Chapters

The first five chapters of the book, plus the preface, are available to read in full, by following the links below. A further chapter from part one, which discusses George Berkeley's understanding of the Nature of Reality, and two chapters from part three, 'Ocean and the Limit of Existence', and  'The Idea of Being in Israel', are also available to read in full. Plus one of the appendices, which discusses the Babylonian account of the first sages, and man's acquisition of knowledge. 


Part One

A sense of the past
How old is Philosophy?
The Arrival of the idea of Being
The West and the Other
The Golem
Change and what is permanent
Recurring Questions
The Ontological Argument
The Ontological Argument in Anselm
The Ontological Argument in Descartes
The Nature of Reality in Berkeley
Hume and Kant on Reality


Part Three

Ocean and the Limit of Existence
The Idea of Being in Israel



Oannes and the Instruction of Mankind

Questions addressed by The Sacred History of Being

The Sacred History of Being addresses many questions. Some of these have been puzzles over the centuries. What follows is a list of fifty of these questions, all of which are given some kind of answer in the course of the text. 

This list of questions developed slowly over the decade between the first draft of the book in 2003-4, and the final version which was published in 2015, after four years of writing. Other questions are discussed, including the meaning of the strange discussion of the Great Year in relation to the life of man, in the famous conversation between Solon and Croesus, recounted by Herodotus.

Here is the list.

 1. Is Plato writing literary fiction when he talks about the Forms? 2. Philosophical concepts and terms can be found in texts belonging to the 2nd millennium B.C.E. in both Mesopotamia and Egypt - is philosophy that old?  3. Can we identify philosophical ideas in Homer? 4. How and why did scholars schooled in philosophy not notice philosophical elements in Ancient Near Eastern texts from the 2nd millennium B.C.E.? 5. What was Homer joining together? Philosophical ideas in literature and poetry in the Late Bronze Age. 

6. Can philosophical underpinnings be identified in the liturgy of the New Year Festival in Babylon (The ‘Enuma Elish’)? 7. How is it the case that statues of the gods were considered themselves to be divine in the ancient world? 8. How was it understood to be possible to make gods, and why?  9. What was the significance of the Undefined Dyad in ancient thought? 10. When is polytheism actually polytheism, and when is it monotheism?

11. Why is the Ontological Argument such a disaster for our understanding of ancient philosophical ideas concerning the gods? 12. Why was philosophy in Egypt demoted from its original status by German scholarship? 13. How and why did Egypt lose its reputation? 14. Can the nature of Reality be accommodated by an Aristotelian logical model? 15. When scholars blink: Not seeing what there is to be seen. 

16. What aspect of philosophy did Pythagoras learn at Babylon? 17. How were the kings of ancient Assyria able to take on divinity? 18. How are we to understand what was called ‘The most secret and sacred of rituals’: the setting up of gods in Heaven? 19. What is the meaning and purpose of the Assyrian Sacred Tree?  20. What aspects of the Divine have existence on Earth?

21. Why is the home of the Mesopotamian god Ea at the bottom of the sea?  22. Why did Assyrian kings on campaign wish to touch the ‘Upper and Lower Seas’?  23. What is the meaning of the Mesopotamian story of man being instructed by the first sages in the art and science of civilization? 24. Why did the Assyrian Court value scholarship and excellence? 25. What theory of reality is present and cultivated from the 2nd millennium B.C.E., and can be found not only in the writings of Plato, but also in the Nag Hammadi codices? 

26. Why are rivers divine in Mesopotamia? 27. What is the symbolic significance of Ocean in both Greece and Assyria? 28. Can holiness be conferred and taken away? 29. Why does Marduk carry a woven basket (the banduddu)? 30. What is the meaning of the Mesopotamian interest in making lists?

31. What was the nature of philosophical analysis before Plato? 32. How old is Jewish mysticism, and what is its origin? 33.  Is ancient cultic life not best understood in terms of modern notions of religion? 34. Is the origin of the world always with us? 35. What did the European Enlightenment leave behind? 

36. How much fiction is there in our rational understanding of the past? 37. How old is abstract thought? 38. Has the myth of progress damaged our capacity to understand the history of the human mind, and the role and power of abstract thought in antiquity? 39. What is the relationship between ancient cult practice and the pursuit of knowledge? 40. Why was it considered necessary to know the mind of God, and how was it known?

41. What is the Doctrine of Wholes and Totalities? 42. What was the significance of the question whether Reality is One or Many? 43. How was the idea of a supreme 'God' understood to be different from the other gods? 44. What was understood to be the fundamental nature of Reality? 45. How were the properties and attributes of the Divine understood? 

46. What did Solon understand by the phrase: ‘the complexion of the Dead’? 47. What is Plato’s Paradox of Knowledge, and what does it tell us about his model of reality? 48. What is meant by the phrase:  ‘the Sweet Song of Swans’, which Olympiodorus used to describe Plato’s writing? 49.What is esoteric knowledge, and why is it esoteric? 50. What is the ‘True light of the gods’?

Thomas Yaeger, November 13, 2016

Buying The Sacred History of Being

I've been asked many times about the options for purchasing the book, so I've decided to digest my responses into one blogpost. The text contains active links to the relevant pages. This is all you need to know, in just a few paragraphs. 

Currently the book is available for sale in eBook format from a number of large retailers, including Itunes (click the link on the left which allows you to see the book in your Itunes application), Barnes & NobleBlio (search on Thomas Yaeger), Kobo (preview available), Inktera, and other retailers around the world. So, if you are already signed up to an account with one of those (and half the planet seems to be signed up with Itunes), you can buy the book in exactly the same way as any other book. 

The book is not available from Amazon. Their current terms and conditions are why I chose to exclude Amazon from distribution of the book. Their terms and conditions may change, however.

The eBook is in ePub format, which can be read on Macs, iPads, iPhones, etc, and most other tablets, irrespective of the operating operating system they use. If you have an Amazon Kindle, the ePub formatting of the book can be converted easily to the MOBI format, which the Kindle uses, with the excellent eBook management software Calibre, which can be downloaded free. 

The book can be read on a PC, laptop or notebook computer, in ePub or any other eBook format, using the Adobe Digital Editions software, which is also available free, in both Mac and PC formats. Supports conversion to many formats, including PDF. 

The principal distributor of The Sacred History of Being is Smashwords. The book can be downloaded from Smashwords directly, after a signup which takes just a minute or so. The book can be paid for using a credit or debit card, or with Paypal, if you have an account with them. After purchase, the book goes into a library space associated with your signup, and it can be downloaded on to your device from there. Just follow the link.

The book has a five star review at Goodreads

Interested in a review of the reasons why this book cannot possibly exist? I wrote about these (rather facetiously) while putting together an early draft of the book. The review is in the form of a publisher's memo.

Thomas Yaeger, July 24, July 29, July 30, September 6, October 30-31, November 13,  December 31 2016, January 5, 2017, February 13, 2017, March 12 2017, July 1, and August 12,  2017)

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