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Architecture, Power, and Religion: Hatshepsut, Amun & Kamak in Context.

Architecture, Power, and Religion: Hatshepsut, Amun & Kamak in Context. By DAVID A. WARBURTON. Beitrage zur Archaologie, vol. 7. Vienna: LIT VERLAG, 2012. Pp. xxi + 400, illus. 76.90 [euro].

The central thesis of Architecture, Power, and Religion: Hatshepsut, Amun & Kamak in Context is that monumental religious architecture was the essential precursor to what Warburton calls "verbal meaning in religion," with the former developing "millennia" before the latter (p. xviii); and that the roots of such verbal meaning ultimately lie in religious innovations of Hatshepsut. Warburton asserts that complex thoughts cannot be developed orally, but rather require written development (e.g., p. xvi), and argues for "... a relatively late development of myth" (p. 40). His contention appears to be based on the lack of "coherent organization" in religious literature prior to the Amduat (which he sees as one of Hatshepsut's most important innovations; pp. 169-70, 205). The earliest versions of the Amduat were found in KV 20 and 38, which may date as early at Thutmosis I. Hatshepsut's reign is the latest possible date for KV 20. Moreover, Warburton does not mention the possibility that the Amduat had previously been a tradition passed down on papyrus, although he describes it as "... a unique copy--exactly 1:1--of pages of papyrus transposed onto limestone," citing F. Mauric-Barperio, "Le premier exemplaire du Livre de TAmdouat," BIFAO 101 (2001): 315-50.

Warburton also stresses the fact that scholars have come up with various possibilities for how myth may have been manifested in oral traditions, which he views as contradictory.
   Thus, on the one hand (a) it is assumed that the "myths" were
   secret and thus not written down, and on the other (b) it is
   proposed that the stories were common knowledge as they were
   constantly being repeated, and thus it was not necessary to write
   them down--because everyone knew them. (p. 105)

However, the ranks of the initiated could have been quite large (e.g., eldest sons who serve as ka-priests for their fathers, scribes, pure priests, etc.), with myths being common knowledge among those to whom they were revealed. Moreover, if people are not good at keeping secrets, secret knowledge will become common knowledge over time. The knowledge of different, perhaps overlapping, in-groups (e.g., eldest sons and scribes) would seep out and morph as it passed from person to person. Then, many different versions of myths would develop over time, as, indeed, seems to have been the case in ancient Egypt.

Returning to Warburton, he contends that early religious thought had different concerns than more recent traditions, most notably the political legitimacy of its patrons and benefactors, which was expressed primarily through architecture. In his view, early textual traditions focus on the sort of observation and recording which later became separated from religion into the category "science"; whereas questions about morals and values were considered to be the province of "society," only becoming an important part of religious discourse with the introduction of the Judeo-Christian tradition,.

Warburton further argues that this shift, and the creation of myth, were ultimately rooted in religious innovations begun by the female king, Hatshepsut. Early religious architecture, he contends, was concerned with form and solidity (e.g., pyramids, obelisks) rather than space or function, which was the focus of domestic architecture and was only introduced to religious architecture at a later date (e.g., pp. 13, 18). He draws on a great deal of comparative material from a wide range of cultures to support this point. However, these summaries are so brief and impressionistic that they do little but illustrate the sources of his inspiration. Academically useful comparisons require more depth of focus (see e.g., Bruce Trigger, Understanding Early Civilizations [Cambridge 2003]).

Moreover, one wonders how Warburton would explain the early dynastic enclosures at Abydos, or the open court in Zoser's mortuary complex, which may have been used for the performance of the ied-festival. See Deiter Arnold, "Royal Cult Complexes of the Old and Middle Kingdoms," in Temples of Ancient Egypt, ed. B. Shafer (Ithaca, 1997), 32-34, for more recent scholarship on early dynastic enclosures, and see Laurel Bestock, The Development of Royal Funerary Cult at Abydos: Two Funerary Enclosures from the Reign of Aha (Wiesbaden, 2009). (Warburton includes floor plans of these enclosures in his figure on p. 133. However, he neither describes them nor discusses their role as monuments in his overview of the First Dynasty Royal tombs on pp. 131-35.)

In any case, Warburton considers a lack of space in early monumental religious architecture to be important, because "... the buildings gave rise to the context whereby textually based meaning could emerge" (p. 326).

He comes to view Hatshepsut's reign as uniquely pivotal, and states that position in very strong language. For example, he credits Hatshepsut with "determining the topography of Thebes" (p. 24), elaborating in his Final Conclusions:
   ... Hatshepsut laid out a sacred landscape at Thebes, and linked
   this architectural configuration to the god Amun in a fashion which
   allowed Amun to outlast Dyn. XVIII. To a considerable degree,
   Hatshepsut was pursuing this in support of her own search for
   power. Yet, she did manage to determine the subsequent history of
   Thebes, and Amun--and perhaps make a contribution to the
   development of religion (as I argue).

   At this point we must recall that Sesostris had a misplaced faith
   in monuments. His own line failed, whereas Dyn. XVIII went on to
   execute Hatshepsut's project and rendered the success of the
   Ramesside reaction against Akhenaten virtually inevitable, (pp.

However, the four main elements of the ritual landscape of Thebes were all established in the Middle Kingdom. Warburton's summary of Middle Kingdom material acknowledges that the Karnak Temple (pp. 212-14) on the east bank and Deir el-Bahri (pp. 199-200) and Medinet Habu (p. 242) on the west bank were all recognized as sacred from the beginning of the Middle Kingdom, with remains dating at least as early as Dynasty 11. Direct archaeological evidence for the existence of the Luxor Temple is later, dating to Dynasty 13 (see M. Ulmann, "Thebes: Origin of a Ritual Landscape," in Sacred Space and Sacred Function in Ancient Thebes, ed. R Dorman and B. Bryan [Chicago, 2007], 11).

However, remains indicative of a southerly oriented processional route leading out of Karnak occur as early as the time of Sesostris I, suggesting the existence of an important sacred site to the south of Karnak. (See R. Gundlach, "Die Chapelle Blanche und das Tempelbauprogramm Sesostris'I. in Theben," in 8. Agyptologische Tempeltagung: Interconnections between Temples, ed. M. Dolinska and Horst Beinlich [Wiesbaden, 2010], 95-96. This study does not appear in Warburton's bibliography, even though he has an article of his own in the same volume.) Warburton acknowledges the existence of a southern route at this time (p. 214).

Hatshepsut may have introduced royal tombs to the Valley of the Kings, but there are also strong arguments that her father Thutmose I had done this. At various points Warburton acknowledges these legitimate disputes concerning the dating of KV 38 and 42 (e.g., pp. 96, 101-3, 158-59, 204-5). Yet, he persists in seeing Hatshepsut as the innovator for reasons which are unclear. Although Hatshepsut certainly made significant contributions to the major monuments of Thebes, there is no clear evidence that she changed the religious landscape in any fundamental way, much less that she rendered any decisions of the Ramesside kings "virtually inevitable."

A closely related aspect of Warburton's view of the importance of Hatshepsut's architectural program at Thebes is that it was central to her claiming royal legitimacy through Amun and the divine birth. The earliest surviving rendition of the divine birth clearly comes from Hatshepsut's memorial temple at Deir el-Bahri. According to Warburton this change in royal ideology was a prerequisite for the development of anything deserving the label "myth" from ancient Egypt:
   The (a) conceptual development of "myth" can only be understood in
   connection with (b) the weakening of royal power by Hatshepsut and
   Akhenaten which created a vacuum for independent divinity. In order
   to secure her (otherwise illegitimate) female kingship Hashepsut
   weakened royalty by claiming legitimacy through Amun, rather than
   through her accomplishment of justice as the successor of Re,
   responsible for exercising Maat (although she also had to do this).
   Akhenaten weakened kingship by exploiting royal power to pursue an
   ideological line which was not shared by the elite. Together, they
   undermined unquestioned divine legitimacy, leading to the collapse
   of the state, and giving the power to the temple of Amun. (p. 49)

It is still not clear to me why claiming legitimacy through Amun should weaken the kingship, nor why it should take over 250 years to take effect, with such strong kings as Sety I and Ramesses II reigning in the interim.

In this ambitious book Warburton attempts to cover more ground than can reasonably be expected to fit in a single scholarly volume. His impressionistic summaries too often leave out important perspectives and his conclusions too often rely on controversial readings of the data. A reviewer of one of his earlier books noted: "Warburton's style is dramatic, and as a consequence, sometimes inaccurate" (R. Sparks, review of David Warburton, Egypt and the Near East: Politics in the Bronze Age, Antiquity 77 [2003]: 632.) The present volume suffers from this defect as well.


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Author:Eaton, Katherine
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Oct 1, 2015
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