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London. Thames & Hudson. 2000. [pound]24.95 (hb)

The Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt is a companion book to three other 'complete' titles published by Thames & Hudson on Pyramids, Tutankhamen and the Valley of the Kings. The Complete Temples has a more challenging remit than the other volumes as it covers most of the surviving built environment of ancient Egypt. Its biggest challenge is to provide some coherent idea of what an Egyptian Temple was from the surviving fragments that have come down to us. It is possible to speak confidently of cult temples in New Kingdom Egypt but those of the Old and Middle Kingdom are a lot less well understood. In the first section of the book the writer has done this by conjuring a romantic language onto the bare bones of what is known and then describing the typological elements of the buildings, using them as a guide. This has been a tradition in scholarly interpretation of Egyptian architecture from the time the first modern European visitors visited in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, long before the hierogly phic language was understood or any scientific recording was made of these monuments.

The degree of refinement of these interpretations has developed considerably as more is translated but a lot of this still relies on a projection of a modern understanding of religiosity onto these past relics. The scholarship assumes a closer emotive understanding of 'Egyptian Gods' in Egyptology than would be acceptable if talking about their Mayan or Aztec equivalents. The meaning of religion and gods to ancient man is by no means clear, and the degree to which the ideas of the elite were accessible to the rest of the population not understood in the early periods at all. That the ruling elite maintained its position by military force and intimidation is evident, and it is interesting that on no temple construction do ordinary people appear (other than as priests, soldiers, bound captives or dead foreigners), except at Amarna where the city itself may have been an element of the temple's conceptual order.

The ancient poetry encapsulated in these monuments has gone; scholars can guess at what elements mean, but their suggestions remain guesses. But scholars can document the texts, measure the walls, and list the personages correctly and this makes the guide section of this book useful. There are plans but few sections; descriptions include recent excavations and restoration works are listed. A good scholarly book is needed to interpret the current understandings of religion and temple in Egypt, but to achieve this a lot of the presumptions and interpretations which have been accumulated in recent scholarship need to be challenged, and some attempt to leave what is real determined.
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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 2000
Next Article:ARQ 4/3.

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