This essay is based on the first chapter of the book Of God and Gods by Jan Assmann, titled ‘Understanding Polytheism’.
Assmann begins with the very interesting comment that as yet there has been no valid coherent theory of polytheism – by which he means a systematic ‘theology’ of polytheism – only descriptions and histories of polytheistic religions.
Assmann is not comfortable with the term polytheism – or paganism – and neither am I, for these are both constructs of monotheism as its ‘other’ and not identifiable by the practitioners to whom they are ascribed as a referent for what they are doing. The term ‘religion’ is no less problematic. But in this essay I do not want to get bogged down by their semantics and will use them freely in full knowledge of their limitations.
The Nature of the Egyptian Religion
Egyptian religion can be understood in two contexts…