The Catastrophic Emergence of Civilisation: The Coming of the Bronze Age Cultures

Abstract of talk by Gunnar Heinsohn

University of Bremen, P. O. Box 330 440, 28334 Bremen, Germany. e-mail: gheins[at]
Presented at the SIS Conference: Natural Catastrophes during Bronze Age Civilisations (11th-13th July 1997)

Throwing of barley grains or small stoned showering of ashes, public defecation and obscene exhibition, panic yelling as well as manic romp and frenzy, mortal duels of humans and animals in strange costumes making them look like snakes or mixed creatures, entire burning of slaughtered beings - these and similar activities took place in extremely carefully choreographed blood rituals which emerged at the beginning of the Bronze Age. The holy precincts in which these sacrificial ceremonies were staged provide the archaeological markers by which the Bronze Age can be told apart from the Stone Age. The theory of religion is at a loss when it comes to understand this tremendous turn in the history of religion which, after all, brought about the first stage of civilisation. This perplexity did not always dominate the scholarly world. Nicolas-Antoine Boulanger (1722-1759), a French civil engineer and sociologist' had deciphered the great ceremonies of man as ritualised memories of deluges and revolutions of the earth's crust. It was the dogma of evolutionism which slowly obscured past global catastrophes from the view of learned men. Yet, the religious texts were still there. Eventually, they were regarded as mere emanations of exalted souls. The cataclysms described in them supposedly had nothing to do with earth and cosmos but everything with the unconscious. This paper tries to prove the basic correctness of earliest cuneiform sources which explicitly state that the first "cult places" with their priestly personnel were established to give "counselling" to people who were left "beclouded" after a "flood had swept over the earth." Counselling, indeed, meant that the therapeutic capacities of a child's play were used to heal entire communities. The confused survivors were assigned roles in which not only the disturbing behaviour of man under the impact of cataclysms but also the catastrophic cosmic agents themselves were re enacted. The scene of 'cosmic' clashes ended in the spilling of blood and the killing of at least one contender. In this gruesome act the tense aggression - bottled up in the helpless survivors - was released in one dramatic and cathartic shot Reconciliatory acts in front of the corpses of the victims required their elevation. Bowing and asking forgiveness before the natural agents who had acquired the human or animal shape of their skilled impersonators constituted the worship of--freshly slaughtered--idols. After the gradual abandonment of blood sacrifice in the Iron Age, which was no longer struck by cosmic cataclysm, they were replaced by their portraits in wood, bone or stone giving shape to the typical statuary gods of high religion.

GUNNAR HEINSOHN (* 1943 in Gynia/Poland) studied sociology, history, psychology, economics and religious studies at the Freie Universität Berlin. He holds a university diploma in sociology (1971) and doctorates in the social sciences (1973) as well as in economics (1982). His publication list exceeds more than 400 tides. Since 1984 he has been a tenured professor at the Universität Bremen where he is director of the Raphael-Lemkin-Institut für Xenophobie und Genozidforschung in 1993. His research focuses on the history and theory of civilization. Population and family history was dealt with in Theorie des Familienrechts: Geschlechtsrollenaufhebung, Kindes-vernachlässigung, Geburtenrückgang [1974] (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1976, with R. Knieper) and Menschenproduktion: Allgemeine Bevölkerungstheorie der Neuzeit (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1979, with R. Knieper and O. Steiger). The Great European Witch Hunt became the subject of Die Vernichtung der weisen Frauen: Beiträge zur Theorie und Geschichte von Bevölkerung und Kindheit (München: Heyne [1st ed. Herbstein: März; 1985], 1994, with O. Steiger). On the emergence of the rate of interest and money he has published Privateigentum, Patriarchat, Geldwirtschaft. Eine sozialtheoretische Rekonstruktion zur Antike (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 1984). His attempt at laying the foundations of economic theory resulted in in Eigentum, Zins und Geld. Ungelöste Rätsel der Wirtschaftswissenschaft (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1996, with O. Steiger). On the origin of Jewish monotheism he wrote Was ist Antisemitismus? - Der Ursprung von Monotheismus und Judenhaß. - Warum Antizionismus? (Frankfurt am Main: Eichborn, 1988). On Hitler's peculiar brand of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust he has written Warum Auschwitz? Hitlers Plan und die Ratlosigkeit der Nachwelt (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1995). The reconstruction of ancient history was lined out in Die Sumerer gab es nicht: Von den Phantom-Imperien der Lehrbücher zur wirklichen Epochenabfolge in der "Zivilisationswiege" Südmesopotamien (Frankfurt am Main: Eichborn, 1988), Wann lebten die Pharaonen? Archäologische und technologische Grundlagen für eine Neuschreibung der Geschichte Ägyptens und der übrigen Welt (Frankfurt am Main: Eichborn 1990, with H. Illig), Wer herrschte im Industal? Die wiedergefundenen Imperien der Meder und der Perser (Gräfelfing: Mantis, 1993), as well as Assyrerkönige gleich Perserherrscher! Die Assyrienfunde bestätigen das Achämenidenreich, Gräfelfing: Mantis, 1996). His most recent book is devoted to the rise of high culture in the bronze age when blood sacrifice dominated religion: Die Erschaffung der Götter: Das Opfer als Ursprung der Religion (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1997).