Mummies and the brain

I have a new reading project.  I am reading Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony.

Tomorrow I will begin posting about the book.

Today I am reflecting on a conversation I had with my son about mummies.  The King Tut exposition is in Kansas City.  I think it was three years ago that I visited the King Tut exhibit when it was in Denver.  Anyway, my son recently took a tour of the exhibit, which displays the archeological finds from the tomb of the mid-14th century B.C.E. Egyptian ruler.

He said that the process of mummification was explained.  The heart was left in the body, often protected by an  ornament.  Apparently the Egyptians believed that you would need your heart intact in the afterlife.  But other internal organs like the liver, lungs, and intestines got placed in special jars separate from the body.

They did not think the brain was a special organ.  Sometimes they left the brain alone.  Sometimes they liquefied it and poured it out through the nose (I know, eewwww).  Apparently they thought the brain was just some kind of stuffing for the skull cavity.  They had no idea of the importance of the brain.

I know of no ancient writing that attributes importance to the brain.  They did not know about the nervous system and how the brain controls the body.

It seems to me that this is important to discussions about ancient social systems.  They did have the concept of a head of state or the head of the household.  But head cannot have meant the controlling center of the nervous system.  They must have been noting how the head sits on the top of the body.

For instance, we have in the Bible the notion that Christ is the head of the church.  Some have claimed this has nothing to do with hierarchy.  Head, they say, means something like a spring that is the head of a river.  It means source or origin.  This is not at all obvious to me.  The head corresponds to the body and its members.  It is hard to see how the idea of head as source works for this.

But certainly head did not mean brain.  It did not mean the control center or the main processor.  These are all ways that modern people think, but that would not have occurred to ancient people.  They described the emotional and volitional seat of a person as the heart or the guts, not the head.

So the head probably did refer to hierarchy.  The ancients understood top and bottom. But it did not refer to close or minute control.

I think of the Amarna letters which come from about the time of King Tut.  The minor kings in the hills and along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean all recognized Egypt’s king as head.  But he certainly did not exercise much control over them.  They were at odds with each other and usually acted independently. As long as they did not rebel, restrict trade, or withhold tribute, they were under Egypt.  They probably worked as a kind of buffer zone against the Hittite empire to the north.  Pharaoh was the head, but not the brain of his empire.


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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