Skip to content

“First the Temple then the City”

March 8, 2010


It’s official. It was very exciting to read the article in Newsweek about the revolution in standard chronology assumed by anthropologists regarding human origins. Up until the recent discovery of the Göbekli Tepe it was assumed that organised religion was a late-comer in the process of anthropogenesis. The order went something like this – agriculture, pottery, villages, cities, kings, writing, art, and finally religion.
Now at Göbekli Tepe we have a temple which predates the earliest domesticated animals. It was built 11,500 years ago – 7000 years before the Great Pyramid and 6000 years before Stonehenge. Check out the link for further details – it’s stunning.
You may think this interests me because I am a ‘minister of religion’ and see some kind of significance in the antiquity of religion. Quite the contrary, what really interests me is the fact that Girard’s account of anthropogenesis predicted precisely this discovery. His mimetic theory argues that social order is grounded in the practice of sacrifice (making sacred) and that sacrificial religion and social order in humanity are coeval. Social order, according to Girard, depended on a mechanism for controlling the violence that arises out of the way acquisitive desire drives rivalry. The mechanism which both controls violence and which creates the sacred is a form of scapegoating, which forms the historical basis of ritual sacrifice. Violence controls violence. The violence of all-against-one controls the spiralling violence produced by mimetic rivalries. Girard has been consistently clear, the practice of sacrifice was the foundation of the domesticisation of animals and the development of agriculture. In the words of Klaus Schmidt the archaeologist at Göbekli Tepe, who, as far as I can tell is no Girardian, ‘first the temple, then the city’.
If you’re wondering about the theological significance of all of this consider the way in which Jesus died as a classic ‘scapegoat’… nuff said for now. There may be no such thing as proof of mimetic theory, but Girardians around the world have a good excuse to be smiling.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 12, 2010 6:55 am

    I really appreciate that you posted the link to the Newsweek article. I found it fascinating. Amazing. I’d love to see the site.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: