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The Shared Descent of Semitic and Aryan in Christian Bunsen’s History of Revelation

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The desire to uphold monogenesis encouraged Christian Bunsen (1791-1866) to bridge the Semitic and Indo-European language families. Bunsen’s identifying ancient Egyptian as a linguistic bridge had implications for the supposed history of God’s revelation to humankind, as well as for German conceptions of “Semitic” as a racial category in the 1840s. The rise of Sanskrit as a possible Ursprache, as well as new critical methods and the rationalist critique of revelation, altered the position Egypt once held in ancient wisdom narratives. However, the gradual decipherment of hieroglyphs and efforts to historicize ancient Egyptian encouraged Bunsen to rethink the history of religion. His faith in monogenesis and Bunsen’s deriving Aryans and Semites from a common ancestor did not inhibit the racialization of “Semitic” as a category or reverse the loss of status Hebrew antiquity suffered as other scholars located primordial revelation in the Aryan past. Instead religion itself became racialized.

Affiliations: 1: The College of William and Mary kebene@wm.edu

10.1163/24519197-12340027
/content/journals/10.1163/24519197-12340027
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/content/journals/10.1163/24519197-12340027
2017-08-16
2017-11-24

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