By Simson Najovits
In the first of a planned two volumes, Najovits, former editor in chief of Radio France International, provides a remarkably evenhanded introductory survey of Egypt. He observes that the earliest Egyptian culture, with the introduction of farming and animal husbandry, can be traced to around 5800 B.C., but his own overview begins around 4000 B.C., with an investigation of the predynastic Naqada culture and its religious system of totemism, animism and magic. Najovits contends that scholarly focus on ancient Greece and Rome and on Christianity and Judaism has tended to obscure Egyptian contributions to the development of culture. Egyptian religion was highly original, he says: "Never before had such an elaborate religion and such an all-inclusive mythology been invented." As to its lasting contributions, the Egyptians, he says, invented the belief that the body could be preserved and stay alive after death. They were also, he claims, the first monotheistic culture, although monotheism waxed andwaned under various pharaohs. They developed a belief in a savior god, Osiris, whose resurrection led to a belief in the afterlife. Najovits even concludes that the holy family of Osiris, Isis and Horus offers the mythological foundations upon which later cultures constructed their own foundational holy families (e.g., Jesus, Mary and Joseph). Egypt also provided examples of early jurisprudence and political systems, primarily in its extensive legal codes and its focus on kingship. On balance, Najovits offers a detailed and original historical survey of Egypt as a cradle of civilization. Publishers Weekly.