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Peter Marinkovic
Holistic Concepts of Soul in the Ancient Mediterranean World


This paper will deliver a fresh approach to holistic concepts of the soul in the Ancient Mediterranean World, with special focuses on Ancient Egyptian, Hebrew and Greek sources. In order to gain a differentiated view, a short survey of Ancient literal and iconographic material that supports non-holistic concepts will also be given as a sort of contrast folio.

In the Western World, the body-soul dualism seems to be widespread. The Gnostic Christian Valentinus (ca. 100 – ca. 160 CE) conceived the human being even as a triple entity, consisting of body (Greek: soma, hyle), soul (Greek: psyche), and spirit (Greek: pneuma). According to a series of scholars, this equates to the division they find in St. Paul’s Epistles (e.g. the Epistle to Thessalonians) and therefore also in various concepts of Christian anthropology. Some authors also try to trace back the origins of that concept to the philosophy of Plato (428/427 BC – 348/347 BC). The Greek historian Herodotus (ca. 484 BC–ca. 425 BC) wrote that the Egyptians have been the first who stated the immortality of the human soul and its leaving of human corpses after death. This observation would fit perfectly to the traditional view that (Christian) Gnosis and Gnosticism has its roots in Egypt, combining Platonic and Old Egyptian traditions.

An overview of Ancient Egyptian concepts of the soul (including iconographic developments of the so called “soul bird” from early beginnings) will show the complexity of Ancient Egyptian anthropology. A person lives in a bodily sphere as well as in a social sphere. Each sphere is constituted by two aspects: the body and the soul. In the bodily sphere of a person, we can identify the ha (occasionally a plural haw, meaning approximately sum of bodily parts) as the body and the sheut (shadow) and the ba (personality) as the soul, whereas in the social sphere sch (mummy dignity) stands for the body and ka (life force) and ren (name) for the soul. So the Ancient Egyptian concepts seem to provide a double dualistic structure.

However, in the Hebrew Bible as well as in its Greek version, the Septuagint, we can find holistic concepts of living beings. The most important keyword of these concepts is soul (Hebrew: nephesh; Greek: psyche). This observation corresponds to concepts of soul that are proposed by pre-Socratic philosophers and authors (e.g. Aischylos, Antiphon, Aristides, Euripides, Hesiod, Pindar, Sophokles) as well as by the post-Platonic philosopher Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC), especially in his De Anima (On the soul). The works of Aristotle had a great influence on the concept of the soul that the Christian theologian Thomas Aquinas (ca. 1225 –1274 CE) developed in his Summa Theologica.

Peter Marinkovic is the University Chaplain at the University of Munich and a member of the well-renowned Max-Planck-Society. He has cooperated with scientists at a variety of universities and institutes (including Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker).

Peter Marinkovic studied Theology, Assyriology, Egyptology, and Philosophy in Munich, Tuebingen and Heidelberg and holds a doctorate in Hebrew Bible. Since 1987, he has been teaching Hebrew Bible and Archaeology at several universities (e.g. Munich, Augsburg, Bayreuth and Salzburg).

As founder and chairperson of LSI Munich and in cooperation with LSI Innsbruck, he successfully applied for a Metanexus supplementary grant in 2007 which fostered a series of conferences about neuroscience and theology titled “How to survive our death? The quest for personal identity and resurrection” (2008-2009). Marinkovic serves also as one of the chairpersons of RSNG (Religion Science Network Germany).  A joint project with LSI Stuttgart will focus on “Beyond the God of the Gaps. Intelligent Design as a Challenge for Theology and Biology”.

He is currently preparing for publication the lectures held at the Munich symposium “Bios – Cultus – Religio” and an essay about "Soul–Mind without Body?" as well as his 2007 lecture at the Academy of Science in Stavanger (Norway) about “Evolution and/or/vs. Creation:  Facing a dilemma”.


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