Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Cultural and Historical Diffusion

I think its important to go over the concept of Cultural/Historical Diffusion one more time. The definition of the term, as we discussed in class, went something like this:

Two or more historical events, environments, situations or ideas, occurring in different geographic places, in which one can clearly be shown to have influenced the other.

The key to understanding cultural diffusion is the concept of interaction. The manner in which people interact inevitably alters the history of anyone who participates in the interaction. In class, this was shown when we looked back to the Environment unit and the Silk Road. Along the Silk Road, traders from all over interacted and exchanged goods. While exchanging goods, they also consistently (and usually unintentionally) exchanged cultural elements-it could be religion or food or clothing-and brought the new cultural elements back home.

When they returned home to their friends and family they (also usually unintentionally) shared those new cultural elements with others. Thus their homes' history would be changed forever. This is really how history happens-the interactions between people that causes them to change, even a little bit. Adding up all those "little bits" equals a huge amount of change for civilization as a whole.

The evidence of this is the documents we've been looking at for the last two days. There were quite a few Israelites who lived in Ancient Egypt for a long time before moving East. Many lived under Akhenaton when he mandated that Egypt move from polytheism to monotheism. Certainly, many were exposed to Akhenaton's "Hymn to Aton".

Over the course of the next hundred years or so, elements of that prayer were probably passed down from generation to generation. When the authors of the Hebrew Bible were putting it together, it is not surprising that they included things that had been passed down through generations. Thus, looking at "Hymn to Aton" and "Psalm 104" today, its pretty obvious that some serious cultural diffusion took place.

So its important, when studying the history of religion, that we look at the role cultural diffusion plays. The "big three" monotheisms: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam did not come out of nowhere. In each, you'll see elements of previous religions. As we move forward on our timeline, keep that in mind as you look at the movement in the world from polytheism to monotheism.