Gobekli Tepe

June 13, 2011 § 2 Comments

Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of having tea with Parabola contributing editor Trebbe Johnson at Alice’s Tea Cup, a fantastic tea room on East 64th Street, just off Lexington Avenue.   It was a day of oppressive heat and equally oppressive national news:  more extreme weather was on the way, the old economy was unlikely to recover.    Yet sitting tucked away in an upstairs corner, in cool bit of England in the steamy city, we were also struck by another very different kind of breaking news.  In the June 2011 issue of National Geographic, there is is news of the world’s first temple, a vast complex of tall pillars ala Stonehenge only larger and more elaborate–and built circa 9600 B.C.E.   Built when humanity still lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers, the discovery topples old notions about the genesis of civilization.  Rather than arising much later out of settled agrarian civilization and serving the aims of an increasing production-oriented civilization, the temple in Turkey suggests that civilization arose from the impulse to reach out to what is beyond.   How astonishing it is to picture bands of hunter-gatherers coming together to build a great sacred place to come together.  How amazing the juxtaposition seemed to us–the news of the faltering of the old way, based on producing and accumulating. What if there was another impulse, another kind of questioning, behind the rise of human culture.  What if we are at the point now where we are being directed to return to that initial impulse to seek and worship that has been lost?

“Wonder rather than doubt is the root of all knowledge,” wrote Abraham Joshua Heschel.  How can we turn away from doubt–about the future of the economy, about the future of the planet, about our own future–to wonder?

At Gobekli Tepe, wonder and a sense of the sacred lead to a leap of knowledge and an extraordinary dedication to work.  The pillars erected in circles are big!  The tallest are 18 feet in height and weigh 16 tons.   Scientists have no idea how the stone got to the site but there are more flints–knives, choppers, points–than most have ever seen.  The ancient men who made the pillars hadn’t mastered engineering, according to experts.  But this didn’t deter them.  Interestingly, the men who came later began to falter, building smaller, weaker temples.

Wondering together, coming together to sit or pray, or to find communion reading a journal like Parabola, is not a luxury, something to do when the work of day is out of the way.  It is the light and the way.

§ 2 Responses to Gobekli Tepe

  • Lewis says:

    Why should this seem so extraordinary? In places like Altamira, hunter/gatherers felt so moved by the seemingly spiritual realm around them that they ventured into the recesses of darkened caves, probably by torchlight (fire being another spiritual presence) to draw the magic spirits of both hunted AND hunter in exquisite ochres. Or taking what some might consider the loss of the productive time of the labor commodity to sculpt the tiny Venus-figures, via whatever technical prowess they had managed to accumulate. Did they have chants, songs, poetry – rap – that we will never know about to celebrate a ritualistic rupture of the ontological plane? Perhaps instead of thinking about it as a “return to that initial impulse”, we should look at it as a further evolution on our path to be both spiritually and scientifically oriented – contrary to popular opinion, the two are not mutually exclusive.

  • tracycochran says:

    Hi Lewis,

    I agree with you. I’ve been thinking about the ancient cave painters lately, realizing that there is always a deeper source, a flowering of the creative/spiritual impulse beyond what is known. And we are also capable of flowering, here and now.

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