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(365 words)

Author(s): Wißmann, Hans
[German Version] Pyramid, a term borrowed from Greek (πυραμί ς/ pyramís) for monumental structures in various cultures and serving various religious functions, whose form ¶ approximates that of a geometrical pyramid (a solid on a polygonal base with edges that meet at a point above it). In Egypt pyramids served as tombs. Beginning in the early Old Kingdom they had rectangular ground plans; with King Snefru (c. 2570–2545 bce), the characteristic square ground plan became standard until the New Kingdom. A precursor of the true pyramid was the step pyramid, with si…


(623 words)

Author(s): Wißmann, Hans
[German Version] Atmospheric phenomena and events such as wind, rain, lightning, thunder, clouds, and ¶ hailstones hold particular significance for agricultural societies on account of their potential to influence, increase, or destroy their chances of survival in the most elementary way. These meteorological conditions, which are widely believed to be hardly influenceable or predictable, are conducive to an anthropomorphic conceptualization of their causes (as in the expression “furious storm”). They also enc…


(273 words)

Author(s): Wißmann, Hans
[German Version] The Parthenon is the temple of AthenaParthenos on the acropolis in Athens. It was built between 447 and 432 bce on the foundations of an earlier building destroyed by the Persians in 480. The rebuilding was supervised by Phidias, who also created the cultic statue of Athena Parthenos placed inside the temple (taken to Constantinople in 426 ce). The center or cella of the Doric temple consisted of two rooms: one served as the treasury of the Delian League, the other held the statue of Athena. The peripheral columns of the temple (eight under…

Dome of the Rock

(253 words)

Author(s): Wißmann, Hans
[German Version] (Arab. qubbat aṣ-ṣaḫra), in Jerusalem (VI), a domed structure on an octagonal foundation erected around a rock ( ṣaḫra), was constructed in 691–92 ce (72 in the Islamic calendar) under the Umaiyade caliph, ʿAbdalmalik (685–705 ce). A circular structure with four pillars, with three columns between each pair, supporting a dome of 20.44 m in diameter, was erected around the rock, which is holy according to Islamic tradition. A second circle of ei…

Winckler, Johannes

(152 words)

Author(s): Wißmann, Hans
[German Version] (Jul 13, 1642, Golzern, Saxony – Apr 5, 1705, Hamburg). After studying in Leipzig and Jena, Winckler worked as a private tutor in Tübingen, then held pastoral office in Bad Homburg vor der Höhe (1671), Braubach (1672), Darmstadt (1676), Mannheim (1678), and Wertheim (1679); in 1684 ¶ he was appointed chief pastor of Sankt Michaelis in Hamburg, and in 1699 senior pastor of Hamburg. As one of P.J. Spener’s closest friends, he defended the Collegia pietatis and was a spokesman for Pietism in t…


(386 words)

Author(s): Wißmann, Hans
[German Version] Religions have a frequent tendency to rethink steady, continuous changes and developments in space and time from a religious perspective as a series of discontinuous sequential states, marked by distinct transitions; both the alternation and the transition are times of crisis, requiring a religious response, usually in some kind of ritual. The best-known example is the religious and ritual interpretation of continuously changing human life as a sequence of distinct stages. Depending ¶ on astronomical scale, the passage of time, too, is variously organized into years and years into seasons, depending on the weather, vegetation, and the natural environment. In (northern) Europe, winter, the most feared time of year, appears to have been first identified as a distinct season, followed by the division of the year into winter and summer. Only observation of the sun’s apparent journey south and north, coupled with recognition of two solstices and two equinoxes, and the introductio…


(188 words)

Author(s): Wißmann, Hans
[German Version] Obelisk, a high, slender pillar found in Egypt from the time of the Old Kingdom (Gk ὀβελός/ obelós, “pointed column,” actually “skewer”), mostly with a square base and a pyramid-shaped top, often gilded. Its cultic significance, linked with the sun god Re, comes from the fact that the first rays …


(133 words)

Author(s): Wißmann, Hans
[German Version] is one of a group of languages in the Uto-Aztec linguistic family; also the collective name for the peoples who speak these languages in Central America (Mexico). According to their nominal ending, the languages are divided into those of the Nahuatl and the Nahuat̲ groups. The second group probably included the now extinct Toltecs in the highlands of…

North America

(2,194 words)

Author(s): Wißmann, Hans | Noll, Mark A.
[German Version] I. General 1. Geography. The northern half of the American double continent (America) comprises the North American Arctic including Greenland (Danish), the Canadian Arctic Archipelago north of the mainland, the French overseas Département Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon off the east coast of Canada, the British Bermuda Islands in the Atlantic, and the continent itself, divided today into the countries of Canada and the United States of America, south to the northern boundary of Mexico. The territory of North America covers 21.5 million km2 and has roughly 274 million inhabitants. Despite the influence of the Pacific westerlies, climatic conditions are continental, since most of the precipitation (more than 2,000 mm annually) falls on the seaward slope of the high mountains in the western United States and Canada. To the east, in the Great Plains, precipitation decreases markedly (less than 500 mm annually). The southeast is dominated by tropical air masses, resulting in hot summers, mild winters, and tropical rainstorms. The life…

Human Sacrifice

(1,504 words)

Author(s): Wißmann, Hans | Day, John | Knöppler, Thomas
[German Version] I. Religious Studies – II. Old Testament – III. New Testament I. Religious Studies In many cultures, human beings have been ritually killed with religious i…


(2,461 words)

Author(s): McCann, Dennis P. | Wißmann, Hans
[German Version] I. General – II. History of Religion I. General Sometime after the Europeans became familiar with the New World, they gave it the …

Ordeal, Trial by

(1,373 words)

Author(s): Wißmann, Hans | Niehr, Herbert | Ogris, Werner
[German Version] I. Religious Studies – II. Old Testament – III. Legal History I. Religious Studies Trial by ordeal is a means of decision-making as to the guilt or innocence of a suspect in legal cases where there is no available evidence or testimony, and where no guilty plea has been entered. In place of an oath, but in ¶ line with the inherent logic of the oath, a conditional self-curse was sometimes employed; this would apply in cases where, for example, a slave was disqualified from a hearing under oath, and a divine declaration of the truth was so…

Tales and Legends

(3,589 words)

Author(s): Feistner, Edith | Wißmann, Hans | Arneth, Martin | Sellin, Gerhard | Roggenkamp, Antje
[German Version] I. Literary History 1. Unlike fairy tales, which are set in a fictional world that takes wonders for granted, tales (Ger. Sagen) and legends recount the irruption of miracles and wonders into the real world. Tales treat this irruption as a mysterious and terrifying experience, while legends embed it in a religiously structured explanatory context. 2. The etymology of the terms tale and legend points to two different forms of transmission: oral in the case of tales (“what is told”) and sagas (“what is said”), written in the case of legends (Lat.