A critical assessment of Eric Voegelin's Order and History, focusing upon the first volume commentary on Israelite religion. Using some more recent sources in addition, an attempt is made to comprehend occurrences in the ancient Hebrew milieux.
1. Biographical Factors
2. Rediscovery of the Philosophical Quest
3. The First Intellectual History of Ancient Israel
4. A Christian Neo-Existentialist
5. Kingship and the Prophets
6. Psalms and the Covenant
7. Archaeological Factors
8. The Elijah Legends and Jeremiah
9. Deuteronomist Problems
10. The Issue of Compactness
11. Solitary Prophets
12. Metastasis and Sociology
13. From the Babylonian Exile to the Essenes
14. A Change of Direction
1. Biographical Factors
Eric Voegelin (1901-1985) has been described as a political philosopher and a philosopher of history. His magnum opus Order and History is regarded by partisans in terms of scientific scholarship combined with theological insight. His supporters have also claimed that Voegelin restored meaning to history, creating a rival to Arnold Toynbee's Study of History. One feels justified, therefore, in attempting a due investigation of Voegelin's blend of political theory, theology, and historical analysis.
Born at Cologne, Germany, in 1901, Voegelin was raised in the Lutheran church; his father was a Lutheran and his mother a Roman Catholic. In 1910 he moved to Vienna, where he gained a doctorate in political science. He subsequently became an associate Professor at the University of Vienna, teaching political science at the Faculty of Law. In 1929 he spent a term at Heidelberg University, and there attended the lectures of Professor Karl Jaspers (1883-1969), who was then developing the ideas published in his Philosophy (1932). Jaspers had concluded that academic philosophy of the 1920s was seriously deficient. Moving at a tangent, Jaspers emphasised, e.g., a spiritual process occurring between c.800 to c. 200 BCE, in which the foundations of world religions were established, a process he conceived in terms of an advance towards the universal. (1)
In the worldview of Jaspers, figures like Confucius, Lao-tzu, Gautama Buddha, Pythagoras, Heraclitus, and Deutero-Isaiah provided a counter to the frequently imposed Christian view of world history. Jaspers had a degree of affinity with the outlook of Hegel, and attempted a critical reconstruction of Kantian themes. His philosophy of transcendence was sympathetic to Buddhism, and he is said to have become a monist. He was in friction with Martin Heidegger. "Jaspers felt himself personally threatened by Heidegger's infamous decision to support the Nazis, as he was married to a Jewish woman" (Chris Thornhill, Karl Jaspers, 2011). Jaspers was forced to retire from teaching in 1937; he and his wife were under constant threat of removal to a concentration camp until 1945.
Jaspers found inspiration in Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche; the lastmentioned was by then widely read. Like other pedagogues of that period, Jaspers regarded Nietzsche as an inspiration for self-reflection and understanding. Voegelin had also become a partisan of Nietzsche, from about the age of fifteen, though he did not remain in that category.
Voegelin likewise assimilated Schopenhauer, and became familiar with the Upanishads, which he later interpreted in a "Christian Platonist" fashion. In 1929 he enthusiastically read Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), the German academic whose Being and Time (1927) proved influential. Yet Voegelin later concluded that this existentialist drastically circumscribed the reality of "world-transcendent being." (2)
During 1933-38 at Vienna, Voegelin read extensively in the literature of the neo-Thomist movement. Remaining a Christian (unlike many contemporary philosophers), he was receptive to the legacy of Thomas Aquinas. Another stated reason for his interest was that the major political faction in Austria at this time was the Christian Socialist Party, in which neo-Thomism was influential; as a political scientist, Voegelin had to keep track of this trend.
He watched the Austrian and German republics fall in the 1930s when the Nazis gained power. Voegelin loathed the irrationality and racism of Nazism, and eventually lost his admiration for Nietzsche, of whom he was very critical in some of his later writings. However, it was not merely the "will to power" that aroused his disdain. Although a Lutheran in his upbringing, Voegelin came to distrust the ecclesiastical establishment. During the 1930s, all except one of the Christian clergy he knew were Nazis. (3)
He exposed himself to danger in being unwilling to align himself with Hitler's cause. In 1938, he was dismissed from his professorial post at the university of Vienna, and narrowly escaped from the Gestapo. Fleeing from the Nazi environment, Voegelin moved with his wife to America, where he lived for the rest of his life, becoming an American citizen. This was much in contrast to the example of Heidegger, who joined the Nazi party and stayed in Germany (though eventually encountering censure).
Voegelin's struggle with the fact/value dichotomy in Western thought grew acute. The constricting influence of positivism in the social sciences became one of his themes by 1952, by which time he had altered his intellectual orientation. Voegelin had begun his career as "an intellectual historian specialising in legal and political philosophy." (4) In 1945 he realised that his endeavour had been misconceived. A mere history of political ideas was now quite inadequate in his view, even though he had produced large quantities of manuscript in that field.
The present treatment will only cover Order and History, and not the same writer's History of Political Ideas, another multi-volume work. The former is considered to be his magnum opus. See further The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin Vols 1-34 (University of Missouri Press, 1989-2009).
2. Rediscovery of the Philosophical Quest
The major influence upon Voegelin's thinking was Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), the founder of phenomenology. Yet Voegelin broke from Husserl in 1943, after reading the latter's last book The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology (Krisis der Europaeischen Wissenschaften, 1936). The schema of history in that work shocked Voegelin, reminding him of contractions imposed by the Enlightenment philosophes and by Hegel, Comte, and Marx. Husserl saw an irrelevant epoch of prehistory prior to the appearance of Greek philosophy, the only phase to which he gave importance in the very lengthy period before Descartes. Husserl considered the modern period to culminate in his phenomenology.
Voegelin was beginning to see that existentialism and phenomenology were strong limitations. The assumptions of Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Husserl were not convincing. Voegelin reacted to the new "philosophy of history," deeming this to be "one more of the symbolisms created by apocalyptic-gnostic thinkers." (5) His indignation was justified at Husserl's insensitivity to the past history of human thought, and the recurring preference for an author's own work over all that went before. However, Voegelin's blanket usage of the word gnostic has been queried. Voegelin developed a habit of applying this word as a stigma, a reflex from his Christian conditioning and one of his least impressive traits. Comte, Hegel, Marx, and Husserl bear little or no resemblance to the misrepresented Gnostic heretics associated with the early centuries of Christianity.
The capacity of reflection was stressed by Voegelin. His "experiments of recall" were a distinctive exercise undertaken in 1943, one in which he attempted to locate personal memories prior to the age of ten in which experiences impelling toward reflection could be discerned. In 1945, his orientation moved radically from the history of ideas to "the history of experiences and their symbolisations." A few years later he ceased his project on the history of political thought from ancient to modern times. He now came to believe that "ideas are not what is most fundamental in thought, and have no life of their own, but rather are the symbolic expressions of various kinds of experience and existential stance." (6)
Voegelin's use of the word "existential" is not that of Sartre or other exegetes. Critics can easily resist the term, which became widely fashionable during the 1960s. Professor Eugene Webb refers to Voegelin's "own rediscovery of existential reality in its experiential fullness." (7) Voegelin lamented the modern loss of the sense of transcendence, though he credited Husserl, Heidegger, Jaspers, and Bergson with having made important contributions to the recovery of what had been lost. According to him, Husserl represented a significant departure from "dogmatism," moving towards a renewed attention to concrete experience. In Voegelin's interpretation, history intrinsically amounts to "a movement into existential truth by way of right order in the soul, the dikaiosune (justice or righteousness) of Plato and of the New Testament, and by way of reflective intelligence." (8)
By the early 1950s, Voegelin had developed his conception of philosophy as "the rediscovery of the philosophical quest itself through the recovery of its experiential ground." (9) To him, this meant that philosophy was not a set of ideas but instead an existential process in which one experiences "the deep longing of the soul for truth and for fullness of life, the pull at the core of the philosopher's being toward a goal that will remain always mysterious but which draws him with imperative force." (10)
For Voegelin, existence "will always remain a mystery," (11) despite transcendental affinities of the existential philosopher; in this argument, there will always be aspects of existence that "require for their expression and exploration the analogical language of myth." (12) Voegelin apparently could not envisage any state in which the mystery is penetrated.
His magnum opus Order and History is noted for a combination of philosophy, religion, and political-historical analysis. Another factor of difference with the more popular versions of existentialism is the linguistic dexterity of Voegelin. He had commenced to learn Greek in the early 1930s, for the purpose of reading key philosophy texts in the original language. About 1940 he began to study Hebrew with a Rabbi in Alabama, in order to read the Old Testament at firsthand. (13)
Voegelin became Boyd Professor of Political Science at Louisiana State University, and in 1956 appeared the first volume of Order and History, (14) devoted to Israelite religion. That volume also gave some attention to the ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian religions, though in a context presenting these as inferior to the Israelite and Greek developments. Basically, Voegelin assumes a failure on the part of the archaic Near Eastern religions to "rely less on the cosmic divinity of institutions and more on the order in the souls of the men who live under them." (15) Yet this perspective would appear to come under political history, reflecting generalisations about governmental structure which may do no justice to obscured minority repertories.
3. The First Intellectual History of Ancient Israel
The sub-title of volume one was Israel and Revelation, and the contents were described by the academic publishers as "the first intellectual history of Israel ever to be written." Some credit should accordingly be granted. Voegelin was moving at a tangent to the "Histories of Israel" written by specialist scholars/theologians, epics which have since drawn criticism from the "archaeological" camp, who urge that Biblical text is unreliable. Nevertheless, Voegelin was strongly influenced by some prevalent theories in Old Testament studies.
Disappointing are the few pages describing the Achaemenian empire of Iran, a Persian phase in general remembered with respect by Jews. The Achaemenian royal inscriptions are described by Voegelin as "a postscript to Mesopotamian ideas." (16) The Iranian prophet Zarathushtra (Zoroaster) is not mentioned, an omission which can be faulted.
Instead, Zoroastrian dualism is portrayed in terms of the Achaemenian king representing the Truth and his enemies representing the Lie. Voegelin emphasises the strong component of dynastic awareness and racial pride in the Persian inscriptions (for instance, Darius I described himself as "an Aryan of Aryan stock"). However, those monarchical tendencies do not exhaust the cultural features of early Zoroastrianism, which is decapitated in Voegelin's portrayal. Zarathushtra may have lived a thousand years before Darius, and in a different sector of the globe. See further The Zoroastrian Centuries.
A major Voegelinist theme emerges: "The experience of the cosmos as a struggle between forces of good and evil reappears not only in the varieties of ancient Gnosis, but also in Western political movements since the high Middle Ages." (17) Voegelin depicts this "political" symbolism of Truth versus the Lie as a rival to Christianity and the classical tradition of philosophy.
The Christian existentialist goes into a little more detail with regard to Egypt, and here at least gave indication that differences of opinion existed amongst interpreters. Voegelin focused upon Arnold Toynbee's version of civilisational phases in the Study of History, a version rejected by prominent Egyptologists. The opponents argued that Toynbee's reconstruction of Egyptian history was a generalisation based upon inappropriate materials, meaning his acquaintance with Graeco-Roman and European history. Critics urged that Toynbee projected the rise of Christianity back into the First Intermediate Period of Egypt. Toynbee surmised that an "Osirian church" had developed amongst the lower classes at that archaic juncture, forming the basis for a new society, the Old Kingdom having been a formative phase only.
Egyptologists like Henri Frankfort contended that the Osiris cult did not originate amongst the lower classes, but percolated those strata from an origin in the cult of the ruling group. The Osiris doctrines did not amount to a "church," meaning an organised body of believers. Furthermore, Toynbee's explanation of how Egyptian socioculture lasted for so long is unsatisfactory. Voegelin's recourse of "penetrating to the theoretical issue" (18) at the root of this disagreement is also in question amongst some readers.
Voegelin asks why the ancient Egyptians depicted some gods as animals, e.g., Hathor as the cow, Thoth as the ibis or baboon, and Horus as the falcon. (19) The "suddenness of transition from primitive village communities to an imperial civilisation" (20) is suggested as the reason. In the main, Voegelin's account is a rather narrow attempt to present Dynastic Egypt as a static society in which nothing of great value occurred. The Christian existentialist was evidently averse to the liberalism of James Breasted and other Egyptologists concerning the Memphite Theology. This text is preserved as an inscription from the reign of Shabaka, an Ethiopian king who founded Dynasty XXV in 712 BCE. Yet the date of composition is much earlier, and possibly circa 3000 BCE.
Ptah of Memphis was early elevated to the highest rank among the Egyptian gods. A theogony and cosmogony were here attributed to the creative power of the mind and word of a single god. The theme of creation of the world by the word of Ptah reminded Breasted of the Logos theme in the Gospel of John. Some experts had maintained that Egyptian thought had "showed itself from the very beginning on the spiritual and moral level of the Hebrews and of St. John." (21) The same phenomenon was even said to have gained the intellectual level of the Greeks via the discovery of a first principle of order.
Voegelin attempted to modify these contentions to the level of a minor achievement. "The Johannine Logos would have broken the Pharaonic mediation," (22) he affirms, his idea being that mankind was directly under God in Christianity. More realistically, the lower classes were generally under monarchs and ecclesiastics during the medieval centuries (and after) in Christian countries.
Those analysts who allow the issue of "divine kingship" to colour their darkened view of Egypt are probably not going to be open-minded. Voegelin was obliged to mention the report of Herodotus which "confirms the strictly human status of the Pharaoh." (23) The Pharaoh was not actually a god in human form, but a man (or woman) "in whom a god manifests himself." (24) Adopting a rather narrow interpretation, Voegelin brackets "divine kingship" with the manifestations of gods in animals, and thus "primitive village communities" emerge as the denominator. (25) This version of "symbolism" is perhaps less impressive than Toynbee's imposition of Graeco-Roman trends upon an obscure series of (Egyptian) sociocultures that are still largely enigmatic.
The same volume is far more generous with Israelite matters, and provides a substantial treatment of Biblical events. It is a difficult task to find history in some parts of the Old Testament, and scholarly views have differed. Voegelin identifies the patriarch Abraham as the fountainhead of an inrush of divine reality into human events. Yet he guardedly employs the phrase "always supposing, and Toynbee is not certain, that Abraham and Moses were historical figures at all" (Order and History Vol. 1, p. 120). He duly observes that the story told from Genesis to the end of Kings is not a critical history of factual events "but an account of Israel's relation with God" (ibid., p. 121). Voegelin refers to this as sacred history, and mentions some of the drawbacks for the modern historian. For instance, the Book of Deuteronomy is not a "fifth" book of Moses but "a huge paraenesis appended to the Tetrateuch," cast in the literary form of a speech by Moses, and summarising a code "as it was understood shortly before the end of the Kingdom of Judah" (ibid., p. 122), which means a date in the seventh century BCE.
Voegelin takes an empathic approach to the sacred history, and expresses the theme that "through the discovery of transcendent being as the source of order in man and society, Israel constituted itself the carrier of a new truth in history" (ibid., p. 123). He is preoccupied with "the problem of history as an inner form" (ibid., p. 125), though he conceives the discovery of transcendent being as a phenomenon exclusive to Israel amongst the Near Eastern sociocultures (and indeed the whole world).
4. A Christian Neo-Existentialist
The idiom of Voegelin is often that of a theologian rather than a philosopher. Yet he ventured a controversial emphasis that related to Greek accomplishments in philosophy. According to his argument, the ancient Israelites did not progress to the "noetic differentiation" in process amongst the Greeks. "The Israelites tended to have little sense of what the Greeks symbolised as the individual soul, but experienced the spiritual life only compactly, by way of the group." (26) This disposition is viewed as preventing the development of philosophy, which "requires the explicit experience of divine presence as an ordering force within the individual psyche of the philosopher." (27) That definition is certainly a departure from other existentialist perspectives.
The atypical Christian commentator accuses Toynbee and Oswald Spengler of being burdened with humanistic concepts, and contributing to an intellectual climate which conceived "religious founders" as being busy founding "religions." In contrast, Voegelin insists that those religious figureheads "were concerned with the ordering of human souls and, if successful, founded communities of men who lived under the order discovered as true" (Order and History Vol. 1, p. 126).
Voegelin's concept of order was not fundamentalist, and may have some merit. He criticises Toynbee and Spengler for conceiving of history as a sequence of civilisational cycles, deeming this to converge with the "cosmological" orientation of ancient Egypt. Spengler's Nietzschean dislike of the Jewish heritage was much inferior to Voegelin's assessment, yet it may nevertheless be doubted as to whether the latter's "order and history" conceptualism was a sufficiently clarifying approach to the history of Israel in all respects.
A rather loaded statement is made. The innovative Israelite achievement of history (in the Old Testament) was followed by the Christian, which integrated the Israelite past "through St. Augustine, into the symbolism of its [Christian] historia sacra" (ibid., p. 130).
Voegelin's version of the Old Testament acknowledges the "meaning of history" in terms of a process that "emerged gradually and was frequently revised under the pressure of pragmatic events" (ibid., p. 134). One can easily envisage lacunae when one learns that "all the substrata, however, are overlaid by the meaning imposed by the final redaction" (ibid.).
The neo-existentialist adopted the typically Christian expedient of stigmatising Talmudic Judaism as a separatist entity that erred by comparison with the Jewish movement known as Christianity, which eschewed the ethnic heritage of Judaism. A failure to Hellenise is implied on the part of the Talmudic branch (ibid., p. 144). Others question the extent of Christian Hellenistic traits.
The "original meaning" of the Biblical narrative had been debated for generations by European scholars. In some respects, Voegelin tended to support the exegesis of Professor Ivan Engnell against the version associated with the school of Julius Wellhausen (author of Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels, 1878). Wellhausen (d. 1918) is noted for his observation that the Old Testament does not provide a history of Israel, only materials for a reconstruction; his version of the Pentateuch remained dominant for many years. Engnell studied "divine kingship" in the ancient Near East, a subject that is still in contention.
The text of the Tetrateuch (Genesis to Numbers) is viewed by Voegelin in terms of a meaning imparted to the final format by a traditionist circle (ibid., p. 156ff.). Other Old Testament books were created by differing traditionist groups. Voegelin refers to circles of scribes and learned men redacting the wisdom literature, singer groups in the temple redacting the psalm literature, colleges of priests codifying the law collections, groups of disciples around a master shaping the prophetic literature, bards or poets (the moshlim of Numbers 21:27) producing proverbs, and finally "storytellers or traditionists in the narrower sense for the various types of patriarchal, heroic, and prophetic legends" (ibid., p. 159). The culture of ancient Israel was complex.
"The narrative is no report but a cultic glorification," wrote Johannes Pedersen in relation to the Paschal legend (ibid., p. 160, and influenced by Pedersen, Israel: Its Life and Culture, 1926-40). The texts can no longer be reconstructed in their original form, some scholars concluded. The changes produced by oral and written tradition are obviously a looming X factor.
Voegelin argues that "universalist implications" of the encounter with a divine reality were never successfully explicated by the Israelites. "The spiritual meaning of the exodus from civilisation was well understood but nevertheless remained inseparable from the concrete Exodus from Egypt" (ibid., p. 164). One could suggest that different levels of comprehension existed amongst diverse Israelite circles.
5. Kingship and the Prophets
Though so very unpopular with the new age of presumed transrationalists (and transpersonalists), the history and mythology of ancient Israel is a relevant subject of enquiry. Voegelin outlines some basic components in his neo-existential version.
After living a reputedly "nomadic" existence in the desert, the post-Exodus Israelites emerge as a settled agricultural population in Canaan. They developed an urban society under the monarchy associated with David; a wealthy class ruled a mass of impoverished peasants. Apparent innovations in the religious sphere involved a respect for the agricultural fertility gods in Canaan. A series of Hebrew prophets opposed habits of the upper class, the attendant moral laxity, and the sponsorship of Canaanite cults.
Archaeology has made many strides since the 1950s. A basic factor emerging is that the Canaanite city-state system broke down at the end of the Bronze Age, meaning by circa 1200 BCE. The Canaanite culture was absorbed by the Philistines, the Phoenicians, and the Israelites.
The Israelite monarchy was reputedly established in the eleventh century BCE, though subject to legendary portrayal. "The late historians achieved the desired changes of meaning rather through selection, repression, mutilation, interpolation, and the silent influence of context" (Order and History Vol. 1, p. 185). Yet Voegelin thinks that many of the Hebrew source materials "still reveal their original meaning" (ibid.). There has since been continued argument about the factual relevance of Old Testament texts.
The patriarchal line of transmission in the Biblical narrative "is highly stylised" (ibid., p. 196), moving through Isaac and Jacob to the putative twelve ancestors of Israel, then to the legendary sojourn in Egypt. The Exodus was reputedly followed by the "conquest of Canaan," a theme which has recently been viewed with reserve.
The version of Voegelin relies on the Deborah Song extant in Judges 5, a poem which he credits as being contemporary with events of c. 1125 BCE. He follows the view that this poem is "unencumbered by interpretations and redactions of the later historical schools" (ibid., p. 204). Voegelin concludes that the Israelite confederacy cannot have "conquered" Canaan. There was no permanent political organisation in "Israel," and the tribes can only have infiltrated slowly. This process involved "only minor clashes of clans and tribes with local enemies, not any major conflict with the Canaanites" (ibid.). The deduction is that Yahweh had not formerly been a war god, this role being inaugurated in the battle against Sisera at the Kishon river.
Deborah was a prophetess (nebijah) who reputedly directed the Hebrew war leader Barak in the struggle with oppressive Canaanite war chariots. She may have been known in her day as a roeh (seer), a category later designated as nabi or prophet (ibid., pp. 205-6, 228). Her description in Judges 4 as a judge (shophet) has been considered misleading, that term belonging to the later Deuteronomist redactions.
Israelite kingship was an institution reputedly founded by Saul in the eleventh century BCE, and explicitly condemned in the eighth century BCE by the prophet Hosea. The version of Voegelin is informative and sustained, despite some flaws which may be discerned (and complicated by the ongoing research in Biblical texts). He suggests that the king became elevated over the tribal chieftains as a result of conflict with the Philistine empire. In the apparent amalgamation of Hebrews and Canaanites, new social strata are indicated by the appearance of nebi'im or prophets, described as "bands of nationalist ecstatics spiritually respected but otherwise considered of a low social status" (ibid., p. 226).
Following a German interpretation, our commentator notes that Saul's rise to kingship is described in a narrative that has absorbed at least two principal versions of the events, one version being "royalist" and the other "antiroyalist." The former is considered earlier, the latter being associated with later prophetic influences commencing in the eighth century. The "royalist" version says that Saul consulted a roeh or seer named Samuel, who had received the word of Yahweh that he should anoint the young Saul as the leader of Israel in the conflict with the Philistines.
Samuel told Saul to travel to Gibeah, a town occupied by Philistines. In that region, Saul encountered "a band of prophets (nebi'im)" who carried a lyre, a tambourine, a flute, and a harp. Whatever the significance of the musical instruments, the strong implication is that this type of prophet was not the same as the category to which Samuel belonged (i.e., that of the roeh, later known as prophet). "It has proved difficult, however, to describe the two types with any precision" (ibid., p. 228).
The "great prophets" of the eighth century and after were solitary figures, contrasting with the category who clustered at courts. "Collective prophetism, based on contagious ecstasy, was a widespread phenomenon in Asia Minor which reached into Hellenic civilisation in the form of orgiastic cults of Dionysos" (ibid., p. 229). The inference here is that "Baalic ecstaticism" had penetrated Yahwism, an event attendant upon the blending of Canaanites and Yahwist Hebrews in the new Israel. The ruach (spirit) of Yahweh is associated with a solitary experience, distinct from the ecstatic phenomenon.
The nabi (prophet) of the collective category is imperfectly known. Voegelin opts for the interpretation of low social status, a factor resented by the Hebrew clan society, who are implied as having viewed such persons as non-Hebrews. Voegelin suggests that Saul's success as a monarch was due to his patronage of this non-Hebrew sector, and finds confirmation of this trend in the account of how King David (tenth century) danced without restraint before the Ark as reported in 2 Samuel 6. Voegelin calls this a "phallic exhibition," with the further description in terms of "populist Yahwism."
The "collective prophets" reappear in the Biblical narrative relevant to the ninth century BCE, at a time when "numerous prophetic bands existed, running into memberships of several hundred, organised under masters, and attached to various sanctuaries" (ibid., p. 230). They were active at the royal court, and were consulted before military ventures. The Yahwist groupings are interpreted as having counterparts in bands of Baalist prophets, including one which advised the Phoenician queen Jezebel.
The god Baal is strongly associated with the Ugaritic texts, relating to northern Syria and dating to the mid-second millenium BCE; associated "West Semitic" or Amorite populations are a complex subject in the scholarly literature. There have been different opinions as to Amorite origins in Syria or Arabia. Amorites were spread between north Palestine and Mesopotamia. Amorites "were the indigenous people of central inland and northern Syria," and spoke a Semitic language related to Hebrew. During the third millenium BCE, they developed powerful city states in Syria, e.g., Ebla. By 1900 BCE, Amorite dynasties controlled important cities in Mesopotamia, including Mari and Babylon. The Old Testament refers to Amorites in the hills of Palestine and Canaanites on the coast; Amorite kings were reputedly defeated by Joshua. The word Amorite comes from Hebrew amori, an equivalent of the versatile Akkadian word amurru.
In Hebrew culture, there was apparently a strong liaison between the collective prophets and the monarchs. The only recorded opposition to a royal plan came from Micaiah, son of Imlah. The text of 1 Kings 22 describes how this prophet offered an independent view differing radically from a message promising martial success that was imparted to the king of Israel by an assembly of some four hundred prophets.
"The national Yahwism of the [collective] bands was inseparable from the royal institution" (Order and History Vol. 1, p. 231). Voegelin also emphasised that the trances of "ecstatic tongue-speakers" were "the voice of the people." (The early ecstatic prophets have since been distinguished from court prophets in this complex subject). Many of the "collective" prophets might best be described as professional personnel (and oracles) who enjoyed the patronage of royalty and the priesthood. The voice of the people was generally repressed, too many of them being peasants and small farmers.
The operative word here, nabi or prophet, is said to have been "probably Babylonian" in origin, entering the Hebrew language in the time of Saul, and eventually being assimilated also to the solitary prophets of the eighth century and after. The latter category are considered quite distinct, opposing both the kingship and the collective prophets.
Voegelin's analysis of the nebi'im approved the solitary mystic who aspired to the ruach of Yahweh, i.e., one who found his soul, in the desert and other places. The language involved was not that of the Hellene, emphasises Voegelin. True enough, but the inspirational force acting within the individual psyche is not governed by linguistic considerations, as in the case of Avestan-speaking Zarathushtra. A more recent scholarly source comments:
"Some of the prophetic books of the Old Testament relate to figures active in the eighth century.... the prophecies and biographical material were collected later, and it is difficult to know quite how this was done and to what extent they underwent literary reworking. But what must be conceded is that the prophets were historical figures." (28)
Some scholars assert that the Hebrew religion of the monarchy era was basically Canaanite, a submerged factor also defined as "a classical West Asiatic religion, the basic structure of which recurs from Mesopotamia to Northern Syria and Palestine." (29) One authority affirms that the description of Canaanite religion as a fertility religion largely amounts to a Protestant Christian caricature, especially as there is little detailed information available. (30) There have been divided opinions about the episode of reform featuring the Judaean king Josiah (rgd 640-609), an episode described in 2 Kings 23. The text states that the worship of Baal was then practised in the temple at Jerusalem. Some have deemed this an exaggeration, while other analysts have concluded that the report is accurate. (31)
6. Psalms and the Covenant
Our main commentator suggests that the most important event in the twentieth century study of the Old Testament was the discovery that the Psalms derived from hymns, liturgies, prayers, and oracles employed in the cult of the pre-exilic monarchy. The Ugaritic materials from Ras Shamra facilitated a better understanding of the cultic nature of Near Eastern New Year festivals; features of these were closely connected with the role of the monarch as the mediator between God and man. Voegelin favoured the view of Gerhard Von Rad that a specifically Israelite cult is attested in the Psalms, and thus implying a "Covenant festival" rather than the variant flourishing amongst Near Eastern neighbours.
The suggested context was the Sinaitic revelation associated with Moses, as distinct from the ritual re-creation of cosmic order favoured in Babylonia and elsewhere. Certainly, in the Babylonian New Year festival the god Marduk was enthroned. "The present state of Old Testament study can be described only as bewilderment" (Order and History Vol. 1, p. 283), a verdict including the situation of German versus Scandinavian theories.
A more recent reflection from the field of Italian scholarship radically emphasises:
"All those who have been occupied with and have written about the story of the ancient Hebrews are not historians by profession... almost without exception they are all professors of theology. They are Alttestamentler, professors from German theological faculties, who regard the writing of a History of Israel as the culmination of their study of the Old Testament. So the History of Israel appears as a modern literary genre born in Germany in the last century from the encounter of historicism with theology." (32)
A Scandinavian contribution of the 1980s stressed that the Old Testament contains scarcely any historical sources older than the seventh century BCE, and adopted the new attitude that archaeology and non-Biblical texts are crucial in reconstructing the early history of Israel, more especially in the pre-Kingship phase.
"A fundamentally new approach to the study of Israelite history and religion is more needed now than at any time in the past. Until the present, most scholars have offered... more or less rationalistic paraphrases of the biblical version of the history of Israel and its religion. This approach is becoming increasingly unsatisfactory." (33)
Commentary on Voegelin should take into account subsequent developments, but is obliged to give due space to his own statements. He believed that his philosophy of "order and history" afforded an answer to various exegetical problems in Old Testament studies. His accompanying version of Greek philosophy can stand independently, and does make for an unusual juxtaposition which is hard to find elsewhere.
Voegelin explains that the phrase "imperial Psalms" was his own innovation. He appears to mean the imperial symbolism of the "cosmological civilisations," meaning Egypt and Mesopotamia, which he believed had entered Israel via the Jebusite succession at Jerusalem. Professor George Widengren (of Iranist fame) had interpreted Psalm 110 as a series of oracles for a coronation ritual, the king being declared as a priest of Yahweh (Order and History Vol. 1, pp. 279ff.).
Voegelin is at pains to show that his "imperial" interpretation does not signify "divine kingship" in the Mesopotamian sense, but instead affords an example of the covenant (berith) "symbol." He finds confirmation of this in the institution of kingship being conferred through a prophet (Nathan), a representative of Yahweh. The textual reference is 2 Samuel 7; the kingship of David was "instituted through a word of Yahweh, as communicated by Nathan, which declared the king to be the son of God" (ibid., p. 296).
The argument is that this declaration of the king as son of God "introduced the Egyptian symbolism" (ibid., p. 297). Thus, "the David Covenant and the Sinai Covenant were in permanent conflict throughout the period of the monarchy" (ibid., p. 298). The basic idea is that the waves of reform achieved by the solitary prophets reasserted the archaic Sinai Covenant against the new ascendancy of kingship.
One may question as to whether the "Sinai Covenant" disposition of the solitary prophets really converged with the outlook of Deuteronomist redactors. It is easy to credit that "the speeches of Samuel are delivered in the grandly flowing style of the Deuteronomist school of the seventh century" (ibid., p. 245). Voegelin allows that "some of the [seventh century] historical materials" probably go back to the time of Saul, but such tentative chronology is much in dispute.
The Christian commentator credits a blending of Canaanite, Ugaritic, and Egyptian influences upon the David Covenant, in the sense of institutions, liturgies, and coronation rituals. "The time of the imperial Yahweh was a period of heightened receptiveness for the hymn literature of the neighbouring imperial civilisations" (ibid., p. 308). Voegelin sees Near Eastern cosmological symbols in the extant data about Solomon's temple, which he describes in terms of "while built for Yahweh, (the Temple) was built for a god approximating in nature to the Amon of the [Egyptian] New Kingdom" (ibid., p.321). For this comparison, Voegelin uses Biblical references to Solomon's dedication of the temple, conveying that Yahweh has lighted the sun in the heavens but will dwell in deep darkness. Voegelin compares those references to the Amon hymns of Dynasty XIX (i.e., Amon who was Re in face, but whose nature was experienced as "hidden" behind all cosmic manifestations).
The suggested convergence between Yahweh and Amon is viewed as having occurred at the level of court affairs. The tenth century monarch Solomon reputedly had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, and Voegelin suggests that Egyptian offspring were involved. Amon aside, the Egyptians mounted an invasion, which receded; the main danger to Israel was the increase of Assyrian power.
In the late tenth century, at the end of Solomon's reign, the Hebrew empire was reputedly partitioned into two states, namely Israel (the northern kingdom) and Judah (the southern kingdom). The northern kingdom lasted for only two centuries, being destroyed by the Assyrian occupation, the ruling elite being deported. Judah survived for several generations after. The capital of Judah was Jerusalem, site of the revered temple and a centre of priestly activity; this city came to be considered indestructible by the nationalist religion. Eventually, there were three groups of priests competing for control of the temple cult in the late pre-exilic period (and perhaps afterwards), namely the Levitical priesthood, the Aaronite priesthood, and the Zadokite equivalent. (34) The priests had roles as advisers, sacrificers, and diviners.
The Psalms are difficult to date; some are said to be exilic, and even post-exilic. Yet the bulk of these compositions are believed to relate to worship at the temple of Jerusalem. In this respect, the Psalms have been considered the most important source for the study of ancient Israelite religion. The theology of a formal Covenant between David and Yahweh is now thought by many scholars to be a later creation of the Deuteronomist redactors, commencing in the seventh/sixth centuries BCE. (35)
7. Archaeological Factors
An archaeological assessment of Biblical events implies that many of the Old Testament reports are not historically accurate. Only in events of the seventh century BCE is there any real tangibility. This version sides with the view that the "Deuteronomist history" was mainly compiled during the time of the Judaean king Josiah (rgd 640-609 BCE). That history is exhibited in the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. These texts have an affinity with Deuteronomy, which provides the law that was so elevated by the canonists who ascribed their creation to Moses.
The Deuteronomist history apparently arose in conservative reaction to developments elsewhere. The attendant reform was furthered by Josiah and his advisers. They prohibited all manifestations of foreign worship, which were believed to be the cause of current misfortunes in Judah.
The campaign of the Josiah faction entailed the destruction of rural shrines, making the temple of Jerusalem the only legitimate place of worship. The inception of monotheism has been attributed to the political ambition of Judah at this period. The Deuteronomist history was created to support the new ideology. The point has been made that the Biblical text does not reflect the events disclosed by archaeology.
The monarchs David and Solomon probably reigned in the tenth century BCE. Many of the famous episodes concerning them are considered to be fictions, though this conclusion does not mean that these entities did not exist. Their roles are thought to have been exaggerated in a legendary recasting desiring to present a "united monarchy" of Israel and Judah.
David is traditionally said to have conquered Jerusalem, which he made his capital. He purportedly established a vast kingdom stretching from the Euphrates to the borders of Egypt. He was succeeded by Solomon, praised for his wisdom, an attribute that appears contradicted by his indulgences. The Biblical lore credits Solomon with building the temple in Jerusalem that became such a centre of religious orientation. Close analysts regard such details with suspicion.
Judah was sparsely inhabited by pastoralists until the late eighth century BCE. Jerusalem was no more than a village in the tenth century. In contrast, the fertile and agricultural territory of Israel to the north was heavily populated, and became part of the Deuteronomist mythology created in Judah.
Canaan of the third millenium BCE attests a fully developed urban life in the archaeological record. Large cities developed in the lowlands, each supporting several thousand people. This urban system collapsed in the late third millenium, for reasons still in dispute (and involving the "Amorite hypothesis"). Subsequently, powerful city states appeared, with capitals such as Hazor and Megiddo. This era is sometimes termed the "Middle Bronze Age." The city states disintegrated by the twelfth century BCE.
Instead of these civilisational phases, the Deuteronomist record supplied myths of the Exodus from Egypt, the conquest of Canaan, and other well known themes. The Israelites were apparently far more indigenous to Canaan.
See further Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts (New York: Free Press, 2001); Finkelstein and Silberman, David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible's Sacred Kings and the Roots of Western Civilisation (New York: Free Press, 2006).
The same authors contest the "minimalist" interpretation of Thomas L. Thompson, a scholar who has argued that a late post-exilic dating applies to the Biblical texts, which are here considered fictional and not historical. This is deemed extremist by rivals, who urge that a degree of historical relevance is not negated by the textual situation of Deuteronomist innovation and adaptation. Ironically, the minimalist arguments resort to archaeological records, an illustration that these findings can be differently employed. See further Thompson, The Early History of the Israelite People (Leiden: Brill, 1992); idem, The Bible in History: How Writers Create a Past (London: Cape, 1999; American title: The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel ). Thompson argues for a literary approach to the Old Testament, as distinct from conceiving of this corpus in historical terms.
A variant of the minimalist position maintains that the Biblical myth was constructed with "fragments of history, or rather with written traditions that were different from those expressed in the actual text, and obviously more ancient." Furthermore, in this Italian commentary "the biblical text, compared with a Greek or Latin one, requires a larger use of divination, with all the risks that this implies, for establishing the original text, which was often deliberately 'corrupted' by rabbinic revision for ideological reasons" (Giovanni Garbini, Myth and History in the Bible, trans. C. Peri, Sheffield Academic Press, 2003, p. vii).
8. The Elijah Legends and Jeremiah
In post-exilic Judaism, as in Christianity, Elijah was considered one of the greatest prophets. Voegelin duly observes that the Elijah legends cannot be used as direct historical sources. Elijah is portrayed in the Biblical text as the sole survivor after a massacre of all Yahwist prophets at the instigation of the royal house. This detail is construed by Voegelin as a literary device to enhance the importance of the subject. Elijah is depicted as intervening in events of the ninth century BCE; he opposed royal abuses and the cult of Baal. The precise nature of his Yahwism has engendered disputes. He apparently wanted to abolish the cult of Baal in Israel, although he conceded legitimacy to the Baal-Zebub of Ekron.
Voegelin discounts as legend the slaughter of the Baalist enemies, as with the slaughter of the Yahwist prophets. The texts relate that, in Judah, Elijah went alone into the desert to die, after his mission had failed. Yet being directed to Mount Horeb, he heard "a sound of gentle stillness" which inspired him to go back to Israel. Voegelin describes this situation in terms of: "As Plato's prisoner, after the vision of the Agathon, must return to the Cave and rejoin his fellow-prisoners, so Elijah is sent back" (Order and History Vol. 1, p. 350). On the return from Horeb, he made a disciple of Elisha, who became his attendant and successor.
Voegelin interjects a dogmatic statement in his survey of the Elisha legends. We are told that: "No malakh, no prophetic precursor was possible after the Incarnation" (ibid., p. 340). The word malakh signifies a messenger of Yahweh. This affirmation is clearly in support of Christianity.
Elijah has been classified by a specialist scholar as one of "the itinerant individual prophets." Further, "if the Hebrew text is right, Elijah was one of the 'underprivileged' (tosabim) who had no land." He was in the category of those remote from a professional role, a ninth century contingent who included both "solitary" and "collective" prophets. A number of these persons apparently earned their livelihood as itinerant healers, exorcists, and oracles. "Such prophetic groups seem to have been recruited above all from a lower class which was either without means or had been impoverished." (36) Their appearance may have been a response to an increasing process of social stratification. Significantly, the more accomplished outsiders were evidently criticising the elite system of religion.
Elijah was in confrontation with the monarchy of Israel, which was greedy for land, and in the process afflicting smallholders. The Phoenician princess Jezebel is said to have plotted the murder of a resistant victim who was unwilling to sell his field to the Israelite king Ahab (rgd 875-854). The resulting conflict between Elijah and Ahab was dramatised in Kings with later inflections that are considered hagiological, e.g., Elijah was a rainmaker who declined to give his services to the realm during a drought. The basic issue has been defined in terms of Elijah defending the rights of farmers and rebutting the religious syncretism favoured by the state cult. The anti-Baal mood is now explained as the product of a Deuteronomist recasting two or three centuries later. Jezebel reputedly persecuted and killed the prophets of Yahweh; she was strongly associated with the Phoenician Baal cult. Although her deeds may be exaggerated, it is unlikely that no retaliation was forthcoming for the attacks on religious policy. (37)
Elijah's disciple Elisha was likewise a provincial figure outside the political mainstream. Elisha "was the head of a prophetic guild which gathered at a house by the Jordan near Gilgal." (38) He has also been described as "a sort of court prophet in Samaria," (39) and the surmisals may not be definitive. It seems realistic, however, that the words attributed to these two prophets basically represent the views of the Deuteronomist editors. Both figures opposed the monarchist tactics.
The origins and nature of prophecy remain a subject of dispute. The phenomenon was not restricted to Israelite religion, and the Mesopotamian version was apparently much older. Texts from the Amorite city of Mari, dating to the eighteenth century BCE, include letters from a provincial governor referring to temple prophets who claimed to receive messages for the king from temple gods. This early "Western Semite" phase of prophetic activity could exhort the king to war or peace.
Turning to the later period, Voegelin tended to favour the prophet Jeremiah, whom he interprets as being initially a propagandist for the Deuteronomist reform, which sought to purge Yahwism of aberrations. Yet subsequently, Jeremiah became the opponent of this reform when he saw that the Deuteronomic Torah was "an ossification of the prophetic spirit" (Order and History Vol. 1, p. 356). We are now discussing obscure events of circa 600 BCE.
Jeremiah lived shortly before the Babylonian exile. He is thought to have distanced himself from the failing reform movement of the early Deuteronomists. In 588 the advance of an Egyptian army caused the Babylonian force to withdraw from the siege of Jerusalem. The Judah monarch Zedekiah (rgd 598-87) was persuaded to revolt against the Babylonians. The nationalist religious party were in support, but Jeremiah predicted the return of the foe and the destruction of Jerusalem. The nationalists "took the earliest opportunity to arrest him as a renegade who had gone over to the Babylonians, and imprisoned him in a cistern." (40) He was proven correct when the Babylonians returned the following year to resume the siege; the invaders systematically destroyed Jerusalem in 587. The shock was acute for Judah, the kingdom now coming to an end.
Jeremiah is noted for stating that "the prophets prophesy falsely and the priests rule at their direction" (Jeremiah 5:31). The accusation was accentuated by Ezekiel in lines (Ezekiel 22:26-8) that have been differently translated, referring critically to prophets, priests, and leaders, "to indicate the whole ruling class of Jerusalem." (41)
A drawback is that these texts were edited and arranged by priestly reformers, who were concerned to assimilate the figureheads into the changing orthodox canon of the exilic (and early post-exilic) period. The extent of authentic wordings is uncertain (and also much in doubt). Adaptation for liturgical purposes was one activity of the reformers. Circa 550, a grouping now known as "Jeremiah Deuteronomists" redacted the collection of sayings attributed to the figurehead, and are even said to have "devoted the whole of their literary and theological activity to preserving and disseminating the heritage" of Jeremiah. This industry included a group of speeches which they put into the mouth of Jeremiah, sermons which actually reflect their own preaching practice. (42)
9. Deuteronomist Problems
Voegelin relates that the book of Deuteronomy is apparently the work of priests who were concerned to create a Yahwist order for Judah during the reign of Manasseh (692-39). They produced a code of law which they couched in the form of speeches by Moses. "These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel" (Deuteronomy 1:1, trans. New English Bible, p. 195).
At that time, Assyrian influences were strong, and included the burnt-offering of children to Baal-Melek (Molech). Judah was a vassal of Assyria. Manasseh built altars to the Assyrian gods, an action which effectively endorsed the sacrifice of children. The new resistant law book is traditionally said to have reaped oblivion until a rediscovery during the reign of Josiah, who was influenced by reformists circa 620 BCE. (The final redaction of Deuteronomy occurred at a later date; some scholars believe that text to be a post-exilic creation).
According to Voegelin, the priestly circle who discovered the lost law book "must have known that what they held in hand was not the 'Torah of Moses,' but a literary production, conceived and written by one or more members of their own group no longer than a generation ago" (Order and History Vol. 1, p. 362). The commentator adds that Moses had now become "a mummified Pharaoh" (ibid., p. 364), a rather eccentric reference to the Deuteronomist fiction and to Voegelin's theme that the Torah had replaced God. Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch remained unchallenged for many centuries.
The Christian commentator urges that Jeremiah must have been horrified when he saw "conformity of action to the letter of the law supersede the obedience of the heart to the spirit of God" (ibid., p. 367). Whatever truth there might be in that reflection, Voegelin did not altogether do justice to the complexity of Jeremiah's situation. The latter was not a typical prophet, and though he sternly criticised the monarchy and blind veneration for the Temple, Jeremiah was interpreted by nationalist opponents as a pro-Babylonian in wishing to avoid any military confrontation with the enemy. "Serve the king of Babylon, and save your lives" are his pragmatic words in Jeremiah 27:17.
The Torah is caustically described by Voegelin as "the instrument used by the sages to suppress prophetism" (Order and History Vol. 1, p. 373). Rather more exaggerated is the poke at "the various Gnostic creed movements" such as "the Comtean creation of a Torah for the religion de l'humanite, or the formation of a Marxist Torah" (ibid., p. 367).
A different type of complaint is made that warlike traditions resurge in Deuteronomy. Formerly the Hebrew wars had been defensive in nature; Yahweh had come to the aid of his people when attacked. "The conception of war as an instrument for exterminating everybody in sight who does not believe in Yahweh is an innovation of Deuteronomy" (ibid., p. 376). Voegelin implies that that the new attitude to war coloured Biblical accounts of earlier events. The code of Deuteronomy contains detailed rules for the conduct of military officers and their men in camp; conduct before, during, and after battle is specified. There are also rules for the siege of cities.
In a very critical vein, Voegelin writes that the same Old Testament book "abounds with bloodthirsty fantasies concerning the radical extermination of the goyim in Canaan at large, and of the inhabitants of cities in particular" (ibid.). There are such Deuteronomist exhortations as: "In the cities of these nations whose land the Lord your God is giving you as a patrimony, you shall not leave any creature alive. You shall annihilate them - Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, Jebusites" (Deuteronomy 20:16ff.; trans., The New English Bible, p. 219). The new "patriotic movement" piously stressed the administration of justice and a rule of equality amongst believers in Yahweh.
Another of the relentless refrains in the same document has Moses say: "We captured all his cities at that time and put to death everyone in the cities, men, women, and dependants; we left no survivor" (Deuteronomy 2:34-5, trans. The New English Bible, p. 198). The reputedly vanquished party was here King Sihon of Heshbon. The Israelite theological mentality converged with an influential pattern of militancy found in neighbouring states at that era, including rival Moab, where King Mesha left a ninth century inscription justifying massacres committed in the name of the local god Khemosh. Mesha proudly declares that:
"Khemosh said to me, Go take Nebo from Israel. So I went by night, and fought against it from break of dawn till noon; and I took it and slew all in it, seven thousand men and women, both natives and aliens, and female slaves." (43)
The supposed message from Khemosh was probably given via an oracle. Such violent monarchs, with an eye for booty, were a common affliction for populations over a wide area, following precedents established over centuries. The insensitivity and crime fit the mentality of petty tyrants, whatever their pretensions to achievement. The indoctrinated soldiery were effectively brainless automatons equipped with weapons. Massacre was just sport for the god, or rather the power-hungry king, assisted by calculating priests and degenerate oracles.
The Deuteronomists believed that Mosaic legislation had sanctioned the priesthood. Voegelin is duly sceptical. He examines the legend of Moses and recognises that "no sources in the conventional sense are extant" (Order and History Vol. 1, p. 380) to provide any history. He criticises Martin Buber for wanting to see the "paradigmatic" Moses as a historical Moses. Voegelin's method of penetrating the legend is "by removing the Torah which has imposed its form so forcefully" (ibid., p. 383). He accepts the historicity of Moses underlying the legend. However, the "historical substance" of the Exodus narrative, especially chapters 1-15, "has been moulded by the form of a cult-legend which can be traced to the vernal New Year festivals of Passah and Mazzoth" (ibid., p. 387).
10. The Issue of Compactness
"The unique position of Moses" is asserted by Voegelin in relation to the latter's attempt to elaborate "symbolisation of the man who stands between the compactness of the Egyptian and the lucidity of the Christian order" (Order and History Vol. 1, p. 398). The underlying religious bias is evident. The term "compactness" here connotes a pronounced ideational/experiential limitation, though very little is actually known about religious doctrines of the Old and Middle Kingdoms of Egypt.
Some readers find Voegelin's deductions too "compact" in describing the "prophetic movement" dating from the ninth century to the Babylonian exile of the sixth century BCE. That "movement" involved warnings against reliance on ritual observances and against "a conformity which disregarded the spirit of the law" (ibid., p. 429). The solitary prophets are described in terms of being "in opposition to the people" (ibid., p. 430), though other analysts conclude that the real subject of opposition was the royal court, related priestly habit, and upper class indulgence.
According to Voegelin, the prophets had to focus upon the problem of "personal existence under Yahweh" independently of the "collective existence" of Israel (ibid.). Yet the commentator seems to allocate "personal" achievements only to Jeremiah and Deutero-Isaiah, and very much in anticipation of Christian events.
The prophet Amos was an eighth century figure, a peasant farmer/herdsman of Judah. He is described as the first of the solitary prophets whose sayings are extant (ibid., p. 470). An Amos text (5:21-25) is considered especially important because this rejects even sacrifice to Yahweh. Burnt-offerings and meal-offerings are stated by that text to be unacceptable. "I will not delight in your sacred ceremonies" (Amos 5:21) is the basic message, accompanied by the insistence that what is required are the qualities of justice (mishpat) and righteousness (zedakah).
"His [Amos] main message was that social inequities and institutional corruption were offences against Yahweh, and that a mechanical performance of the Yahweh cult was useless - only if the moral messages of Yahweh were taken to heart could worship of him be truly effective. Hosea, a northern prophet (c. 740), may have been a baker, and the particular focus of his criticism was sexual misconduct." (44)
To the qualities stressed by Amos, the prophet Hosea adds hesed. "For I desire hesed, and not sacrifice" (Hosea 6.6). The crucial word has been variously translated as mercy, piety, grace, loving-kindness (Order and History Vol. 1, pp. 445-6). The New English Bible opts for "loyalty." Other renditions are possible.
Hosea was another obscure eighth century figure; his prophecies were collected in Judah at a later date. Voegelin simplifies the data by stating: "The prophecies of Hosea reveal the limitations imposed by the initial compactness of Israelite experiences" (Order and History Vol. 1, p. 327). In view of the redactions, any limitations should provisionally be ascribed to those scribal activities, not to the obscure prophets.
Voegelin makes an unflattering comparison of Israelite thought with Greek philosophy; the problem of immortality remained unsolved by the former, he asserts. Instead of philosophy, patriarchal history was developed in Israelite religion, alongside a return to the covenant and the law. He observes that Hosea found the root of social decay in a lack of knowledge concerning divine matters (ibid.).
The "Christian Platonist" urges the superiority of Plato's diagnosis in the Republic of social crisis as an ignorance of the soul. The argument is that Hosea could not find the solution "in the attunement of the soul to the divine measure, but had to seek it in a renewed conformity of human conduct to the measure as revealed in the 'word' and the 'law' of God." (45)
Apparent contradictions can be observed in the exegesis under discussion. Hosea is said to have recognised the formation of the soul through knowledge (ibid., p. 446), and Isaiah is credited with a similar achievement in relation to "fear" of God (ibid.). Indeed, the Christian commentator even says that such achievement affords a parallel to the discovery of the aretai (virtues) in Greece. Amos even denied that sacrifices and offerings had occurred in the Mosaic phase of forty years in the wilderness (ibid., p. 445). To Amos, the "wilderness" apparently meant a renunciation of external religious trappings according to a refined code of "righteousness." Centuries later, an elaborate ritual theurgy was a prominent feature of Neoplatonist activity in many instances, and some analysts do not find this impressive.
The overall conclusion of Voegelin is to "interpret Prophetism as the struggle against the Law, as the attempt to disengage the existential from the normative issues" (ibid., p. 447). The existential here signifies a process of differentiation in which features of a formerly "compact" field of experience become distinct. This is the explanation given for the insights of Jeremiah, the second Isaiah, and subsequently Jesus. Voegelin urges that a contrasting legalism and religious exclusivism were the general outcomes in Judaism.
He has been criticised for a lack of attention given to the subsequent Rabbinic tradition, save in the most fleeting manner. Instead, Voegelin introduced the term metastasis to signify "the change in the constitution of being envisaged by the prophets" (ibid., p. 452). He asserts that "the metastatic denial of the order of mundane existence is neither a true proposition in philosophy, nor a program of action that could be executed" (ibid., p. 453). The cue for this theme seems to have arisen from the emphasis of proto-Isaiah that victories could be won without battle. Isaiah advised the king and his court not to trust in the army, but instead to trust in the ruach of Yahweh living in the prophet (ibid., p. 449). Pacifism may be a valid form of action.
A more recent appraisal of this prophet is as follows:
"Best-known of the prophets is proto-Isaiah of Judah.... active between c. 740 and 700, and what is particularly interesting is that he was opposed to resistance against Assyria. He prophesied that the north (Israel) would fall, while the south (Judah), despite suffering, would be spared, and that in these ordeals Assyria was actually Yahweh's tool.... Virtually nothing is known of Isaiah's professional standing, but, like Hosea and Amos, he was probably not a member of the official cult or court establishment." (46)
11. Solitary Prophets
The solitary or individual prophets had no links to any institution; they were independent entities, for the most part obscure. Some care is needed in description; the subject of prophet (nabi) is not nearly so straightforward as might at first appear. "Prophets of doom" is one of the cliches in contemporary circulation, and amounting to flippancy.
A "minimalist" commentator is Professor Niels Peter Lemche, noted for his emphasis upon archaeology, and who is associated with the assignment of most Biblical texts to the Persian and Hellenistic periods postdating the Babylonian exile. See further Lemche, The Old Testament between Theology and History: A Critical Survey (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). His analysis of the prophets observes that the early modern scholarship in this subject was dominated by German Protestants who believed the prophets to be direct authors of the books named after them. In this commentarial idiom, the prophets amounted to Protestant preachers employing threats of punishment and doom. Their religion was believed to be representative of desert nomads in contrast to Canaanite fertility religion. Although many scholars concluded that the prophetic books were not composed by the named entities, but had been revised by later editors, the originators were still viewed as preachers and not as prophets (ibid., pp. 18ff., 212ff.).
The prophets should more accurately be placed in a Palestinian and Near Eastern context. "It has sometimes been assumed that nabi originally referred to ecstatic prophets, although there also seems to be older names for prophets such as h'ozeh and ro'eh, meaning 'the one who sees' " (ibid., pp. 213-14). Prophets existed in all territories of the ancient Near East. "There were several different categories of prophets, but the available sources hardly make it possible to draw a sharp distinction" (ibid., p. 214). In other words, the picture is incomplete. It is known that two basic factions existed, and that both had to compete with other types of soothsayer. Some prophets were in public service (at the royal court or in sanctuaries), while others were independent, representing their chosen god.
The Hebrew prophets apparently received little formal education, and could not rely on a written tradition; their prophecy was spontaneous. In contrast, the sacrificial priests of Mesopotamia possessed books as a complement, though they made predictions on the basis of intestines (ibid.). The non-sacerdotal prophetic literature of the Old Testament is considered unique in the field of Near Eastern prophecy, featuring an emphasis on moral disorder and social injustice.
A problem exists in the firm attribution of textual passages to prophets who may have lived several centuries before the books in their name achieved the format now extant. Lemche concedes the strong likelihood that some prophetic sayings may really belong to the prophet traditionally named as the author. "We can never know for sure" (ibid., p. 219).
The uncertainty can easily become an excuse for diluting the prophetic impact. One can accept the inflated (and rhetorical) redaction process without denying a substrate of historical relevance. The version of Professor Rainer Albertz informs:
"Amos, who came from Tekoa in the southern kingdom, but probably emerged as a prophet for only a relatively brief period in the North around 760, was really a farmer, and energetically resisted being lumped in with the professional prophets (nabi) or prophetic guilds (ben-nabi, Amos 7:14). Isaiah, whose prophetic activity in the southern kingdom extended over a period of forty years, came from an influential aristocratic family in Jerusalem. Micah, whose preaching is probably to be put in the period before 701, was possibly an elder from Moreshet in the Shephelah of Judah. Hosea, the prophet from the northern kingdom who emerged between 750 and 724, is the only one of whose profession or social origin we are ignorant. These prophets were thus financially independent; they belonged, rather, to the well-to-do classes - in the case of Isaiah, even clearly to the upper class.... the strength of their religious motivation makes it clear how much they could detach themselves from the interests and views of their classes.... [and] made it possible for them not only to show solidarity with the small farmers, who were growing poorer, but also to ask critical questions about the alleged national interests which the power elites were formulating, and to deprive the cultic and state institutions of their apparently matter-of-course theological legitimation.... they felt driven to disclose the social, political, and cultic abuses of their society, to name the guilty ones and to present those responsible - above all in the leading classes - with the devastating consequences of their actions." (Albertz, A History of Israelite Religion Vol. 1, SCM Press 1994, pp. 163-4)
The deduction here is that these courageous radicals were afflicted by a total resistance from political and cultic officialdom, rendering them isolated figures in Hebrew society, each able to assemble only a small group of disciples and not any form of mass support. "Social accusation is typical of the prophets Amos and Micah, but also plays an important role in Isaiah; it is addressed above all to the upper clases, whose economic and social behaviour it subjects to a biting criticism" (ibid., p. 165). Amos and Micah inveigh against the greedy economic expansion of the landowners, who forced out the small farmers from their ancestral holdings. Even worse was the issue of slavery. The upper classes manipulated the law of pledges and credit, driving the smallholders into debt and slavery. Amos says that the victims were even sold off as slaves by the manipulators. This situation was described as robbery and plunder by Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.
Amos describes himself (Amos 7:14) as a cattle breeder and fig-slitter; the slitting of mulberry figs was a peasant occupation, though bourgeois modern scholars upgraded his social origin, one version even assigning him to the landowning upper class (ibid., p. 325 note 41). "I am a herdsman and a dresser of sycomore-figs" (trans. New English Bible, p. 1119). Other scholars afflict potentially significant history by implying that the Deuteronomist redactions were too late in post-exilic time to represent the subject matter with historical fidelity.
The prophetic critique implies that via their ill-gotten gains, the upper classes lived in luxury, building grand stone houses (in contrast to common mud brick), where they indulged in drunken feasts. The system of jurisprudence was attacked as corrupt, using intimidation and bribery, rejecting the rightful claims of small farmers, and averting due legal sentences for wealthy offenders. In Jerusalem, even the widows and orphans were exploited by the rich. "In the eyes of the prophets, local justice is simply a partisan instrument of oppression for the ruling classes" (ibid., p. 165).
Isaiah and Hosea also criticised military policy. Isaiah opposed the insurrection against the Assyrians planned by the Judaean monarch Hezekiah (rgd 715-697), deeming the trust in weapons to be discrepant with trust in Yahweh. The brutal retaliatory campaign of the Assyrian warlord Sennacherib in 701 created devastation for Judah, and confirmed that Isaiah was correct to advocate patience. (47) The Zionist theology of king and temple was here viewed as a problem for the heavily armed Jerusalem, which was besieged by the foe (though not destroyed).
Criticism of the orthodox religious cult was strongly accented by some of the prophets. "Amos, Micah, and Isaiah fundamentally reject the cultic practice of their time because it covers up the social injustice and misery in society....Instead of sacrifices and songs they call for justice and righteousness" (ibid., p. 171). Micah accuses the priests (and collective or professional prophets) of cupidity in demanding payment for their cultic prescriptions and oracles; Isaiah inveighed against the same officiants for their drunkenness. Hosea accused the priests of consorting with temple prostitutes, and mocked "their frenetic howling in liturgical lamentations which they accompany with painful rites of abasement" (ibid.).
Micah attacked the Jerusalem temple theology, from which the upper classes derived a belief in their salvation, and a certainty that no tragedy could befall them. In contrast to the complacency, Micah predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, here employing the accusation that the construction work involved had been "stained with the blood of the forced labour engaged in building" (ibid., p. 172).
Hosea denounced the official religion of Israel as a Baal cult. He refers to cultic high places, oracular trees, divine images, the bull image of Bethel, the masochistic violence in lamentation, and so forth. This situation is traceable to a long-term syncretistic process in Israelite religion. Basically, Hosea was accusing the priests of "rejecting 'knowledge of God' (da'at elohim) out of an interest in the intensification of the sacrifical cult and thus their [economic] share in the sacrifice" (ibid., p. 173).
Professor Philip R. Davies has stressed the social conditions of the post-exilic Persian era as facilitating formation of the Old Testament canon in Judah (Yehud). See further Davies, Scribes and Schools: The Canonization of the Hebrew Scriptures (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998). He observes that the text (or scroll) attributed to the prophet Ezekiel exhibits quite different themes from either Isaiah or Jeremiah. "There is a much greater emphasis on priestly matters; the claims of the Zadokite lineage are pressed" (ibid., p. 116). The convergent factor in these three canonising scrolls is a focus on the fate of Jerusalem. "Whether these actual scrolls grew from a kernel of sayings by the prophets concerned is hard to say" (ibid.). A fourth scroll was the "Twelve," described as a canon, and incorporating the texts attributed to twelve prophets from Hosea to Malachi (and including Amos and Micah).
The same scholar suggests that the source for these scrolls could have been a Jerusalem archive of letters from named and unnamed prophets, sent to the king or temple, similar to the more tangible situation at Mari a thousand years before. Such letters might have been copied onto papyrus or leather, and grouped according to authorship or theme. The archival documents would have become literary texts as the scribes embellished them, probably during the Persian period and later. This activity inspired much literary "prophecy" on the part of the Jewish scribal establishment, a factor explaining "the unnecessarily large number of tirades against foreign nations" (ibid.).
12. Metastasis and Sociology
Voegelin contends that the "metastatic" component of prophetism merged into the symbolism of the apocalypse in later Judaism of the Roman era, penetrating Christianity in the form of Gnosis and "a host of gnostic and antinomian heresies" (Order and History Vol. 1, p. 454). We are told that "the continuum of metastatic movements has never been broken," and these are identified not only in the heresies opposed by the medieval Christian church, but also in the "secular political creed movements which purport to exact the metastasis by revolutionary action" (ibid.). This aspect of Voegelin's thinking resembles the heresiographical mentality rather than historical fact or true propositions in philosophy.
The Christian commentator later made extensive use of the word metastasis in a context of utopian expectations and his contracted version of Gnosis. Meanwhile, he did qualify that the so-called metastatic experience "is with Hosea not a disturbing but rather a maieutic factor" (ibid., p. 456), and one which was furthered by Jeremiah (ibid., p. 474). The latter prophet is described by Voegelin as having "broken the compactness of collective existence" (ibid., p. 485), which amounts to praise in the vocabulary of neo-existentialism. The achievement is also described in terms of personality recognising itself as the source of order in society.
Predictably perhaps, Voegelin's version of order exalts Deutero-Isaiah in a rather Christian vein of commentary, employing a theme of the Suffering Servant. He says that because of this theme associated with Jesus, a Christian preoccupation with Deutero-Isaiah had occurred. Voegelin refers to Martin Buber's book The Prophetic Faith (1949), which stressed the identity of the second Isaiah as one of the limmudim or disciples of the first Isaiah (ibid., p. 494). Yet the Christian commentator tried to qualify the Jewish attribution by affirming that a disciple of Isaiah was simultaneously "a disciple of God." From this equation, he reasoned that "the essence of discipleship, the being taught by God, must be stressed in order to avoid even the shadow of a 'sociological' transmission of a message within a circle" (ibid., p. 511).
The stigma of untouchability here applied to sociology evidences a disconcerting aspect of the theological approach. It may be convenient for some people to imagine that they are being taught by God and therefore need no "sociology." The latter discipline is still developing in the academic world. Meanwhile, a citizen analyst can observe that the designation of Deutero-Isaiah comprises a convenience of attribution for chapters 40-55 of the Biblical book of Isaiah. Recent scholarship has described the "second Isaiah" as follows:
"It is hard to determine the sociological background of the group which raised its voice among the exiles in the last decade before the downfall of the Babylonian empire in 539. Their literary legacy... purports to be a development of the pre-exilic prophet of judgment.... So by 'Deutero-Isaiah' we can understand a group of theologians gathered round a master which came from circles of descendants of the temple singers and cult prophets of the Jerusalem temple with their nationalistic attitude.... the group was inspired to the surprising insight that Yahweh was at work in the spectacularly victorious course of the Persian king Cyrus." (48)
A due sociology makes the subject matter more interesting rather than less profound. The phrase "disciple of Isaiah" is misleading, in that several generations appear to have elapsed between the first Isaiah and the sequel grouping who elevated the Achaemenian liberator of the Israelite exiles in Babylon. Cyrus the Great (rgd 559-530) speedily conquered Asia Minor, and in 539 defeated the Babylonian army at Opis in what amounted to a massacre. Afterwards he peacefully accepted the surrender of Babylon, and was received by the populace of the capital as their new king. The repopulation of Jerusalem by the exiles from Babylon is traditionally attributed to Cyrus in Ezra I, though it may be more accurate to conceive of his successor Darius in this light. (49)
13. From the Babylonian Exile to the Essenes
The traditional dating for the exile in Babylonia is 587-539. (50) "The deportations affected only a minority, above all the upper class; the majority of the population, above all the small landowners and the landless lower classes, remained in the land" (Albertz, A History of Israelite Religion Vol. 2, p. 371). The majority of those who remained in Israel were satisfied with the turn of events. "For them the exile was Yahweh's judgment on the exploitation of the upper class and often even a de facto liberation from debt" (ibid p. 372). Landless people found a home on the extensive properties of giant landowners, properties which had been abandoned or confiscated. A well known reference in Chronicles gives the impression that all Israel was deported, but this is very misleading. There was only a weak Babylonian military presence, and the main danger was from neighbouring small states, including slave raids by the Phoenicians.
The exiled prisoners of war from Judah became integrated into Babylonian society without losing their ethnic identity. They lived as a national group in the area of Nippur. Priests and other former temple officials were included. The Babylonian policy was lenient, not harassing. Many of the Hebrew exiles were in simple employment, but some rose to prominent positions, and a few to high political offices. They gained a material and legal security, and "the fact that only a limited number were prepared to return [to the homeland] indicate that the majority of the Babylonian Gola had done very well for themselves in their businesses abroad" (ibid., p. 374).
An underlying ideological division has been demarcated. To Jeremiah and small reformist groups, the exile was confirmation of their warnings. For the nationalistic majority however, who hoped for a miraculous deliverance from their predicament, the exile "represented total political failure and the collapse of their theological picture of the world" (ibid p. 376). Jerusalem had been conquered and the Temple had been devastated.
As a consequence of the exile, the Israelite theologians eventually assimilated the "prophets of judgment" (e.g., Isaiah, Jeremiah) commemorated in some of the biblical books. The prophetic critique was at first too radical for general acceptance by the upper class. The Deuteronomist reporting "consistently refuses to mention even one of the prophets of judgment" (ibid. p.379). The extent of knowledge about the lives of these men was probably very minimal in the hindsight assessments. Some scholars attribute composition of all Biblical texts to the Persian and Hellenistic periods.
During the Second Temple Period (520 BCE - 70 CE), the Torah became canon, and the synagogue developed. Circumcision and the Sabbath observance became features of Jewish identity. The question of Persian influence in doctrinal matters is still unresolved. (51)
Voegelin affords only a minimal coverage of post-exilic Jewish events predating Jesus, limiting such considerations to a single paragraph. An obscure reference in the Book of Daniel (11:33) is cited, imparting that there are "wise among the people who bring understanding to the many." On the basis of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the point is made that movements related to the prophetic trend must have been much stronger in the post-Exilic era than the canonical and Rabbinical literature would lead readers to expect (Order and History Vol. 1, p. 515). Voegelin does not mention the Essenes, who were to become the focus of theory and debate about Qumran. The Dead Sea Scrolls have been revealed as the output of many different groupings in early Judaism. The question remains as to whether the Essenes assembled the scrolls found at Qumran. Some scholars say that, although the Qumran-Essene hypothesis has not been proven, this theory remains the most likely explanation. (52)
One should here commemorate the community described by Philo, Josephus, and Pliny the Elder. The Essenes were widespread in urban Palestine by the first century CE, and numbered about four thousand. "They were more ascetic and more esoteric than the Pharisees or Sadducees, characteristics that made them particularly interesting to the ancient Hellenistic audiences for whom Josephus and Philo wrote." (53)
A three year probation was necessary before joining the Essene communal life. Money and resources were pooled by the membership. The principal Essene vocation was agriculture. Philo states that Essenes avoided all forms of commerce, and more especially commerce in weapons; they did not make weapons or armour, and did not pursue any military roles; according to Josephus, they carried defensive weapons on their travels. There are some discrepancies in the two major accounts. For instance, Josephus says that the Essenes practiced ritual purification, though Philo states that they performed no sacrifices at all, instead purifying their minds. Both chroniclers agree that the Essenes owned no slaves, believing that slavery was a major injustice. (54)
14. A Change of Direction
The early volumes of Voegelin's Order and History met with a positive response from Christian theologians who were easily able to find some correspondences with their own outlook. A gap of many years occurred between the publication of Volumes 3 and 4, and when the latter appeared in 1974, there was puzzlement amongst many readers. Voegelin here departed from his earlier 1950s format of exegesis, recognising that he had been pursuing an inadequate and linear approach to meaning.
Some readers anticipated a history of Christianity as the logical outcome of the earlier three volumes. They were disappointed. Voegelin stated that his new volume (55) broke with the programme he had earlier developed (Order and History Vol. 4, p. 1). The project had "proved more complicated than I had anticipated" (ibid., p. 2). The honesty is commendable. He had grasped that there was too much information available which contradicted his linear time scheme. So much had been happening during the first millenium BCE, from Greece to China. He had formerly assumed that pagans "deprived as they were of revelation, could never rise above the conception of a cyclical time" (ibid., p. 7). Yet techniques of selecting and omitting materials, and of rearranging the time sequence of materials, were the same in the Sumerian King List and Hegel's philosophy of history (ibid.).
Very briefly, Voegelin had perceived that "historiogenesis" had originated in the civilisations of the ancient Near East in the late third millenium BCE. The Sumerian King List and attendant complexities represented symbolisations of order that contradicted his former assumptions about the Christian philosophy of history. The latter was not unique, but like the Israelite forbear, was an inheritor of Sumerian and Egyptian conceptions. The Christian presentations of time and history did not originate from revelation, but from earlier and obscured civilisations.
Voegelin was evidently shocked. He did not attempt to hide the insight, but took a new direction. He curtailed Christian elements, and appeared to ignore Christian civilisation after Paul the apostle. "Compactness" was now a vexed subject. The differentiations were far more complex than his earlier volumes had envisaged. His new conception of revelation did not converge with orthodox Christianity. There were even correspondences between ancient cosmological myths, Greek philosophical concepts, and Christian revelation. However, philosophy tended to emerge as the superior model over faith, doctrine, and the despised "Gnosticism." His form of philosophy was committed to discovering what occurred in the soul.
Voegelin emphasised a theme of consciousness. He borrowed the term metaxy from Plato's Symposium and Philebus, a term now denoting the interaction of human consciousness with the divine. He depicted "Gnosticism" as the polar opposite to disciplined reflection, and castigated the former in terms of "secret knowledge" and social action. Nazism was classified as "Gnostic," a conflation viewed as a drawback by some other analysts of history. It is not convincing to use the same blanket term for Mani, Valentinus, Marx, and Hitler.
Voegelin was a strong critic of scientism. Likewise modernity in more general terms, though in the disputed context of a "Gnostic revolt." Philosophers of the modern Continental tradition were represented by him as being part of the revolt. Attempts have been made in retrospect to find some common ground. (56)
His version of Israelite religion is now outdated in certain respects, leaving the commentator with an option to include later sources in any presentation of Order and History Vol. One. I have attempted to discharge this obligation above in a citizen format.
Kevin R. D. Shepherd
(1) See Karl Jaspers, Philosophy, trans., A. B. Ashton (3 vols, University of Chicago Press, 1969-71). Voegelin was clearly irritated by the deduction of Jaspers that the Christian faith is only one among many, and that the Christian view of of world history has validity only for Christians. See Voegelin, Order and History Vol. 2 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1957; repr. 1986), pp. 19ff. This issue relates to Voegelin's (pre-Vol. 4) conception of the philosophy of history as having Christian roots from Augustine to Hegel. Voegelin cites Jaspers, Vom Ursprung und Ziel der Geschichte (Zurich 1949), pp. 18-20. The Westernising bias of Voegelin insisted that the Aristotelian Analytica Posteriora, "the fundamental work on analytical thinking to this day," was created in Greece and not in China or India. The rather severe judgment is made that "the introduction of the Western mode of thinking in the Asiatic societies, in the twentieth century, requires a formidable effort under the pressure of dire necessity" (Order and History Vol. 2, p. 23). This Eurocentric assessment is accompanied by the statement that "history is made wherever men live, but its philosophy is a Western symbolism" (ibid.). It is ultimately impossible to separate the title of Voegelin's magnum opus from his assertion that "the philosophy of order and history is a Western symbolism because Western society has received its historical form through Christianity" (ibid.). Some deference may be given to his criticism of Arnold Toynbee for considering Judaism to be a fossil of the "Syriac" civilisation and non-eligible for inclusion as one of the "higher religions" (ibid., p. 22), which were stated to be Hinduism, Mahayana Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. Yet Voegelin's own assessment of Judaism clearly amounted to that of a subordinate religion to Christianity. The dogmatic statement is made that "there is no such thing as a non-Western philosophy of history" (ibid.). Supporters of Voegelin have since credited Ssu-ma Ch'ien as a philosopher of history, and one need not doubt that there were other non-Western equivalents. See also note 26 below.
(2) Eugene Webb, Eric Voegelin: Philosopher of History (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1981), pp. 20, 24-5, 31. Martin Heidegger was initially a follower of Husserl before moving at a tangent to the latter. His Being and Time (1927) was pivotal in existentialism, and showcased his speculations about Dasein (a German word meaning "existence"). Heidegger expressed "a response to the unique situation without concern for respectability and conformity; that kind of life, not trying to get absolute meaning, and responding to the current situation, makes you an individual." This is the commentary of Professor Hubert Dreyfus in Bryan Magee, The Great Philosophers (Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 268. When the reader learns that there is "no meaning in Dasein at all" (ibid.), one may wonder what point there is in consulting such a laboriously idiomatic work as Being and Time. The existential spontaneity soon moved into Nazi sympathies; responding to the current situation evidently requires more caution and deliberation. Heidegger subsequently retreated from the Nazi affinity, and did not escape censure from that sector.
(3) Webb, Eric Voegelin, p. 224, and informing that the subject's contacts with clergy in Eastern and Western Europe after the Second World War gave indication of a "similarly opportunistic attitude on their part toward the communist powers" (ibid.). Voegelin appears to have been basically disillusioned with the course that Christianity had taken since the Middle Ages.
(4) Ibid., p. 6. Professor Webb's treatment of Voegelin has the advantage of having gained the latter's approval, the subject himself "reading and commenting on the manuscript at every stage of its development" (ibid., p. viii). I have therefore approached this book as a primary source, and made quotations accordingly. In a number of the quotes I have used, the wording is that of Webb, though the endorsement of Voegelin implies that his own views are accurately represented.
(5) Ibid., p. 31, and citing Voegelin, Anamnesis, ed. and trans. G. Niemeyer (University of Notre Dame Press, 1978), p. 10. Edmund Husserl was a German academic philosopher who authored the Logical Investigations (1900-01), and who pioneered the tradition known as phenomenology. This was committed to a systematic analysis of consciousness, though the exposition has been in question. Husserl believed that his "transcendental" system of thought was the culmination of the Western philosophical tradition since Plato. He claimed to discover the foundation of all understanding in his elevation of conscious experience. Directed mental content held the key to everything; the operative word was intentionality. Husserl has been accused of dilating upon the structure of experience without any reference to the factual, empirical world. Phenomenology is a term frequently used by critics to mean a version of experience divorced from any objective context. However, in his last work (The Crisis of European Sciences), Husserl focused on the "lived world," meaning the everyday social world. He wanted to link science and experience without succumbing to empiricism. Husserl emphasised that the natural sciences do not encompass the same meaning which is inherent in human life. In reaction to his abstract reasoning, some European philosophers turned to existentialism. Heidegger argued against Husserl that it is impossible to separate "lived experience" from the background of cultural beliefs and practices; the counter-argument insinuates that the human mind does not exist separately from the cultural background of conditioning. See further Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, trans. D. Carr (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1970); H. L. Dreyfus, ed., Husserl, Intentionality, and Cognitive Science (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1982).
(6) Webb, Eric Voegelin, p. 7.
(7) Ibid., p. 192. See also Ellis Sandoz, The Voegelinian Revolution: A Biographical Introduction (Louisiana State University Press, 1981).
(8) Webb, op. cit., p. 192. See also Michael Federici, Eric Voegelin: The Restoration of Order (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2002).
(9) Webb, op. cit., p. 7. A landmark in his thought is The New Science of Politics (University of Chicago Press, 1952; repr. 1987), comprising lectures delivered at the University of Chicago in 1951. Voegelin here expressed a very Christianising attitude, though in an unorthodox manner. "Uncertainty is the very essence of Christianity" was a statement partly aimed at the pagan sense of security in a "world full of gods," a world described as "de-divinised" by Christianity, a religion in which "communication with the world-transcendent God is reduced to the tenuous bond of faith" (Webb, op. cit., p. 122). Sandoz observed that dogmatic Christians reacted to the suggestion that their faith could be equated with uncertainty. See the introduction to Voegelin, Order and History Vol. 5 (Louisiana State University Press, 1987), p. 7.
(10) Webb, Eric Voegelin, p. 7.
(11) Ibid., p. 8. This attitude tends to converge with Heidegger's denial of any search for absolute meaning, despite the very different context of the respective versions of existentialism.
(12) Ibid. It is possible to take the view that religious thinking limited the context for Voegelin's theme of the essential mysteries of existence and the function of myth as the symbolic form which communicates those mysteries. If nobody knows what the mysteries are, then the myths could so easily be misleading. Cf. Glenn Hughes, Mystery and Myth in the Philosophy of Eric Voegelin (University of Missouri Press, 1993), who says that probably the closest cousin in modern philosophy to Voegelin's theory of consciousness is Heidegger's analysis of existence as Dasein (ibid., p. 11). There seems to be a big difference between the two. The same writer duly observes that, unlike Heidegger, Voegelin "does not see his philosophical perspective as revolutionary. In his view, the basic truths of consciousness about which he writes are perennially recognised, were first systematically expounded by Plato and Aristotle, and have continued to nourish philosophy even as they have been misunderstood, formulated in misleading ways, and set up as final 'metaphysical doctrines' " (ibid., p. 12).
(13) E. Sandoz, intro. to Voegelin, Order and History Vol. 5, p. 5.
(14) See Voegelin, Order and History Vol. 1: Israel and Revelation (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1956; sixth reprint, 1986).
(15) Ibid., p. 95, and cited in Webb, op. cit., p. 165. Voegelin viewed the First Intermediate Period in Egyptian Dynastic history as having been a point of potential breakthrough, which failed in his opinion. An underlying bias in his thinking was a theological assumption that the ancient Israelites and early Christians were unique in their realisation of the absolute distinction between God and creation. For Voegelin, the world-transcendent God could only manifest in the loving movement of the soul, a privilege denied to the Egyptians according to his theory.
(16) Order and History Vol. 1, p. 46. The "symbolisation" in the Achaemenian inscriptions is considered by Voegelin to be basically the same as in Mesopotamian concepts, e. g., the king is instituted by the grace of the supreme deity, who permits lands and peoples to be conquered so that the world may be transformed into a single realm of order and peace.
(17) Ibid., p. 50.
(18) Ibid., p. 56, and citing Toynbee, Study of History, Vols 3 and 6, and Henri Frankfort, The Birth of Civilisation in the Near East (London, 1951), chapter one. The later volumes of Toynbee's magnum opus are noted for a change of emphasis in terms of general definition, the role of "higher religions" markedly supplementing the civilisational units earlier preferred.
(19) Voegelin, Order and History Vol. 1, p. 73.
(20) Ibid., p. 75. The idea of a sudden birth of Egyptian civilisation was derived from Frankfort, who thought that the essential cultural traits were in existence by the end of the Third Dynasty.
(21) Ibid., p. 94, and citing J. A. Breasted, Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt (New York, 1912); J. A. Wilson, The Burden of Egypt (Chicago, 1951); H. Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods (Chicago, 1948).
(22) Order and History Vol. 1, p. 95.
(23) Ibid., p. 72.
(25) Ibid., pp. 74-5.
(26) Webb, Eric Voegelin, p. 170. In certain respects, Voegelin's tangent from Husserl's Eurocentric reflections on philosophy is also constricting. The "straight line" idea of progress is too obviously disadvantaged. Voegelin himself grasped the limitations of his sequential theory in Vol. 4 of Order and History, causing him to make revisions and to curtail the Christian elements in his philosophy of history (see section 14 in the present article).
(27) Webb, op. cit, p. 170. Voegelin complained that "compact" symbols such as the Chosen People, Promised Land, and Anointed King were not duly differentiated in the Hebrew failure to develop philosophy.
(28) Amelie Kuhrt, The Ancient Near East c. 3000-330 BC Vol. 2 (London: Routledge, 1995), p. 463.
(29) Niels Peter Lemche, Ancient Israel: A New History of Israelite Society, trans. F. Cryer (Sheffield Academic Press, 1988), p. 239. Updated archaeological findings are reported in Jonathan M. Golden, Ancient Canaan and Israel: New Perspectives (Santa Barbara: ABC-CL10, 2004); Lester L. Grabbe, ed., Israel in Transition: From Late Bronze II to Iron IIa, c. 1250-850 BCE (London and New York: T. & T. Clark International, 2008). For a dialogue between two prominent Israeli archaeologists, see Israel Finkelstein and Amihai Mazar, The Quest for the Historical Israel: Debating Archaeology and the History of Early Israel (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007). See also Amihai Mazar, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible Vol. 1: 10,000-586 BCE (Yale University Press, 2001); Ephraim Stern, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible Vol. 2: Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian Periods (Yale, 2007).
(30) Rainer Albertz, A History of Israelite Religion in the Old Testament Period Vol. 1: From the Beginnings to the End of the Exile, trans. John Bowden (London: SCM Press, 1994), p. 87.
(31) Giovanni Garbini, History and Ideology in Ancient Israel, trans. John Bowden (London: SCM Press, 1988), p. 108, and arguing that the scholarly reductionism on this point amounts to a refusal to assimilate information from the archaeology and epigraphy of Palestine in the seventh century BCE.
(32) Ibid., pp. 2-3. The radical exposition of Professor Garbini observes that "Histories of Israel" had multiplied in recent decades, the basic model being Martin Noth,The History of Israel (1950; English trans., London 1958). Garbini accuses Noth of failure to "give any sort of historical explanation for one of the most important external sources for Hebrew history, namely the Merneptah stele" (ibid., p. 4). Noth and other theologians were the subject of an early criticism in James Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language (Oxford 1961). On the Merneptah stele, see N. P. Lemche, The Israelites in History and Tradition (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), pp. 35ff. That stele commemorates a Pharaonic victory over the Libyans in the late thirteenth century BCE; Israel is there mentioned in an "appendix." For a critique of "scholar's Israel," see ibid., pp. 133ff., including the presentations of John Bright and Rainer Albertz, though the latter is rather more sociological in outlook.
(33) Lemche, Ancient Israel, p. 7, and invoking the same author's Early Israel: Anthropological and Historical Studies on the Israelite Society Before the Monarchy (Leiden: Brill, 1985). Cf. John Bright, A History of Israel (1959; fourth edn, Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press). Cf. Siegfried Hermann, A History of Israel in Old Testament Times (London 1975). Cf. Hendrik Jagersma, A History of Israel in the Old Testament Period (London 1982). Cf. J. A. Soggin, An Introduction to the History of Israel and Judah, trans. J. Bowden (1985; second edn, London: SCM Press, 1993), duly recognising that the Biblical sources offer an idealised and partial account of events. See also the radical treatment in K. W. Whitelam, The Invention of Ancient Israel: the Silencing of Palestinian History (London: Routledge, 1996). Also relevant is Donald B. Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times (Princeton University Press, 1992). A useful work is Ann E. Killebrew, Biblical Peoples and Ethnicity: An Archaeological Study of Egyptians, Canaanites, Philistines, and Early Israel, 1300-1100 BCE (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005).
(34) Lemche, Ancient Israel (1988), p. 213, stating that the Levites were weakened during the reform and centralisation of Josiah, as these priests were attached to local sanctuaries that reaped destruction.
(35) Lemche, op. cit., pp. 223, 235ff., and mentioning a theory that the covenant described in Deuteronomy is related to the format of Assyrian international treaties current during the phase under discussion. See also Lemche, The Old Testament between Theology and History: A Critical Survey (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), p. 236, stating that "the principle of the collection of the psalms seems to be shrouded in mystery and a challenge to modern scholarship; they represent a variety of genres, and their content may be very different from one psalm to the next." See also Philip R. Davies, Scribes and Schools: The Canonization of the Hebrew Scriptures (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), pp. 131ff., identifying the Levites of the Jerusalem temple as the canonisers of the Psalms, perhaps in the third century BCE. Many of the Psalms were attributed to David. The Levites may have lent scrolls for private edification, something quite apart from the temple routine.
(36) Quotations from Albertz, A Hist. of Israelite Religion Vol. 1, p. 151, and observing that the social outsider role conferred on prophecy (or part of it) "the function of criticising the system." That function was demonstrated for the first time (in the Biblical records) by Ahijah of Shiloh, an obscure figure who questioned the empire of David and Solomon (ibid., pp. 141, 316 note 36). The relevant text (1 Kings 11.29-39) is difficult to interpret, describing an encounter between Ahijah and the disaffected courtier Jeroboam, tenth century entities who lived during the reign of Solomon. One scholarly version depicts Ahijah as supporting a rebellion against state oppression. "That would be the first instance in which an individual prophet with no institutional ties intervened to destabilise an existing political rule which was felt to be intolerable, in a way later to become typical of Israelite prophecy" (Albertz, p. 141).
(37) Ibid., pp. 152ff.
(38) Ibid., p. 151.
(39) Lemche, Ancient Israel, p. 242. The same scholar describes the ninth century Micaiah ben Imla as one of the "temple-employed" prophets (ibid., p. 241), here referring to the report in 1 Kings 22. Other commentators have referred to Micaiah as an independent entity, though this distinction may apply to his views rather than to his profession.
(40) Albertz, op. cit., p. 239; see also ibid., p. 203, for the early life of Jeremiah, originally a staunch propagandist of the Deuteronomist reform, though after the death of king Josiah (in 609) "Jeremiah dissociated himself somewhat from the reform movement and saw a new judgment of Yahweh descending on Judah." During the reign of Josiah, the reform movement had achieved a coalition between priests in Jerusalem, the Judaean middle class, solitary prophets, and the royal house. This coalition is thought to have disintegrated with changed political conditions.
(41) Garbini, History and Ideology in Ancient Israel, p. 115, and emphasising that the radical accusations made against prophets and priests "form an eloquent counterbalance to the historical vision of the Deuteronomistic school, which put all the blame on the kings" (ibid., pp. 115-16). The latter version may be considered simplistic, an orthodox reaction unwilling to analyse more deeply.
(42) Albertz, A History of Israelite Religion Vol. 2: From the Exile to the Maccabees ((London: SCM Press, 1994), pp. 382-3, and describing the text as "a popular missionary work of enlightenment" by those who "saw themselves following in the steps of the prophet Jeremiah." A strong element of hindsight is therefore deducible. See further Albertz, Israel in Exile: The History and Literature of the Sixth Century BCE, trans. D. Green (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003), pp. 302 ff. on the Jeremiah text, which contains "a multiplicity of quite different genres" (ibid., p. 304).
(43) Kuhrt, The Ancient Near East Vol. 2, p. 470. Mesha also relates that he slaughtered all the inhabitants of Ataroth, an Israelite town which he resettled with men from two other towns. The justification supplied is that Omri, the ninth century king of Israel, had recently oppressed Moab.
(44) Ibid., p. 463.
(45) Voegelin, Order and History Vol. 1, p. 327; Webb, Eric Voegelin, p. 171, and describing Amos as the first in the line of prophets "who understand that the failure of Israelite order had its source not in external enemies but in the people itself" (ibid., p. 170).
(46) Kuhrt, op. cit., p. 464.
(47) Albertz, A Hist. of Israelite Religion Vol. 1, pp. 167ff; Kuhrt, op. cit., pp. 477-8. There are differences between the Assyrian and Deuteronomist versions of the campaign of Sennacherib, both seeking to glorify their own cause. The Assyrian record says that Hezekiah paid Sennacherib to withdraw from the siege of Jerusalem by giving him treasures, whereas the Hebrew account attributes the withdrawal to a plague created by an angel of Yahweh.
(48) Albertz, A History of Israelite Religion Vol 2, pp. 414-15, and suggesting that the message of the Deutero-Isaiah group was resisted by the nationalistic tradition of the former temple personnel (ibid., p. 416). Some parallels with Zoroastrian religion are credited, though differences are also stressed, implying a development within Israel rather than any influence from an outside source (ibid., pp. 417-18). The doctrines of Zarathushtra are thought to have "first became officially effective only under Darius I" who reigned 522-486 BCE, though the question of the Iranian prophet's influence is complicated by the possibility of a much earlier date for his life than the traditional chronology associated with Cyrus. See further Zarathushtra and Zoroastrianism. See also Albertz, Israel in Exile (2003), pp. 376 ff. on the Deutero-Isaiah text, here described as a composite, including the Servant Songs.
(49) Kuhrt, op. cit., pp. 656ff., observing the difficulty in establishing exactly what happened in the reconstruction of Jerusalem, and suggesting that an Achaemenian policy of consolidating provincial centres might have been the cause. See also Albertz, Israel in Exile (2003), p. 400, deducing that "the first half of 521 probably saw negotiations between Darius and the leaders of the Judaean colony in Babylon, which led to the first large-scale return [to Judah] in 520." The Ezra I passage relating to the edict of Cyrus is probably not historical, and "might represent a decree issued by Darius in 521" (ibid., p. 414). The Deutero-Isaiah circle apparently continued their fictive and poetic composition at Jerusalem.
(50) The Babylonians deported Hebrews in three separate episodes of 598, 587, and 582 BCE. Some people chose to flee of their own accord as refugees. Hebrew communities in Egypt and Babylon continued to flourish into the Hellenistic era. Because of such complexities, it has been urged that the terms "exile" and "exilic" amount to misnomers. See Jill Anne Middlemas, The Troubles of Templeless Judah (Oxford University Press, 2005), pp. 4-5. The phrase "Templeless period" is here suggested as the more appropriate description, and referring to the interval lasting between 587 and 515, when construction of the new temple at Jerusalem was completed according to the Biblical account.
(51) See further Rainer Albertz and Bob Becking, eds., Yahwism After the Exile: Perspectives on Israelite Religion in the Persian Era (Assen: Van Gorcum, 2003); O. Lipschits, G. N. Knoppers, R. Albertz, eds., Judah and the Judeans in the Fourth century BCE (Eisenbrauns, 2007); Lester L. Grabbe, A History of the Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple Period (London and New York: T. & T. Clark International, 2004). The Persian influence has not been subjected to systematic study, though "there is general agreement that Persian religion and tradition had its influence on Judaism over the centuries" (ibid., p. 362). Grabbe refers to the conflicting theories of Mary Boyce and Gherardo Gnoli about the date of Zarathushtra. See further Gnoli, Zoroaster in History (New York: Bibliotheca Persica, 2000). Cf. my commemoration of Professor Boyce in The Zoroastrian Centuries.
(52) Joan E. Taylor, review of Yizhar Hirschfeld, Qumran in Context: Reassessing the Archaeological Evidence (2004), in Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society (2007).
(53) Norman Golb, Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls? (London: Michael O'Mara, 1995), p. 5.
(54) Ibid., pp. 5-6, 14-15. Philo Judaeus was the earliest of the three commentators, writing circa 20 CE, and reporting that the Essenes did not include any manufacturers of arrows, spears, swords, helmets, shields, or war machines, or indeed "anyone busied in the slightest with military avocations" (ibid. p. 14). Josephus was writing over fifty years later, and says that Essenes carried defensive weapons while travelling. Writing at about the same time, Pliny the Elder described the Essenes as a celibate community with no money.
(55) Voegelin, Order and History Vol. 4: The Ecumenic Age (Louisiana State University Press, 1974).
(56) See further Lee Trepanier and Steven F. McGuire, eds., Eric Voegelin and the Continental Tradition: Explorations in Modern Political Thought (University of Missouri Press, 2011). See also Peter A. Petrakis and Cecil L. Eubanks, eds., Eric Voegelin's Dialogue with the Postmoderns: Searching for Foundations (University of Missouri Press, 2004).
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