Israel and Revelation

This is an outline of Order and History vol 1: Israel and Revelation by Eric Voegelin, published in 1956.

The bold headings are from the Table of Contents.

Your comments and corrections are always welcome: please e-mail Bill McClain.

Return to the Eric Voegelin Study Page.



Every society must create an order endowing its existence with meaning, both human and divine. The structure of history is a reality discerned retrospectively; the origins and ends are unknown.

Order and History is an inquiry into the order of man, society, and history to the extent it has become accessible to science. The principle types of order and their self-expressed symbolic forms:

  1. The imperial organizations of the Ancient Near East, and their existence in the form of the cosmological myth
  2. the Chosen People, and its existence in historical form
  3. the polis and its myth, and the development of philosophy as the symbolic form of order
  4. the multicivilizational empires since Alexander; and the development of Christianity
  5. the modern nation states, and the development of Gnosis as the symbolic form of order.
The order of history emerges from the succession of types, as when the compact cosmological symbols become articulate in the differentiation of world-immanent being and a world-transcendent God responsible for all immanent order. The older symbols are retained and transformed, and the interaction of symbolic forms must also be studied.

The work is made possible by:

  1. The materials provided by the advance of the historical disciplines in the first half of the twentieth century.
  2. The decline of the influence of intellectual ideologies.
The contemporary world-wide order contains as socially effective forces the sediments of the millenial struggle for the truth of order. The metastatic ("magical") conception of a change in being lies at the root of beliefs in the perfection of society.

Philosophical inquiry is one of the remedies against disorder. Its diagnostic and therapeutic functions are inseparable.

Introduction: The Symbolization of Order

Being and existence. The community of Being: God, man, world, society. Participation through existence.

A paradoxical situation. Man is not a self-contained spectator of being.

The order of Being in perspective. Essential ignorance and anxiety.

In saying "Man participates in being", neither "man" nor "being" are objects, but terms denoting a tension of existence. Man cannot know the center of his own existence.

Experiences of order

Such knowledge as man has will be used to create symbols purporting to explain existence. Typical features of the process of symbolization:
  1. the experience of participation
  2. preoccupation with lasting and passing
  3. making the unknowable known by analogy
  4. awareness of the analogical character of symbols

The experience of consubstantiality

(1) The community of being is experienced with such intimacy that consubstantiality (the partnership of being) will override the separateness of substances.

The experience of lasting and passing. Degrees of durability. Hierarchy of existents. The attunement of man to the lasting existents.

(2) Despite consubstantiality, separate existences demonstrate different degrees of durability. The longer lasting are higher in a bierarchy of existence. This hierarchy becomes an ordering force in the life of man. The experiences of lasting and passing cannot be objectified. When transparent they reveal something of the mystery of being.

The experience of obligation

Attunement is the hearkening to that which is lasting in being. The anxiety of existence is the horror of losing the partnership of being.

Forms of symbolization: society as microcosmos and macroanthropos

(3) The attempt to make the unknowable order of being intelligible by analogy. The symbols are refined by experience, becoming more adequate by distinguishing the knowable from the unknowable, and progressing from compact to differentiated symbols and experiences.

Two basic symbolizations:

The breakdown of cosmological empires and the orientation toward transcendent Being

The second form tends to arise when the first form breaks down. That which is more lasting than the visible world can be experienced only as a movement of the soul.

The nature of symbols

(4) Man's awareness of the analogical character of his symbols.

Conflicts of analogues and early tolerance

Tolerance of rival symbolizations: gods for each city.

The oneness of being and the plurality of symbols

The multiplicity of symbols referencing the one being can be experienced as an inadequacy.

Attempts at rationalization

Possible rationalizations: There is no rigid difference between monotheism and polytheism; the analogies are less important than their intended reality. Monotheism is latent in polytheism.

The radical inadequacy of symbols to their task. The love of Being and existence. Intolerance through love of Being.

The freedom of symbolization becomes intolerable when all symbols are inadequate to express the radical separation of the divine from the mundane. The horror of the fall from being, of being improperly attuned, induced Plato to create "theology" and to propose a society ordered by rulers properly attuned to the divine. But: man cannot escape essential ignorance through intolerance of unseemly symbols.

Conversion. The leap in Being

The structure of participation in being changes when it becomes emphatically a partnership with God. The symbols become opaque and man turns away from the world and society as sources of misleading analogy.

The levels of attunement

But this is not a leap out of existence. Man and society must remain adjusted to the order of mundane existence. The two levels of attunement develop tensions, frictions, balances: supernatural and civil theology, spiritual and temporal powers, church and state.

Tolerance through love of existence

Compromise with the conditions of existence. The elder Plato: the intolerance inspired by the love of being is balanced by a new tolerance inspired by love of existence and a respect for the tortuous ways in which man moves historically closer to the true order of being.

Part One: The Cosmological Order of the Ancient Near East

The order of society and the order of mankind

Progress from the compact form of myth to the differentiated forms of history (Israel) and philosophy (Greece) constitutes an order of mankind apart from any specific society. It unfolds in space as well as in time.

Cosmological order as a type. Historical variations within the type.

Differences in style may have something to do with the potential for a leap in being.

The organization of materials

1. Mesopotamia

1. The Creation of God and the Dominion of Man

Establishing government analogically repeats divine creation.

Hybris and chastisement. The rivalry of God and man in Genesis.

Mesopotamian accounts of man's rivalry with God survive in Genesis:
  1. The creation story with the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge.
  2. The semidivine race of giants eventually expunged by the flood.
  3. The Tower of Babel.
The accounts show man overreaching for divine powers and being limited by mortality and other creaturely constraints. Balance is finally achieved in the person of Abram.

The myth of Adapa

An archaic myth similar to Genesis 6, "the giants of old". Perhaps contains in compact form the punishment of "death" as a spiritual fall from being (which becomes more articulate in the story of Adam). The hero who rejects eternal life is the ruler who creates and maintains order among men; the dominion of man is the analogical compensation for eternal order.

2. The Symbolization of Political Order

Political order in cosmological symbols

Political reality and symbolization grow towards one another, culminating in the conception of empire as an analogue of the cosmos and its order.

From city state to empire. Divine lordship and earthly kingship. Time, space, and substance.

The foundation of government is conceived as an event in the cosmic order of the gods. The spatial organization of empire reflects that of the cosmos. Empire is a microcosmos.

The omphalos

The symbol expressing the point of physical contact where the stream of being flows from the cosmos into empire is the omphalos ("navel"), the center of the world. At various times: Nippur, Babylon, Bethel, Delphi, etc. Jacob's dream of the ladder is of this site.

The zodiac and the number twelve

Auxillary symbols of astronomical origin. Their use in the Gilgamesh epic. The number twelve in Israel and Greece. Later survivals.

The sun and the cycle of renewal

The king as the earthly analogue of the sun god. The periodicity of celestial movements suggests periodicity in the order of the cosmos, and of redemption and renewal on earth. In cosmological culture the cycle of redemption corresponds functionally to the eschatology of transcendental perfection in soteriological ("salvational") culture.


Polytheistic and cosmological cultures rationalize their way toward an understanding of the radical transcendence of divine being, as well as to an understanding of mundane reality. The symbolization of cosmic cycles and hierarchies of the gods is part of this rationalization. Examples from the Book of Job and St. Paul.

This rationalization makes empire possible. The empire-builder invents a hierarchy of forces which welds independent political units into a more cohesive and centralized whole.

3. The Symbolization of Cosmic Order

Cosmic order in political symbols

Cosmological symbolization is the symbolization of political order by means of cosmic analogies.

The Mesopotamian, Chinese, and Mycenaean cases

  • Mesopotamia: the cosmic order was also understood politically. The cosmos was also an empire.
  • China: did not have this mutuality of analogical illumination.
  • Mycenaea: the gods were humanized to the extent that they were no longer cosmic forces.

The aptitude of civilizations for the leap in Being. Comparison of the three cases.

  • Mesopotamia: the mutual reinforcement of the political and cosmic orders made an inflexible symbolism resistant to dissolution by differentiating experiences.
  • China: Confucianism discovered the order of the soul but did not make a complete anthropolgical breakthrough.
  • Mycenaea: the breakdown of cosmic symbolism meant the gods were no longer bound to the structure of the cosmos. When the soul was discovered, man found himself in his immediacy under a transcendent God.

The Enuma Elish. The blend of cosmogony, theogony, and politics. Generation of gods and Civilizational crises

"When above": a Summerian / Babylonian / Assyrian creation epic blending cosmogony, theogony, and politics. The strands cannot be separated, hence the lasting strength of the symbolism. The epic presents two civilizational crises: (1) the transition from primitive communities to organized villages, and (2) the establishment of a Mesopotamian empire.

2. The Achaemenian Empire

Persia, ca 550-330 BC.

The parallel of god and king. Influence of Zoroastrianism.

Persian symbolism is of interest because:

The dualism of good and evil

The cosmic struggle of good and evil is transposed into a political struggle of the good empire vs the evil hostile nations.

The Behistun inscription. The empire of truth.

The duality extends to personal conduct. Extending the empire is a religious duty.

Polytheism and pluralistic construction of the conquest. Dynastic consciousness.

The dualistic symbolism superceded polytheism but retained some of the older elements, which actually grew stronger with time. This helped integrate foreign civilizations into the empire, but not always successfully.

Rationalization--monistic and dualistic

The dualistic theology reappears in ancient Gnosis and in recent political movements. The symbols of Truth and Lie predominate in contemporary politics.

The leap of being requires a monistic symbolism. Dualistic symbols express the experience of the world-immanent tension between good and evil.

3. Egypt

1. The Structure of Civilizational Courses

The Toynbee-Frankfort debate. The phases of Egyptian history. The issue of Osirian religiousness

Frankfort charges that Toynbee inserts progressivist bias into his Egyptian history, and that he generalizes from insufficient materials: the parallels between Egyptian and later Greco-Roman events are false.

Analysis of the conflict

Deeper penetration of the issues is required. Neither side distinguishes the variables:
  1. The political institutions, their creation, consolidation and disintegration.
  2. The socially predominant experience of order and its symbolization (cosmological, anthropological, soteriological).
  3. The welding together of institutions and experiences of order, from which results what Frankfort calls the "style" or "form" of a civilization.

Institutions, experiences, civilizational form. The climate of experience and stability of form.

Toynbee correctly identifies institutional breakdown at the end of the Old Kingdom, with the characteristic symptoms of overstrain:
  • inefficient central administration
  • growth of local power centers
  • offices become hereditary
  • financial over-generosity to regional notables
  • increase of central expenditure and burdening of the people
Frankfort is correct to reject speculations about an "Osirian Church", but neglects changes in experiential structure.

The "Song of the Harper". Skepticism and hedonism.

A concrete example from a time when life had become futile and meaningless. The Pharonic symbols became corroded but never broke into a transcendental experience of order. Despite the upheavals, the Egyption cosmological form persisted over a long period.

Types of civilizational form. Compactness and differentiation of experiences.

Toynbee and Frankfort speak of "static" and "dynamic" or "progressive" forms of civilisation, Egypt being an example of the former and the Greco-Roman world the latter. The problem of form is clarified by the principles of compactness and differentiation:
  1. The nature of man is constant.
  2. The range of human experience is always present in the fullness of its dimensions.
  3. The structure of the range varies from compactness to differentiation.
Civilizations participate in a world-historic process of differentiation.

The Chinese case

The cosmological form persisted in China until 1912. But unlike Eqypt, there was an experiential break: the autonomous personality of the "sage" was discovered as a source of order. This element of Confucianism was parallel to developments in Greek philosophy occuring at the same time, but not as deep. It did not become radically transcendental.

Civilizational form and the super-civilizational drama of mankind

The order of history cannot be understood by classifying phenomena and their regularities. These merely reveal the constants of human nature in their range of compactness and differentiation.

A civilization is not a self-contained unit, but participates in the universal drama of approximation to the right order of existence through increasingly differentiated attunement with the order of being.

2. The Cosmological Form

Although a cosmological civilization like Mesopotamia, Egypt is peculiar in several respects:

The birth of the two lands

There is scant evidence of political structure before the empire. The symbol of the Two Lands must have its motivation in the experience of cosmic order.

The experience of the Nile

The configuration of the Nile valley contributed to political homogeneity. The directional flow of the river was mirrored analogically as the "Two Lands".

The sun hymns. Conflict with the Nile symbol

The sun symbol was as important as that of the Nile, but developed later. The four quarters of the horizon and two directions of the river were conflicting symbols.

The visible and the invisible god. Conflict with cosmological symbolism. The transcendental component in pharaonic order

The god approaches transcendent invisibility and can no longer symbolize imperial order. But this more perfect attuntement with divinity indicates a possible leap in being which did not actually occur.

The Pharaoh is a manifestation of the sun-god who mediates to the people the divine forces of cosmic order.

Divine kings and animals. Divine manifestation in the pharaoh. Manifestations in celestial bodies, in animal species, in representative men

How to understand the divinity of the Pharaoh? The divine king is a man in whom the god is manifested, not a god himself, despite certain Egyptian phraseology.

How to recapture the experience which generated the symbol of the divine king? Look at the manifestation of gods in animals:

  1. The god remains distinct from his manifestation.
  2. In animals the individual and the species blur. Their mode of lasting, of changelessness, suggests a higher degree of participation in being.
Divine kingship may be a phenomenon parallel to manifestation in a species. The symbols extends to the lastingness of society, with the ruling representative as the radiating origin of divinity. Its high degree of integration made the Egyptian form very tenacious.

Probable causes of the Egyptian peculiarity

Why is the manifestation of the gods in kings and animals more important in Egypt than elsewhere? Perhaps elements of a more primitive culture survived the sudden rise of empire.

The radiation of cosmic order over society. The son of god--in the pyramid texts, in the Middle and New Kingdoms

The Pharaonic order is the continuous renewal and re-enactment of the cosmic order from eternity.

The meaning of maat

  • of the cosmos: order
  • of society: good government
  • of true understanding of ordered reality: truth

The transmission of maat

Originally through blood relations of the Pharaoh, later through his administrators and so to the people.

3. The Dynamics of Experience

How the form of Egyptian political culture was corroded by differentiating experiences.

Note: it is not possible to separate creation (form) from corrosion in Egyptian history.

1. The Egyptian Type of Differentiation

The structure of Egyptian symbolization must be clarified.

Egyptian cosmogony and Ionian speculation

Egyptian and Ionic cosmogonies are similar in that both seek the origin of the world in a primordial element. But the Egyptian case produces a myth, where the Ionians produce speculation on the principle (arche) of being. The philosopher differentiates an immanent order of being and becoming which is closed to the gods.

The structure of the myth: component blocks of experience; the experience of consubstantiality as the binding force

Despite its limitations, the myth is richer in content than the partial symbolizations derived from it:
  1. The myth contains the experiential blocs which separate in the course of differentiation.
  2. It contains an experience that welds the blocs into a living whole. In the Egyptian case, this binding factor is the experience of consubstantiality.

The value of mythical compactness

The compactness of Egyptian myth cannot be translated into modern vocabulary: it does not distinguish immanence or transcendence. Ionian speculation developed the experiential bloc of "elements" into a metaphysics of world-immanent being, but disregarded the the experience of consubstantiality which would have developed into faith in a world-transcendent being.

Differentiation is not an unqualified good. The two lines of differentiation which emerge from the myth lead to a radically other-worldly faith and to an agnostic metaphysics, both causing disorder in the soul and society.

The virtues of the compact myth:

  • it originates in an integral understanding of the order of being
  • it provides symbols which adequately express a balanced manifold of experiences
  • it is a living force, preserving the balanced order in the soul of the believer
Consubstantiality has a hierarchical order flowing from the divine to the mundane.

Speculation within the range of consubstantiality. Evolution toward monotheism.

The differentiation of Egyptian myth occurs within the range of consubstantiality. This is an evolution toward monotheism, although without the experience of transcendence.

The Amon hymns of Dynasty XIX. Theologia negativa and analogia entis

Examples of divinity characterized negatively and analogically, but still within the compact mythology.

2. The Memphite Theology

A very early inscription justifying the establishment of Memphis as a new capital. It is not really a "theology", but a collection of writings which, like the Enuma elish, combine cosmogony, theogeny and political myth. Its strands of argument:
  1. the unification of Egypt
  2. the establishment of Memphis as the center of the new political world
  3. the theological speculation giving Memphis superiority over all other cult centers.

The mythical drama of order from chaos

(1) A mythical drama reaching through all the realms of being.

Unification of Egypt and foundation of Memphis

(2) Sections dealing with strife between the gods and the restoration of unity, showing:
  1. the political motivations
  2. the restraint on "monotheistic" differentiation
  3. the range of freedom in mythical construction at the time

Theogonic speculation. Ptah as the creator ex-nihilo.

(3) Ptah was originally placed with the gods of chaos. He became a god who created the world out of nothing. The authors strove for a spiritual understanding of the process, resisting sensual imagery.

Divine creation--royal foundation

The "spiritualization" of the god is inseparable from that of the king. The creation of the world as divine "idea" is consubstantial with the creation of Egypt as the royal "idea" of the conqueror. This engenders the freedom of theological speculation.

The epistemological footnote. Rational consciousness in the creation of myth

The text contains justification for the doctrine: a condensed philosophical anthropology. This shows the degree to which anthropology and metaphysics can be differentiated without breaking the cosmological form.

Comparison with the Christian logos speculation

The parallels between the creation of the world by the word of Ptah and the Logos of St. John must not be taken too far. It is true that differentiations of this kind are possible within every civilizational form (contrary to progressivist notions of history), but John's Logos is an experiential break with the cosmological form and would have destroyed the order of Egypt, not strengthened it.

3. The Response to Disorder

There were various responses to the social upheaval at the end of Dynasty VI, but no emergence of a religious personality beyond the range of cosmological civilization.

The coffin text on a community of equals

From about 2000 BC. By divine order society becomes a community of equals. The inequality of rank and wealth is evil that stems from the heart of man. The human condition is the organizing center of thought.

The "Dispute of a Man, Who Contemplates Suicide, With His Soul"

A debate on the meaning of life. The rejection of nihilism, the impossibility of spiritual and moral life in a community, and the decision for suicide as a redeeming action: the community of the dead will strengthen the society of the living.

The metaphors of life as disease and as a prison anticipate Plato.

4. Akhenaton

The tenacity of Egyptian political form in the face of attempted religious reform.

The new position of the pharaoh. The ascendancy of Thebes.

In the New Kingdom, the role of the Pharaoh has diminished and that of the priests increased. But the Pharaoh has a more messianic quality than before.

The "Instructions" for Meri-ka-re. The "Admonitions of Ipu-wer". The "Prophecies of Neferrohu".

An invisible god who is shepherd of the people. Pharaoh is responsible for disorder, but a savior-king can restore order. Eventually such a king would appear who could dispense with the priests and lead a revolt against the established order.

The Amarna revolution

Founding of the new cult of Aton, suppression of Amon, conflict with the priests, and elevation of a new ruling group.

A sun hymn of Amenhotep III

The search for a divine being beyond the Egyptian pantheon.

The "Hymns of Akhenaton"

The spiritual character of the Pharaoh was a decisive factor in the revolt. Aton was a god for all men, but the other gods were still a reality for Akhenaton.

The reactionary monopoly of pharaonic mediation

With the reform, the Pharaoh had an exclusive relation with the divine, re-establishing the old form with a vengeance.

The impasse of pharaonic order

This was an impasse rather than a new beginning. Akhenaton's son reverted to the previous order, which was unshaken until Egypt was conquered from without.

Part Two: The Historical Order of Israel

The house of bondage and the freedom of God. The symbols of the break with civilization: Sheol, Exodus, Desert, Kingdom of God. The chosen people and the promised land

Sheol: institutional bondage, spiritual death, Egypt.

Desert: the eternal impasse of existence in a meaningless world.

Attunement with cosmological order lead the Hebrews to a realm of death. But Exodus lead to the Desert, to nowhere, until they found their bearings beyond the world. They found life in the desert and become the chosen people.

They moved toward a goal beyond history, an effort often derailed by being merged with goals to be obtained within history, as symbolized by Canaan. In the spiritual sense, the promised land was reached in the desert.

"The promised land can be reached only by moving through history, but it cannot be conquered within history. The Kingdom of God lives in men who live in the world, but it is not of this world."

First: the creation of history by Israel, then the problems of literary sources.

4. Israel and History

1. Israel and the Civilizational Courses

Three tables of events: the biblical narrative, migrations and dominations, Toynbee's cycle of Syriac civilization

Questions of chronology and how different chronologies are related.

It is true that Syriac civilization has considerable Minoan influence, although Toynbee overstates the case.

The chronologies overlap for the period from the Israelite invasion of Canaan to the fall of Jerusalem, but diverge otherwise. It is understandable that Moses does not appear in the chronology of large-scale events, but surprising that he is missing from Toynbee's scheme.

Pragmatic and paradigmatic history

The source of the conflict between the history of Israel as given in the Old Testament and the history of civilizations must be analyzed.

The Old Testament is not a critical history but an account of Israel's relation with God. Events are not experienced in the paragmatic context of means and ends, but as acts of obedience to, or defection from, God's will, as experienced by souls struggling for attunement with transcendent being. The course of events becomes sacred history; single events become paradigms of God's way with man. An event is truthfully related if its essence is carefully elaborated, which is a criterion different than that used in pragmatic history.

Whole bodies of tradition may be recast by later writers into new summaries, as in the books of Deuteronomy and Chronicles. Sometimes we don't know why conflicting accounts exist, as in the conquest of Canaan as reported in Judges and Joshua. Also, later integrated histories were not meant to be picked apart again.

The leap in being as the source of true order. The chosen people as the carrier of truth. Paradigmatic history as the confirmation of truth. The historical form of existence.

The Old Testament is a record narrating:
  1. the events surrounding the discovery of the truth
  2. the course of Israelite history, with repeated revisions, as a confirmation of this truth
History is a symbolic form of existence of the same class as the cosmological form. Paradigmatic narrative in the historical form is equivalent to myth in the cosmological form.

The eclipse of God. The Spengler-Toynbee theory of civilizational cycles.

Contrary to Spengler and Toynbee, the experiences of order (and their symbolic expression) are not products of civilization, but its constitutive form.

Rejecting the form in which a society exists under God is the "Eclipse of God" (Buber) and leaves us in the Sheol of civilizations.

2. The Meaning of History

Equivocations: the objective time of the civilizational courses--the inner form of society

"History" now has two meanings:
  1. the dimension of objective time in which civilizations run their course
  2. the inner form which constitutes a society; a society's motion through time on a meaningful course, toward a divinely promised state of perfection.

Compact history in cosmological form

If the second version is prefered, we have to ask: How is it that cosmological civilizations have any "history" at all? They have it in compact form; we have seen the records of the experiences of the movement of the soul toward a world-transcendent God, never quite achieved.

The history of cosmological civilizations is discovered only in retrospect, after the differentiation.

Differentiated history in the present under God. The origin of meaning in the historical present. The radiation of meaning over the compact past. Problems in the radiation of meaning: the ontological reality of mankind--the origin of history in a moving present--the loss of historical substance.

The historical form expands its realm of meaning beyond the present into the past. This implies a number of problems, the most important of which at the moment are:

(1) The ontological reality of mankind.

History creates mankind and mankind creates history. The process of human history is ontologically real, not "arbitrary" or "subjective". An example, illuminating both the causal mechanism of differentiation and the objective reality of history: the expansion of empire over foreign peoples. The society of man is larger than the nuclear society of a cosmological empire.

Meaning is created by men who do not know what they are creating, engendering unfounded complacency and spiritual pride in later observers. But history is not a "legacy" or "heritage", but an abysmal mystery of divine revelation for ultimate purposes that are always unknown.

(2) The origin of history in a historically moving present.

There are multiple historical presents, each with its own past. We also have the relations between the presents and their histories.

Is history more than a subjective interpretation of past events? Yes. Historical form appears subjective only if we take faith to be a subjective experience. Analysis of the literary sources show faith, the leap in being, to be an ontologically real event.

We see that various symbolizations of historical order conform to a general type: the Either-Or of life and death divides time into a Before-and-After of the discovery. The event also allows classification of men and societies according to the measure in which they approach historical form.

For several centuries, the Chritian historical form as been confronting previously unknown civilizations, a work that is barely begun.

(3) The loss of historical substance.

Like all symbols, history is likely to lose its meaning over time. The mass of materials and specialization accelerate this. Example: the Spengler-Toynbee theory, which is odd, because anxiety about civilizational decline has its origin in anxiety about the loss of historical form.

Today, the mechanics of civilization push the originating present out of sight. "The great historical forms created by Israel, the Hellenic philosophers, and Christianity did not constitute societies of the civilizational type -- even though the communities thus established, which still are the carriers of history, must wind their way through the rise and fall of civilizations."

5. The Emergence of Meaning

The meaning of history in the Israelite sense emerged gradually and was frequently revised. In its final redaction the Old Testament from Genesis through Kings provides a continuous narrative from the creation of the world to the fall of Jerusalem.

The narrative must be read according to the intention of the authors to create a world-history.

Psalm 136. The emergence of meaning: creation, covenant, Canaan. World-history

One approach to their intent is given through Psalm 136, a drama of divine creation in three acts, each wresting meaning from the meaningless:
  1. the creation of the world from nothing
  2. the rescue from Egypt, when Israel emerges from Sheol
  3. the conquest of Canaan, the when the promised land emerges from the Desert
In history God continues his work of creation; "world-history" is creation and history at the same time.

Israelite historical symbolism contains in compact form speculation later differentiated by St. Thomas.

The range of motives: Exodus, Sinai, Shechem

Examples showing how the meanings of history ramify from the event; the Exodus expands into Patriarchal history. Other centers of meaning besides Exodus: Canaan and the Shechem festival.

The expansion of motives: events, experiences, cults, cult legends, historiographic elaboration

Rites and liturgies are key to the process in which the meaning of Israelite history grows into complex form. They reveal: Beyond the construction of world-history rises a vision of God in aspects later experienced in Christianity:

The pattern of emergence: advance and relapse

Biblical narrative is the story of recessions from, and returns to, levels of meaning already achieved. Examples:

The sacred line and mankind

Genesis performs two important tasks:
  1. It separates the sacred line of godly carriers of meaning from the rest of mankind.
  2. It pays some attention to this rest of mankind (by listing the other nations descended from Noah.

The rhythm of the Book of Judges. The kingdom and the prophets.

After the Conquest of Canaan, the regular pattern of advance and relapse continues. The pattern is less clear after the foundation of the Kingdom because Israel has reversed the Exodus and reentered Sheol. The Prophets assume a parallel course of meaning, taking leadership entirely with the Exile.

Exile and return. Retrospect from the rabbinical position. The ambiguity of Canaan.

The ambiguity of Canaan was the disturbing factor is Israelite historical form: a transcendent aim was translated into historical accomplishment. The historical form was regained, not by the Kingdom, but by the Prophets with their elaboration of the universalist potentialities of Yahwism.

Judaism and Christianity

The Talmudic branch of Judaism declined into a communal separatism. The other branch took advantage of: ...and emerged as Christianity, by which the sacred line rejoined mankind.

6. The Historiographic Work

The biblical narrative. The layers of meaning. The historiographic stratum.

The present chapter deals only with the (so-called) uppermost layer of the exceedingly complex strata of Old Testament interpretation.

1. The Sources of the Narrative. A Note on the State of the Problem

The nature of the problem

Israel and Revelation contains a critical survery of the literature and justification of a position only in the case of the "Imperial Psalms" (below). In the other cases there is an argument in support of the position with brief references to the literature. This is a compromise to limit the size and increase the clarity of the work.

The Wellhausen school

The Wellhausen school distinguishes several narrative strands in the Pentateuch, each assumed to be from a "school" of ancient historiography:
  • Yahwist (J), originally an oral tradition from the Kingdom of Judah in the ninth century
  • Elohist (E), originally an oral tradition from the Kingdom of Israel in the eighth century
  • Deuteronomist (D), presumed to be the Josiah reform code of 621, flourished from the middle of the seventh century into the Exile
  • Priestly Code (P), ca. 400 BC
  • Holiness Code (H), contained within the Priestly Code, from the time of Ezekiel
The J, E and P strands were eventually assumed to extend into later books. There is no parallel D narrative; it runs from the foundation of the Solomonic Temple to the Reform of Josiah and its theme is the conflict between the Canaanite cults and Yahweh.

The conception of sources. Rising dissatisfaction.

The analysis added nothing in the way of new materials, points of view or interpretations. Cause of the dissatisfaction:
  • The elimination of Moses as author eliminated meaning from the narrative.
  • The substitution of "schools" of authors had no value in terms of meaning.
  • Nothing apart from philological results was found at all.


The Wellhausen school does not sufficiently distinguish between philological work and the interpretations of its results. What do the units of text signify? Also, the assumption that the texts have definite authors is a 19th century conceit. It is not always proper to call the texts "narrative" or "history".

Source analysis can be useful in the search for units of symbolic form, if used with circumspection.

The Biblical narrative contains meanings which cut across the sources; it was composed for that purpose. New strata of articulated meaning were added over the course of centuries.

Some units of meaning coincide with the sources revealed by literary criticism. An important example: the Yahwist document which became the nucleus of the expanding narrative.

The position of I. Engnell

An energetic reaction against the Wellhausen school. Engnell distinguishes four methods of Old Testament study:
  1. the source-critical method of the Wellhausen school
  2. the form-literary method of Gunkel
  3. the methods of comparative history of religion
  4. Engnell's own tradition-historical method

The tradition-historical method

The tradition-historical method invalidates the others in some respects, but only supplants them in others. The method is concerned with:
  1. the formation of the narrative through tradition, rather than through literary activity
  2. the peculiar character of tradition history as distinguished from pragmatic history

The collections of traditions. Traditionist circles.

Engnell finds three great collections of traditions in the Old Testament:
  1. Genesis - Numbers; originating in and preserved by the P-circle, a traditionist circle dealing with materials equivalent to the Wellhausen P materials, eventually merging them with materials from other traditionist circles. The nucleus of the tradition is the Passah Legend of Exodus 1-15.
  2. Deuteronomy - II Kings; a similar circle with a smaller number of final redactors.
  3. I Chronicles - Nehemiah
Engnell's method exhibits many technical virtues, is based on a more thorough understanding of the contents of the narrative and fits its intended meaning better than the source-critical method.

J. Pederson

Tradition-history is not pragmatic history. The Paschal Legend glorifies the god of the people through an exposition of the event that created the people. "Cultic glorification" = "paradigmatic history". Paradigmatic meaning emerges over time; the original contexts of the source elements can no longer be reconstructed.

The plurality of motivating centers

Caution: the complexity of the Old Testament does not yield to a brief theoretical formula.

Motivating centers include:

  • Exodus (the Paschal Legend)
  • Sinai
  • the David Memoirs

2. The Symbols of Historiography

Justification of the term "history"

Hebrew has no term for "history".
  1. How is the term justified in an analysis of Israelite symbols?
  2. How did the Israelite authors express what we call "history"?

Compactness of Israelite experience

(1) The idea of history has its compact origin in the Covenant. With precautions, modern vocabulary can be used. We are still living in the historical present of the Covenant. Israelite historiography continues; Israel has become mankind and the techniques have changed. Use of modern vocabulary is a theoretical necessity, but later meanings must not be projected onto earlier symbols.

The Israelites were set apart from the rest of mankind by their experience of divine reality, the universal applications of which were never successfully explicated within their own history. The peculiar nature of Israelite compactness was the perpetual mortgage of the concrete event on the transcendental truth (eg: the Exodus from Egypt and the exodus from civlization, Canaan and the Kingdom of God).

Toroth (instructions) and Sepher (Book)

(2) Three great symbols are used to express Israelite history:
  • toroth (instructions)
  • toldoth (generations)
  • berith (covenant)
Israelite historiography is a report on the emergence of divinely willed order. The bulk of the report concerns the acts of obedience to and falling away from the will of God, as measured by the divine instructions (toroth).

Toldoth (generations). Expansion of genealogies from clan to mankind. Separation of the remnant. Speculative use of Toldoth

The drama of man under the will of God requires the continuous existence of mankind, conceived as a clan derived from a common ancestor. History becomes an account of the generations from Adam to the time of the writer. Example from Ezra, establishing the pure blood line after the Exile.

Adam ("man") -> Shem("name") -> Israel. The rest of mankind is symbolically anonymous.

The phases of the application of toldoth ("generations"):

  1. the synoecism ("commensalism in which the guests are indifferently tolerated by their hosts") of the returned exiles
  2. the clan-heads of the Kingdom
  3. the tribes of the Confederacy
  4. the succession of the Patriarchs
  5. the second mankind from Noah to Abraham
  6. the first mankind from Adam to Noah
The primary function of the lists is to separate out the pure line of the remnant, those who returned from exile. A secondary function is to provide a speculation on the origins of the remainder of mankind.

The geneology symbolizes the unity of clan groups in Israel. The clans were later construed as tribes descending from Jacob.

The Covenant, as divine revelation, was differentiated into both the idea of mankind and a core of true believers. The geneological idea of a sacred line obscured the idea of mankind, despite the efforts of the prophets.

Genesis is arranged so as to embrace mankind and to clarify the relation of the sacred line to the rest of mankind.

The Toldoth of Adam and Toldoth of heaven and earth. Generative descent from God.

Why is there an emphasis on "trustworthiness" is Genesis when there are disagreements as to the generations from Adam? The text reveals a connection between creation and procreation. The generations of Adam continue the generations of heaven and earth. The text expresses that man cooperates in generating the order of being through procreative submission to the creative will of God.

Berith (covenant)

The continuing divine creation of order requires the divine choice of individuals and groups for special instruction and the trusting response of those chosen.

Expansion from the clan agreements to the Mosaic berith

The covenants were originally agreements between clans and other groups. It then symbolized the relation between Yahweh and Israel, and was finally used for historiographic purposes.

Institutional use of the symbol

The institutional uses of the covenant were modelled on the Covenant at Mt. Sinai:
  1. the berith of Joshua
  2. the berith of Hezekiah (his Reform)
  3. the berith of Josiah (introducing the book of Deuteronomy)
  4. the berith of Ezra
  5. the amanah of Nehemiah

The historiographic use. The four ages of world-history.

In historiographic use, the covenant emphasizes the great epochs of history:
  1. the first mankind of Adam
  2. the second mankind of Noah
  3. the first exodus of Abraham
  4. the second exodus of Moses
The four directions of the cosmological empires were transferred to a temporal orientation.

The four ages in Christian speculation

The patten is retained in Matthew:
  1. Adam to Abraham
  2. Abraham to David
  3. David to the Exile
  4. the Exile to Christ
"The great problem of the periodization of history in Christian and modern speculation goes back in continuity to the Israelite historiographers."

3. The Motivations of Historiography

The range of the narrative. Its contents: history, myth, enactment of the myth

The Old Testament narrative is not a history of anything but is rather a purposefully devised myth. The myth and history blend together. There are elements of myth to the end, as in the "discovery" of the Deuteronomic Code.

The narrative a symbolic form sui generis

The narrative has no "subject matter", but has rather a meaning ascertained by recourse to the experiential motivations of its symbolic form.

The motivations: the foundation of the kingdom and the covenant

Why does the narrative end with the end of the Kingdom? Because its motivation was interest in the foundation of the Kingdom. But this conflicts with the emphasis on the Covenant.

The pragmatic requirement for a monarch led to the foundation of the Kingdom; this was the last step by which the Israel came into historical existence. The experience of this completion motivated the writing of history. Such writing ended with the disappearence of the motiviating political existence.

The motivation for the writing of Israelite prehistory must be sought in the political situation of the monarchy, not in the Mosaic period. The motivations of the ultimate structure are those of the Convenant, which also takes precedence in the work written after the end of the Kingdom.

The two foci of construction and the compact experience of order

Why the historiographic work is so complex:
  1. In the sequence of historical events the Covenant precedes the Kingdom.
  2. In the sequence of motivations the Kingdom precedes the Covenant.
  3. In the content of the narrative itself the Covenant dominates the Kingdom.
The two focuses will be further differentiated in Christianity:
  • Covenent, the community substance -> sacred history, the Church
  • Kingdom, successful pragmatic existence -> profane history, the State
Israelite history contains curious reversals in the hierarchy of the focuses which are attempts to break the initial compactness. The foundation of the monarchy was an ambivalent event. Without the monarchy there would be no Israel. With the monarchy it survived but betrayed the Mosaic Instructions.

The mortgage of world-immanent existence

Every advance in wordlly establishment appeared as a fulfillment of the order instituted by the Covenant. The Prophets had many targets to attack, but any basis for attack was also encumbered.

The targets of attack

  • The cult of foreign gods (politically suicidal).
  • The moral iniquity of the new upper class, as opposed to the supposed virtues of the peasants (but the peasants also indulged in the foreign cults)

The basis of the attack

A strategy: retreat to nomad civilization. But the people had no intention of returning to that life, and the Yahwism of the desert did not provide the symbols necessary to combat the evils of the time.

The spiritual meaning of Yahwism was eventually differentiated from the instructions to nomad clans.

Comparison with Christian problems

Early Christians had inverse problems: faith and the life of the spirit were disengaged from a particular civilizational order to a dangerous degree.
Prophets Church Fathers
Struggled for an understanding of Yahwism in opposition to the concrete order of Israel. Struggled for an understanding of the exigencies of world-immanent social and political order.
Made clear that the political success of Israel was no substitute for a life in obedience to divine instructions. Made clear that faith in Christ was no substitute for organized government.
Stressed that status in the social order of Israel did not confer spiritual status on a man before God. Stressed that sacramental acceptance into the Mystical Body did not touch the social status of a man--that masters still were masters, and slaves were slaves, that thieves still were thieves, and magistrates were magistrates.
Explained that social success was not a proof of righteousness before God. Explained that the gospel was no social gospel, redemption no social remedy, and Christianity in general no insurance for individual or collective prosperity.

The struggle for spiritual freedom

"The relationship between the life of the spirit and life in the world is the problem that lies unresolved at the bottom of the Israelite difficulties. Let us hasten to say that the problem by its nature is not capable of a solution valid for all times. Balances that work for a time can be found and have been found. But habituation, institutionalization, and ritualization inevitably, by their finiteness, degenerate sooner or later into a captivity of the spirit that is infinite; and then the time has come for the spirit to break a balance that has become demonic imprisonment."

In the Israelite case the problem of balance is unresolved in its emergence from Mosaic compactness to Prophetic differentiation. The spiritual struggle for freedom determined the structure of the Biblical narrative.

Part Three: History and the Trail of Symbols

Pragmatic existence and the order of the covenant. The complexity of Israelite symbols. History as a symbol of revelation.

Israelite symbols have a baffling structure, partaking of both historical form (oriented toward the Covenant) and cosmological form (oriented toward pragmatic existence). The experiences motivating the symbols of each form tend toward the other.

The counteracting forces met in the creation of the historiographic work. Events left a trail of symbols in the narrative; later historians heightened the events in the light of the Covenant order, but without destroying history which itself had become a symbol of revelation.

Organization of subject matter

Part Three follows the trail on the level of pragmatic events. Part Four shifts to the clarification of right order in the light of the Sinaitic revelation.

7. From Clan Society to Kingship

1. The Abram Story

1. Yahweh's Berith with Abram

The story of Genesis 14

The war of the four Mesopotamian kings against five Canaanite kings near the Dead Sea. The abduction and rescue of Lot.

The nature of the source

Genesis 14 cannot be assigned to any of the major sources. An independent Jerusalemite tradition? It serves as Davidic propaganda.

The political scene before 1500 B.C.

The invading kings represent the four main Mesopotamian peoples. The story also features the Canaanite city-states, the aboriginal peoples, the Amorites in the countryside and their vassal, the Hebrew chieftan Abram. Clan law obligates Abram to rescue Lot. The Amorites are his allies.

The Baal berith

The relationships described imply a divine guardian of political compacts. Perhaps this explains the role of Melchizedek, the priest-king of Jerusalem. He invokes the Canaanite Baal, also recognized by Abram who nonetheless remains loyal to Yahweh. He has had his own Exodus from Chaldea, but his movements in the new world lack assurance.

The transformation of the berith symbol. The berith with Yahweh. The God of the fathers

The liberation occurs in Genesis 15. Abram now lives in the domain of Yahweh; the covenant symbol of his bondage becomes the symbol of his freedom. In time the divine order will expand into a social body in history.

Abram does not yet understand that the "future" is a sensuous analogue of transcendence, of the judgement of man in the present. The story compactly presents the awareness that eternity reaches into the process of history.

This is one of the rare events in history: a man opened his soul to the word of Yahweh and transformed the covenant symbol of bondage into a symbol of divine liberation. We accept that the event occurred in the second millenium BC.

2. The Continuity of the Political Situation

The scene in the Amarna period--at the time of the conquest

Evidence of political continuity between the time of Abram and the conquest is slight, but does exist in both Egyptian and biblical accounts.

2. The Deborah Song

1. The Transmission of Yahwism to the Time of Moses

Exodus 18 gives clues as to the expansion of the Yahwist experience into the larger community.

The Israelite confederacy

Israel at the time of the conquest was an amphictyonic league (an association of neighboring states organized for their common interest, or defending a religous center) consisting of twelve tribes (of varying membership), each tribe consisting of clans (each clan fielding a fighting force of 300-1000 men), each clan consisting of families. The league sanctuary was at Shiloh.

2. The Deborah Song

Judges 5 describes the events of ca. 1125 BC and is the earliest source for ideas of order in the Israelite confederacy. The song is an early document unencumbered by later retractions.

Raids by the Canaanite leader Sisera. Resistance by Deborah and Barak. Yahweh fights the Canaanite gods. [A few pages later EV writes the contrary].

Yahweh and war

The confederacy had no political organization and had fought no large-scale wars. Both Exodus 15 and the Song express surprise that Yahweh is such an effective war god. This is the first time the people were united in political action under Yahweh, who revealed himself in historical action as the creator of true order. The lack of titles for human functionaries indicates the break with the cosmological civilizations.

The ritual of the holy war

Fragmentary sources. Spiritually pure warriors as the instrument of Yahweh.

War and permanent political organization

The history of Israel followed two courses:
  1. an effectively organized people conducting its affairs with success under the guidance of its god
  2. a pacifist community expecting military protection by divine intervention
The rise of a professional military under the monarchy caused atrophy of the warrior spirit among the peasantry, who turned to pacifism and hence were receptive to the message of the prophets.

3. The Kingship of Gideon

Amalgamation of Hebrews and Canaanites. The new Israel

The syncretism ("reconciliation or fusion of differing systems of belief, as in philosophy or religion, especially when success is partial or the result is heterogeneous") of Hebrews and Canaanites was a consequence of the former's successful penetration of Palestine. The cycle of Yahweh's castigation and deliverance was a later redaction. After Sisera, the judges were war leaders of the whole people against foreign invaders.

Gideon and the Midianite wars

Judges 6-9, ca. 1100-1050 BC. A king over a portion is Israel; a form intermediate between leadership in holy wars and a nationwide monarchy.

The sanctuary of the Yahweh of Ophrah

A competing cult center, a new symbol of political order. The people were ready for a national divinity. Making Yahweh a particular national god brought him closer to the level of the Canaanite gods, frustrating universalism and making it easier to switch between them.

The marriage policy. The function of the harem. Abimelech's coup d'etat

Gideon's royal cult image. Attempts to bind the clans through intermarriage. The end of the first monarchy.

"The Fable of the Trees in Search of a King"

Contemporary with Gideon [or Abimelech?], the fable expresses the chieftans' distrust of kingship.

8. The Struggle for Empire

1. The Amplitude of Yahwism

Assimilation to Canaanite gods

Yahwism originally had no particular political form, making Yahweh adaptable to a great many situations. The risk was that divinity might be dispersed into particular divine forces. Examples: the parallels between Yahweh and the Moabite god Chemosh in Judges 11 and II Kings 1, and the use of Baal-Zebub as an oracle.

Summodeism in statu nascendi

Any of the gods mutually recognized by the various peoples could have become dominant over the whole area, given the imperial success of the particular people. The most important factor in the success of Yahwism was the god's nonpolitical, universal nature which was the spiritual force that formed great individuals.

The formation of personality through the spirit of Yahweh

The military and political figures inspired by the ruach of Yahweh were unique characters recognized as such at the time. The understanding of the spiritual formation of character inspired the creation of history. Saul, David and Solomon are the kingly carriers of this spirit; after them it passes to the prophets.

2. The Kingship of Saul

1. The Rise of Saul

The Philistine expansion

Waves of Aegean migrations at around 1200 BC disrupted the area and left a power-vacuum which the Hebrew tribes exploited. The Philistines, a remnant of the Aegean "Peoples of the Sea", assimilated into Canaan quickly. They were politically well-organized and had superior war equipment.

Two phases of Philistine expansion to empire. David was probably a Philistine governor of Judah.

The national kingship of Saul

The narrative is muddled as to how Saul's kingship began and was accepted by the people. Attitudes had changed from skepticism about monarchy to loyalty in a few decades. Assumptions:
  • the clans could not cope with the Philistines, causing a decline in the influence of the chieftans
  • correspondingly, the king as war leader gained prestige
  • possiblly, there was corruption in the priesthood (Eli and his sons, I Samuel 2)
  • there was a more intense national consciousness of the almagamated peoples
The text contains both royalist and anti-royalist versions of the rise of Saul's kingship.

The royalist version of Saul's kingship. The king and the god

(1) Saul was anointed by Yahweh, through Samuel. The text emphasizes the immediate relation between the King and his God.

Prophetism--collective and solitary. Populist Yahwism

Saul meets a "band" of prophets (perhaps a Canaanite influence) who are to be distinguished from the great solitary prophets. Saul's association with them, and David's dancing before the ark, suggest a cruder form of Yahwism.

The bands of prophets

Bands of prophets, both Yahwist and Baalist, reappear in the ninth century attached to the Court of Israel. The legends of Elisha are from this source. Evidence of the connection between Israelite kingship and the orgiastic religiousness of the people. The hostility of the solitary prophets to the monarchy, the prophet bands, and the people.

Ecstaticism and articulation

The ecstatic productions of the prophetic bands had to be interpreted by a charismatic leader, who might be an ecstatic himself. St. Paul has a treatise on the management of ecstatics in I Corinthians 14.

The nature of a spiritual force which causes collective ecstaticism can only be determined by the channelling to which it submits in the community. There will always be a tension between diffuse, contagious spiritual force and its articulation by institutions.

2. Spiritual Order of the Soul

Saul and the witch of Endor. The prohibition of the elohim

In Saul's case the tension occured within his own soul. He felt responsible for translating the spiritual force into action, but suffered periods of indecisiveness and melancholy. Before he visited the witch, Saul had banished all ghost-masters. Spirits of the dead might become alternatives to Yahweh and also serve as rival sources of political authority. Banishing the necromancers served both sides of Saul's character.

The soul in Israel and Hellas

The issue of a personal soul caused Saul difficulties with the Yahwist order parallel to problems in Mycenae at the same time. When God is understood to be transcendent and man as mortal, how to understand the afterlife? In Homer: as a shadow in Hades; in Israel: Sheol. The Hellenes developed the understanding of the psyche as an immortal substance increasingly perfectable through repeated reincarnations. They had no problems with conceiving the soul as a divine being of lower rank.

The Israelites were blocked from this conception; men could not be gods. Since the dead were believed to be gods, by royal decree they were suppressed and banished into a sort of public subconscious. The idea of a personal soul could not develop; the relation to Yahweh was completely broken by death.

Even the prophets could not deal with the problem of a personal soul, which did not enter the Jewish world until the third century BC as a Perisan influence.

Historical realism v. philosophy

This suspension of the issue of the soul:
  1. favored the advance of historical realism
  2. prevented the development of philosophy
(a) Although there are traces of ancestor- and hero-worship in the narrative, they never became important on the Yahwist level. Many elohim (ghosts, gods) were recovered as historical Patriarchs, a radical historization that eventually lead to the nihilism of Ecclesiastes.

The transfer of the redeemer function to Yahweh. The return of God into history

Popular religion retained a community of the living and the dead, allowing to prophetic spirit the insight that this was also a community with God. Yahweh as redeemer, as suggested by Trito-Isaiah, points to a God of all mankind. Absent concern for the individual soul, this redeemer must return into nondivine history to save the whole people, an expectation that made the people receptive to the Christ.

There were other symbols that made Christ intelligible at the time:

  • the Egyptian pharaohs
  • Hellenistic god-kings
  • the Davidic Messiah
...but only the ingredient found in Trito-Isaiah implies the return of a world-transcendent God which made Christianity a scandal. The prophets realized that the world had become god-forsaken.

(b) The development of philosophy requires the "love" of a personal soul for "wisdom", a soul sufficiently disengaged from particular human groups to experience community with others in common participation with the divine Nous. When spiritual life is mediated by clans the love of God cannot become the ordering center of the soul.

The Mosaic experience of God was more intense that that of the Hellenic philosophers, but it could not become Plato's unseen Measure of the soul. "A Prophet can hear and communicate the word of God, but he is neither a Philosopher nor a Saint."

David's funeral elegy for Saul and Jonathan

An example of the poignancy, a specifically Israelite humanism, developed by a people who have experienced the leap of being but who have no Platonic "practice of dying."

3. Theocracy

The antiroyalist version of Saul's kingship

(2) In this version the people's desire for a king is both a rejection of the wise rule of the judges and a defection from the kingship of Yahweh. The people admit their guilt in wanting such a thing and promise to follow Yahweh's commandments, but again lapse.

The symbol of spiritual control over temporal rulership was an primary element of politics from that time until recent centuries.

Samuel and theocracy

If Israel were to have a king like the other nations, would it still be the chosen people? Israel remained constituted as a people under Yahweh despite considerable backsliding into the Sheol of cosmological civilizations. In Christianity the problem was addressed by differentiation of the spiritual and temporal orders and the idea of universal mankind and a universal God.

The Samuel and Saul story is the paradigmatic elaboration of the tension of a temporal polity within Yahwism.

3. The Rise of David

The entrance of Judah into Israelite history

The addition of Judah to the kingdom had several consequences:
  1. It made Israel stronger in its struggle with the Philistines.
  2. It made possible the conquest of Jerusalem, the neutral capital of the new empire.
  3. The Philistines were weakened by the loss of Judah.
  4. It caused the division from which Judah emerged as the carrier of Yahwist order.

The new social forces

The origins of Judah and its fusion with Israel are obscure. The pressure of continual warfare loosened the old clan organization and new bonds were formed through the military and the court.

The retinue of the war leaders and the rise of professional armies. The king's clan

Jephthah and David, in their outlaw days, drew upon malcontents; Saul was able to select soldiers of more distinction. Each leader showed favoritism to his own clan; favoritism to Judah motivated the secession of Israel after the death of Solomon.

Wars were financed by loot on a pay-as-you-go basis.

The war of the generals. David becomes king

A peace between Saul's son Ishbaal and David was broken by their generals, Abner and Joab. Abner was switching his allegience to David when he was killed by Joab. Abner's men killed Ishbaal and David became sole king.

9. The Mundane Climax

1. The Davidic Empire

The empire and the identity of Israel

The unification of the kingdom was a disaster for Israel (as in the old confederacy) despite the paradigmatic interpretations of later historians. Its situation degenerated until the split from Judah which was followed by two centuries of turmoil and finally destruction by the Assyrians.

The empire founded by David in the conquest of Israel, Judah and the Canaanite towns enjoyed popular support at first, but was always troubled and did not outlast the reign of his son.

The economic limitations

Palestine was too poor to support an expensive empire. Solomon's heavy taxes and use of slave labor made matters worse.

2. The David-Bathsheba Story

The Bible contains rich detail of the reigns of David and Solomon, but no episode to help us extract the experience of order or its symbols.

"The Fable of the Poor Man's Lamb"

The David-Bathsheba story is part of a larger text which was probably written by a contemporary. The Nathan episode is a later interpolation.

The point of the story is nether sentimental love nor treachery. It is relevant because:

  • Solomon's mother was involved in the succession struggle.
  • The author is so vague on certain issues that it was necessary to insert the "Fable".
  • It illustrates the crisis of Yahwist order and how this was sensed by a man of the time.

The disintegration of the war ritual. Israel as a strategic reserve in the imperial army

The contrast between David and Uriah in the observance of the sex taboo reveals a crisis of Yahwist order. The Israel of the holy wars was giving way to the exigencies of empire.

David's character

David's bizarre behavior after the death of Bathsheba's child is explained by his intense charisma; Yahwism pulled down to the level of mundane success.


The Nathan episode dwells on the proper powers of the king and the personal rights of his subjects, elements of the new Yahwist order after the disintegration of the confederacy.

3. David's Kingship

There is an aura of spiritual uncertainty surrounding the evolution of the kingship.

The two unctions. David's berith with Israel

David was anointed king twice: first of Judah (probably enforced militarily), then of Israel. A covenant made before Yahweh was required to legitimize him. This was actually the submission of the clans to the growing empire.

The succession of Solomon

A covenant was not required for the succession of Solomon, which was arranged by intrigue. After his death, Israel's assertion of its right to a new covenant occasioned its revolt and separation.

Yahweh's berith with the House of David

This caused a problem: was Yahweh with Israel or with the Davidic throne? After the destruction of Israel, Judah inherited its history and claimed Yahweh for its own. Retrospectively, it was decided that Yahweh's covenant with Israel necessarily included the Davidic king, who became the mediator of the Yahwist order.

4. David and Jerusalem

The imperial program

The imperial symbolism of David's reign was determined by the need to come to terms with the god of Jerusalem, El Elyon. The melding of Yahweh with El Elyon retained the noncosmological character of the former while adding features usual to the god of a cosmological empire.

The meaning of "David"

"David" was originally some sort of military or divine title, probably adopted at the conquest of Jerusalem. The origins and meaning of the word are complex and uncertain, but it conveyed the meaning of ruler of the empire in all its aspects.

Genesis 14

The story of Abram's aid to the Cannanite kings against the foreign invaders served to legitimize David's rule and establish his claim to Jerusalem.

El Elyon

Traces of the absorption of Canaanite gods are frequently found in the text. El Elyon also has the aspects of Shalem (an old wine-god) and Zedek (righteousness). Zedekah and Shalom (peace or peace through war) are cardinal virtues of the prophets.

The theophorous names

Theophorus: "God-bearer" Most of David's children born at Hebron have names formed from "Yahweh", while those born at Jerusalem are named for "El" or "Shalem".

The priesthoods

David made several of his sons priests. Zadok had his Yahwist brother, Abiathar, banished. His triumph perhaps explains the insertion of his ancestor Melchizedek in the Genesis 14 story.

Psalm 110

A coronation ritual showing the continuity between Melchizedek and the Davidic institutions.

5. The Imperial Psalms. A Digression on the State of the Problem

That the Psalms are the principle source of imperial symbolism is a recent and controversial discovery deserving detailed presentation.

1. The Nature of the Psalms

Their function in the cult

The Psalms derive from hymns, liturgies, prayers, and oracles of the cult of the pre-exilic monarchy. The symbols of the Psalms radiated over both the prophetic literature and the historical narrative. This has required substantial reinterpretation of the Old Testament and raises considerable philosophical problems.

Poetic and religious individualism as causes of misunderstanding

Two important reasons why the nature of the Psalms has remained obscure:
  1. The Romantic notion that the Psalms were written for specific circumstances or according to personal style. Actually, they were written for generic situations and betray no personal style.
  2. The Pietism of Protestant scholars tended toward low esteem for the cult.

2. Form-critical and Cult-functional Methods

H. Gunkel

His postulates for study of the Psalter:
  1. Personal literary achievements, if any, could be distinguished only against a background of generic forms. Gunkel classified the literary types found in the Psalms.
  2. The Psalms were made meaningful by a description of the generic situations for which they were created. Gunkel was less successful here because the cult of the monarchy had not yet been recognized as the setting of the Psalms.

S. Mowinckel

Refinement of Gunkel's second phase. The cult became the genetic principle which assisted in the construction of types.

The New Year enthronement festival.

3. Divine Kingship and Patternism

The theoretical issue

But the cult is not an ultimate object in a critical science of order. What is needed is the theoretical argument that the enthronement festival belongs to a complex of symbols characteristic of a certain type of order found in the Old Testament.

The new year rituals

The meaning of the festival pattern was connected with the role of the King as the mediator of between God and man in cosmological empires.

S.H. Hooke

Main phases of the ritual pattern, from Egyptian and Babylonian sources:
  1. the dramatic representation of the death and ressurection of the god
  2. the recitation or symbolic representation of the myth of creation
  3. the ritual combat, in which the triumph of the god over his enemies was predicted
  4. the sacred marriage
  5. the triumphal procession, in which the king played the part of the god. followed by a train of lesser gods or visiting deities

A.R. Johnson

Phases of the Israelite Feast of Tabernacles:
  1. Yahweh, the leader of the Forces of Light, triumphs over the Forces of Darkness as represented by the Chaos of waters or primeval monsters
  2. Yahweh's enthronement as King over the Floods and Ruler in the Assembley of the Gods
  3. Yahweh's mysterious works in Creation

The literature on kingship

A new genus of literature on divine kingship has emerged recently.

4. The Difficulties of the New Position

The insufficient philosophical foundation

The pursuit of new philosophical foundations has been obstructed by:
  • traditional conceptions of the place of Israel and the Bible in the spiritual history of mankind
  • the notion that "religious phenomena" can be treated in isolation from the order of a society
  • survivals of nineteenth century evolutionism and positivism
  • the makeshift terminology invented by twentieth century scholars
The universal claims of the Psalms make sense only when we understand them as expressing the experience of order in the cosmological myth, rather than as a pragmatic political program.

Indiscriminate use of the word "ideology", a relic of Marx, is particularly unfortunate in this case, because:

  1. it is a word-fetish that blocks the construction of critical concepts, continuing a series of insufficiently analyzed concepts
  2. the language of "patternism" obscures the meaning of order, phenomenalizing the intellegible symbolizations of experiences into dead patterns
Recent emphasis on "ideology" and "cult patterns" tends to neglect Israel's historical form of existence, which was affected but not abolished by the cosmological admixture.

5. The Resistance to Mythologization

The Sinai cult

G. von Rad

The Nathan prophecy

H.-J. Kraus

Literary criticism v. analysis of order

6. Conclusion

A.J. Wensinck on cosmological symbolism

The relation of cosmological and historical form

The institutional vacuum of the covenant order

The completion through the empire

The pressure of historical form on the meaning of the Psalms

6. The Imperial Symbolism

The cosmological symbols

The Nathan prophecy

Egyptian influences

The imperial psalms

Eschatological transformation

Psalms of Solomon 17

The epistle to the Hebrews

10. The End of Israel's Worldly Existence

1. The Divided Kingdoms

The literary outburst

Order beyond mundane existence

The growth of Israel

The trail of symbols

The destiny of Israel

The archaic revolt

2. The Pragmatic Situation

The internal organization of the northern kingdom

The Egyptian intervention

Egyptian aspects of Solomon's reign

Pharaoh's daughter

The temple

The robe of the high priest

The cult reform of Jeroboam

The rise of Assyria

The Omride policy

Jehu's revolt

3. The Book of the Covenant

The interest in the law


The response to crisis of mundane existence

The Sinaitic legislation

Debharim and Mishpatim

The decalogic form

The decalogue and social order

4. The Prophet Elijah

The Malachi texts

The experience of judgement

The vision of Mount Tabor

The day of Yahweh

The stages of eschatology


Moses and Elijah

The Omrides and Elijah

The attack on the Baal

Elijah in the desert

The prophetic succession

Part Four: Moses and the Prophets

11. The Deuteronomic Torah

1. The Prophets and the Order of Israel

Assimilation and nationalism

Universalism and parochialism

The Judaite will to existence

Deuteronomic "theology"

2. The Speeches of Moses

Period of their creation

Suppression, discovery and enactment

3. The Instructions of Yahweh and the Torah of Moses

The myth of Mosaic authorship--of the Word of God

4. The Regulation of Revelation

Motivations in the prophetic revolt

The inclusion of the circumstances in the contents of revelation

The regulation: the king, the priests, the prophets

The dividing line between the histories of Israel and the Jews

5. Deuteronomy and the Beginnings of Judaism

Israelite and Jewish aspects of the Torah

G. von Rad and W. Eichrodt

Flattening of existence and peace of mind

The experience of "today"

Military reform and religious wars

Religion defined

The institutional model of divine order

Imperial pressure, representation, and preservation of order

12. Moses

1. The Nature of the Sources

The permitted questions and answers

Form and historical substance

The form of the Torah

The form of the prophetic legend

The historical substance: Yahwist v. pharaonic order

The form of the paschal legend

2. The Son of God

The summary of leitmotifs

Exod. 4:21-23

Israel: the new Son of God

Service to Yahweh v. service to Egypt

The historical demotion of Egypt

The name of Moses

The people and the leader


Mosheh: "The One Who Draws Out and is Drawn Out"

The Red Sea Miracle

The transfer of the Mosheh symbol to David

Psalm 18

The royal Son of God and the order of mankind

Transition to messianism

The transfer of the Mosheh symbol to Jesus

Heb 13:20

Moses as the prefiguration of the Son of God

The tentative symbol of Moses the god

Yahweh tries to kill Moses

The uncircumcized lips and the mouth of God

3. The God

The Yahweh of Moses

The spiritual biography of Moses in Exod. 2

The revelation from the thornbush

Literary structure of the episode

The interpretation of the I-AM-WHO-I-AM

St. Thomas on the thornbush episode

The hidden and the revealed God

Revelation and historical constitution of the people

Relation of the thornbush episode to the Amon hymns

The date of Moses

4. The New Dispensation

Revelation and human response

The construction of the Exodus drama

The construction of the berith drama

The message from Sinai

The kingdom of priests

The order of mankind with its center in the royal domain

The covenant

The decalogue

The constitution of the theopolity

The suppression of rebellion [break?] Anti-divine and anti-human

The flow of the people through the rhythm of time

13. The Prophets

1. The Prophetic Effort

The continuum of historical form

Recall of the past and call in the present

Derailment into the Torah

Prophetic resistance

Universalism and personalism

Relegation to the past

2. The Unfolding of the Problem

1. The Decalogue

Jeremiah's temple address

The decalogue as the measure of conduct

Prophetic and public authority

The trial of Jeremiah

Comparison with Socrates

The call of Isaiah

2. The Covenant

Law v. the order of the soul

The normative form of existential issues

Jeremiah's attack on the alien gods

Complaints about conduct--Amos, Hosea, Isaiah

The demand of virtues

The prophets' ontology

Isaiah and warfare


Metastatic operations

Metastatic experience and the existential issue

The covenant written in the heart

3. The Message

The critique of the Sinaitic symbolism

The ineffective revelation

The dialectics of divine foreknowledge and human decision

The dual symbolism of the prophets

Ontology and history

Jeremiah's enactment of Israel's fate

The contraction of the chosen people into the chosen man

Jeremiah's call

The prophet as the royal son of God, as the new Moses, as the servant of Yahweh, as the lord of history

The prophet to the nations


The literary form of the prophets

The messianic problem

The last words of David

The image of the ruler

The institutional phase of the messianic problem--Amos, Hosea

The metastatic phase


The kabhod of Yahweh

The call

The political intervention

The Immanuel prophecy

The disciples and the sealing of the message

The Prince of Peace prophecy

The metastatic vision

The existential phase


Jeremiah's spiritual autobiography

Suffering, complaint, revenge

The justice of God

The mystery of iniquity

The dialogue with God

Prophetic existence and participation in God's suffering

3. The Suffering Servant

The problem of Israelite order

The positions of Isaiah and Jeremiah

The movement beyond the order of concrete society

The exodus of Israel from itself


The work as a symbolic drama

Errors of interpretation

The logoi of philosophy and revelation

The time of experience, of the composition, of salvation

Organization of the work

Substance and form of revelation

A new type of prophecy

The prologue in heaven

The leitmotifs: the former things and the new things

The redeemer God

God as the creator of the world, of Israel, of salvation

Theology of history

The fall of Babylon and the experience of redemption

The God of all mankind

The servant and his work of redemption

The ordination of the servant in heaven

The servant in history--as the light to the nations, as the disciple of God

His suffering and work

The representative sufferer for mankind

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Bill McClain (