English 233: Introduction to Western Humanities -- Baroque & Enlightenment
Study Guide on ancient Jewish history
Our reading on this topic is Matthews and Platt, The Western Humanities (3rd Edition), pp. 133-8, together with the last two paragraphs on p. 140. Our purpose in taking this up is to acquaint ourselves with certain theological concepts developed by the ancient Jews that play an important role in Saint Augustine's picture of universal history (though often with a changed interpretation and/or an extended application. This section also introduces you to several episodes in Jewish history that played an important role in Augustine's picture of universal history. You might want to print off a copy of this Study Guide and use it to take notes on as you work through the reading. You will achieve a better understanding if you try to put things in your own words. Your notes will also serve as a convenient source for review as examination time approaches.
Theological concepts developed by the ancient Jews that are integral to Augustine's picture of unviersal history
What is a "covenant"?
The Ten Commandments
When did Hebrew oral traditions about the people's history turn into Scripture?
What is a "prophet," and what was the role of prophets in Jewish history?
What is "eschatology"?
What is "apocalypse"?
What is a "Messiah," and what was the historical situation of the Jews when this idea entered their thinking?
What ideas did the Hebrew Bible, as it eventually developed, lead various thinkers within the ancient Jewish tradition to develop about
- Later you will want to ask yourself how this compares with the Christian view(s) on this question.
- Again: how is this like, and unlike, what the Christian picture turns out to be?
Episodes in Jewish history that play an important role in Augustine's picture of universal history
Who was Abraham?
Who led the Deliverance from the Egyptian Captivity? What else did he do?
What was the Ark of the Covenant? What do the letters YHWH denote?
What was the Promised Land?
What did the Israelites do between the time they left Egypt and the time they took possession of the Promised Land?
What figures were important (when?) in the Kingdom of Israel?
When did the kingdom divide into the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom?
What disaster befell the Northern Kingdom (and when)?
Something to speculate upon: Do we have today the writings that record the history of the Jewish people as it was understood and taught by the priests of the Northern Kingdom? Might it make a difference if we did?
Something else to speculate upon: How do you imagine the Southern Kingdom explained the fate of its northern rival to itself?
What was the "Babylonian Captivity"? (How and when did it begin and come to an end? What happened during it?)
Matthews and Platt point to some changes that entered into Jewish society and theology in the wake of this episode. Get clear on what these are:
- Something to think out: What impact did the Babylonian Captivity have on the position of women in Jewish society? At the end of their discussion of ancient Judaism Matthews and Platt append a summary of developments in Jewish thinking an practice concerning women. Which of these changing ideas has the most impact on Augustine's picture of universal history?
- Here's something M & P do not discuss that you should think out: What kind of problems did the Babylonian Captivity pose for the ancient Jewish theologians, and what sort of interpretation of that historical episode did they adopt as a way of dealing with that problem? Consider that as a temple priest in Jerusalem you hold the following two postulates: (1) the God we worship is not just the god among the many that exist that we have decided to worship, but the God who created and presides over the entire cosmos; and (2) this God has, in the course of history, declared to us that, among all the peoples of the world, we are his favorites. But history has now confronted you with a calamity. Your armies have been decisively defeated by a powerful foreign foe, and you now find yourself forceably transported to the eastern fringes of the Babylonian Empire. The victor, however, is generous, and in fact wants to assimilate you into his society. He offers you a post in the Babylonian administration, which of course will require you to take part in periodic religious ceremonies that are a part of the political life of the community. Some of your friends advise you to accept the offer. They argue thus: "Either the Author of the Universe favors the Babylonians, not us. Or the god we took to be the author of the creator of the whole world is only one god among many, and the gods whom the Babylonians worship have proved themselves stronger than Jahweh. We have always maintained that ours was a religion based on history; we should honestly face up to what has happened and accept the verdict of history. We should integrate ourselves into Babylon, become good citizens, and be grateful that these people aren't prejudiced against people who used to oppose them." In other words, the defeat of Judea says you have to give up either postulate (1) above, or postulate (2), or both: you can't simulaneously maintain both. How can you possibly maintain your religion in the face of such obvious facts?
The Jewish community during the Hellenistic Period
The Jewish community during the Roman Period
Something you might try your hand at (not required): Suppose you were to organize the history of the Jews under the idea of the role and fate of temples as a focal point for communal identity. What would belong under the following cateories?
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This page last updated 24 August 1999.