Thursday, 31 August 2017

Yes, I am Crazy, and That's Okay

I recently shared with a colleague an idea that's been germinating in my head. He informed me that if I carried through the idea it would drive me insane. I pointed out that this was of course nonsense, as I'm already quite loco and have been since at least the mid-90s. But seriously. The idea is to do for ancient Israel and Judaism what Neil Ormerod has recently done for Christian history. Ormerod takes Lonergan's understanding of dialectic and a normative scale of values and uses it to sketch the dialectic development of Christianity. What emerges is not a detailed history, but rather an attempt at a "bird's eye" view of how social, cultural, and personal values have unfolded through the first two millennia of Christian history. Insofar as Ormerod starts in the first century, that is where I'd like to leave off. (I am of course quite aware that Jewish history continues well beyond that period, up to the present and presumably into the future, and the question of how to trace out Judaism and Christianity as parallel developments out of ancient Israelite and Jewish religion is an urgent one. It is however not my question, and not one for which I feel that I have or could reasonably develop the necessary expertise. I would of course be thrilled if my work aided those who do have that expertise and interest).

I'll give an example of the sort of narratives such a history might provide. If you look at Judges, there is a basic pattern. Israel follows after gods who are not YHWH, and consequently a new power oppresses them. Then God raises up a judge, and Israel throws off the oppressor's yoke. Now, certainly one should be very wary of treating this book as an exact account of what happened in Iron Age I Israel. But I would suggest that for the historian there is significant usable data in this basic schema. In Lonergan's understanding, as developed by Robert Doran, cultural values serve to both warrant and where necessary correct social values. Now, best we can tell, Israel at this time was a loose confederation of tribal groups that found its unity in common allegiance to the cult of YHWH. In Lonerganian terms, the confederation falls within the realm of social values, while the cult is that which warrants it. As such, when there is a tendency towards infidelity towards the cult of YHWH, there is a tendency for the confederation system to break down. Thus does Israel become less able to cope with would-be oppressors. The correction to such a situation lies with personal values, with the emergence of persons who have appropriated the necessary cultural values in such a way that they can correct their dysfunction and in turn that of the social values. These are schematized in Judges as exactly that: the judges. Deborah perhaps is the exemplar here, invoking the cult of YHWH to call Barak and in turn responsive tribes to action against Hazor. A breakdown in cultural values allowed a breakdown in social values, while a corrective force originated in personal values corrected for cultural and through them social ones. A fuller analysis would likely suggest that the original breakdown in cultural values was the consequence of, or at least correlated with, a breakdown in personal values, but this is a blog so we'll leave it there. The point is to begin thinking about the dynamic interaction of society, culture, and person, across the duration of Israelite and early Jewish history.

No comments:

Post a Comment