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Re: Ch. 7 - From Monolatry to Monotheism
This is a clear and cogent chapter that nearly completes the arc of polytheism to monotheism. "Nearly," because Wright tells us that although we seem to be able to chart the appearance of the monotheistic impulse, true monotheistic religion has a slow dawn, like every other historic shift.
I'd like to use Wright's first page as a preface. The chapter then fills out the details of this summary of how disaster for the Israelites made Yahweh not only stronger but the only god in existence. The twists and turns of history are fascinating. It can occur that a crushing setback for a movement leads to a stronger revival of it, which happened for the Jews after the Babylonian exile. The result reverberated down through two and a half millennia.
“King Josiah of Judah may have been the most perversely successful man in the history of the world.
On the one hand, it’s hard to argue with this verdict from the scholar Marvin Sweeney: ‘Josiah’s reform was an absolute failure.’ Josiah had wanted to unify southern and northern Israel, to restore the storied greatness of the Davidic empire and do it in the name of Yahweh, covering Israel’s god in greater glory. But things went awry. Josiah was killed by the Egyptians. The circumstances of his death are hazy, but it ushered in two decades of abject Israelite submission—first to Egypt and then to Babylon—followed by catastrophe. When King Zedekiah of Judah rebelled against the Babylonians, they captured him, killed his sons before his eyes, then burned Yahweh’s temple to the ground. And they completed a process they’d started years earlier, the transfer of Israel’s upper classes to Babylon. Now, as of 586 BCE, the Babylonian exile—the most famous trauma in the story of ancient Israel—was in full swing. No doubt the Babylonians, following theological conventions of the day, took all this to signify Yahweh’s humiliation at the hands of their national god, Marduk. When, decades earlier, Josiah set out to exalt Yahweh, this is not the outcome he had in mind.
And yet, this would turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to Yahweh. Josiah’s theology—worship Yahweh and Yahweh alone—would not only survive and prevail, but prevail in grander, intensified form. Jews—and then Christians and then Muslims—would come to believe that the Abrahamic god was not just the only god worth worshipping, but the only god in existence; monolotry would evolve into monotheism. As the theologian Ralph W. Klein has observed, ‘Israel’s exilic theologians made the most of their disaster.’” (pp. 165-166)
The Chinese philosopher is one who dreams with one eye open, who views life with love and sweet irony, who mixes his cynicism with a kindly tolerance, and who alternately wakes up from life's dream and then nods again, feeling more alive when he is dreaming than when he is awake.
Lin Yutang (1895-1976), The Importance of Living
Last edited by DWill on Sun Sep 19, 2010 2:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.