The Great Transformation: Chap 03 - Kenosis
I'm learning so many interesting but useless words: kenosis. This chapter covers the years 800 BCE - 700 BCE.
The Israelites are about to be visited by some prophets. The Jews are experiencing a period of economic growth, but the gap between the rich and poor is growing unbearable. The more things change the more they stay the same, I suppose. The prophets come and really start to push for a moral dimension to religion. The Israelites are now being pushed towards kenosis (emptying). They need to transcend their own self interests and rule with justice and equity. There is a movement from a mere reliance on rituals to the belief that you must also do good or the ritual is worthless.
This chapter also gives a nice overview of "J" and "E"'s contributions to the Bible. If you aren't aware of this theory, basically the idea is that there are at least 4 different "voices" or schools of writing in the OT. These are differentiated on the basis of writing style and subjects emphasized. Two of these are discussed here: J refers to the author(s) who refer to god as Yahweh (Jehovah), and E refers to authors who call god by the name El. J is writing from the perspective of the southern kingdom, Judah, where Abraham is revered and King David is one of the greatest heroes. J's god is strongly anthropomorphic and much of his contribution is to show that the world is a really harsh place, hence all the awful stories in the OT. E was bigger on Moses. E's god is more transcendent. Understanding that these two voices (among others) were mashed together helps explain the contradictory stories and redundancy we find in the OT. The editing together is believed to have occurred as a way to help unite the two kingdoms.
An interesting interpretation of Abraham's near sacrifice of his son Isaac. In many religions of the region a son would be given to the gods in sacrifice as a way to help replenish the gods energy. This story more than being a test of faith is also showing that Yahweh doesn't need to be replenished.
While the Greeks explored different political ideas their religion sort of stagnated. Their concept of the afterlife was that of a shadowy existence. Not heaven or hell, just not on earth anymore. The only real idea of immortality was that of becoming a hero who's deeds were recorded for posterity. While the Greeks didn't seem to be approaching kenosis they did have a sense that immortality thru celebration of your deeds wasn't anything great compared to actually being alive still.
For the Chinese their rituals continued to become more elaborate but there was an increasing sense that just performing the rituals was useless without understanding the symbolism being employed.
Among the Indians the tradition of "renouncers" was developing. A renouncer would beg for food and spend all their time living in the woods and meditating. The external rites were being turned into an inward exploration. The fasting, celibacy and other pre-ritual activities were slowly becoming the ritual itself. These renouncers were viewed as spiritual heroes.