Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Reflection on Religion

...Wright's account of the rise of monotheism among the Jews represents the most impressive part of his book. The process was extraordinarily complex. As expected, Wright stresses that the evolution of Yahweh responded to tangled political, military, and economic conditions: these included Jewish relations with the Canaanites (Baal-worshipers), innumerable military adventures and misadventures, exile, and the differing political fates of northern and southern Greater Israel. Also, the evolution of monotheism, "like so much else in the history of religion," was gradual. Indeed the process was so protracted that traces of polytheism remain in the Hebrew Bible, e.g., in Exodus, and especially in Psalms ("There is none like you among the gods, O LORD").

The Hebrew Bible also reveals the later transformation of Yahweh from a thunderous, almost corporeal being into a more abstract and transcendent one, the "still small voice." Wright also devotes two chapters to the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, who wrote in the first century CE. Philo offered a syncretic theology that attempted to blend Hebrew tradition and Greek philosophy, faith and reason. Such reconciliation required eschewing a literal reading of scripture and embracing an allegorical one, which Philo did happily. In Philo's theology, the Logos—reason, order, or the Word—is conceived in the mind of God and then uttered into the physical universe. The unfolding of the Logos introduces, among other things, a directionality into history, a theme that looms large for Wright.