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View Diary: Biblical Archaeology (208 comments)

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  •  Hmmm. (4+ / 0-)

    Let me try to answer that more adequately tomorrow when I have more time.

    The short version: the religion of Israel arises in a pocket of the world with fairly uniquely wide socio-ecological spectrum and internal pressures and critiques of religion arising from this diversity across its east-west axis.   At the same time it is juxtaposed north-south between regional superpowers- in Egypt and Mesopotamia- yet separated from them by substantial deserts, which creates a history of cycles of invasion and violent destruction and destruction followed by liberations and brief periods of great prosperity.

    At some point roughly coincident with the times in which the religion was first written down there is a surprising and externally not fully explicable collective decision made: to make the religion and its aims the national project.  And to pay the price for its heroic nature, whatever that price may be- in land, in power, in numbers, in a perpetuity of wars and oppressions.  This was not a commitment made lightly and took many generations to be accepted.  

    When it was accepted it became the national identity.  Individual Jews could disagree with the theology all they wanted so long as they lived in a fashion compatible with carrying on the project- keeping the teachings and memories and sense of obligation to the project, its aims and manifestations, alive, and having children to carry these on.  I don't think any other significantly large ethnic group has ever made a similar decision.

    The success of Christianity is actually simpler to explain.  It took all the elements of Judaism and pared them down.  It kept parts of the mystic core in the particular form of Jesus of Nazareth and the examples he set.  What it did uniquely was created by Paul of Tarsus, which was to interpret the teaching as license to create an institution willing to take up and comfort most of the people who felt unwanted and unvalued, indeed despised, in Gentile societies.  The tradition emphasizes how Christianity gave slaves, widows, orphans, the poor, criminals, prostitutes, and other undesirables a social place.  

    But the first major critic, Celsus, is remembered for pointing out that Christianity became intellectually peculiar very early on, to the point of rejecting rationality and intellectuals outright.  Which suggests what we can clearly read out of documentation of the medieval Church and can see in the contemporary one, which is that just about from the start it drew in certain varieties of mentally peculiar and aberrant and declining people.  It gave the mildly mentally ill a place to go and respect if they kept their behavior within certain lines.  And that is unique in the Ancient World, where insanity even if mild and harmless was judged harshly and given little compassion or respect where identified.  Cruel ridicule, extreme fear, and violent abuse were common responses.  The Church changed this substantially by insisting on the dignity of the mentally aberrant.  But in so doing it had to choose between incompatible groups of outsiders.  When it was forced to choose between gay people and people with OCD who obsessed about sexual behaviors of gay people, the OCD crowd apparently won out.

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