Introduction · 5
ethical prophets
So, how did coercion of the gods come to be set aside? We can discover
an example in the establishment of Judaism. The Old Testament narrates
the history of the Israeli people, from the covenant “between God and the
people,” to the exodus led by Moses from Egypt, to the development of
the state by David and Solomon after settling in Canaan. However, the
codification of the Old Testament was initiated in the Babylonian exile,
and the history written there is largely a restructuring, or creation from
whole cloth, of events from the perspective of that time. That is to say,
Judaism as a universal religion was established among the exiles in Bab-
ylon, themselves taken from the fallen kingdom of Judah, and projected
backward to its origins.
The Jewish people started as a nomadic tribal confederacy. They gath-
ered under the single god Yahweh, and made covenant with this god.
However, this is no anomaly. We see the same process among the cities of
Mesopotamia and the Greek poleis. When a number of villages or tribes
join to form a single city- state, this takes the expression of conjointly
following a new deity. This is a type of social contract. We have, then, no
reason to regard the covenant of the Jewish people as exceptional.
The Jewish tribal confederacy formed in response to the presence of
powerful nations (Egypt and Assyria) all around them. In other words, the
confederacy was formed as a means of resisting external polities. How-
ever, once the Jewish people settled in the land of Canaan and started to
engage in agriculture, they experienced a fundamental change in lifestyle
from their nomadic origins. What was heretofore a tribal federation was
eventually transformed under the reign of David and Solomon into an
“oriental despotism” similar to the order of Egypt. That the people would
switch their allegiance from the Yahweh of the nomadic peoples to the
agricultural god Ba’al could be said to be the natural course of events.
In the age of Solomon, God was rendered transcendental, reflecting
the expansion of the royal authority. However, this was still little more
than an extension of the tribal deity. Transcendental though this God may
be, were the people to be vanquished in battle, he would be discarded.
This signifies a relation where the people, while placing themselves in
a position of obedience, still feel entitled to coerce reciprocity from God
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