Thursday, October 15, 2009

O) The Fifth Centuray B.C.E.

We should see all these breathtaking events, namely:

*the destruction of the First Temple by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian captivity;

*the fall of Babylonia;

*the liberation of the Jews as well as of other dispersed peoples;

*Cyrus' edict, including his order to support the building of the House of the Lord in Jerusalem;

*the building of the House in spite of all the hostilities of neighboring peoples;

*the compilation of the Tanakh and, along with it, the development of the so-called square (Assyrian)script in which its scrolls are still written;

before the background of the historic events of the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.E. which are widely seen as a turning point in human history. As mentioned, the areas from the Near to the Far East suffered from terrifying cruelties and atrocities for which foremost the Assyrians and the Babylonians were notorious. The Kingdoms of Israel and of Judah with its Temple fell prey to these empires. Even worse conditions prevailed in India and China whose social and religious systems had become so corrupt and vile that escapist philosophies and religions like Jainism, Taoism, and early Buddhism (still preserved in Hinayana), could come forth and gain ground. It is very revealing to remember in this context that the latter is set upon the recognition of suffering as the basic one of the Four Noble Truths its founder proclaimed. All these teachings, sublime as they appear, saw no other way out than the individual's salvation by withdrawal from the respective societies and their gods, the latter ones having been employed to support corrupt regimes. This may even be the main reason why these three teachings refer neither to God nor to gods. On the other hand, the Greeks in the West who had brought forth a Solon in their polis society, began to develop science and philosophy, part of which turned quite soon cynical and ironical, under the laughter of their gods. When Greek and Roman paganism had come to the end of its wits around the 1st Century C.E., it was open to listen to Paul's teachings, and absorb modified and convenient parts thereof into its system.

Yet, the Tanakh still provides a message of hope for the individuals as well as for the nations ( עמים) notwithstanding the fact that many Jews confronted by continuous hostilities, despaired, as mentioned.

It should be pointed out here that he Hebrew word 'am (plural: עמים , ‘amim), rendered as nations, describes those peoples who join to form a nation governed by the Lord of Hosts, i.e. those who are with' עם) eem) him and through him with one another. Thus, the Hebrew language, and in its wake the Hebrew teaching, point out the importance of togetherness in matters of salvation, too. Hebrew thinking is not geared to an individual's salvation by withdrawal from society and its ills; it strives for "tikkun ha'olam", the restoration of the world to its Divine order.

Interestingly enough, this hope of the Prophets is strongly expressed exactly in those chapters of the Book of Isaiah which are often referred to as Deutero- and Trito-Isaiah, and which commence with the reference to Cyrus as the Lord's Shepherd and Anointed.

Indeed, we can pin down this turning point in history of the sixth and fifth century BCE to King Cyrus.

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