Part III – Chap. 7 – From Clan Society to Kingship

Summary by Joanne Tetlow

Ambiguity exists in the symbols of Israelite history. According to Voegelin, the compactness of the cosmological myth holding together Israel’s community prevented a “leap in being” prompted by the Yahwist prophetic experience. Particularist beliefs as a Chosen People always thwarted the universal impulse inspired by the Prophets. The tension between the particular and universal is part of Israelite history as a symbol of revelation.

The trail of symbols begins with Yahweh’s covenant with Abram in Genesis 15 preceded by the battle between Mesopotamian and Canaanite kings in which Abram rescues his nephew Lot from Sodom. The blessing of Abram by Melchizedek, the priest analogized to Christ in the book of Hebrews, is interpreted by Voegelin as a priest-king, or El Elyon, representing Baal. By later rejecting the loot offered by the King of Sodom, Abram shows his belief in Yahweh. Politically, Abram is subject to the political compacts of the Canaanite system; however, this changed by God’s covenant with Abram. Referring to the covenant, Voegelin states that, “The symbol of bondage has become the symbol of freedom.”  A “leap in being” occurs within Abram; he is now called Abraham. The Abrahamic covenant stands in contrast to the cosmological compactness of Canaanite civilization. Covenant, not kingdom, predominates the biblical narrative as the former is permanent while the latter is temporary vanishing during the 8th century B.C. when kingdom is destroyed by the Assyrians.

In further tracing Israel’s development prior to the Davidic kingdom, Voegelin identifies three events whose symbols represented a movement away from compactness toward differentiation: (1) the Deborah Song; (2) Gideon as a form of kingship; and (3) the Samuel-Saul relation.

After the conquests of Joshua, pockets of the promised land remained unconquered. This fact and the constant threat of foreign enemies put the Israelite confederacy under serious pressure. Since the Israelite Confederacy was not a political organization with a military, Yahweh did not have the resources to fight holy wars.  Deborah’s Song in Judges is a symbol of Yahweh’s power to deliver the Jews from Canaanite attack, and shows a break with the cosmological myth. Yahweh revealed himself as the source of true order, since there was no human mediator to “transform the cosmic into social order.” Yahweh fought holy wars in defense of his people against aggressors, not against other gods. Voegelin notes that Israel’s history follows a double course: God comes to the aid of his people waiting in passivity for his intervention, while Israel at certain times also engages as a politically organized people acting under the guidance of God. Throughout Israelite history, the people do not trust until after Yahweh has gained victory. The cycle of disobedience, idolatry, and bondage requiring Yahweh’s divine rescue from pagan domination is ongoing. Unfortunately, success in Canaan meant syncretism with foreign gods. By 1100 B.C., Israelites and Canaanites had formed a people in the same country. As a result, polygamy was adopted and became prevalent.

Following Deborah, Gideon served as a bridge figure who acted as the political form of a king setting the stage for national monarchy under Saul. The clan society was moving towards kingship. Voegelin notes especially Gideon’s institution of a “temple” as a new symbol of political order. It served as a cult center for the kingdom and the people. The problem, though, was that God became politicized. But, Yahweh was no Baal. According to Voegelin, “it was the Yahweh of Israel who, as a political god, put the first imperial stamp on Syriac civilization.” Yet, the theopolity created during the Israeli kings to keep the nation alive changed under the prophets, who became the representatives of true spiritual order. Under the Prophets, Yahweh was represented as the universal, nonpolitical, god who could create order in the soul moving the focus away from monarchy back to covenant.

Voegelin outlines two views of the rise of Saul, Israel’s first king: (1) royalist; and (2) antiroyalist. The royalist position holds that Yahweh instituted Saul’s monarchy, not the people or Saul himself. Yahweh anointed Saul, not Samuel, the priest. Yet, the prophets referred to were part of orgiastic cults revealing the influence of Baalic ecstatism into Yahwism—more evidence of Israelite syncretism. Later prophets opposed the monarchy and its support for a democratic spiritual experience, which adulterated a pure relation with God. Saul’s direct violation of his own ordinance not to consult other spirits by calling upon the witch of Endor to give him guidance on the eve of the battle of Gilboa represents a disordered soul. Unlike the Greek belief in various spirits working in the afterlife, Israel believed in a transcendent God who had imposed death. For the Greeks, immortality could perfect mortality, but for the Jews, only in life could the soul be ordered and perfected.

Thus, the state of the soul and salvation remained ambiguous for Israel. Voegelin analyzes two symbols representing the difference between the Hellenic and Israelite civilizations: (1) historical realism; and (2) development of philosophy. Despite Israel’s syncretism, it was predisposed against other cosmic spirits. That is why it developed the symbolic form of the History of the Patriarchs—real people as important figures who functioned in a similar manner as the cosmic spirits of Hellas. In fact, Isaiah writes that no man can help Israel, except Yahweh himself who will return into history and redeem his people. As the prophets spoke, the divide between God and man, and the secular nature of the world and suffering of life could only be resolved by the return of God into history. There were no cosmic-divine spirits to help.

Israel gained historical realism, but not philosophy. Voegelin attributes this to Israel’s compact experience of the soul through clans and tribes, not as individuals. The spirit of God is present in Israel’s community, “but it is not present as the ordering force in the soul of every man, as the Nous of the mystic-philosophers or the Logos of Christ is present in every member of the Mystical Body, creating by its presence the homonoia, the likemindedness of the community.” (240)  The spiritual relation of the individual soul to God self-interpreted is philosophy, and this was not possible for the Hebrews and the intramundane compactness of the tribe. Still, even though there was not philosophy, an Israelite humanism developed from the reality of a people formed under the existence of God providing a sensitivity and awareness to the importance of individuals in humanity.

Under the royalist version of Saul’s monarchy, theopolity is supported despite all of Israel’s problems with it, including the kings. Apparently, theopolity does not guarantee obedience to the covenant.

The second antiroyalist view of Saul’s monarchy is interpreted as the people’s rejection of Yahweh and his rule over them as a king in a theopolity. It was the people, not Yahweh, who instituted kingship. Voegelin notes the paradigmatic symbol of Samuel and Saul, or the spiritual and temporal control over politics. Samuel warns the people of changing from judges to a king, one that replaces the divine King. Obedient to God’s command, Samuel as priest anoints Saul as king. Now that Israel has a king apparently blessed by God, is theopolity undermined by a royal institution? Does the antiroyalist position resolve the theocratic problem? Is a temporal polity (national monarchy) indirectly under Yahweh an advance toward differentiation and spiritual order? Is politics spiritual or temporal, or both? Israel’s pragmatic history reveals that monarchy did not last. Voegelin points to the individual experience of the transcendent God as a differentiating event. No institution, church or state, mediates this experience of the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants. If that is the case, a direct relation to Yahweh is the objective. Thus, Israel’s monarchy, while politically necessary, was not paradigmatic.  It is the covenant that is eternal and universal as spoken by the Prophets, and as revealed in Scripture. God is the direct ruler and king in a theopolity over Israel; the differentiation, or leap in being, occurs when God becomes the universal, nonpolitical God to the individual soul.

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