Summary – Part 1, Ch. 1-3
Posted On June 10, 2010
02/27/10 – Joanne Tetlow Voegelin – Order and History, Volume One: Israel and Revelation Part I – chaps. 1-3 – Mesopotamia, Achaemenian Empire, and Egypt Summary Voegelin begins his study of Israel and Revelation with an introductory chapter about his philosophy of symbolization of order. There is a dialectical interplay between “order” and “history” in that, according to Voegelin, “the order of history emerges from the history of order.” Circular reasoning is not an issue in this apparently tautological statement, because the “order” in history emerges from man’s participation in the divine transcendent being. Knowledge of God, man, world, and society is only available through the perspective of participation, because “participation is existence itself.” Man cannot attain knowledge of the “whole,” but only partial understanding of the mystery of being; thus, it is impossible to stand objectively outside of our own experience of existence and look at history or philosophy as objects for examination. From this “participatory” understanding, Voegelin elaborates the process of symbolization man uses to express experiences of the unknown. Before Israel came into existence, the cosmological societies of the Ancient Near East, i.e., Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Persia, or “microcosmos,” were predominated by “myth.” Importantly, these cosmological societies of the Ancient Near East were representative of mankind. In cosmological symbolization, the experience of participation in order is mythical. As pre-philosophical—before the Greek discovery of reason—Mesopotamia, Persia, and Egypt existed under a cosmic-divine order symbolized politically as “empire.” Empire and cosmos were interchangeable; theology and politics were fused, because the gods were the world itself. The many Mesopotamian city-states symbolized political polytheism. Various symbols were rationalized into “political summodeism,” where local gods subordinated themselves to the one highest empire god. Other symbols of the analogical relation between the divine and man were the zodiac, the number twelve, the sun, and the New Year’s Festival. A pluralism of symbols appeared as society resembled the celestial, cosmic sphere. Each symbol was a partial representation of the same truth of the divine being. Persia’s Zoroastrianism modified the strict correlation between cosmological and societal experience by introducing a dualism that operated at the immanent level of a divine king eradicating evil. The later experience of Egypt in its Pharaonic symbolism of “one- God, one-King” moved from compactness toward differentiation in preparation for the existence of Israel. Egypt achieved “consubstantiality,” or the experience of a community of being with its origin in “divine” substance. Still hierarchical, the divine flowed into the mundane, human existence. While polytheism is not broken within the mythical existence of Egypt, Voegelin observes a movement toward differentiation, because there is one divine substance that co-exists within the community of being. God is seen as “one” and “spiritual.” Divine kingship, a rarity, did not result in a leap of being, but did allow a manifestation of god in human form, rather than god being in human form. Memphite theology of the Pharaonic order—One God, One World, One Egypt—leans toward monotheism in the theogonic speculation that other gods originate through creation by the one truly highest god, and that Egyptian society is attuned to being by ordering itself under the king as the emanation of the god. Consubstantiality meant that the creation of world as a divine idea was of the same substance as the creation of Egypt as the royal idea. Nevertheless, man does not break out of the compact world, because there is no experience of transcendence. The subject can participate in the divine substance only by obedience to Pharaoh. The stage is set for the breakdown of cosmological order and the understanding that the mythical symbols are inadequate representations of the divine being.