Religious Knowledge, Lecture 9


Michelangelo, Isaiah

Lecture 9.  December 2, 1947

The king is regarded as the archetypal man in whom all the people who follow him find their own being.  This is based on the idea that man is part of a larger human being.  To see society as a larger self we must move from atomic individualism to some kind of abstract idea.  Man sees in society only himself and others like him, but knows there is more than must a mere aggregate of individuals.

“Body” and “being” are vague terms.  The essential thing is that society is seen as a human form, larger than the person. That’s what man expresses in the king—the larger body of society.  He picks out a concrete symbol to express that idea.  The king is an individual and. at the same time, the larger human being.  Cannibals express literally that they are members of a single human body.  There is a certain distrust of the king in the story of Saul; he is seen as something of an idol.

The Israelites saw in Egyptian culture the idolizing of the king.  Thus, deliverance from Egypt meant deliverance from the divine man, Pharaoh.  When the Israelites pick a king, it develops from the genuineness of kingship.  Instead of a physical idol, they saw the spiritual reality that the king symbolizes and that all subjects are united in a common human body.  David rejoices, repents of his sins, etc., because he is the King.  The individual worshipper says that David is myself, my larger human body in which I find myself.  David is the typical man; therefore, each worshipper goes through his emotions when he says his Psalms.

The idea of kingship carried with it one important factor: the King in the Old Testament is not divine. And yet, there is danger in an idol and a danger in making the spiritual abstract. The danger of idolatry must be faced.  The concrete symbol must be the king representing the larger human body; the concrete stands for the symbol and has to be the flesh incarnate.

The king is society incarnate in a man.  He is Israel incarnate because Israel is the larger human body of society.  The Bible doesn’t use abstract ideas.  It doesn’t use the term “society,” but Israel, or Jacob.  The king, therefore, is the Son of Israel, the incarnate form of Israel, the Son of Man.  Accepting the divine king in spiritual form is the consolidation of the symbol.  We see that the most primitive is often the form of the most highly developed.  The most crude form of the cannibal feast is the real form of the highest development at the other end.


Three ideas emerge, that of the King, Prophet and Priest.  In the pre-prophetic religion the Israelites took on the characteristics of other religions, namely the farming religion.  The common ancestral tradition was the nomad tribe with its own tribal God, Jehovah.  The prophets want to get rid of the agricultural accretions and go back to the pure religion of one God, the only God.  They idealize the nomadic stage of Israelite life, the patriarchal life, the pastoral life, the wandering free life, as opposed to that of the farmer.  Abel becomes the prototype of the original god, while Cain moves on to found cities.

The idealization of the pastoral life is one of the reign of peace.  But Abel was murdered.  Therefore, we must return to the shepherd’s life––the Lord is my Shepherd.  Farming is a curse—Adam had to till the ground.  The pastoral life is the only one of peace.  But man has gone on to the city stage.  If he gets back to the pastoral life, the experience he has gone through will still remain.  He will live in a city state, possess the tools of civilization, and not let them possess him.  This harks back to the old myth of the Golden Age.

It is important to remember that the prophets do not speak with their own words.  They speak with the voice of the current God.  The prophets become mediums.  This is most fully dealt with in Saul, which describes the whirling dervish stage.  Those qualities are not confined to the Israelites; Greek oracles spoke with the voice of the god.  The theory is that God has taken hold of the medium.

The prophets are oracles.  The oracle form is still there in the older prophets and this is particularly true of Isaiah.  It is easy to trace the Hebrew religion to the days when the king had prophets around him as oracles, such as at Ahab’s court.  But the oracle is no longer a man in a trance.  The Lord has taken possession of the whole man, his intelligence and his consciousness. Before Amos and Hosea, the prophet was a kind of magician.  Ezekiel is taken as the typical prophet in the Old Testament.  This is part of a pre-literary stage.  We are told stories about them; these early prophets are imbedded in history and religion.

Amos and Hosea are collected sayings of the king that make up the bedrock of Hebrew literature.  “Thus saith the Lord”––the meaning may be conscious or the prophet may be unconscious of a great deal of the meaning.  The prophet is like the artist: what he communicates is reserves of meaning of which he is completely unconscious.  It is impossible for the prophets to know fully the meaning of what they are saying.  The life of Jesus tells us what the prophets meant.

God takes possession of the prophet’s creative power. The prophet does not abandon his mind; he is in the fullest possession of his powers when inspired by God.  In the same way, the artist conceives of his work as something requiring all his faculties.  Yet he is not the source of his own energy.  The growth take place and yet it is in you.  The prophet wants his mind to be clear.  God doesn’t want to drink out of a dirty glass.  Milton thinks of himself as a spiritual athlete.  The Nazarites abstain because they have a job to do.

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