Religious Knowledge, Lecture 11


The Wailing Wall, Jerusalem

[Ed’s Note: Sorry that we’ve lagged behind in continuing to post the Religious Knowledge lectures.  Having my computer crash a couple of weeks ago without being sure what I’d lost and what I hadn’t double footed me for a bit.  We are now back on track.  M.H.]

Lecture 11. December 16, 1947

After the Babylonian Captivity, prophecy is modulated to the themes of the invisible king, since the Jews could no longer have a visible symbol for a spiritual reality.  The ideal king may be eternal or an ideal to be re-established in the future. Two directions appear here.  The distinction is already present in the exilic prophets and is finally expressed in the conflict of Judaism, which stopped at the exilic age, and Christianity.

With the destruction of Jerusalem, Judaism had to become a permanent exile, completing the idea of the coming Messiah as established in the Captivity.  They rebuilt Jerusalem and staggered on, accepting the future Messiah bound up in time.  The second exile under the Romans completed the pattern of the coming Messiah.

The breakaway started as early as Jeremiah, the first of the exilic prophets, and is carried on in the prophets.  There is ambiguity in Isaiah II and in Ezekiel: they are read by both Christian and Jew.  The prophets speak of a deliverer who is to vanish and return, which could be interpreted as an eternally present fact or one in time.  The Jew and Christian both see it in the future, but it is the difference between resurrection and revival.  The Jews speak of a rebuilt Jerusalem, which the prophets did speak about, and perhaps that is all they thought they were talking about.  However, the conception of hope and confidence is connected with something that is symbolized in the future.

The pattern of exilic prophecy emphasizes that the city and the king have disappeared and must come again, symbolized by the future.  It is important to remember that the Hebrew language has no future tense.  It can differentiate between a complete and a progressive action, but not between the past, present and future. It is an admirable language for expressing a God in an eternally present existence; everything is complete in God’s mind at once,


From the exile on, we can separate two strands of thought.  We see this same split in Buddhism.  The Great Way: the Saviour of all time (China, Tibet, Japan), and the Lesser Way: the Messiah yet to come (Burma, Ceylon, Siam).

The Judaistic idea is one of a temporal deliverer, and this is still in the modern world, bound up with the future, anchored in time.  Hope in the future deliverer is a fascist belief in the divinely inspired leader.

The enrichment of the symbolism of the King brings out the latent qualities of the divine‑king superstition.  The symbolism includes suffering as an inevitable part of the king’s duty.  Their own last king was blinded and led into captivity.  The King must suffer even as the people suffer: this is a new feeling, that humiliation belongs to glory and kingship.  The idea that the king must die and revive comes out of the feeling that the Israelite kingdom has been sent into exile and will return to the rebuilt Jerusalem.

In speaking of the Messiah, the prophets enrich the meaning from the pre-exilic Prince of Peace to the Suffering King.  The heroic suffering of the Messiah is described in Isaiah 53: 6.

The King must exist on two levels.  He is the King of light and splendor who descends into the valley of the shadow of death and of lost directions.  Then he rises into his former state.  He must descend into the fallen world of nature in order to re-emerge as King again.  He is King of majesty, light, jewels, crowned with the Lord’s anointed, but he must also descend into the order of nature and follow its pattern of death and rebirth.

The Messiah is the visible embodiment of Israel.  He is the spiritual Israel, the larger human being in whom all the people find their existence.  When historians of the Bible go to work on the traditional legends, they see the drama of the descent and resurrection of Israel.

There are two leaders of the Exodus, Moses and Joshua.  One dies, the other carries on.  God commanded all Israel to leave Egypt, and the people die in the desert, but a new generation carries on.

All the prophets are concerned with the focus on one God, but not someone different from Jehovah.  The Messiah must be, in some strange way, Jehovah.  The prophets see the early history of Israel and thus mirror that pastoral state.  They see the traditional God when they were a wandering tribe when they worshipped only Jehovah.  They idealize that nomadic existence and the life of the patriarch and the paradisal state of Adam and Eve.

But revival is something different from a mere to return to pastoral simplicity.  There is something irrevocable about development: you can’t reverse time.  The real crisis of the Promised Land is the setting of the Ark in a settled place.  This marks a change from a pastoral state to a civilized one.  From then on, Israel is bound up with the idea of the city, as seen in David recapturing Jerusalem.  The Golden Age of the past is the garden.  The future is the city.  The pastoral element is there, but it will always be a city.  The Book of Job is the exception in that Job is merely restored to his former pastoral life.  In the story of Adam and Eve we are told that they lost the Tree of Life and the Water of Life.  The whole of the progression from darkness to light is found in all the prophets.

Psalm 23is the idealization of the pastoral life, and then comes the valley of death.  God will descend from Eden with man to the valley of death.  Isaiah II: 54; the prophecy of the Messiah is associated with the return of life in the spring.  Verse 2 brings a new image of resurrection, the promise of the founding of a great building full of precious stones.

Chap. 54: 12: “And I will make thy windows of agate and thy gates of carbuncles and all thy borders of pleasant stones.”  Chap. 41: the rebuilt temple is accompanied by the release of the waters of life.  There is no more dead sea; the sea becomes a river.  Verse 18:  “I will open rivers in high places and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.”

The last eight chapters of Ezekiel are about the restoration of the new city, the garden and the temple.  The symbol of restoration is the city (a collection of buildings) and a temple (a single building) merged into one building that is yet a group of buildings––a house of many mansions.  “Society” is also a collection of men and yet, somehow, one man.  The King is a collection of men, and yet one man.

Around this city is a garden, a river and the Tree of Life. The river is a circulation of water, but not a sea, the same as the bloodstream it’s a circulatory system.  The prophets are showing the city as the home of man and the temple as the home of God. The city and the temple are the same thing.  The home of man is his own body.  The home of God is God’s body.  The city is the body of God who is Man.  Our home is in the body of God who is Man, the God-Man. We live inside the body and the blood of God-Man. This theme is worked out fully in the Book of Revelation.

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