FIGURATION AND SECULARIZATION:
The Movement of History

Meira Kensky

 

Introduction

This is an essay about ideas. It is about how we formulate ideas, and, in turn, how ideas formulate our conception of ourselves and of reality. It is also about how ideas grow and develop over time, and of the influence of time on ideas. It is an essay about the movement of time, and how time itself evolves the conception of its own identity: History.

The subject of this essay is history, and specifically about the rational process of history as revealed in Scripture and developed by Augustine and recently secularized by Hegel. History is conceived of by the authors of Scripture in a triadic figure of Garden, Desert, and City, each representing a concrete stage in the development of man. This triadic formula of history was employed by Augustine in the City of God, and evolved through the high middle ages into Hegel's philosophy of history, in which he adapts Augustine's triadic schema for the modern age.

The idea of time-as-process began in early Israelite religion, which first developed the concept of linear time; time as movement forwards (and upwards) rather than a repetition of cycles that was the basis for all other religions. This shift in comprehension of the movement of time had enormous implications for the genesis of the concept of history, and on understanding of how the present moment functions within the ongoing narrative of temporal events. Thomas Cahill, writing on the shift from cyclical time to linear time, explains that:

For the ancients, the future was always to be a replay of the past, as the past was simply an earthly replay of the drama of the heavens: 'history repeats itself'—that is, false history, the history that is not history but myth. For the Jews, history will be no less replete with moral lessons. But the moral is not that history repeats itself but that it is always something new: a process unfolding through time, whose direction and end we cannot know, except insofar as God gives us some hint of what is to come. The future will not be what has happened before; indeed, the only reality that the future has is that it has not happened yet.

Because of this dramatic break in conceiving of temporal reality, humans could begin to formulate not only answers but also questions about what moves history, and where history was headed. By examining the conception of history that can be found in Scripture, we are really looking at the very basis of Western conception of time, history, and, ultimately, reality. By examining history within this context, we are not only looking at the movement of what has happened, but also at the frontiers of what is going to happen, and, emphatically, how authors of Scripture envisioned the present moment, the Now, within this schema. As Cahill writes, the present moment for the authors of Scripture was conceived as "the pulsing, white-hot center of all the subsequent narrative, the unlikely intersection of time and eternity, the moment where God is always to be found."

This essay will examine Scripture's drawing of history as linear process. It will also examine the importance of each part of that process as it is figured in Scripture to be fulfilled in time. To do this the focus will be on figurative interpretation of Scripture, a method of interpretation developed by Augustine and other early church fathers that has had significant impact on history itself. Figuration as a means to comprehend and advance the process of history insists on connecting the concept of linear time with eternal reality in God. Through figuration, as we shall soon see, we can examine the three metaphors in order to comprehend the theology of history, built on the assumption of linear time and history as complex yet tangible and rational process. The final section of this paper will speak of the impact of Secularization on this conception of history, and how Hegel redrew this very schema for his own time.

Augustine, speaking about his dissatisfaction with Manicheism, was frustrated by what Peter Brown has called the "essentially static" nature of the religion, writing that "I could make no progress in it." For Augustine, the true worth of a religion was its ability to give man the mobility to move forwards, not only individually but as the human community toward God. It is perhaps for this reason that the conception of reality described in this essay has become the buried cornerstone of modern comprehension of time and progress. The theology of history is able to give man a common goal, thereby giving him purpose and worth within a cosmos that is all too often a mystery.

 

 


Figuration

Vetus enim Testamentum est promissio figurata, novum Testamentum est promissio spiritualiter intellecta (The Old Testament is a promise in figure, the New is a promise understood after the Spirit)
S. Augustine, Serm. 4.8

There has always been tension over how to read and interpret Scripture. The traditional fourfold method of interpretation, perfected by Augustine, sought to discern meanings of Scripture in terms of historia, aetiologia (causes), analogia (congruence between Old and New Testaments), and allegoria (figurative interpretation). Augustine warned in his sermons and writings against a reading of Scripture that concentrated too much on any one of these areas. In De Civitate Dei, Augustine writes that:

No one ought to suppose that these things were written for no purpose, or that we should study only the historical truth, apart from any allegorical meanings; or, on the contrary, that they are only allegories, and that there were no such facts at all, or that, whether it be so or no, there is here no prophecy of the Church.
In his sermons, as Erich Auerbach explains, Augustine recommended the use of reading and interpreting Scripture by figuration, a method of interpretation that sought to unify the New Testament with the Old by looking for figures in the Old Testament that were fulfilled in the New. Augustine saw all the important people and events of the Old Testament as figures of something that had yet to occur, and could not occur until the coming of Jesus Christ. By looking at the Old Testament through the illumination provided by the new, the power of the figures is revealed and through these figures new insight into theology is revealed. The earlier story of the Old Testament did not lose its original meaning, but gained a new meaning as a figure; i.e., the testimony of an allegory of a later event.

The compulsion to interpret Scripture in this fashion lies in the theological power that is to be gained here, and not just in the reworking of images to create a single canon. A beautiful example of this is articulated by Auerbach, depicting a famous image that has a subtle and deeper meaning when looked at as a figure:

It is a visually dramatic occurrence that God made Eve, the first woman, from Adam's rib while Adam lay asleep; so too is it that a soldier pierced Jesus' side, as he hung dead on the Cross, so that blood and water flowed out. But when these two occurrences are exegetically interrelated in the doctrine that Adam's sleep is a figure of Christ's death sleep; that, as from the wound in Adam's side mankind's primordial mother after the flesh, Eve, was born, so from the wound in Christ's side was born the mother of all men after the Spirit, the Church (blood and water are sacramental symbols) -- then the sensory occurrence pales before the power of the figural meaning.
Through figuration, Auerbach is here able to discover and reveal a meaning that would not have been possible if Scripture was read in purely historical-critical form, such as became dominant in the eighteenth century when, by enlightenment rationalism, literalism and figuration became discredited.

Figural Interpretation of Scripture was the primary method of interpretation among the Church fathers, particularly, as Erich Auerbach explains, in the case of Tertullian and Augustine. Auerbach gives a complete history of "Figura," both semantically and conceptually, in his essay by the same name, published in 1944, an essay that is crucial to a fuller understanding of how Figuration came to be and how it can and has been utilized. Tertullian was the first Church Father to make the case that figurative interpretation did not lessen the historical and literal validity of Scripture. According to Tertullian, the figure of the Old Testament did not lose, but gained in full, its historical meaning by the revelation of its fulfillment in the New. Indeed the process of discovering and comprehending these figures, intellectus spiritualis, became an act of spiritual discovery, invention, and innovation.

According to Auerbach, the Church fathers gained their justification for this method of interpretation due to two important passages in 1 Corinthians, 10:6 and 10:11, where the Jews in the desert are referred to as "figures of ourselves" and it is written that "these things befell them as figures." By understanding the very people of Israel as a figure, i.e, living testimonies of god-the-storyteller's allegories, a new method of interpreting history and the life of man began to take shape, for "the figural interpretation changed the Old Testament from a book of laws and a history of the people of Israel into a series of figures of Christ and the Redemption." The historical narrative of the Old Testament began to be seen as not just something that existed in a particular moment in time, but as something that had meaning for all time as a proleptic figure foreshadowing what was to come.

In this way, inherent in figuration is the dualism between temporal meaning and eternal meaning; how events can stand together as one even when they do not occur together. In order for someone to believe in figures, he has to be able to believe that linear time is connected as eternal moment in God. The concept of figuration implies that the figure exists outside of linear time as, perhaps, a footprint of the eternal. It is only through the belief in the existence of an omniscient deity who knows all time at all times that this form of interpretation is able to exist. A figure, as Auerbach explains:

can be established only if both occurrences are vertically linked to Divine Providence, which alone is able to devise such a plan of history and supply the key to its understanding. The horizontal, that is, the temporal and the causal, connection of occurrences is dissolved; the here and now is no longer a mere link in an earthly chain of events, it is simultaneously something which has always been, and which will be fulfilled in the future; and strictly, in the eyes of God, it is something eternal, something omni-temporal, something already consummated in the realm of fragmentary earthly event.
Figural interpretation is in many ways a key to understanding the concept of theology with regard to the omniscience of God and the activity of God on earth. By linking the figures of Scripture, man is really looking for signposts of a better knowledge of God. These signposts (or footprints) can point the way to different doctrines of the Church, but they also serve to assist believers in pursuing a telos, a direction and a destination, as they try to make their way through the desert of life. Just as in Corinthians the Jews of the desert are referred to as figures, man can, through this intellectus spiritualis, understand his own plight as part of that same figuration and fulfillment. Indeed, the very structure of history can be seen as figure, which is the very subject of this essay. By reading the Bible's Garden, Desert, and City, as figures of the eternal movement of human history, humans can attempt to understand the movement of their own personal existence. The revelation of figures, therefore, is essentially a search for direction and purpose. Theology of history, through figuration, can attempt to provide that purpose by pointing upward and forward, connecting the Israelite notion of linear time with the theology of the eternal.

 

 


The Garden

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of this garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Genesis 2:7-9

Throughout the Bible, as illuminated by theologians, the metaphor and symbol of the garden is redrawn and rediscovered. By examining the power of the garden in Scripture, we can begin reflection on the Biblical concept of sacred history, beginning in the image of the Garden and eventually culminating in the heavenly city.

After a brief cosmological argument, the Biblical narrative begins with the placement of man and woman in the garden of Eden, a story which has inspired much commentary since its inception. By viewing the garden as a figure, the early church fathers, particularly Ambrose and Augustine, were able to see it as part of a series of figures, garden, desert, and city, that when interpreted typologically, can stand for stages in the ultimate history and fulfillment of mankind. By reading all three figures together, Augustine read the great Exodus and Redemption of the five books as microcosm of both the spatial and temporal history of man. The story of the garden of Eden usually is taken as explanatory myth for why humans do not – and cannot – exist in Paradise. Seen in this light, the Garden can represent the first stage of human development. God created man and woman in the garden, a paradise bordered by rivers. With a bit of imagination, one can read the garden almost as poetic image of a womb. Just as every man must leave the walled boundaries of the womb, so did original man have to leave the garden to grow, to develop, and to transcend the innocence lost at this beginning. If one is able to read the garden this way, then the expulsion from the garden can be read as a necessary step in human development; the "birth" of man. In this vein, Phillis Trible has suggested that Eve's eating of the forbidden fruit was the first act of human independence. The Garden thus begins the Biblical story of human history, and also is figure for the beginning of individual life.

The Eden story, referred to in the Christian tradition as "the Fall," was understood by the early Church fathers as a figure of an experience that all humans would have to undergo. Ambrose, in his epistle to Sabinus, written about 387 CE, utilizes figuration by discussing the Paradise of Eden as existing within the human heart in reference to the "garden enclosed" of Song of Songs 4:12. Ambrose, in his De Paradiso, transformed the story of the Fall into a tale of ethics and morality, in which material pleasures overcame reason. The garden, for Ambrose, stood as figure of the dangers of material and sensual pleasure triumphing over the spirit.

As we have seen, a figure has power because of its ever-present applicability to existence. Perhaps the best example of personal application of Biblical figure (especially in relation to the garden) occurs in Augustine's Confessions. Augustine's candid discussion of his own personal experiences with sensory/sensual pleasure triumphing over moral counsel is of great use in seeing how the Biblical image of the garden can be understood as figure in the life of every man. In Augustine's life, the great sin of the pear tree does not, as some people have suggested, represent his personal fall. On the contrary, Augustine believed that he was fallen from birth as one already imbued with the consequences of original sin. The story of the pear tree stands for Augustine as yet another example of the fulfillment –veritas – of Biblical figura. The Garden for Augustine was an eternal truth of human experience. By understanding the garden as the church fathers did, as figure for a stage in human development (both historically and individually) in which passion can rule over sense, people can relate their own experiences of human weakness and youth to Scripture, the Eternal truth revealed in Scripture pointing them towards a greater understanding of their existence.

Since the Garden can be seen as representing the triumph of material pleasures over the spirit, it is important to understand that man cannot seek refuge in the garden's paradise. Just as man can never return to the womb, so too can man not seek a return to the garden as the final destination of mankind.

In the ultimate theological exploration of history, the crossing not only of the Red Sea but of the entire Sinai desert, the destination of the wandering Israelites is the land of Canaan, the promised land – home. The pastoral imagery of Canaan as the land of milk and honey recalls the peaceful abundance and solitude of Eden. And yet, Canaan in Scripture is the place of arrival of the Israelites, not the communion of man with God. The landing of Israel in Canaan and the beginning of the Davidic monarchy brought Israel closer to a communion with God. But for Augustine and other Christian interpreters, that final communion can not occur until the advent of Christ opened up the path toward apocatastasis as the final consummation of history. God led the Israelites towards a home in Canaan, but their arrival there did not herald the eschaton, rather, it was but another step in their greater journey. The teleology of the Pentateuch is reflective of a larger journey not ending with the acquisition of Canaan. Indeed, as we will see in our discussion of the desert as figure, the journey of the Israelites can be read as representing the cycle of man; crossing the figurative desert time and again in order to cultivate a relationship with God that will eventually culminate in the final consummation of history –the descent of the heavenly city described in Revelation 21.

It is this relationship with God, grown in the desert, which prevents the possibility of Man's return to the garden as the ideal fulfillment of history. Wishing to return to the garden denies that relationship, one built not on blind obedience, but on knowledge, faith, trust, redemption, and Love. This is nowhere more explicit than in the Gospels, when Jesus seeks refuge in Gethsemane before his crucifixion in Golgotha. The temptation of man to return to the garden to seek empowerment and support is strong, for the flesh is weak. The flesh seeks the pleasure and the Paradise of the Garden as the transcendental ideal. But it is the spirit that is nourished by the desert. The necessity of the desert is Man's fountain of strength, and this desire to reconcile the spirit and the flesh, the ideal and the material, leads to the pastoral imagery surrounding Canaan. But the power of man in Christian thought lies not in returning to the garden. The power of man lies in the journey that awaits him beyond the garden, the desert, under the guiding light of the all-transcending knowledge of the New Jerusalem.

The ultimate goal of mankind cannot be a return to the naēve material pleasures of the garden, for to do so denies the spirit's triumph over the material world that is at the center of the eschatological victory.

 

 


The Desert

When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it… When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: A wandering Syrian was my father; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous…
Deuteronomy 26:1-5

Augustine, in his De Doctrina Christiana, equates the life of man with that of a traveller, travelling through time and space towards God. In Scripture, it is the Desert, illumined as figure by Augustine, that stands for the immanent sojourn of man, travelling to an unknown destination that exists in theory and in hope.

Author(s) of Scripture envisioned Man on this journey, described by Augustine as a 'pilgrimage,' and sought to use the metaphor of the Desert to bring meaning, hope, and a sense of spatial and temporal location to human existence. The metaphor of the Desert as great journey, location, necessity, and even spiritual refuge of Man is developed first in the Pentateuch, both to and from Egypt, and then brought to light again by the prophets as Israel is exiled to Babylon in the sixth century B.C.E.

The first example of how the metaphor of the desert can stand as powerful representation of the life of man lies already with Israel's matriarchs. Sarah, as both the barren woman and the mother of Israel, stands as the quintessential example of how, with the help of God, even the most barren of deserts (the very nation of Israel) can bring forth fruit. Both Isaac and Jacob meet their wives as they draw water from wells for the thirsty traveler. This drawing of water, seen in light of the wandering Israel, can be understood as the providing of nourishment and, by extension, the preservation of the body, the spirit, and the nation.

Moses, prophet, instrument, and father of the covenant, meets Zipporah under similar circumstances, upon his escape, both physical and spiritual, from Egypt. The story of Moses is a perfect example of how in Scripture the desert can be understood as a necessity for nourishing the spirit of mankind. Moses, after learning that he is a Hebrew by birth, kills an Egyptian slave driver who was striking a Hebrew slave. Moses seeks refuge in the desert to avoid apprehension, but also in search of his identity. It is here, in the Midian desert, that Moses receives his first theophany. Here God speaks to him from the burning bush, commissioning Moses as prophet and leader, and promising liberation and freedom for the Hebrews.

As revealed in Scripture, man's liberation for the spirit is to be found time and again in the Desert, and also the liberation of the body from torment, persecution, and enslavement. In Scripture, this double liberation is promised and fulfilled in the Desert. The liberation from slavery in Egypt and the journey to Canaan stand as promise—figura – for what authors of the New Testament saw as the ultimate liberation: the spiritual liberation that would take place with the judgement of Yahweh and the descent of the New Jerusalem. Before this fulfillment – veritas – each person in each generation will have to realize once they come to the end of their personal journey that they will not see the heavenly city's descent, just as the Israelites who left Egypt would not attain the promised land. Each generation will have to maintain the hope that their children will get there. This hope against all hope based on the knowledge of experience, this expectation for the future gives purpose and direction to the Now, and to each journey, bringing the next generation closer to the covenant, closer to the kingdom, and closer to God. What is crucial to understanding what the Desert represents for its early interpreters is its nature as the great testing ground of humanity. As the identity of the Israelites is cultivated and revealed in the Desert (see Gen 28, 35), so too the identity of man can only be realized in the Desert. Just as every man must decide whether he, too, will let his spirit be overcome by material experience, so too every man must decide if he will nurture his spirit in the desert or seek refuge in a passing mirage. In the story of Job, itself a microcosm of the theology of history, God does not allow Job to be killed by the Adversary. Job must instead be left with the decision whether to trust in his God or to curse Him, whether to hold on to his identity or to throw it away. Job sits on his ash heap outside the city walls, just as all men must do in their own time, outside the figurative walls of the City of God.

The desert, in Scripture, is never a fun place to be; rather, its figura as the cosmic location of man necessitates its representation as a place of much hardship and trial. The desert is repeatedly described in Scripture as a wild place (hence its designation as the Wilderness). One example of this occurs in Deuteronomy 8, as Moses recounts to the Israelites what Yahweh has done for them:

...do not exalt yourself, forgetting that Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the House of Slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and test you, and in the end to do you good.
Moses is here describing what has happened in Israel's history, but utilizing the technique of figuration we can look to a greater meaning incorporating all time until the "end." The trial of the desert continues through the generations, and with the assistance of God, man will receive the manna – the spiritual noursishment – he needs to make it to the Promised Land.

This figuration of the Desert places it on the one hand on an individual plane. Each must find for themselves a telos, forsaking the hope and desire to return to times past, times secure with temporal validity of actuality, rather than the future and the today, which exist as abstract concepts of what Is and what is To Be. Every man must face the Desert of his own Today and Tomorrow, searching for the wells and the Oases that nourish and provide sustenance for the body and soul on this testing ground.

However, just as this figure has man searching for identity in his own desert, so does it implicate him in the collective journey of humanity through history. Man must make sense of the Now on a cosmic level as well as on the scales of the communal and the individual. Just as the life of a man is microcosm of the Life of Man, so too does the conceptualization of history stand as analogous macrocosm for the individual journey.

The theology of history is at once actualizing and liberating, giving a physical purpose and direction to Man while freeing the spirit from the apparent futility of existence. Nowhere is this more explicitly revealed than through the metaphor of the desert, where in order both to nurture the spirit and develop his identity, Man must be tried – both by God and by himself.

Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, 'Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, 'Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.'
Exodus 5:1

 

 

The City

And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It has the glory of God...
Revelation 21:10-11

In Scripture, the figure of the city stands as dual metaphor. On the one hand, the city is portrayed as a place of great corruption, greed, and sin. On the other, the city of the New Jerusalem stands as figure of the final goal of mankind, and acts as a guiding light for the treacherous journey of man through the desert of history. This chapter sets out to comment on the nature and history of this dual metaphor, especially its usages in figurative interpretation of the theology of history.

Augustine elucidates and reveals the existence in Scripture of this dual metaphor and explains it by discussing the two cities as janus-faced Figura for the two choices man has for his existence. In De Civitate Dei, he distinguishes the earthly city from the heavenly city, whose inhabitants are on pilgrimage in this world while existing in the transcendent realm of the universe. He further insists that every man alive is a citizen of either the earthly or the heavenly place. For Augustine, the formation and evolution of these two cities begins with the story of Cain and Abel where Cain is said to be the founder of Enoch. Enoch, Cain's city, is the prototype of all earthly cities on which the clarification comments "this was the Earthly City, of course, the city which is not just a pilgrim in this world, but rests satisfied with its temporal peace and felicity." Its members, he maintains, are not necessarily people who have turned towards "evil"; rather, they exist comfortably in the immanent world and have failed to transcend that world, whether in thought, action, imagination, or desire. The material City, therefore, particularly in Genesis, stands for Augustine as a physical manifestation of that immanence, and of the satisfied contentment with the immanent.

In Genesis, the City, beginning with "Enoch," stands as concrete metaphor for the empowerment of man on earth, his dangerous intoxication with his own powers, and as vehicle for his growth and perdurance. Nowhere in Scripture is this more evident than in the story of the Tower of Babel, a story which will eventually become the antithesis of Revelation's description of the New Jerusalem. The story of Babel, in which people attempt to build a tower in order to reach the heavens, has been interpreted as revolving around the desire of man to bring the heavens under earthly control. By building a tower, people here attempt to reach beyond the heavens on their own terms -- to bring the transcendent to the domain of the immanent, and to have the journey to the transcendent under human control. In Revelation, it is the transcendent city, the heavenly city, which descends to earth and transforms the immanent into the transcendent. This convergence of storylines, albeit from opposite directions, dialectically unites the two cities, and shows how one image can, through figuration, balance colliding and countervailing tensions.

Looking at these two stories together, Augustine is examining the great tension between the immanent and the transcendent that is at the heart of the entire discussion of the movement of history, if not history itself. Auerbach discusses in Mimesis the genius of the Christian tradition -- that of fusing the high and the low together into one style and one theology. Auerbach, as we have seen, discusses figuration as the key to the theology of history, linking the eternal/transcendent reality with the immanent/linear history. Through figuration, the authors of Scripture can discuss the city in particular as existing at once as immanent, imminent and perhaps corrupt, also as transcendent and heavenly, and relate all these concepts to a theology of history that connects linear time with transcendent action. By building on the metaphor of the city as final goal, Scripture's authors and interpreters are able to establish a parallel between human experience and the transcendent ideal. By utilizing this dual figure, the writers can hope to point towards a greater truth: men should not mistake the earthly city for the ideal, as in the Babel story, but instead should hold on to their faith in the future arrival of the heavenly city, and see earthly cities as stations on the way while trekking through the biblical space called the desert.

 

 


History and Development of the Metaphor of the New Jerusalem

It is useful here to examine the evolution of the metaphor of the New Jerusalem as the ultimate goal of humanity, for it sheds light on the history of Israel and, therefore, on the etiology of Biblical discourse. This metaphor evolved slowly in reaction to events in the history of Israel, particularly the Babylonian exile and the shift from prophecy to apocalyptic. One of the outstanding achievements of prophecy was its ability to relate divine activity to specific historical circumstances, linking the transcendent world with events on earth. The prophets spoke of God as an active participant in human events, and sought to explain the troubles of the people of Israel by reference to God's work. The destruction of the first temple (586 BCE) and the subsequent exile to Babylon (587 BCE) necessitated prophetic guidance throughout this difficult period in Israelite history. Ezekiel, Jeremiah and First and Second Isaiah interpreted the Exile as punishment for Israel's turning away from God's laws.

The destruction of the first temple in particular created a major gap in the theology of the Ancient Israelites, for whom the temple had been the unity of heaven and earth on earth. Norman Cohn, discussing the ancient Israelite's view of the temple, writes that:

Because it was his dwelling-place, Zion came to be seen as the 'holy rock.' It was the centre and foundation of the ordered world, the supreme expression of a divinely appointed order that had ceaselessly to be defended against the agents of chaos. If it were captured, the whole cosmos would be reduced to chaos…like a Mesopotamian temple, the Temple united heaven and earth: Yahweh's heavenly rule was reflected in the sovereignty that he excercised from his earthly throne.
Cohn also points out that Jeremiah described the destruction of the temple as if he was witnessing a return to primordial chaos:
I saw the earth, and it was tohu va'vohu;
The heavens, and their light was gone.
I saw the mountains, and they reeled;
All the hills rocked to and fro.
I saw, and there was no man,
And the very birds had taken flight.
(Jeremiah 4:23-27)
Israel had to this point thought of Canaan as the Promised Land, and had perhaps assumed that, under the protection of Yahweh, they would not be harmed. As George Nicklesburg writes:
The people of Judah understood themselves to be the chosen people of Yahweh, who was unique and all-powerful among the gods of the nations. Jerusalem was the site of his Temple, the place where he caused his name to dwell…Little wonder that Jeremiah had to contend with the theory that the Temple was under divine protection from violation.
The destruction of their temple left an aching void. Prophets looked to God for answers, lamenting the actions of the Israelites, and praying to God for a return to Jerusalem. During this period of Israelite history, the prophets spoke of the earthly Jerusalem as the goal of the community. The return to Jerusalem and the reconsecration of the temple as the ideal world in which once again God and Israel would be united became the guiding light for the exiled Judaeans, just as Canaan had once been for the wandering Israelites. Ezekiel, a priest among those first exiled to Babylon, typifies prophecy during this period, both condemning the acts of the Judaeans and also prophesying, with the help of God, a return to Jerusalem and a restoration of the temple.

The return to Jerusalem by decree of Cyrus in 583 BCE brought with it new problems as Israel struggled to rebuild the temple and restore the Davidic monarchy. The return to Jerusalem and the building of the Second Temple, which was completed in 515 BCE, did not bring about the glorious new age as hoped. It is at this period that we can begin to trace a shift to a different sort of world-view, one that began to see a transcendent world existing over and above the immanent. Nicklesburg argues that this transformed world view is most evident in the difference between Second and Third Isaiah, writing that:

Although Second Isaiah used mythic language to describe God's new act he identified that new act with a chain of historical events: the victories of Cyrus, the fall of Babylon, the Return. For Third Isaiah, judgement and end-time lie in the future, and they are depicted almost entirely in mythic, ahistoric terms: the direct intervention of God himself and the creation of new heavens and a new earth.
An example of the language transition can be found in Isaiah 65:17:
For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; The former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; For I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.
It was this transcendent view that would eventually develop into Apocalyptic during the Hellenistic era, four centuries later.

After the writings of Nehemiah (445 BCE), which document the rebuilding of the walls surrounding Jerusalem, we know little of Israelite history until the mid-fourth century BCE, with the establishment of Greek military rule in Palestine under Alexander the Great. One of Alexander's generals, Ptolemy, established the Ptolemaic dynasty which held Palestine from 333 –198 BCE. Rule then passed to the Seleucids when Antiochus the Great gained control over Phoenicia and Palestine.

The rule of Alexander the Great marked the beginning of Israel's inclination towards Hellenism. As Emil Schurer explains:

It was the grandiose plan of Alexander the Great to found a world empire that would be held together, not only by unity of government, but also by unity of language, customs and culture…The whole of the Near East – if not among the broader masses of the population then in the higher levels of society – became Hellenized. In Palestine, too, this process was in full operation at about the beginning of the second century B.C.
Hellenization in Palestine continued under the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the son of Antiochus Epiphanes, who ruled Syria 175-164 BCE. Antiochus Epiphanes began a religious persecution in Palestine, ransacking the Jerusalem Temple in 169 BCE. This action was to spark the Maccabean uprising of 166.

The Hellenistic era of persecution brought a different set of questions to the table. Unlike the prophecy surrounding the Exile, prophets were not able to explain the persecution in terms of Israel's disobedience. As a result, leaders of the community had to formulate a new kind of theology to explain why Jews who were following the laws were still being persecuted. This has been hypothesized as one of the causes of the rise of apocalyptic, though there still remain many different theories, and little scholarly consensus. The apocalyptic world-view is vastly different in tone and content from that of the prophets. It pre-visions and seeks a transcendent universe existing above and beyond the sphere of linear time – a universe that will eventually be man's home.

It is my opinion that apocalyptic rises out of a historical period in which Israel was following Torah, and her people were still being persecuted. Leaders looked for a theological rationale to account for this persecution. The formulation of these answers began with the Wisdom movement, predating the rise of apocalyptic by as much as 300 years, and specifically the books of Job and Ecclesiastes (Qohelet). The book of Job, now dated between the years 500 –300 BCE, portrays the suffering Job calling out for help and rejecting the Deuteronomistic tradition of retributive justice. Job had been a pious man his entire life, and as a result of a "wager" between YHWH and the Adversary, he finds himself the earthly test of a cosmic battle. Searching for answers to his apparently unexplainable suffering, Job seeks answers from God. God finally calls to him out of the whirlwind, explaining to him that, as a mortal, he cannot understand the order of the cosmos. This scene reflects not only a tension between humans as immanent and YHWH existing in a transcendent reality, but also human action as a link between the two. By acting righteously as a human, man can affect the transcendent world. This begins the formation of a new type of justice that will eventually develop into the idea of individual rewards existing in a transcendent world (after death).

In the tradition of Gerhard von Rad, I believe the book of Job represents an essential link between the Wisdom and Apocalyptic movements. Beginning with Job, we see a search for answers on a heavenly plane, and an admittance that man will not be able to understand the cosmic order. We also see the beginnings of a theological answer to the question of human suffering. Through faith in God, man can believe that his personal persecution has a cosmic purpose (as demonstrated in Job by the prologue). This later will become one of the main tenets of Jewish and early Christian apocalyptic, and is essential in the Augustinian theology of history that we have been examining.

It is in apocalyptic literature that the metaphor of the heavenly Jerusalem, the City, is developed as the ultimate place of man's communion with God. The earliest known example of apocalyptic literature (if one does not include Job) is the book of Daniel, which scholars date to about 165 BCE, the time of the religious persecution by the regime of Antiochus Epiphanes. While there is some discussion of a heavenly Jerusalem in Rabbinic literature, it is in the New Testament that we begin to see a consistent focus on the coming of the heavenly city as a future salvific event that would consummate the long process of history. G.W. Buchanan charts the movement inside the New Testament from the idea of the Kingdom in John 18:36 to the anticipation of the New Zion in Hebrews 12:22, to the final descent of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21. Buchanan, writing on the usage of this metaphor by John of Patmos, makes the essential point that:

The message was set in a typological format that would remind Jews who knew their Scripture of earlier significant deliverances of the chosen people from foreign enemies and the restoration of the promised land. Like the trumpet blast announcing Jubilee when the land would be restored and the captives set free, so the trumpet blast of the seventh angel marked the end of the time specified for waiting, after which the kingdom of the world would become the kingdom of the Lord and his Messiah.
By utilizing a recognizable metaphor, John was able to develop a theological idea through figuration, moving forward into new theology by fulfilling the promise of the Old Testament. It is essential to note here that John was aware of the metaphorical tradition that preceded him with regard to the city of Jerusalem and especially the temple. Describing the New Jerusalem, John makes sure to write that:
I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the lamb. The Nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. (Rev 21:22-24)
For John, there will be no need for the temple in the Heavenly Jerusalem. The temple had stood as the Earthly manifestation of God's power, and Christian theology, represented here in the Apocalypse of John looks to a final goal that encompasses yet transcends earthly reality. The natural order here, in this description, is shadowed by the brilliance of God's light. The temple, and with it the earthly city, stood for John of Patmos, and now for the Christian tradition, as a proleptic symbol of what is to come, a figure of the final fulfillment.

For Augustine, the New Jerusalem is seen as the guiding light, or star, of history. It will be those members of the City on pilgrimage in this world who will light the way towards the City of God, the goal of the journey of man, and the final crown of the theology of history:

There was indeed on earth, so long as it was needed, a symbol and foreshadowing image of this city, which served the purpose of reminding men that such a city was to be, rather than of making it present; and this image was called the holy city, as a symbol of the future city, though not itself the reality.

 

 


Conclusion

The history of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of Freedom; a progress whose development according to the necessity of nature, it is our business to investigate.
--Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, The Philosophy of History

This essay has attempted to convey the impact of figuration on the concept of history. Building off the Israelite concept of linear time, western comprehension of history has been shaped as a spatial and temporal progression: a methodical triadic movement towards a future goal, expressed in the Bible as the New Jerusalem, the City of God. This understanding of history is religious in origin, yet is at the very root of modern secular comprehension of history and, therefore, reality. The very language in which western man thinks about the universe has been built and constructed by the Judeo-Christian tradition. Yet History is no longer conceived solely in religious terms. This process of secularizing history has been possible partly because of two men, Dante Aligheri and G.W.F. Hegel, whose writings were essential in the transformation of sacred history into universal History.

By examining the theology of history as laid out by Augustine and developed by the sages and prophets in Scripture, we have been reflecting on the unfolding of an idea or a notion over time, the identity of the idea evolving according to the laws of time. This very concept of the evolution of ideas is itself part of the philosophy of history as put forward by Hegel. Hegel, adopting and adapting Augustinian theology, developed a philosophy of history based on the speculative sentence: God = Being, conceiving of all history as the unfolding of Being in time. History, therefore, for Hegel, is Being manifest in the process of evolution; a slow, steady, and methodical process which, as we have seen, is represented in the Bible by the figure of the desert, already present in the garden and implicated in the city.

Hegel never refers to the "desert" as such, nor does he speak in Augustinian terms. The language of Hegel reflects the time in which he writes. Hegel, though he speaks of God, speaks of God in a language that reflects secularization, a process which, as Harvey Cox once wrote, can be understood as "the liberation of man from religious and metaphysical tutelage, the turning of his attention from other worlds and towards this one." Secularization is a process in which ideas and concepts that had once been regarded as sacred and often particular to a specific creed now could be applied universally. Cox explains that this process began within Scripture itself, pointing to three results of secularization which he claims have their roots in Scripture: the disenchantment of nature, the desacralization of politics, and the deconsecration of values. By de-sanctifying these three essential elements of society and human life, secularization liberated the discussion and actualization of these cultural phenomena from the domain of the few and made them accessible to the laity at large. In other words, nature, politics, and ethics, the building blocks of society, could now be regarded not just as sacred to all albeit under the control of the initiated few, but as important and indeed essential to the people at large. Secularization therefore, changed the very nature of discussion, allowing the discussion to belong to everyman and every man rather than the ruling group or class.

The process and progress of history which Hegel describes is an amplification of Augustine's great theology of history. Yet the two approached the same question differently. Augustine searched for answers through Scripture and through revelation from God, while Hegel looked to Reason and Logic as the guiding lights of his inquiry. This switch in perspective reflects the impact of the Renaissance and Enlightenment on secularization: not only on society but also on the very language by which people spoke about the world. In many ways this can be seen in the difference between the term theologia, the love and study of God, and philosophia, the love and study of wisdom.

Nonetheless, Hegel and Augustine arrived at similar conclusions about the nature and direction of history. The difference in their discussions, however, lies in their language, a reflection of the progression of history earlier referred to. Augustine viewed the world as a dialectic between Adam and Moses which found its resolution in the vita Christi. Likewise, Hegel viewed the world as resulting from a dialectic between Nature (Adam) and Law (Moses), a dialectic which found its resolution in what he terms Mind and/or Spirit. Hegel, addressing himself to the ultimate question, "What moves History onward," found that his answer lay beyond that deceptive repitition of cycles, a recurrent movement which he called spurious infinity. For Hegel, history is the process by which the universal mind – the Spirit, or "the consciousness of Freedom" – will come to attain self-knowledge over time, the mediator of all and every happening within the universal process. Time, for both Hegelian philosophy and Augustinian theology, follows the law of precedence, in which the new takes precedence over the old. The new, Hegel says in the Philosophy of Right, is better than the old because of its greater proximity to the goal, i.e., the end of time. Since History, according to both thinkers, is by its very nature process and progress, the new consciously represents a state of evolution that replaces i.e., succeeds, the old. Also, for Hegel, history is the process by which the universal mind, or spirit, seeks self-comprehension. In Augustinian terms, and in the language of this essay, this very sentiment is spoken about in the language of theology and of Scripture by the idea of man progressing and evolving through time to be able to enter God's City.

Half a millennium before Hegel, Dante's poetic vision in the Divine Comedy represents a significant turning point in the transformation of sacred into secular history. Dante's journey of salvation described in the Divine Comedy has been read by scholars as a prefiguration of the journey of every individual coming into self-consciousness, the ultimate liberation. The Hegelian philosopher Georg Lukacs, writing on the meaning of Dante's art, says that "his hero's great experience, Dante's own, is the symbolic unity of human destiny." Lukacs's reading of Dante applies the very promises of fulfillment offered by religion to all members of the human species. In this vision, Dante redraws the biblical comprehension of history and compresses it into a journey of the individual. This journey is marked not by ritual or creed, but by endurance of the advent of self-consciousness. This bold transformation of figuration is evident in the very fact that Dante takes the figurative method of interpretation and applies it not only to the Bible, but also to the pagan Roman world. This very ability of Dante to shift the focus from church to state in a discussion that had been heretofore limited to the Sacred marks this progression in the conception of history. Having the works of Dante and Hegel side by side, a luxury of the modern era, a new understanding of history as the slow move towards freedom, knowledge, and liberation, emerges. This comprehension of history, made possible through figuration, has its roots in the bible and has been made accessible to all who cultivate the art of listening and reading through the writings of Dante and Hegel, writings only made possible through secularization.

The three images of garden, desert, and city construct a schema, a triadic typology, by which man has come to comprehend the slow forward movement of history. They exist, as metaphors, simultaneously, yet each can represent a stage in history dependent on linear succession. These building blocks set in place a rational construct of history as a process by which man, and society, develop over time. This process includes past and future, placing enormous emphasis on the present as a tangible moment of being. How these metaphors function on their own is not as essential as how they work together, and what purpose is served by their dynamic and propulsive unity. This has been elucidated first by Augustine and the early church fathers and finally by Dante and Hegel, who transform these theological views of history into the language by which the modern individual is able to conceive of reality.

 

 


Works Cited

Augustine. De Civitate Dei; trans. Bettenson, Henry. (London: Penguin Books, 1972)

Augustine. De Doctrina Christiana; trans. Robertson, D.W. (New York : Macmillan, 1987)

Augustine. Confessions; trans. Pine-Coffin, R.S. (New York: Penguin Books, 1961)

Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953).

Auerbach, Erich. Scenes from the Drama of European Literature (Gloucester: Peter Smith, 1973).

Brown, Peter. Augustine of Hippo (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967).

Buchanan, George Wesley. The Consequences of the Covenant (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1970).

Cahill, Thomas. The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (New York: Nan A. Talese, 1998)

Caplan, Harry. "The Four Senses of Scriptural Interpretation and the Medieval Theory of Preaching"

Cohn, Norman. Cosmos, Chaos, and the World to Come (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993)

Cohn, Norman. The Pursuit of the Millennium (London: Temple Smith, 1970)

Collins, John. The Apocalyptic Imagination (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998).

Cox, Harvey. The Secular City (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1965)

Fleming, John. From Bonaventure to Bellini: An Essay in Franciscan Exegesis (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982)

Frei, Hans. The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative: A Study in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Hermeneutics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974)

Frye, Northrop. The Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971)

Gordis, Robert. Job: The Book of God and Man (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1965).

Hanson, Paul. "Old Testament Apocalyptic Reexamined" in Visionaries and Their Apocalypses (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983).

Hegel, G.W.F. The Philosophy of History (New York: Dover Publications, 1956)

John Paul II. "Fides et Ratio: On the Relationship Between Faith and Reason" (Encyclical Letter 1998)

Lacoque, Andre. Daniel in His Time (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988).

Lukacs, Georg. The Theory of the Novel, translated from the Hungarian and German by Elf S. Raymond.

McGinn, Bernard. The Calabrian Abbot: Joachim of Fiore in the History of Western Thought (New York: MacMillan, 1985)

Nickelsburg, George. Jewish Literature Between the Bible and the Mishnah (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981).

Oberman, Heiko Augustinus. The Harvest of Mediaeval Theology (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1963)

Pope. Marvin. Job (New York: Doubleday, 1965).

Reeves, Marjorie. Joachim of Fiore and the Prophetic Future (New York: Harper & Row, 1976)

Robbins, Gregory, ed. Genesis 1-3 in the History of Exegesis (Lewison: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1988).

Russell, D.S. The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1974).

Scheindlin, Raymond. The Book of Job (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1998)

Schurer, Emil. A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ (175 BC-AD 135) trans. Vermes, Geza and Fergus Millar. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark LTD, 1973).

 

 

 

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