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Did a Change in Humans’ Sense of Self Lead to a Change in Biblical Religion?

 Drawing on research in psychology and neuroscience, the Bible scholar James Kugel argues in his book The Great Shift that between the writing of the earliest parts of the Hebrew Bible and the writing of the latest, ancient Israelites (and many of their contemporaries) began to think differently about selfhood. Kugel argues that this change precipitated the “shift” of his book’s title, in which people ceased to perceive themselves as able to hear God’s voice. (Interview by Alan Brill.)

Some elements of [selfhood] seem to be universal. . . . But then there are other things that make people’s sense of self in one society radically different from their sense of self in another. . . . [In writing this book], what interested me is how some of these differences are expressed in biblical texts. Perhaps the most striking thing in early biblical narratives is the relative lack of reference to a person’s insides, the thoughts and emotions that people experience. Everything important happens out there or comes in from out there.

So, for example, when God tells Abraham to kill his son Isaac, Abraham sets out the next morning to do it. What was Abraham thinking, and what was Isaac, the intended victim, thinking? Apparently, these inside things are not important: it’s the outside that counts, the fact that Abraham is willing to carry out this commandment. It’s not that Abraham doesn’t think. It’s just that, at this relatively early stage of things, everything important still happens outside, so what Abraham thought is just not important. . . .

[At the same time], throughout the biblical period, ancient Israelites did believe that their minds were open to penetration from the outside, by God or by demonic spirits. For example, God inserts His words into the prophet Balaam’s mouth, making him say the exact opposite of what he wants to say. This should not be a minor item for biblical scholars: here is an operating assumption in the biblical sense of self that is very different from our own conception of the human mind, its fundamental permeability. . . .

Little by little, however, things did change. It’s as if the center of gravity was slowly migrating from outside to inside. People [in the Bible] now interrogate their own souls while lying on their beds late at night; in fact, they come to be “in search of God”—something people weren’t in earlier times. They pray to God not because they need something, but simply to “establish contact.” . . .

Read more at Book of Doctrines and Opinions

More about: Ancient Israel, Hebrew Bible, Prophecy, Religion & Holidays

 

In Dealing with Iran, the U.S. Can Learn from Ronald Reagan

When Ronald Reagan arrived at the White House in 1981, the consensus was that, with regard to the Soviet Union, two responsible policy choices presented themselves: détente, or a return to the Truman-era policy of containment. Reagan, however, insisted that the USSR’s influence could not just be checked but rolled back, and without massive bloodshed. A decade later, the Soviet empire collapsed entirely. In crafting a policy toward the Islamic Republic today, David Ignatius urges the current president to draw on Reagan’s success:

A serious strategy to roll back Iran would begin with Syria. The U.S. would maintain the strong military position it has established east of the Euphrates and enhance its garrison at Tanf and other points in southern Syria. Trump’s public comments suggest, however, that he wants to pull these troops out, the sooner the better. This would all but assure continued Iranian power in Syria.

Iraq is another key pressure point. The victory of militant Iraqi nationalist Moqtada al-Sadr in [last week’s] elections should worry Tehran as much as Washington. Sadr has quietly developed good relations with Saudi Arabia, and his movement may offer the best chance of maintaining an Arab Iraq as opposed to a Persian-dominated one. But again, that’s assuming that Washington is serious about backing the Saudis in checking Iran’s regional ambitions. . . .

The Arabs, [however], want the U.S. (or Israel) to do the fighting this time. That’s a bad idea for America, for many reasons, but the biggest is that there’s no U.S. political support for a war against Iran. . . .

Rolling back an aggressive rival seems impossible, until someone dares to try it.

Read more at RealClear Politics

More about: Cold War, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Ronald Reagan, U.S. Foreign policy