Texts That Linger, Words That Explode: Listening to Prophetic Voices

By Walter Brueggemann; Patrick D. Miller | Go to book overview

5 The Scandal and Liberty of Particularity

IT IS ONLY THE DOMINANT COMMUNITY, OR THOSE ALLIED WITH AND amenable to the dominant community, that does not need to work intensely or intentionally to socialize its young into its vision of reality. Marx surely is correct in his aphorism that “the ideas of the ruling class become the ruling ideas.” “The ruling class”—those who govern the imagination, control the flow of images, and adjudicate what is worthy—so much control and legitimate the environment that their young inhale those assumptions and visions without effort. The dominant community nurtures its young into the habits of privilege, certitude, and domination, and the young, wisely and without reflection, receive their inheritance of privilege, certitude, and domination. Thus Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann can readily describe the processes of construction and maintenance, of internalization and externalization, that are essential to the continuity of certain forms of social life.1 Or to state a beginning point for what follows, adherents to dominant social values and social visions are not likely to trouble about character ethics.


I

In the world of ancient Israel in the period of the Old Testament, it is not difficult to identify the ruling groups whom we may suppose constructed and maintained dominant values. The list of superpowers that dominated the landscape of that ancient world includes, in sequence, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and Persia.2 From an Israelite perspective one can make some differentiations in their several modes of hegemony, so that it appears that Assyria was the most consistently brutal, and that Persia operated in a more benign or enlightened way; but those differences likely were strategic, or at least the Israelite perception and presentation of them are likely strategic. Without fail, the impinging superpower intended to dominate the political landscape, to control military power, and to preempt the authority to tax. The control of military power, moreover, included the right to draft manpower, which issued in forced labor for state projects.

On the whole these concentrations of power tolerated little deviation in matters of importance to them. To ensure compliance, moreover, the politicaleconomic-military power of hegemony is matched, characteristically, with imperial myths and rituals, liturgic activities that legitimated power realities. It is not too much to conclude that the interface of political and liturgical efforts intended to generate a totalizing environment outside of which there were permitted no political forays, and where effective, no deviant

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