Piety and Politics: The Dynamics of Royal Authority in Homeric Greece, Biblical Israel, and Old Babylonian Mesopotamia

Piety and Politics: The Dynamics of Royal Authority in Homeric Greece, Biblical Israel, and Old Babylonian Mesopotamia

Piety and Politics: The Dynamics of Royal Authority in Homeric Greece, Biblical Israel, and Old Babylonian Mesopotamia

Piety and Politics: The Dynamics of Royal Authority in Homeric Greece, Biblical Israel, and Old Babylonian Mesopotamia

Synopsis

Ancient kings who did not honor the gods overlooked an indispensable means for ruling effectively in their communities. In many traditional societies royal authority was regarded as a divine gift bestowed according to the quality of the relationship of the king both to God or the gods and to the people. The tension and the harmony within these human and divine relationships demanded that the king repeatedly strive to integrate the community's piety with his political strategies.

This fascinating study explores the relationship between religion and royal authority in three of history's most influential civilizations: Homeric Greece, biblical Israel, and Old Babylonian Mesopotamia. Dale Launderville identifies similar, contrasting, and analogous ways that piety functioned in these distinct cultures to legitimate the rule of particular kings and promote community well-being. Key to this religiopolitical dynamic was the use of royal rhetoric, which necessarily took the form of political theology. By examining,a host of ancient texts and drawing on the insights of philosophers, poets, historians, anthropologists, social theorists, and theologians, Launderville shows how kings increased their status the more they demonstrated through their speech and actions that they ruled on behalf of God or the gods.

Launderville's work also sheds light on a number of perennial questions about ancient political life. How could the people call the king to account? Did the people forfeit too much of their freedom and initiative by giving obedience to a king who symbolized their unity as a community? How did the religious traditions serve as a check on the king's power and keep alive the voice of thepeople? This study in comparative political theology elucidates these engaging concerns from multiple perspectives, making "Piety and Politics" of interest to readers in fields ranging from biblical studies and theology to ancie

Excerpt

Polis is usually translated as city or city-state. This does not capture the
full meaning. Polis means, rather, the place, the there, wherein and as
which historical being-there is. The polis is the historical place, the
there in which, out of which, and for which history happens.

Martin Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics

A meaningful life can be gained only through engagement with other humans, with nature, and with God or the gods. This place of engagement is the locus where harmony and conflict converge, where integration and fragmentation counterpoint each other, where mind and heart meet. The “sense of place” that wells up within a person when such engagement happens is captured in the statement: it is good that we are here. The creating or “authoring” activity that leads to this “sense of place” manifests the authority essential to human community. Heidegger refers to the polis as this treasured place in which humans create themselves and their world. This primordial sense of polis is not simply a geographical location but much more profoundly and elusively a place of convergence of the spiritual and the material, of the social and the natural. Such convergence is a new beginning that must be gained over and over again. The thinking, the acting, and the existing involved in sustaining such a place of new beginnings constitute political thinking in its most basic sense.

The peoples who created and lived within the worlds and traditions of Homeric Greece, biblical Israel, and Old Babylonian Mesopotamia were political

1. Martin Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics (New York: Doubleday, 1959), p. 128.

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