Order and History - Vol. 4

Order and History - Vol. 4

Order and History - Vol. 4

Order and History - Vol. 4

Excerpt

In the civilizations of the Ancient Orient, the student will encounter a peculiar type of speculation on the order of society, its origin, and its course in time.

The symbolists who develop the type let governance spring into existence at an absolute point of origin, as part of the cosmic order itself, and from that point down they let the history of their society descend to the present in which they live. On closer inspection, however, the story of the events between the origin and the present is not the homogeneous tale it pretends to be; rather, it proves to consist of two parts of widely different character. For only the later part of the story, the part that issues into the author's present, can claim to relate res gestae in the pragmatic sense; the earlier part, covering an immense time-span of thousands and sometimes hundred thousands of years, is filled with legendary and mythical events. Though they had a certain amount of historical materials at their disposition, the symbolists were clearly not satisfied with merely relating them; they wanted to link them, through an act of mythopoesis, with the emergence of order in the cosmos, so that the events would have a meaning that made them worthy of transmission to posterity. By this method of mythopoetic extrapolation which does not break the form of the myth, they achieved a speculation on the origin of a specific realm of being, not differing on principle from the noetic speculation on the arche, on the ground and beginning of all being, in which the Ionian philosophers engaged. Historiography, mythopoesis, and noetic speculation thus can be distinguished as components in this rather complex symbolism.

The close resemblance between the several instances of the type as they occur in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Israel has not escaped attention. Moreover, since they are a treasure-house for historians who want to extract from them the rich admixture of pragmatic events, the various cases have been well explored for the purpose of reconstructing the history of ancient societies. Nevertheless, no attempt has ever been made to identify the type as a symbolic form sui generis, or to inquire into the motives of its development, or to analyze its . . .

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