Early Rabbinic Judaism: Historical Studies in Religion, Literature and Art

By Jacob Neusner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ELEVEN
GOODENOUGH ON PSYCHOLOGY OF RELIGION

{ Review of Religious Research, VI, 1965, pp. 137-142.}

Underlying Professor Erwin R. Goodenough monumental study, Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period ( N.Y. 1953 et seq., vols. I-XI), is a highly developed view of the nature of religious symbolism. Goodenough's view ought to prove interesting to contemporary students of the psychology of religion, for it suggests radically new perspectives from which to consider the phenomenology of religious symbolism and its interpretation. Further, Goodenough offers a means of understanding the value of symbols which recur, accompanied by varying verbal explanations, in divergent cultures, and thus he offers a new source of evidence on the centrality and unifying capacity of such symbolism. All too frequently, social scientists do not fully exploit the materials made available by historians, just as historians neglect the methodological insights of the social sciences. Here I present a brief statement of parts of Goodenough's thesis and suggest a few questions for further consideration, in the hope that specialists in the study of psychology of religion may turn to Goodenough's studies for further consideration of his thesis and methodology.


The Thesis

After reviewing the archaeological evidences that Jews in late antiquity had appropriated for their supposedly aniconic religion a wide variety of symbols normally associated with pagan cults, in particular salvational symbols bearing the promise of conquest of death through the apothesis of the devotee, Goodenough seeks a means to understand what such symbols meant, if anything, in the mind of the monotheist. He asks,

Admitting that the Jews would not have remained Jews if they had used these images in pagan ways and with pagan explanations, do the remains indicate a symbolic adaptation of pagan figures to Judaism or merely an urge to decoration?

Goodenough defines a symbol as "an image or design with a significance to the one who uses it quite beyond its manifest content," and

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