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Origins and Diversity of Axial Age Civilizations, The

Shmuel N. Eisenstadt

Publication Year: 1986

This book presents a new and original analysis of the great ancient civilizations, focusing on the breakthroughs and their institutionalization in Greece, Israel, China, and India. The conditions under which these civilizations developed are systematically explored. For comparative purposes, the civilization of Assyria, where such a breakthrough did not take place is analyzed.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series in Near Eastern Studies (discontinued)

Title Page

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pp. v-vii


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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xiii

The papers presented in this volume were presented in a conference on the Origins and Diversity of Axial Age Civilizations--the first of three conferences on the Origins and Dynamics of Axial Age Civilizations, sponsored by the Wemer-Reimer Stiftung at Bad Homburg, The Truman Research Institute, and The Van Leer Jerusalem Foundation. This conference took place January 4-8, 1983, at the...

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Introduction: The Axial Age Breakthroughs-Their Characteristics and Origins

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pp. 1-25

In the first millennium before the Christian era a revolution took place in the realm of ideas and their institutional bases which had irreversible effects on several major civilizations and on human history in general. The revolution or series of revolutions, which are related to Karl Jaspers' "Axial Age," have to do with the emergence,...

Part I. The Origins of the Axial Age in Ancient Greece

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Introduction: The Axial Age Breakthrough in Ancient Greece

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pp. 29-39

The characteristics of the Axial Age, as they developed in Ancient Greece, evince some special features. The major breakthroughs from pre-Axial conceptions that developed in Ancient Greece did indeed entail the recognition of a far-reaching chasm between the transcendental...

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I. The Emergence of Second-order Thinking in Classical Greece

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pp. 40-64

The conscious resolve to demystify the world is not only about the world; it is also an effort to guide one's thoughts: it is thinking about thinking. This is what we call second-order thinking. People in all cultures 'think'. Not all 'thinking', whether it is about the world, or society, or the affairs of the individual, is second-order....

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2. The Emergence of an Autonomous Intelligence among the Greeks

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pp. 65-91

In seeking the preconditions for the emergence of an autonomous Greek intelligence, the first factor that comes to mind is political circumstance. There must have been a connection between the development of the Greek democracy or its earlier form, the isonomy (for democracy presumably became possible only as a consequence...

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3. Dynamics of the Greek Breakthrough: The Dialogue between Philosophy and Religion

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pp. 92-110

One aspect of the problem we have been asked to examine can be formulated in the question: how does it come about, in the Axial Age, that men start to ask whether human social organization and political decisions should be dominated by religious imperatives, and start to compare the claims of differing religious and/or secular...

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4. The Meaning of the Word cr&~a. (Body) in the Axial Age: An Interpretation of Plato's Cratylus 400C

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pp. 111-124

The statement quoted above was made by Jaspers in his description of the characteristics of the "Achsenzeit," the Axial Age. According to his theory this age encompasses the years 800-200 B.C.E. and the actual or rather imaginary axis should be placed at about 500. Jaspers holds that, during that age, a fundamental change takes place in the...

Part II. The Origins of the Axial Age in Ancient Israel with a Comparative Look at Assyria

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Introduction: The Axial Age Breakthrough in Ancient Israel

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pp. 127-134

The specific cultural orientations and structure of elites of Ancient Israel--the first monotheistic civilization, as well as the conditions under which they have crystallized--were in many ways opposite from those of Ancient Greece....

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5. Myth and Reality in Ancient Israel

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pp. 135-168

It is the central contention of this study that the essential factor molding the spiritual world of the Bible, the Apocrypha, Rabbinic literature, and emergent Christianity was mythical thought and expression. In order to avoid any misunderstanding, Jet me emphasize from the outset that my own approach to the problem of myth is...

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6. The Protest against Imperialism in Ancient Israelite Prophecy

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pp. 169-182

In recent years it has been established that people, especially peasants who were striving to get rid of the yoke of imperial tyranny, used to express their hope for a better future by means of oracles and prophecies. Since they learned from experience that an empire does not last forever and were convinced that the prevailing oppressing imperial regime...

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7. On Self-Consciousness in Mesopotamia

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pp. 183-202

As proposed by Karl Jaspers, S.N. Eisenstadt, and others,1 the civilizations of the Axial Age are distinguished by two related features: one intellectual, the other social. Intellectually, they are the source and origin of new kinds of ideologies--indeed, one may say, the first real ideologies--which strive to present a comprehensive view...

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8. Monarchy and the Elite in Assyria and Babylonia: The Question of Royal Accountability

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pp. 203-224

Ten years ago at a symposium in Venice that asked some of the questions pertaining to the Axial Age for the first time, two eminent Assyriologists--the late Professor Oppenheim, of the Oriental Institute in Chicago, and Professor Garelli of the Sorbonne--discussed the absence of a "breakthrough" in Mesopotamia. While I concur...

PART III. The Secondary Breakthroughs in Late Antiquity--Second Temple Judaism and Christianity

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Introduction: The Secondary Breakthrough in Ancient Israelite Civilization--The Second Commonwealth and Christianity

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pp. 227-240

The specific characteristics of the breakthrough to the Axial Age in Ancient Israel and of the conditions which were connected with it generated later on the possibility of the development from within this civilization of several secondary breakthroughs-the two most important of which were, first, the crystallization of the Jewish...

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9. Eschatology, Remythologization, and Cosmic Aporia

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pp. 241-251

Professor Eisenstadt wrote me a letter commissioning me to address myself to the rather pretentious topic to which this paper is devoted (its exact title, I must admit, is my own doing). Furthermore, in his letter he urged me to consider the ways in which the topic was influenced by the "economic, social, and geopolitical conditions and ideological-religious background." This second request compounds...

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10. Old Wine and New Bottles: On Patristic Soteriology and Rabbinic Judaism

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pp. 252-260

After the third century, intellectual leadership in the Roman world had clearly moved from pagans to Christians.1 The triumph of Christianity was not only political but also intellectual. The Church Fathers played a major role in the reinterpretation of the heritage of Antiquity and in the constitution of a new field of knowledge,...

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11. The Role of Christianity in the Depolitization of the Roman Empire

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pp. 261-279

At the beginning of the fourth century, when Constantine granted official recognition to Christianity, Eusebius proposed a historical theology which explained why the prophesied coming of Christ had taken place only in the time of Augustus. "The prophecy remained unfulfilled as long as they [the Jews] were able to live under their...

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12. Architects of Competing Transcendental Visions in Late Antiquity

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pp. 280-287

By the early second century of the present era, intellectuals were well established in the corridors of power as the merchants of doctrines which could bring the temporal world into harmony with the ultimate order of things. In the preceding centuries of Rome's rise to power, philosophers and sages had often whispered in the...

PART IV. The Origins of the Axial Age in China and India

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Introduction: The Axial Age Breakthrough in China and India

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pp. 291-305

The breakthroughs to Axial Age civilizations in China and India were, in many ways, of rather different order than those that have taken place on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean-whether in Ancient Greece and in the Hellenistic civilizations, or in Ancient Israel, Ancient Judaism, and Christianity....

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13. Historical Conditions of the Emergence and Crystallization of the Confucian System

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pp. 306-324

This paper proposes first to identify an earlier stage of the Jasperian "breakthrough" in Chinese history which, I believe, should be regarded as the antecedent of the formation of Confucianism. The conditions for developing early Confucianism follow as a second section. And finally, there are discussions on the crystallization of...

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14. Was There a Transcendental Breakthrough in China?

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pp. 325-359

As I understand it, we are concerned in our present undertaking with examining the historical emergence of certain visions in terms of which men have judged their everyday experience and everyday thinking and, in some sense or another, found them to be fundamentally wanting. Ordinary experience, and the world in which it...

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15. The Structure and Function of the Confucian Intellectual in Ancient China

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pp. 360-373

The emergence of classical Confucian humanism in the sixth century B.C. E., as an expression of the Axial Age, significantly shaped the ethico-religious direction of Chinese culture.1 Although the mode of thought fashioned by Confucius (551-479) and by two of his many followers, Mencius (371-289?) and Hsun Tzu (fl. 298-238),...

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16. The Historical Background of India's Axial Age

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pp. 374-392

During her Axial Age in the middle of the first millennium B.C.E. India experienced a dramatic socio-political and intellectual transformation. It culminated in the "urbanization" of the Ganges valley, the simultaneous rise of the first historical regional kingdoms, and the teachings of Buddha. The historical background of this process,...

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17. Ritual, Revelation, and Axial Age

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pp. 393-406

It may seem at best idiosyncratic to connect ritualism with so dramatic a concept as Karl Jaspers' Axial Age. Even if this ritualism is hallowed by the antiquity and authority of the Veda, it is still a phenomenon that seems to be the very antithesis of anything revolutionary. It is supposed to have gone on for ages past and, in the...

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18. Asvatthaman and Brhannada: Brahmin and Kingly Paradigms in the Sanskrit Epic

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pp. 407-426

The following pages explore certain elements in the construction of post-Axial Hindu civilization, in the light of the problematic Brahminical ideals which emerged during India's Axial period. The underlying argument may be stated briefly in its essentials: it is that the emergence of classical Brahminical ideology helped to create, and to legitimate, a social order which was by nature indeterminate,...

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19. Some Observations on the Place of Intellectuals in Max Weber's Sociology, with Special Reference to Hinduism

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pp. 427-452

The accounts of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs presented in the scholarly sources used by Max Weber, such as the works of Oldenburg, Hopkins, Deussen, Rhys David, Fick, Jolly, Max Muller's Einleitung and his Sacred Books of East, the pertinent contributions to Chantpie de la Saussay's Lehrbuch and the Census of India, etc.,...

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20. The Reflexive and Institutional Achievements of Early Buddhism

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pp. 453-471

This essay takes as its point of departure some propositions contained in essays by Benjamin Schwartz1 and Shmuel Eisenstadt.2 Schwartz has referred to Karl Jaspers' use of the term "Axial Age" to characterise certain momentous developments, certain major spiritual, moral and intellectual breakthroughs, that took place in the...

PART V. Islam

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Introductory Remarks: Islam

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pp. 475

In some way Islam can be seen as yet another secondary breakthrough from Judaism and Christianity, in the sense that both these religions constitute its original starting point and the encounter with these civilizations, but of course especially with the Christian world, constituted a continuous part of the civilizational dynamics of Islam....

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21. The Emergence of Islamic Civilisation

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pp. 476-483

A minor event that has recently taken place in Islamic studies is the publication of a seventh-century silver coin of a hitherto unknown type.1 It is Sasanian in style, and on the evidence of the obverse would be identifiable as a coin of the emperor Khusraw II (ruled 590-628): the image is his, and he is named in the Pahlavi superscription. The image on the reverse continues the illusion: it shows...


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pp. 485-556

E-ISBN-13: 9781438401942
E-ISBN-10: 1438401949
Print-ISBN-13: 9780887060946
Print-ISBN-10: 0887060943

Page Count: 600
Publication Year: 1986

Series Title: SUNY series in Near Eastern Studies (discontinued)