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History 210 The Axial or Classical Age: ideas, ethics, religions 500 BCE-500 CE
Why did all these new ideas emerge at about the same time? major social changes: • iron-age technology (1000 BCE) led to higher productivity and deadlier war • growing cities, increasing commerce, emerging literate merchant classes • led to new contacts between civilizations • and to scholarly networks • Schools refined and challenged thinkers • emergence of new states and empires; state sponsorship was an important motivation.
Big Ideas • Judaism: • Developed among the Hebrews, recorded in the Old Testament • early tradition of migration to Palestine, led by Abraham • early tradition of enslavement in Egypt and escape • establishment of state of Israel ca. 1000 BCE • soon divided into Israel (north) and Judah (south) • precarious existence thanks to great empires • Assyrian conquest of Israel in 722 BCE • Babylonian conquest of Judah in 586 BCE
Judaism • What did they believe? • Distinctive conception of God • Yahweh demanded exclusive loyalty • relationship with Yahweh as a covenant (contract) • role as chosen people in return for sole devotion • lofty, transcendent deity—but communication was possible • divine action in the historical process • transformed into a god of social justice and compassion
Zoroaster, ca. 7th-6th cent. B.C.E. • World shaping battle between good and evil, truth and lie • Ahura Mazda (represented by fire and light) • Ahriman or Angra Mainyu (represented darkness and night) • Ahura Mazda will eventually win, aided by a final savior • Free Will • Good thoughts, words, deeds • Influential religion in southern Asia • Mutual interaction with Judaism
Hinduism Upanishads (mystical, philosophical works) developed in response to dissatisfaction with Brahmins • A. composed between 800 and 400 b.c.e. • B. probe inner meaning of Vedic sacrifices—introspection • C. central idea: Brahman (the World Soul) as ultimate reality • i. individual human soul (atman) as part of Brahma • ii. final goal of humans is union with Brahman (moksha or “liberation”) • iii. achieving moksha takes many lifetime • iv. centrality of rebirth (samsara) to Hindu thinking • v. law of karma: reincarnation depends on one’s actions • vi. caste system as a register of spiritual progress. • D. Brahmin priests and especially wandering ascetics spread ideas
Mahavira (Great Hero),599 – 527 BCE • The soul might be freed through ascetic practice of chastity, detachment, truth, selflessness, and charity • Foundation of Jainism: • Five great vows: • nonviolence • truthfulness • no stealing • chastity • detachment • not easy to do. • Never popular outside India.
Gautama Siddhartha, the Buddha,563-483 BCE • Desire is the reason for all suffering • Solution: prayer, meditation, and unselfish behavior to free the soul from desire. • Ultimate relief would come by achieving nirvana: very difficult and few would make it • reincarnation to “higher” bodies was the reward of the virtuous. • Religion spread across East Asia. Why? • because of its universal appeal • endless do-overs
Confucius, 551-479 B.C.E. • Kong Fuzi or Kung Fu Tzu (Confucius) • A bureaucrat in the Chinese state of Lu; had trouble finding a sponsor. • Lived in a time of turmoil and disintegration, end of the Zhou/Chou dynasty, start of period of warring states. • Looked back, idealized the earlier (western) Zhou period. • Analects
Confucius, 551-479 B.C.E. • developed an ethical system based on • hierarchy (filial piety) • tradition • truth • Believed humans are good. • Rulers should cultivate good in people. • Eventually, became dominant in China.
Laozi (old master), ca. 4th cent. • Founder-“God” of Daoism (also Taoism) • Disengagement from the world • The individual should seek connection with the mystical “path” or dao that informs creation. • A reaction against Confucian engagement with the world and its focus on social hierarchy and tradition.
Greek way of knowing • flourished 600–300 BCE (same time as city-states flourished) • key element: the way questions were asked (argument, logic, questioning of received wisdom) • best example: Socrates (469–399 BCE) of Athens • constant questioning of assumptions • conflict with city authorities over Athenian democracy • accused of corrupting the youth • Condemned to death
Plato, 427-347 BCE • Athenian aristocrat • Socratic dialogues • Founded a school for scholars – the Academy • Philosopher King • Do what one does best • Good character – gift from the gods
Aristotle, 384-322 BCE • Student of Plato • Most complex expression of Greek way of knowing • Emphasized empirical observation. • developed the foundations for a systematic understanding of politics, ethics, literature, and natural science. • Teacher of Alexander the Great
Jesus, died ca 33 C.E. • Jewish teacher or rabbi • Challenged the corruption of the established priesthood • radical adherence not only to the letter, but also to the intention, of the Law of Moses. • Messiah (translated into Greek as “Christ” or “anointed one”) • Universal Love of God • Christianity
Comparison: Which of the following traditions focused more on the affairs of this world and credited human rationality with the power to understand that reality? a. Confucianism b. Judaism c. Buddhism d. Hinduism
Change: Which of the following has NOT been put forward as a reason why classical cultural traditions all emerged at roughly the same time? a. Increased trade contact between societies b. New more stable social orders and with them less social change around 500 b.c.e. c. Growing cities and merchant classes where new ideas sometimes found receptive audiences d. Iron Age technology making possible more productive economies and more deadly warfare
Discussion Starter: When you consider the religious traditions of the classical era do you think a. that the similarities between the traditions are more striking than their differences? b. that the similarities between the traditions are in fact superficial? c. that all the traditions at one level are alike? d. that some traditions share important similarities, but no distinctive feature is shared by all traditions?