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Ancient Judaism, also known as Ancient Palestine: Society and Religion, is a book written by Maximilian Weber, a Germanmarker economist and sociologist, in early the 20th century. The original edition was in German - the essays on Ancient Judaism appeared originally in the 1917–1919 issues of the Archiv fur Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialforschung. Marianne Weber, his wife, published the essays as Part Three of his Gesammelte Aufsatze zur Religionssoziologie' in 1920–1921. An English translation was made in 1952 and several editions were released since then.

It was his fourth and last major work on the sociology of religion, after The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, The Religion of China: Confucianism and Taoism and The Religion of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and Buddhism. In this work he attempts to explain the 'combination of circumstances' that were responsible for the early differences between Oriental and Occidental religiosity. It is especially visible when the interworldly asceticism developed by Western Christianity is contrasted to mystical contemplation of a sort developed in Indiamarker. Weber's premature death in 1920 prevented him from following Ancient Judaism with his planned analysis of Psalms, Book of Jacob, Talmudic Jewry, early Christianity and Islam.

Weber said that Anyone who is heir to traditions of modern European civilization will approach problems of universal history with a set of questions, which to him appear both inevitable and legitimate. These questions will turn on the combination of circumstances which has brought about the cultural phenomena that are uniquely Western and that have at the same time (...) a universal cultural significance.

Weber notes that Judaism not only fathered Christianity and Islam, but was crucial to the rise of modern Occident state, as its influence were as important to those of Hellenistic and Roman cultures.

Book content

In Ancient Judaism, Weber deals specifically with the following ares:

Types of Asceticism and the Significance of Ancient Judaism

Weber noted that some aspects of Christianity sought to conquer and change the world, instead of withdrawing from its imperfections. This fundamental distinctiveness of Christianity (when compared to Far East religions) stems originally from the ancient Jewish prophecy. Weber stated his reasons for investigating ancient Judaism:

For the Jew (...) social order of the world was conceived to have been turned into the opposite of the one promised for the future, but in the future it was to be overturned so that Jewry could be once again dominant. The world was conceived as neither eternal nor unchangeable, but rather as being created. Its present structure were a product of man's actions, above all those of the Jews and God's reaction to them. Hence the world was an historical product designed to give way to the truly God-ordained order (...).

There existed in addition a highly rational religious ethic of social conduct; it was free of magic and all forms of irrational quest for salvation; it was inwardly worlds apart from the path of salvation offered by Asiatic religions. To a large extent this ethic still underlies contemporary Middle Eastern and European ethic. World-historical interest in Jewry rests upon this fact.

Thus, in considering the conditions of Jewry's evolution, we stand at a turning point of the whole cultural development of the West and the Middle East.

History and Social Organization of Ancient Palestine

Weber analysed the interaction between the Bedouins, the cities, the herdsmen and the peasants. The conflicts between them and the rise and fall of United Monarchy.

The time of United Monarchy appears as a mere episode, dividing the period of confederacy since the Exodus and the settlement of the Israelites in Palestine from the period of political decline following the Division of the Monarchy. This division into periods had major implications for religious history - the basics tenets of Judaism were formulated during the time of Israelite confederacy and after the fall of United Monarchy they became the basis of the prophetic movement that left a lasting impression on the Western civilisation.

Political Organization and Religious Ideas in the Time of the Confederacy and the Early Kings

Weber discusses the organisation of the early confederacy, the unique qualities of Israelites relations to Yahweh, influence of foreign cults, types of religious ecstasy and the struggle of the priests against ecstasy and idol worship.

Political Decline, Religious Conflict and Biblical Prophecy

Here Weber describes the times of the Division of the Monarchy, social aspects of Biblical prophecy, social orientation of the prophets, demagogues and pamphleteers, ecstasy and politics, ethic and theodicity of the Prophets.

Reinhard Bendix summarising the Weber work writes that free of magic and esoteric speculations, devoted to the study of law, vigiliant in the effort to do what was right in the eyes of the Lord in the hope of a better future, the prophets established a religion of faith that subjected man's daily life to the imperatives of a divinely ordained moral law. In this way, ancient Judaism helped create the moral rationalism of Western civilisation.

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