Public Lectures

Public Lecture from Symposium "The Philosophy of Martin Buber and his Biblical Hermeneutics: Between Germanness and Jewishness"

Martin Buber and his Biblical Hermeneutics

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Date: 2010/05/15 13:00 − 14:15
Place: Divinity Hall Chapel, Imadegawa Campus, Doshisha University
Lecture: Ken-ichi KIDA, professor, Yamanashi Eiwa College
Dr. Kenichi Kida delivered a lecture on the hermeneutics of Martin Buber, with focus placed on Buber’s view of theocracy in ancient Israel. Buber authored four hermeneutic works, The Kingdom of God, The Prophetic Faith, Moses, and The Anointed One, all of which were translated into Japanese. In addition to these four works, Dr. Kida made mention of another work of Buber, A Land of Two Peoples, for its importance for the research theme of CISMOR, the “Co-existence of Civilizations and Security.” Dr. Kida introduced Buber’s view of theocracy in ancient Israel, mainly referring to The Kingdom of God.
In The Kingdom of God, Buber discusses what theocracy meant to the Israelites in the earlier period, taking a hint from the words of Gideon, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you” (Judges 8:22). According to the Book of Judges, Gideon became a judge following the calling of God and defeated the enemy. The people of Israel appreciated Gideon and requested him to be their king, but Gideon declined their request and told them that he would return to farming.
Gideon utters the above words in order to decline the request of the people of Israel. These words reflect the notion of the ancient Israelites that no one can become a king at his own will or by heredity; kingship can be assumed only by the man who is chosen and inspired by God.
Then, Buber discusses mythologies surrounding a “God-King” which reflects the ideology behind the three great ancient Oriental civilizations: Egyptian, Babylonian, and South Arabic, in comparison to the concept of kingship held by the ancient Israelites. All these civilizations emerged along large rivers and fertile land, where the ruling class took over the rule by force, had slaves farm the land, and monopolized power and wealth.
Societies that were developed in these civilizations consisted of slaves that constituted a majority of the population and the ruling class that was entirely isolated from the slaves. The idea of a “God-King” as seen in the ancient Oriental civilizations was conceived with a view to conferring theological authority to the human kings. According to Dr. Kida, the concept of “the child of God” in Sumerian mythology was conceived for the same purpose, though Buber made no mention of it.
Buber argues that the concept of a “God-King” found in these three great civilizations in the ancient Orient stands in sharp contrast to the concept of theocracy of ancient Israel. Ancient Israel did not have fertile land, the major constituents of its society were farmers and shepherds, and there was no clear distinction between farmers and the ruling class.
In this light, the theocracy of Israel was not designed to justify the sovereignty of human rulers; instead, the theocracy was meant to protect and take care of poor people. In ancient Israel, God, as a true king (melekh), led and saved the Israelites, and the people submitted themselves to God. This means, in the theocracy of ancient Israel, a king (melekh) should be ready to sacrifice himself for his people and to expose himself to enemies at the forefront. This basic image matches Moses depicted in the Book of Exodus and the Suffering Servant in the Book of Isaiah.
According to Dr. Kida, the image of a king as a savior of people who is willing to sacrifice himself became increasingly popular from the 2nd century B.C. to the 1st century B.C. Of course, this idea also fits the image of Jesus, the Christian messiah. The notion of the theocracy of ancient Israel discussed by Buber offers important insights that shed light on how the image of a Jewish messiah shifted to that of the Christian messiah.

Shunsuke Sugita
(Research Assistant, Graduate Student of School of Theology, Doshisha University)
*Admission Free,No reservation necessary
*Inquiry: 075-251-3972 (CISMOR)