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Ethical Transition (with Women Codicil)

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: Synoptic Cc: WSW (and various individuals) On: Ethical Transition From: Bruce I was more or less minding my own business, cataloguing a lost and
    Message 1 of 2 , Nov 28, 2005
      To: Synoptic
      Cc: WSW (and various individuals)
      On: Ethical Transition
      From: Bruce

      I was more or less minding my own business, cataloguing a lost and
      rediscovered carton of books ("there is more joy . . ."). Among those books
      was James Kleist's study of the Didache or "Teaching," a text of disputed
      affiliation and thus of philological interest. And my attention strayed just
      a bit, and the following line from the Introduction to the Epistle of
      Barnabas, a work discussed in the same volume, a line summarizing that
      Epistle's main points, p29, happened to catch my eye:

      "God was not pleased with the sacrifice of bulls and goats. The sacrifice He
      desires is that of a contrite heart."

      This quickly takes us to Mt 9:13 [and Mt 12:7]. Jesus is speaking: Go and
      learn [12:7, "If you had learned"] what this means: "I desire mercy and not
      sacrifice." What "Jesus" is here being made to refer to is things in the
      earlier Jewish prophetic tradition, things like Isaiah 1:11 ("What to me is
      the multitude of your sacrifices, says the Lord") ending in Is 1:17 ("Learn
      to do good, seek justice, correct oppression"). Also Hosea 6:6 ("I desire
      mercy and not sacrifice"). And a host of other things. All of which have in
      common the rejection of sacrifice as a means of virtue, and the substitution
      of something more human-centered as that of which the higher powers either
      approve or disapprove, and on which the treatment of the individual by the
      higher powers will rest. This shift, or incipient shift, is what I am
      calling the Ethical Transition. The whole thing has historical, and
      historiographical dimensions, as will become clear below.

      A recent study by A Taeko Brooks, my colleague in the Warring States Project
      at the University of Massachusetts, points to a similar transition occurring
      in ancient China, a transition revealed only after careful philological
      analysis of the largest surviving text from that period, called the Dzwo
      Jwan (spellings differ; don't worry about it), a purported commentary on an
      earlier chronicle and an attempt to make sense of the laws of history
      supposedly latent in the events recorded in that chronicle. The chronicle in
      question is the "Spring and Autumn" of Lu, Lu being one of the early Sinitic
      states. The chronicle covers events from 0722 to 0481, and is a contemporary
      record. The commentary has been thought to date from the time of Confucius,
      and to include documents deriving from the Spring and Autumn period itself;
      neither thought is correct. The demonstration that it is incorrect is
      interesting in itself, as a specimen of craft, but the import, the reason
      for mentioning it here, is that it may contribute a missing dimension to the
      history of religion in antiquity. I will here by way of introduction append
      Taeko's own summary of her work, recently posted as a matter of Sinological
      information to the WSW list, and then at the end take up the larger question
      in a CODICIL (apologies to WSW members for the repetition of Taeko's
      summary; they may skip at once to the CODICIL). The ultimate moral here is
      the value of philology in making difficult texts fully available to the
      historian; in this case, the historian of religion. Or of women.

      TAEKO'S SUMMARY (minus headnote and concluding acknowledgement)

      My paper on the Dzwo Jwan has been mentioned a few times recently on WSW.
      The journal in which it was published has probably now reached most
      libraries, but for those who do not have it handy, I thought it might be
      helpful if I gave a short outline of the argument and conclusions.

      The reference is: Heaven, Li, and the Formation of the Zuozhuan. Oriens
      Extremus, v44 (2003/2004), 51-100.

      Summary. I conclude that the DJ is in its entirety an 04th century text, and
      was compiled in several installments over the course of that century. I find
      that it reflects the same progress in intellectual history that is also
      visible in the other major 04th century texts. It is not necessary to reject
      certain groups of passages (as for instance the prediction passages) to
      reach this account of the text, though it is sometimes necessary to
      recognize that there are interpolations in some of the longer stories.

      The argument runs like this.

      1. Heaven. There are many passages (in fact, 131 of them) that use the word
      Heaven (Tyen) one or more times. These reflect different theories of how
      Heaven acts in human affairs. The Heaven passages may this be separated into
      about five different groups. It might be that the text is simply confused
      about Heaven, or that it is reporting the different Heaven views current in
      different states, or a change in Heaven views over the time which the
      stories supposedly represent, the 08th through 05th centuries. None of these
      possibilities checks with the arrangement of the data (by state, or by date)
      in the text. Instead, there are hints that the different views of Heaven are
      those held by successive compilers of the DJ itself. This is signaled by
      several anecdotes in which one view of Heaven is explicitly rejected, in
      favor of another one.

      For instance, DJ 8/6:2:

      "Ying dreamed that Heaven sent someone to say to him, "Sacrifice to me, and
      I will reward you." He had someone ask Shr Jvngbwo about it. Shr Jvngbwo
      said, "I do not know." Later, he told one of his people, who said, "The
      spirits reward rvn and penalize depravity. To be depraved and escape
      punishment is already a blessing. Even if you do sacrifice, can you avoid
      being banished?" The day after he sacrificed, he was indeed banished."

      That is, the efficacy of sacrifice is rejected, and the efficacy of ethical
      behavior is substituted as the proper way to influence Heaven on an
      individual's behalf.

      This passage establishes that the auguristic/sacrificial view is earlier
      than (since it is rejected by) the ethical view. There are several other
      rejection passages, and together, they suffice to arrange all five groups of
      Heaven passages in historical sequence.

      2. This investigation is then repeated for all the passages containing Li
      (ritual propriety), of which there are 278. These again, examined
      independently, fall into five groups, and again, there are rejection
      anecdotes which permit ordering them in the way that the writers of the text
      seemed to do. The result is a sequence of five groups of Li passages.

      3. It is then shown that the two series describe the same trajectory, from
      an auguristic/sacrificial view to an ethical view and finally to a
      cosmological view, in which there is no ethical content to Heaven at all,
      and things simply happen as they happen. These last are not the passages of
      DJ which are most commonly read, and when mentioned at all, they cause (as
      has been noticed in earlier WSW discussions) a problem for the standard
      ethical interpretation of the DJ. They are not a problem, they are simply
      the last and most cynical phase of the DJ authors' attempt to make sense of
      history in human terms.

      4. An attempt is made to investigate the shortest passages in DJ, those
      which comment directly on the wording of the Chun/Chyou. These turn out to
      belong to the earliest, or auguristic/sacrificial layer of the text, one
      which is scarcely represented in the longer story material.

      5. Then an attempt is made to investigate the final or cosmological layer of
      the DJ in order to determine its absolute date. It turns out to coordinate
      with the rise of cosmological thinking in Chi, associated with Dzou Yen and
      others, who in turn came to prominence about 0313, following the departure
      of Mencius (and his ethical theories) from Chi.

      This end date for the latest material in the DJ agrees well with other
      determinations. In particular, it accommodates the prediction passages not
      as later intrusions, but rather as belonging properly to the latest layer of
      the DJ.

      6. Finally, the entire implied evolution of thought in the DJ is compared
      with the evolution of the same issues in known 04th century texts, such as
      the Gwandz and the Mwodz, along with the middle layers of the Analects. It
      is found that all demonstrate the same succession of key issues, if not
      exactly the same philosophical attitude toward those key issues.

      One rather nice detail is that the Yi predictions in DJ are spread over more
      than one layer, but the interpretations of Yi divinations or hexagrams
      according to the trigram theory are all late. This implies that the trigram
      theory arose late in the history of Yi interpretation, agreeing with the
      opinion of Wilhelm and others.

      I suppose that the whole paper can be seen as a long footnote to Waley's
      point (Way and Its Power, p21) about a revolution in thinking during the
      Warring States. The term "auguristic/sacrificial" is borrowed from him. I
      merely add a few more stages to the two he distinguished, and anchor the
      resulting stages a little more precisely in the major texts of the 04th
      century, along with adding the DJ itself to the list of those major 04th
      century texts.

      [end of Taeko's summary]


      Waley's picture of an auguristic/sacrificial age yielding to an ethical age
      is compressed, in the Dzwo Jwan case as Taeko has analyzed it, into the
      evolution of a single documented viewpoint, which might be called a
      para-Confucian viewpoint, over almost the whole course of the 04th century.
      That evolution also gets a more fine-grained treatment, including the end of
      ethics (as it might be called) in the cosmological period, at the very end
      of the 04c.

      If we keep our question simple, and confine it to the sacrificial/ethical
      transition, we may ask, not only of this now documented Chinese version of
      the transition, but of the theme above noted in Jewish tradition,
      represented sporadically in Isaiah, Hosea, and other of the Prophets, and
      not excluding Jesus as seen (especially) by the second tier of the Jesus
      literature: What is going on? Why does this theme, this opposition to a
      previously dominant theme, appear? Can we say anything about it? Or are we
      merely underage spectators at History's movie?

      Some might point to an Axial Age, but the time span of that age as usually
      posited is so long as to render the label meaningless. There is not a single
      point, or age, in real time at which these manifestations (and other cognate
      phenomena) appear. Time as such is not the agent. Nor is it given that the
      second or ethical stage becomes dominant in the tradition in question, so
      there is not a sequence paradigm at work. Hegel is not in play. We need to
      look for something else (and to be prepared to find nothing at all, which
      would lead us to the conclusion that such outbursts occur at random in human

      I would suggest that the common element, the agent establishing a terminus a
      quo, the thing that increases the likelihood of such outbursts to the point
      where they may well register in the preserved documentary evidence, is the
      social transition from a personal state (or pre-state arrangement) to a
      stronger and more integrated state, at whatever relative point in a given
      tradition, and at whatever point in absolute time, that transition may
      occur. In Jewish tradition, we have the establishment of the Kingship under
      David and especially Solomon, and the centering of previous purity practices
      in the expanded Temple cult; it is this cult, in part, against which the
      later prophets protest. That protest has a strong component appealing for
      justice, especially for the poor as against the rich; this element is also
      present in the Jesus literature, though stronger in its second phase
      (Matthew, Luke) than in its first (Mark).

      In Chinese tradition, we have the transition from the old palace state
      supported by a small military elite, to a more modern type of state which
      for the first time incorporates, and exploits, the lower population, and
      whose economic progress leads to wealth, not only in the palace, but also
      among a wider group of privileged persons and industrial entrepreneurs, and
      reaching as far as the frankly non-elite strata. The motive for making the
      state transition in the first place was essentially to compete better at the
      mandatory game of war with other states. The effects of the state transition
      were many, but among them were the appearance of the concept of justice for
      the lowly (in the specific form of higher review of lower sentences; that
      is, not merely laws, but a legal system), and the incorporation of some
      low-population values into the inventory of elite values (among them filial
      piety or family virtue, which had played no role in the thought of the
      actual Confucius, more than a century earlier). In other words, the needs of
      the lowly were being met in a sort of social contract whose end result was
      to reconcile the lowly to the new state, to induce them to regard it as
      beneficial, and to make them willing to serve the state militarily and
      otherwise. State service then becomes an option for all of society, and the
      Chinese "bamboo cabin" myth of poverty to eminence takes its beginning from
      this period. The emblematic tale for the original social contract is a story
      in the DJ text itself, at Jwang 10:1 (Legge tr p86).

      Substrate language terms (like the native word for "dog") also intrude at
      this period, for the first time, into otherwise elite texts. A point of
      merely linguistic interest, but also with cultural history aspects. The
      high, in some degree, are learning to speak the language of the low.


      Is there any other effect of the new state, other than to produce an
      interest in popular justice (plus perhaps a slight expansion of the
      lexicon)? There are many such effects; the new state and its effects are
      practically the whole story of these centuries in China. Another rather
      interesting outcome is the appearance of an interest in female rights. In
      the canonical set of Shr poems, there reposes one (only tenuously present in
      that series, as philological investigation can disclose) which contrasts the
      happy state of the male child with the miserable state of the female child,
      even in the same family. It amounts to a protest poem. It is as shocking in
      context as would be a poem of female rage interpolated into the Davidic
      canon of Psalms. There are also in China, but only from the 04c onward and
      not earlier, tales of female enterprise and initiative and ruthless courage
      (again, the DJ itself is a major repository of such material). I have long
      attempted to draw the attention of female scholars to this material, with an
      utterly comprehensive and crushing lack of success. I now, as a last resort,
      extend the invitation to include male scholars. My own suspicion is that
      interest in women's rights and life possibilities arises, in any society, as
      a result of greater wealth, from some of which economic progress women
      benefit, making their claims to equality in other areas significantly easier
      to assert. Wealth is the great equalizer. And in the Chinese case (as
      perhaps also in the Jewish case), greater elite wealth is itself a result of
      the new and economically more active state. We have a cluster of events, and
      not a scatter of events. This makes much more historic sense.

      Just to test the generality of this proposition: Do we see in the Jewish
      tradition also a slightly different take on women associated with the
      prophetic advocacy of rights in general? I am not a student of this
      material, but I think it may be perceptible. The figure of the widow, for
      whom not only sympathy but justice is urged, seems to be a standard element
      in prophetic discourse. In the claimed words and deeds of Jesus, considered
      as within that prophetic tradition, the Widow's Mite story, the many
      instances of women as beneficiaries of Jesus's healing miracles, and the
      recurring instances of rich women serving as hostesses and otherwise backers
      of the Jesus movement (including its Hellenic, or Pauline, aspect), seem to
      point somehow or other in the same direction.

      Needless to say, all this requires further work. My purpose in this note is
      merely to bring to wider attention a research result that seems to make
      ancient China available, for the first time, as material for the
      investigation of these matters in ancient societies generally.


      E Bruce Brooks
      Research Professor of Chinese
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst
    • Horace Jeffery Hodges
      Dear Bruce, I found the post interesting and passed it on to Robert Bellah, who s working on a tome on religious evolution and who has some related ideas and
      Message 2 of 2 , Nov 29, 2005
        Dear Bruce,

        I found the post interesting and passed it on to
        Robert Bellah, who's working on a tome on religious
        evolution and who has some related ideas and therefore
        might find it interesting.

        I'll let you know if he has any reaction to it. He is
        pretty busy and getting on in years as he presses
        against time to finish his magnum opus.

        Best Regards,

        Jeffery Hodges

        --- E Bruce Brooks <ebbrooks@...> wrote:

        > To: Synoptic
        > Cc: WSW (and various individuals)
        > On: Ethical Transition
        > From: Bruce

        University Degrees:

        Ph.D., History, U.C. Berkeley
        (Doctoral Thesis: "Food as Synecdoche in John's Gospel and Gnostic Texts")
        M.A., History of Science, U.C. Berkeley
        B.A., English Language and Literature, Baylor University

        Email Address:




        Office Address:

        Assistant Professor Horace Jeffery Hodges
        Department of English Language and Literature
        Korea University
        136-701 Anam-dong, Seongbuk-gu
        South Korea

        Home Address:

        Dr. Sun-Ae Hwang and Dr. Horace Jeffery Hodges
        Sehan Apt. 102-2302
        Sinnae-dong 795
        Seoul 131-770
        South Korea
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