The intolerance and cruelty criticized


Respectable but wrong

Peter Sloterdijk's tightening of Jan Assmann's "Mosaic distinction" by Micha Brumlik
11.04.2013. A historical panorama shows that there was no need for a "Mosaic distinction" to massacre one's own people and others in the name of a religion: a refutation of the Assmann-Sloterdijk hypothesis.
Micha Brumlik turns against the theses formulated by Jan Assmann (here) and Peter Sloterdijk (here) about the "Mosaic distinction" and the violence of monothism.Here is an overview of the course of the debate. (D.Red.)


Preliminary remark

Jan Assmann's thesis of the Mosaic distinction as well as Peter Sloterdijk's intensification of this thesis, according to which the Mosaic distinction - in the historical religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam it shaped - from "autogenocidal self-exclusion" in ethnogenesis to the intolerant formation of compulsory membership and - in the political Religions of National Socialism and Stalinism - which would have led to the catastrophic mass murders of modern times is respectable and stimulating. Respectable because both stand in a tradition of self-criticism of that Western modernity, which at the latest in Horkheimer / Adorno's "Dialectic of Enlightenment" reached its first climax. Stimulating because it provokes one to rethink the basics of our culture. In all of this one does not do justice to either Assmann or Sloterdijk if one considers their theses to be identical, nevertheless, in the following, for the sake of the stringency of the debate, we speak of an "Assmann-Sloterdijk hypothesis" consisting of three parts. The first part asserts (with Jan Assmann) that the "Mosaic distinction" - that is, the distinction between true and false in religion - was an emergent, world-historical singularity, the second part asserts that this distinction provides a pattern of legitimation for the exercise of violence hold, especially against the members of his own group, a circumstance that Peter Sloterdijk third pointedly when he claims that a "master narrative", a pattern of interpretation, has arisen that accordingly believes in a very special way to unbearable, incomprehensible cruelty and to Disposition to act "autogenocidal self-exclusion" led.

In the following I try to refute the "A.S. hypothesis" in three lines of argument: First I am looking into the question of whether Assmann and Sloterdijk do justice to the methodological and methodological hypotheses of their hypothesis and whether they can do justice to them at all; Secondly I take up Sloterdijk's inaugurated, universal historical view of cruelty and intolerance, especially against one's own community, condense this view into a lively idea of ​​a universal historical theory of cruelty ("atrocitology") and try to show that it is precisely in its context that the "AS hypothesis "does not apply while i third with a few remarks on Judaism, which de facto has nothing to do with the presumed Israelite religion, wants to anticipate possible misunderstanding anti-Judaistic and anti-Semitic readings of the "A.S. hypothesis".

1. Methodical, methodological

The "A.S. hypothesis" can basically be understood in two ways:
a. as a universal historical hypothesis about the real course of world history, which ascribes causal effectiveness to the adoption of the singular Mosaic narrative in the practice of intolerance and cruelty. In the sense that where this narrative is not available, the story was less cruel.
b. as an essentially hermeneutical and textualistic assumption, with Assmann more clearly than with Sloterdijk, memory-oriented assumption, which follows the textual traces of this narrative in further texts, but thereby loses its criticality of religion.

1.1. Faith and Truth in the Axial Age
Both variants, however, are based on Assmann's obviously misunderstood assumption of the origin of the Mosaic distinction in Egypt during the Akhenaten period, which he has now expressly withdrawn in the dispute with Rolf Schieder and declared to be nonsense. The "echnatonic" misunderstanding can be attributed to the fact that Jan Assmann is well informed about the fatal tradition of an ultimately anti-Judaic to anti-Semitic ancient orientalism, which is why he avoided - historically coherent and politically sensitive - the Mosaic distinction from one in the fourteenth century before the The calendar can be attributed to "early Judaism" that did not yet exist anyway. In contrast to Assmann, however, Peter Sloterdijk seems to be leaning towards this when he uses the rather unusual attribute "old Jewish". The main question to be asked is, therefore, whether the original, initial synthesis of faith and (unconditional) claim to truth can only be attributed to the Mosaic narratives. That does not seem to me to be the case with regard to the "Axial Age". Here are a few examples:

1.1.1. Greek antiquity
Parmenides wrote (c. 549 - 500 BC):
"Because no bad fortune sent you to come this way, ... but law and justice. Now you should experience everything", says the goddess [!!!] in the didactic poem of Parmenides, "both the well-rounded truth unshakably heart as well as of mortal pseudo-opinions. "[1]

Assmann is well aware of this, although he tends to downplay the "religious" part of this "philosophy" in the narrower sense, in order to gain more profile for the "Mosaic distinction". Against this background, it must be made clear that the "Mosaic distinction" between (practical) truth and belief first requires their differentiation, a differentiation that is then canceled. Whether this corresponds to the religion of the "Greeks", the "gods of Greece" (Walter F. Otto), is quite debatable: Henning Ottmann, for example, rightly states that "Themis" and "Dike" are divine powers of law and justice ( therefore of practical truth!) the thinking of the Hellenes especially in the establishment, internal order and defense of their political communities motivated. [2] Has violence been exercised against members of one's own community in the name of this religion? In any case, Socrates was sentenced to death in Athens for alleged wickedness; a clear case of religiously juridified violence against internal deviants.

1.1.2. Persian antiquity
When exactly Zarathustra lived is still unclear. More recent estimates date his lifetime from 618 to 541 BC [3] But in the first Gatha it says:
"With outstretched hands in front of him, who supports me, I implore all gods, oh wise one, first of all the benevolent state of mind, life-giving through truth." [4]

In addition, there are - even if only sparsely documented - traditions according to which followers of this belief, even members of a royal family, were prepared to risk their own lives and the lives of their relatives in a religious war in order to be able to remain faithful to this belief. The Achaemenid kings of Persia attributed their successes to the greatness of their god. [5]

1.2. First interim result
The connection between religion and truth, including the authorization to exercise violence, especially against members of one's own group, was by no means articulated only in the Mosaic narratives in the Axial Age and finally codified in the sixth century, under Ezra and Nehemiah, but also found demonstrably in other cultures instead of. It can be assumed that this was a general, evolutionary peculiarity of the transition to fully developed high cultures.[6]

1.3. Causalist Burdens of Proof
In order to corroborate the culturally critical burden of proof of the "AS hypothesis", Assmann and Sloterdijk would have to show that the Mosaic narrative actually "existed" in the minds and writings of cruel perpetrators, or - more abstract - that it was actually a disposition to act shaped by the Mosaic narrative - and not by other (textual) causes - that led to intolerance up to and including murder (against members of one's own group). In this case the "A.S. hypothesis" would have the methodological status of Max Weber's hypothesis about the origin of capitalism from the Calvinist doctrine of predestination or Werner Sombart's conjecture about the origin of capitalism from the spirit of Judaism. As far as I can see, this positive evidence from the sources has not yet been provided by Assmann and Sloterdijk. But at least - more on this in Section 2, "Atrocitology" - they would have to prove that intolerance and cruelty in the name of God or the gods (also against members of their own group) did not occur in cultures that do not know the Mosaic distinction.

1.4. Hermeneutical naivete
By, above all, Peter Sloterdijk, against his better judgment ("All the processes mentioned have their true place in the narratives themselves"), isolates the Mosaic narratives from a holistic, contextualistic and religious-historical enlightened reading, and even prepares them ("Primordial scene of the old Jewish anti-commingling policy" ) and maintains it as the underlying central motif of the "old Jewish" religion after isolation from other biblical writings, he ignores the crucial question of how these narratives have been referred to in the historically developed texts and liturgies of Judaism, Christianity and Islam since late antiquity has been. This is discussed again in Section 3, "Mosaism and Judaism". First, however, it must be checked whether it was actually only this tradition that generated atrocities up to the present day.

2. Atrocitology

We owe "A New History of Mankind" to the linguist and evolutionary anthropologist Steven Pinker, which has been empirically documented on far more than a thousand pages and statistically plausible from the perspective of the sociobiologist to the fact that, for a Western self-criticism, absolutely not at all intuitive The "cruelty" has decreased over the course of history: namely when the quotient of the size of the population and acts of killing is used as a measure. In the first chapter, Pinker deals with the atrocities also thematized by Assmann and Sloterdijk, after admitting that the authors of the Bible in the aforementioned atrocities, even if they were actually only fictions, a "cadaver obedience to customs and Authorities "would have paid homage - to determine:
"In the last millennia and centuries the Bible has been glossed over, declared an allegory, suppressed or discreetly ignored by less violent texts (the Talmud for Jews, the New Testament for Christians). And that is exactly what it is about. Sensitivity to violence has has changed so much that religious people today subdivide their attitude towards the Bible. They pay lip service to the Bible as a symbol of morality, but in reality derive their morality from more modern principles. "[7]

2.1. Mega killings - Genghis Khan

In 2011 Pinker wrote a foreword to a book by Matthew White that was not translated into German under the cynical-sounding title "Atrocitology. Humanity's 100 Deadliest Achievements". [8] At the end of his extensive study, the author publishes a "Ranking: The One Hundred Deadliest Multicides". At the top of this list is the Second World War with 66 million dead, but in second place the campaigns of Genghis Khan with 40 million dead, in third place the politics of Mao Zedong with also 40 million deaths, in fourth place the famines in British- India with 40 million deaths and in 5th place the fall of the Chinese Ming dynasty with 25 million deaths.
For our context, cases 2 - the campaigns of Genghis Khan - and 4 - the fall of the Ming dynasty - are of particular interest, because in them it can be reliably ruled out that the Mosaic narrative played any role. Genghis Khan's seizure of power and wars of aggression were legitimized by his shamanistic religion: The recurring formula for all his pronouncements was: "In the power of the Eternal Heaven, in the protection of great power and sublimity." [9]
But even if you turn your gaze away from global and universal historical contexts and refer to the Axial Age in the Mediterranean and the Near East - possibly also the distant - Orient, you will come across an abundance of cruel narratives and events that took place in polytheistic cultures.

2.2. Assyrians
The violence of the Assyrian rulers, also and especially emphasized again and again by Erich Zenger, was the obligation they understood to do harm to their enemies on behalf of their pantheon consisting of many gods:
"Then may Assur, the king of the gods [...] set you a bad, unhappy fate and refuse [you] fatherhood, growing old, reaching old age. May Ninlil, his beloved consort, induce him to proclaim calamity for you and intercede for you. [...] May Ninurta, leader of the gods, strike you down with his fierce arrow, fill the field with your corpses and throw your flesh to eagles and vultures to eat. "[10

The Assyrian kings committed to this pantheon did not hesitate to exercise violence in the name of these gods: The certainly polytheistic Assyrian king Sargon II recorded his campaign against Urartu:
"I caused a terrible slaughter in his army, I scattered the corpses of his warriors like malt, I filled the lowlands of the mountains with them. I let their blood flow down the crevices and terraces like a river, coloring the lowlands and open land and slopes I red as anemones. I slaughtered his warriors, the elite corps of his troops, the archers and lancers like sheep at his feet and cut off their heads. "[11]

The fact that Sargon II acted under the influence of a Mosaic narrative in the narrower sense can be ruled out - an influence of the Israelite religion on the violence perpetrated in the name of the Assyrian pantheon can definitely be ruled out. Rather, everything speaks for the fact that at least the bloody land conquest and expulsion fantasies, for example in the book Joshua, were literary-projective reactions to Assyrian acts of war. Admittedly: Sargon II and others directed their intolerant violence - as far as this can be inferred from the available sources - against members of their own community.

2.3. Ugarit
The Ugaritic goddess Anat is also completely rooted in the polytheistic pantheon, of whom a singular joy in extreme cruelty is reported and of whom it is said in a hymn of praise:
"Anat slaughters and is happy. Her insides expand with exultation; her heart fills with joy. Anat's insides cheer as she dips her knees into the blood of the soldiers, her ankle rings into the sap of the squires. Until she is full is killing her in the house, butchering her between the tables. "[12]

2.4. Homer
Certainly no one can say that the Odyssey was monotheistic, and one might even understand that Odysseus killed the suitors harassing his wife; however, also the lovers of the suitors - women who only enjoyed lust - awaited a cruel fate that went beyond mere retribution. Were they "members of your own group"? Was there even a divine mandate? Or was it simply the purely private revenge of an early citizen - so characterized by Adorno and Horkheimer in the "Dialectic of Enlightenment"? Odysseus, who slaughtered the suitors, is ambivalent in this regard: on the one hand he forbids his old nurse not to rejoice over the slain suitors, on the other hand he announces: "This destroyed the judgment of the gods and their evil beginnings." [13] Whether that The following also applied to the murder of twelve women suspected of fornication with the suitors, which Telemachus committed, must nonetheless remain open:
"But when you've created order in the whole house, lead the maids out of the well-placed hall and knock them down between the round house [...] with the long-edged swords until you've stolen their breath of life."
In the end, of course, they are threatened with suffocation:
"So he spoke and tied the rope [...] to the great pillar. [...] And like winged thrushes or pigeons get caught in a net that is set up in a bush when they strive to their resting place, however They have taken up a bitter bed: this is how they held their heads in a row, and nooses were around all their necks so that they would die in the most pitiful way. And they fidgeted their feet, just a little, not very long. "[14]

2.5. The Gita
Dating the "Hindu" didactic poem "Bhagavadgita", undoubtedly also "polytheistic", is difficult; According to the current state of research, it is likely - far removed from all Jewish, monotheistic influences - to have originated between the fifth and second centuries before the calendar. [15] This didactic poem first addresses the obligation to overcome compassion in members of one's own community in order to come to the conclusion that the murder of one's own clan in particular is unethical and that it is important to resist these murder imperatives. By refusing to kill his relatives, Arjuna nonetheless states that this must have been common practice - without any monotheism:
"If those, clouded in their consciousness by greed, see no guilt in the destruction of their clan and no crime in enmity against friends, why should we not have the wisdom to shrink from such a sin, O Janardana, who we know, that the destruction of the clan is evil. "[16]

But this is not the last word in the didactic poem on this question. With reference to the immutability and immortality of the soul, the divine instruction is finally given to go into battle - also and especially against members of your own community:
"There is no greater good for the Ksahtrya than the just battle. When such a battle as the open gate to heaven offers itself to them, the Kshatryas are happy." [17]

It is true that the context of the reasoning is completely different here than in the Mosaic narrative: if it is not about the receipt of instructions and their life-serving principles, but rather about evading the demands of life by abstaining from the world, it remains at the level of action, that by divine command members of their own group should be killed.

2.6. Second interim result
It may be that the isolated Mosaic narrative is one of the cruelest texts in the history of religion, that Exodus 32 - according to Sloterdijk - contains "one of the worst sentences in the history of religion", while the history of religion shows, as the few examples have shown, many such sentences on; none of them have anything to do with a "Mosaic distinction" or "monotheism".

2.7. "Auto-genocidality" or: Peter Sloterdijk and the Maccabees
As if Sloterdijk had seen this, he tries to substantiate his construct of an "old Jewish anti-commingling policy" with halfway verifiable historical sources, namely the Maccabees, which allegedly deal with "extermination actions against assimilation-ready fellow citizens". With these historical events, Sloterdijk wants to prove the fateful legacy of the "auto-genocidality" laid out in the Mosaic narrative. Of course, historical research on the Maccabees does not provide this result. First, Sloterdijk suppresses the fact that the campaigns of the Maccabees were preceded by the polytheistic culture of the Diadochi, which was in fact unusually intolerant and cruel policies of the Seleucid, "polytheistic" king Antiochus Epiphanes against Judaism. The extremely complicated processes of the internal Jewish civil war between Hellenistic and Jewish-minded Judeans, in which the Seleucid king intervened on the side of the Hellenists, need not go into further here; it is enough to give the floor to a recognized expert regarding the causes of the Maccabeean uprising:
"The exact course of the events surrounding the 'religious persecution' of Antiochus has certainly not been clarified in detail and its assessment will probably always remain controversial, although the view established by Bickermann and Hengel dominates in today's research." [18]

This reading (Bickermann, Hengel) assumes that it was the intolerance of the Judean Hellenists (the "assimilation-ready fellow citizens") that provoked the uprising of the Maccabees. In any case, the Maccabees and related sources do not provide conclusive evidence of a Mosaic, auto-genocidal legacy in Judaism.

2.8. Third intermediate result
The "A.S. hypothesis" can neither show that the synthesis of faith and truth is only laid out in the biblical tradition, nor that extreme atrocities against members of one's own community abandoned by divine powers were articulated and actually perpetrated exclusively in this tradition. This essentially refutes the "A.S. hypothesis".

3. Mosaic tradition and rabbinic Judaism

So it is finally, but that can no longer be done in sufficient detail, only to point out that Judaism, which as the religion we know, hardly assumed its present form before the middle of the third century as "rabbinic Judaism" , [19] deliberately downgraded the narratives criticized by the "AS hypothesis", embedded them in other traditions and processed them liturgically - aware of their cruelty. It is neither a repression nor a projection when the most important prayer in the Jewish worship service, the so-called "eighteen supplication" is not with an invocation of Moses, but with the fathers, in conservative and liberal Judaism also with the mothers, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekka, Jacob and Rachel and Leah begins. In Judaism, however, Moses is regarded as "Moshe Rabenu" - as Moses our teacher, as a person with all his faults - and not as a quasi divine ancestor and founder. Even in Judaism in the Augustan era, everything depended on not deifying Moses (a danger that existed in the Samaritan religion), i.e. - unlike in Christianity and Islam - giving preference to one, one person. [20] Incidentally, rabbinical theology has resolved the tension between the election of Israel and God's claim to be God of all peoples through the doctrine of the Noahid commandments, in which God made a covenant with all the peoples of the world in the remarkable way besides all kinds of people Forbidden idolatry there is only one positive instruction: to live under legal conditions. [21] Above all, however, rabbinical theology has deliberately faced the problem of tradition as well as the problem of "fencing in", also mentioned by Sloterdijk. In the decisive treatise of the "Mishnah", a revelation of its own rank that became known in the second century, it says right at the beginning:
"Moses received the Torah from Sinai and handed it over to Joshua, Joshua to the elders, and these to the prophets. And the prophets handed them over to the men of the great congregation. They said three words: 'Be careful in judging, provide for many disciples and make a fence about the Torah. '"[22]

Later the same treatise says: "The world rests on three things: On right, on truth and on peace". Building a fence around teaching only comes third in this central text - after practicing justice and passing on tradition. This suggestion says in all harmlessness that further instructions should be drawn up so that one does not even run into danger of violating God's instructions from Sinai. After all, it was - even before the corresponding Christian adaptations - rabbinical theology that developed a doctrine of the inviolability and dignity of human beings, a doctrine that had its roots in the Old Testament doctrine that was prophetically founded two centuries before the Mosaic narratives universal human rights, especially with the prophet Amos. [23]

And finally, what concerns the phobocracy - which, according to Sloterdijk supposedly characterizes the "old Jewish" religion and eventually transfers to Christianity and Islam - with its specifically Israelite (Jewish?) Tendency towards "autogenocidiality" if Sinaitic directives are not adhered to, rabbinical theology has another Set the institution of the Day of Atonement, the central principle of which is: "The Day of Atonement atones for transgressions between a person and God. The Day of Atonement only atones for transgressions between a person and his neighbor if he has been reconciled with his neighbor beforehand." [24]

The supposedly autogenocidal phobocracy in the "old Jewish" religion - even if only in traces - is here - in the text and in the liturgy - completely transferred into a doctrine of appreciative, normative intersubjectivity and completely transformed into the institutions of promise and forgiveness. Nothing could be further from the spirit of carnage. Certainly: these are also only texts and their symbolic staging, liturgies - whether and to what extent they have shaped the actual actions and behavior of Jews in the social, political and economic areas is a completely different question - which can only be decided by historical source research.

3.1. Result
The "A.S. hypothesis" has been falsified. In terms of the history of philosophy, it has not been able to prove that the connection between faith and practical truth can be attributed solely to the Mosaic narrative, nor has it provided evidence that can only be proven through real historical source research that intolerance and cruelty at the behest of God or the gods are exclusively the Mosaic Narrative underlying disposition is due. Rather, conversely, instructive examples from the history of religion could be cited that polytheistic cultures were always as cruel (and intolerant) towards members of their own community as the fantasized actors of the only textually existing Mosaic narrative.

I recognize in the "A.S. hypothesis"
a. one Lack of dialectic when considering intellectual positions, i.e. misunderstanding the fact that precisely (!) in the processing and reworking of rejected and offensive positions, new, almost opposing positions arise;
b. one Lack of materialistic perspective, i.e. ignoring and overlooking the fact that (by no means only!) desires and cravings for goods of all kinds motivate intolerance and cruelty; as
c. a pseudo-causalistically oriented impact-historical awareness, i.e. an attitude that believes that it can isolate individual passages from only holistically understandable text contexts and then assert them as causal factors without further evidence.

Critical religious history could also be pursued differently.


[1] Parmenides, Fragments, in: H. Diels, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, Reinbek 1957, p.44.

[2] H. Ottmann, History of Political Thought, The Greeks from Homer to Sokrates, Stuttgart 2001, p. 31 f.

[3] M. Stausberg, Zarathustra und seine Religion, Munich 2005, p. 23.

[4] loc. Cit.

[5] loc. Cit. P.34.

[6] R.N. Bellah / H. Joas (Ed.), The Axial Age and Its Consequences. Cambridge, MA 2012.

[7] S. Pinker, violence. A new history of mankind. Ffm. 2011, p. 38.

[8] Edinburgh 2011.

[9] M. Weiers, History of the Mongols, Stuttgart 2004, p. 65.

[10] W. Beyerlin (ed.), Religionsgeschichtliches Textbuch zum Alten Testament, Göttingen 1985, p. 154.

[11] E. Cancik-Kirschbaum, The Assyrians. History, Society, Culture, Munich 2003, p. 70.

[12] W. Beyerlin (ed.) Religionsgeschichtliches Textbuch zum Alten Testament, Göttingen 1985, p. 214.

[13] Odyssey, Canto 22, 415 f.

[14] Homer, Die Odysse, German by Wolfgang Schadewaldt, Reinbek 1958, p. 295 (22, 440-473).

[15] Bhagavad Gita, The Song of the Sublime, translated from Sanskrit and edited by Michael von Brück, Ffm. 1993.

[16] The Bhagavadgita, In the transmission of Sri Aurobindo, Freiburg 1998, p. 49.

[17] loc. Cit. P. 55.

[18] P. Schäfer, Das Judentum in der Antike, Stuttgart 1983, p. 61; E. Bickermann, The God of the Maccabees, Berlin 1937; M. Hengel, Judaism and Hellenism, Tübingen 1973.

[19] S.J.D. Cohen, The Beginnings of Jewishness, Berkeley 1999; D. Boyarin, Borderlines. The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity, Philadelphia 2004.

[20] "Moses", in: Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. 12, Jerusalem n.d. Pp. 393-298.

[21] Babylonian Talmud, Trakatat Synhedrin 56 f.

[22] Mishnah, Proverbs of the Fathers I, 1.

[23] Prophetic international law and sanctification of man - Jewish roots of human dignity, in: S.J. Lederhilger (Ed.) Forsake God - Human Dignity and Images of Man, Ffm. 2007, pp. 77 - 90.

[24] Mishnah, treatise Joma VIII 9b.