Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Dylan Burns gives working paper on 'Divine Care for Jews and Christians'

The fundamental notions of what providence ("foresight" = "divine care") is and how it works in early Christian thought are chiefly predicated upon concepts of God and divine activity developed in ancient Jewish religion, as exemplified in teachings preserved in the Bible. Even though there is no word for providence or fate in Hebrew, Biblical literature sets up a God very amenable to providential care, for He is omniscient, omnipotent, and interested in our lives - a broad outlook that set the terms of debate for wrestling with questions of providence, theodicy, and human responsibility. These themes are so integral to our modern conception of a ‘biblical’ God that their identification can appear banal; yet in the context of ancient Greek philosophy, these are extreme views. This paper - a chapter from a larger Habilitation project on the history of the concept of providence in the first three centuries CE - attempts to demonstrate that even exponents of divine immanence and activity (such as the Stoa) shied from explicitly affirming God’s responsibility for everything that happens. A similar ambivalence appears in Hellenized Jewish authors such as Josephus, or Philo of Alexandria, who are otherwise very much indebted to Stoicism in their views about providence. Early Christian literature, meanwhile, almost unanimously affirms the belief that God does indeed care for individual beings and events. With respect to this issue, it consistently invokes and defends God’s omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent character as inherited from the Septuagint and select passages in the New Testament, while phrasing it in terms reminiscent of some Stoic thinkers, at times exceeding Stoicism. It is striking not how much diversity there is here amongst Christian thinkers, but how little; the ‘biblical heritage’ demanded an interventionist deity across the board.

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