Ancient Archaeoastronomy of the Mesoamericans

For centuries civilizations have relied on the stars in many aspects of their daily lives. Whether heavenly bodies were used for navigation, ceremonial, insight for agriculture, or socio-political reasons these people often put celestial bodies at the center of their ideology. Many civilizations held these celestial bodies in such high regard that they integrated their whole society around certain celestial bodies and the annual celestial events, such as the equinoxes and the solstices, and very often associated these bodies and occurrences with their gods. One such people, the Mesoamericans seemed to have a tight synthesis between archaeoastronomy and their daily life. The purpose of this paper is to show how the different people that were associated with Mesoamerica regarded celestial bodies and how they integrated certain celestial events in their architecture, ideology, and daily life.

First, a definition of archaeoastronomy is warranted to allow for a better understanding of what is being discussed herein. A.F. Aveni defined archaeastronomy in his article entitled, “Archaeoastronomy in Mesoamerica and Peru: Comment: as “more than the study of ancient astronomy through the use of archeological data and the use of ancient texts. Archaeoastronomy is an interdisciplinary meeting ground for those who are concerned about the perception and conception of the natural world by the people of ancient civilizations.” (Averi; 165). To summarize this it could be said that archaeoastronomy is not only what these ancient people saw and recorded when they looked into the skies, but also how they implemented what they saw and drew conclusions based on these findings that were carried over to aspects of their lives such as religious, agricultural, and even city planning. Averi is proposing the argument that there is more than meets the eye where archaeoastronomy is concerned. That archaeoastronomy is not only scientific data, but also what contexts these findings are plugged into in order to form an ideology based on celestial bodies or events. These implementations of celestial bodies and events in different facets of pre-Columbian cultures of the Mesoamerican are often seen in the art, architecture, and in many of the recorded religious practices that have been preserved via codices. Even though Averi may also argue that Teotihuacan is situated in a specific fashion because the alignment of it is in line with Cerro Gordo (which was the primary place where they drew water) that does not necessarily mean that archaeoastronomy does not have a scientific leg to stand on. In fact, offering multiple theories of this orientation stimulates new debates which may, ultimately, uncover new data concerning the specific reason that Teotihuacan is oriented the way that it is. While Averi holds fast to his argument many others seem to think that the astronomical alignment of Teotihuacan has to do with specific events. For example, some anthropologists seem to think that the fifteen-point-five degree orientation of the Pyramid of the Sun correlates with the setting of the sun on August 13th. Moreover, the Pyramid of the Moon’s summit has been associated with the telling of noon and midnight by its orientation. It would be hard to believe that the orientation of these structures and the coinciding relationship between celestial events are pure coincidence.

Next, it is unlikely that civilizations ignored the heavens and what they saw in the night sky. There is so much data to the contrary. Although Averi may not think that the orientation of Teotihuacan has anything to do with celestial events he does argue that many civilizations were conscious of the heavens; their orientation in the sky, and the paths in which they travel nightly (and daily). According to an article that Averi wrote entitled, “Tropical Archeoastronomy” he states that many of these civilizations had a conscious awareness of their celestial surroundings. He wrote, “In all ancient societies, the sky and its contents lay at the very base of human cognition. Early hunter-gatherers and later sedentary societies were profoundly influenced by the dependable precision of cyclic recurrence unfolding in the celestial canopy.” (Avery; 161).

Averi points out that the celestial bodies and their positions (and paths) were appreciated by ancient civilizations and were used in such ways, for example, as in aiding seafarers in navigation. In his paper, Averi goes on to explain some of the Mesoamerican astronomical concepts. He focuses on the Maya and commented about their advanced forms of writing, mathematics and astronomy. He goes on to talk about how they “also used the horizon system to monitor celestial events and to mark time.” (Averi;162). For example, Averi talks about stone markers that were used to mark certain celestial events and their correlation to terrestrial events. He writes, “Stone markers extending from behind Campo Santo up to the top of high hill west of town. From Campo Santo to top approx. 1.5km. Sun rises on lines PS & OS observed from stones O & P on March 19th 1940 two days before the equinox.” (Averi;162-3). This information, in itself, tells us nothing extraordinary about the stone markers, however, it does give a little bit of background information and helps a reader to form a mental image in their mind. It sets the scene for the next quote. Averi then writes, “Sun rises this day at 6 degrees 31.5 ms. Direction observed with simple adjustable compass. Observations are made at the stone today by zahorins (shamans) for planting and harvesting.” (Averi;162-3). This passage, although lengthy and filled with scientific jargon, does show that these marker stones that were erected can be, and were/are, used in conjunction with the planting and harvesting of the crops. Think of these markers as a “Maya Agriculture Almanac”. Every year a shaman can go to the stones and, with the simplest of instruments, make detailed calculations that will be used in ensuring a positive effect on their agriculture. Without markers such as these ancient Mayas would have had a harder time trying to figure out when to plant their crops to ensure optimum yield, and when to harvest in order to ensure optimum quality of their crops.

Averi has also written about architecture and its correlation to celestial bodies in Mesoamerica. One such site that Averi talks about in detail is that of Chichén Itzá. He, and his associates, discussed the calendrical symbolism of certain buildings within Chichén Itzá and certain correlations that could be seen from within the Maya calendar. For example, Averi talks specially cabout the Castillo of Chichén Itzá and how certain aspects of it can be related to aspects of the Maya theology, calendar, and celestial events. He describes the Castillo of Chichén Itzá and ties it to these different aspects. For example, he writes, “This stepped radical pyramid possesses nine terraces, the same as the number of levels of the Maya underwold.”(Averi; 129). Averi is showing how the Maya incorporated parts of their ideology into their architectural plans. He goes on to say, “Divided by a stairway, each side contains eighteen such layers, which is equal to the number of twenty-day months in a Maya year.” (Averi; 129) Averi is showing a direct correlation between the way in which the Maya built, and adorned, this monument and how they tied their calendar into it. Whether it is by coincidence or done by purpose there is no denying that the similarities to the two attributes mentioned concerning the Castillo shows that the Maya could have very well been implanting these ideologies into the stone monuments that dominated the landscape. When the Castillo is viewed from above it “resembles the quadripartite diagrams of the universe that the ancient Mesoamericans painted in their codices, which show the four directional gods, plants, animals, day names, etc” (Avery;129). Why would these Mesoamericans incorporate this type of theological depth to a physical structure that could only be viewed from above? Could it be that they were hoping to gain favor with the gods by showing them the ways in which they are worshipping, and paying homage, to them? Is it simply a mixture of theology and calendric mathematics that just happened to take the form that it did and the fact that it can be viewed most completely from the sky is just a coincidence? This author thinks not. This author thinks that there was a conscious intent to appease the gods, perhaps in the hopes of years of bountiful harvests and the flourishing of the civilization. The architecture of the Castillo of Chichén Itzá is filled with possible inferences. For example, Averi continues to describe the Castillo by writing, “Fifty-two recessed panels decorate both sides of each stairway, the same as the number of years in a calendar round, the shortest interval in which the seasonal year is commensurate with the tzolkin or sacred round of 260 days.” (Averi; 129). This added layer of symbiosis between architecture and Maya ideology lays further credibility to the argument that the physical makeup of the Castillo at Chichén Itzá is not random and that there was conscious thought that was given in order to incorporate these astronomical and theological ideas. Averi is arguing that the Castillo was built and functioned in a “calendrical ritual capacity in the context of the ancient four-directional New year festival cycle, which was conducted during the last five days of the seasonal calendar.”(Averi; 129). This building, in Averi’s eyes, had a specific ritualistic purpose. The building itself was incorporated with so much Maya ideology and theological beliefs that it was undoubtedly erected as a sacred location.

Avery has not cornered the market as far as archaeoastronomy is concerned. There are many other anthropologists and other interested parties that have chimed in on the topic. Once such person is Elizabeth Baity. She wrote an article for Current Anthropology entitled “Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy So Far”. In her paper she discusses the construction of megalithic structures of ancient times and the astronomical techniques that were used in their construction. She also delves into explaining a new sub disciple that incorporates engineering, archeology, and astronomy. She makes the argument that there are many structures that were erected in ancient civilizations that held a specific purpose of predicting astronomical events. These structures were not just erected for their aesthetic value alone even though many of these structures are breath-taking in their beauty. In talking about archaeoastronomy she explains that it “focuses on the analysis of the orientations and measurements of megalithic and other monumental ancient structures, many of which, as we will see, could have served for the prediction of solar and lunar eclipses and unquestionably did serve for the determination of solstices and equinoxes, enabling the setting of dates for agricultural activities and for the ritual cycle of the year”. (Baity; 390). As you can see there are some similarities between what she is arguing and the argument that Avery presented. Both are under the impression that these structures that the ancient Mesoamerican people built were built for the purpose of astronomical, agricultural, and religious events. Most of these structures were incorporated into rituals that coincided with specific seasonal events and the evidence can be seen on ceramics, art, and other mediums. It is safe to say that the Mesoamerican people put an emphasis on specific celestial events such as solstices and equinoxes. Some of these celestial events directly coincided with the planting or harvesting of the annual crops that provided the sustenance that the Mesoamericans needed to thrive as a civilization. The idea of structures to forecast specific celestial events is not a new one and is not specific to the Mesoamericans. Many other cultures throughout history have erected structures for the same purpose. For example, Stonehenge is perhaps one of the most famous celestial monuments in the world. Archeologists have tried to decode what the position of the stones relate to. Some archeologists theorize that they mark the swing of the azimuth of the moon, while others seem to think that they are directly related to the solstices and equinoxes. No matter what differences that the astronomers and anthropologists have concerning Stonehenge one thing is for sure — it was erected for a purpose other than that of pure utility. It is this pushing and stretching of long held beliefs concerning the uses of these monolithic structures that lead to new advancements and breakthroughs in anthropology.

There are many other sites in Mesoamerica that have archaeoastronomical content. One such site is the one at the Maya site of Copán. Harvey and Victorian Bricker describe some of the astronomical content at this site, referred to as Group 8N-11. In their paper, “Astronomical Orientation of the Skyband Bench at Copán”, the Bricker’s talk specifically about the Skyband Bench. Like Teotihuacan the orientation of the Skyband Bench at Copán plays a key role in laying credibility to the argument for archaeoastronomical content in Mesoamerican cultures. In their paper they write, “The Skyband Bench at Copán is a bicephalic raptorial bird (panels 1 and 9) rather than a serpent, but all the body panels bear celestial imagery. Panels 2, 5, and 8 are frontal views of the head of the personified Sun or Sun god. Panel 3 is a personified Moon and panel 7 a personified Venus. Panels 4 and 6 are personifications of, respectively night and day.”(Bricker; 435). This evidence cannot be ignored. The fact that the Mesoamericans are creating art that depicts celestial bodies and, moreover, personifying them shows that they had a deep connection with the bodies up in the heavens. The Skyband Bench is a great example of early Mesoamericans showing their consciousness of the heavens above and the celestial bodies that are held within. The Brickers’ paper is a good example of how a part of Mesoamerican architecture can offer a plethora of knowledge and credibility for archaeoastronomy. As in any other discipline the more papers that become published on a certain topic the more the scientific community will notice and, hopefully, work towards accepting these hypotheses.

The Mayas weren’t the only Mesoamerican civilization to incorporate celestial imagery into their structure, and subsequently, into their culture. David Carrasco talks about the Aztec culture in his article, “Star Gatherers and Wobbling Suns: Astral Symbolism in the Aztec Tradition”. In his essay he explains spatial orientation and symbolism. He writes, “The Aztecs observed stars, measured them, and calculated them into their social and agricultural cycles.” (Carrasco; 284). Can you see a trend appearing? In virtually all of the examples of Mesoamerican archaeoastronomy one of the prime components is agriculture. Without agriculture of some sort a civilization will surely perish. The ability to produce a bountiful harvest could mean the difference between a thriving civilization and one that is in ruins. There are a few factors to think about when agriculture is concerned. First, the sun can be both a godsend and a curse. Its warmth and ultraviolet rays are needed by the plants in order to grow and flourish. Too much or not enough heat, as well as too much or not enough ultraviolet rays and the harvest will suffer. Secondly, water is needed for agriculture to thrive. Without life-giving water a crop can dry up and the civilization will suffer. Too much water and the crops can be flooded, which will affect the yield, and the people will suffer as well. The ancient Mesoamericans thought that gods controlled all of these facets of agriculture. Rituals were held in order to appease the gods. By appeasing the gods the people were hoping that the gods would look generously down on them and grant them a bountiful harvest which would help to sustain them for another season. It is only logical that they wanted to be as well-equipped as possible when it came to the planting, overseeing, and harvesting of the crops. By incorporating a way in which to predict the best times to plant, and harvest, these people could help to ensure the sustainability of their civilization for a future generation. Many of these ancient Mesoamerican shamans could be viewed as early scientists without them even knowing that they were. In their eyes they were simply being messengers, or arbitrators, for the gods. In fact, they were using the scientific method and applying it to various measuring tools (architectural structures) in order to show a means of scientific replication year after year. These shamans knew that the solstices and equinoxes happened at specific times of the year, every year. By being able to reproduce these results they were not only helping out their people, but also laying credibility to themselves as being messengers to the gods. These structures were essential tools in order for the shaman to effectively do their divine duties.

All of these examples of archeaoastonomy are linked by certain imagery and celestial bodies. In almost every instance there are depictions of the Sun, Moon, and various other celestial bodies. Even though they may be associated with different gods, these celestial bodies were highly regarded by the Mesoamericans as key elements for their survival. Without the sun the crops would, undoubtedly, fail. Without the moon the tides wouldn’t crest and ebb and thus navigation and fishing would be inconsistent. These all-important celestial gods make up an integral part of Mesoamerican ideology.

To explore this point further one can look at Weldon Lamb’s paper entitled, “The Sun, Moon and Venus at Uxmal”. In this paper he describes elements of many mosaics in Uxmal. By looking at these mosaics one can see how they are loaded with archaeoastronomical data. Sheldon delves into this topic by explaining facts concerning the moon, sun and Venus that are found in the mosaics at the site. He writes, “that these features taken together preserve knowledge of eight facts about the sun, moon, and Venus: the moon’s synodic period is 29.53 days; the lunar sidereal period lasts nearly 27.33 days; the Venus synodic mean is almost 584 days; the observed Venus synodic can vary between 581 and 587 days; any five consecutive Venus synodics equal or come to within one day of eight vague years of 365 days each; one sun-moon correlation has five short years and three long ones together equal to eight vague years or eight true solar years or 99 lunations; the Venus sidereal period is nearly 224 days long; and finally, 13 Venus sidereals virtually equal five Venus synodics.”(Lamb; 79). Even though this looks as if it is simply a bunch of scientific data because of the vocabulary in which the information is housed one has to take into consideration that these mosaics were made around 750-1000 A.D. Taking that into consideration one can see how the Maya were very interested in celestial bodies and were very technologically in tune with the heavens. This kind of data gathering would not be done over a period of days or months, but over years and generations. That kind of dedication can only mean that the Maya were very engrossed in archaeoastronomy. These mosaics also have animal like figures, mostly bird serpents, portrayed on the walls of some of the buildings as well. This shows that astronomy was integrated and meshed very tightly with their religion. Having deities alongside astronomical data shows a strong correlation between the religious beliefs of these people and how closely knit it was in astronomy. The Maya were definitely interested in astronomy and were even more interested in trying to preserve their civilization by understanding their gods. To better understand their gods is a way to better be able to serve their gods, and appease their gods. If the gods are appeased, the Maya thought that there would be a more bountiful harvest, more successful war campaigns, and the fruition of their civilization.

In conclusion, there are many anthropologists out there that may not totally agree with the various interpretations that some archaeoastronomy researchers have made concerning the architecture and ideology of the Mesoamerican people. Much of it is just that: up for interpretation, but enough scientific data is coming through to show that there is, in fact, correlation between the events that happen in the heavens and the theological, agricultural, and cultural ties that bind many of these Mesoamerica people to various celestial bodies. Looking up at the modern sky it is no wonder that so many cultures were fascinated by the marvels in the sky both in the day time and at night. Today we have astronomers and advanced technology to compute, calculate, and make sense out of all of the data that is extracted from the heavens. Back in the time of the Aztec, Maya, and other Mesoamericans it is mind blowing to imagine that they made very scientific calculations concerning celestial bodies without the aid of computers or other pieces of modern technology. Add that with the awesome looking nature of the heavens and it is no wonder that these people often associated heavenly bodies with that of their gods —the Sun, the Moon, and other celestial bodies. Across the world there are similar beliefs from pole to pole and hemisphere to hemisphere. The next time you look up at the sky and pick out your favorite constellation, or other heavenly bodies imagine what the Maya, or the Aztec, saw. Looking up into the heavens is like looking into a window leading out to the past.

Work Cited
Aveni, A. F. “Archaeoastronomy in Mesoamerica and Peru: Comment.” Latin American Research Review. 16. no. 3 (1981): 163-166.
Aveni, A. F. “Tropical Archeoastronomy.” Science. 213. no. 4504 (1981): 161-171.
Aveni, Anthony, Lope Carlos, and Susan Milbrath. “Chichén Itzá’s Legacy in the Astronomically Oriented Architecture of Mayapán.” Anthropology and Aesthetics. no. 45 (2004): 123-143.
Baity, Elizabeth. “Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy So Far [and Comments and Reply].” Current Anthropology. 14. no. 4 (1973): 389-449.
Bricker, Harvey, and Victoria Bricker. “Astronomical Orientation of the Skyband Bench at Copán.” Journal of Field Archaeology. 26. no. 4 (1999): 435-442.
Carrasco, Davíd. “Star Gatherers and Wobbling Suns: Astral Symbolism in the Aztec Tradition.” History of Religions. 26. no. 3 (1987): 279-294.
Lamb, Weldon. “The Sun, Moon and Venus at Uxmal.” American Antiquity. 45. no. 1 (1980): 79-86.

The General Philosophical Framework of Rosenzweig’s Thought

The unique framework of Franz Rosenzweig

The philosophy of Franz Rosenzweig is one of the most interesting and surprising innovations of modern thought, both general and Jewish. There exists a background of distinguished modern Jewish philosophers from Moses Mendelssohn, the first philosopher of modem thought who systematically defined the essence of Judaism, to Hermann Cohen and Martin Buber. However, Rosenzweig was the first to inject existential philosophy into Jewish thought and give it direction, both theologically Jewish and original.

Rosenzweig coined a terminological system whose terms were taken from Jewish usage. He provided its own guidelines and created a unique philosophical weave containing an interpretation of the struggle of Judaism with the other monotheistic religions.
Rosenzweig emphasizes a unique and orderly conception of life. In his epistle “On Education,” he wrote: “The Judaism to which I refer is not ‘literary’ and is not grasped by the writing or reading of books. Even – forgive me all modern thinkers – it is not to be ‘experienced’ or ‘cultivated’. One may only live it. And not even this – one is simply a Jew, and nothing more” (His Life 159).

The Star of Redemption, Rosenzweig’s masterpiece, is written in a remarkable, ordered, dialectical singularity. In The Star of Redemption, Rosenzweig made one of the few attempts to formulate methodically religious existential philosophy (MiMytos 262-273), This attempt makes the book unconventional, an exceptional work among the philosophical works of our time.
Rosenzweig, contrary to the great classical philosopher, stresses the lack of identity between thought and reality. Instead, the book is based on three elements – God, the world and man – which preface all logical action and may be conceived only by means of faith The Star of Redemption also strays from the accepted line in the existential philosophy of Kierkegaard and Sartre, in that Rosenzweig attempts to prepare a philosophical method par excellence.

Rosenzweig’s life and personality also uniquely reflect his philosophy of life: “Man thinks that he philosophizes, but in actuality he writes his autobiography (“From Revelation” 162). Although raised in an assimilated environment, educated at the knees of the classical German idealism and philosophy of the Enlightenment so distant from that of religious belief, he suddenly turned sharply to faith. Author of the philosophical treatise Hegel and the State, Rosinzweig subsequently became the author of the theological book The Star of Redemption and translator of Hebrew poetry of the middle Ages and the Bible to German. He stood at the threshold of converting to Christianity and returned to Judaism to become one of its most profound thinkers. Intellectually acute, probing and exhilarating, his essays frequently contained irony and humor though written during the last eight years of his life while he was critically ill and in agony, paralyzed throughout his body and unable to speak (His Life).

Notwithstanding the uniqueness of the man and his method, Rosenzweig’s philosophy is a not a singular phenomenon, but is a total spiritual process which characterizes post-Hegelian philosophy. This process places in the center of thought not understanding or an abstract method but rather existential man, real, vital man, with all his existential problems, emotion and agonies of soul.

The philosophic path leading to Hegel

In the approximately two hundred years which preceded Hegel, a direction in philosophical thought had commenced and developed which led inexorably t Hegelian thought. Among the significant philosophers of this developmental period was Francis Bacon (1561-1626), the father of English empiricism, who maintained that the source of understanding o knowledge is the experience we acquire by means of our senses. Bacon developed the scientific method, which was adopted and adapted by, among others, political philosophers different one from the other as Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and John Locke (1632-1701).

Man’s dependence on his perception developed from a scientific method to a philosophical concept. George Berkeley (1685-1753) set forth the rule: “to be” is to “be perceived” in the mind of man. He further asserted that the one thing, which exists for certain, is Spiritual reality, thought, the result at which the senses arrive. The skepticism of Berkeley was buttressed by David Hume (1711-1771), who denied the possibility to understand via our intellect any truth of reality. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) neither accepted the skepticism of Hume nor the earlier empiricism, and he suggested a synthesis, which transferred the center of gravity from the object to the “I.” We know, claimed Kant, by means of our senses as shaped by our intellect and not by the world surrounding us.

Kant was not the only philosopher who nourished the “I”. René Descartes (1596-1650) based consciousness on one fundamental element “Cogito ergo Sum.” Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz’s (1646-1716) theory of monadology strengthened the “I” of Descartes, and the monism and natural determinism of Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) found in the “I” total unity of spirit and the entirely natural.
Thus, the broad spectrum of philosophical doctrines in the approximately two hundred years which preceded Hegel Began to emphasize deliberation on man’s place in the world. Following Hegel, there occurred significant and distinctive movement in philosophical thought, one which properly, as described by Rosinzweig, could be called “the new thinking.”

The immense significance of “the new thinking” will become apparent following a brief review of the theories and teachings of Hegel.

Hegelian theory and reaction to it as background to “The New Thinking”

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) contributed to philosophy in the two following ways:

1. He established the history of philosophy as a central authority and integral part of philosophical education. The dialectic observes things in motion, flowing, and knows that not everything, which was true yesterday, will be true also tomorrow. By its nature, the dialectic is likely to accustom man to greater tolerance.

2. He made the initial determination that the previous various philosophical methods are expressed in terms of the development of cognition towards one idealistic philosophy, which strives towards an absolute and exclusive truth, that is, to the “worldly spirit” – the divine orientation which aspires to bring the human world to complete fulfillment of spiritual freedom. Hegel saw in the history of philosophy a steady march towards “absolute knowledge”. Philosophy was not only a matter of understanding history but rather was the force and the best means to direct the course of history (“die absalute Macht” ), to make the cognitive path bring about events. However, the striving of Hegel towards one total and complete philosophy, the one philosophy, which strived for absolute truth, conflicted with the many philosophical doctrines of earlier philosophers.

Hegel solved this conflict with his dialectic. Philosophical conceptions based on theses, that is, On assumptions of only partial perception of verity of the concept. Become in the course of thought anti-theses. These anti-theses are also partial in their perception of the verity of the concept, however their fusion engenders mutual completion, synthesis, realization of one philosophical truth (“die TatalitÓ”t”). In other words, one must recognize any philosophy only via its conflict with other philosophies, but one must recognize also its veritable elements.

Philosophy absorbs within it the fruits of the spirit of the earlier period, which opposes it, and that spirit completes and improves it and creates the Hegelian synthesis.

“That philosophy which is the last chronologically embodies the result of all the previous philosophies, and therefore it must contain the principles of all of them; thus, as philosophy, it is the most advanced, fertile and explicit” (EnzyklopÓ”die, sec, 13, 47).Each philosopher, then, represents a specific stage of partial truth on the way to the entirety.

A similar idea was recently proposed by Natan Rotenstreich, born in 1914, approximately 150 years after Hegel ( Al Hakiyum 25-28). According to Rotenstreich, every person must feel himself a necessary link in the development of custom, which is the complex of connections, which are transferred in each and every generation. The consciousness senses that one is a participant in an enterprise of giants that will never be completed. The I-myself is turned, then, by one’s modest original contribution to a part of some infinite thing. Man is not the initiator of processes; he knows that the world does not begin with him. Similarly, he cannot put a to the enterprise with which he is associated, and he is, therefore, a part of it forever. Rotenstreich emphasizes the personal, subjective element, but there is no moment of philosophy perfecting itself, as there is according to Hegel.

Rosenzeig utilized the systematic and methodical concept of Hegel, perceiving him as “the great inheritor of two thousand years of the history o philosophy” (Star 61), but did not conclude therefore that Hegel was the sole possessor of philosophical truth or that his predecessors propounded false conceptions. Hegel’s dialectic resolution was not a conclusion after which no advancement of thought, which opposes the essence of his dialectic vision, could be drawn. Philosophical weaponry of a fresh and innovative type was necessary to resolve philosophical problems as they continued to arise.

This yearning for a new type of philosophical thinking that will function in the real world perceived the existence of man as he is rather than in terms of Hegel’s “worldly spirit.” This longing was expressed, for example, in Nietzsche’s “changing the scale of all values” and in the materialistic philosophical thought of Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach (1804-1872).

Not only was Hegel’s metaphysics being critically analyzed, his “philosophy of nature” also was revealed as being false. His attempts to perceive the phenomena of nature from abstract assumptions and not from experimental science was mocked by expert researchers such as Carl Friedrich Gauss in his research on geometry and Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz in his work on the consciousness (Lectures).

Hegel observed the world from the aspect of the absolute spirit, the “perfect” consciousness of abstract thought and did not consider the existence of real man as he is, living in the concrete world of his direct experiences and his real problems. Hegel perceived the world as consolidated and united, as an infinite ideal, forever unattainable by science, a world which does not bring man to concrete actuality at the depths of his soul.

Hegel enclosed man in a world of abstract concepts, seeing man as a world in miniature, which loses its connection with the true and vital reality and is forever incapable of finding it. Man became, instead, a part of the method, a part of a speculative, magical, worldly system – the world and man are “one flesh” – united and linked one with the other. Consciousness does not bring one to true and real cognition, rather it results from the elemental and specific experience, maintained Hegel’s opponents.

Contrary to Hegel’s opinion, Hegelian thought was not complete. Bacon, who two hundred years earlier distrusted thought in and of itself and favored knowledge based on phenomena of nature and experiment, and Hans Vaihinger, who asserted two generations after Hegel that thought is unable to recognize the “absolute truth, ” were only two of many philosophers who disputed Hegel’s claim. There were also other doctrines, which were inconsistent with Hegelians thought. Among these doctrines are phenomenology, founded by Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), which currently dominates in Germany and France. Phenomenology seeks to light the true position of man’s consciousness by spiritual or external data (“phenomena”) without any ontological- a priori determination.

Another dissident vis -á – visa Hegelian thought is Hermann Cohen (1842-1918), considered one of the fathers of the neo -Kantian “Marburg School.” Cohen asserts that the “logic of the inception” (“Logik des Ursprungs”) or transcendental ontology seeks the “true reality” or the final essence in thought, meaning that examination of the spiritual a priori creation, exposure of the data from the beginning as an infinite process, is that which determines the programmatic status of the consciousness of man. Cohen seeks to realize society organized on the principles of ethics and the safeguarding of man’s honor.

The philosophers who followed Hegel were dissatisfied with idealistic philosophy; they did not agree with Hegel that consciousness does not bring one to true and real cognition and began to develop philosophic thought that would not be restricted to the abstract and traditional method of Hegel. They sought, furthermore, to use philosophy to find resolutions to the problems bothering real people in the concrete world.

“The essential tendency of philosophic activity must bring the philosopher to man…the special symbol of recognition of man turns his independent essence to a unique personality which exists for itself…” (Principles of the Philosophy 60). In his book The Essence of Christianity ( Das Wesen Der Christentums), Feuerbach maintains that the existential reality in the life of man is in his belief in human nature and in good deeds in this world. Marxian and Nietzschian thought similarly conflicted with that of Hegel on the essential point set forth by Feuerbach.

The difference, then, between Hegel and those who opposed his thought is in the view of the relationship of the man-philosopher and philosophy, Hegel considered each philosopher as an instrument of philosophy, a representative of partial truth at a certain stage of the development of philosophy, That idea about which the philosopher thinks becomes an idea, external to the philosopher, abstract and “perfect, ” on which the philosopher speculates and is not a part of him.

Form the perspective of his opponents, not only was there a new concept of philosophy; there was also a new brand of philosopher. Man is now the determining factor; he is no longer enclosed in a world of concepts, but is tied to vital. Concrete and direct, experiential reality. Man has, in the words of Rosenzweig, a “world view,” he “takes a position ” (Star 143). He is not an instrument of philosophy; rather philosophy is an instrument of the philosopher, of man. “The philosopher lowers himself humbly to his experimental. Existing “I,” and then his doctrine will be more veritable, concrete and closer to the truth” (Dialogical Philosophy 173).

Another conflict with Hegelian thought was led by the non-rationalists, those philosophers who opposed a philosophy in which man acts according to the intellect alone, leaving no place for the demands of the heart and feeling. Søren Kierdegaard (1813-1855) claimed, for example, that Hegel changed religion to an absolute, conceptual-cognitive idealistic philosophy, which prevents man from attaining the possibility of direct connection with God. He declared that “truth is subjective and that the principal element in philosophy is ‘the subjective philosopher'” (post-Scriptum, sec. 2).

Hegelian thought monistic idealism, which solves everything by one principle, the idea the “spirit” – prevented man from making the connection of faith. The world is, Hegel claimed, only an idea of God without a theistic undertone; rather, it is pantheistic, since things are not created by the idea: they are the idea itself. Nature, science and the arts are all accomplishments of consciousness individual man also is the fulfillment of consciousness, and there is only the conscious, so the private “I” has no place in this method. The “I” is similar, as in the theory of Spinoza, to a “light wave rolling along the waves of the ocean.” The object (“substantia”) according to Spinoza is the spirit according to Hegel, each engulfing everything within it. Thus, the solitary “I” cannot face God, as one who stands before God whether in prayer or as sinner or as a thinker.

The basic assumption of belief is that man can stand and present his essence before God, that God can speak with him and he can speak with God, or in the words of the German historian, Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886): “Here every age is really immediate to God” (Star 225). Ranke depicts the events of the past “as they were when they occurred.” That is, the events are depicted b means of the revelation of God in the metaphysical ideal image, which gave significance to the occurrences, and not by means of the intellect (“The Significance”).

In refuting Hegel, the non-rationalist Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (1775-1854) claimed that in rationalistic systems we can attain only knowledge of the possible and general laws knowledge of the real is always individualistic, it requires an act of the will which results from a personal need which can not be supplied by possibilities or general laws. Against the “negative” rationalistic philosophy Schelling placed a “positive philosophy,” based on faith and will, which philosophy created the powerful and innovative basis for existential, religious philosophy, from which philosophy Franz Rosenzweig was influenced greatly.

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) raised the “will” above “consciousness” (“ratio”) (The World). Schopenhauer claimed that the will resembles a thing which itself is outside our ken, beyond the ability of our consciousness to understand; the will is the singular reality in us and in the entire world. Man’s consciousness serves the power of blind will, which lacks purpose and proof and will never be satisfied (compare Star 47, 49 and 57). Nietzsche holds that only the will to govern and be powerful exists in all beings. Will is the active element in natural and human phenomena; our mental consciousness distorts and opposes life, and science is of value but is not veritable.

Among other non-rationalists who contested Hegel’s monastic idealism were Theodor Lessing (1872-1933) and Solomon Ludwig Steinheim (1789-1866). Lessing argued that truth is not revealed by consciousness, that it is hidden from consciousness and found among the silent forces, which activate and direct the consciousness in its action (Einmal). Steinheim (1789-1866) asserted that one does not reach religious truth (creation of the world, revelation) by mental deliberation since this truth is subject to revelation only. He “denies speculative philosophy because of its rationalistic nature and makes faith itself a type of consciousness, not identifying it with the rationalistic consciousness” (Al Hakiyum2: 168).

Philosophy’s two separate paths

Rosenzweig’s thought has a special place among the thinking which disputed Hegel. Although he belongs to the non-rationalist stream of thought, continuing the line of Schelling, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer and Nietzche, Rosenzweig relies heavily on the anthropological motifs of Feuerbach which are “the first revelation of renewal of thought” (Naharayim 232). However, there is also an interlacing of rationalism and anti-rationalism, as is evidenced by the following:

“Revelation remembers back to its past, while at the same time remaining of the present; it recognizes its past as part of a world passed by…for in the world of things it recognizes the substantive ground of its belief in the immovable factuality of a historical event” (Star 215). “There is something in consciousness which is beyond consciousness…consciousness is the basis for reality, but consciousness in its very essence is also reality” (Naharayim 207).

Thus, Rosenzweig’s philosophy follows two paths: One road philosophical theology chose for itself, in which the intellect is the nourishing factor. The philosophy of religion trekked the second path, revelation serving as its basis. These two paths, according to Rosenzweig, complement each other, one nourishing the other, and neither can exist independently. This conception is comparable to Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), who also created a great synthesis between science or limited consciousness and the perfection of belief.

However, while Aquinas derived belief from Christian revelation (Basic Writings), Rosenzweig derived it from the soul of man, according to which the relationship between philosophy and theology is determined. Rosenzweig, contrary to Steinheim, noted that he was assisted by intellectual, philosophical means to prove its substance. Rosenzweig opposed forcefully any existence-belief doctrine, which is itself based on his conscious investigations. His anti-rationalist doctrine resulted from faith, but this faith was drawn from the rationalistic history of creation (Star 213), and in this aspect, his doctrine is not different from others constructed on logical, rationalistic concepts.

Rosenzweig opposed Hegel zealously. Instead of the dated abstract thought of Hegel came concrete “new thinking” connected to words, men and real experiences.

Man is free – he is own master

The act of transferring the center of gravity from philosophy to the philosopher created not only a responsibility for man, but also emphasized that man is free. He is his own master; the entire responsibility for his existence rests on his shoulders alone. Man inhales his freedom from the will and imagination. He does not breathe freedom from the advancement and attainments of science as propounded by materialism, nor does he find it I the creative spirit of man as propounded by idealism nor from intellectual knowledge of the world pursuant to rationalism. Nietzsche, for example, perceived a new form through whose strength of will exposes the subjective values which condition thought and human conduct on the freedom of his choice.

Rosenzweig proclaims a “very personal type, a type of philosopher of world view, one who takes a position” (Star 143), who rises and flourishes on the pedestals of freedom, responsibility and ability at the time of the meeting of man, God and the world and, in regard to a Jew, during his struggle with the Jewish way of life of practical commandments.

The philosophic “I” of Kierkegaard and Rosenzweig is not the solitary “I” of Immanuel Kant, an “I” which knows nothing about the world, with which it has no contact. Similarly, Descartes, in stating “Cogito ergo Sum” did not speak of his private “I” but of the abstract thinking “I”. Yet Kant speaks incessantly about the “I.” Which is the center of a methodical system, but as Kierkegaard says, insofar as one speaks persistently about the “I,” that “I” becomes thinner and thinner until it becomes ultimately the actual spirit of the dead (Dialogical Philosophy 17).

According to “the new thinking,” freedom of choice is not a matter of obligation or compulsion which comes to man from without by command or decree. This freedom is man himself – existence – “existence for itself” (“Fürsichselbstsein”), according to the German philosopher, Karl Jaspers (1883-1969) or “being itself” (“sich zu eigenist”) in the words of Martin Heidegger. Therefore, he cannot flee from himself except by suicide and death.

Man has no choice but to be free. Thus, in every circumstance we are responsible, since responsibility rises from the ground of freedom (L’Existentialisme 64). One errs if he thinks he can pack and flee from himself via the Kantian Or Hegelian abstract dogma. Thus, man has two available courses: the way of favoring freedom and the way of opposing it. Life for the sake of freedom is true life, authentic life. One who utilizes freedom in order to fight it or to limit its domain in the world lives an insubstantial, inauthentic life. Such a life is not consistent with the nature of man (Portrait 75).

Man is free to create good and evil, truth and falsehood. He approves or negates the world and proclaims his presence and nothingness. Man who chose freedom chose well, and not only for himself but for all humanity (L’Etre 143). The individual is the source of freedom. There is no freedom other than the freedom of the individual. For this reason, each man must create and develop the truth of the test of the values as well as the values themselves. In respect of our lives and experiences, there is no world other than the world of man. Even values are nothing other than values as they relate to individual man. Thus, the individual must create values. Without the individual, they would not have arisen and there would be no values (L’Existentialisme 34-35). Man by nature is neither good nor evil. He is good or evil to the extent that he increases freedom in the world.

Freedom, then, is neither a priori nor objective. It is the being of man who lives it every day and every moment. It is the true existence since it exists for itself (L’Etre 641).

On the difficulties which gave birth to existentialism

Rosenzweig sought refuge from extreme subjectivism when he abandoned in 1913 the idealistic philosophy and the historicism of Friedrich Meinecke (1862-1954), his teacher (see Die Entstehung). He returned to theology, to the non-rational faith philosophy, while deliberating on “the clear brightness” (Star 143) of subjectivism, which Heidegger rooted in his creation of pure subjectivist philosophy.

Rosenzweig’s explanation indicates the lack of clarity that existed in the world of philosophy. Each philosopher, religious or not, aspired frankly to nullify the being of man as object, desiring to see man as subject only. However, in perceiving the “I” as subject alone and turning their back on the objective element in their philosophical thinking, these philosophers exposed themselves to significant difficulties. Nikolai Aleksandrovich Berdiaev (1874-1948) spoke of the decline of freedom, of freedoms lack of candor and man’s subordination to freedom. Jaspers saw in subjectivism a prison, comparable to the snail who builds its house and is forever tied to it. It is not surprising that in this attempt the real freedom withdrew upon the presentation of an imaginary freedom.

The freedom represented is abstract, a vague freedom. Indeed, there is no true freedom of choice since our options are always limited a d dependent on factors upon which we have no, or inconsequential, control. Man did not pray for simple, corporeal or metaphysical freedom. He wanted real freedom in thought, economics, religion and throughout his personal life. Man wanted freedom to lift stumbling blocks from the path of life, control disease and catastrophes, master the environment and improve generally that which exists. Such a freedom is expressed in action innovation, creation, and revelation of the clandestine and knowledge o the hidden. Existential freedom is not turned toward the external world of the real and vital meeting with God and the world; instead, it is turned to the abstract, to the intangible.
Freedom of choice, then, is minuscule. According to existentialist thinking, we are not free and independent people, but rather each of us is made gradually “a man of the multitude,” one among many, one who lives by the doctrine of “sit and do not act.”:

1. The lack of knowledge.

We live our life without understanding it, without knowing anything about our purpose and what we must do. Even if man has a conscious nature, he cannot conceive reality. As a result, he cannot be at home in the world, and he is “thrown” into an adversarial environment. This alienation is apparent in Sartre’s novels and plays, the dramatis personae being uprooted from their societal environment and removed from their past, each lacking internal spiritual unity. What determines the character of the confrontation of man with his world is not the intellect; instead it is a certain essence, which is described as nausea or anguish at the finality and fragmentation of human existence.

In respect of life and death, existence is nothing other than passing from nothing to nothing. Being, in its generality, is not understandable and cannot be known since it is connected, on the one hand, to human consciousness and, on the other, it is given to us forever fragmented so that man perceives always his limitations, the fragmentation of his being and consciousness. Franz Kafka (1883-1924) stresses that without knowledge, minuscule man is lost I the modern world, which is arranged with no way out. There is no other possible way for the hero of The Trial (Der Proze? ) other than to accept the judgment of death, though he does not know for what, why nor by whom he is accused, tried and sentenced.

Modern society is mysterious, a sort of blind and evil force which prevents the individual from exercising free choice and the joy of life, permitting him only to yield to his uncomprehended fate. Without knowledge, one can not know the expected, and the lack of this knowledge leads to fear of the unknown, and this fear leads to uncertainty, confusion and helplessness.

2. The fear of death.

Martin Heidegger, the extreme and heartless realist, presents an authentic being, founded o the possibility of a race toward (the fear of) death. One must live, Heidegger claims, though the sole reason for his life is his death. From the moment one enters the world, we accept the sentence of death. One has no choice in this matter. If so, how can man function with this ever-present active and tragic obsession? For fear is a strong emotional reaction with physiological consequences such as paleness, trembling, accelerated pulse and breathing and dryness of mouth which can ultimately result in the cessation of all hope and total paralysis of creation caused by the entire waste of one’s energy.

3. The lack of purpose.

Existentialism will never perceive purpose in man since man is not yet defined inexorably. The objective of a priori good disappeared since there is not now any compete and infinite consciousness that will calculate it. Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) wrote: “If God does not exist, then everything is permitted” (The Brothers Karamazov). Sartre and Nietzsche ignored the existence of God, and Heidegger stated that all existence is man and nothing more. Man abandons the world of values and the a priori commandments, which can justify his behavior because he is unable to find something to rest upon his world has no purpose and therefore also no ethical values.

Such is the dismal condition of man. He is comparable to one who walks on a tightrope above the abyss whose bottom disappears from sight. Is there no exit from this fearful vision?

Cain’s Wife – Where Did He Get Her?

This is a very simple question to answer. His wife was one of his sisters. We can see, by comparing the story of Cain to that of Seth in terms of time-frame, that this is Biblically plausible. Seth was 105 when Enos was born, and Enos was 90 when Cainan was born. The 4th verse of chapter five says that Adam lived 800 years after the birth of Seth and begat sons and daughters. Apparently Adam and Eve had quite a few children and at least some of them were daughters. It is interesting that the Bible rarely if ever records the birth of women.

My Sister, My Wife

It is very possible, then, seeing that Cain and Abel were grown when their conflict is recorded, that daughters had been born to Adam and Eve in the intervening years. One of them may have sided with Cain in his feud with Abel and with God and followed him into the land of Nod. Or perhaps Eve sent one of her daughters to Cain so that he would not be alone in the world. From the early verses of chapter five it is more likely, given as long as people lived in those days and as old as men were before they began to have children, that his wife was one of the daughters that was born after the birth of Seth; one who went looking for her brother for whatever reason.

”Scientific Problems” is a Begged Issue

Anthropologically speaking, it is altogether acceptable-indeed it is inevitable- that the first sons would have married sisters. There would have been no one else for them to marry. A race could not begin with an original pair and propagate if brothers and sisters did not mate. And let it be clear that one would not avoid this consideration if he adopted some other idea of origins. Somewhere the original pair of humans had to appear. In order for them to multiply there would have to be domestic cohabitation between brothers and sisters.

No Genetic Problems

Genetically speaking, there is no problem here, since the specialization in inbreeding that leads to genetic problems of a physical and mental nature does not develop until a family has been in existence for a good long time.

Morals Not an Issue

What does this concept do to Biblical morality and the Commandments of God? It does nothing, of course. The rules governing intermarriage were not given in those days since they had no meaning until there were alternatives. The mating of brother and sister does not involve a moral wrong on the functional level. The moral issue is a matter of respect for ones parents: ”The nakedness of thy sister, the daughter of thy father, or daughter of thy mother, whether she be born at home, or born abroad, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover (Lev. 1:9).”

When there were alternatives and sons could make choices, then these rules had meaning that related to character. Had intermarriage been inherently immoral God would have forbidden it from the start, but then He would have had to start the race out with more than one created pair, which of course He did not. Obviously God, Who has a greater concern for morality than any theological gainsayer, was not concerned with this imaginary problem.


Physiologically speaking there were no problems either. A sister is just as much a woman as a non-relative, she is just as capable of being a wife and mother, and she is (or at least she can be) just as attractive and appealing as any other woman. As to biology, anatomy, morphology, cytology, histology and any other related discipline of physiology, a sister stands in the same relationship to a brother as any woman to any man. We do not consider it appropriate to find our sisters sexually attractive today because we are taught not to. This is a prohibition that is from antiquity. Good men recognize this and, out of character, make it an inalienable part of the personality. But before these prohibitions were made, and when there were no alternatives, these kinds of moral rules could not be, and were not made.

And so Cain’s wife was one of his sisters. Is there any reason at all that this is a wrong or that it should be considered a legitimate Biblical problem? No; there is none whatsoever. It may be dismissed entirely as another of the dishonest, ill-thought, and desperate attempts of detractors to see problems where none exist. This is what we would naturally expect; this is the only way it could have been under any consideration; and there was nothing anthropologically, genetically, physiologically, ethically, socially, theologically, or morally wrong with that.

© Daniel Earl Cripe, December 26, 2008