Friday 7 April 2006

Qumran and predestination (II)

Here is the conclusion to Chris Petersen’s guest-post on the Qumran community’s doctrine of double predestination:

So where did Qumran get its strong determinism from? Some scholars suggest the influence of Zoroastrianism. These scholars argue that during the exile when the Persians began to dominate, some of those Jews living in exile assimilated many of the Zoroastrian beliefs into their system, most notably the belief in a dualism between light and darkness. These Jews then synthesized their high view of God's sovereignty with this dualism, thus giving birth to the determinism that finally reached full bloom in the theological system of the Essenes.

This is of course only a theory. Nevertheless, what I find intriguing is that the first Christian to formulate a strong doctrine of determinism, Augustine of Hippo, was once part of a religious movement known as Manichaeism which had its origins in Persia and also borrowed dualistic themes from Zoroastrian religion. Now it is usually asserted that Augustine's doctrine of predestination arose out of his conflict with Pelagius. But I can't help wondering if the dualism he associated with in his Manichaean days might have provided the basis for this doctrine, which was subsequently developed during the Pelagian controversies.

Now, of course I'm not the first to suggest that Augustine's early Manichaeism influenced much of his later thought. But it’s worth asking whether there is a direct connection between belief in a strong dualism in nature, and belief in a fatalistic or deterministic ordering of that nature. Religious systems that hold to some kind of dualism in nature tend also to have fatalistic and deterministic characteristics. Could this have been the case with Augustine? Could his dualism have led ultimately to his doctrine of predestination?


Anonymous said...

"Could his dualism have led ultimately to his doctrine of predestination?"

Indeed a case can be made for the eggshells of Manichaeism littering all of Augustine's theology.

Jenson, for example, (citing William S Babcock) suggests that "It may be that the occasion of Augustine's doctrine of predestination was as much the Donatist controversy, fought with the inheritors of the old 'North African' tradition's vivid sense for the boundary' between church and nonchurch, as it was the fight with Pelagius."

And, of course, there is the matter of the dualist eschatological polities of the De civitate Dei.

Chris Petersen said...

Excellent points, Kim

Anonymous said...

These two posts were very interesting. Could anyone suggest a few titles for secondary reading here? Thanks.

Chris Petersen said...

Terry: A good place to begin would be first Joseph Fitzmyer's "The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins" and then E.P. Sanders short treatment in "Paul and Palestinian Judaism" (pp 257-270).

Dante: When I made the association with Manichaeism I was thinking more in terms of the dualistic nature of any binitarian predestination system, i.e. the partitioning of the human race into a special elect group chosen by God(s)for salvation and a remaining lump of humanity not destined (whether passively or actively) for a share in that salvation. Augustine's system of predestination does just this, whether or not that predestination is active or passive in regards to the reprobates.

Now of course associating Augustine's later Christian thinking with his former Manichaeism is at best a speculative enterprise, but not necessarily a fruitless one. I for one cannot help but see some type of influence from Augustine's previous religion. It seems to me a rather striking coincidence that Augustine came out of a dualistic religion that held to a type of predestination and then later in his Christian life developed a similar doctrine in light of certain controversies that arose during his Bisophric.

Furthermore, when you study many of the dualistic religions at this time you find an almost unanimous belief in predestination or fate of some kind. There are just too many examples of this in the Ancient Mediterranean world ranging from the early Zoroastrians, to the Essenes, to the Gnostics, and also to the followers of Mani (from which Augustine converted to Christianity).

Perhaps this would not be so remarkable if it were not for the fact that from the early church fathers up until Augustine, a doctrine of absolute and unconditional predestination was not held. Is it coincidence that the first Christian to develop this doctrine emerged from a heavily dualistic belief system that included predestinarian views?

Even if Augustine did not fully synthesize his Manichaeism and Christian beliefs such that he could "affirm the goodness of the body, sex (though I think you've misread Augustine on this one), and creation" it does not necessarily follow that all traces of his former thought system would have vanished, and then some of these traces rearing their head in the light of subsequent "heresies" that Augustine was forced to combate.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the references, Petros.

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