Sunday, March 21, 2010

Eugen Kullmann (1915-2002) (pt.2)

(Part One)

Part Two

In that first meeting of ours (9/7/86?), Kullmann impressed upon me several things about religion. "God is the silent answer to the last question," he stated, leaving me to wonder what the last question might be. He listed for me his five criteria for religion, which included attitudes towards slavery, women, the poor, animals and man's place in the cosmos. He pointed to Jonah as an example of the concern for animals "And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” "And so much cattle," he repeated to me with a soft smile. Then he pointed to another verse:

"Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain (Deuteronomy 5:24) and how the early Christians failed this criterion: "For it is written in the Law of Moses: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain." Is it about oxen that God is concerned?" Surely he says this for us, doesn't he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest." (1 Corinthians 9:9-10) In this case, the early Christians failed to meet the criterion.

Kullmann recommended to me Cassirer, the second volume of Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, which is devoted to myth and religion and other sources which I did not read (I did make mutliple attempts to read Cassirer's Essay on Man, learning that we are not only thinking animals but symbolic animals in Cassirer's view, but maybe subsequent science has determined that other animals engage in symbols, I don't know.) "Everything with religion, nothing out of religion" he quoted from Schleirmacher. Similarly, he mentioned one of Job's friends saying: "If you are righteous, what do you give to him? Or what does he receive from your hand?" "We do the right thing not because religion tells us," he stressed to me; "we do it because it is right." He did not like the translation I was using (the New Oxford Bible, Revised Standard Version) and advised me to look at other translations, giving me one of his own of a famous passage: "I know that my ransomer lives, and that he stands upon the earth, and if my flesh should be torn from my bones I shall still take my refuge in God." (Job 19: 24-25) (Later he quoted Terence "Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.") And then he stopped and said "Now, we have some ice cream," and then "Can you eat a banana," he asked eagerly. "Where are you now in your Latin," I was quizzed and then he sent me home in the end of the warm sunny afternoon thinking I would read Job in full when actually we were due to start the Pentateuch.