Public Self and Private Self in the World of the Hebrew Bible

In: Religionspraxis und Individualität
Karel van der Toorn
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Contemporary theories of personhood tend to distinguish between the inner self of human individuals and the social or public self they project to the outer world. The two entertain a relationship of discrepancy. While the inner self is true and authentic, the social self is a mask that hides the real person. All of us have a range of personas (literally, ‘masks’) at our disposition, each suited to a particular social performance depending on the dictates of circumstance. This opposition between inner self and public self is foreign to the concept of personhood in the early Middle East. Where we have “personal” religion, the ancients have “family” religion – meaning the god to whom individuals are particularly devoted is “the god of the father.” It is an inherited identity. The same reality is reflected in personal names: they run in the family, as though the new generation takes over the role the older generation has ceased to play. In Babylonia, a man may use the seal of his father or grandfather as his personal signature. In another realm, the use of formulary prayers throughout the ancient Near East fits the reality of a scripted version of personhood. And yet the Hebrew Bible does distinguish between the inner and the outer human being. “Man sees only what is visible, but Yahweh sees into the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). In all of this, the article asks whether the Bible is more modern than we would like to believe, or perhaps we are less different than we would like to believe.

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Religionspraxis und Individualität

Die Bedeutung von Persönlicher Frömmigkeit und Family Religion für das Personkonzept in der Antike