To love God with all your heart (Deut 6:5) and the hope that God will write the law on the hearts (Jer 31:34) are key forms and expressions of Hebrew Bible personal piety. Hitherto neglected but close parallels between these forms of personal piety are to be found in the neo-Babylonian East India House Inscription by Nebuchadnezzar II. In this paper, we shall draw some parallels and propose that personal piety in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah is being moved by a spirit of neo-Babylonian piety, in this case Nebuchadnezzar’s Shekhinah-Theology of the heart.
Jews who put up inscriptions were not usually trying to make a statement about their personal piety. They were, according to the nature of the inscription, commemorating a deceased relative or recording a contribution to their community. The ways in which they did so were often influenced more by their Greco-Roman surroundings than by a common Jewish tradition. Only a few inscriptions directly address an individual’s relationship with God. These will be examined first, and this article will then study some of the other ways in which piety was expressed: personal names; the wording of epitaphs; manumissions; donations to religious projects by individuals and families. All of these can reveal attitudes to religion and the divine.
Homer poses a rather mixed state of affairs to readers of an enlightened society. On the one hand, we find much that is familiar to us; on the other, we also find much with which we cannot identify ourselves at all. To us, Homeric society seems to be shaped entirely by conventional values: it does not appear to be greatly concerned with individuals. Furthermore, humans appear to be more or less robbed of the initiative for independent and self-directed action in Homer. Where we expect a free, autonomous decision, we find the Gods acting on behalf of humans. Indeed, the Gods do not merely influence humans from without; rather, they are also at work within them, so that Homer’s humans appear to be, as Goethe once said, „theomorphic“ in nature. But a closer engagement reveals that what appears foreign to us is actually often based on keen observation and an exceptionally nuanced understanding of the human psyche. As for the reasons why the opportunity to appropriate this foreign understanding was not pursued, we shall find that they lie in our „modern“ expectations and prejudices which render us almost blind to whatever does not satisfy them. In a world in which the engagement with foreign cultures and religions has become an urgent task, Homer can offer an introduction to this task.
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.
In Ancient Egypt, the right way of life was not a matter of religious rules, but rather of profane wisdom literature. But this changed in the Ramesside period (1300–1100), the „Age of Personal Piety“ (Breasted). Now people reckon with the punitive or blessing intervention of the gods in their lives, and the new wisdom texts recommend that the guidance of life be entrusted to God. The questions of right conduct of life, which originally belonged to the realm of education, became the focus of religion, the God-human relationship.
On the one hand, the article deals with the development of religiosity in early Christianity within households, with a special focus on the pagan context. On the other hand, the question of how and whether individual piety was possible at all is addressed. On the basis of 1Cor 7:12–16 it is shown which problems could arise for Christ believers in non-Christian households, both within the household community and in the Christian assembly. Paul’s approaches to solving these problems range from peaceful coexistence to a departure from enslaving conditions, with the salvation of non-believers being, up to a certain point, an essential movement of action. The author of Acts, however, focused more clearly on the collective worship of Christ by narrating, on several occasions and in detail, group conversions of entire households. His account is thus part of a call for uniformity at the level of the family or household, which has been more clearly expressed since the early 2nd century. Finally, in the Acts of John, a story about the strategist Lycomedes and his wife Cleopatra shows how, on the one hand, faith of an individual becomes a starting point for the conversion of an entire household. On the other hand, it also tells of an individual form of worship in the private sphere, which is criticised.