Bible Passages About Redemption Reveal the Original Political Meaning of Salvation

What was the original meaning of “salvation” during the Biblical period? It may come as a surprise to some that it had little to do with spirituality. As explained by Biblical scholar Henry W. Morisada Rietz (above), a closer look at Hebrew Bible passages about salvation, as well as Hebrew Bible passages about redemption, reveal a more physical and political understanding of the meaning of salvation and redemption language.

The summer of 2012 marked the 60th anniversary celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the British throne. The pomp and pageantry of her diamond jubilee captivated not only her royal subjects but also people around the world. Even journalists and broadcasters from the United States covering the festivities seemed enchanted by the rousing chords of “God Save the Queen.”

As Biblical scholar Henry W. Morisada Rietz of Grinnell College explains in his Biblical Views column, it’s a basic interpretive principle that words and texts only have meaning in context; literally that which is “with the text.” Often, we unconsciously import our own social, political and religious contexts, values and assumptions. When we encounter language of “salvation” and “redemption” in religious context, we often understand these words as referring to an individual’s spiritual status, but that is not how the words were used in the Biblical period. In the context of the British Commonwealth, we immediately recognize the strains of “God Save the Queen” as a celebration of British patriotism, a plea to protect the monarchy and preserve the political order, not a call for her conversion or spiritual salvation. Similarly in ancient Israel, talk of being saved or redeemed had a physical/political meaning rather than a spiritual one, as evidenced in numerous Bible passages about salvation and redemption.

To read more about the meaning of salvation in Hebrew Bible passages about salvation and other Bible passages about redemption, see Henry W. Morisada Rietz’s Biblical Views column God Save the Queen: The Political Origins of Salvation in the November/December 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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  1. Paul says

    If I may quote from Rietz’s article:” In 2 Maccabees, God’s acts of political liberation are celebrated, especially the success of Judas Maccabeus; ‘God (is the one who) has saved all his people and has given back the inheritance to all, and the kingdom, and the priesthood, and sanctuary, as he promised through the law’ (2:17-18).” Compare this verse to Revelation 5:10, where a spiritual redemption establishes “a line of kings and priests to serve our God and to rule the world.”
    There are similarities between Revelation chapter 5 and the dream visions of the Book of Enoch where the history of ancient Israel is played out using animal sybolism. The section describing the Maccabeen revolt begins with the people represented as sheep, being devoured by dogs and all the birds of heaven. Then one sheep sprouts a horn and “he opened their eyes, and they had a vision in them and their eyes were opened” (1 Enoch 90:9). This is similar to the Lamb with seven horns and seven eyes in Revelation 5:6.

  2. JAllan says

    Even the personal idea of salvation may have multiple meanings. One is to be freed from unhealthy passions, another is to be released from worry about how things will turn out (but not from motivation to help improve things for others and oneself; only from trying to do “God’s worrying for Him”), and the one that evolved into orthodox Christian doctrine, being saved from eternal punishment for not having been made perfect to begin with. Many alternative kinds of Christianity feel that the last is a teaching of political expedience, for the benefit of the teachers’ power, and focus on the others, which are closer to what Jesus himself was preaching in the Beatitudes, for example. We WERE made perfect to begin with, and we have only “masked” or covered up, not LOST that perfection. Jesus never said that believing the “correct” things ABOUT him was necessary, otherwise he would have told EVERYONE whom he healed or spoke to that it was; rather that living one’s INNER spiritual life, and as a result one’s OUTER life, the way he demonstrated, is the key to being “saved” in all those other personal senses. And also that, if more people in authority would do so, the POLITICAL situation would also be saved; but if not, the innocent would be spared in spirit if not in body from that destruction.

  3. Jerry says

    Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, a philosopher and founder of the Jewish Reconstructionist movement, stated time and again that the purpose of all religion is salvational. The term, ge’ulah, was applied to the “redemption of Israel’s land” by Zionists.

  4. Krzysztof says

    Nothing new contrary to naive, emotional understanding of Christianity (@Judaism). Discovering the invisible hand (called Jahwe,ex.Exodus 3:14) in the acts of history (Of Israel@others) was the reason to write books (J,E,P, D, etc. pieces ) of Bible. Accidents govern the history or a law? An innocent blood causes future events also (Genessis 4:10). Liturgies@rituals with homilies of clerks can kill this truth; I think recently some of them in VAtican stated that the creation of the state of Israel is not …a biblical fulfillment of prophecies; the same I hear from…rabbis. Also, if some do not see Devil in Holocaust @Gulags (through the men like Hitler, Stalin,….) therefore, one must conclude that an accident governs the world

  5. Mildred says

    Whew-quite a few jumps in definitions.and logic. Which world? The infinite universe (or multi universes)? Or this insignificant planet? Or other unknown planets or worlds that are inhabited by sentient beings which bear no resemblance to us? What “Devil”? Where did you imbibe that invention?Atilla the Hun; Genghis Khan etc.? There are evil people in our little world. That’s the downside of free will which is the second greatest gift after life. All “religious” leaders are constructs-it seems humans need leaders of every stripe for good or ill.. What governs the universes? Who knows? The ultimate creator is unknowable to us-just as Madison Square Garden is unknowable to the ant crawling on your porch. Man is an arrogant fool-he invariably presumes he is a surragate for the Almighty and knows the mind, meaning and intent of the totality of creation. When a comet hit this planet and destroyed 99.8% of all life here was it deliberate? Don’t answer. You don’t know and never will. But it happened. Your own life is driven by all kinds of events-some rest with you, some are random, unpredictable, tragic, happy, lucky-just like every other human life. There is no magic hand guiding that life. It’s yours.

  6. Paul says

    Ten Sefirot of nothingness;
    Their measure is ten; they have no end.
    A depth of beginning, a depth of end,
    A depth of good, a depth of evil,
    A depth of above, a depth of below,
    A depth of east, a depth of west,
    A depth of north, a depth of south,The Singular Master; God, Faithful King,
    Dominates over them all from his holy dwelling,
    Until eternity of eternities.

    Here the Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Formation) defines a five-dimensional continuum with two directions, two opposite directions in each dimension. We have seen that the three dimensional physical universe consists of six directions, north-south, east-west and up and down. The forth dimension, that of time, consists of two directions, past and future, or beginning and end. Finally there is the fifth, spiritual or moral dimension, whose directions are good and evil.
    ‘Innerspace by Aryeh Kaplan

  7. Paul says

    It is on the basalt steles found near Sefire in Syria that we have an Aramaim inscription of a peace treaty between a Barga’yah, king of Ktk, with Matti’el, the son of ‘Attarsamak, king of Arpad, dated to arond 750 B.C.E. Numerous gods were invoked to witness and “open your eyes to behold the treaty” (Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p.504). Among the gods was El Elyon, which means God , Most High. This deity was invoked by the Preist-King Melchizedek of Salem after a war ended when he said, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth” (Genesis 14:19). Some scholars think that Genesis chapter 14, though set during the period of Abram and Lot, was written during this period in the middle 8th century B.C.E.., which coincided with the reign of the northern Isrealite King Jeraboam II. “It was he who restored the territory of Israel from Leo-Hammath to the sea of the Arabah” (2Kings 14:25). The location of Ktk could possibly be located in the kingdom of Hammath, or its northern provences. The king of Ktk, Barga’yah, may be seen as “an otherwise unrecorded Aramaean successor of Zakir, king of Hammath” (Cambridge Ancient History Vol. 3, Part 1, p.408). Other gods invoked on this treaty include elements of nature; like Heaven, Lake and Sources, and Day and Night.
    ‘And saw God the all that was made and behold it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). The Gospel of Thomas, saying #2; Jesus said, “Let him who seeks continue seeking until he finds. When he finds, he will be troubled. When he becomes troubled, he will be astonished, and he will rule over the all.

  8. Paul says

    “Between the throne and myself was a sea that seemed to be made of glass, like crystal” (Revelation 4;6)
    .According to a twelth century book on the Jewish Kabbalah, the blue thread along the fringe of the prayer shawl, the purpose of which is to “look at it and recall all the commandments of the Lord and observe them” (Numbers 15:39), are symbolic of the color of the throne of God. “Rabbi Meir thus said; Why is blue chosen above all other color [for the tzitzit]? Because blue resembles the sea, the sea resembles the sky, and the sky resembles the Throne of Glory. It is written (Exodus 24:10), ‘They saw the God of Israel, and under his feet was like a pavement of sapphire, like the essence of heaven in clarity.’ It is further written (Ezekiel 1:26), ‘As the likeness of a sapphire stone was the appearance of a throne’ (The Bahir by Aryeh Kaplan p.36).
    The book of Ezekiel begins with, “It happened in the thirtieth year…” and no one seems to know why the thirtieth year is mentioned. The number 30 is the numerical value of the Hebrew letter ‘lamed’ and the verb ‘lamed’ in Hebrew means learn or teach from which the word ‘talmud’ is derived which means scholar. The letter ‘lamed’ also resembles an oxgoad and it is for this reason that Jesus tells Saul (who was a scholar), “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 26:14).
    It is written; “…in accordance with the promise that the Lord, the God of Israel, had made through His servant, the prophet Jonah son of Amittai from Gath-hepher (2 Kings 14:25). Gath-hepher is located a few miles north of Naziroth, and the name Jonah in Hebrew means ‘dove’. After Jesus was baptised he was “at prayer, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily shape, like a dove” (Luke 3:23). In the next verse it says Jesus was about thirty years old when he began to teach.
    The apostle Paul describes an experience in which a person is caught up into the third heaven where he hears things “which must not and cannot be put int human language” (2 Corinthians 12:5). This puts Paul in the category of a Gnostic Christian. The Nag Hammadi library is full of references to “the all” or “totality” as in Genesis 1:31, “And saw God the all which he had made and behold it was very good.” In the Gospel of Truth it states; ‘the totality went about searching for the one from whom they had come forth – and the totality was inside of him, the incomprehensible, inconceivable one who is superior to every thought” (17:5). “The all” was also called “Pleroma” which means fullness as it applies to the mystery of the Godhead. The second century Alexandrian gnostic teacher Valentinus developed this divine world to include thirty aeons, the word “aeon” meaning world, age, and god.
    The twelth century Persian poet Farid ud-Din Attar (the druggist) may have borrowed this concept of the Pleroma to promote the mystical practices of Sufi Islam of selflessness in the absorption into the oneness of God, It centers around a mythical creature known as the Simurgh (which is the bird on the Iranian flag), and 30 birds of differing species embark on a pilgrimage to search for the Simurgh. Quoting from a Tehran Times webpage, the birds, after crossing seven valleys, finally arrive in the land of the Simurgh. Once there, all they see are each other and the reflection of the 30 birds in a lake. The 30 birds realize that the Simurgh is nothing more than their transcendant totality.
    “There in the Simurgh’s radiant face they saw themselves , the Simurgh of the world – with awe they gazed, and dared at last to comprehend; they were the Simurgh and the journey’s end (The Conference of the Birds, Penguin Classics, p.219).
    The Simurgh has its origins in Sumerian mythology as the Anzu bird who was portrayed as being both benevolent and hostile. In the Akkadian Anzu Epic the bird represents demonic powers and is vanquished by the warrior god Ninurtu after Anzu stole the tablets of fate and retreated to its mountain hideout. Not unlike contemporary events when recently the President of Iran made a speech to the United Nations and mentioned the eventual return of the “Mahdi”, a figure that is central to ShiIte Islam eschatology. The prophecy foretells that the enemy of the Mahdi, Sufyani, will arise from the depths of Damascus and commit atrocities against women and children. This appears to be the case with the present regime ruling from Damascus with the support of Tehran.
    “Along the drifting cloud
    the eagle searching down on the land
    catching the swirling wind
    the sailor sees the rim on the land
    the eagles dancing wings create
    as weather spins out of hand.”
    “Roundabout” by Yes


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