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‘Exodus’ and ‘Liberation’ as Theological Metaphors: A Critical Case-study of the Use of Allegory and Misunderstood Analogies in Ethics*

  • Gerhard Sauter (a1)


In December 1977, Israeli politicians and journalists were allowed once again, after so long, to visit the Egyptian pyramids. It was during this visit that a saying of their Prime Minister Menachem Begin went around: ‘Just think! Your forefathers built these marvellous works!’ What memories does this reminder call forth? Does it express Israel's unyielding self-assurance, which not only runs across the traces of its own history all over the Near Middle East, but also calls them to the attention of others? Should the representatives of Modern Egypt perhaps be told that they stand in a different sort of continuity with the great dynasties on the Nile from the Jews? Or does Begin's reminder also revive the ineradicable knowledge of Israel's helplessness, which in the grey dawn of its history drove its fathers to the granaries of Egypt and made them there dependent upon their providers, until the time came when Yahweh led them ‘out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage’ (Exod. 20:2)?



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page 482 note 1 Perler, O. (ed.), Méliton de Sardes, Sur la Pâque, et fragments, SC 123, Paris 1966, pp. 9699;. Blank, J.(ed.), Méliionvon Sardes, VomPassa, Freiburg.i.Br. 1963, pp. 118f.

page 482 note 2 cf. for example, In Iohannes Evangeiium Tractatus II.2, CChr. Sl 36, ed. by Willems, R., Turnholt 1954, pp. 12, 25ff.; Kaulbach, F., Einführung in die Metaphysik, Darmstadt 1972, pp. 69ff., explains this and other Augustinian interpretations of the Exodus as laying the foundation for a Christian metaphysics; see also Berlinger, R., ‘Der Name Sein: Prolegomena zu Augustins Exodus-Metaphysik’, Wirklichkeit der Mitte, Festgabe für A. Vetter, Freiburg/Munich 1968, quoted in Kaulbach, p. 70, n. 3. The antithesis to this metaphysics is the contemporary Jewish theology of the Exodus which with similarly unmistakable metaphysical elements retains a total view of Being as History. See Friedlander, A. H., ‘Die Exodus-Tradition. Geschichte und Heilsgeschichte aus jüdischer Sicht’, Exodus und Kreuz im ökumenuchen Dialog zwischen Juden und Christen, ed. by Hendrix, H. H./Stöhr, M., Aachen 1978, pp. 3044.

page 484 note 3 For example, Gen. 15: 14, where the Exodus is portrayed as a judgment on Egypt that ends with the departure of an Israel richly laden with presents. In Exod. 14:5, there is the terse comment that Israel had ‘fled’.

page 484 note 4 Especially noteworthy is the indication of Yahweh's having ‘found’ Israel in the wilderness (Hos. 9:10, perhaps also Jer. 31: 2ff.); see Bach, R., Die Erwählung in der Wüste, theological dissertation, Bonn 1952.

page 484 note 5 von Rad, Gerhard, Das Formgeschichtliche Problem des Hexaleuch (1938), reprinted in his Gesammelte Studien Zum Allen Testament, Munich 1965, pp. 986, (II ff.).

page 484 note 6 Noth, Martin, Überlieferungsgeschichte des Pentateuch, 3rd ed., Stuttgart 1966, pp. 5054.

page 485 note 7 von Rad, Gerhard, Theologie des Atlen Testaments I, Munich 1957, pp. 179f.

page 485 note 8 Zimmerli, W., ‘Der neue Exodus' in der Verkündigung der beiden großen Exilspropheten’ (1960), reprinted in his Gottes Offenbarung, Munich 1963, pp. 192204; cf. also Zimmerli's exegesis of Ezek. 37 in BK. AT, Neukirchen 1969.

page 486 note 9 e.g. E. Käsemann obviously understands it in this way when he writes concerning Rom. 4:17 that hope is ‘the exodus out of the realm of the calculable into the horizons of a future lived under the saving will of God and opened up by his word.’ (See his An die Römer, 3rd ed., 1974 P. 117) A modern variant of the idea of the status viatoris is heard when Eberhard Jüngel calls man a ‘creature of chance’. ‘As a creature of chance he is simultaneously worldly and spiritual, whereby his spiritual existence is no duplication of his worldly existence, but is precisely a being-underway-in-the-world, which follows the word of God, an eschatological journeying which makes him first and foremost an historical being.’ See Jüngel, E., Zur Freiheit eines Christenmenschen, Munich 1978, p. 83.

page 487 note 10 Rad, G. v., Theoiogie, p. 179.

page 487 note 11 ibid., p. 180.

page 487 note 12 Thomas Mann, Joseph und seine Brüder, esp. the chapter ‘Abraham’.

page 490 note 13 cf. The Concise Oxford Dictionary, sixth edition, Oxford 1976, pp. 421, 624.

page 490 note 14 For the history of the concept, see Oeing-Hanhoff, L., ‘Das Reich der Freiheit als absoluter Endzweck der Welt: Tübinger und weitere Perspektiven’, in Freiheit, ed. by Simon, J., Freiburg/Munich 1977, pp. 5583.

page 492 note 15 Sauter, G., Wissenschaftstheoretische Kritik der Theologie, Munich 1973, p. 272; ‘Dogma: Ein eschatologischer Begriff’ (1966), Erwartung und Erfahrung, Munich 1972, pp. 1646, (42ff.).

page 493 note 16 For the distinction between ‘the situation where language is introduced’ and ‘the situation where language is used’ see Lorenz, K., ‘Der dialogische Wahrheitsbegriff’ in: Dialog ab Methode, Neue Hefte für Philosophie 2/3, Göttingen 1972, pp. 111123.

page 495 note 17 Ernst Troeltsch used the concept of analogy in this sense in his discussion of methods in the science of history; see his Über historische und dogmatische Methode in der Theologie (1898), reprinted in Sauter, G.(ed.), Theologie als Wissenschaft, Munich 1971, pp. 105127 (107ff.). Pannenberg, Wolfhart has taken up this view and modified it in his Heilsgeschehen und Geschichte (1959), reprinted in Grundfragen systematischer Theologie, Göttingen 1967, pp. 2278 (46ff.) (ET Basic Questions in Theology, London 1970).

page 495 note 18 Karl Barth has called special attention to this in his interpretation of analogy. See J. Track, ‘Analogie’ in TRE II, 1978, pp. 625–50 (pp. 640ff.).

page 495 note 19 See the synopsis by Track, ibid., and by Kluxen, W., in his article ‘Analogic’, Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie I, Basel/Stuttgart 1971, pp. 214227.

page 496 note 20 Raddatz, W./Sauter, G./Ulrich, H. G., ‘Verstehen’, Praklisch-theologisches Handbuch, 2nd ed., ed. by Otto, G., Hamburg 1975, pp. 602633, esp. pp. 609f.

page 497 note 21 Friedrich Nietzsche turned his attention to this problem when he called the instinct to form metaphors’ the ‘fundamental instinct of man’ which gives rise to man's world through language (linguistic conventions). See ‘Über Wahrheit und Lüge im außermoralischen Sinn’ (1873) in Nietzsche, F., Werke, ed. by Schlechta, K., Darmstadt 1962, III, p. 319. Here Nietzsche sees the consequence of the death of God: there is nothing preceding language in reality. The background portrayed by Nietzsche should be given its full significance, when today — to some extent with reference to Nietzsche, but not as he meant it — the possibilities of metaphorical language as an extension of language and as a ‘gain for language’ are being rediscovered. See Ricoeur, P./Jüngel, E., Metapher: Zur Hermeneutik religiöser Sprache, Ev. Th. Sonderheft, Munich 1974; Jüngel, E., Zur Freiheil eines Christenmenschen, pp. 4049. However, Hans Blumenberg takes up Nietzsche's linguistic and critical intention and encounters in the reconstruction of metaphors what can still be said, but cannot be any longer known and understood; see his Paradigmen zu einer Metaphorologie, Bonn 1960, esp. p. 19f. In this discussion, the question of the limits of our language as the limits of our world has not yet been taken up. For contrast, see van Buren, P. M., The Edges of Language, London 1972.

page 500 note 22 Moltmann, J., Theology of Hope, London 1967, pp. 304ff.; cf. also Moltmann, , The Church in the Power of the Spirit, London 1977, and Neuer Lebensstil: Schritte zur Gemeinde, Munich 1977.

page 500 note 23 In the history of the Church there have been three sects which have called themselves ‘exodus communities’, because they were expecting the return of Christ at a certain place and wanted to start on their way to that place. See Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 3rd ed., II, 1958, 832.

page 501 note 24 Gutiérrez, G., Theología de la Liberatión; Eng. tr. A Theology of Liberation. London, 1974; Germ. tr. Theologie der Befreiung, Munich/Mainz 1973, pp. 28ff., 84ff., 135ff.

page 501 note 25 Gutiérrez, p. 196: ‘Real liberation will be the work of the oppressed themselves. In the man deprived of his rights, the Lord redeems history.’

page 501 note 26 ibid., p. 192.

page 502 note 27 Bloch, E., Atheismus im Christentum: Zur Religion des Exodus und des Reichs, Frankfurt a/M 1968, esp. pp. 115ff.

page 503 note 28 ibid., pp. 37ff., 57ff.

page 504 note 29 In order to be able to derive ethical statements from dogmatics, Karl Barth and many of his followers understand the difference in the analogy under the catchword ‘a christological foundation of ethics’. See here my contribution to the discussion: ‘Was heißt “christologische Begründung” christlichen Handelns heute?’, Ev. Tk, 35, 1975, pp. 407–21.

page 504 note 30 For this way of reaching ethical statements, see Sauter, G., Wissenschafts-theoretische Kritik der Theologie, pp. 317321.

page 505 note 31 One hopes that the misinterpretation of this “living space” in terms of a geographical-political ideology, the unfortunate results of which are in living memory, has been ruled out. The metaphor of space is discussed in modern theological ethics, as far as I know, only by Dietrich Bonhoeffer; see his Ethik, 2nd ed., ed. by Bethge, E., Munich 1953, pp. 61ff., where it is discussed, however, without reference to the problem of freedom. For a different approach, see Iwand, H. J., Gesetz und Evangelium, ed. by Kreck, W., in Nachgelassene Werke IV, Munich 1964, p. 45. By means of the metaphor of space, that element of passivity in the Exodus and liberation is expressed, which H. Gollwitzer has strongly emphasised in different ways in his interpretation of Christian freedom; see e.g. his Krummes Holz— aufrechler Gang, Munich 1970, pp. 364f.

page 505 note 32 Karl Barth, on the other hand, spoke of ‘reality’ in two senses: an onto-theological reality (the ‘reality of God’) and reality from an ethical point of view (‘realisation’). This shifting use of language is also found in Bonhoeffer's ‘ethics’. From this starting-point, three conceptions begin to clash with one another: possibility as. what is not yet reality; possibility as the reality awaiting man's disposal (i.e., it is what can be realised); and possibility as a potency in reality (as distinct from reality and necessity). For ethics, this ambiguity is extremely confusing.

page 507 note 33 This is the difference between transcending as an incessant movement of life and the making of a transition as the entry into God's world.

* This paper was first given as a lecture for a seminar on ‘Exegesis-Hermeneutics-Ethics’ to the theological faculties of Bonn and Oxford (in Oxford from the 13th to the 17th March, 1978; in Bonn in the summer semester, 1978, fora combined seminar of the Bonn theological faculties as well as for two courses for ministers). I would like here to express my gratitude to my discussion-partners, above all to my colleagues Hans-Jürgen Hermisson, Wolfgang Schrage and Prior Dr Fergus Kerr, OP, whose comments on my ideas led to further explanatory comments in this printed version, and to Dr Hugh Jones for this translation.

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