In our Thursday night class, the Hebrew Bible in its Historical Setting, we have been discussing the world events that were taking place during the events and writings of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. Last week, we covered the 6th Century BC, a part of the time period that Karl Jaspers, in Origin and Goal of History, referred to as the Axial Age.
Jaspers originally thought of the Axial Age as ranging from the 900s-300s BC. In recent times, Karen Armstrong and other historians of religions have specified the 500s BC as that age. In what follows, I will give the dates and a brief description of that remarkable century.
599 BC: Draco of Athens dies. Draco wrote the first constitution of Athens. It was a harsh code of laws (we get the phrase Draconian Law from his name) but it represented an equality under the law not seen before.
598 BC: Jehoiachin succeeds Jehoiakim as King of Judah. Jehoiachin had been installed as king by the Egyptian Pharoah Necho II, who subdued Judah into a vassal state of Egypt.
597 BC: Jeremiah enters into the second phase of his prophetic career.
597 BC, September 17: Ezekiel begins to prophesy during first Babylonian deportation.
begins the long siege of Jerusalem.
587 BC: Jerusalem falls to the Babylonians, ending the Kingdom of Judah. The conquerors destroy Solomon's Temple and exile the land's remaining inhabitants. The Babylonian Captivity for the Jews begins. Jeremiah was spared by Nebuchanezzar but was taken by Jewish refugees into captivity to Egypt, where Jeremiah will die in exile.
563 BC: Birth of Siddhartha Gautama, later known as the Buddha, in Lumbini, Nepal.
560 BC: The writings of Second Isaiah, Isaiah chapters 40-59. (Isaiah 1-39 was written by Isaiah of Jerusalem who prophesied during the Assyrian Period.
551 BC, September 28: Confucius (aka Kung Fu Tzu) is born in China.
540 BC: Birth of Jina Vardhamana Mahavira, founder of Jainism, in India.
539 BC: Babylon is conquered by Cyrus the Great, defeating Nabonidus’s son, the Prince Regent Belshazzar. Later recorded in Daniel. Cyrus will release the Jewish exiles. Cyrus will later be named the first Righteous Gentile by the Jews.
535 BC: Joel prophesies regarding Yahweh’s love for all peoples and promises the pouring out of God’s spirit upon all flesh. Heraclitus, the pre-Socratic philosopher born in Ephesus. Introduces the term Logos into philosophy, a term that will play an essential role in the writings of Plato, Philo, and St. John.
535 BC: Confucius begins his political career and will write the Analects, basing political principles on ethics. The Qi State which Confucius counseled grew powerful and respected and brought the jealousy of neighboring states. Confucius will not establish a religion but will create rules for political morality.
528 BC: Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha attains Enlightenment and begins his ministry. Born into Hinduism, Gautama will reject that religion and will found Buddhism in India. It becomes a major world religion.
520 BC: Haggai and Zechariah begin their prophetic careers.
508 BC: Lao Tzu writes Tao Te Ching, established the foundation of Taoism.
508 BC: Office of Pontifex Maximus created in Rome. The Pontifex Maximus will become the high priest of Roman religion and will eventually become one of the three offices and titles held by the Caesars.
What an extraordinary century. To see prophets like Jeremiah, Second Isaiah and Joel, a liberator like Cyrus the Great, political reformers like Solon and Confucius, and religious founders like Buddha and Mahavira, and a philosopher like Heraclitus was amazing. While those figures may not have encountered each other, they certainly established a new stage upon which the world would play out its drama.
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