There are two principles at the heart of the European consciousness: the Hellenic and the Hebraic. The Christian world was formed from both of them.
Consciousness of historical fulfillment is the main mission of the Jewish people.
The Hellenic culture conceived the world aesthetically, as a finite and harmonious cosmos.
“It was the Jews who contributed the concept of «historical» to world history, thereby discharging, in my opinion,
the essence of their specific mission.
They were the first to conceive the world as
… This prophetic character of the Jewish consciousness, its preoccupation with the future, helped … to give birth to the very idea of the «historical» itself. … That was
the Messianic idea
peculiar to the Jewish people.”
For history is a drama which has its acts and logical development, its denouement and catharsis. But this conception of history as tragedy was foreign to the Hellenic consciousness. Its origins must be sought rather in the consciousness and spirit of ancient Israel. It was the Jews who contributed the concept of ‘historical’ to world history, thereby discharging, in my opinion, the essence of their
They were the first to conceive the world as historical fulfilment in contradistinction to the cyclic process of the Greeks. For the ancient Hebrews the idea of fulfilment was always closely allied to that of Messianism. The Jewish consciousness, unlike that of the Greeks, always aspired towards the future;
it lived in the intense expectation of some great decisive event in the destinies of Israel and of other peoples. It did not conceive the destiny of the world as a finite cyclic process. For the Jews the idea of history turns upon die expectation of some future event which will bring with it a solution of history. They are the first to demonstrate the structural character of the historical process and to become conscious of the ‘historical’. And we must therefore seek the origins of the philosophy ofhistory in Jewish rather than in Greek philosophy.
The Book of Daniel represents such a philosophy of history. In it we are made to feel dramatically that mankind is engaged in a process that tends towards a definite goal. Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream represents the first attempt in the history of mankind to attribute a
design to history
— an attempt which was later to be repeated and developed in the Christian philosophy. The prophet Jeremiah’s view of history is coloured by his belief that God chastised the peoples. He loved Nebuchadnezzar as the instrument of God. This prophetic character of the Jewish consciousness, its preoccupation with the future, helped not only to build up the philosophy of history but also to give birth to the very idea of the ‘historical’ itself. The Hellenic world had been content to contemplate a harmonious cosmos;
but this was foreign to the Jews who were destined to reveal the historical drama of human destiny, — a drama depending on the fulfilment of some great event in the destiny of the Jewish people and of mankind as a whole. That was
the Messianic idea peculiar to the Jewish people.
It constitutes their specific contribution to the history of the human spirit.