(C1) Distinction and Integration in the Foundational Document of Israel

An essential reason for religiously motivated prejudices and conflicts lies in the basic function of all religions of distinguishing themselves from other groups and religions. This distinguishing function is only the reverse side of their central basic function, achieving the internal integration of a community. Religious distinction is thus indispensable. But all religions also are faced with the task of developing integrative procedures that are directed outwardly, and that mitigate the potential for conflict evoked by the frequently sharp and emotionally loaded drawing of boundaries so that a peaceful coexistence with other religions is possible.

The ancient Israelite religion is particularly well-suited for an investigation of the correlation between religious distinction and integration, because after the loss of national and territorial unity, on the one hand, Israel found itself compelled to develop very strict religious mechanisms of delimitation in order to insure the survival of its own group, and on the other hand, had to get along with the members of very many other nations and religions in the Diaspora. Thus the founding document of Israel, the Pentateuch, dating from the fifth and fourth centuries B. C., shall be investigated with appropriate literary-historical and theological-historical methods in terms of the relationship between distinction and integration. This work stands out in its organisation through a gradual development from universal (Genesis) to particular traditions (Exodus to Deuteronomy). This has been up to now generally understood one-sidedly as a concept of distinction, as if the God Yahweh’s history with humankind first attained its goal with the election of Israel. But more recent investigations have revealed that the more universal book of Genesis was only placed before the particular books relatively late. This means that for the founding document of Israel, a universal introduction was intentionally created, which located Israel within the world and family of peoples created by God and integrated other peoples into their own world of religious symbols. The Pentateuch thus intentionally combines a distinguishing and an integrative concept; it seeks to secure Israel’s identity and at the same time prevent the danger of devaluing societies with different religious and cultural orientations. Research into the origin of this combination and the history of its consequences in Judaism and Christianity allows important insights to be won for strengthening and developing integrative procedures in the coexistence of present-day religions.