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How religious values (Jewish and Christian) originated the technological cultural of the West in the early Middle Ages...

...that made it the most advanced technological civilization

Hausarbeit 2008 12 Seiten

Kulturwissenschaften - Sonstiges

Leseprobe

Table of Contents

0. Introduction and presenting the question

1. The technological and the anti-technological society

2. The adoption of technological values from Judaism to early Christianity
2.1. Why did it not happen in Byzantium (too)?
2.2. Hugh of Saint Victor – technology as a part of philosophy
2.3. The periodical barriers of Western technological progress

3. Conclusion

BILBIOGRAPHY

0. Introduction and presenting the question

Stating today that the Western Civilization is the most technological advanced civilization on earth and in history, will probably not draw many objections, but how and when did this happen? What made Western Europe outstrip the other great civilizations that long held technological superiority over it?

In this short essay I try to follow a thought of Professor Lynn Townsend White[1], seeing the intellectual condition of a society (namely religious values) as the main important factor for its technological development.[2] Although many critics argue against White, downplaying religious value orientation as a possible cause,[3] focusing on technological success of other civilizations in the Middle Ages,[4] portraying the "technological mind" of western Europe as the consequence and not the cause of it's rapid technological growth[5] or portraying the Western leading technological position as a kind of coincidence, I find them not convincing. To the contrary: the spread of ideas and their grave effects can have their basis in the minds of very few or even single persons, who convince a society to change or adapt their values[6] Further, the wide spread and common borrowing of technological inventions in the medieval Eurasian cultures makes a search for an answer of the astonishing European success even more a question of society and intellectual attitude than the hardware inventions,[7] since Byzantium, the Islamic world, India and China had in the 10th century the same or better technologies and inventions than as Western Europe. And of course on can argue that technological attitudes and pro-technological ideological changes in society where the product of technological progress and not it's cause, but first this would be hard to prove (since for example Monasticism and "Ora et Labora" came before the great technological progress of Western Europe) and second this leaves the question open what then caused the groundbreaking technological progress in Western Europe (and not in other cultures) in the first place? Came it out of nothing, by chance? Many of the critics sound as they wish to reject the argument, maybe because of postcolonial shame or relativistic-egalitarian portrayal of cultures in general, but they can not provide a better argument or explain why not China or Byzantium for example became the technological superpower, although there were technological superior in the beginning.

1. The technological and the anti-technological society

Even more puzzling becomes the question how Western Europe became the technological society, when looking at it's technological-hostile ancestor: Greek-Roman antiquity. The Greek Roman world was the opposite of a technological society: Although using sophisticated technologies e.g. in trade and war, technologies, engineering and work itself had a very negative reputation in most parts of the Ancient world, furthermore slave-labor and not machines were the ready source of power[8]: "In ancient Greece after the time of Hesiod, and in Rome from the later Republic onward, among the upper classes any use of the hands […] was despised. That taint that slavery put upon all labor undoubtedly sustained this attitude […] but also to free men who worked manually for a living…"[9]

Kalischer describes how for example Aristotle and Plato despise any kind of bodily activity and how actually the whole Greek-Roman society was divided into two classes according to whether they used their hands for their sustenance (unfree) or let others work for them (free),[10] using only their mouth.

The thought that aristocracy does not dirty itself with work, but that work is something undesirable connected to the lower classes and to slavery seemed for some scholars so convincing and self-evident that they asked "… at what time […] has the attitude of the upper and controlling classes been different?"[11]

What many overlooked and what White and Kalischer emphasize is that at least one ancient people had a completely different outlook and understanding of work, slavery and technology: "The seeds of a very different view of work were to be found in the Jewish community. The fourth Commandment from Sinai said, 'Six days shalt thou labour' and thus was as religiously binding as the injunction to rest on the seventh day. Rabbi Nathan II taught that "Like the Shabbat, work is commanded. […] Like the Torah, so work is given as a covenant."[12]

Not just was physical work – agriculture and craftsmanship – highly honored in Judaism from very early times, as Kalischer discusses very thoroughly and gives numerous examples and quotations from the Torah, Tanakh and the Rabbinical literature,[13] but in Judaism scholarship and craftsmanship were also combined and practiced together: "Their rabbis normally supported themselves by manual labor and taught that from Sinai God had commanded."[14] "Many great Rabbis worked as habitually as woodcutters, shoemakers, tailors, carpenters, and the like."[15] Thus the Jewish craftsman/scholar was the prototype of a class of people, like later monks and medical astrologers, that had both, the intellectual and the technical background to make inventions and their applications and advancements possible.

White points out that the "protestant work ethic" of Max Weber can already be found here as a concept that generally entered western Christianity, as we will see, and for Protestants in particular, who looked back to the original roots of their religion.[16]

2. The adoption of technological values from Judaism to early Christianity

The transition of the Jewish concept that "work is worship"[17] to Christianity in general and western Christianity in particular happened in kind of waves throughout the Middle Ages, always in competition and periodically suppressed by the Greek/pagan concept as work and craftsmanship being an engagement of lower classes while the nature of the noble and gentleman laying in politics and theoretical philosophy, which were deep routed and were often connected with revivals of classic antiquity. The first of such "waves" was the early Christendom – still mainly a Jewish offspring – with the Rabbinical scholar St. Paul at it's ideological head. He preached the Jewish doctrine of self-supporting work: "if any should not work, neither should he eat" (2 Thes. 3:10) and many followers of the new faith were simple (working) people.[18]

The first "counter-revolution" came when around and after Constantine's conversion the new religion was joined by many pagans, also from the higher classes, which brought with them the anti-technological views of their Greek/Roman culture.[19]

"The result was monasticism, the new Israel in the wilderness. Following Pauline – and therefore, unconsciously, rabbinical – precedent, but challenging the elitist pagan tradition, the monks insisted that labore est orare, work is worship."[20]

The early Benedictine monastic movement had as maybe no later movement a great impact on the later technological society and Benedictines being for centuries one of the most learned and skilled in their society. Monasteries all over Europe became not only places where ancients manuscripts were copied and studied, but in many cases the also functioned as the technological workshops and experimental grounds of the early Middle Ages, and White discusses several remarkable monks whose technological experiments and inventions in the early Middle Age might astonish.[21]

[...]


[1] He was a professor of medieval history at Princeton, Stanford and, for many years, University of California, Los Angeles.

[2] Lynn White, Jr.: "What accelerated Technological Progress in the Western Middle Ages?" in Scientific Change, ed. A. C. Crombie (London, 1963), pp. 272-314.

[3] As for example M. Daumas argues that "only […] a small minority of individuals" where pro-technologically influenced by Christian values and they had little impact on society. in Scientific Change, ed. A. C. Crombie (London, 1963), pp. 331-332

[4] As for example J. Needham argues against White that China was "technologically and industrially ahead […] until about A.D. 1450" of Western Europe. in Scientific Change, ed. A. C. Crombie (London, 1963), pp. 327-328.

[5] As for example E. Olszewski argues that the development of technology led to the monastic organization and Christian saints replaced pagan animism, not the other way round. in Scientific Change, ed. A. C. Crombie (London, 1963), pp. 332.

[6] And White emphasizes that the righteous values of the early working monks had a great impact on the many and created a new value: Lynn White, Jr.: "What accelerated Technological Progress in the Western Middle Ages?" in Scientific Change, ed. A. C. Crombie (London, 1963), pp. 286.

[7] Even more one should remember the popular example of the Classical World being technologically ready for the steam engine after Hero of Alexandria's Aeolipile, but – as we shall see – not intellectual ready.

[8] May it be that the negative view on work created slavery, or slavery generated the negative view on work.

[9] Lynn White, Jr.: "Medieval Religion and Technology: Collected Essays" (Los Angeles, 1978), pp. 319. See also page 183. See also Lynn White, Jr.: "What accelerated Technological Progress in the Western Middle Ages?" in Scientific Change, ed. A. C. Crombie (London, 1963), pp. 284.

[10] S. Kalischer: "Die Wertschätzung der Arbeit in Bibel und Talmud" in Judaica – Festschrift zu Hermann Cohens siebzigstem Geburtstage, ed. Elbogen (Berlin, 1912), pp. 272-314.

[11] Quoted by White from D. Lee: "Science, Philosophy and Technology in the Greco-Roman World", Greece and Rome, XX (1973), 70-71.

[12] Lynn White, Jr.: "What accelerated Technological Progress in the Western Middle Ages?" in Scientific Change, ed. A. C. Crombie (London, 1963), pp. 285.

[13] S. Kalischer: "Wertschätzung der Arbeit in Bibel und Talmud" in Judaica – Festschrift zu Hermann Cohens siebzigstem Geburtstage, ed. Elbogen (Berlin, 1912). Kalischer also emphasizes that the reason to support oneself through work had a high ethical value and guaranteed the freedom of the individual, instead of being dependant of somebody else (except for God) – as the slave for example. Thus interestingly Judaism and the Greek-Roman world both see slavery as an undesirable condition, but the Greek-Romans try to separate themselves from them and from their work (trying to be the master of others), while Judaism tries to free them by working for themselves (master of oneself), but also accepting the work as sacred and emphasizing the singularity of the only master – god.

[14]. Lynn White, Jr.: "Medieval Religion and Technology: Collected Essays" (Los Angeles, 1978), pp. 319.

[15] Lynn White, Jr.: "What accelerated Technological Progress in the Western Middle Ages?" in Scientific Change, ed. A. C. Crombie (London, 1963), pp. 285.

[16] "The spiritual value of hard work was not, as Weber implied, a Calvinist discovery; on the contrary, it was integral to the Christian ascetic tradition going back through the monks to Jewish roots." Lynn White, Jr.: "Medieval Religion and Technology: Collected Essays" (Los Angeles, 1978), pp. 182-183.

[17] "a service to god". Lynn White, Jr.: "What accelerated Technological Progress in the Western Middle Ages?" in Scientific Change, ed. A. C. Crombie (London, 1963), pp. 287.

[18] Lynn White, Jr.: "Medieval Religion and Technology: Collected Essays" (Los Angeles, 1978), pp. 320.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid., See also: "…monasticism, which from the beginning asserted the originally Jewish thesis that work is worship, indeed, that it is an essential kind of worship. … Monks of both East and West continued though the Middle Ages to work with their hands." Ibid, pp. 241

[21] (Eilmer, Odorannus, Theophilus) Ibid. 320-323.

Details

Seiten
12
Jahr
2008
ISBN (eBook)
9783640158799
ISBN (Buch)
9783640159826
Dateigröße
444 KB
Sprache
Englisch
Katalognummer
v114414
Note
0,7
Schlagworte
Christian) West Middle Ages Relations Jewish Judentum Technologie Fortschritt christlich

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Titel: How religious values (Jewish and Christian) originated the technological cultural of the West in the early Middle Ages...