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9780300090888: Cosmos, Chaos, and the World to Come, 2nd Edition
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All over the world people look forward to a perfect future, when the forces of good will be finally victorious over the forces of evil. Once this was a radically new way of imagining the destiny of the world and of mankind. How did it originate, and what kind of world-view preceded it? In this engrossing book, the author of the classic work The Pursuit of the Millennium takes us on a journey of exploration, through the world-views of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and India, through the innovations of Iranian and Jewish prophets and sages, to the earliest Christian imaginings of heaven on earth.

Until around 1500 B.C., it was generally believed that once the world had been set in order by the gods, it was in essence immutable. However, it was always a troubled world. By means of flood and drought, famine and plague, defeat in war, and death itself, demonic forces threatened and impaired it. Various combat myths told how a divine warrior kept the forces of chaos at bay and enabled the world to survive. Sometime between 1500 and 1200 B.C., the Iranian prophet Zoroaster broke from that static yet anxious world-view, reinterpreting the Iranian version of the combat myth. For Zoroaster, the world was moving, through incessant conflict, toward a conflictless state―“cosmos without chaos.” The time would come when, in a prodigious battle, the supreme god would utterly defeat the forces of chaos and their human allies and eliminate them forever, and so bring an absolutely good world into being. Cohn reveals how this vision of the future was taken over by certain Jewish groups, notably the Jesus sect, with incalculable consequences. 

Deeply informed yet highly readable, this magisterial book illumines a major turning-point in the history of human consciousness. It will be mandatory reading for all who appreciated The Pursuit of the Millennium.

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About the Author:
Norman Cohn is professor emeritus at the University of Sussex and author of Noah’s Flood: The Genesis Story in Western Thought, also published by Yale University Press.
From Kirkus Reviews:
An incisive study of ancient religion and the rise of belief in an impending apocalypse, by the author of the classic study The Pursuit of the Millennium. Cohn (Emeritus/University of Sussex) has puzzled for nearly a half century over where and when the idea first emerged of a ``marvelous consummation, when good will be finally victorious over evil'' and human beings will enjoy a new life on a purified earth. As he demonstrates through a sequence of succinct histories of ancient religious cultures, neither the Egyptians, Mesopotamians, nor Vedic Indians possessed the notion of apocalypse. Instead, each of these peoples imagined the world as a vastly ancient creation in which the guardians of order, or cosmos, are locked in an eternal stalemate with the agents of chaos. Typically, as in ancient Egypt, the principle of order became embodied in the state and its monarchy (Cohn tends to see tight parallels between religious and political developments). The great break came around 1200 B.C. with Zoroaster, who developed ``a totally new perception of time'' in which the combat between cosmos and chaos (or, on the moral plane, between good and evil) will culminate in the triumph of cosmos--a transformation termed ``the making wonderful,'' including the bodily resurrection of the elect. As Cohn shows, Zoroastrian thinking wound its way into Palestine, where it united with the monotheism of the Israelite prophet Second Isaiah--an event Cohn describes as ``a particularly ingenious response to a situation of permanent insecurity.'' The result was a huge corpus of Jewish apocalyptic literature that led eventually to Christian ideas of a transcendent Messiah and a Final Judgment, encoded most strikingly in the Book of Revelation. Cohn's tendency to see religion as disguised politics (he likens theologians to ``political propagandists'') stays largely in the background here: a tight, intelligent study. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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  • PublisherYale University Press
  • Publication date2001
  • ISBN 10 0300090889
  • ISBN 13 9780300090888
  • BindingPaperback
  • Edition number2
  • Number of pages256
  • Rating

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