But, for the first time, we find affirmed, and increasingly accepted, the idea that historical events have a value in themselves, insofar as they are determined by the will of God. This God of the Jewish people is no longer an Oriental divinity, creator of archetypal gestures, but a personality who ceaselessly intervenes in history, who reveals his will through events (invasions, sieges, battles, and so on). Historical facts thus become «situations» of man in respect to God, and as such they acquire a religious value that nothing had previously been able to confer on them. It may, then, be said with truth that the Hebrews were the first to discover the meaning of history as the epiphany of God, and this conception, as we should expect, was taken up and amplified by Christianity.
Compared with the archaic and palaeo-oriental religions, as well as with the mythic-philosophical conceptions of the eternal return, as they were elaborated in India and Greece, Judaism presents an innovation of the first importance.
For Judaism, time has a beginning and will have an end.
The idea of cyclic time is left behind. Yahweh no longer manifests himself in
(like the gods of other religions)
but in a
historical time, which is irreversible. Each new manifestation of Yahweh in history is no longer reducible to an earlier manifestation. The fall of Jerusalem expresses Yahweh's wrath against his people, but it is no longer the same wrath that Yahweh expressed by the fall of Samaria.
His gestures are
interventions in history
and reveal their deep meaning
only for his people, the people that Yahweh had
chosen. Hence the historical event acquires a new dimension;
it becomes a
[Cf. Eliade, Myth, pp. 102 ff., on the valorization of history in Judaism, especially by the prophets.]
Christianity goes even further in valorizing
historical time. Since God was
incarnated, that is, since he took on
a historically conditioned human existence, history acquires the possibility of being sanctified. The
evoked by the Gospels is a clearly defined historical time — the time in which Pontius Pilate was Governor of Judaea — but it was
sanctified by the presence of Christ. When a Christian of our day participates in liturgical time, he recovers the
in which Christ lived, suffered, and rose again — but it is no longer a mythical time, it is the time when Pontius Pilate governed Judaea. For the Christian, too, the sacred calendar indefinitely rehearses the same events of the existence of Christ — but these events took place in history;
they are no longer facts that happened at the
origin of time, «in the beginning.» (But we should add that, for the Christian, time begins anew with the birth of Christ, for the Incarnation establishes a new situation of man in the cosmos). This is as much as to say that history reveals itself to be a new dimension of the presence of God in the world. History becomes sacred history once more — as it was conceived, but in a mythical perspective, in primitive and archaic religions.
[Cf. Eliade, Images et symboles, pp. 222 ff.]
Christianity arrives, not at a
but at a
of history. For God's interventions in history, and above all his Incarnation in the historical person of Jesus Christ, have a transhistorical purpose — the