Protecting Strangers: Establishing a Fundamental Value in the Religions of the Ancient Near East and Ancient Greece

In: Numen


(1) In the current discussions about the rights of asylum on one hand there is urgency for decisions and actions of the politicians, on the other hand these actions must not erode the human right of asylum. It is not a question of the quantity of applicants but of the quality of their rights. Religionists are asked for the foundation of the rights of strangers, because the roots of these rights reach into the archaic past, when there was not yet a state with institutionalized laws ("Rechtsstaat"). The treatment of the stranger was both in (2) Ancient Israel and (3) Ancient Greece the test of the righteousness of the people. Not the exact and continuing performance of the cult of the Gods demonstrates the piety of the people, but the treatment of the poor and weak. In pre-state societies the right of the strongest does not rule. However, the pride of the citizens and the token of the richness of a city is the granting of protection to outcasts. The sacrality of the holy place ("sanctuary") does not automatically grant protection. The talk of divine protection enables the protectors to gain the advantage of wide acceptance which compensates for a deficit of actual power. (4) Human rights have to be defended against attempts of political administrations to cut them short, that is, in consequence: to take away an individual's right to enjoy asylum.

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