This chapter analyses how the idea of the High God is applicable on the African and American scene respectively. Widengren gives a pervasive reading of contemporary (and sometimes pre-colonial or traditional) African and American ethnographic material and tries to link his typology of the hauptmotiv of the High God to the archaeological and oral traditional material from these two continents. Widengren seldom, however, distinguish between indigenous, pre-colonial or contemporary African and American cultures. He does not discuss migrations, religious shifts or syncretistic processes. What Widengren should have done in order to make his effort more worthwhile was being more careful with the source material and how the comparisons are executed. It would also have been helpful if he more clearly had demonstrated how the “African” and “American” thoughts regarding the concept of the High God was linked to the Iranian historical cultural context.
When Widengren was professor Sweden was a secularized country. A new curriculum for religious education was introduced in the schools. An overview over all religions substituted the confessional Lutheran education. As an excellent writer of popular science Widengren was anxious to propagate knowledge about the world religions, and especially the interdependence between them, among people in general. According to him, all aspects of Christianity existed before the Bible. He was convinced that the Dead Sea Scrolls proved the connection between Judaism and the original Christian religion. His ambition to demonstrate this connection might have tempted him to some exaggerations.
When it comes to Geo Widengren as a student of Iranian religions, it is very difficult not to be caught between two extreme emotions: on the one hand, admiration of someone who was in many respects a great scholar and who never shied away from bold claims which came in a language that would strike most of us nowadays as over-confident; on the other, despondency over a scholar who was always wrong, even when judged by the standards of his own time, and who persisted in being wrong even when errors were pointed out to him. What I admire about Widengren is his immense scholarly productivity, and especially his willingness to survey enormous stretches of Iranian and Near Eastern evidence and to issue the warning, time and again, that whereas philology is indispensable, it is never sufficient for the writing or understanding of religious history. It is striking that this warning, which is so self-evidently true, could and must still be issued today.
This chapter presents a general introduction and background to Widengren’s intellectual life. The focus is on Widengren’s formative years as a young student at Stockholm University College (in Swedish, Stockholms Högskola), but the chapter also cover some of the intellectual and academic milieus that Widengren belonged to during his long career. While his academic life is the focus here, Widengren’s interest in the military, his horse-riding and his engagement in Swedish public debates will also be discussed. This introductory chapter will make it easier for the reader to comprehend the remaining chapters of this edited volume and to place Widengren in his proper intellectual context.
In accordance with his hardly paralleled mastering of virtually all the religious and literary traditions of the ancient Near and Middle East, in particular ancient Iran, which let his academic expertise encompass an area extending from Asia Minor to Iran and Central Asia, throughout a millennium, Geo Widengren showed some interest for Mani and Manichaeism as well. Although less known than his studies on older Iranian religious traditions, his research on Manichaeism is nonetheless worth being discussed. In Widengren’s perspective, if we consider the area in which the Manichaean tradition originated, before its universalistic spreading towards East and West, this religion might be, in fact, perceived as one of the last outcomes of Persian tradition. It is just as such that Widengren investigated it, videlicet assuming a pan-Iranian model of historical diffusion. The present chapter provide a reconsideration of Widengren’s contribution in the light of recent scholarship on Manichaeism.
This chapter includes a personal description of Geo Widengren as well as a critical discussion about the connection between Italian scholars, like Raffaele Pettazzoni, Ugo Bianchi and Gherardo Gnoli and Geo Widengren. The chapter also includes a description and analysis of the study of phenomenology and comparative historical typologies; two topics that were of great importance for Geo Widengren.
Geo Widengren’s studies in the religion and history of ancient Iran are a prominent feature of his scholarly profile. Besides a large number of articles and minor monographs four works should be singled out to serve as a basis for the present discussion. The first one is Hochgottglaube im alten Iran from 1938, in which he elaborated the ‘high god’ character not only of Ahura Mazdā but also of Mithra, Vayu and Zurvān. The second work to be mentioned is “Stand und Aufgaben der iranischen Religionsgeschichte, I and II”, published in the two first issues of Numen (1954–55). The third one is his book from 1965, Die Religionen Irans, which appeared in the series ‘Die Religionen der Menschheit’. The fourth work to attract attention is Widengren’s detailed study of Iranian apocalyptic ideas entitled ‘Leitende Ideen und Quellen der iranischen Apokalyptik’ from 1983.
Leaving aside the philosophical response to the rhetorical question of whether we can learn anything from the past, I suggest that Geo Widengren can be used as an example showing how the study of religions as a discipline has evolved and changed over time. Widengren can therefore serve as a prism casting light on changes within the History of Religions as an academic discipline in Sweden and internationally, but his academic career took place at a time when Sweden, like the rest of Europe, was undergoing tremendous changes.
Strictly speaking, Geo Widengren was not a biblical scholar. He never held an academic position within an exegetical discipline. Nevertheless, he made several important contributions to the field of biblical studies in general, and to Old Testament/ Hebrew Bible exegesis in particular. In this chapter, I discuss some key factors that enabled Widengren, being an expert within history of religion, to attain a rather prominent position within the exegetical guild, such as the academic milieu in Uppsala and the discovery of ancient Ugarit. Arguably, though, the most important factor was Widengren’s ability to combine these two disciplines in a fruitful way. In all the works discussed in this chapter, he consistently applied comparative methodology from the history of religion in order to throw new light on biblical texts. As regards the latter, he tended to prefer laments from the book of Psalms.
In the present chapter I would like to offer a brief, critical survey of some of Geo Widengren’s early writings, published between 1938 and 1955. A part of them were conceived as a sequential series under the title “King and Saviour” (henceforth KS). Here, one finds the workshop where his most influential contributions were shaped, namely those on sacral kingship and apocalyptics. On the one hand, I am interested to investigate his first contribution to the field of the history of Iranian religions, the 1938 monograph on the high gods. On the other hand, I propose to provide a fresh review of the ‘King and Saviour’ series, which follows two main lines of inquiry: the integration of the (then) newly discovered Manichaean literature and his approach to Near East kingship, with a particular focus on whether it paved the path to the understanding of Iranian kingship.