Research Project


Divinatory Hermeneutics and Text Exegesis in Early China

Prof. Dr. Joachim Gentz

Auguste Bouché-Leclercq demonstrates in his Histoire de la divination dans l'antiquité (Paris, 1879, vol. 2, p. 218) how floating the borders between exegesis of divinatory signs and exegesis of divine books were in ancient Greece. Talking about divinatory texts the distinction between (provoked or non-provoked) Heavenly signs, revealed books, inspired prophecies and the wise chresmoi of the oracle chanters can indeed be hardly drawn. Likewise, the canonical texts in early China were read as works that not only dealt with, but also were expressions of, the Heavenly order as it appears in the human world. Accordingly the hermeneutics applied to some of these text followed divinatory hermeneutics developed in diverse divinatory traditions. As the religious assumptions underlying divination practice became increasingly criticised in elite discourses, new authoritative institutions had to be invented that provided open spaces for regulated negotiations on social, economic, legal, political and ethical matters. The classics were one of these institutions, and as a continuation of earlier divinatory institutions they took over a number of features from this earlier practice which, unlike many European divinatory traditions, had never attempted to predict the auspiciousness of the future but to give advice on an auspicious shaping of the future.

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