Bleeker, C. Jouco

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BLEEKER, C. JOUCO (18981983), Dutch historian of Egyptian religion and leading figure in the field of phenomenology of religion. Claas Jouco Bleeker was born in Beneden Knijpe, the Netherlands, and attended school in Leeuwarden. He went on to study theology at the University of Leiden. There he specialized in Egyptology and the history of religions, chiefly under the tutelage of W. Brede Kristensen, whose work influenced him greatly. He continued his studies at the University of Berlin, and in 1929 he received his Th.D. from the University of Leiden for his thesis De beteekenis van de Egyptische godin Ma-a-t (The Significance of the Egyptian Goddess Maat). In 1925 Bleeker began a career as a minister in the Dutch Reformed church, serving first in the town of Apeldoorn. He held pulpits in various Dutch cities until 1946 when he was appointed professor of the history of religions and the phenomenology of religion at the University of Amsterdam. He remained in that post until his retirement in 1969.

Bleeker's interest both in the religion of ancient Egypt and in religious phenomenology continued throughout his life. His writings on Egyptian religion consist for the most part of studies of individual deities, such as Die Geburt eines Gottes: Eine Studie über den ägyptischen Gott Min und sein Fest (The Birth of a God: A Study on the Egyptian God Min and His Festival; 1956), and research on particular aspects of Egyptian religious life, such as Egyptian Festivals: Enactments of Religious Renewal (1967).

His work in the field of phenomenology was strongly influenced by Kristensen and Gerardus van der Leeuw. Bleeker was concerned with establishing phenomenology of religion as a distinct scholarly discipline that would examine the meaning of religious phenomena in the light of their realized "essence." He understood religion to be structured in terms of "(a) a holy vision of the Supreme Being or of the being and the will of the Deity, (b) a holy path that a man must pursue in order to be freed from his sin and suffering, and (c) a holy action that the believer must carry out in the cult and in his personal religious life" (The Rainbow, 1975, p. 8). He proposed three main objectives for phenomenology of religion. First, it must seek to understand individual phenomena that appear in all or many religious systems, such as prayer (this type of inquiry he called "theōria"). Second, it must try to discover the inner laws that determine the structure of a particular religion ("logos"). Finally, it should attempt to elucidate the way in which religions develop and evolve ("entelecheia").

Bleeker viewed the study of religion as an examination of humanity's varied relationships with God, and he attempted to understand humankind in light of its various attitudes toward divinity. Furthermore, he believed that the science of religion could engender greater mutual respect and understanding among religious groups holding widely differing opinions.

An able and energetic administrator, Bleeker served as secretary-general of the International Association for the History of Religions from 1950 to 1970. From 1960 to 1977 he edited the I. A. H. R.'s review Numen and supervised that journal's supplementary monograph series "Studies in the History of Religions." With Geo Widengren he coedited the important, two-volume hand-book Historia Religionum (19691971). He also oversaw the publication of the proceedings of several important international conferences.

Upon his retirement Bleeker was honored with a festschrift, Liber Amicorum (1969). Thereafter, until the time of his death, he remained active as a scholar, organizer, and editor.


The fullest account of Bleeker's life is J. H. Kamstra's "In Memoriam: Prof. Dr. C. J. Bleeker," Nederlands theologisch tijdschrift 38 (January 1984): 6769 (in Dutch). See also the obituary by R. J. Zwi Werblowsky in Numen 30 (December 1983): 129130. For assessments of Bleeker's contribution to scholarship, see Geo Widengren's "Professor C. J. Bleeker, A Personal Appreciation" in the festschrift Liber Amicorum: Studies in Honour of Professor Dr. C. J. Bleeker (Leiden, 1969), pp. 57, and J. G. Platvoet's "The Study of Rites in the Netherlands," in Nederlands theologisch tijdschrift 37 (July 1983): 177188.

A complete bibliography of Bleeker's works up to 1969 may be found in the Liber Amicorum. To this list may be added Hathor and Thoth: Two Key Figures in Ancient Egyptian Religion (Leiden, 1973). Many of Bleeker's articles are collected in two volumes: The Sacred Bridge: Researches into the Nature and Structure of Religion (Leiden, 1963) and The Rainbow: A Collection of Studies in the Science of Religion (Leiden, 1975).

M. Heerma van Voss (1987)