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John Gardner 1977

Author Biography

Plot Summary




Historical Context

Critical Overview



Further Reading

John Gardner’s story, “Redemption,” was first published in the Atlantic Monthly in May, 1977. Gardner later included the story in his collection of short stories, The Art of Living, published by Knopf in 1981. “Redemption” chronicles the story of a young man named Jack Hawthorne who accidentally kills his seven-year-old brother in a farming accident. The accident takes place in the first paragraph, and the rest of the story reveals how Jack and the members of his family deal with the loss.

The central event in the story is autobiographical. As a young man, Gardner accidentally killed his younger brother; the circumstances of that tragic event are nearly identical to those described in the story. Gardner’s recurring themes are present in this piece of short fiction: the relationship between art and experience, the consequences of death for survivors, the redemption from guilt, and the struggle between the forces of order and disorder.

Author Biography

The son of farmer John Champlin Gardner and his wife Priscilla Jones Gardner, John Gardner was born on July 21, 1933, and grew up on a farm. His mother had been an English teacher, and his father, like the father in “Redemption” was an avid reader of poetry, Shakespeare, and the Bible. As a result, Gardner was exposed to a myriad of literature and popular culture during his childhood. When Gardner was in early adolescence, he was responsible for the accidental death of his brother, Gilbert, who was crushed beneath a cultipacker young Gardner was driving home. The tragedy became an important motivation for Gardner’s writing in later years.

After graduating from high school, Gardner attended De Pauw University. When he was nineteen, he married Joan Patterson. Gardner finished his undergraduate career at Washington University in St. Louis in 1955, before earning an M.A. and a Ph. D. at the State University of Iowa. In addition to creative writing, Gardner studied medieval literature. After completing his Ph.D., Gardner taught at a number of colleges and universities. From 1959 to 1962, he taught at Chico State University in California; one of his students during this time was Raymond Carver, the short story writer.

Starting in the mid-1960s, Gardner published an enormous number of works, including critical essays, a biography of Chaucer, medieval studies, novels, short stories, plays, and poetry. In 1971, he published Grendel, the story of Beowulf told by the monster. In Gardner’s version, the monster is depicted as an existentialist philosopher. In 1977, the year he first published “Redemption” , he won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction for October Light. During the same year he published The Poetry of Chaucer as well as The Life and Times of Chaucer, and underwent surgery for cancer.

In 1978, Gardner published his most controversial book, On Moral Fiction, a treatise in aesthetics and the purpose of fiction. He also married his second wife, Liz Rosenberg, whom he divorced in 1982. During the next few years following 1978, he traveled the country, debating the ideas introduced in the book. In 1981, he published a collection of short stories titled The Art of Living and Other Stories. The book includes the short story “Redemption.”

In 1982, John Gardner died in a motorcycle accident, days before his planned marriage to Susan Thornton. The manuscripts he was working on at the time of his death were published in 1986 as Stillness and Shadows.

Plot Summary

“Redemption” is set in a small farming community in upstate New York. The story opens abruptly with

the announcement that, “Jack Hawthorne ran over and killed his brother, David.” Jack was driving a tractor and towing a cultipacker when his brother fell off the large machine. Jack is unable to act quickly enough to stop the accident, and David is crushed by the large machine.

The accident affects each member of the family in different ways, and the rest of the story is about how the family, especially Jack, finally come to terms with the death. Jack’s father, Dale, takes the death very hard. A kind and genial man, Dale often recited poetry to groups at local churches and schools. After the accident, Dale begins to engage in a series of self-destructive actions, including riding his motorcycle at high speeds, smoking cigarettes, and engaging in a series of affairs with women. He vacillates between a hatred for God and despairing atheism.

Jack’s mother, Betty, hides her grief from her children, crying only when she is alone. She concentrates on getting her two children through their grief. A religious woman, she has many friends who provide her with support. During this period, she also requires that her children take music lessons— Phoebe on the piano, and Jack on the French horn.

Although many people reach out to Jack, he withdraws from human contact. He isolates himself from family and friends, and even considers suicide. During the long hours he spends alone, the accident replays over and over again in his mind. He finds some solace doing his farm chores. One day, a year and a half after the accident, his sister brings him his lunch out in the field. When he did not say grace, she is distraught. Jack comforts her by lying, contending that he had said grace to himself earlier. This moment is an important one for the story, because for the first time since the accident, Jack shows concern for someone other than himself.

Meanwhile, Jack’s father returns after three weeks away. When Jack comes into the house, he finds his father crying, asking his wife for forgiveness. Although Jack hugs his father, he is angry and resentful, presumably because after running away from his responsibilities to the family, his father can find solace when he returns.

Jack’s father never leaves the family again. Jack, on the other hand, remains isolated, retreating into music. On Saturdays, he takes the bus to Rochester to take music lessons from an elderly Russian musician, Arcady Yegudkin, who had narrowly escaped the horrors of the Russian Revolution.

During one of Jack’s lessons, Yegudkin plays a French horn, and Jack is transfixed. When he asks his teacher if he thinks that he will ever be able to play that well, Yegudkin laughs, clearly amazed that Jack would even think that such a thing were possible. Although Yegudkin’s laughter moves Jack to tears, there is no indication that Jack will not continue with his lessons. Further, Yegudkin’s response somehow provides a release for Jack, an acknowledgment that he does not have to be perfect. The story closes with Jack rushing for his bus, starting for home. The implication is that, like his father before him, Jack is starting the long journey toward healing.


Betty Hawthorne

Betty Hawthorne is Jack’s mother. She grieves for her son in secret; the outward manifestation of this grief is a significant weight gain. Betty struggles to keep her family together through a very difficult time. Fortunately she is comforted by her supportive friends and is able to find the strength she needs to keep going. Betty is the one who introduces the children to music, and her insistence on French horn lessons makes possible Jack’s eventual recovery.

Dale Hawthorne

Dale Hawthorne is Jack’s father. The death of his younger son nearly destroys him, and he struggles to deal with the tragedy. He leaves his family, has several love affairs, and generally shirks his responsibility. However, he comes home at last, asking for forgiveness and searching for his own redemption.

Jack Hawthorne

Only twelve years old, Jack accidentally kills his brother by rolling him over with a cultipacker, a large machine used for farming. He blames himself for the accident and isolates himself from his family. Jack reviews the incident over and over again. Concerned about his increasing isolation, his mother insists that he take French horn lessons. Surprisingly, it turns into an effective therapy for the young man. In fact, it is through the French horn that Jack eventually finds redemption.

Phoebe Hawthorne

Phoebe Hawthorne is Jack’s younger sister, the baby of the family. Only five years of age at the time of the accident, she copes with the loss by making cakes, doing household chores, and taking food to the men in the field. She believes that her family will be reunited in heaven and that God will heal her father.

Arcady Yegudkin

Arcady Yegudkin is Jack’s music teacher. Like Jack, he is a survivor of a traumatic incident. He and his wife escaped from Russia during the Revolution after being shot and left for dead by soldiers. In Europe, he became a famous musician, and coped with his bad memories by burying himself in his music.


God and Religion

Gardner chooses God and religion as one of his central themes in “Redemption.” More specifically, Gardner chooses to explore theodicy, the defense of God’s omnipotence and goodness in the face of evil. The central question of theodicy is, of course, if God is good and all-powerful, why does God allow evil in the world? How is it that a beneficent and omnipotent God would allow a small child to be crushed to death under the wheels of a cultipacker?

Dale Hawthorne represents the paradox of God’s goodness and God’s omnipotence in his response to David’s death. His mind “swung violently at this time, reversing itself almost hour by hour, from desperate faith to the most savage, black-hearted atheism. . . . He was unable to decide, one moment full of rage at God’s injustice, the next moment wracked by doubt of his existence.” Often, when presented with unbearable pain, a human will either blame God or deny God’s existence. Before the accident, Dale is “aloof from the timid-eyed flock, Christ’s sheep.” However, after returning to the family after an absence of three weeks, Dale begs for forgiveness. It is as if he finds redemption in bending to what he sees as God’s will. Jack feels scorn for his father, now “some mere suffering sheep among sheep. . . .”

Betty Hawthorne represents a different response to the tragedy. She neither blames nor questions God. Rather, it is through her religious faith as well as the support of her friends that she is able to survive the disaster. This is vitally important for the family, because ultimately, she is the one who “keep[s] her family from wreck.”

The character of Phoebe Hawthorne provides another insight into God’s role in disaster. When she brings the lunch to Jack and he refuses to say grace, she is upset. To placate her, Jack lies and tells her that he has already said grace. He realizes later that Phoebe must depend on her religious faith; her survival requires the belief that God will heal her father and her brother, and that her family will be reunited in heaven. Phoebe finds solace in serving others; in many ways she is reminiscent of the “suffering servant” of Christian iconography.

Art and Experience

Certainly the most important theme in this story is that of art and its role in understanding life’s experiences. Kent Thompson in his review in Books In Canada writes that virtually “every story in the collection is equally concerned with the various relationships between life and art.” Gardner often claimed that art “made my life, and it made my life when I was a kid, when I was incapable of finding any other sustenance, any other thing to lean on, any other comfort during times of great unhappiness.”

Topics for Further Study

  • Investigate the number of farm accidents involving children in the 1940s and in the 1990s. What has happened to the number of reported accidents? To what can you attribute the change in the statistics?
  • Read portions of Gardner’s On Moral Fiction. According to Gardner, what is the role of fiction? Describe his philosophy regarding fiction and morality. How do Gardner’s stories fulfill his goals? In what ways are they lacking?
  • Listen to several recordings of French horn music. Reread the section of the story describing the music. How would you describe the music you hear? Try to be as creative as possible, using concrete images.

Art, for Gardner, had great redemptive powers. Indeed, only after writing the story did Gardner stop having flashback memories of his brother’s death. Likewise, the story ends with the hope that Jack has found redemption through his music.

Furthermore, Gardner maintains that art has an important role to play in human experience. Literature should be moral, providing models for the way life should be lived. For example, although the characters in the story contemplate suicide, they all reject it as an appropriate response to their grief. Rather, each character finds a way to redeem him or herself through God, through work, or through art. As Thompson writes, for Gardner, “art is first of all an act of love.”



Several images recur throughout “Redemption.” Skulls, for example, appear three times to remind Jack of David’s death. At one point, Jack is alone, driving the tractor in the fields, thinking about the accident and his own guilt, his “sore hands clamped tight to the steering wheel, his shoes unsteady on the bucking axlebeam—for stones lay everywhere, yellowed in the sunlight, a field of misshapen skulls.” Jack’s identification of the stones with skulls is connected to his memory of his brother’s crushed skull in the field. He then recalls his father’s story of Lord Byron and Shelley’s skulls, another indirect reference to what he saw happen to his brother’s head.

A few pages later, he has a flashback of his brother’s death, and this time, he does not see stones that look like skulls, nor Shelley’s skull, but rather the cultipacker “flattening the skull of his brother.” Moreover, the adjective “yellowed” suggests the aging of the skulls, and the time passing since his brother’s death. Ironically, when Jack climbs down from the tractor because his memories overwhelm him, he fixes his eyes on “some comforting object, for instance a dark, smooth stone.” The stone becomes a comforting image that brings him momentary peace.

Images of birds also figure prominently in the story. Each time, they seem linked to Jack’s feelings. When he is alone on the tractor, his emotions threaten to overwhelm to such an extent that he must get off the tractor and calm down. The “birds crazily wheeling” overhead suggest the painful emotions inside. Later, in a peaceful moment, he hears birdcalls, and a “cloud of sparrows . . . explode[s] into flight.” These birds are in search of safety. Likewise, Jack is looking for a safe place to work through his emotions.

A final bird image occurs in the closing pages. When Yegudkin begins to play the French horn, “it was if, suddenly, a creature from some other universe had appeared, some realm where feelings become birds and dark sky and spirit is more solid than stone.” The sound grows until Jack likens it to “an enormous trapped hawk hunting frantically for escape.” The repressed feelings threaten to tear him up. Suddenly, it seems as if Jack understands that through his music, his feelings can take wing like birds.


Anther important narrative device used by Gardner in this story is antithesis, a word that means oppositions or contrasts. The story opens with the most striking antithesis of all. It is a beautiful spring day, a time of year associated with birth. On this lovely day, David dies. Thus, birth and death are juxtaposed in a paragraph that begins, “One day in April. . . .” In so doing, Gardner associates the time of planting with death.

Midway through the story, Gardner opens another paragraph with the line, “One day in August, a year and a half after the accident, they were combining oats. . . .” The similarity between the two lines is striking and provides yet another antithesis. August is the time for harvesting. Harvest time is a time of death for crops, yet Jack begins to move away from his thoughts of death and toward his obligation to the living.

Historical Context

Post-War World

John Gardner, born during the Great Depression, reached adolescence in the years immediately following World War II. The accident that killed his brother took place in 1947, just two years after the end of the war. During this time, much of America was still rural and agricultural. With the advent of the nuclear age, American society began to change as they responded to the communist threat from Eastern Europe. The tension between the United States and the Soviet Union is known as the “Cold War.”

In Europe, the aftermath of the World War II was very difficult. Much of Europe lay in ruins, the result of years of conflict. The realization of what happened at Nazi extermination camps shocked the public. In addition, the specter of Communism loomed as Eastern Europe found itself shrouded under what Winston Churchill called “The Iron Curtain.”

Post-War Philosophy and Art

In 1947, Albert Camus published his book, The Plague. The horrors of the war had convinced many people that there was no God, for certainly God would not allow such evil to exist in the world. Existentialists such as Camus and John Paul Sartre believed that humans are alone in the world, that existence is unique and unrepeatable. In addition, they maintained that humans are free to choose their own path in the world. This freedom is both awesome and awful, in the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard’s terms. Pushed to the extreme, existentialism becomes nihilism, the belief that there is no meaning in the world.

Compare & Contrast

  • 1940s: Many families live on farms, providing food and dairy products for the nation. Farmers were excused from the draft because they were essential to the health of the nation.

    1990s: Fewer and fewer families live on farms. Instead, most agriculture is conducted by large-scale industrial farms.

  • 1940s: Farming is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. In addition, many children who work on family farms suffer injury or death.

    1990s: While fewer children work on farms, the occupation is still a dangerous one. Injuries still occur to children working on their family farms.

  • 1940s: World War II draws to a close and veterans return home. Many attend college on the GI Bill. Women who have been filling factory jobs during the war are encouraged to return home to make room for returning soldiers.

    1990s: American soldiers are called up to fight in the Gulf War, and then in the bombing of Serbia. The United States is blessed with a low unemployment rate and qualified men and women have little problem finding a job.

  • 1940s: Existentialist philosophers such as John Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Soren Kierkegaard attempt to make sense out of the world devastated by the war. Sartre, a member of the French resistance, tries to recover from torture he suffered at the hands of the Nazis.

    1990s: The work of postmodern philosophers such as Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault continue to influence the way that writers depict culture and reality.

  • 1940s: The end of World War II marks the beginning of the powerful Soviet Bloc. America and the Soviet Union struggle to gain supremacy over the other.

    1990s: The Soviet Bloc no longer exists, and communism is no longer considered the greatest threat to American security. However, the devolution of the Eastern Bloc leads to potentially dangerous situations in the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.

In 1947, Alfred Whitehead, the English mathematician and philosopher died. Whitehead and his philosophy had a great impact on Gardner; in fact, it was through Whitehead’s philosophy that he was able to reject the existential position taken by most philosophers of the day.

The Cold War

During the 1950s, the United States engaged in a serious cold war with the Soviet Union. The explosion of the atomic bomb made further “hot” war unthinkable; the annihilation of the entire planet was possible with the new weapons. Nevertheless, the major powers rushed to build nuclear arsenals, and the decade saw confrontation after confrontation, the world teetering on the edge of nuclear disaster. In a world such as this, Gardner looked to art to provide the moral foundation that seemed to be so lacking in the modern world.

During the 1960s, the Cold War continued. At the same time, the United States became involved in the Vietnam War, a conflict that many young people viewed as immoral and wrong. The assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., along with increasing violence in the nation’s cities, led many to question the future of the nation.

Experimentation in literature and art occurred during the 1950s and 1960s. Richard Brautigan, William Gass, Thomas Pynchon, John Barth, and John Fowles experimented with fiction. Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida in France began examining language and culture, which led to the concept of deconstruction. John Gardner, while a literary experimenter himself, often found himself in opposition to the trends of his day. For these reasons, he felt compelled to detail his aesthetic and moral philosophy in a number of essays and interviews. By the 1970s, Gardner was well known as a cultural and literary commentator, contending that good art is also moral art.

Critical Overview

“Redemption” was first published in the Atlantic Monthly in May, 1977. Gardner later included the story in his collection of short stories, The Art of Living, published by Knopf in 1981. Gardner was a writer who generated considerable critical controversy, in part from his prodigious writing output. Between the completion of his doctoral dissertation in 1958 and his death in 1982, according to Dean McWilliams in his book, John Gardner, the author produced “eight novels, two collections of short stories, an epic poem, a volume of lyric poetry, eight scholarly or critical books, five children’s books, and five volumes of plays and opera libretti.”

Although The Art of Living did not generate much critical commentary, the book was generally well-received. For example, Douglas Hill in Maclean’s Magazine wrote, “Gardner is the master of the economical opening: he gives a reader just enough setting and background to slip him effortlessly into the world of each tale. . . . There’s humor in these stories, and a full measure of graceful, unstudied prose. . . . There’s considerable expertise in this book, and courage and joy.”

Nevertheless, because the book followed Gardner’s On Moral Fiction, a book-length essay discussing the role of fiction, reviewers noted that Gardner used the stories to illustrate the points he made in his earlier books. Kent Thompson, for example, wrote in Books in Canada in 1981, that the stories are “illustrations of ideas. Their consequent value is therefore not in what they are, but in what they lead us to talk about. They seem to be written for professors and students. . . .”

It seems notable, however, that few of the early reviews singled out “Redemption” for comment. This may very well be, ironically, because the story demonstrates strong writing, filled with vivid image and compelling moments. Such writing does not square with critics who want only to see the book as an illustration of On Moral Fiction. Certainly, later scholars returned to the story, noting in it a number of important ideas, themes, and images for the understanding of the corpus of Gardner’s work. These same scholars, however, while concentrating on the philosophical nature of the story, admired the strength of the writing as well.

In recent years, “Redemption” has appeared in several anthologies of short stories and has received notable attention from scholars, a sure indication that the story inspires debate and commentary. Ronald Grant Nutter in his 1997 book A Dream of Peace: Art and Death in the Fiction of John Gardner, for example, spends his first chapter establishing the importance of “Redemption” as part of Gardner’s work. He discusses autobiographical aspects of the story, and relates it to the work of Robert Jay Lifton, a famous psychiatrist.

Gregory L. Morris contends that “The theme of art as redemptive force comes through most clearly and most intensely in . . . “Redemption,” which is Gardner’s personal attempt to redefine a particularly painful part of his memory.”

As an illustration of Garner’s philosophy, as an autobiographical story providing insight into Gardner’s life, or as a gripping and moving tale, “Redemption” is likely to garner study and critique in the coming years. Certainly, any student interested in the body of Gardner’s work ought to carefully read the story for an exploration of what Morris calls “the magic of art.”


Diane Andrews Henningfeld

Diane Andrews Henningfeld is an associate professor at Adrian College and has written extensively for a variety of educational and academic publishers. In the following essay she examines the autobiographical and thematic importance of “Redemption” and relates it to the rest of Gardner’s work.

At the time of his death in 1982, the result of a motorcycle accident, John Gardner was considered one of the most prolific, talented, and controversial writers of his generation. His output was prodigious, spanning genres and ideas with ease. Not content to write only fiction, he also produced literary criticism, children’s books, plays, poetry,

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and biography. He was insistent on the role that fiction should play in the world, and made these claims explicit in books such as On Moral Fiction, The Art of Fiction, and On Becoming a Novelist, and in the scores of interviews he granted. By placing his assertions about fiction in front of academics and critics, in bold, vivid, and highly opinionated terms, he generated critical interest and controversy. Although most scholars agree that Gardner was not always successful in achieving the high goals he set for his fiction, most would also agree that his was an important literary and philosophical voice.

Put simply, as Julian Moynahan writes in The New York Times Book Review, Gardner steadfastly argued “that all good art, including prose fiction, should be moral. By this he means it should be life-enhancing, protecting human existence from the dark forces of chaos . . . pressing in from all sides and coming up from below, seeking whom they may devour.” This statement seems particularly apt for any discussion of “Redemption.”

A number of writers have suggested that Gardner reached this philosophical understanding of art as the result of an accident that occurred in his childhood. In an incident nearly identical to the one described in “Redemption,” Gardner was responsible for the death of his younger brother, Gilbert. Although Gardner did not write of the incident in the thirty years between the accident and the composition of the short story in 1977, it seems clear that the trauma was at the heart of his writing and aesthetic theory. Certainly, one can hear the echoes of this accident in some of Gardner’s statements such as this from The Art of Fiction: “To write with taste, in the highest sense, is . . . to write so that no one commits suicide, no one despairs.”

One scholar who makes much of the significance of the accident for Gardner’s life and of “Redemption” for Gardner’s writing is Ronald Grant Nutter. In his book, A Dream of Peace: Art and Death in the Fiction of John Gardner, Nutter summarizes the story and the actual event. He finds the story important for two reasons. First, of course, is the autobiographical element in the story. Second, the story presents themes of death, guilt, religion, community and the redemptive nature of art. To explore these themes, Nutter turns to the work of John Howell, who in an important essay, “The Wound and the Albatross,” discusses the connection between the wound and the creation of art; and to the work of Robert Jay Lifton, a psychiatrist who

What Do I Read Next?

  • Grendel (1971) is perhaps Gardner’s most famous novel. The story is a retelling of the Anglo-Saxon epic, Beowulf, from the monster’s perspective.
  • Beowulf is considered a masterpiece of medieval literature. It is a tale of heroes and monsters, life and death. Anyone reading Grendel should also read Beowulf.
  • Gardner’s book of advice for young writers, The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, offers insight into his ideas about art and life. Also included are a number of exercises designed to motivate writers.

has studied survivors and post-traumatic stress syndrome.

It is possible to expand Nutter’s reading of “Redemption” by exploring an important critical approach, trauma theory. Although a complicated theory, it is possible to understand the basic principles. First, trauma theory hypothesizes that traumatic knowledge is a different kind of knowledge. As Geoffrey H. Hartman argues in New Literary History, traumatic knowledge is “one that cannot [be] made entirely conscious, in the sense of being fully retrieved or communicated without distortion.” That is, traumatic knowledge enters the mind in different way from knowledge in general. It bypasses the conscious mind and embeds itself directly in the unconscious. There is a direct and swift inputting of information deep within the victim’s mind. The knowledge itself cannot be recalled directly by the conscious mind. At the same time, as Hartman explains, the trauma creates a “kind of memory of the event, in the form of a perpetual troping of it by the bypassed or severely split (dissociated) psyche.” In other words, the memory of the event, deeply embedded in the subject’s unconscious mind, continually replays itself in the subject’s conscious mind. Thus, while the knowledge of the experience is hidden in the person’s mind, the memory of the event replays itself in the form of dreams, flashbacks, and hallucinations.

There is a gap, then, between the experience of the event and an understanding of the event itself. Recovering from trauma requires that the victim of the trauma must somehow bridge this gap. For Gardner, literature and art offer the possibility of such healing. He writes, “Art begins in a wound, and is an attempt either to live with the wound or to heal it.” Likewise, trauma theory, according to Hartman, “helps us to ‘read the wound’ with the aid of literature.” Thus, the psychic wound caused by trauma can serve as the impetus for the creation of art or literature. Moreover, the act of creation of art or literature is a life-affirming process, bridging the gap between experience and understanding.

That Gardner himself was the victim of traumatic stress seems clear. Gregory L. Morris in his book A World of Light and Order cites an interview from The Paris Review in which Gardner states,

Before I wrote the story about the kid who runs over his younger brother. . . always, regularly, every day I used to have four or five flashes of that accident. I’d be driving down the highway and I couldn’t see what was coming because I’d have a memory flash. I haven’t had it once since I wrote the story. You really do ground your nightmares, you name them.

Obviously, Gardner and the characters he creates for his story all suffer from psychic wounds. Each character attempts to heal wounds in different ways, trying to fill the space that the loss of David creates. Dale Hawthorne, according to the story, was “as much Romantic poet-hero as his time and western New York State could afford.” Before the accident he was known for his vivid recitations of lines from plays and poetry. It may be significant that Dale read the works of others, rather than creating works of his own. Before the accident, Dale had seemed above the crowd to his son Jack, somehow different from the “sheep” of his audience. With David’s death, however, Dale found himself suddenly empty, and no longer above the crowd. Although he contemplates suicide, he understands that suicide would only make greater the gaping hole the rest of his family is trying to fill. Thus, he turns to other women in his attempt to make himself whole again, as if by filling their sexual needs he could fill his own psychic gap. Only when he returns to his family and creates the tableau of penitence does he begin to heal. He returns to his recitations, but as a “mere suffering sheep among sheep.”

Betty Hawthorne understands the need to hold her family together. To do so, she must repress her own grief. Although she has “considerable strength of character,” she nonetheless turns to food, as if by filling her stomach, she can mend her heart. While the overeating does not lead to any healing, the act of writing does. Although she does not create art, so to speak, she connects her trauma to words in the letters she writes to her friends. The written dialogue that they establish moves her “step by step past disaster. . . .”

Jack, however, grows increasingly more isolated. As the central figure in the family tragedy, the one who created the moment after which all existence changed, he finds it hard to bridge the gap between his knowledge of the event and his understanding of it. He behaves as a survivor of trauma, the memory of the event replaying itself during every waking hour. He attempts to fill the gap first by creating dramas while riding the tractor, imagining himself as an actor on a stage. Eventually he turns to his French horn and his music for solace. It is when he begins taking lessons in Rochester from Arcady Yegudkin, however, that the healing begins.

Yegudkin, like Jack, has survived a trauma. With his wife, he had been shot at and left for dead by soldiers during the Russian Revolution. Yegudkin, a brilliant musician, fills the loss of his country and of his youth with music. For the purpose of the story, Yegudkin is more than a teacher of music, however. He models for Jack one way one can survive trauma. When he plays the new horn that he has ordered for a graduate student, the music completely fills the room. When Jack asks Yegudkin if he thinks that Jack might someday be able to play like him, the teacher laughs, causing an important moment in the story: “Jack blinked, startled by the bluntness of the thing, the terrible lack of malice, and the truth of it. His face tingled and his legs went weak, as if the life were rushing out of them.” This description brings the reader back to the first paragraph of the story, when the life rushed out of David’s legs. For Jack, this moment serves as a symbolic death, and a rebirth. When he leaves the studio, his horn and music under his arm, the crowd parts for him, receives him, and he begins his return to home. It is as if he understands that music must join him with his family, not separate him from them. Through his art, he is redeemed, the guilt over his brother’s death washed clean by his own symbolic death. There is not a conclusive ending to the story, just the suggestion that Jack is beginning to

“For the purpose of the story, Yegudkin is more than a teacher of music, however. He models for Jack one way one can survive trauma.”

bridge the gap between the knowledge of the experience and the understanding of it.

Finally, while “Redemption” seems to make clear that suicide is not an appropriate response to trauma, and that trauma can be survived, it does not suggest that this is an easy, or quick process, nor does it suggest that there can ever be a return to the days before the trauma. Indeed, each of the characters of the story are markedly changed and transformed by the experience. Likewise, although Gardner survived his childhood and moved into adulthood, using his art to help bridge his own gap, he was a transformed individual. That he once again returned to the story of the accident and included it in a novel he was working on at the time of his death suggests that the wound could never be wholly healed. Nevertheless, Gardner devoted himself to the creation of a kind of art that he believed would persuade people to go on living in spite of the horror of contemporary life. As Nutter quotes Gardner, “Good artists are the people who are, in one way or another, creating, out of deep and honest concern a vision of life-in-the-twentieth-century that is worth pursuing.” For Gardner, good art leads to life, to healing of the wound.

Source: Diane Andrews Henningfeld, for Short Stories for Students, The Gale Group, 2000.

Per Winther

In the following excerpt, Winther discusses reasons for reading “Redemption,” including the forcefulness of Gardner’s writing, the autobiographical nature of the writing, and the opportunity to see the effect of Gardner’s personal tragedy on his writing.

“Redemption” also belongs to this group of stories which describe and explore the vulnerary function of art. The theme of this story differs somewhat from that of the other three, but the subject matter is the same: the protagonist seeks consolation in the world of music after the death of his brother. Jack Hawthorne, the protagonist, was driving a tractor when his younger brother, David, fell off and was run over and killed by the cultipacker the tractor was hauling. Driven by guilt and self-hatred, the young boy tries to deal with his confusion caused by the accident by perfecting his skills on the French horn; he uses the horn as a means of escape into self-imposed isolation, withdrawing from his family and any other company.

He is brought out of his isolation when he suddenly realizes that he will never reach the level of mastery of his teacher Yegudkin, a seventy-year-old Russian exile who has played with famous orchestras around the world. Yegudkin now teaches music but also has a set of arrogant values, constantly deriding “the herd” for failing to appreciate music at his own level. When Jack asks Yegudkin if he thinks that he, the student, will ever be able to play like the great master, the Russian scoffs at this foolish presumption. Thus, John Howell points out, Yegudkin, “‘beatific and demonic at once,’ has paradoxically saved [Jack] from the artistic self-absorption and isolation he has chosen.” After the crucial lesson in which he is forced to recognize his own limitations, Jack’s reintegration into society is described in symbolic terms. Rushing to catch his bus back home, he finds that “the crowd opened for him and, with the horn cradled under his right arm, his music under his left, he plunged in, starting home.” The young boy has to recognize his own limits; that is, he has to reconcile himself to the fact that the ideal (his aspirations of becoming a great musician) and the real do not always match up. Only by accepting his own fallibility and imperfections can he deal with his own guilt, become reintegrated into the community and be reunited with his family. Jack’s clutching of the instrument and musical score in that symbolical final scene suggests that music will still be an important part of his life, but now more in the manner of the other three stories we have been discussing, and not as a means of alienating himself from the community.

“Redemption” warrants close attention for several reasons. The early pages in particular contain some of the most gripping lines that Gardner ever committed. The opening paragraph, describing the accident which killed Jack’s brother, is unique in its control and vividness. The ensuing study of the boy’s self-loathing and his estrangement from his family moves as if by its own momentum, wholly logical and with considerable intellectual and emotional authority. Part of the story’s attraction, then, lies in the sheer force of the writing that went into it. But even more important are the ways in which it suggests a key to some of the chief motivating factors behind the thematic direction of Gardner’s fiction. The story also helps to explain why art has become such an all-encompassing concern for this writer. These points need to be elaborated on at some length.

The centrality of “Redemption” has to do with the fact that it is one of Gardner’s most strongly autobiographical pieces of writing, exploring artistically an event which left an indelible mark on him as a person and as a writer. The key event—the accident—is lifted straight from Gardner’s personal history, with only a few changes of incident and names. The scene was to play itself over and over again in his mind several times a day up to the writing of the story. (It was first published in the Atlantic Monthly in May 1977; the accident involving the death of Gardner’s brother took place in 1947.) After he had written about the accident, Gardner stopped having the flashbacks, he says, confirming D. H. Lawrence’s dictum that one sheds one’s illnesses in art. The suicidal feelings Jack develops in the story are also true to Gardner’s own experience, as witnessed, for instance, by the strongly autobiographical “Stillness” section of the posthumous work Stillness and Shadows, and the reason that the boy’s father gives for not taking his own life—“the damage his suicide would do to his wife and the children remaining”—is the same one Gardner himself has offered for not giving in to his own suicidal inclinations. Like Jack, Gardner played the French horn, and the Eastman School of Music that Jack attends on Saturday afternoons is the one Gardner went to for his music lessons.

But the main impulse behind “Redemption” is not strictly autobiographical. We know that Gardner used writing much the same way that Jack Hawthorne used his horn, as a means of escape and as a way to combat confusion and despair. Art “made my life,” Gardner has said, “and it made my life when I was a kid, when I was incapable of finding any other sustenance, any other thing to lean on, any other comfort during times of great unhappiness.” It seems obvious, therefore, that when Gardner claims that art has the power to console, his prime authority is his own personal history; one of his chief purposes in writing these stories must clearly have been to awaken others to the potentially beneficial effects of art.

What is of greater interest to us here, however, is the extent to which the excruciating experience of accidentally killing his brother has affected his own writings. One should tread cautiously here and resist the temptation to establish the kind of relationship between Gardner’s life and his art that Phillip Young sought to set up in the case of Hemingway, arguing that the direction of Hemingway’s art, in terms of theme as well as of artistic technique, was determined by his continuous struggle to cope with the psychic effect of the physical wounds he received in the course of a turbulent personal history. Nevertheless, there is surely a large degree of truth to Edmund Wilson’s claims about the relationship between the artist and his works:

The real elements, of course, of any work of fiction, are the elements of the author’s personality: his imagination embodies in the images of characters, situations, and scenes the fundamental conflicts of his nature or the cycle of phases through which it habitually passes. His personages are personifications of the author’s various impulses and emotions: and the relations between them in his stories are really the relations between these.

Gardner has himself insisted on the close relationship between the art product and the personality of the artist: “The tensions we find resolved or at least defined and dramatized in art are the objective release of tensions in the life of the artist.” One is therefore perhaps justified in pursuing the Hemingway parallel at least part of the way. The tensions that his childhood experiences engendered in Gardner evidently never lost their grip on him. As late as 1979 he stated: “You keep violently fighting for life, for what you think is good and wholesome, but you lose a lot. I think all my struggles toward anything worthwhile are pretty much undermined by psychological doubts. But you keep trying.” Thus Heraclitus’s old maxim—“the way up is the way down”—truly holds for Gardner. This is a fact to bear in mind when assessing the existential seriousness of his life affirmation. There is nothing facile about the basic optimism that controls his books. Gardner was intimately acquainted with personal despair, and as we shall see, his affirmations take into account a number of the major arguments that are traditionally advanced to support a pessimistic view of reality.

The paradigmatic nature of “Redemption” can hardly be exaggerated. Jack Hawthorne’s self-hatred is generalized into a hatred of the total creation, man and animal. This attraction toward an absurdist view of the world (the motivating force behind Jack

“Gardner was intimately acquainted with personal despair, and as we shall see, his affirmations take into account a number of the major arguments that are traditionally advanced to support a pessimistic view of reality.”

Hawthorne’s and—presumably—Gardner’s suicidal inclinations) is explored again and again in Gardner’s fiction. It is usually yoked with an absolutist approach to man and life, a failure to reconcile the discrepancy between the real and the ideal, and the failure to accept human fallibility, which characterizes Jack Hawthorne’s initial response to the death of his brother. I am, of course, not suggesting that in everything Gardner writes lurk the shadows of his brother’s death. But the frequency with which Gardner returns to situations and characters which allow him to explore this kind of tension attests to the biblio-therapeutical nature of his writings, as well as to the formative importance of the accident described in “Redemption.” This is not to say that Gardner’s fiction is narrowly confessional, representing a constant and obsessive picking of the scab over the wound caused by his brother’s death; that would in the end have rendered his novels and stories trivial. What saves his fiction from triviality (in the sense of it being overly private) is the fact that in his personal traumas Gardner has discovered a paradigm, or a metaphor, for what he regards as the central illness of recent Western culture: the inclination to keep peering into the abyss, “counting skulls,” losing oneself in a fashionable attraction toward despair.

In these four stories the answer offered to this type of dilemma is of a very general kind: art has the power to console provided one is receptive. It is probably no coincidence that for his exploration of this very general idea Gardner chose to focus on music, an art form which is almost totally abstract, speaking primarily to our emotions rather than to our intellect. But any art will not do for Gardner. When art moves into the sphere of ideas, for instance in the form of literature, it has to meet certain requirements in order to have the life-giving effect that Gardner thinks it can and ought to have. This is where his concept of moral fiction comes in, and a central axiom of this theory is the idea that art instructs. . ..

Source: Per Winther, “Life Follows Fiction,” in The Art of John Gardner: Introduction and Exploration, State University of New York Press, 1992, pp. 9-30.

Gregory L. Morris

In the following excerpt, Morris recommends “Redemption” for its expression of Gardner’s belief in the power of art to console, redeem, and transform.

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

Source: Gregory L. Morris, “The Art of Living and Other Stories,” in A World of Order and Light: The Fiction of John Gardner, University of Georgia Press, 1984, pp. 184-205.


Allen, Bruce. “From Gardner, Short Stories Dimmed by Abstractions,” in The Christian Science Monitor, June 24, 1981, p. 17.

Caruth, Cathy. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Hartman, Geoffrey H.“On Traumatic Knowledge and Literary Studies,” in New Literary History, Vol. 26, No. 3, Summer, 1995, pp. 537-63.

Hill, Douglas. “Between the Moral and the Possible,” in Maclean’s Magazine, Vol. 94, No. 23, June 8, 1981, pp. 51-2.

McWilliams, Dean. John Gardner, Boston: Twayne, 1990.

Morris, Gregory L. A World of Order and Light: The Fiction of John Gardner, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984.

Moynahan, Julia. “Moral Fictions,” in The New York Times Book Review, May 17, 1981, pp. 7, 27-28.

Nutter, Ronald Grant. A Dream of Peace: Art and Death in the Fiction of John Gardner, New York: Peter Lang, 1997.

Thompson, Kent. “Intimations of Morality,” in Books in Canada, Vol. 10, No. 7, August-September, 1981, pp. 9-10.

Winther, Per. The Art of John Gardner, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992.

Further Reading

Christian, Ed. “An Interview With John Gardner,” in Prairie Schooner, Vol. 54, No. 4, Winter, 1980-81, pp. 70-93.

Important interview for any student interested in Gardner’s fiction. The writer discusses his creative process and philosophy of fiction.

Cowart, David. Arches and Light: The Fiction of John Gardner, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983.

Views Gardner as moral artist.

Morace, Robert A. John Gardner: An Annotated Secondary Bibliography, New York: Garland Publishers, 1984.

Lists interviews, articles, reviews and criticism. Morace also offers helpful annotations to the sources.


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REDEMPTION , salvation from the states or circumstances that destroy the value of human existence or human existence itself. The word "redeemer" and its related terms "redeem" and "redemption" appear in the Bible some 130 times and are derived from two Hebrew roots, pdh (פדה) and gʾl (גאל). Though used to describe divine activity as well, they arose in ordinary human affairs and it is in this context in which they must first be understood. Pdh is the more general of the two, with cognates of related meaning in Akkadian, Arabic, and Ethiopic. It belongs to the domain of commercial law, and refers to the payment of an equivalent for what is to be released or secured. The verb pdh, unlike gʾl, indicates nothing about the relation of the agent to the object of redemption, which in the Bible is always either a person or another living being. Its usage does not differ in cultic activity from that of a normal commercial transaction. In both cases a person or an animal is released in return for money or an acceptable replacement (cf. Ex. 13:13; 34:20; Lev. 27:27; i Sam. 14:45 with Ex. 21:7–8; Lev. 19:20; Job 6:23). Gʾl is more restricted in usage and does not appear to have cognates in other Semitic languages. It is connected with family law and reflects the Israelite conception of the importance of preserving the solidarity of the clan. The goʾel ("redeemer") is the next of kin who acts to maintain the vitality of his extended family group by preventing any breaches from occurring in it. Thus, he acquires the alienated property of his kinsman (Lev. 25:25) or purchases it when it is in danger of being lost to a stranger (cf. Jer. 32:6ff.). Possibly, too, he is required to support the widow of his next of kin in the event of her being dependent on this estate for her livelihood (cf. Ruth 4:4ff.). In any event, he redeems a clansman who has been reduced to slavery by poverty (Lev. 25:47ff.), and avenges his blood when it has been shed (cf., e.g., Num. 35:17–19). Whether he actually was duty bound to perform these acts was contested by early rabbinic authorities (cf. Kid. 21a), but it seems likely that he was expected to do so, unless there was a good reason to the contrary (cf. Ruth 4:6).

When applied to divine activity, a slight shift occurs in the use of both these terms. Thus, pdh takes on the general meaning of "deliver" and does not involve the notion of the payment of an equivalent. God is, after all, the Lord of the universe and everything belongs to Him. Indeed the only place in Scripture when the possibility of such an exchange is even suggested is obviously rhetorical and pdh is not used (cf. Isa. 43:3–4). God's purpose is not to retain the right of possession, but to liberate people, both individuals and groups, from their woes (cf. ii Sam. 4:9; i Kings 1:29), including bondage (e.g., Deut. 7:8; 13:6), oppression (e.g., Isa. 1:27; Ps. 119:134), and death (e.g., Hos. 13:14; Ps. 49:16). In the Torah, the Deuteronomist uses pdh to characterize God's acts at the time of the Exodus as redemptive (e.g., Deut. 9:26; 15:15; 21:8; 24:18). This usage is extended by later writers to describe Israel's eschatological redemption as well (cf., e.g., Isa. 1:27; 35:10; Jer. 31:11) and even, on one occasion, its deliverance from its sins (Ps. 130:8). Though gʾl, like pdh, loses its strictly juridical connotation when describing divine activity, and takes on the meaning of "deliver" pure and simple (cf., e.g., Gen. 48:16), it still does retain some of its original overtones even when referred to God. Thus, Proverbs (23:10–11) speaks of God as the goʾel of ("the next of kin," duty bound to protect) orphans, and Job similarly believes Him to be the goʾel of the persecuted (19:25; cf. 19:21–22). In the same spirit the Psalmist calls Him the "father of orphans, defender of widows" (68:6). What better way, then, for the prophet to reassure his people that God has a special reason to redeem them, for He is their goʾel (Isa. 41:14; 43:14; 44:6, 24; 47:4; 48:17, etc.) and an intimate relationship exists between Him and them (41:89; 43:10, 20; 44:1–2; 45:4; 54:10; 55:3). It must be no accident also that the prophet uses pdh only twice (50:2; 51:11) and in both instances it appears in earlier expressions that concern the Exodus. For, though the two terms were used interchangeably when separated from their life context, the poet was aware of their broader connotations and exploited them to create a more receptive mood for his message. Possibly, too, he wanted to distinguish between the earlier redemption from Egypt and the later one to come, by using a term for the latter that had only infrequently been associated with the Exodus (e.g., Ex. 6:6; 15:13).

While the king is described as a deliverer of the poor in a royal Psalm (72:4, 14), and Ezekiel prophesies that David will be established as the shepherd of God's flock (34:23), the national hope for redemption was centered on God. Only He – not the messianic king or other divine being – was the Redeemer. And though some biblical passages stipulated that His deliverance is conditional upon repentance, many simply state that He Himself would take the initiative because of His boundless love (e.g., Isa. 54:8) and passionate concern for justice (cf., e.g., Isa. 59:15–20). An end would come to all pain and suffering, and Israel would be restored to its land to live in safety, protected by an everlasting covenant and the Divine Presence (Jer. 32:37–44; cf. Ezek. 11:17–21). Israel's Redeemer would then be manifest through His great acts of redemption and "the redeemed of the Lord" give thanks to him (Ps. 107:1–2).

[Donald Daniel Leslie]

Dead Sea Sect

The idea of redemption had a special character among sects in the Judean desert. Although the word gẹʾullah itself has not yet been found in their works, nor does the root ga'al appear there, yet a redemptive function was at the very heart of the beliefs of the sect, which in their view was the remnant of Israel of whom the prophets had spoken. They are "the basis for that which God chose. He appointed them as a permanent estate and will possess them the portion of the holy ones" (Manual of Discipline, 11:6–7; cf. Col. 1:12). Entry into the sect is an act of divine grace that atones for all iniquities and purifies the associate "from human impurity and the sin of men" (ibid., 11:14). Despite this the sect believed also in the perfect redemption of the end of time. "And then God with His truth will clarify all the deeds of a man… to purify him with a holy spirit of truth free of any abomination of falsehood" (ibid., 2:20–22, cf. Mark 1:8). In keeping with the sect's regard of itself as the subject of redemption, the Messiah served merely a minor role in their religious system.

In the Talmud

While the Bible uses both padah and ga'al for redemption, the Talmud applies padah to ransom (see *Ransom) and ga'al to redemption. The sages know nothing of a miraculous redemption of the soul by external means. There is no failing in man, whether collectively or as an individual, which requires special divine intervention and which cannot be remedied, with the guidance of the Torah, by man himself. As a result, the term ge'ullah is applied almost exclusively to national redemption, and became a synonym for national freedom. This idea of national freedom from subjection to other states is the main element in the yearnings of the people for the redemption of Israel, and it became even more pronounced during the period of Roman domination. Redemption is dependent upon repentance and good deeds (Shab. 118b; Yoma 86b; bb 10b; Sanh. 97b), and all attempts to calculate the exact date of the redemption by means of transcendental or cosmic factors were opposed, at times even sharply, even though in all eras such calculators – for understandable psychological reasons – were never wanting (Sanh. 97b). Despite the prominence of the image of the Messiah as a redeemer, his role in the process of redemption is no different from those of Moses and the other redeemers in the past; he is merely an instrument in the hands of God. The view is also found that in contrast to past redemptions that were effected by human agency and were therefore only temporary redemptions, the final redemption will be accomplished by God Himself and will be eternal (Mid. Ps. to 31:2).

A quasi-transcendental and mystical element was introduced into the concept of redemption with the notion that it served the "needs of the Most High," since "wherever [Israel] was exiled the Divine Presence was exiled with them" (Sif. Num. 161; Meg. 29a). God therefore, so to speak, redeems Himself with the redemption (Mekh. Bo 14). There are contradictory statements and inconsistent popular aggadic descriptions about the redemption. At one extreme is found the view that even proselytes will not be accepted in the time of the Messiah (Yev. 24b) – a saying that is probably to be explained by the unfortunate personal experience of its author. At the other are the many descriptions of the redemption of Israel bringing with it the redemption of the world (Song R. 2:2, no. 3); the gentiles will become proselytes and all will call on the name of the Lord (cf. Tosef., Ber. 7:2); God himself will bring all of them "beneath the wings of the Divine Presence" (Tanḥ. B., Gen. 108).

[David Flusser]

Medieval Philosophy

As in the biblical and talmudic systems that preceded them, the medieval philosophers generally regarded man's finite condition as the primary state from which he required redemption. The state of finiteness was not the result of human action or sin, but a cosmic circumstance ultimately due to the nature of creation. The creation of the universe is attributed ultimately by almost all medieval Jewish philosophers to the goodness and grace of God, yet despite the divine goodness, man was so formed that he is finite, a state in which he is subject to despair and death, spiritual and physical annihilation. Open thus to annihilation, man stands in need of redemption. Owing to the divine goodness, redemption is available to him, but he must participate in the redemptive process. If he adheres to true beliefs and performs right actions, he is accounted righteous and worthy of redemption, otherwise he is a sinner and condemned either to eternal torment or physical annihilation. Hence sin does not produce the unsaved state, as does original sin, for example, in the Christian view; sin rather serves to prevent the redemption of man from the spiritual or physical consequences of his finite condition.

Despite broad agreement among the medieval Jewish philosophers on the general understanding of redemption, significant differences appear among them in their various individual soteriologies. Two major approaches, which may be termed traditional supernaturalism and philosophic naturalism, can be distinguished. The former retains the basic features of talmudic soteriology, while the latter is strongly influenced by Aristotelian and Neoplatonic concepts. Saadiah *Gaon (Book of Beliefs and Opinions), whose view is representative of traditional supernaturalism, states the position this way. God created the world out of his goodness. Man, though created finite, is the ultimate purpose of creation. God intended from the beginning that man should attain redemption from his finite condition. To enable man to merit such redemption, God revealed to him His will through Moses at Sinai. Thus man could come to know the divine commandments and by obedience to them earn salvation. Although the Jews are the chosen of God, salvation is attained by the righteous of all peoples. There are two major stages of redemption, both of which will arise miraculously: the Messianic Age and the world to come. In the Messianic Age the Jewish people will be restored to the Land of Israel and the first of two resurrections will occur, that of the righteous Jews. When the Messianic Age ends, the world to come will emerge, then all the dead will be resurrected and final judgment rendered. All who ever lived will now be infinite in time, the righteous enjoying eternal reward and the wicked eternal punishment. Included among those who subscribe to the view of traditional supernaturalism are Judah *Halevi (Kuzari), Ḥasdai *Crescas (Or Adonai), and Joseph *Albo (Sefer ha-Ikkarim).

*Maimonides (Guide of the Perplexed) is the foremost exponent of a philosophic, naturalistic soteriology among the medieval Jews. In Maimonides' view, the creation of the world is also the result of God's goodness, but the universe was not created for the sake of man nor is he the direct creation of the Godhead. The universe comes from God through a successive series of emanations in the course of which the world of man (sublunar world) and man himself are created out of matter. All that is formed of matter is necessarily finite. Hence matter is the principle of human finity, and redemption is attained, therefore, by man overcoming his material nature. This is accomplished naturally, by the actualization of the hylic intellect to an acquired intellect through metaphysical and scientific studies. The acquired intellect enables man to gain ascendancy over his material desires during the life of his body, and at the time of death gives him immortality, since the acquired intellect exists separate from the body and is unaffected by its states or finity. Among those who subscribe to such a view of redemption are Solomon ibn *Gabirol (Mekor Ḥayyim), Abraham ibn *Ezra, and Levi b. *Gershom (Milḥamot Adonai). The Christian notion that mankind requires redemption owing to the guilt of original sin, which is incurred by every person as a consequence of Adam's disobedience in Eden, is completely foreign to the medieval Jewish thinkers. Judah Halevi manifests the spirit of the Jewish position when he presents Adam as a paradigm of religious excellence whose spiritual genius was ultimately inherited by the Jews, the chosen people.

[Alvin J. Reines]

In the Kabbalah

The kabbalists make no additions to the historic aspects of the doctrine of redemption as developed in rabbinic tradition. Their original contribution to this concept is bound up with its inner "hidden" aspect. As in all things, there is an inner aspect or "mystery" in the course of redemption, which is intimated and expressed in a symbolic manner. The basic tenet of their outlook is derived from the verse "On that day the Lord shall be One and his Name One" (Zech. 14:9), which was often interpreted in the *Zohar as indicating the lack of perfection in the unity of God during the time of exile. As long as iniquity has caused a fissure in the mystery of the Godhead, i.e., between His Sefirot which constitute the totality of His manifestation to created beings, His Name is not one; for the "Name" is, in the opinion of the kabbalists, the symbol of the Divine Sefirot when they are joined in complete unity. The exile is indicative of a state of creation in which this unity has, "so to speak," become impaired. (Many kabbalists took care always to add the qualifying phrase "so to speak" in order to intimate the symbolic character of their daring expressions.) Consequently, redemption is bound up with a certain change in the regulating mechanism at the heart of creation: If exile is expressed, in the language of symbols, as a temporary separation between the king and the queen, between God and His Shekhinah, so that their union is not perfect and continuous, then redemption will be expressed in restoration of this uninterrupted union. The return of the people of Israel to its land at the time of redemption symbolizes the inner process of the return of the "Congregation of Israel" or the Shekhinah ("the Matron") to a continuous attachment to her husband. The secret meaning of the messianic redemption was already defined in this way by the Gerona school of Kabbalah (*Naḥmanides and his colleagues), and this definition was accepted by the author of the Zohar. Views more far-reaching than this were expressed in the Ra'aya Meheimna and the Tikkunei Zohar, where a new set of symbols appears. During exile, the world is conducted in accordance with the mystery of the "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil" from which Adam and Eve ate and brought sin and separation upon the world; redemption will reveal a conduct of the world in accordance with the mystery of the "Tree of Life." These two trees were once of one root, but were separated by the original sin of Adam, as were "the king and the matron" in the earlier symbolism. Consequently, during the exile there are separate spheres of good and evil, holiness and impurity, etc., but at the time of redemption the pure spiritual essence of all the worlds will become manifest. The Divine Life will spread to every sphere and this will cause a deep change in the state of the entire creation. In this view the kabbalists are aligned with those who regard redemption as a metaphysical concept. It is not only the oppression of Israel by the nations of the world which distinguishes exile and redemption, but also a deep and even utopian change in the structure of creation.

In Lurianic Kabbalah a new element is added to these ideas which relates redemption and exile not only to original sin, but also to the inner structure of every act of creation and to situations and events in the world of emanation. The "breaking of the vessels" (see *Kabbalah) caused, in all the worlds, a state which has in it something of a general exile of all creation, a disturbance in the harmony destined for the worlds. The disturbance, however, was inevitable, and the entire substance of the process of creation in all its manifestations, including the history and mission of the people of Israel within it, are nothing but stages through which this harmony will be restored and achieve the perfection for which it was destined from the beginning. Redemption is here defined as the manifestation of that state in which the breaking of the vessels is completely "mended." Every other manifestation of redemption serves only as symbol of this fundamental meaning.

An important problem in the doctrine of redemption arose regarding the role of the Jew in bringing it about. There were two contradictory opinions on this point.

(1) Essentially, redemption will come miraculously, and flesh and blood creatures shall have no part in bringing it about: this is the opinion of the majority of the Spanish kabbalists.

(2) Redemption is no more than the external manifestation of the inner state of tikkun ("restitution") which depends on the deeds of Israel and a realization of the way of life which the Kabbalah preaches. The fact of tikkun is not something which depends on a miracle, but rather on human action.

According to the first view, the Messiah's coming will not bear any essential relationship to men's deeds; according to the second view, his coming is conditional upon the accomplishment of the task of Israel in the "tikkun of the world." According to this latter view, there is a human and historical preparation for redemption and the Messiah will come automatically if this preparation is completed. This belief is widespread among the disciples of Isaac *Luria, and it follows logically from the basic assumptions of Lurianic Kabbalah. Only after the triumph of these ideas had brought about the deep historical crisis of Shabbateanism did the Ḥasidic doctrine appear, which distinguished between "general redemption" (of the people of Israel; redemption in its literal meaning) and "individual redemption" (the mystical redemption of the soul, which has no messianic connotation). This distinction is intended to limit human initiative to the realm of individual redemption and make general redemption once again dependent solely on the power of God. This distinction removed the dangerous and utopian sting contained in the Lurianic view of redemption.

[Gershom Scholem]

Modern Jewish Thought

In modern Jewish thought redemption has been viewed as referring to the eventual triumph of good over evil, to the striving of individuals to self-fulfillment, to the achievement of social reforms, and also in terms of the reestablishment of a sovereign Jewish state. Hermann *Cohen, for example, regarded redemption as man's conquering his impulse to sin. The idea of God is that which ensures the eternal existence of mankind as a whole in order that His program for the future ethical world can become real. The individual who commits sin feels that he has strayed from the rest of mankind and detracted from the common goal, and that he must be redeemed back to humanity. God then becomes the indicator of individual man's triumph over sin (cf. Der Begriff der Religion im System der Philosophie (1915), 64). This conception of God the Redeemer is an aid to the individual in helping him to repent. The individual who contemplates this relationship with God may be led to improve his character.

Other thinkers who deal with redemption as the triumph over evil are Martin *Buber and A.J. *Heschel. Buber speaks of redemption as the eradication of man-caused evil in human history. The means of achieving this is to sanctify daily life in order to redeem evil. This sanctification comes about in the greater context of the encounter of man and God, "Who enters into a direct relation with us men in creative, revealing, and redeeming acts, and thus makes it possible for us to enter into a direct relation with him" (I and Thou (19582), 135). This encounter is characterized by a turning away from evil and toward God. In addition God comes toward us "The Thou meets me through grace – it is not found by seeking" (ibid., 11) – and when this grace of His becomes manifest – redemption begins. Repentance is the spur to the attitude of redemption, but is not to be confused with it. Buber saw in Ḥasidic teaching the kernel of this doctrine of redeeming evil. "If you direct the undiminished power of your fervor to God's world-destiny… you will bring about the union between God and Shekhinah, eternity and time… All that is necessary is to have a soul united within itself and indivisibly directed to its divine goal. The world in which you live affords you that association with God, which will redeem you and whatever divine aspect of the world you have been entrusted with" (Tales of the Ḥasidim; the Early Masters (1947), 4). Heschel also speaks in these terms: "The world is in need of redemption, but the redemption must not be expected to happen as an act of sheer grace. Man's task is to make the world worthy of redemption. His faith and his works are preparation for ultimate redemption" (God in Search of Man (1959), 380). In the manner of Ḥasidic thought Heschel sees man's task in preparing the world for redemption as separating evil from good. "All of history is a sphere where good is mixed with evil. The supreme task of man, his share in redeeming the work of creation, consists in an effort to separate good from evil and evil from good. Since evil can only exist parasitically on good, it will cease to be when that separation will be accomplished. Redemption, therefore, is contingent upon the separation of good and evil" (The Insecurity of Freedom (1966), 135). Heschel does not emphasize the state of actual redemption but the task of separating good and evil – which leads to redemption.

For Franz *Rosenzweig, redemption is the process by which the world and man are united in one perfect harmony with God – and thereby partake of God's eternity. Rosenzweig dealt with the relationship between God, man, and the world pointing to certain key words as standing for those relationships. The words are creation (God – world), revelation (God – man), and redemption (man – world). Traditionally, philosophy held that these three items had basically one being – that all existence was a unity. For Rosenzweig that conception, a basic premise of much of Western philosophy, was the conclusion of his philosophy. Man, God, and the world have three separate beings which unite into one only under the force of redemption. The revelation of God to man implies God's love. Man's feeling of God's love "redeems" man from his state of isolation and indeed from the supreme form of isolation – death, and its concomitant fear. This love also awakens the response of love in man, and the binding together of man and God in love is the first step toward redemption of the world for the love spreads and is applied to other men. This first redemption applies to man. Rosenzweig also held that the world had a special spiritual relationship to God and that it, too, could be redeemed. In the second stage God acts to unite man and the world. When this is achieved God, too, is redeemed. "For God is not only the redeemer but also the redeemed. In this redemption God redeems the world by the means of man and redeems man by the means of the world. He also redeems Himself" (Kokhav ha-Ge'ulllah (1970), 267). "For then true unity is created – God-man-world. Eternity enters into being and death is pushed off and the living become immortals in eternal praise of redemption" (ibid., 280).

Mordecai *Kaplan uses the term salvation instead of redemption. He links redemption with the concept of the other world and asserts that until modern times the Jewish concept of salvation was other-worldly. Kaplan maintains that it is impossible in modern times to continue this belief and that we must see salvation in terms of this world. Furthermore Kaplan speaks of God as "the power that makes for salvation," i.e., an inherent force in the universe which enables man to achieve salvation. He points out that salvation must have both a personal and social significance. "In its personal aspect it represents the faith in the possibility of achieving an integrated personality" (The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion (1937), 53). Social salvation is the natural concomitant of personal salvation for "we cannot think of ourselves except in relation to something not ourselves" (ibid.)… Social salvation is "the pursuit of common ends in a manner which shall afford to each the maximum opportunity for creative self-expression" (ibid. 54). "Salvation must be conceived mainly as an objective of human action, not as a psychic compensation for human suffering" (ibid.) "Salvation means deliverance from those evils, external and internal, which prevent man from realizing his maximum potentialities. It is deliverance from frustration…" (Questions Jews Ask (1956), 126).

Joseph B. *Soloveichik, the modern Orthodox thinker, describes redemption in terms of faith and performance of mitzvot, but also includes the idea that the human capability of renewal and self-transformation manifests itself especially in times of human distress. Being redeemed is a mode of existence, not an attribute. "Even a hermit can live a redeemed life" (i.e., as a mode of existence, redemption is an individual thing and not dependent upon society. "The Lonely Man of Faith" in: Tradition, vol. 7, no. 2, Summer 1965). Furthermore redemption is a function of man's control over himself. "A redeemed life is ipso facto a disciplined life" (ibid.). As opposed to dignity which is man's triumph over nature and the feeling of success, redemption is when man is "overpowered by the creator of nature," and it is discovered in the "depth of crisis and failure" (ibid., 23–24).

Zionist thought represents another aspect of modern Jewish thought about redemption. To the extent that Zionism was considered a messianic movement dealing with the redemption of the Jewish people, its theorists talked in terms of redemption. A. *Hertzberg characterizes Zionist thought by saying that classical Judaism saw redemption as a confrontation between the Jew and God, but Zionism "in its most revolutionary expression… is between the Jew and the nations of the earth" (The Zionist Idea (1959), 18). Religious Zionist thinkers saw redemption as at least beginning in temporal terms with the return of the Jews to Ereẓ Israel and the building of the land. Rabbi Y. *Alkalai writes "Redemption must come slowly. The land must, by degrees, be built up and prepared" (ibid., 105). Some religious Zionists such as A.I. *Kook added another dimension to this idea: "The hope for the return to the Holy Land is the continuing source of the distinctive nature of Judaism. The hope for the redemption is the force that sustains Judaism in the Diaspora; the Judaism of Ereẓ Israel is the very redemption" (ibid., 420). Redemption in Kook's thought thus becomes not only a physical reality by the return to Ereẓ Israel, but a metaphysical underpinning for Jewry everywhere. Even nonreligious Zionist thinkers, while not necessarily using the term redemption, spoke in messianic terms or expressed themselves by concepts traditionally connected with redemption. J. *Klatzkin for example states "Zionism pins its hopes, in one sense, on the general advance of civilization and its national faith is also a faith in man in general – faith in the power of the good and the beautiful" (ibid., 327). Here the element of the triumph over evil and the advance of social good, topics connected with redemption, are assumed as an integral part of the Zionist hope.

[Michael J. Graetz]


G.B. Gray, Numbers (icc, 1903), 470–1; S.R. Driver, Exodus (1911), 43–44, 109; J. Pederson, in: zaw, 49 (1931), 175; J.J. Stamm, Erloesen und Vergeben im Alten Testament (1940), 7–46; M. Burrows, in: jbl, 59 (1940), 445–54; N.H. Tur-Sinai, Ha-Lashon ve-ha-Sefer, 2 (1950), 290; L. Koehler, Theologie des Alten Testaments (19533), 225ff.; A.R. Johnson, in: vtSupplement, 1 (1953), 66–77; T. and D. Thomson, in: vt, 18 (1968), 98–99. in kabbalah: I. Tishby, Torat ha-Ra ve-ha-Kelippah be-Kabbalat ha-ari (1942), 113–43; G. Scholem, Ra'yon ha-Ge'ullah ba-Kabbalah (1946); Scholem, Mysticism, index.


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REDEMPTION (from Lat. redemptio, derived from redemere, "to buy back") literally means liberation by payment of a price or ransom. The term is used metaphorically and by extension in a number of religions to signify the salvation from doom or perdition that is wrought by a savior or by the individual himself. Like the concepts of salvation, sacrifice, and justification, the concept of redemption belongs to a cluster of religious notions that converge upon the meanings of making good, new, or free, or delivering from sickness, famine, death, mortality, life itself, rebirth, war, one's own self, sin and guilt, anguish, even boredom and nausea. Redemption bears the closest conceptual kinship to salvation, sharing with it the intentionality of the need or desire to suppress an essential lack in human existence and to be delivered from all its disabling circumstances. This deliverance requires various forms of divine help, succor, or intervention to be achieved, which often secures for the believer an access to the dunamis of the spirit and to its outpourings, thereby leading to charismatic gifts. Redemption may be of God's or of humanity's doing. In a certain sense, redemption makes possible a recovery of paradise lost, of a primordial blissful state. In another sense, it points to new creation or ontological newness in the future. Creation is in many religions a highly sacrificial act that requires prior destruction, as in the dismemberment of Prajāpati's body in Hinduism or the thorough destruction of the shaman's body in northern Asian religions. These acts signify reconstruction-participation in divine fecundity or, respectively, multi-fecundation by the god Prajāpati, equivalent to partnership in the world. To be redeemed may mean to be divinized, either by the reenactment of the primordial creative act (preceded by a descent) or through the theandric, sacrificial action of a savior (sōtēr ). In both cases, grace plays an important role; forgiveness also may be redemptive to the extent that it is provoked by, or calls for, repentance.

In Judaism, the psalmist's "God of my salvation" (Heb. Goʾel, "redeemer," from the verb gaʾal, used to refer to the redeeming of relatives from slavery, of property from foreign possessions, etc.) is a savior from distress and disaster, yet sometimes is himself in need of salvation (salvator salvandus ). Says Job: "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he will at last stand forth upon the dust" (Jb. 19:25). And the Psalm: "Truly no man can redeem himself!" (Ps. 49:7). "Israel, hope in the Lord. He will redeem you from all your sins" (Ps. 130:78). In Judaism the concept of redemption is closely associated with repentance.

Liberation from exile (Dt. 15:15), restoration of freedom (Is. 62:12, 63:4), and the vision of a just society have always been signs of divine redemption for the people of Israel. Messianic Judaism projected the new heaven and the new earth, the final restoration and reintegration in peace and harmony of the people of Israel into a remote, utopian future, an ultimate event that, however, was to be preceded by apocalyptic, catastrophical changes; in this respect, the liberation of Israel from slavery in Egypt and the Sinai covenant are complementary to each other. Yet there are in the Old Testament elements of realized eschatology, of "redemption here and now," beliefs that were carried over by various sects (the Ebionites, Essenes, Nazarenes) into Christianity. While having an indubitable eschatological dimension, redemption cannot be reduced to it. And, the extent that it is involved with sacrifice, redemption shares with sacrifice either an active or a passive character. Redemption points to both liberation and repurchase.

This mystery of redemption is best illustrated in Christianity: Christ suffered on the cross in order to satisfy retributive justice. The meaning of redemption in the New Testament is chiefly that of the deliverance of humanity from sin, death, and God's anger, through the death and resurrection of Christ. A certain Greek influence makes itself felt through Paul, who took in the notion of ransom (lutron, from luō, "to loose") and thus pointed to the Greek custom of emancipating slaves through payment. "Jesus Christ gave himself for us, to ransom us from all our guilt, a people set apart for himself." (Ti. 2:14); and "that flock he won for himself at the price of his own blood" (Acts 20:28). Also in 1 Corinthians : "A great price was paid to ransom you; glorify God by making your bodies shrines of his presence" (6:20); and "A price was paid to redeem you" (7:23).

Yet lutron must not be taken literally, as denoting a particular commercial price, a barter; it may mean any instrument of deliverance without there being a question of paying a ransom. (One must exercise prudence, as Thomas Aquinas did, and use the word price as that which is payable to God, not to the devil.) Going beyond the juridical notion of punishment and ransom, Paul emphasized the gratuitous aspect of redemption as an act of love: Christ's passion and death take on their supreme redemptive value due to the voluntary nature of the sacrifice, the free acceptance of suffering. Obedience to the divine Father's decree is the proof of love; price here equals liberating satisfaction, deliverance from the double slavery of sin and punishment. The exaltation of Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit signify the decisive act of salvation history (Heilsgeschichte ), which ushers in the new age proclaimed by the prophets (Is. 65:17). Works of satisfaction for sinfasting, almsgiving, prayer, and works of mercyall have redemptive value, not only for Christianity, but for other religions as well. Functional equivalents of the Judeo-Christian notion of redemption can be found in many other religions, especially in ethically oriented ones that stress the virtues of action. Salvation is of course the primary and essential goal. But to gain it many primitive cults devised severe and sometimes complicated rituals and ceremonies of redemption.

The Egyptian Pyramid Texts of 2400 bce looked upon salvation as both a mystery and a technique. Osiris, slain by his brother Seth, is rescued by Isis and brought back to life by means of a secret and complicated ritual; he becomes the one savior from death and from its consequences. The redeeming efficacy of the mortuary ritual of embalming, in which the devotee is identified with the god, was believed to stem from Osiris' primordial experience, which, by being reenacted, made salvation possible.

The primitive vegetation-gods were redeemer gods who required the sacrifice of a symbolic part of the crop to save the whole and allow its use by humans. The agrarian sacrifices of the Romans were meant to appease the wrath of the gods and bring about plentiful crops. The sacrifice of an animal instead of a human was believed to cure illness. According to Ovid, the Romans sacrificed to the manes, or spirits of the ancestors. In Babylon, as in ancient Israel, the sacrifice of the firstborn or vicarious forms of it played an important role in the process of redemption by transmitting the tension and effecting the link between primordial time (Urzeit ) and the eschaton (Endzeit ). The idea that the sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons appears in the gveda, even before the notion of karman was unfolded. To be cleansed of paternal sin, the son has to break violently away from his past; this is viewed as a split between the ascetic and erotic parts of man, located respectively in a mental seed (above the navel), and a lower seed (below the navel). The alchemic function of yoga tends to transform animal instinct into soma, the mental type of seed. Blood functions here as mediator between semen and soma. The sacrifice of wild beasts as well as the taming of the cows are symbolic of this sought-for individual regeneration.

The Vedic sacrifice is more beneficial to the gods than to the individual; indeed, it strengthens the gods, but their prosperity in turn reverberates on humans; thus it is said that the gods nourish you if you nourish them. Agni, the god of fire and sacrifice, behaves like a demon and tries to burn everything down, but placated by sacrifice, he resurrects humankind from ashes. Hence sacrificial food is a bribe to the gods. In the post-Vedic, ascetic mythology, sacrifice becomes a two-edged sword, for Hindu mythology, even demons can be redeemed. The bhakti spirit generates entire cycles of its own, in which even apparently malevolent acts of God are regarded as being of ultimate benefit to humanity; hence the practice of a magic of friendship or of friendliness as means of redemption.

In Zoroastrianism, the redemption of humankind, viewed as both individual and universal eschatology, is linked with the hope of seeing that Ohrmazd, having been released from his entanglement with darkness and evil, emerges victorious from the war over Ahriman. The haoma ritual, a central act of worship, actualizes such a god-centered redemption. The theological trend in Sasanid Zoroastrianism exhibits a belief in the redemption of the world through the individual's efforts to make the gods dwell in his body while chasing the demons out of it. Mazdaism admits of a cosmical redemption besides individual deliverance, which is supposed to occur at the end of time at the hand of Saoshyant, the savior.

Buddism is a religion fully bent on salvation. In Mahāyāna Buddism the doctrine of the Buddha and the bodhisattva shows the great vows required by the spiritual discipline of enlightenment to be a devotion to the principle that the merit and knowledge acquired by the individual on this path be wholly transferred upon all beings, high and low, and not jealously accumulated for one's self. This "activity without attachment" involves a free restraint from entering upon nirvāa, exercised for the sake of one's fellow beings. In Japanese Buddhism the principle of salvation by self-power (jiriki ) is contrasted by salvation through "another" (tariki ), that is, through the power of the Buddha Amida. In Zen, devotion, fervor, and depth are all equally redeeming inner attitudes. Some types of mysticism have been categorized as redemptive: for instance, true gnosticisms rely on the dispelling of ignorance, as, for example, the gnosticism of al-insanal-kamil ("the perfect human being") and the dispensers of the individual's proper spirituality in Hinduism. Some others cannot be so categorized; Hasidic mysticism, for example, is self-redemptive, noneschatological, and nonmessianic.

There are three main ways of redemption in mystical religions: through illumination, as in Zen Buddhism, or through a dispelling of ignorance of the gnostic type, as in Islam; through membership and participation in the community (the Buddhist sagha, the Christian ekklēsia, the Muslim ummah ); or, in secular types of religiosity by a redirection of the libido, a reordering of the soul's powers in a harmonious use of the personality, which may mean either a widening or a narrowing of consciousness.

Ancient Mexican religions knew a variety of redemptive types, among which was a form of plain self-redemption from diseases such as leprosy, cancer, buboes, or bubonic plague, and from spiritual sins such as falsehood, adultery, or drunkenness. The Aztec religion favors redemption from existence itself during one's very lifetime, the highest aim being identification with divinity. One example of such a "perfect redemption" (Joachim Wach) is the return of the high priest Quetzalcoatl after his beatification achieved by encounter with the divinity.

In African traditional religions, the need for redemption is expressed in myths of the Baganda peoples: terms such as kununula ("to buy back, to ransom, to redeem") and kulokola ("to save, to rescue") point to deadly misfortunes from which the spirits of the departed (lubaale, "deity of the below") may rescue one. Redemption is far more directed toward the reintegration of the cosmic, social, and political order in the present moment of the community than toward the afterlife, in spite of the general belief in immortality.

See Also



Brandon, S. G. F., ed. The Savior God. Manchester, 1963.

Florovskii, Georgii Vasilevitch. Creation and Redemption. Belmont, Mass., 1976.

Knudson, Albert C. The Doctrine of Redemption. New York, 1933.

O'Flaherty, Wendy Doniger. The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology. Berkeley, Calif., 1976.

Przyluski, Jean. "Erlösung im Buddhismus." Eranos-Jahrbuch (Zurich) (1937): 93136.

Schär, Hans. Erlösungsvorstellungen und ihre psychologischen Aspekte. Zurich, 1950.

Toutain, Jules. "L'idée religieuse de la rédemption." In Annuaires de l'École des Hautes Études (Sciences Religieuses), Section 5. Paris, 19161917.

Trinité, Philippe de la. What Is Redemption? New York, 1961.

Werblowsky, R. J. Zwi. Types of Redemption. Leiden, 1970.

New Sources

Arnault, Lynne. "Cruelty, Horror, and the Will to Redemption." Hypatia 18 (spring 2003): 155189.

Ferdinando, Keith. The Triumph of Christ in African Perspective: A Study of Demonology and Redemption in the African Context. Carlisle, U.K., 1999.

Gorringe, Timothy. A Theology of the Built Environment: Justice, Empowerment, Redemption. New York, 2002.

Koenig, John. The Feast of World's Redemption: Eucharistic Origins and Christian Mission. Harrisburg, Pa., 2000.

Ruether, Rosemary Radford. Women and Redemption: A Theological Study. Minneapolis, Minn., 1998.

Ileana Marcoulesco (1987)

Revised Bibliography


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The Heb. words padah and gaʾal were used originally of commercial transactions, implying the existence of prior obligations (for examples, see Leviticus 25, 27). Gaʾal is also used of the brothers of someone who has died childless: they are under obligation to ‘redeem’ the name of the deceased (Ruth 4. 1–10; Deuteronomy 25. 5–10). The goʾel is the blood-avenger of Numbers 35. 12–29; in Job 19. 25 (translated, of old, ‘I know that my redeemer (goʾel) liveth’) it is a legal term: ‘I know that my advocate is active’. These basic meanings were all transferred as metaphors of God's activity, nature, and commitment.

In modern times, the emphasis has become more ‘this-worldly’, and redemption tends to be understood as the triumph of good over evil in human history or in the individual's personal life.


In Christian theology the term is inherited from the New Testament, where it is associated with the death of Christ (e.g. Ephesians 1. 7). For this conception and its later developments see ATONEMENT.

More loosely, redemption is then applied to salvific processes and achievements in other religions—e.g. the work of bodhisattvas in Mahāyāna Buddhism.


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re·demp·tion / riˈdempshən/ • n. 1. the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil: God's plans for the redemption of his world. ∎  [in sing.] fig. a thing that saves someone from error or evil: his marginalization from the Hollywood jungle proved to be his redemption.2. the action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt. ∎ archaic the action of buying one's freedom.PHRASES: beyond (or past) redemption (of a person or thing) too bad to be improved or saved.


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The liberation of an estate in real property from a mortgage.

Redemption is the process by which land that has been mortgaged or pledged is bought back or reclaimed. It is accomplished through a payment of the debt owed or a fulfillment of the other conditions.