In a prior post, I discussed what I called collective guilt and how it helps to understand why the Israelites saw nothing wrong with the genocide ordered by Yahweh and why Paul could say that all of mankind was condemned because of Adam's sin. What I have since discovered is that it would be better to use the word culpability rather than guilt.
The reason is that according to biblical scholars, and especially those of the Context Group (individuals who use the social environment of biblical times to understand the Bible), the concept of guilt as a psychological phenomena was not present in biblical times. Guilt is a term that has meaning with regard to an individual not to a collective group. Thus, while my basic argument was sound, it would be much better to speak of it in terms of collective culpability. While I am not 100% convinced that the ancients did not experience individual guilt (for example, see Psalms 51 as well as the other penitential Psalms), nevertheless, to avoid confusion, I think its better to speak of collective culpability rather than collective guilt.
I am told by Hector Avalos that he discusses this collective culpability concept in his book, Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence. Alas, I have not read the book yet but it is on my list.
In addition, some have pointed out that the Hebrew Scriptures also teach individual culpability, for example in Deut. 24:16 and Eze. 18. That is definitely true. I think its reasonable to assume that both ideas were present in the ancient world. It would be an example of the either-or fallacy to say that only one could have been present. I do think its interesting to note, however, that both Deuteronomy and Ezekiel would fall pretty late in the historical development of the Hebrew canon. Thus, I conclude that the concept of individual culpability was beginning to overtake the idea of collective culpability at that particular historical junction. That is not to say that the concept of individual culpability was completely absent prior to the 6th century BCE, I think you can find it in other places of the Hebrew Scriptures as well, going back to Genesis 9:6 for example. I think both ideas were present simultaneously for a long period of time. However, eventually the idea of collective culpability lost support because it was hard to defend philosophically. It is still present in the modern world, however, not only among primitive peoples but also among modern societies. The attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki seem to be examples of a collective culpability mindset.
Also, the objection has been raised that since Jewish theology has never held to the doctrine of original sin and they were a collectivistic society in ancient times, therefore, its wrong to conclude that Paul was using the concept of collective culpability when he wrote Romans 5. This is a very interesting question. Here is my tentative explanation. Paul was the evangelist to the Gentiles. Before he could convince them that Jesus died for their sins, he needed to convince them that they were sinners. One of the ways he attempted to do this was by tying all of mankind together in Adam, so that when Adam fell, all men fell. I think, one of the reasons, that this argument resonated with many of the Gentiles was because they had the concept of collective culpability within their social setting and culture. It doesn't resonate with modern Westerner's like me because I have jettisoned the notion of collective culpability as indefensible philosophically.