The Secret of the Power Behind the Gospel Narrative (Charbonnel Continued)

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by Neil Godfrey

This post continues my series on Nanine Charbonenel’s Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure De Papier but this time I will begin with a personal experience. I posted about it a couple of years ago under the title The Faith Trick. The experience was the realization that the power by which I was “transformed into a new person” (as per Ephesians and Colossians) was my faith, my conviction, that it was so: it was my own faith in “the faithfulness of God” to transform me that doing it: here lay the dark and fearful dawning on my consciousness — that it would make no difference if the object of my faith were Jesus or a magic crystal, were a sheltering mountain or a leprechaun, if I believed the same things of them as I did of Jesus the personal result, the change in my own life, would be the same. I had been believing in metaphors and similes, figurative images, as if they had been absolute reality and even more real than the reality of physics and chemistry.

There is something remarkably powerful about the images, the figurative images, that make up the gospel story that has infused it with a power to dominate the Western landscape for close to two millennia.

Let’s resume our discussion of NC’s study with this passage from the Book of Revelation ch 19:

11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword . . . .

Is that rider on the white horse who wages war, whose eyes are fire, who wears multiple crowns and who has a secret name, a literal person? Is the vision of John that we are reading here a vision of a literal, true, flesh and blood person? Of course not (though I suspect a good number of Christian readers of that text would be more likely to hesitate and say Yes, it is, only not “flesh and blood” in the earthly sense). How do we know? The obvious giveaway is the name: the author tells us that the vision is a metaphor of the “Word of God”. The Word of God is what will judge the world, according to this text. But even that turn of phrase is metaphorical – a personification. In reality, a word is merely a pattern of sound or shapes of lines that humans have encoded to register a certain meaning. It is hard to get beyond the metaphors, the personifications, when one thinks deeply about the teachings of Christianity.

* This is not the place to explore other arguments that identify different strands of Christian traditions in the various canonical texts.

** C’est bien l’équivalent apocalyptique de Jésus. Pourquoi alors reconnaître que «Le Verbe de Dieu est le nom propre du cavalier eschatologique. La parole est identifiée à une personne»[quoting Frédéric Manns], et ne pas saisir le même processus dans les Évangiles? (p 431)

The reader of the Christian canon recognizes the above figure as the apocalyptic equivalent of the Jesus encountered in the gospels.* NC asks** rhetorically, why, since we can recognize that the Word of God is being personified in the end-time horseman, do we fail to grasp the same personification at work in the gospels.

As we have seen NC demonstrate in the previous posts, literary figures of speech have taken on ontological realities and dimensions in their own right, existences beyond mere metaphors and similes. Reality is further confused with prolepsis (speaking of events that really belong to the future as if they were past history) and analepsis (the converse, removing past events to the present), so that prophecy is confused with history and history with prophetic sayings.

I am not fluent enough in French to grasp the full import of NC’s writings at this point so I will copy a passage in its original French and hope some readers can clarify the meaning for me. I think NC is saying in the following that the expression for “humbled oneself” is an extreme hyperbole (figure of speech) and never meant literally, but that it has been interpreted literally by the faithful readers. But I look forward to clarification on the third point listed here:

On pourrait montrer les rapports étroits des théologèmes chrétiens, avec ce que nous appelons des figures de rhétorique ontologisées, saisies dans un Régime sémantique qui n’est pas le bon. Ainsi il faudrait :

° non seulement rattacher Prolepse et prophétie,

° mais s’interroger sur l’étonnante proximité de grands dogmes avec des figures de rhétorique ontologisées : la Transfiguration, en grec Metamorphosè ; l’Ascension, en grec Analepsis, qui est aussi le nom de la figure de rhétorique qu’est non le retour en arrière, mais le saut (pseudo)-logique ; la Trinité et l’Hendyadin… ;

2 On le trouve aussi en 2 Cor. 10, 1 (« humble parmi vous »), et Jacques 1, 9.

° et l’on pourrait rapprocher aussi la Kénose et la Tapinose. On sait que la kénose désigne, dans le célèbre passage de la Lettre aux Philippiens 2, 8, le ‘’vidage’’ que la divinité fait, et que juste après ce passage, apparaît le verbe tapeinoun (s’humilier volontairement). On le trouve aussi en Matthieu 18, 4 ; 23, 12 ; 11, 29 (l’adjectif tapeinos2 traduit dans ce dernier cas par « je suis doux et humble de coeur »). Or la Tapinôsis (en latin humiliatio, extenuatio) est en grec l’hyperbole négative, l’exagération voulue dans la dépréciation, la caractérisation apparemment dépréciative et à ne pas prendre en réalité comme telle.

The Christ story has long been acknowledged as containing a mystery at its core. NC cites from the fourth century the words of “Pseudo-Chrysostom”,

All that we know of Christ is not only a pure proclamation of the Word, but a mystery of piety. For the whole order of salvation of Christ is called a mystery because the mystery does not appear only in a pure letter, but is published in an act, in fact preached.”

And that, in a nutshell, is NC’s hypothesis. Christian teachings owe their success to the creative and superlative way they have combined realism and figurative techniques so that distinguishing reality from mere image, the physical from the moral, the natural from the artificial: these supposed opposites have become so intertwined that together they have emerged as new realities for believers.

Ernest Renan

We go back to the mid-nineteenth-century’s Ernest Renan, renowned as “the” pioneer of an attempt to recover “the historical Jesus” with his Life of Jesus, who arguably failed to grasp as fully as he might have the depth of the figurative character of his sources:

It is impossible to translate into our essentially hard and fast tongue, in which a rigorous distinction between the material and the metaphorical must always be observed, habits of style whose essential character is to attribute to metaphor, or rather to the idea it represents, a complete reality. — Renan, Life of Jesus


The figurative language of the gospels has always been an invitation to erroneous readings. As far back as Chrysostom, Ambroise and Cyrill we find that the parable of the rich man and Lazarus was interpreted literally. Notice once more from Chateaubriand’s account of his travels to Jerusalem:

Here the path, which was heading east-west reached a bend and turned north, and I saw, on the right hand, the place where Lazarus the beggar lay, and opposite, on the other side of the street, the house of the rich sinner.

‘There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:

And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,

And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.

And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;

And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.’ (Luke 16:19-23)

Saint Chrysostom, Saint Ambrose and Saint Cyril believed that the story of Lazarus and the rich sinner was not simply a parable, but a true and established fact. The Jews themselves have preserved the name of the rich sinner, whom they call Nabal (see 1 Samuel:25).

Pope Gregory I of sixth-seventh century fame, known in history as “the Great”, came closer than he knew to identifying the game at play when he wrote in his 23rd Homily on the Gospels about the experience of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus:

[Jesus] exchanged a few words with them, reproached them with their slowness in understanding, explained to them the mysteries of Holy Scripture concerning him, and yet, their hearts remaining foreign to him for lack of faith, he pretended to go further. Feindre [Fingere] can also mean [in Latin] modeling; that’s why we call potters’ clay modelers [Figuli]. Truth, which is simple, did not do anything with duplicity, but it simply manifested itself to the disciples in its body as it was in their minds.

It was necessary to test them to see if, not yet loving him as God, they were at least capable of loving him as a traveler.

The passage alluded to is Luke 24:28 where the word for “pretended” is a “once only” in the gospels, προσεποιήσατο (prosepoiēsato), to seem, to shape or form into another appearance. The exegesis of the believer is to recognize the pretence and the hidden meaning behind it but nonetheless to still believe the pretence itself is another level of reality. Close, but so far. The last word of that verse is a form of the same Greek word used to translate the Hebrew Halakhah, to take one’s journey, πορεύωμαι (poreuōmai), another intriguing irony in the context of all that NC has been addressing up to this point.

NC introduced this section of her discussion with a look at a significant idea we read in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. I found the language barrier just a little too far beyond my reach to share her thoughts in the way they surely deserve so I quote the section in its original French here. The theme is the phrase “as if”: recall where Paul instructs his converts to live in the remaining time they now have left (between the death and resurrection of Jesus and his return and “end of this world”) “as if” this present situation no longer has any relevance. They are to make use of the world and their place in the world but not to think of themselves as belonging to the world. They are to live an “as if” existence.

. . . the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. — 1 Cor. 7:29-31

The Greek word translated as “form” is schema and means appearance or in some contexts, apparently, figurative language. I would be grateful to anyone who can help me with the key points NC makes of her discussion of another philosopher’s discussion of this passage. (I don’t mean to provide a mere literal translation, an easy enough task, but an explanation of the key ideas that I believe need to go beyond a merely literal translation.)

Suffit-il de souligner, chez Paul, le mouvement messianique exprimé par la figure stylistique du « comme ne pas »?

For the English translation, The Time That Remains, go to

Quelques remarques de Giorgio Agamben dans son ouvrage Le temps qui reste. Un commentaire de l’Épître aux Romains sont fort intéressantes (et nous ferons exception à notre règle de ne parler dans notre ouvrage que des Évangiles). L’auteur insiste en effet sur le célèbre passage de l’Épître aux Corinthiens, où il voit Paul donner « sans doute la définition la plus rigoureuse de la vie messianique » :

« Je vous le dis, frères : le temps s’est contracté ; le reste est que ceux qui ont des femmes soient comme n’en ayant pas (hôs me), et ceux qui pleurent comme non pleurants, et ceux qui ont de la joie comme n’en ayant pas, et ceux qui achètent comme non possédants, et ceux qui usent le monde comme non abusants. Car elle passe, la figure de ce monde. Je veux que vous n’ayez pas de soucis. » (I Cor. 7, 29-32)2

2 = pages 23f of the English translation The Time that Remains

Agamben commente longuement le rôle-clé de ce hôs mè paulinien, ce « comme non… », cette étonnante comparaison. Il écrit :

« Quel sens donner à ces comparaisons, et plus généralement à la comparaison quelle qu’elle soit ? Les grammairiens médiévaux interprétaient le comparatif non pas comme l’expression d’une identité ou d’une simple ressemblance, mais – dans le cadre de la théorie des grandeurs intensives – comme la tension (intensive ou rémissive) d’un concept vers un autre. Ainsi, dans l’exemple précédent [Si vous ne devenez pas hôs ta paidia, comme des enfants, Matthieu 18, 3], le concept ‘’homme” est mis en tension avec le concept ‘’enfants”, sans que pour autant les deux termes s’identifient. » (p. 47 = page 24 of The Time that Remains)

Manière élégante, selon nous, de nier toute problématique de l’imitation, et aussi, en l’occurrence, du symbole (car il se peut bien que ces enfants-là ne soient autre chose, dans le midrash juif, que les païens). Cependant la suite est passionnante :

«L’hôs mè paulinien apparaît alors comme un tenseur de type spécial, c’est-à-dire qui ne tend pas le champ sémantique d’un concept vers celui d’un autre, mais le met en tension avec lui-même sous la forme du ”comme non” : ceux qui pleurent comme non pleurants. […] L’apôtre ne dit pas ‘’ceux qui pleurent comme ceux qui rient”, ni ‘’ceux qui pleurent comme (c’est-à-dire =) ceux qui ne pleurent pas”, mais “ceux qui pleurent comme non pleurants”. Selon le principe de la klèsis messianique, une condition factuelle déterminée est mise en relation avec elle-même – les pleurs sont tendus vers les pleurs, la joie vers la joie – et, de cette manière, révoquée et remise en question sans pour cela en altérer la forme. C’est pourquoi le texte de Paul sur la klesis peut se conclure avec la phrase paragei gar to schéma tou kosmou toutou (1 Cor. 7, 31), ‘’elle passe, la figure, la manière d’être de ce monde” : en tendant toute chose vers elle-même sous la forme du ”comme non”, le messianique ne fait pas que l’effacer simplement ; au contraire, il la fait passer, il en prépare la fin. Le messianique n’est pas une autre figure, un autre monde : c’est le passage de la figure de ce monde. »1

1 = pages 24f of The Time that Remains

Trois points sont à souligner :

2 Pour les différents sens du mot “figure”, voir la référence supra p.149, note 2. Nous renvoyons aussi à notre Philosophie de Rousseau 1. Comment on paie ses dettes quand on a du génie, § 6, pp. 85-89 ; et Philosophie de Rousseau 2. A sa place. Déposition du christianisme, § 12, pp. 13-23.

1- Agamben ne remarque aucunement que « figure », skèma, est très exactement aussi le terme utilisé en grec pour les figures de rhétorique ; au contraire, pleinement dans l’idéologie de la figure-forme sensible 2, il souligne cet aspect-là dans la phrase de Paul (il glose « figure », du moins si l’on en croit le traducteur, par « manière d’être »). Mais nous, comment ne pas reinserer, au coeur des remarques d’Agamben, ce qui nous paraît pouvoir rendre compte de ce qui se passe dans le texte ? Comment ne pas souligner la présence de ce « passage de la figure », que Paul certes interprète sans doute comme le fait Agamben, mais qui n’en éclaire pas moins le mécanisme implicite de ce qui est en train de se produire dans ces textes ? N’assiste-t-on pas au plus grand « passage », celui du figuré au (pseudo)-propre ? Écrire au présent ce qui ne peut advenir qu’à la fin des temps ?

1 Giorgio Agamben, Le temps qui reste. Un commentaire de l’“Épître aux Romains”, p. 50 : « la vocation messianique n’est pas un droit, elle ne constitue pas une identité : c’est une puissance générique dont on fait usage sans jamais se l’approprier. » [= page 26 of The Time that Remains]

2 Nous nous permettons encore de renvoyer à Critique des métaphysiques du propre. La ressemblance et le Verbe, Ch. V.

2- Si le messianique chrétien est aussi la prise-au-propre, en une Personne, d’un figuré, de quel figuré s’agit-il ? Ceci pour nous est capital : c’est le « faire comme si » on était ce qu’on n’est pas. C’est en effet le meilleur moyen de résoudre la rivalité, la comparaison avec autrui : refocaliser la comparaison sur soi-même, et proposer la nouvelle identification, celle avec ce que serait soi-même si le skema, la figure de rhétorique, était acceptée. Agamben dit très bien que « Paul oppose l’usus messianique au dominium : demeurer dans l’appel sous la forme du ‘’comme non” équivaut à ne jamais en faire un objet de propriété mais seulement un objet d’usage »1 Ne jamais en faire un objet de propriété… Mais précisément, quelques pages plus loin, le passage de Heidegger que cite Agamben montre bien que le messianique (nous dirons ici, le chrétien) a été pensé comme étant le lieu suprême de l’appropriation. Et Heidegger est, peut-être, le lieu où le propre-à-soi s’est mis à coïncider explicitement avec le propre-de l’authentique2.

3- Agamben a l’heureuse idée de rapprocher ce texte du célèbre passage de Marx, dans la Contribution à la critique de la Philosophie du Droit de Hegel, sur le prolétariat. Cependant, fidèle à son refus de parler du Christ, puisqu’il ne connaît que le messie, il traite Marx comme si celui-ci ne connaissait pas plus du christianisme que le Paul juif… Et de commenter « vous pouvez constater à quel point la thèse benjaminienne, qui veut que le concept marxien de ‘’société sans classes” soit une sécularisation de l’idée du temps messianique, est pertinente ».

Agamben a raison de souligner l’importance de la différence entre le « comme non… » et le « comme si ». « Le ‘’comme non” n’est en aucune manière une fiction au sens où l’entendent Vaihinger ou Forberg, il n’a rien à voir avec un idéal. » (p. 75 =page 40 of The Time that Remains). Et d’ajouter : « L’assimilation avec ce qui a été perdu et oublié est absolue : ‘’Nous sommes devenus comme les déchets du monde, comme les scories de tout” (1 Cor. 4, 13) ». Mais précisément, que veut dire « L’assimilation avec ce qui a été perdu et oublié est absolue » ? Nous sommes chez Paul en face d’une assimilation d’un genre unique (ce que ne voit pas Agamben, qui rabat Paul sur le seul judaïsme) : car elle consiste en une prise-au-propre indue du régime sémantique dans lequel se fait l’assimilation. Certes le chrétien, le paulinien, (disons pour contenter Agamben, le messianique comme il l’entend) n’est pas de l’ordre du « comme si », mais c’est parce que le figuré du « comme si » est, chez lui, pris-au-propre.

Alors on comprend que Agamben ne puisse pas ne pas faire allusion, mais sans le lier vraiment au chapitre, à la question de la parabole :

« Comme Kafka l’avait pressenti dans son extraordinaire parabole sur les paraboles (Von den Gleichnissen), le messianique est en même temps l’abolition et la réalisation du ‘’comme si”, et le sujet qui veut se maintenir à l’infini dans la similitude (dans le ‘’comme si”) alors qu’il contemple sa propre ruine perd simplement la partie. Celui qui se tient dans la vocation messianique ne connaît plus le ‘’comme si”, il ne dispose plus de similitudes. » (pp. 75-76 =page 42 of The Time that Remains)

Mais toujours, Agamben, suivant en cela Benjamin, identifie le paulinien au seul messianique (au sens de l’attente du messianique), et ne prend jamais en compte le fait que Paul (les écrits dits de lui) croit que le Messie est réellement arrivé. C’est pourquoi Agamben, même s’il termine son chapitre sur une note fort bienvenue rappelant l’importance de « la correspondance entre la structure de la parabole et du royaume messianique »1, ne peut rien en tirer d’autre 2 que : « Dans la parabole, la différence entre le signum et la res significata tend donc à s’annuler, sans pour autant disparaître complètement » (p. 77 =page 42 of The Time that Remains).

1 Ainsi qu’une hypothèse, très convaincante, sur le lien entre l’invention chrétienne de la rime et la doctrine paulinienne du temps « messianique » comme récapitulation du temps « sous la loi » : « La rime naît dans la poésie chrétienne comme une transcodification linguistico-métrique du temps messianique, structuré selon le jeu paulinien des relations typologiques et des récapitulations. […] La rime est l’héritage messianique que Paul lègue à la poésie moderne, et l’histoire et la destinée de la rime coïncident dans la poésie avec l’histoire et la destinée du message messianique. », Agamben, Le temps qui reste, pp. 146, 148. [= page 85 of The Time that Remains]

2 Sans doute à cause de sa mauvaise théorie du langage, patente dès le début de ce même ouvrage Le temps qui reste : « Un être historique (comme l’est par définition le langage) renferme toujours en lui-même toute son histoire à la manière d’une monade (comme le disait Benjamin, tout à la fois sa pré- et sa post-histoire). », p. 27
[= page 11 of The Time that Remains]. C’est là confondre ce qu’il dit de juste dans la phrase précédente (« On pourrait comparer la mémoire d’un lecteur cultivé à un dictionnaire historique contenant toutes les acceptions d’un terme, depuis sa première apparition jusqu’à aujourd’hui. ») avec le principe de la signification, c’est-à-dire confondre une circonstance particulière, très agréable certes (la connaissance d’un lecteur cultivé) avec le mécanisme du phénomène ; analogiquement : c’est croire que parce qu’il faisait nuit pendant le vol, c’est la nuit qui a commis le vol.

3 « Le texte de Paul […] se révèle entièrement animé par un incroyable jeu de rimes internes, d’allitérations et de mots-rimes. Norden remarque que Paul se sert tout autant du parallélisme formel de la prose grecque que du parallélisme sémantique de la prose et de la poésie sémitiques ; et Augustin, qui lisait pourtant Paul en latin, s’était déjà aperçu de son usage de “la figure que les Grecs appellent klimax, et les Latins gradatio … que l’on obtient quand on lie de manière alternée les mots et le sens” (De Doctrina Christiana). […] Paul pousse à l’extrême le parallélisme, les antithèses et les homophonies de la rhétorique classique et de la prose hébraïque ; mais dans le découpage de la phrase en stichoi brefs et haletants, articulés et scandés par des rimes, il parvient à un sommet qui était resté inconnu aussi bien à la prose grecque qu’à la prose sémitique, comme si tout cela renvoyait à la fois à une exigence intérieure et à une motivation épocale. », Agamben, Le temps qui reste, pp. 146-147 [= pages 84-86 of The Time that Remains].

Il ne lui vient pas à l’idée que le « message messianique », c’est-à-dire la croyance paulinienne en la réalité de l’événement messianique, est peut- être lui-même entièrement lié aux figures de pensée du texte hébreu. Certes, il voit bien que le « parallélisme » existait comme « figure de rhétorique », mais précisément, il ne saisit pas le lien dont nous faisons l’hypothèse, entre la croyance chrétienne et la prise-au-propre de ces parallélismes (en premier lieu de contenu)3. Agamben est persuadé que l’on se trouve dans le pur élément du langage :

« La parole de la foi se présente comme l’expérience effective d’une pure puissance de dire qui, en tant que telle, ne coïncide pas avec une proposition dénotative ou avec la valeur performative d’un énoncé, mais qui se donne comme proximité absolue de la parole. On comprend alors pourquoi, chez Paul, la puissance messianique trouve son telos dans la faiblesse. L’acte d’une pure puissance de dire en tant que telle, une parole qui demeure toujours proche d’elle-même, ne peut être une parole signifiante, qui énonce des opinions vraies sur l’état des choses, ou bien un performatif juridique qui se pose lui-même comme un fait. Il n’existe pas de contenu de la foi […]. Croire en Jésus messie ne veut pas dire croire quelque chose de lui […]. » (pp. 229-230 =pages 136f of The Time that Remains )

C’est là que nous nous séparerons de la lecture d’Agamben, qui admire tant ce qu’il appelle le messianique chez Paul qu’il ne voit pas qu’il s’agit aussi chez lui de la fondation d’une religion. Ce que Agamben décrit si bien, le christianisme va le faire exister dans une personne réelle, qu’il va appeler le Verbe de Dieu, et qu’il va croire être historiquement advenu.

(Charbonnel, JJésus-Christ, Sublime Figure De Papier  pp 426-430)

Charbonnel, Nanine. Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure De Papier. Paris: Berg International, 2017.

Agamben, Giorgio. The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans. Translated by Patricia Dailey. 1st edition. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 2005. https://archive.org/details/timethatremainsc0000agam


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16 thoughts on “The Secret of the Power Behind the Gospel Narrative (Charbonnel Continued)”

  1. I, too, would like some help with the French. It appears that she considers the quality of the ontological rhetoric not to be so good. “. . . saisies dans un Regime semantique que n’est pas le bon.” Is this correct? At the end of that section, it appears that the Greek trope signifies a false humility (like Uriah Heep, maybe), but this is clearly not what is intended in Philippians and Matthew.

    I am a little confused by, on the one hand, “Christian teachings owe their success to the creative and superlative way they have combined realism and figurative techniques. . . ” and, on the other: “The figurative language of the gospels has always been an invitation to erroneous readings.” Can you clarify this point, please?

    Perhaps I will understand better when I have plowed through the rest of the long French passages.

    Very interesting, and I always appreciate how you use your own personal history as a foundational touchstone, Neil. This is such a great blog!

    1. “. . . saisies dans un Regime semantique que n’est pas le bon.” Is this correct?

      Still unable to return to focus on the blog for a time but I can confirm that this is correct.

  2. From a very prima facie reading, it seems, in my view, that Agamben’s position remembers someway the neo-platonic “negative theology”: to describe the last times Agamben’s Paul would use only negations (just as Plotinus would use only negations to describe the One), since for him the end is not still arrived hence the paradox is that Paul sees truely what he can’t still see.

    I don’t understand still well what is the point of NC save a particular criticism she addresses against Agamben:

    Mais toujours, Agamben, suivant en cela Benjamin, identifie le paulinien au seul messianique (au sens de l’attente du messianique), et ne prend jamais en compte le fait que Paul (les écrits dits de lui) croit que le Messie est réellement arrivé.

    The contradiction raised by NC in Agamben’s view about Paul is that the said view would be true if for Paul the event Christ is still all in the future, contra factum that for Paul Jesus has already come in the recent past, hence Paul can’t be totally without words in his description the last times, he can’t limit himself to say merely that the end is the present reality “as if not” the present reality (i.e. by mere negations, neo-platonically).

    Hence what would be the NC’s implication? That Paul is without words about the event Christ because it never happened? I don’t know to recognize the implications, and probably I have not read well 😀

  3. The power of faith is indeed great, life-changing and can withstand attack by the flesh, our peers and apologetic. The experience of the new birth is the greatest witness to oneself. Nowhere else in the New Testament is the contact with the sin-cleansing blood of Christ so clearly prescribed than in the penitent believer’s baptism. Romans 6:3-4. When I went down into the water I believed by faith that my all my sins were being washed away and I rose from the water to walk in newness of life, infilled by God’s pure and Holy Spirit, which would not have been possible any other way than at the point of baptism where the blood of Christ was applied. And then the motivation to shun sin was invigorated out of thankfulness, or fear, or both, in the company and fellowship of like-minded believers. And then you really know what it means that it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. To so many beautiful and sincere Christian people this is the unique message of hope and life to change what is seen as our sin-afflicted world.

  4. am curious why the Wikipedia entry for Irenaeus does not include the matter of Irenaeus calling Luke and John heresies. The Wikipedia entry says that in Against Heresies Irenaeus was attacking the gnostics (and only the gnostics).

    Except a direct reading of Against Heresies (linked below) shows that Irenaeus disputes things in Luke and John.

    Do modern scholars (and whoever writes in Wikipedia) consider the papers linked below fake/fraudulent/forged?

    Irenaeus writes that Jesus would not have been considered a master until his 40s or even 50s. He is directly accusing one or more of the gospel writers (who were even then known not to be the people named as the authors) of perverting traditions of “actual personages” such as “the real” John.

    Chapter xxii of his Book II attacks John and Luke calling their record of early death heresy. Chapter XXII.—”The thirty Æons are not typified by the fact that Christ was baptized in His thirtieth year: He did not suffer in the twelfth month after His baptism, but was more than fifty years old when He died.” Irenaeus also tries to prove that Jesus lived at least until the times of Emperor Trajan (emperor from 98 to 117 AD): “And he remained among them up to the times of Trajan.”

    The Wikipedia article on Irenaeus contains none of this.

    Iraneous later reiterates that Papias also said Jesus died at “a very old age.” The Wikipedia article on Papias doesn’t mention this, tho it does cite a letter fragment scrap from another ancient who wrote that Papias disputed that Judas killed himself by hanging. Papias insisted that Judas died by falling before the wheels of an ox-cart.

    I’m assuming WikiSource and Wikipedia are not the same thing.


    1. Irenaeus does not say any of our gospels (neither Luke nor John) are heretical. He reconciles them with the belief that Jesus lived into his “old age” before being crucified.

  5. OK, what I’m taking away from Item 3. above is that Paul’s messianism is like the parable in which the signifier and the signified merge (“la différence entre le signum et la res significata”). What is most interesting is the sidebar referring to Paul’s use of internal rhyme, alliteration, and (what I take to be) end rhymes. Pauline belief in the reality of the messianic event is entirely linked to figures of the text of Hebrew thought. (“la croyance paulinienne en la réalité de l’événement messianique, est peut- être lui-même entièrement lié aux figures de pensée du texte hébreu.”) The “as if” is done away with. (“ne connaît plus le ‘comme si’, il ne dispose plus de similitudes.”) Christianity will create a real person, to be called the Word of God, who will be believed to have historically happened. (Last line.) So the foundation of Christianity becomes a literalization of what are originally tropes of language.

      1. I think the Pauline advance on the Scriptures is his assertion that the event has occurred. It is no longer a prophecy, but a prophecy fulfilled. That’s very basic church doctrine, of course. One could say the difference is between revelation and interpretation of it. The really important point, though, as it seems to me from my perhaps limited reading, is the expungement of the concept of similitude by someone who obviously understood similitude and other tropes of language. I was not aware, until I read this blog, that Paul was using internal rhyme, alliteration, etc. (” « Le texte de Paul […] se révèle entièrement animé par un incroyable jeu de rimes internes, d’allitérations et de mots-rimes.”), because I don’t read the ancient languages, and the wordplay does not come across in English translation. This is why I read your blog!

        1. The Herodian Prince Paul had a good education likely having spent some number of his teenage years as a student at one of the academies attached to the imperial court in Rome. https://www.pdfdrive.com/herodian-messiah-case-for-jesus-as-grandson-of-herod-e162582176.html

          Saul/Paul is grouped with those raised with Herod Antipas the Tetrarch. “Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers as Barnabas and Simeon that was called Niger and Lucius of Cyrene and Manaen which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch and Saul. (Acts 13.1) The Greek is unclear but there is certainly a group of young Jewish men in Antioch who are associated with Herod Antipas the Tetrarch. According to Josephus, Herod Antipas the Tetrarch, his full brother Archelaus and his half-brother Philip were raised and educated in Rome (Josephus, Antiquities 17.20–21). Hence, those raised with Herod Antipas the Tetrarch were educated in Rome.

          Saulus/Paulus was not merely a plebian rabbi. He had political clout. When Saul/Paul is arrested the commander assigns 470 men to guard Paul’s life! “Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. 24 Provide horses for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.” (Acts 23:23) A Roman citizen didn’t normally receive 470 body guards. Saul/Paul was being protected because he was connected to the family of Herod Agrippa.

          Whatever happened was far more political than religious. “Jew to the Jews” & “running the race to win” Paul was one who aimed to always find a way to the top in the money talks shit floats world of power politics. Having Jesus as some kind of ‘False Dmitry’ with a real or imagined (like a Q-Anon schizo attracting a rabble of believers in the present day) claim to the throne is an interesting possibility. https://www.britannica.com/topic/False-Dmitry

          If a historical Jesus did exist I think he had virtually nothing to do with the founding of Christianity. Rather the Machiavellian schemer Paul and others like him took bits and pieces from the story of his failed coup and spun it into something else while utilizing the redirected remnants of his movement as a vehicle moving towards a new goal.

  6. Thanks for the comments – in particular those relating to the translation problem. Other priorities have kept me from dedicating the time I need to prepare thorough responses (let alone a new post) but I have been thinking through the points made. I can almost repeat the passage and its translation by rote now but I am still struggling with trying to get a crystal clear understanding of the entire passage and underlying thought. I am almost at the point of asking for input line by line but I’ll try to catch up before much longer.

  7. The NC’s words reported in p. 430 may help the reading of the previous passages:
    C’est là que nous nous séparerons de la lecture d’Agamben, qui admire tant ce qu’il appelle le messianique chez Paul qu’il ne voit pas qu’il s’agit aussi chez lui de la fondation d’une religion.

    The great error of Agamben is due to his great admiration/reverence for the presumed ‘experience of faith’ (‘messianique’ == messianic hope == apocalypticism) made by Paul, admiration/reverence (typical in an apologist and/or historicist?) that prevents Agamben a priori

    1) from to approach this experience as object of historical study
    2) from the realization that that same ‘experience’, far from being an obstacle (à la Plotinus) to describe in simple Greek words “the last times”, is precisely what makes it possible the Paul’s self-suggestion that Jesus has already come in the recent past (contra factum that Jesus never existed).

    Hence, what Paul would be meaning by “as if”, etc, is really an exhortation to accept the event Christ as if it was already happened. When really it never happened.

    My feeling is that here NC is obliged to assume, following Agamben at least on this point, an exasperated apocalypticism in Paul, more precisely a faith that ‘now’ is the time of the end, and ‘therefore’ the Messiah has arrived. I think that Neil would disagree with this view, since he has made it clear that there was no collective messanic hope before the 70 CE, at least not one such to move Paul to do what NC thinks it moved Paul to do.

  8. It’s always possible that the Agamben passage doesn’t actually mean anything, whatever the language, and has only been included because NC has spotted a fellow player-with-words. Edward Lear comes to mind.
    It was a good move to leave it untranslated!

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