Conclusion: Nanine Charbonnel, Jésus-Christ, sublime figure de papier

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by Neil Godfrey

Nanine Charbonnel now asks how the understanding of how the gospels have been written should affect how we read them. Metaphors abound in her discussion of how to read metaphorical narratives. Think of Hebrews 10:20, where readers are directed to enter the divine presence through the veil of the inner sanctuary, a veil which itself represents the flesh of Jesus.

The book is there, then, but the work is still hidden. It is absent, perhaps radically so; in any case it is concealed, obfuscated by the evident presence of the book, behind which it awaits the liberating decision, the “Lazare, veni foras.”

To make this stone fall seems to be reading’s mission: to render it transparent, to dissolve it with the penetrating force of the gaze which unimpeded moves beyond. There is in reading, at least at reading’s point of departure, something vertiginous . . . But there is more; and what makes the “miracle” of reading still more singular . . . .To roll back the stone, to obliterate it, is certainly something marvelous, but it is something we achieve at every moment in everyday language. At every moment we converse with Lazarus, dead for three days — or dead, perhaps, since always. In his well-woven winding sheet, sustained by the most elegant conventions, he answers us and speaks to us within ourselves.

— Blanchot, The Space of Literature, 195

Following on from Maurice Blanchot who saw Lazarus in his burial cloths as the incarnation of a book and Jesus’ command for Lazarus to “Come forth!” as the act of reading, NC runs with an image of strips of cloth as the surface material for writing and the need for readers to find new ways to understand those words. (Did scribes also write on linen? I am not aware of the practice so I will only touch on a few passages in the closing pages: my grasp of French is too elementary to read with confidence the nuances and subtleties that are embedded in the metaphors in these closing pages.)

Peter ran to the tomb and, bending down, saw only the strips of cloth that had been used to bind the body of Jesus: Luke 24:12 (C’s text has a small error here with the Greek word used in our manuscripts). In John 20:5 another disciple sees the same bands of linen that had been used to wrap Jesus lying on the ground. In 2013 Father Antoine Adam delivered an Easter homily on radio France-Culture in which he said the cloth is rolled up, like the book that has to be unrolled, to see the impression of the face of Jesus left on it, like the body of Scripture, for Jewish Scriptures are a corpus.

The phylacteries or tefillin were known in early times (Matthew 23:5) and the leather strips contained writings. Leon of Modena described the way these strips would be bound so that they formed the letter yod on the left arm and were inscribed with the letter shin on the forehead, which, one might note, are the first two letters of Jeshua. One would like to propose the image of a comparison between the burial cloths and the tefillin strips, both are left lifeless on the floor after the resurrection of and transformation of the old body.

It is easy to over-reach in the world of metaphors. I think NCs suggestion of Maurice Mergui’s comment on the striking of Jesus with the reed (the same word is used to translate the writing instrumentMatthew 27:30) to signal Jesus being struck according to Scripture, that is, by midrash. When we read in the New Testament the phrase “in/by the spirit” (e.g. Acts 20:22-23) should we always think of the Holy Spirit or is there sometimes an allusion to “the spirit of the author” or midrashic interpretation?

NC finds an interesting explanation by Marc-Alain Ouaknin in La Tora expliquée aux enfants.

In the Torah, “creation of the world” does not mean “creation of the physical world”, the moment when matter came into being. No, it means the creation of the world in a story: it is the first time that a written text is considered a creation of the world. Not the first time that a written text tells of the creation of the world, but the first time that men consider that writing is a way of “creating: “I write, therefore I create!” Writing becomes a tool by which the world is created ‘in stories’.

Excerpt From: Marc-Alain Ouaknin. “The Torah Explained to Children.” Apple Books. (I have quoted a little more than NC quotes on p. 447. As per John 6:63, NC recalls, the words spoken are spirit and life. )

Pentecost, the anti-Tower of Babel

The punishment of the confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel is reversed in the midrash of Pentecost. Here an author has set down in a text a fortuitous miracle of comprehension without a mediator. But without a mediator has something else become hidden, lost? NC concludes this chapter with the words of Michel Serres:

The new meaning spread everywhere starting from wind and noise. Not a single language translated in several languages, but several spoken and several heard at the same time. . . . If the orator is heard as is, the network is decentered, even locally: there is no longer an intercepter, no longer a crossroads or intermediate; there is no longer a town; Hermes, the father of Pan, died on the Pentecost.

(The Parasite, from pages 41 and 43)

And that brings NC to the observation that it is the Paraclete that is introduced in the gospels as the new interpreter — a subject for a future study.


Other personnages de papier

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Only One Explanation: Paul Believed in a Divine Christ “Before Jesus”

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by Neil Godfrey

There remains only one explanation: Paul believed in such a celestial being, in a divine Christ, before he believed in Jesus. Paul, by William Wrede

I found this little book of particular interest not because of the ideas themselves but because of who wrote them. William Wrede is best known for his study of the Gospel of Mark, The Messianic Secret. I was unaware until recently that he also wrote a book about Paul. It’s available on archive.org — http://archive.org/details/Paulpaulus The link is to the English language translation. (It’s not a long book: 180 somewhat small pages only a light population of words on each.)

Wrede cannot accept that Paul himself arrived at all of his concepts and theology relating to Christ simply from meditating on what he knew of the historical Jesus. Even the ethics that Paul teaches derive from Judaism and not from Jesus, he explains. From the reports of the life of a man who existed only a few years earlier it is inconceivable, Wrede argues, that Paul could have arrived at his vision of the celestial pre-existence of the risen Jesus or so magnified the stories of the mortal man that he imagined him as a “superhuman Son of God”.

There remains only one explanation: Paul believed in such a celestial being, in a divine Christ, before he believed in Jesus. Until he became a Christian it seemed to him sacrilege to call Jesus the Christ. This man did not answer at all to the divine figure of Christ which Paul bore within him. But in the moment of conversion, when Jesus appeared before him in the shining glory of his risen existence, Paul identified him with his own Christ, and straightway transferred to Jesus all the conceptions which he already had of the celestial being—for instance, that he had existed before the world and had taken part in its creation. The man Jesus was really, therefore, only the wearer of all those mighty predicates which had already been established; but the bliss of the apostle lay in this, that he could now regard what had hitherto been a mere hope, as a tangible reality which had comeinto the world. Here again we see the great importance ofthe fact that he had not known Jesus. Intimate disciples could not so readily believe that the man with whom they had sat at table in Capernaum, or sailed on the Lake of Galilee, was the creator of the world. But in Paul’s way there was no such obstacle.

If Paul was acquainted with this divine Christ before his conversion, there must have beencircles in Judaism which held the same belief. But can such a belief in this field be really authenticated? So much is certain, that Jewish apocalyptic books are really cognizant of a Messiah, who before his appearance lives in heaven, and is more exalted than the angels themselves. This is a datum of the highest importance. Whether, however, every feature in the Pauline Christ can be explained by means of the extant apocalyptic accounts of Messiah, is a question we shall not here attempt to decide. Investigation is only now beginning to master the problem aright. The immediate point of supreme importance is the perception of this fact: that the Pauline Christ cannot be understood unless we assume that Paul, while still a Pharisee, possessed a number of definite conceptions concerning a divine being, which were afterwards transferred to the historical Jesus?

So how did it all happen in Wrede’s view?

First comes the idea of Christ. On this the whole conception of the redemption rests. For the death and resurrection of Christ are not regarded as the experiences of a man, but as the experiences of an incarnate divine being. It is upon this that their universal, world-redeemed significance depends. The key to the problem, in itself so enigmatical, why the Son of God became a man, was found by Paul in this twofold event. The idea of the redemption itself was again determined by the conceptions which the apostle brought with him. He expected his Christ to vanquish the evil powers of the world, including the demons, and to inaugurate a new condition of things. The accomplishmentof this task was found, where but in the two events of salvation? How Paul came to find it there must remain an open question. Probably these thoughts had long been definitely formulated in his mind before he was led by polemical exigencies to mint the doctrine of justification.

Not that Wrede was allowed the last word. As we would expect, others disagreed. For a two-part critical engagement with Wrede’s ideas see

Morgan, W. “The Jesus Paul Controversy 1.” The Expository Times 20, no. 1 (October 1908): 9–12. https://doi.org/10.1177/001452460802000102.

———. “The Jesus Paul Controversy 2.” The Expository Times 20, no. 2 (November 1908): 55–58. https://doi.org/10.1177/001452460802000202.


Jesus Potter Harry Christ: Reviewing Part One (chapter one)

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Although it is easy to accept that Rowling crafted the literary character of Harry Potter after the figure of Jesus, shouldn’t it pique our interest that Jesus — a monumental figure in modern world religion generally believed to have been historical — has so much in common with the obviously fictional fantasy world and character of Harry Potter? (Preface, p. viii, Jesus Potter Harry Christ)

It’s a good question. It appeals to me personally because I have a particular interest in the gospels as literature. I am convinced that they need to be understood as literature before we can decide if and in what manner we might seek to extract historical information from them.

This post is a first draft of a review I am preparing for the book, and covers so far only the first of the book’s three sections. I am posting this now for the simple reason that I fear too long a time gap before I will be in a position to post a completed review of the entire book. So serialization it is for now. Continue reading “Jesus Potter Harry Christ: Reviewing Part One (chapter one)”