Sunday, December 21, 2014

Jesus' Tomb, Socrates' Cave, and Walter Benjamin's State of Emergency, kind of

"The soothsayers who found out from time what it had in store
certainly did not experience time as either homogeneous or empty.
Anyone who keeps this in mind will perhaps get an idea of how past
times were experienced in remembrance--namely, in just the same way.
We know that the Jews were prohibited from investigating the future.
The Torah and the prayers instruct them in remembrance, however. This
stripped the future of its magic, to which all those succumb who turn
to the soothsayers for enlightenment. This does not imply, however,
that for the Jews the future turned into homogeneous, empty time. For
every second of time was the strait gate through which Messiah might
Walter Benjamin

A gentile in the first century, who was reasonably informed, literate,
and trying to understand the Jewish religion, might look for some
understanding of the messiah by comparing him to the mythical
Socratic figure in Plato's allegory of the cave. Plato's figure is
often compared to a bodhisatva. He escapes the underground prison and
its shadow world and discovers the physical world and, finally,
through dialectic, the transcendent ultimate reality. Returning to the
underground to bring the good news of a higher consciousness, he is
killed by the prisoners.

"The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the 'state of
emergency' in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must
attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this
insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring
about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in
the struggle against Fascism. "

The ideal city described by Plato, an attempt to find the form of a
republic harmonized with the same principles that integrate the parts
of an individual soul, could be re-imagined under the influence of the
Jewish prophets, and placed in a future, as a possible world where
humanity would commune in common with the creative source without
rituals or doctrines or laws because the utopian software would be
free and downloadable to all, etc.

"The Messiah comes not only as the redeemer, he comes as the subduer
of Antichrist. Only that historian will have the gift of fanning the
spark of hope in the past who is firmly convinced that even the dead
will not be safe from the enemy if he wins. And this enemy has not
ceased to be victorious." WB

It seems probable to me that someone named "Yeshua" taught in first
century Galilee, and had a big following, who he led to Jerusalem to
confront the establishment, which charged him with disturbing the
peace, inciting a riot, and making terrorist threats, as well as
blaphemously claiming to be the Messiah, and had him crucified. These
are plausible elements in the story of this Jesus. I think it takes an
extraordinary amount of faith to believe he didn't exist at all, given
the accounts written by people who knew people who knew him. But there
were other dead messiahs, and other failed messianic movements.

Jesus' story spread through oral teachings for decades, beginning with
the remembrances of his followers, enhanced by dreams and visions and
by selections from the Jewish scriptures. Paul's experience of Jesus
was through a vision, an altered state, in which the risen Messiah
called him to spread the teaching. His letters to churches are the
earliest writings of the Jesus movement. His ministry lasted from the
mid- 30s to the 50s. His teaching became the orthodox teaching.

The gospels were compiled out of folklore and memories and the sayings
and parables Jesus had taught his disciples to spread. The gospels are
a unique literary form. The speeches of Jesus can be compared to the
speeches of Socrates as written by Plato, not necessarily an accurate
transcription of words spoken, but as a poetic telling of
philosophical truths.

Aristotle said that poetry was more philosophical than history,
because history is a record of particular events, while poetry is
concerned with universals. The universal meaning contained by the
poetry of the gospels is the poetry of the Jewish prophets and their
faith in a possible world of a new covenant and a community annointed
with a new spirit, the new wine of the republic of heaven. The old
gods had been defeated by Caesar and were made to submit to him. The
only god not defeated was the one that could not be pictured. He was
only represented in words, and these words were of great interest to
many gentiles.

The Jewish scriptures, and the scriptures of the early christians, and
the literature of hellenic civilization, are the foundational texts of
the Western canon, and therefore foundational to how we think. We need
to change how we think, but we need to understand what we are
changing. The universal part of the poetry of scripture include a view
of history as headed somewhere. Historical materialism was a moment in
messianic thought. Walter Benjamin's evocative theses on history are
concerned with this metanarrative at a time of crisis, and are what
got me thinking about reading through Matthew's gospel. Now I'm going
to take up Paul's letter to the Romans, although I'm not going to blog
about it. At Paul D'Agostino's suggestion I've been reading Giorgio
Agamben's The Time That Remains, in which he comments on both the
apostle Paul and Benjamin.

Thanks for reading


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