The latest edition of The Bible and Critical Theory, now published in open-access format, contains the following mixture of essays.
The Hidden City
I read the gospel of Mark’s kingdom language intertextually with Italo Calvino’s strange novel, Invisible Cities, in which Marco Polo describes a collection of fantastic cities. This approach illuminates a different way to understand the Markan kingdom of God, for which that kingdom is neither realized nor imminent, indeed not eschatological at all. Nor is the kingdom a symbol. Instead the mysterious kingdom is comparable to (in Marco’s words) ‘a crack [that] opens’ and ‘all spaces change, all heights, distances; the city is transfigured, becomes crystalline, transparent as a dragonfly’ – and yet even that, as Calvino’s story implies, is but one of many possibilities.
Remembering Esther: Anti-Semitism and the Conflict of Identity
Reading the biblical narrative of Esther – a narrative giving way to the ritualized Feast of Purim – against more recent testimonies and accounts of anti-Semitism demonstrates common patterns in social, political, and religious responses to conflict. When studied carefully, these patterns support a common model capable of cross-cultural application. This model supports the fundamental thesis that anti-Semitism is not simply a belief but a conflict over identity that produces beliefs and behavioral patterns consistent with deep-rooted prejudices. Moreover, this conflict is typically an ‘absolute conflict’ disguised as an ‘institutional conflict’, terms that will be defined, and is usually triggered by perceived interruptions to institutionalized power. Studies of anti-Semitism must always include detailed understandings of both the identity of the perpetrator and the identity of the victim.
Fiona C. Black
Lamenting or Demented? The Psalmist-Subject of the Complaints and the Possession at Loudun
In an effort to investigate the poetic contours of lament as a consequence of subjectivity, this essay reads the lamenting subject in the Complaint Psalms against the backdrop of Michel de Certeau’s evaluations of the Ursuline nuns in the Possession at Loudun. The 17th-century nuns, possibly as part of a response to the major metaphysical crisis of a plague, began to exhibit signs of possession, and eventually an elaborate system of classification and exorcism developed around their illness. A major interest for Certeau, and for this essay is not, however, the actuality of demon possession, but the apparent creation, social control and management of alterity – in the nuns’ case, madness – in the psalmist’s case, (hysterical) lament. In the psalms, lamentation provides a means of articulating an alternative reality, one that has its own conventions and limitations. In this context, the lamenting utterance threatens to position the subject of the psalms as a place of siege; the subject fights to be heard above the din of ‘normality’ and the rigours of divine expectation. Moreover, his body is a contested site for enemies and illness, among other afflictions. On the other hand, though, the ultimate act of confession at the end of the complaints threatens to undermine his existence, to make him vanish into that very context from which he initially differentiated himself as a speaking subject. The essay considers, therefore, the psalms’ alternative reality as the locus of a balancing act between the subject’s complicity and annihilation. This, in turn, is pondered within the context of poetic discourse, which might be viewed as an impulse to showcase – and manage – ‘possession’.
Romance and Danger at Nag Hammadi
The story of the discovery of the Nag Hammadi texts – a tale about a hapless Arab peasant who uncovers the buried secrets of early Christianity – has accompanied most scholarly and popular explorations of Nag Hammadi literature. As a colonialist relic, however, it is more than a quirky tale of the accidents of history. It represents and perpetuates the orientalist epistemological tropes that have since been fixed onto the individual texts themselves: seeking/finding, secrecy/unveiling (esoterism), and sexual taboo/sexual excess (asceticism/libertinism). This paper explores the resonances of this story with the history of Nag Hammadi scholarship, as well as with popular renderings of Nag Hammadi texts. It uses the recent cultural studies interests in affect theory to ask: what is at stake in casting what is called ‘Nag Hammadi literature’ as the romantic and dangerous ‘East’ to the Bible’s domesticated and rational ‘West’?
Dostoevsky’s New Testament: The Significance of Random Reading
The Bible was a lifelong companion for Dostoevsky, who often read it and sometimes annotated it. But what meaning lies in the marking of a text? The first critic to examine the markings in Dostoevsky’s Bible was the Norwegian professor in Russian literary history, Geir Kjetsaa. He did so in the early 1980s and wrote a book on the subject. This essay will discuss Kjetsaa’s method of reading Dostoevsky on the basis of the annotations. Kjetsaa’s analyses are intriguing but not immune to criticism, as too much focus on the markings tends to neglect the significance of the randomly read passages. After a short introduction (1) I will closely examine Kjetsaa’s analysis of Dostoevsky’s novels (2), and then add my own critical remarks (3). Finally I will compare Kjetsaa’s reading of Dostoevsky with theological readings of him (Romano Guardini and Karl Barth/Eduard Thurneysen). Unlike Kjetsaa, the theologians were unaware of the markings in Dostoevsky’s Bible. The overall question of the essay is, then: how do we approach Dostoevsky’s use of the Bible in the light of his annotations to the New Testament, and when numerous voices clamour to inform us how they should be read?