1. René Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning,
pp. 28-31, the conclusion
chapter 2 (excerpt), "The Cycle of Mimetic Violence."
Girard takes a unique reading of Isaiah 40 as describing the
undifferentiation, the leveling, of a mimetic crisis which will be
resolved only with the murder of a scapegoat. In Second Isaiah,
that resolution is described in the Suffering Servant Song of
Isaiah 53. Girard suggests that the gospel writers all use Isaiah
40 in the mouth of John the Baptist to similarly set up the
situation of a mimetic crisis, the resolution of which will come
in the Passion Story.
2. Tony Bartlett, the first study in a series on Second Isaiah (on 40:1-11). These studies are among the finest examples of how Mimetic Theory is a key to opening the revelation of Scripture.
Reflections and Questions
1. I would like to begin this week's reflections with a question: When Second Isaiah begins his message in ch. 40 "speaking tenderly to Jerusalem," why have all the commentators come to assume that this message is not literally to Jerusalem but to exiles in Babylon? Weren't there also people left behind in Jerusalem who arguably suffered even more hardship than those who were exiled? Why could not Second Isaiah have been speaking to them, to those literally in Jerusalem? Yes, there are references to Babylon and the return of the exiles to Jerusalem throughout Second Isaiah, but wouldn't that have also been an important matter to those left behind in Jerusalem? They had the wealthiest, cream of the crop skimmed away from their land, and they longed for the return home of their exiled comrades to once again strengthen their numbers and economic power. The task of rebuilding their city and restoring their land would have been almost impossible without the return of the exiles, so, yes, the references to having Cyrus free them for return and exacting revenge on Babylon would have been understandable.
I reread Isaiah 40-55, with this other way of looking at it in mind, and found many more references to rebuilding the wasteland of Judah and their city. Virtually all of the direct addresses are to Jerusalem and to Zion. I read in the commentaries about knowledge of Babylonian cultic life speaking in favor of an exiled audience, but I don't see any detail that would preclude general knowledge of idol worship that was also common among the other peoples who shared Palestine.
I am intrigued by the possibility of this other reading because, as I have shared in recent weeks, I remain fascinated by Paul Hanson's (The Dawn of Apocalyptic) thesis regarding two conflicting communities reflected in Third Isaiah. He talks about two lines of priesthood: the Levitical and the Zadokite. The latter were in power at the time of the defeat to Babylon, and so they were the ones who were exiled. Their view is represented more closely by Ezekiel, who likely was a Zadokite priest. He theorizes, then, that Third Isaiah was written by Levitical priests who filled the void in Jerusalem during the exile but then were marginalized upon the return of the Zadokite priesthood who assumed power once again. If this is the case, then might not Second Isaiah have represented the agonizing experience of those left behind, longing for the return of their exiled comrades? When the return experience turned out differently than their hope for it, that might also explain the terrible bitterness in Third Isaiah.
2. "double for all her sins." What does a double penalty for sins mean? Israel was in exile, an oppressed group. We all suffer from sin, but can we say that the victims of our sinful games suffer double? People of Color, for example. There is a sense in which we all suffer from the sin of racism. Could we say that People of Color suffer double for our sins?
2 Peter 3:8-15a
1. James Alison, Raising Abel, ch. 6, on "The Apocalyptic Imagination and the Delayed Parousia" (repeating much of what we said about 1 Thess in the Proper 27A comments). One of Alison's overall theses is that Jesus subverted the apocalyptic imagination from within. The latter was an improvement over the pagan notion of an eternal return (Nietzsche?) but remained stuck within the notion of a violent God. So, says Alison,
It seems to me that what we have with Jesus is precisely and deliberately the subversion from within of the apocalyptic imagination. What I have called the eschatological imagination is nothing other than the subversion from within of the apocalyptic imagination. That is, Jesus used the language and the imagery which he found around him to say something rather different. (p. 125)The next step, in the light of the Resurrection, was for the apostolic witness to have the apocalyptic imagination of their Jewish heritage transformed into an eschatological imagination. They had to go back and recover the insight that Jesus himself brought to the notion of Judgment Day. But it did not happen overnight. The NT texts reflect the process of transformation, especially one in which all violence only gradually becomes purged from their view of God and the Judgment Day. 2 Peter is considered one of the later writings in the NT and shows development toward Jesus' eschatological imagination with its more gracious notion of the Parousia being delayed to allow for repentance.
2. Ibid. Alison also takes on the popular modern thesis that Jesus might have had the timing of the Parousia wrong, that he preached an imminent Parousia. Then, as the thesis goes, when it was delayed, the early church created its own theology to deal with it. Alison suggests that the entire duality between this age and the next is proper to the apocalyptic imagination, not to Jesus' eschatological imagination. And so Jesus' understanding of the Parousia was also transformed:
where the heavenly reality of the crucified and risen victim is already present to the apostolic group, allowing the beginnings of a human life and sociality which are not marked by death, but whose members are free to live a life of self-giving in imitation of Jesus thanks to their faith in the death-less nature of God, then a continuity is already coming about between this age and the next. Human time itself, an unalienable dimension of the physical creatureliness of the human being, has begun to become capable of sharing in life without end. (p. 127)So Alison says of the development from 1 Thess to 2 Peter:
If we take the notion of the 'end' understood as vengeance, just as it is found in 1 Thessalonians, it is a vengeful end which depends exactly on there being insiders and outsiders, so that the afflicted are vindicated, and the persecutors punished. But in the degree to which the perception of God changes, becoming, as we have seen, shorn of violence, two realities are altered simultaneously: the separation between goodies and baddies, insiders and outsiders, enters into a process of continuous collapse and subversion, and at the same time the 'end' cannot remain as a vengeance if there is no longer any clarity about who's an insider and who an outsider, and under these circumstances the notion of the end itself changes towards what we see in 2 Peter: it becomes a principle of revelation of what had really been going on during the time that has been left for the changing of hearts... In this way the End, rather than being a vengeful conclusion to time, comes to be a principle, operative in time, by means of which we may live out the arrival of the Son of Man, the being alert for the thief in the night, the whole time. (p. 127)3. Ibid. What so many of these passages have in common, including this text from 2 Peter, is the image of the "thief in the night," which gospel references (Mt. 24:42-44, Lk. 12:39-40) would seem to indicate comes from Jesus himself. Alison anchors his argument with an image or illustration that lends the book its title. Imagine if Abel was resurrected to confront his brother Abel like a thief in the night. But instead came to forgive him. Again, I'll let Alison speak for himself:
What I wanted to suggest is that, in this, very exactly, does the Christian faith consist: in the return of Abel as forgiveness for Cain, and the return of Abel not only as a decree of forgiveness for Cain, but as an insistent presence which gives Cain time to recover his story, and, with the years which remain to him, which may only be days, who knows, to begin to construct another story... However the story is to finish, between this arrival of his brother like a thief in the night, and the end of his days, Cain will be hard at work in the construction of the story of one who can look into his brother's eyes neither with pride nor with shame. He will look instead with the gratitude of a man who has received himself back at the hands of the one he himself killed, killed so as to fill the vacuum of the feeling that, before that other, he, Cain, had no 'himself' to give, no 'himself' with whom to love. This is the story of which we are talking when we speak of the human story in its working out starting from the resurrection. It is what I call the time of Abel. (p. 134)So the time of Abel is prompted by the sudden appearance of the brother slain, who has already come like the thief in the night; the 'delay' in his return is a time of grace that allows the slayers a time to rewrite their stories. The 2 Peter text seems very much to have moved toward this idea in vs. 9.
Reflections and Questions
1. Isn't verse 9 -- "The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance" -- the essence of Good News? Peter as much as says so in v. 15 by urging us to "regard the patience of our Lord as salvation."
I'm inclined to combine this with the central insight I've gleaned from Raymund Schwager's Jesus in the Drama of Salvation -- namely, that Jesus reversed the usual order of repentence and forgiveness (see, for example, Epiphany 7B for more on this theme). The offer of forgiveness comes first, and then God waits thousands of years for that grace to turn our lives around in repentance. It is forgiveness that even permits us to begin a life of repentence in the Spirit.
2. In 2002 the theme of God's patience dawned on me as a central theme that Girardian anthropology again helps to accentuate. The scope of evangelical anthropology takes us back to human beginnings. Since the foundation of our human cultures, we have worshiped false gods. Many millennia later, we still do. The Biblical story can thus be seen as the story of God's infinite patience with us as the truth of the Living God seeks to fully dawn on us, beginning with Abraham's decisive move away from human sacrifice; continuing through Israel's gradual move into monotheism, accompanied by the prophetic critique against all sacrifice in favor of mercy (Hosea 6:6); and climaxing in the revelation of the Crucified Messiah.
Yet those who consider themselves as followers of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, have lapsed even further into sacrificial violence to the tune of millions consumed in apocalyptic violence last century. Yes, it is incredibly gracious to be able to "regard the patience of our Lord as salvation." Link to my 2002 sermon "The Good News of God's Patience."
3. A phrase that really catches my eye is "without spot or blemish" in vs. 14. To most modern people that might sound like talk of moral purity. But mimetic theory alerts us to the sacrificial references: "without spot or blemish" was the common phrase used in reference to the sacrificial lamb. In other words, isn't the writer trying to get us to strive for identity with the victim, not for some sort of morally pure superiority?
4. On the elements being consumed by fire, Walter Wink has, in Naming the Powers, some good pieces on "the elements" (Gr stoicheia) in the NT as connected with the powers and principalities of this world. The reference to fire also catches the Girardian's eye as often a veiled reference to sacrifice.
1. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, The Gospel and the Sacred, pp. 60-68. Hamerton-Kelly's extended comments on the opening of Mark's gospel include: (1) how the open ending of 16:8 invites the reader to begin re-reading, "The Way Is a Spiral"; (2) the "beginning" (Gr: arche) of the Gospel in comparison with the beginning of Creation, including a comparison to creation myths such as Enuma Elish; and (3) the theme of New Exodus. See more extended commentary by Hamerton-Kelly on Mark 1:4-11 at Epiphany 1B.
2. Robert R. Beck, Nonviolent Story; (1) pp. 45ff. on two parallel beginnings in Mark 1 and 14, beginnings of the rising action and the falling action, respectively; (2) pp. 109ff. on the christological titles of Mark 1:1.
(1) Two Beginnings. Beck uses Gustav Freitag's pyramid of
narrative action: rising action of complication reaching a
climax, and then falling action with a reversal or
resolution of the problem set-up with the rising action. In Mark's
Gospel, Beck suggests that John the Baptist helps to launch Jesus'
ministry which, as he encounters resistance, reaches a climax with
the cleansing of the temple and the ensuing controversies. Chapter
14 begins the falling action of the Passion narrative, with Judas
as the catalytic figure parallel to John the Baptist. We could
chart the two beginnings as such:
|1st Beginning||2nd Beginning|
|Catalytic Figures||John the Baptist - 1:2-8||Judas - 14:1-11|
|Symbolic Actions||Baptism - 1:9-11||Cup - 14:12-31|
|Temptations||In the Desert - 1:12-13||In the Garden - 14:32-42|
|Arrests||John - 1:14||Jesus - 14:43-52|
Notice that the symbolic actions of baptism and cup come together in the middle, with the story of the Sons of Zebedee, 10:35-40:
But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" (Mark 10:38)(2) The christological titles of Mark 1:1. The two titles offered to the reader in 1:1 are Messiah and Son of God. Within the story, disciples need to discover what the reader is told from the beginning. The first crucial moment is 8:29 in which Peter gets the first half correct. But the ensuing passion prediction and rebuke of Peter shows that he hasn't yet been able to see what kind of Messiah. Beck suggests that this section of Mark, 8:27-10:52, is specifically about teaching the disciples what kind of Messiah is Jesus: a servant Messiah. For more, see his sections "Messiah: Christological Lessons," pp. 96-98, and "Servant: A Nonviolent Christology," pp. 99-103. He summarizes this teaching:
We see then an integral connection between the cross of 8:35 and the slave and ransom of 10:45. To gain one's self means to put one's self at risk, but to risk one's self in order to interrupt the flow of violence in its cycles is to ransom others. It is a ransom because it delivers others from the history and consequences of violence as force or as injustice, in this particular concrete instance. (p. 102)Beck also offers the following formula:
Messiah + servant = Son of GodUnfortunately, the disciples never seem to get this, and so there is a stand in for the disciples at the cross: the centurion confesses Jesus to be the "Son of God" (15:39). On the matter of these christological titles of 1:1, Beck says:
The preceding might be summed up by saying that Jesus' relation to the disciples inside the story replicates the narrator's relation to the reader. Jesus extends his own mandate to the plot, to the disciples, in his invitation to follow him. The invitation Jesus extends to the disciples the narrator likewise extends to the reader. The discourse that the narrator directs to the reader parallels Jesus' teaching of the disciples by way of themes that give meaning to action in the main plot. The christological structure inside the story, based on the themes of Messiah and servant and on part of the characters' awareness, is matched by the structure outside the story, based on the titles shared by the narrator and the reader but not disclosed to the characters.3. René Girard, The Scapegoat, ch. 11, on the general role of John the Baptist in the gospels. In more recent essays, he has also stressed the importance of the parallel in the gospels between John's death and Jesus' death. See the essays "Satan" and "The Question of Anti-Semitism in the Gospels," on pp. 194-221 of The Girard Reader. Here, for example, is a portion of that discussion:
In other words, the Gospel story of nonviolent confrontation and conflict resolution is not simply shown for our admiration. It does indeed have a "rhetorical" aspect that takes it beyond the interests of literary poetics to the arena of practice. It does invite us, calling us as well as showing us. It not only scripts a way of nonviolent resistance but engages us to go and do likewise. (p. 113)
It has been suggested that Pilate's handling of Jesus reflects a pro-Roman bias or rather, once again, an anti-Jewish bias. The parallel handling of the Herod/John the Baptist relationship makes this interpretation most unlikely. There must be an intention common to both scenes, and it is readily intelligible. The sovereign, each time, must make his subservience to the crowd manifest. It will be manifest only if his personal desire differs from that of the crowd and yet in the end, the crowd has its way. Herod and Pilate would like to save John and Jesus, but it cannot be done without antagonizing the crowd, and the two sovereigns yield to mimetic pressure; they become part of the crowd. The purpose is to show that a crowd in a lynching mood is the supreme power. For the Gospels, political power has been rooted in the crowd since the foundation of the world. (p. 214)4. Gil Bailie has extended the comparison of John to Jesus around the theme of skandalon. There are structural similarities between their deaths, but there are also differences. John the Baptist was still in a mode of being scandalized by Herod's behavior. See his discussion of this in his section on "Scandal" (excerpt), Violence Unveiled, pp. 207-210.
He extends the comparison and contrast even further by bringing in yet a third murder account in the gospel tradition: Luke's account of Stephen's martyrdom in Acts 7. In his more recent tape series, "At Cross Purposes," he deals with John and Jesus briefly on tape 3, and then in an extended reflection of Stephen's martyrdom on tape 4.
When the lesser festival of St.
Stephen, Dec. 26, falls on a Sunday, the preacher will have
an opportunity to talk about Stephen then, with John the Baptist
still fresh in people's minds.
5. Tom Truby, a member of Theology & Peace, used Girardian insights to offer a sermon in 2011, titled "Clear the Pathway!"
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