The Book Of Tobit And Its Recensions, Part 2

To recap: the book of Tobit (one of the Deuterocanonicals/”Apocrypha”) exists in different versions in different languages. Which really accounts for the differences in the text between, say, the Douai-Rheims, the RSV and the NAB translations of the book).

For example, as mentioned in Part 01, you have three versions of Greek Tobit: Greek I or G1 found in most manuscripts, Greek II or G2 found in Codex Sinaiticus (4th century) and a couple other manuscripts, and Greek III or G3 (a sort of intermediate version between G1 and G2, although basically related to the latter), surviving only in a partial form in three manuscripts.

As for the Latin Tobit, you have Jerome’s translation (of a translation of an Aramaic version, quite different from the Greek version), plus a family of Latin translations made before his (Vetus Latina = VL), which is quite similar to the text of GII.

That’s not counting medieval Hebrew and Aramaic versions (which are all derived from the Greek or the Vulgate text anyway) and ancient versions in other languages like Syriac, Ethiopian, Armenian or Arabic (many of them simply translations of G1).

For the purposes of our discussion, I am going to focus specifically on G1, G2, and the VL versions.

I mentioned in the last post that until the mid-20th century, the preferred version of choice for translators was either G1 or Jerome’s Latin version, because those are pretty much the only ones available.

After manuscripts like the Codex Sinaiticus were discovered, scholars became aware of longer versions of Tobit quite different from the ones they had, but a number of them originally dismissed these versions as secondary.

After all, it’s a cliché in textual criticism that lectio brevior est potior, “shorter reading is better.” Many scholars at the time assumed that G1, the ‘standard’ version found in most surviving copies, represented the original version of Tobit, while the ‘minority’ G2 text in Sinaiticus and the Vetus Latina versions were expanded versions of it.

Then, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, which required some changes in established opinion.

When Cave 4 in Qumran was discovered in 1952, among the things found inside there were fragments from five manuscripts of Tobit (4Q196-200), dating from the period between 100 BC to AD 25. However, it was not until 1956 that the first report on the finds was published.

The late Joseph T. Milik reported about the discovery of what was then fragments three manuscripts of Tobit in the report. More fragments were eventually found (which was also announced by Milik) until five texts were found in total.

However, while Milik worked on piecing the fragments from a period spanning from 1953 to 1960, he never got around to actually publishing them. (One of the main criticisms levelled against Milik by critics, in fact, is how he contributed to the long delay of getting the Dead Sea Scrolls into public view by not completing all the work on his portion – and quite an amount of the discovered fragments were under his lot).

It was Father Joseph Fitzmyer who would complete the work and publish them in 1995 (Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, volume 19).

All in all, these manuscripts (four in Aramaic, one – the latest – in Hebrew) generally agree with G2, but sometimes also with G1. In some instances, the text provided could be shorter or longer, or at times agree more with the text of VL over against G2.

All in all, there are sixty-nine fragments or groups of fragments in these five texts (anyone who wants to see them in detail should check out Fr. Fitzmyer’s books like, The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins, or his commentary on Tobit): out of these sixty-nine, thirty-four tiny fragments are unidentified, giving us thirty-five identified fragments in total.

4QToba ar (4Q196, Aramaic, ca. 50-25 BC): Fragments 1 (Tobit 1:17), 2 (1:19-2:2), 3 (2:3), 4 (2:10-11), 5 (3:5), 6 (3:9-15), 7 (3:17), 8 (4:2), 9 (4:5), 10 (4:7), 11 (4:21-5:1), 12 (5:9), 13 (6:6-8), 14 i (6:13-18), 14 ii (6:18-7:6), 15 (7:13), 16 (12:1), 17 i (12:18-13:6), 17 ii (13:6-12), 18 (13:12-14:3), 19 (14:7), 20-49 (??)

4QTobb ar (4Q197, Aramaic, ca. 25 BC-AD 25): Fragments 1 (Tobit 3:6-8), 2 (4:21-5:1), 3 (5:12-14), 4 i (5:19-6:12), 4 ii (6:12-18), 4 iii (6:18-7:10), 5 (8:17-9:4), 6-7 (??)

4QTobc ar (4Q198, Aramaic, ca. 50 BC): Fragments 1 (Tobit 14:2-6), 2 (14:10)

4QTobd ar (4Q199, Aramaic, ca. 100 BC): Fragments 1 (Tobit 7:11), 2 (14:10)

4QTobe (4Q200, Hebrew, ca. 30 BC-AD 20): Fragments 1 i (Tobit 3:6), 1 ii (3:10-11), 2 (4:3-9), 3 (5:2), 4 (10:7-9), 5 (11:10-14), 6 (12:20-13:4), 7 i (13:13-14), 7 ii (13:18-14:2), 8 (?), 9 (3:3-4?)

These fragments also exhibit some degree of minor variances with each other, which shows us that there was not really a ‘fixed’ text of Tobit during the 1st century BC or the 1st century AD.

Disagreement still exists among scholars as to whether Tobit was composed in Aramaic (the common opinion today) or in Hebrew, but either way, it seems that versions in both languages circulated at the same time.

In any case, knowledge of any Hebrew version was already lost during the 3rd century, since Origen notes: “Concerning it [Tobit], we must recognize that Jews do not use Tobit; nor do they use Judith. They do not have them even among the Apocrypha in Hebrew, as we know, having learned (this) from them.

But because the churches use Tobit, one must recognize that some of the captives in their captivity became rich and well to do.” (Epistola ad Africanum 13 [19]) By contrast, Jerome’s use of an Aramaic version shows us that versions in that language still continued to circulate in his time.

Since the text of G2 and VL is found to align closer with the Aramaic and Hebrew fragments from Qumran, it is presently deemed by most scholars to be the more original of the two Greek texts. Now, G2 is though to be the more ‘original’ version, while G1 is a more streamlined, condensed epitome. (G1 is more smooth and more natural compared to G2, which is very Semitic to the point of being cumbersome.) Hence, most modern translations since 1966 tend to use the text of G2 nowadays as their base text for Tobit, although a few still choose to follow G1.

Now here’s the fun part. How do you know whether your translation of Tobit uses G1 or G2? (The Vulgate version is pretty easy to spot by comparison: just pick a Douai-Rheims, or any translation, which uses the Vulgate as source text.) There’s actually quite a number of ways to do so, but one I found to be quite fun involves looking at some key passages. I am going to list three of them:

1) At the very beginning of the book (1:1-2), Tobit in G2 is introduced as: “son of Tobiel son of Hananiel son of Aduel son of Gabael son of Raphael son of Raguel of the descendants of Asiel, of the tribe of Nephthali.” Compare that to G1’s shorter “of Tobiel son of Hananiel son of Aduel son of Gabael of the descendants of Asiel, of the tribe of Nephthali.”

2) There’s a difference in G1 and G2 as to the number of days which elapsed between Tobit being hunted down by Sennacherib and the latter’s death (1:16-22). In G2, it is forty; in G1 it is fifty.

3) Perhaps the most radical difference between G1 and G2 is in 5:10 (verse 9 in some translations). G1 has the quite brief: “So Tobias invited him in; he entered and they greeted each other.” (RSV) That’s only eight words in Greek. By comparison, G2 has this (NAB-RE):

Tobiah went out to summon him, saying, “Young man, my father is calling for you.” When Raphael entered the house, Tobit greeted him first. He replied, “Joyful greetings to you!” Tobit answered, “What joy is left for me? Here I am, a blind man who cannot see the light of heaven, but must remain in darkness, like the dead who no longer see the light! Though alive, I am among the dead. I can hear people’s voices, but I do not see them.” The young man said, “Take courage! God’s healing is near; so take courage!” Tobit then said: “My son Tobiah wants to go to Media. Can you go with him to show him the way? I will pay you your wages, brother.” He answered: “Yes, I will go with him, and I know all the routes. I have often traveled to Media and crossed all its plains so I know well the mountains and all its roads.

Out of Bible translations in English which translate Tobit, those which use G2 are mainly modern ones like the New American Bible (NAB), the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB), the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the Common English Bible (CEB), the Good News Translation (GNT).

Older translations, like the RSV, the Revised Version (RV), the King James Version or even Lancelot Brenton’s translation of the Septuagint, use G1.

Modern Bibles which still use G1 include the World English Bible and the Orthodox Study Bible.

The so-called Christian Community Bible is a bit confusing: its translation seems to be a fusion between G1 and G2. The Douai-Rheims – both the original and the version by Bishop Challoner being passed around as ‘Douay-Rheims’ these days – obviously use the Vulgate version.

(Note: the translation of Tobit in the Nova Vulgata isn’t Jerome’s, but a fresh translation of G2 with some influences from Vetus Latina texts).

Patrick lives in Japan. He supports the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite according to the Missal of Bl. Pope John XXIII.

The photo shows, “Tobias and the Three Archangels,” by Francesco Botticini, painted in 1470.

The Book Of Tobit And Its Recensions

The book of Tobit is one of those books Catholics would call the Deuterocanonicals and non-Catholics would label the Apocrypha.

Basically, it’s about a pious old man from the tribe of Nephthali named Tobit exiled along with the other Israelites in Nineveh who goes blind after bird droppings fell on his eyes (!). One day Tobit decides to collect money he had once deposited to an acquaintance named Gabael in the land of Media and sends his son Tobias (aka Tobiah) to do so.

Along the way, Tobias is accompanied by a guy who passes himself off as a kinsman of his named Azariah, and a dog who doesn’t do anything in the story except to be mentioned briefly at the very beginning and the very end of the journey. Arriving in Media, Tobias gets the money from Gabael, and marries the latter’s daughter Sarah, who was tormented by a demon named Asmodeus, who had killed every man she married.

Tobias succeeds in driving Asmodeus out by burning, under Azariah’s advice, the liver and heart of a rabid fish he had encountered during the journey. Tobias, Sarah, and Azariah return to Nineveh, where Tobit was cured of his blindness by the gall of the same fish. ‘Azariah’ eventually reveals himself to be the angel Raphael, sent by God to cure Tobit and Sarah of the afflictions they had, and goes back to heaven.

Years pass, and Tobit finally dies, but not before warning his son to leave Nineveh before God destroys it according to prophecy. After burying his father, Tobias and his family then go away and settle at Media, where the tale ends.

That’s the main gist of the story. But here’s the thing. Those of you who like to read from different translations of the Bible might have already noticed this, but if you compare the book of Tobit as it is in three different translations – the Douai-Rheims, the Revised Standard Version, and the New American Bible – you’d notice that the text of each is radically different from one another.

I encountered some people from time to time who tried to follow the daily readings, only to find that the version they found in their Bible is totally unlike what’s read out in church.

This is much more evident if you read from the Douai-Rheims. The book begins like this in the NAB version: “This book tells the story of Tobit, son of Tobiel, son of Hananiel, son of Aduel, son of Gabael, son of Raphael, son of Raguel, of the family of Asiel and the tribe of Naphtali. During the days of Shalmaneser, king of the Assyrians, he was taken captive from Thisbe, which is south of Kedesh Naphtali in upper Galilee, above and to the west of Asher, north of Phogor.”

The RSV version is pretty close, if shorter (for instance, it omits “son of Raphael, son of Raguel” and simply mentions Thisbe as being “to the south of Kedesh Naphtali in Galilee above Asher.”)

But if you pick up the DR, this is what you’ll find: “Tobias of the tribe and city of Nephtali, (which is in the upper parts of Galilee above Naasson, beyond the way that leadeth to the west, having on the right hand the city of Sephet,) when he was made captive in the days of Salmanasar king of the Assyrians, even in his captivity, forsook not the way of truth, but every day gave all he could get to his brethren his fellow captives, that were of his kindred. And when he was younger than any of the tribe of Nephtali, yet did he no childish thing in his work.”

Totally different, isn’t it? What’s going on here? The answer’s simple: all three translations use three different source texts.

The first thing to understand is that there’s no single, standard version of the book of Tobit. Instead what you really have is different versions of the same work circulating in different languages like Greek or Latin or Hebrew or Aramaic or even Ethiopian.

There are at least two or three versions of Tobit in Greek. The shorter one, found in virtually most surviving Greek manuscripts, is called Greek I (G1). The longer (containing 1,700 more words than G1) version found only almost fully in the 4th-century Codex Sinaiticus, and partially in a couple other manuscripts, is Greek II (G2). Sinaiticus uniquely preserves most of G2 – albeit riddled with scribal errors – except for two lacunae (4:7-19b and 13:7-10b).

Fortunately, an 11th century manuscript (Mount Athos, MS 319, aka Vatopedi 913) gives the G2 text from 3:6 to 6:16 (while giving the G1 text for the rest of the book), thereby filling one of the two lacunae.

The third version, Greek III (G3) is fundamentally related to G2, but is not dependent on the version contained in Sinaiticus. G3 exists only partially (covering only 6:9-13:8) in three cursive manuscripts, which all reproduce G1 for the rest of the book.

As for Latin, there are two main versions of the book. To be more precise, one of the two is more like a family of different versions.

The various versions of Tobit made before St. Jerome translated biblical books into Latin are mainly related to G2, to the point that it can be used to understand and correct its text via comparison, although from time to time they do exhibit some differences from the text in Sinaiticus (more on these later). These so-called Vetus Latina (VL) versions are not all of one type, though.

As of now, there is still no critical edition of the VL version (or rather, versions).

The next best thing is an 18th century text assembled by French Benedictine monk Pierre Sabatier in the Bibliorum sacrorum latinae versiones antiquae, seu Vetus Italica (pp. 706-743), mainly based on two 9th century Latin manuscripts: Q (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, fonds lat. 93, aka MS Regius 3564) and P (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, fonds lat. 11505, aka MS Sangermanensis 4) along with readings from G (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, fonds lat. 11503, aka Sangermanensis 15 or Sangermanensis 1), which contains the text up to 13:2, and W (Rome, Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, Regin. lat. 7, aka Codex Reginensis), which contains the text only as far as 6:12, the rest being a copy of the Vulgate version (see below).

Since then, two other manuscripts have been found and studied, which illustrate the lack of ‘one type’ of the text: the 10th century R (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, fonds lat. 6, aka the Ripoll Bible), and the 9th-century X (Madrid, Biblioteca Univers. Cent. 31, aka Codex Complutensis I).

Both of these have been published by the Italian scholar Francesco Vattioni in the 1970s, who also published the readings of the Tobit text found in a work attributed to St. Augustine known as the Speculum de sacra scriptura (Mirror of Holy Scripture).

The text of Complutensis I is very paraphrastic, representing a much expanded form of the text found in Sabatier. Besides these, other important sources for the VL Tobit are quotations from early Church Fathers.

The text translated by Jerome and included in the Latin Vulgate, meanwhile, is interesting in itself, because it is a free translation of a translation.

This is how he explains the translation process in his preface to the book: “I have persisted as I have been able, and because the language of the Chaldeans is close to Hebrew speech, finding a speaker very skilled in both languages, I took to the work of one day, and whatever he expressed to me in Hebrew words, this, with a summoned scribe, I have set forth in Latin words.”

Apparently, Jerome did not know ‘Chaldean’ (Aramaic) – although he does note that the language is similar to Hebrew (answer being that both are Semitic languages), which he is thought to have known – that he needed someone to translate the Aramaic version of Tobit he had acquired. The translation work was apparently very quick – according to Jerome’s words it only took him, his scribe, and his Aramaic-speaking translator “the work of one day.”

The Vulgate version (which is apparently of the same general family as Greek I, though not similar to it) was once the dominant version of the book in the West before more use was made of Greek manuscripts in biblical translations starting from the Renaissance onwards.

We don’t know for sure whether the Aramaic text used by Jerome is descended from a Semitic forebear or was based on the Greek. The Vulgate text’s relation to the Greek versions and even to the VL recensions is really problematic, since it exhibits some considerable differences from them (although some scholars suspect that Jerome was apparently at the same time dependent on the VL versions).

These differences might stem in part from the version Jerome and his bilingual acquaintance were translating from, but perhaps also in part due to Jerome’s possibly rather free translation method (he admitted that his translation of Judith, which was like Tobit also from an Aramaic version, was magis sensum e sensus quam ex verbo verbum “more sense for sense than word for word;” it could very well be the same case here).

The general impression one could get from Vulgate Tobit is that it is more moralistic and didactic compared to the more straightforward other versions – I’d even say quite preachy. Compare Raphael-as-Azariah’s advice to Tobias on their way to Media in the Vulgate to, say, the G2 version (NAB):

Then the angel Raphael said to him: Hear me, and I will shew thee who they are, over whom the devil can prevail. For they who in such manner receive matrimony, as to shut out God from themselves, and from their mind, and to give themselves to their lust, as the horse and mule, which have not understanding, over them the devil hath power. But thou when thou shalt take her, go into the chamber, and for three days keep thyself continent from her, and give thyself to nothing else but to prayers with her. And on that night lay the liver of the fish on the fire, and the devil shall be driven away. But the second night thou shalt be admitted into the society of the holy Patriarchs.

And the third night thou shalt obtain a blessing that sound children may be born of you. And when the third night is past, thou shalt take the virgin with the fear of the Lord, moved rather for love of children than for lust, that in the seed of Abraham thou mayst obtain a blessing in children.”
(Douai-Rheims, Tobit 6:16-22)

Raphael said to him: “Do you not remember your father’s commands? He ordered you to marry a woman from your own ancestral family. Now listen to me, brother; do not worry about that demon. Take Sarah. I know that tonight she will be given to you as your wife! When you go into the bridal chamber, take some of the fish’s liver and the heart, and place them on the embers intended for incense, and an odor will be given off. As soon as the demon smells the odor, it will flee and never again show itself near her. Then when you are about to have intercourse with her, both of you must first get up to pray. Beg the Lord of heaven that mercy and protection be granted you. Do not be afraid, for she was set apart for you before the world existed. You will save her, and she will go with you. And I assume that you will have children by her, and they will be like brothers for you. So do not worry.” (NAB-RE, Tobit 6:16-18)

For a long time, only G1 and the Vulgate text were the only ones readily available to translators: Sinaiticus was only found in the early 19th century and Oxyrhynchus (where a 6th century fragment containing the G2 version of Tobit 2:2-5, 8 was found – one of the three manuscripts containing G2) wasn’t excavated until 1896.

And even after Sinaiticus was discovered to have a different text of the book, scholars at the time still considered the its text to be secondary to G1’s. Reason being the adage (well-known in textual criticism) of lectio brevior lectio potior, “shorter reading is the better reading.”

That, and the fact that G1 enjoys more attestation than G2, which was – back then – only represented in a single manuscript. They assumed that G1 was the original version, while G2 was an expansion of it.

Aside from G1, Sinaiticus, and the Vulgate, people before the mid-20th century were aware of a number of other versions of the book in Hebrew (and one in Aramaic), although all of these were late, medieval texts that are deritative of the Greek or the Vulgate versions.

  1. The Münster text (HM), first published in 1516 in Constantinople, then reprinted in Basel by Sebastian Münster in 1542. Said to be a 5th century version, this text is generally based on G2. This version was reproduced in the London Polyglot.
  2. The Fagius text (HF), said to date from the 12th century and first published in 1519 (reprinted by Paul Fagius in 1542). This version is also found in the 1657 London Polyglot. This text is usually judged to be a paraphrastic translation or a free recasting of a Greek text like G1 made by a medieval Jew from Western Europe. This version is noted for its introduction of OT phraseology into the text. The Haydock Commentary often alludes to this version along with the other ones named here.
  3. Gaster’s text (HG), another translation derived from from a 15th century Midrash on the Pentateuch that condenses and greatly abbreviates the narrative found in the medieval Aramaic text, with which it otherwise largely agrees. The narrative in 1:1-3:6 is again in the third person; much of the dialogue and the prayers are eliminated. The text lays a huge emphasis on tithing, a reason why it was introduced into the pentateuchal midrash.
  4. Cairo Genizah T-S A 45.25, 45.26 and 45.29 (Cambridge University Library): Fragmentary texts dating from the 13th-14th century. The earliest of these, 45.26 is of the same recension as the 1516 Constantinople text, while the latter two agree with Fagius’ version.

In the 19th century, Adolf Neubauer also discovered a 15th-century Aramaic text of Tobit in the Bodleian library at Oxford (Hebrew MS 2339).

The text, written in late Aramaic, seems to have been derived from G1. Some peculiar quirks of this version include: (1) agreement with the Vulgate in telling the story of Tobit in the third person in chapters 1-3; (2) omission of the dog, which is mentioned in most other versions; (3) abbreviation of chapter 12, omission of chapter 13 and most of 14 (the remaining part of which is highly condensed); and (4) a short epilogue in Hebrew.

At that time, Neubauer expressed his opinion that this text “Chaldee text in a more complete form was the original from which the translation of the Vulgate was made,” an opinion which was eventually critiqued as being unsubstantiated.

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1950s, however, would change long-held assumptions. But that’s for next time.

Patrick lives in Japan. He supports the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite according to the Missal of Bl. Pope John XXIII.

The photo shows, “Tobias Saying Good-Bye to his Father [Tobit],” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, painted in 1860.

Walter Benjamin On Violence

“Critique of Violence” (Zur Kritik der Gewalt) is notorious for its obscurity, which, at least partly, is due to the impossibility of translating several of the key terms used by Benjamin into English.

The immediate encapsulation of the task of a critique of violence conveyed in the German title and the first couple of sentences is entirely lost in the English translation. An etymological clarification is therefore important if we aspire to understand what a critique of violence consists of.

Critique (Kritik) should not primarily be understood as a negative evaluation or condemnation, but in the Kantian tradition of judgement, evaluation, and examination on the basis of means provided by the critique itself.

A more significant problem is however the translation of Gewalt—which in German carries the multiple meanings of (public) force, (legitimate) power, domination, authority and violencewith the English “violence” which carries few of these senses (particularly, institutional relations of power, force and domination or even non-physical or ‘symbolic’ violence).

That the task of a critique of violence is to be understood as expounding the relationship of violence (Gewalt) to law (Recht) and justice (Gerechtigkeit), is thus much less artificial and obscure.

Two further etymological clarifications are however necessary to fully understand the task of Zur Kritik der Gewalt. Recht, as the Latin Ius, carries the meaning of both rights and law (as in the general system of laws), which is juxtaposed to specific laws, Gesetz corresponding to the Latin Lex. Sittliche verhältnisse, translated to “moral relations,” presents a more significant problem in terms of translation.

In English it is not immediately clear why the sphere of law and justice can be understood as the sphere of moral relations. Morality carries the Kantian tradition of an abstract universal law (Moralität) in English, than the Hegelian tradition (Sittlichkeit). In Philosophie des Rechts, Sittlichkeit is the term used for the political framework of ethical life, that is, the family, civil society and the state.

Violence is thus to be critiqued on basis of its relations to law and rights within the framework of ethical life in the state (sittliche Verhältnisse). For a cause” Benjamin writes “becomes violent, in the precise sense of the word, when it enters into moral relations.”

Benjamin is thus not interested in force or violence of nature (Naturgewalt); but the violence present within the framework of the society, and ultimately, the state.

The critique of violence can only be undertaken through the philosophy of the history of violence (or we might add, in a “deconstruction” of the philosophy of the history of violence), Benjamin argues. In his “deconstruction” of the relationship between violence, law and justice, Benjamin erects several pairs of opposition.

However, as Derrida pointed out, many of these deconstruct themselves. The first such pair of oppositions is natural law (Naturrechts) and positive law (positive Rechts), which even though they in general are understood as antithetical (natural law is concerned with the justice of ends, positive law is concerned with the justification of means) share a fundamental dogma, namely that a relationship of justification exists between means and ends.

For this reason, the two theories agree that violence as a means can be justified if it is in accordance with the law. Benjamin raises the following objections against this dogma: if the relation of justification between means and ends is presupposed, it is not possible to raise a critique of violence eo ipso but only applications of violence.

Hereby, the question of whetherviolence in principle can be a moral means even to a just end is made impossible to address. By insisting on critiquing violence in itself, Benjamin challenges the fundamental dogma of jurisprudence, namely, that justice can be attained if means and ends are balanced, that is, if justified means are used for just ends.

The question, thus, is how violence and law relate to one another? Benjamin argues that the intimate relationship of violence and law is twofold. Firstly, violence is the means by which law is instituted and preserved. Secondly, domination (violence under the name of power (Macht)) is the end of the law: “Law-making is power-making, assumption of power, and to that extent an immediate manifestation of violence.”

Benjamin distinguishes between lawmaking violence (rechtsetzend Gewalt) and law-preserving violence (rechtserhaltende Gewalt) on basis of whether the end towards which violence is used as a means is historically acknowledged, i.e., “sanctioned” or “unsanctioned” violence (named respectively “legal ends” and “natural ends”).

If violence as a means is directed towards natural ends—as in the case of interstate war where one or more states use violence to ignore historically acknowledged laws such as borders—the violence will be lawmaking. This violence strives towards a “peace ceremony” that will constitute a new historically acknowledged law; new historically acknowledged borders.

The establishment of borders after a war is a clear example of the institutionalisation of a relation of domination inherent in all lawmaking violence. In guise of equality before the law, the peace ceremony is a manifestation of violence in the name of power; “in a demonically ambiguous way,” Benjamin writes, the rights are “‘equal’ rights: for both parties to the treaty, it is the same line that may not be crossed.”

This demonically ambiguous equality of the law, Benjamin writes, is analogous to that which Anatole France satirically expressed when he said: “Rich and poor are equally forbidden to spend the night under the bridges.”

In contrast hereto, if violence as a means directed towards legal ends—exemplified by compulsory general conscription where the state forces the citizens to risk their lives to protect the state—the violence will be law-preserving.

The distinction between lawmaking violence and law-preserving violence is however deconstructed in the body of the police and in capital punishment, whereby the “rotten” core of the law is revealed, namely, that law is a manifestation of violent domination for its own sake.  In both capital punishment and police violence the distinction between lawmaking and law-preserving violence is suspended.

Capital punishment is not merely a punishment for a crime but the establishment of a new law; police violence, though law-preserving can for “security reasons” intervene where no legal situation exists whereby the police institute new laws through decrees. In capital punishment and police violence alike, the state reaffirms itself: law is an immediate manifestation of violence or force and the end of the law is the law itself.

This violence of the law—the oscillation between lawmaking and law-preserving violence visible in police violence—is explained by Benjamin with reference to the Greek myth of Niobe.

Niobe’s boastful arrogance towards Leto—she having fourteen children and Leto only two—challenges “fate,” (Schicksal). The never defined concept of “fate” seems to refer to a relation of power (Macht). What Niobe challenges is not the law, but the authority or the legitimate power of Leto. When Apollo and Artemis kill her sons and daughters, it is thus not a punishment but the establishment of a law (“neue Recht zu statuiren”).

Niobe is turned into a crying stone (a statue) which is a physical manifestation of the law (the statute) as the power of the gods instituting “a boundary stone on the frontier between men and gods.” For this reason, Benjamin writes, power (Macht) is “the principle of all mythic lawmaking.”

Having now expounded the relation between law and violence, the question of the relationship between law and justice can be raised. Benjamin is not only speaking in metaphors when he writes: “Justice is the principle of all divine end-making, power the principle of all mythic lawmaking.”

Justice is an end which in principle cannot be reached within the realm of law: justice belongs to the realm of religion and it is not something we can obtain deliberately through law or reason: “For it is never reason that decides on the justification of means and the justness of ends: fate-imposed violence decides on the former, and God on the latter.”

Benjamin is however fundamentally interested in justice; Zur Kritik der Gewalt is the closest we get to a Benjaminian “theory of justice”. The impossibility of justice within the immediate manifestation of violence/force in the mythic “power-making” of law makes the destruction of law in principle “obligatory.”

The political general strike that merely aims at a coup d’état is therefore insufficient; the “force of law” can only be overcome if law in principle, and hereby state power as such, is destroyed. What is called for is therefore a proletarian general strike that aims at the destruction of all state power.

A paradoxical perspective in Benjamin’s text is that even though justice is transcendent (it is God who decides upon the justness of ends) it does not mean that human actions cannot be an expression of divine justice. The problem, as Derrida saw, is that we can never know whether actions have been a manifestation of divine violence.

Justice is possible (but not knowable)through an act of divine violence, which in all respects stands in complete opposition to the mythic violence of law: “If mythic violence is lawmaking, divine violence is law-destroying; if the former sets boundaries, the latter boundlessly destroys them; if mythic violence brings at once guilt and retribution, divine power only expiates; if the former threatens, the latter strikes; if the former is bloody, the latter is lethal without spilling blood.”

Divine violence is exemplified by God’s judgement on the company of Korah, who without warning or threat and without bloodshed is annihilated by God: the earth opens beneath them, swallows them, and closes again without leaving any mark.

In contrast to mythic violence, divine violence does not aspire to institute as law a relation of domination: divine violence accepts sacrifice. This is not sacrifice for its own sake like the murder of Niobe’s children, but “for the sake of the living” (the company of Korah is annihilated not for the sake of God but for the sake of those who are spared). “In annihilating” Benjamin writes, divine violence “also expiates” (entsühnend); it is however not the “guilt” (Schuld) that is atoned for by the divine violence; divine violence purifies the guilty, not of their guilt but of the law.

How can we understand the purification of the guilty of the law by divine violence? What is “pure” (rein) about divine violence (die göttliche reine Gewalt)? The German rein as the English pure carries the double meaning of something clean, and something absolute and unalloyed.

Firstly, divine violence is pure (meaning clean) because it has not been bastardized with law; it is pure as before the fall of man; it is pure from the guilt of the law (the guilt Niobe feels for the death of her children). Secondly, divine violence is “pure” (meaning absolute or unalloyed) because of the way it relates as a means towards an end.

Where mythic legal violence does not differentiate between mediate violence (violence as a means towards and end) and immediate violence (a manifestation of anger, or a relation of domination), divine violence is “pure” and immediate because it puts forward independent criteria for means and ends.

Where mythic violence conflates means and ends, divine violence separates means and ends. As Benjamin argues, just ends can only be decided by God, and no law can be given for justified means; what we have is only a guideline (Richtschnur).

The sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” is an example of such a guideline. Benjamin’s use of the word Richtschnur is very telling in this context: “Thou shalt not kill” is exactly not a law (Recht) but a guideline (Richt-schnur). A Richtschnur (which in German also is known as a Maurerschnur) is a mason’s line: a string (schnur) which is used to measure or correct (richten) out a plane for a building by the masons or bricklayers.

A Richtschnur is an approximation used practically to build a house. To build a good house the masons, in general, would have to follow this Richschnur but sometimes, because of a broken ground, a good house could only be built if the Richtschnur is ignored.

By substituting law (Recht) with the almost homophone Richt, Benjamin establishes the fundamental difference between mythic power (mytische Gewalt) and divine power (göttliche Gewalt). The commandment is not law but a guideline which in general would have to be followed for human beings to live a good life, as the masons in general have to follow it to build a good house. There might however be situations where it would have to be ignored.

Neither is the commandment law in the sense that a judgment of an act that ignores the guideline can be derived from the commandment: “No judgment of the deed can be derived from the commandment,” Benjamin argues “and so neither the divine judgement nor the grounds for this judgment can be known in advance.

Those who base a condemnation of all violent killing of one person by another are therefore mistaken.” This misunderstanding has to do with the general misunderstanding, argues Benjamin, that just ends can be the “ends of a possible law.” This misunderstanding is grounded in the belief that just ends are capable of “generalization,” that it, in other words, is possible a priori to discriminate between right and wrong.

This “contradicts the nature of justice,” Benjamin argues, “for ends that in one situation are just, universally acceptable, and valid are so in no other situation, no matter how similar the situations may be in other respects.” For this reason, no law can incapsulate justice.

The only thing we have is the “educative power” (erziehriches Gewalt) of the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” which can educate us how to live a good life in the same way the masons can learn from their Richtschnur. The commandment “exists not as a criterion of judgement, but as a guideline for the actions of persons or communities who have to wrestle with it in solitude and, in exceptional cases, to take on themselves the responsibility of ignoring it.”

What are these exceptional circumstances? For Benjamin, the decayed mythic violence of the law of the modern state seems to make up such exceptional circumstances: the destruction of all legal violence and the state becomes an “obligatory” task for the pure immediate violence; divine violence.

The proletarian general strike and the abolishment of state power which constitutes a break with the oscillation between lawmaking and law-preserving violence will lead to a foundation of a new historical epoch (neues geschichtliches Zeitalter).

Here, we see why Derrida summarizes Benjamin’s position as “messianico-marxist or archeo-eschatological” (Derrida, Force of Law). The Critique of Violence is Benjamin’s political demand for a revolution: “the existence of violence outside the law, as pure immediate violence,” Benjamin writes, “furnishes proof that revolutionary violence, the highest manifestation of unalloyed violence by man, is possible, and shows by what means.”

Benjamin is “messianico-marxist” in that he argues that divine violence signals the coming of the Messiah in form of the revolutionary general strike which will bring a new historical epoch.  

He is “archeo-escatological” in that he argues that the eschatology of the revolutionary general strike, manifested in the true war (wahrend Kriege) or the multitude’s Last Judgement on the criminal (Gottesgericht der Menge am Verbrecher).

The multitude’s judgment on the state, will “expiate” the crimes committed by the mythic violence of law and return us to the time before the decay (Verfall) of the law: “Once again all the eternal forms are open to pure divine violence, which myth bastardized with law.”

In Benjamin’s final condemnation of mythic violence, the Judaeo-Christian connotations become apparent: “Verwerflich aber is alle mythische Gewalt.Verwerflich meaning unrighteous, something that has to be condemned, comes from the verb Verwerfen, to dismiss or to abolish, which again comes from the verb werfen meaning to throw: the law is thus as the Fall of man: an unrighteous and condemnable (Verwerflich) deed that has dismissed (verwerfen) the guilty from Paradise.

Divine violence, however, has the power to purify the guilty of the law. In this way, Benjamin calls for a revolution, which also carries the original astronomical meaning of the completion of a cycle: the revolution which constitutes a new historical era will return human kind to the time before divine power was bastardized with law; in a word “archeo-eschatology.”

Signe Larsen main interest lies within political theory and philosophy of law.

The photo shows Walter Benjamin’s passport photo, ca., 1928.

What Is Abandonment?

In his distinctive concern for etymology, Nancy notes that abandonment contains the semantic unit bandon, which is “an order, a prescription, a decree, a permission, and the power that holds these freely at its disposal.’”

A ban in this context should be understood as a general proclamation of the sovereign rather than specific prohibition. To abandon, therefore, is to be delivered over to the sovereign ban and, as such, one always abandons to a law.

What does such a law prescribe? Nothing but abandonment. Both law and abandonment are conceived ontologically, where :abandonment remains the sole predicament of being.”

Given the multiple ways of thinking and speaking being, abandoned being is abandonment to the very possibility of such multiplicity, to the law of existence that opens on to the world in its efflorescence. At the same time, abandonment implies the exhaustion of transcendentals, the terminal insufficiency of any constructed sense of originary being.

As such, the being of human being is in abandonment to the extent that it enters a forgetful oblivion, “to be abandoned it to be left with nothing to keep hold of and no calculation.”

Being abandoned to the entirety of law means abandonment cannot lose respect for law. This is not a forced respect. This is how it is, “‘it cannot do otherwise’ means it cannot be otherwise.”

The idea of respect, from respicere, literally means to look back. Abandonment is therefore the glance, regard or better still, the consideration towards what comes before abandonment, that is to say, the considered relation to law in its totality. To lose respect for law would be to lose the very relation that is its sense, “by respecting the law, abandonment respects itself, so to speak (and the law respects it).

If the law commands nothing but abandonment, then this can now be more precisely articulated as the command to see or behold being in its abandonment. This is so in spite of the impossibility of containing being within a partial vision. Being, to this extent, remains invisible.

Yet being is still there (the ‘y’ of il y a), which means being is also here and the “[here] opens a spacing, clears an area upon which being is thrown, abandoned.”

Abandonment is thus the inaugural throwing of being, from the very birth of being, and there is nothing upon which abandoned being relies, which makes it non-dialectical, and nothing to which abandoned being can go back to, which renders being in a permanent state of being born.

Abandonment is the dereliction of being or the forsaking of being, which enables us to speak in general terms of autonomy, freedom and the possibility of thinking.

Postscript

Jean-Luc Nancy’s analysis of abandonment contains ideas that I anticipate many will consider not only very difficult but also problematic, in particular, the idea that abandonment cannot lose respect for law.

If we are beholden to law in our very being, does this mean it is impossible to be outside the law — an outlaw? Are there no more rebels? What about the very important political act of disobedience?

If you were wondering this then you can count on Giorgio Agamben for company, who writes with reference to Nancy that “[o]nly if it is possibile to think the Being of abandonment beyond every idea of law … will we have moved out of the paradox of sovereignty toward a politics freed from every ban.”

On this account, Nancy does not seem to offer much for critical legal theory, especially that branch of it that is interested in thinking outside or against the law.

But let’s not be too quick to dismiss him. To appreciate better what is happening here we need to further understand his analysis of Kant’s intimate association of law with freedom.

We need to understand how, as a consequence, the law of freedom becomes the law of the law and, in its radical emptiness, the law without law or the law that does not cease freeing itself from law. We are then left with a radiant paradox: the law guarantees the outlaw, it guarantees the exception to the exception, indeed it becomes their condition of possibility.

Gilbert Leung, LLB, LLM, DEA, PhD, is the Director of Counterpress, and Editor of Critical Legal Thinking.

The photo shows, “Vampire” by Edvard Munch, painted in 1895.

Who Was Caiaphas?

Joseph Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest between AD 18-37, best known for his role during the trial of Jesus of Nazareth. Nothing is known about his early career, but we can assume that he was a member of a wealthy family, because he married a daughter of the high priest who is called Annas (or Ananus) son of Seth, high priest from AD 6-15 (John 18:13). Even when he was no longer in function, he was apparently extremely influential. According to Josephus, five of Ananus’ sons became high priest (Antiquities 20.198); to this we may add Caiaphas, his son-in-law.

Both Annas and Caiaphas may have sympathized with the Sadducees, which found most of its members among the wealthy Jewish elite. Some scholars think it probable that Caiaphas was a member of the embassy that went to Rome in AD 17 to discuss fiscal matters (Tacitus, Annals, 2.42.5).

In AD 18, the Roman governor Valerius Gratus (AD 15-26) appointed Caiaphas as high priest. The two men must have had an excellent working relation, because Caiaphas remained in office exceptionally long. Gratus had dismissed at least four high priests – Annas (Ananus), Ishmael ben-Fabus, Eleazar ben-Ananus, and Simon ben-Camithus – before appointing Caiaphas. Aside from Annas, the aforementioned high priests ruled for only a single year before being taken out of office.

It is tempting to link this appointment to the Jewish embassy that in AD 17 had appealed to Tiberius for a reduction in the tribute of Judaea: was Caiaphas rewarded for his tactful behavior in Rome? In any case, Gratus’ successor Pontius Pilate never changed the high priest, which can mean that he had found in Caiaphas a man who could be trusted.

Jerusalem at the time of Jesus was goverened by the high priest and his council. This was a reversion to the system that had been followed in the Persian and Hellenistic periods before the Hasmonean revolt. The high priest, often in concert with the ‘chief priests’, sometimes with the ‘elders’ (influential, aristocratic laymen), was in charge of ordinary police and judicial procedures, and he – alone and in such combinations as just described – figures large in the Gospels, Acts and in Josephus.

Priesthood was hereditary among the Jews; the priests traced their lineage to Aaron, brother of Moses and first high priest. During the Persian and Hellenistic periods, the high priests, who were rulers of the nation, were (or were thought to be) members of the family of Zadok (1 Kings 1:28-45). The Hasmoneans were hereditary priests, but they were not Zadokites. When they arose to power as a result of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucids, however, the natural consequence was that the leading member of the family was declared high priest.

When Simon ascended to the high priesthood (1 Maccabees 14:41-49), the previously ruling Zadokite family was deposed, though the system of government remained the same. About a hundred years later, however, the revolt of Aristobulus II (66-63 BC) and his son led to Herod’s appointment as King of Judaea, and this changed the system.

Herod, himself a non-Jew, could not claim descent from a priestly family and had to appoint high priests during his reign. When Rome deposed Archelaus in AD 6 and sent a prefect to govern Judaea, it also began to appoint the high priest. Thereafter it sometimes granted the right to a member of Herod’s family, but sometimes this right was retained by the prefect (later procurator), or by the legate of Syria.

During a sixty-year period (AD 6-66), the high priests were always chosen from one of four families of aristocratic priests. The high priests as political appointees did not have quite the prestige and authority of the hereditary high priests of earlier periods, but nevertheless they had some prestige and a lot of authority.

For the most part, they governed Jerusalem successfully.
In Jerusalem, then, even when Judaea was under ‘direct’ Roman control, Jewish leaders were in day-to-day control. The magistrates were Jews who ruled by Jewish law, the schools were Jewish and the religion was Jewish. The high priest and his council had a wide range of responsibilities: they were required to organize payment of tribute and to get the money and goods to the right person. Jerusalem was policed by the Temple guards, commanded by the high priest.

The high priest was a suitable ruler because the office was traditional and thus was held with great reverence, and the prefect considered him the ideal spokesman for and to the population of Jerusalem. Granted, there were cases when people did not like a high priest (the mob hunted down and killed a former high priest when revolt broke out in AD 66), but whether the high priest was good or not, respect for the office was deep and genuine.

First Herod and then Rome took control of the priestly vestments and released them only during special occasions. With them on, the high priest wielded too much power. Cases concerning control of the vestments, and with it the appointment of the high priest, more than once went directly to the emperor for decision.

Who controlled the vestments and the office really mattered, because the man in the office was not only a mediator between Rome and her subjects, but also between God and man. He was the one who, on the Day of Atonement, would go into the Holy of Holies and make atonement for the sins of himself and all Israel.

The Romans considered the high priest to be the reasonable official for them. If people wanted to deal with Rome, they went to the high priest. If Rome wanted to communicate with the people, the prefect summoned the high priest. If anything went wrong, the high priest held full responsibility. But he was only the first among equals: responsibility to prevent trouble fell, to some degree, on all the leading citizens.

In short: Rome’s rule over Judaea at our period was rather ‘indirect’: it governed through client (puppet) kings or resident governors, who in turn, utilized local aristocrats and magistrates down the food chain – be it the local village elder or the Temple high priest.

The prefect’s main duties are to maintain domestic peace and collect tribute: in Judaea – specifically in Jerusalem, both tasks are turned over to the priestly aristocrats, while the prefect would usually limit himself to monitoring for potential trouble and moving out only when things spiralled out of control, under normal circumstances.

If the high priest did not preserve order, the prefect would intervene militarily, and the situation might get out of hand. As long as the Temple guards, acting as the police, carried out arrests, and as long as the high priest was involved in judging cases (though he usually did not execute anyone), there was little possibility of a direct clash between the Jews and the Romans.

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. (John 11:49-52).

To keep his job, he had to remain in control, but any decent high priest – and Caiaphas, it seems, was pretty decent – had to care about the common populace as well. He had other obligations than just the need to prevent clashes with Roman troops. As the man in the middle, he should also represent the views of the people to the prefect, and should stand up for Jewish customs and traditions.

Around AD 36, Pilate’s career in Judaea came to an end. The governor of Syria, Lucius Vitellius, intervened in the Jewish affairs during the Passover festival of AD 37 and removed Caiaphas from office. The man who had ruled the longest of the nineteen high priests of the first century was succeeded by his brother-in-law Jonathan, a son of Ananus, who himself ruled for only a year before being replaced by his brother, Theophilus (AD 37-41).

In November of 1990, a family tomb was discovered in Peace Forest in North Talpiot, Jerusalem. The crypt contained four loculi (burial niches), with twelve intact ossuaries (boxes containing human bones), as well as some coins. The coins, as well as the writing on the ossuaries, help date this tomb as being from around the 1st century AD.

On one of the ornate ossuaries (left), measuring 74 cm long, 29 wide, and 38 high, two inscriptions were found: on the side was written Yehosef bar-QYF’, with Yehosef bar-QF’ written on one end. This ossuary contained the bones of two babies, a young child, a teenage boy, an adult woman, and a man about 60 years of age. Another ossuary from the same tomb also bore the inscription QF’.

After some study, the bones were buried again back on the Mount of Olives – because burial is so central to the Jewish faith, there has in fact been some recent controversy between archaeologists and ultra-Orthodox Jews over human remains uncovered in digs: it is now a rule that uncovered remains are to be promptly turned over to the Ministry of Religious Affairs (presently the Ministry of Religious Services) for reburial – while the ossuary is currently located in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Those who favor the Caiaphas interpretation (based on Josephus, who mentions his name as Joseph Caiaphas) propose that QYF’/QF’ should be read as Qa[ya]fa’, while those questioning it think that it should be vocalized as Qofa’ or Qufa’ instead.

Patrick lives in Japan. He supports the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite according to the Missal of Bl. Pope John XXIII.

The photo shows, “He Is Guilty Of Death” by Vasily Polenov, painted in 1906.

Prayer As Erotic Language

The very heart of true prayer is desire, love. In the language of the Fathers this desire is called eros. Modern usage has corrupted the meaning of “erotic” to only mean sexual desire – but it is a profound word, without substitute in the language of the Church.

I offer a quote from Dr. Timothy Patitsas of Holy Cross in Brookline:

By eros we mean the love that makes us forget ourselves entirely and run towards the other without any regard for ourselves. Allan Bloom described eros as “love’s mad self-forgetting.” (from Road to Emmaus, Vol. XV, No. 2, Spring, 2014). 

Patitsas, in the same interview, offers this observation on St. Maximus’ thought:

St. Maximus says that God was so good that His goodness could not be contained within Himself. It poured forth “outside” Himself in a cosmic Theophany over against the face of darkness [nothingness]. The appearing of this ultimate Beauty caused non-being itself to forget itself, to renounce itself, to leave behind its own “self” – non-being – and come to be. All of creation is thus marked by this eros, this movement of doxology, liturgy, love, and repentance out of chaos and into the light of existence. Creation is repenting from its first moment, for repentance does not require the perquisite of sin. It simply means to put our attention still more deeply upon Christ to love Him much, much more than we have before. Of course, compared to that “more deeply,” the prior state looks like sin – but this is partly relative for us.

This is a profound summary of the work of creation, particularly in its use of Maximus’ imagery and thought. But this account of creation , almost scandalous in its “erotic” content, goes to the heart of worship, prayer and repentance. The language of prayer in Orthodoxy is frequently deeply “penitential” and filled with extreme expressions. We describe ourselves as the “worst of sinners,” etc. St. Basil’s language is typical:

Although I have completely subjected myself to sin and am unworthy of heaven, of earth and of this passing life, even though I am a slave to delights and have disgraced Your image, yet I still do not lose hope in salvation, wretched as I am, for You have made and fashioned me. I place my hope in Your boundless mercy and approach You…

We pray with such extreme language, reflecting not a vision of legal condemnation: rather, it is the recognition of Beauty itself, in Whose Presence we appear broken, soiled, with nothing to recommend us. It is the language of repentance – but not of morbid self-hatred. It is the language of self-forgetting of leaving the self behind, of finding nothing within the self to cling to.

There is another word for this self-forgetting: ecstasy. Again, this word has been abused in modern language and now means an extreme emotional state. But its Greek root means to “stand outside of oneself.” Thus the Fathers will speak of God’s ecstasy – His going forth to us. But there is also our ecstasy, as we forget ourselves and rush towards Him.

It could be argued that the language of self-deprecation in liturgical prayers is very much a “remembering” and “dwelling” on the self. Within a legal metaphor this might be quite true. But we must listen to the whole of the prayers.

O Lord, I know that my transgressions have mounted higher than my head, but the greatness of Your compassion is incomparable and the mercy of Your bounty is indescribable and free of malice. There is no sin which surpasses Your love for mankind. Therefore, wondrous King and all gracious Lord, show Your wondrous mercy to me a sinner; show me the power of Your goodness; show me the strength of Your long-suffering mercy, and receive me a sinner as I turn to You. (St. Simeon the Translator)

We see that our sins have driven us back towards non-being and nothingness. But God in His great mercy continues to call us into existence and to raise us up from the emptiness of our sin. 

I want to say a few words about evil and non-being. Non-being is not evil. It is not anything. We cannot say it is good nor can we say it is neutral. It is nothing. The Fathers recognized a trinity of existence: Being, Well-Being, Eternal Being. They also recognized another trinity: Beauty, Goodness, Truth. 

It is the teaching of the Fathers that being, existence, is inherently good. It is the gift of the good God, who alone has true Being (“Being Beyond All Being”). But we are created with a direction or movement (kinesis). That movement is from being towards well-being and eternal being. Eternal Being is true union with Christ (theosis). 

Our call into existence is brought forth as we behold the Beauty of God. Drawn towards Him, we see that He is not only Beautiful, but that He is loving, self-emptying for the sake of all – that is – we see that He is Good. As we pursue His Goodness we move ever towards our End in Christ who is the Truth. 

I have taken a few moments to set these things in their proper perspective and order because we use these words casually, without care for their proper meaning. Only in this context do we understand sin as an “ontological” problem (having to do with being).

Sin is a movement away from being, well-being, and eternal being. It is a distorted direction (hamartia: “missing the mark”). It is equally the refusal of Beauty and Goodness, without participation in the Truth. 

I will try to put this into practical terms. A man sees someone else in genuine need and has plenty to spare. But he considers the matter and turns away. He has “increased” or “preserved” his wealth, but he has impoverished his soul, diminished his own existence since his existence depends utterly on his movement towards well-being and eternal-being. This he could pursue by following the commandments and the example of Christ (which is already the movement of grace within him). Christ’s self-emptying towards all of creation is the perfection of generosity. To act on generosity is union with Christ, a movement towards well-being. 

When someone asks: “Is it a sin to withhold help from someone in need?” The answer is yes – but not in a merely legal sense. It is a sin – a movement towards non-existence – a movement away from the proper direction of our lives.

And it is from the depths of our non-existence that we cry out to God for mercy. Seeing His Beauty we forget ourselves (and our money, etc.) and we call out to the One who has called out to us. In our longing for His Beauty we love Him and are drawn to His Goodness. We give to the one who has need: “my brother is my life.” 

I would add, in light of an earlier comment, that this forgetting of ourselves in the face of His beauty is true shame (not the toxic form). It is the confessing of our emptiness, our non-existence, in the face of true existence (which is Beautiful). Such a pure-hearted confession is ecstatic, a movement out of the self towards the Other. 

I will also add as an aside that all of this should shed much light on the importance of beauty in Orthodox liturgy and Churches, iconography, etc. It is essential – not a decoration or an afterthought. Much of the modern world sees beauty as a luxury (which it so rarely affords). I grieve deeply when I hear the modern sentiment directed towards a beautiful Church “that money should have been given to the poor.” These are the words of Judas. And those who say such things rarely give anything themselves. Beauty is not a contradiction of generosity. The movement towards Beauty is a movement towards Goodness (which contains generosity at its core). 

The apprehension of Beauty is at the very heart of the preaching of the gospel. It is that which first touches the heart and draws us towards Truth. In our over-rationalized world we tend to think that it is reasoning and arguments that draw people to Christ. But this is something that comes much later. First the heart must be drawn – and this happens primarily through Beauty in its broadest sense. Many things serve this role.

For C.S.Lewis it was a picture in a book of Norse Mythology and the line, “Balder the Beautiful is Dead.” Mysteriously, it pierced his young heart and remained with him until he much later perceived Christ. I have always treasured Muggeridge’s book on Mother Teresa titled, Something Beautiful for God. If you cannot share the beauty of the gospel, then you have likely not understood it and clearly lack the requisite gifts as of yet. This is why St. Porphyrios said, “Whoever wants to become a Christian must first become a poet.”

These are the thoughts of the Fathers, and the doorways into greater perception of the mystery of the gospel. It is the absence of such depth that reveals the poverty of legal imagery – as well as its lack of beauty. 

Father Stephen Freeman is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, serving as Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.

The photo shows, “A Woman Praying,” by John Phillip, painted ca. 1860s.

Postmodern Understandings of Language and Power – Explanations and Refutations

Can language express truth? Can language give us a clear picture of reality?

Discussing Postmodernism has become almost prosaic given the intellectual climate of the 2010s. However, it has posed questions which directly challenge the most classical assertions of how we understand the world around us. For that alone it is worth responding to. 

Postmodernism also remains relevant because much of current thinking is rooted in Postmodern ideas. This goes beyond just academic circles: it is easy to catch Postmodern ideas in everyday discourse. Nothing is unusual about hearing someone retort in an argument “Well, that’s subjective,” or if they are more well versed and a little bolder “That’s just interpretation, there’s never really any one meaning.” 

These ideas originate from Postmodern language theory in particular. What is referred to as “Postmodernism” refers to a specific idea of language and how it functions. These ideas were shaped by numerous thinkers in the 1960s and 1970s: most popularly through French thinkers like Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, who took the core ideas on language and related them to concepts of power, oppression, and freedom. 

A critique of language of all things may appear benign and simply technical at first, but the challenge undermines confidence in our ability to have knowledge and the possibility of truth. Let us explore both, but first I will need to explain the Postmodern understanding of language which I have been alluding to. I do warn that in discussing “Postmodernism” that there is a risk in generalization. The term remains elusive and the various thinkers who are characterized as Postmodern are not totally unified in their views. I will stick to explaining the broadly agreed upon problems Postmodern thinkers find in language and dabble with some responses.

Postmodern theories of language challenge the belief that language provides a stable way of understanding the world. When you use language, you are partaking in the act of representing things in the world through concepts. This does not have to be simply through speech, when you are thinking or simply identifying an object you are representing the world through language. If you are for instance looking at a red apple, you will have the corresponding thought “That is a red apple,” which frames the experience and allows you to understand it. In that case, language is being used to formulate a claim which represents something out there in the world, namely that the apple is there and that it has the characteristic of “redness”. “There” is used to represent a concept of space–namely where the object is–and “red” is used to represent a concept of colour. Real things are therefore represented with concepts in language. 

Postmodern language theories argue that this sort of linear connection between language and objects in the world is fallacious and that, in fact, these kinds of representations are unstable. Instead of language being an accurate link to understanding reality, it is a product of culture and social circumstances. Therefore, representations and language are more indicative of culture rather than an objective reality. 

The argument is that all human thought is done through language and that language has an intrinsic “messiness” to it. It relies on words and signs which Postmodernists claim can have countless meanings and interpretation. Without unified meanings Postmodernists argue that it becomes impossible to have singular representations of things in the world, meaning there is a large degree of interpretation to what is deemed reality–therefore, reality is never separated from a subject. 

Language having a cultural dimension also poses a challenge. Since, in this view, meaning is framed by the culture which creates it, what language can express about reality is structured by the types of discourses and meaning which is possible with the ideas of that culture. What Postmodernists are arguing is that the ideas of a culture limit what language can say about reality.

If true, this has significant implications, because every human body of knowledge (“epistemology”) has relied on the intuition that language can at least roughly represent reality. Without that foundational assumption, it is impossible to make any claims about the world or have any form of understanding–consequently defeating the possibility of having knowledge entirely.

To the Postmodernist, classical accounts of truth–like that of Plato’s–which use language via propositional logic, or other bodies of knowledge which rely on the experiential, reason, or narrative cannot tell us anything about the world, due to their use of language. The strong Postmodernist must therefore reject science, history, and philosophy, as they attempt to rationalize the world using language.

This is synonymous with the Postmodern rejection of “totalizing” narratives, also abbreviated as meta-narratives. We will return to this, as it is linked with Postmodern views of freedom and what is dubbed the “domination of language.”

If language cannot tell us anything about reality, then how can we understand the world? 

The answer is that social construction is the prime shaper of reality. This means that, in a Postmodern paradigm, it is impossible to separate reality from the experience of a subject rooted in social-cultural circumstances. Instead, reality is something which is interpreted and must be represented, so it cannot possibly be understood objectively. The world is therefore quite literally constructed out of how it is represented by a culture throughlanguage. Language and culture are seen to shape our notion of reality to such a degree that it is impossible to understand reality outside of them. 

This is why history is deemed an impossible pursuit in a Postmodern context. The argument is that the cultures and, therefore, the languages of the past and present are so different that they become alien to each other. The modern historian is detached from the framework with which people of the past understood the world–i.e.: their meanings and language. Because of this, it becomes impossible for a modern historian to truly understand the past. 

Ideas such as truth, value, and justice are also seen as meanings which are constructed through language and projected onto reality. In a Postmodern context, this means that these ideas must be seen as derived from human beings–not the world nor nature. 

What this all alludes to is the fact that subjectivity becomes important if language, ideas, and knowledge are not rooted in reality, but instead construct it. Subjects and the culture which frames their thinking create particular discourses, which in turn contextualizes how people understand reality. Reality, when paired with the belief that people are always determined by their culture, becomes rather atomistic, since there are series of interpretations of what reality is, but no singular, true “objective” reality.

Taking this position entails that cultures and subjects are insular from the world or that their representations are not shaped by things in the world which they are referring to. This seems rather unintuitive because when people use language they do seem to be referencing things in the world around them. 

This account of language also does not take into account that some concepts are much more stable than others, and that such concepts limit the possibility of mixed meanings and interpretation. For example, if you take the concept of “tree” to signify tall wooded objects, that meaning is relatively stable across the languages of different cultures and time periods. You could take the French word for tree “arbre” and the old English world for tree “Treo” and they would signify the same concept–a tall wooded object. Though, it should be acknowledged that interpretive differences can arise if the trees have different symbolic or metaphorical meanings across the different cultures.

Accordingly, another important concept of Postmodern thought comes from the Discourse theory of the Poststructuralists. Discourse theory states that the signs and symbols which language uses to represent the world fundamentally alters the psyche of people using language. This shapes their very ability to perceive the world around them. Postmodern discussions of politics tend to revolve around this idea of language. 

Power, therefore, becomes closely linked with language in Postmodern thought as a consequence of language’s ability to shape psyche. Thinkers like Foucault focus especially on power because they view language as a subtle, insidious form of power. It is seen as something which dominates people not through coercion or force of arms, but by shaping how they are even allowed to understand the world. In the view of Foucault and many Postmodern thinkers, power is not necessarily held by the rich elite or politician, but instead those that shape the discourses and ideas which everyone–from the rich elite, to the politician, to the layman–use to understand the world. Because of this, strong Postmodernists have a certain skepticism of bodies of knowledge like history, science, and religion or what they call “metanarratives,” since they are viewed as means of dominating our conceptions of the world.

Foucault in his discussion of power talks about how language is selective. Here he takes inspiration from French poet Raymond Roussel who expresses the idea that language does not designate a word for every concept for which designation is possible. This implies that there is a poverty to language since it cannot express all that can be expressed. This is a recurring objection in philosophy preceding the Postmodernists; Ludwig Wittgenstein famously makes a similar critique of language amongst others. 

Where the Postmodern critique differs (though much of it is inspired by Wittgenstein) is the implication brought about when this idea is tied to power. Foucault posits that because language only selects certain parts of reality, it only provides a partial glimpse of reality. Those selections, to Foucault in particular, are tools of domination and power: reality is shaped in accordance with what those who have power want to be believed. Language is therefore restrictive in how it shapes reality and the fact that it only allows certain discourses, in accordance with those in power. 

Before I delve into a criticism, I would once more like to clarify that “those who have power” in this view is not discussing shadowy bureaucrats or a secret cabal of world leaders planning every event throughout world history. Instead, it is framed as those who have traditionally shaped ideas and discourses in Western thought. Foucault is referencing everything from the classics, the enlightenment thinkers, and science when he talks about “power.” 

That being said, questions should certainly be raised when Foucault argues that these thinkers have exercised a sort of domination over people and their discourse. It underestimates the capacity for people to challenge these frameworks of thought, and assumes a certain tyrannical agenda amongst these thinkers to shape reality. 

Freedom then becomes a prime goal for Postmodern philosophy.  Understanding how to achieve it is a contentious point for Postmodern thought. Derrida’s understanding may be the most popular, which is that representation and language are inescapable–therefore making the achievement of freedom impossible. Most Postmodern thought stems from this initial position of Derrida’s, so the question then becomes: “If one cannot be free from the domination of language, how does one best find freedom?” The end is that each individual must find a relative truth for themselves; that is the best one can do to prevent themselves from being dominated through language and oppressive discourses.

There is a problem with this Postmodern emphasis on Freedom, that makes it impossible to function within a Postmodern framework. To make this point more poignant, I will use a Postmodern argument to refute it. 

Let us start with Derrida’s idea of dichotomies. Derrida argues language in the West is flawed because it is limited to various dichotomies: Good vs Evil, Presence vs Absence, Male vs Female, Speech vs Writing. Discourse tends to privilege one part of the dichotomy over the other: Good rather than Evil, Presence rather than Absence, Male rather than Female, and Speech over Writing. The argument is that the choice of what to privilege has no basis in objectivity or goodness, and that in reality neither choice within these dichotomies is inherently better than the other. 

In a Postmodern framework, this has to be the case because if language does not refer to anything than truth does not exist. This introduces the problem that all discourses must become equal, meaning that you must believe that all ideas are equally privileged or equally worthless–a truly daunting proposition. The majority of Postmodernists choose to believe in the former: that all meanings, even within dichotomies should be treated as equal. 

Then the question becomes how can the Postmodernist value Freedom over Oppression? How do they discern that Freedom is indeed privileged to oppression? Why are Postmodern thinkers also quick to value the individual over the collective? Even while disparaging the ideas of the Enlightenment and the West, Postmodern thought seems rather happy to take some of it as baseline assumption. 

If the Postmodernist seeks to answer these questions, they will fall guilty to using value judgments rooted in language or needing to accept metanarrative.

The photo shows, ” Triel sur Seine, le pont du chemin de fer,” by Robert Antoine Pinchon, painted in 1904.

The Very Idea Of Technology

Whenever people are trying to define the modern age, there’s an inevitable phrase that gets tossed around. We hear it all the time – “We are an age of technology.”

And when people are asked what this phrase means, they invariably generate a list – cars, televisions, space probes, computers, the microchip – all things that were mostly science fiction just a hundred years ago. How did we come so far, so quickly?

But are we technological because we have more gadgets than, say, the ancient Egyptians who, after all, did build the pyramids? But our culture is different from the ancient Egyptians. How so?

Our age is technological not because of gadgets, but because of the idea of technology. The gadgets are a mere by-product. The way we think is profoundly different from all previous human civilizations.

We perceive things in a systematic way. We like to build conceptual structures. We like to investigate and get at the root causes of things. We like to figure out how things work. We see nature, the earth, the universe, as a series of intersecting systems. And this difference is the result of technology.

Essentially, we are dealing with two Greek words: techne and logia. Techne means “art,” “craft,” or “handiwork.” But logia is more interesting. It means “account,” “word,” “description,” and even “story.”

It is the root of other important words in English, such as “logistics” and “logical.” And it even reaches into the spiritual realm, where “Logos” is intimately connected with the mystery of God in Christianity, where God (Logos) is made flesh in Jesus Christ.

Therefore, technology is not really about gadgets. The word actually means “a description of art,” or “a story of craft, handiwork.” Anything we create is technology. Be it the microchip, a film, a novel, an airplane, or a poem.

But this is only the first layer. We need to dig further. Why do we use a Greek word in the first place? This question lets us dig right down to the foundations.

The word is Greek because the idea is Greek. This is not to say that other cultures did not have technology; they certainly did; the Pyramids are certain proof of that, as are the Nascan lines in the desert.

However, we have already established that technology is not about gadgets, or objects that we create. It is a particular mind-set.

Technology is visualizing the result, or perhaps uncovering that which lies hidden within our imagination. It really is still about giving an account of art, about what we can do with our minds.

But how is all this Greek?

The idea of technology was given to us by one specific person – the Greek philosopher, Aristotle(384-322 BC).

At the age of twenty, Aristotle found himself in Athens, listening to the already famous Plato (428 B.C. to 348 B.C.).

But the pupil would become greater than the master. Interestingly enough, Aristotle too had a famous pupil – Alexander the Great. Aristotle certainly had the ability to transform the way people thought – down to the present.

It was Aristotle who stressed the need not only for science, but a conceptual understanding of science. It was not enough just to be able to do things, such as craftsmanship that was passed down from father-to-son in his own day, and in many parts of the world today.

It was important to understand how things were; how they functioned the way they did.

It was Aristotle who taught us to break down an object into its smallest part so we can understand how it is built and how it operates. Where would science be today without this insight – which we now take as common sense.

But before Aristotle, it was not common sense. The common sense before his time was to accept things the way they were, because the gods had made them that way, and who were we to question the will of the gods. This was the pre-technological mindset.

Aristotle, like Plato before him, taught that nature and human beings behave according to systems that can be recorded and then classified, and understood and then applied. These categories provided mental frameworks within which we could house our ideas.

Therefore, if nature is a system (and not mysterious and unknowable), then it can be understood. And if it can be understood, it can be controlled. And if it can be controlled, then we can avoid being its victims.

Our ability to classify, categorize, and explain – in short, our technology – is the invention of Aristotle. Before he came along, we were only groping in the dark – if we dared grope, that is.

 

The photo shows, “Cyclist Through the City” (“Ciclista attraverso la città”), by Fortunato Depero, painted in 1945.

The Humanities And Language

It is often assumed that the discipline of the Humanities involves anything and everything that cannot be properly be classified as a proper science. It is also commonly assumed that language is simply a method of communication – so that flapping one’s arms is the same as speaking; or, one may draw a picture, since a picture is worth a thousand words, as he adage tells us.

Before proceeding further, perhaps its best to define our terms so that we do not bogged down with assumptions.

Turning to language, we need to understand it as thinking more than communication. The founder of linguistic philosophy (Wilhelm von Humboldt) tells us that language is the expression of thinking peculiar to a people, even the most primitive of people, those closest to nature, as he puts it. Communication is only the simplest, basic level of linguistic use.

The most intensive use is the generation of ideas. The philologist Max Mueller continues Humboldt’s description when he describes language as “the outward form and manifestation of thought.”

And Humboldt further defines language as the medium through which humanity encounters reality – “Man lives with his objects chiefly as language presents them to him.”

The philosopher, Ernst Cassirer, succinctly described language as first the symbolic rendering of expressions and second the engendering of discursive thought; or, in other words, reason.

Thus language is the principle which serves to link together complexity in order to produce meaning, or what may be called abstract thought. In brief, for Cassirer, language is the entelechy of knowledge.

This obviously means that language has more than a denotative function – it is more than simply communication.

To quote the Danish linguist Louis Hjelmslev: “A language is that into which all other languages, and even all other conceivable language structures may be translated. In language, indeed only in such, can the inexpressible  be dealt with until such time as it is expressed.” Language, first and foremost is ideas.

Given the intimate association of language with thinking and knowledge – why do we hear the teachers of language referring to it as a “form of communication?” What purpose does this extreme simplification fulfill?

Having briefly defined language, we may do the same for the humanities. Again, we encounter confusion. The tendency nowadays is to view the Humanities as anything that is not science; and this confusion continues into areas which veer into science (like anthropology, psychology and sociology).

So, what are the Humanities? In a very straightforward way the Humanities have always meant the study of Greek and Latin – that is, the discipline of the Humanities has always been tied with the learning of language – because it was (and one hopes still is) believed that by learning a language, in a disciplined and structured fashion, a person became educated and refined.

Thus the Humanities are based upon the understanding that education is only possible through language. Therefore, the Humanities are not anything not science – but very specifically education in language – and those disciplines that promote language – namely literature, philosophy, biography and history. And it is here also that we have the very history of education.

But we now speak of skill, rather than education, and language is simply another tool to further the demands of the labor marker, rather than the promotion of being a good human being – the traditional goal of education. Skill is not about education – it is about labor and production.

Education is about building the good human being – or about the esthetic, moral and intellectual nature of humanity. Skill is about the material environment and its conquest. Skill is about bondage (the demands of labor). Education is about understanding the exercise of freedom.

And then there are countless falsehoods that permeate teaching institutions. The worst among them is the notion of “learning styles,” and the absurd notion of “right-brain” and “left-brain” learners. Study after study has amply demonstrated that there is no such thing as “visual learning” or “auditory learning,” or kinesthetic.

Nor does the brain function in left and right compartments. And yet, these false notions are so popular in educational institutions – and worst of all, entire pedagogies are built around these falsehoods. Why? As researchers recently observed in an extensive in the Journal of Psychological Science, “The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing.”

Disturbing because students are being taught based upon false assumptions. Is an educational institution a place where pop-psychology should be followed?

And yet the popularity of these views in pedagogy is enormous. And the literature is enormous. But it is literature produced by the non-specialist – by the amateur. Why do teachers follow these falsehoods?

And recent studies also tell us that the only way possible for the brain to learn anything is through language. Thus, the physical brain is Humanistic. It is built primarily for language, for thought, for ideas. And the world that we live, the labor that do, is a function of thought, of ideas. The world that we inhabit is the product of Humanism.

Thus to neglect confuse Humanism with anything other than language is to deny the importance of thought.

 

The photo shows, “Le quai aux fleurs,” by Marie-François Firmin-Girard, painted in 1875.

The Crystal Mind: Poems

Glen Gower

There is something growing beneath your skin.
Bristles burst from hidden hearths while stolen feelings
like steely demons scourge the violent hills.
From atop the tower, the blessed Glen Gower
calls the riders in.

 

Changeling

Oh changeling,
you creeping, sleeping tame thing
climb down from that steeple high,
let me gaze upon your face tonight.
Look not backwards, forget my soul,
what you spy there has gone before.
Will yourself up into the clouds,
a desert landscape, a crimson shroud,
beyond the river there lies the key
there lie the waters, those that be.
Move through yourself like a
consuming snake, find the figure,
that geometric mistake.
Point the finger to the sign above,
the chi, the rho, the fallen dove.
This bridge is broken, I cannot sleep,
this dream, a token, to protect and keep.
Oh changeling,
you creeping, sleeping tame thing.

 

Winter Stasis

Soon the crystal mind will shed itself.
Snowflakes hang static in the breathless wind,
the storm in the firmament, the storm within.
What infinite descent will cloud the soul
if not for the pine to root it, to keep it whole?
Such tender frames plague the winter sky,
you can trace the time, the finger guides the eye.
Reverse the fall, feel the ancient breath,
your stinging face, you descend from Seth.
Look there! The sky in it fullness shows
the cathedral vaults, the suspended snows.

 

Just Hush

Often times I tell myself I’ve been thinking too much.
No rush of the river can soften its touch
but relief, relief can be found in an empty cavern
drained of the tide and left untouched.
Just air, just hush, often you say too much.

 

 

Cosmin Dzsurdzsa is the 2016 recipient of the English Society Creative Writing Award for Poetry. His work, both as a poet and a critic, is deeply concerned with the sacred experience. He credits the Symbolist movement and 20th-century Imagism as important influences. Cosmin’s work seeks to engage with the imagination through striking visual representations.

 

The photo shows, “The Awaited,” by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, painted in 1860.