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Heiden, Gert Jan van der, Kooten, George Henry van, and Antonio Cimino [Eds.]
Saint Paul and Philosophy. The Consonance of Ancient and Modern Thought.
Berlin u. a.: De Gruyter 2017. X, 372 S. m. 6 Abb. Geb. EUR 109,95. ISBN 978-3-11-054314-8.
This is a good book. It is also a difficult and demanding book. But it is all worth it. My aim in this review is to tell the reader what you get, but also to show how – at the end of a long day – the book raises important further questions.
The book is one central outcome of a Dutch research project on ›Overcoming the Faith-Reason Opposition: Pauline Pistis in Contemporary Philosophy‹ that ran between July 2012 and October 2016 and was directed by two of the editors: Van der Heiden from Radboud University, Nijmegen, and Van Kooten from the University of Groningen (he is now at Cambridge). The contributors of the sixteen essays are philosophers (of religion), theologians and classicists. They are mostly professors at various levels, but also include a couple of (excellent) PhD students. They come from Australia, Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands (7), the UK, the USA. Truly international! The sixteen essays are framed by an Introduction by the three editors and a substantial, very valuable Epilogue by the two directors of the project, which attempts to ga-ther the threads from all the individual essays. This in itself is highly commendable.
The book is divided into three parts. Part I discusses Paul and continental philosophy, especially the modern continental philo-sophers who have (fairly) recently written on Paul: Jacob Taubes (1987/1993), Alain Badiou (1997), and Giorgio Agamben (2000) as prefigured by Martin Heidegger (1920–1921/1995). Part II discusses Paul and the Greco-Roman world, and Part III Paul and political theo-logy. The distinction between Parts I and III is partly one of topic (a special emphasis on political theology in Part III), partly one be-tween a mainly expository approach (Part I) and a more independent, less ›exegetical‹ approach (Part III). But the distinction is not a tight one.
The overall profile of the book may be described in two ways, one ›institutional‹ and one in terms of content. ›Institutionally‹, the editors rightly note that at the same time as the continental phi-losophers mentioned (others are noted, too, but play a quite small role in the book: Stanislas Breton, Gianni Vattimo, Jacques Derrida, Paul Ricœur, Jean-François Lyotard, Slavoj Žižek) began to study Paul, for reasons of their own, a ›new paradigm‹ (4) arose in Pauline studies in theology ›at the interface between New Testament research and classical studies, including ancient philosophy‹ (5). Do these two developments somehow fit one another? The editors answer Yes and are looking for ›deep consonances‹ (6) between the two developments by focusing on ›which particular motifs, themes, and notions allow for a fruitful dialogue between ancient thought and modern thought‹ (6).
In terms of content, the book has two central aims. First, it claims (convincingly, to my mind) that there is in fact a fairly deep consonance between the new understanding in ancient studies of the central Pauline notion of pistis (›faith‹) as ›trust‹, ›fidelity‹, ›conviction‹ (instead of an epistemological ›opinion‹ or ›belief‹) – and the role assigned to pistis in the modern continental philosophers. This result is in itself important. Secondly, it raises the question whether the ontologies developed by the modern philosophers in their ›critique of metaphysics‹, that is, when they call into question such traditional concepts as ›truth, law, necessity, and (the onto-theological) God‹ (7), do or do not fit with Paul’s own ontology. Here I detect an only half-acknowledged disagreement between the two directors of the project, which is one thing that makes the book quite exciting. In his excellent essay, ›On What Remains: Paul’s Proclamation of Contingency‹, and in the Epilogue, Van der Heiden appears to find a similar ontology in Paul and Agamben, one that is not just ›nihilistic‹ in the sense in which Nietzsche had claimed that Paul’s position was nihilistic since it amounts to a rejection of the present world we inhabit in favour of another world, which (as Nietzsche saw it) was just non-existing. On the contrary, in his famous analysis of Paul’s notion of hos me (1Kor 7:29–31, ›as [if] not‹), Van der Heiden’s Agamben speaks for an ontology of contingency, as does Paul. By contrast, in his splendid essay, ›Paul’s Stoic Onto-Theology and Ethics of Good, Evil and »Indifferents«: A Response to Anti-Metaphysical and Nihilistic Readings of Paul in Modern Philosophy‹, Van Kooten sees Paul neither as a critic of onto-theology (against Badiou) nor as a ›Messianic nihilist‹ (against Taubes and Agamben), and he situates the reading of the hos me squarely (and to my mind, exactly rightly) in Stoic metaphysics and ethics, which are very far from being concerned with ›contingency‹. The fascinating way in which the two editors in their Epilogue agree on rejecting ›the dualistic Gnostic temptation‹ (which is also the Platonist temptation) in reading Paul, while also (slightly) covering up their own disagreement on Paul’s ontology points decisively forward towards a full understanding of ›the Stoic Paul‹ (335) and the dif-ference between him and his modern continental philosophical readers.
What the reader will get in this book, therefore, is a fascinating and subtle discussion of the issues just mentioned (not least in the two project directors’ own contributions). In addition, the reader gets this: 1) two good (because clear), mainly expository introduc-tions to Heidegger (Ben Vedder) and to Badiou and Agamben (Ezra Delahaye), 2) a less good, mainly expository introduction to Agamben (Peter Zeillinger) – less good because it is not much clearer than Agamben himself, 3) a good (because clear and analytical), independently assessing discussion of Agamben’s understanding of the hos me in a political context (Antonio Cimino), 4) a good (because substantial, though not totally clear), independent discussion of Taubes’ understanding of political theology (Marin Terpstra), 5) a fas-cinating account of Agamben’s Paul-inspired influence on French Tiqqun and Tarnac (Ward Blanton), 6) two good (because clear and substantial), independent contributions on Paul and ancient philosophy (Suzan Sierksma-Agteres) and Paul and ancient pistis (Teresa Morgan).
But of course there are also some deficiencies: Four essays do not speak wholly directly to the overall issues (Andrew Benjamin on depictions of Paul in European art, Françoise Frazier on pistis in Plutarch in comparison with Plotinus and beyond, Anders Klostergaard Petersen on Paul’s use of pistis as an ›Epitome of Axial Age Religion‹, and Holger Zaborowski on Locke as a reader of Paul). A few essays (by Jeffrey Bloechl and particularly – through a detour via Theodore Jennings and Derrida – by Carl Raschke) are (as I would say) decidedly ›theological‹ in a traditional way in the sense that they exhibit an insufficient amount of querying and analysis.
Finally, there are a number of technical deficiencies: 1) The Epilogue should have been printed separately in the Table of Contents, corresponding to the Introduction, 2) the section ›About the Contributors‹ (347–349) should have been mentioned in the Table of Contents, 3) are the essays ›papers‹ or ›essays‹? The answer blows in the wind, 4) the indices are not spotless, 4) Van Kooten is in one bibliography under Kooten, in another under Van, 5) and then I found smaller or larger errors (of language, misprints, awkward phrasing, false Greek etc.) on 92 pages out of 372.
I mention these last things mainly to urge the publisher, De Gruyter, to entrust such an important publication to a professional copy editor. It certainly deserves it. In sum, as I said, a genuinely good book on an important set of issues, which amply repays the time spent on it.