Preface

The product of too many long and difficult years, it often sat quietly while I was engaged with other pursuits only to return to this one yet again. For this book brings together two great passions, the Bible and Marxism. My starting point, however, is Marxism itself, and my search is for the way the engagement with theology and the Bible by some of Marxism's greatest exponents is an indispensable part of their work. I began writing this book in Northmead,...

Genesis

By now, it should be clear that I detect an underlying continuity amidst all the change in Benjamin's thought on history, that there are some deep connections between the Trauerspielbuch and the Passagenarbeit and the texts that fall around them. Up until now, I have tarried at the end of the history, at the Eschaton. But what of the other end of history, of the time of Creation and Paradise In what follows, I focus on Genesis, a word with myriad overlays, for Benjamin returns time and again to...

The critique of myth

One of the surprises of this book is the recurring interest in mythology by many of those on whom I comment. It seems as though any discussion of 57 Bloch 1972, p. 75 Bloch 1985, Volume 14, pp. 103-4. 58 Bloch 1972, p. 75 Bloch 1985, Volume 14, p. 103 translation corrected. the Bible or theology cannot, in their eyes, avoid the question of myth, which then becomes one of the major features of their work. Thus, Bloch, Benjamin, Adorno, Althusser and Zizek all come back to myth, as critique and...

Passagenarbeit

As I pass on to the Passagenarbeit, let me summarise my argument. Benjamin's underlying assumption is that capitalism, represented in its most advanced and decayed form in the Paris of the nineteenth century, marks a reversion to myth, an archaicising that is constitutive of modernity.45 In suggesting that capitalism was caught in the dreamworld of myth, Benjamin sought to extend Marx's analysis of capitalism, particularly his famous notion of the fetishism of commodities. In order to break out...

Introduction

This is a work of commentary, that venerable and somewhat neglected tradition that emerges from millennia of biblical criticism. I engage intimately with the writings of some of the major Marxist critics of the twentieth century. But the subject matter that draws me in is not what has drawn most of the critical passion, with its concern for the great themes of Marxist criticism. Rather, my commentary picks up the often extended reflections and deliberations over theology and the Bible that we...

Exegesis

But let us now turn from theory to exegesis. The remainder of Atheism in Christianity passes through long chapters on the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, to the development of a distinctly a-theological argument con 76 Bloch 1972, p. 57 Bloch 1985, Volume 14, p. 86. cerning the internal logic of the Bible's protest against God. But the vast span of The Principle of Hope also includes stretches of detailed exegesis. There are some differences between both works, Atheism in Christianity...

Appropriation of the maternal function

I have yet to explore the other line I noted above - the blast out of history. And rather than take the well-known text out of the theses 'On the Philosophy of History', I want to focus on the variations of this statement that appear in the Passagenarbeit. Concerned to develop his own revolutionary aesthetics and philosophy, Benjamin resorts to the terminology of armed conflict - blast, explode, ruin.90 He does so in order to be rid of the homogenous in history. But the source of the blast is...

Method class conflict as a hermeneutical key

The most intriguing section of Atheism in Christianity is the one before Bloch dives into the biblical texts, one that draws out the political implications of critical biblical scholarship at that time. This scholarship is nothing other than the great, initially German, enterprise of historical-critical biblical studies that came to a slow dominance from the middle of the nineteenth century and is now in an equally reluctant decline. For Bloch, however, such biblical criticism is detective...

Trauerspiel

So let us dive into the Trauerspiel book, where I want to argue that Benjamin develps a distinct theory of allegory that he will subsequently appropriate as his own in the Passagenarbeit. Beneath the swirling eddies of that book on the German mourning play, I detect the deep currents of medieval biblical allegory, especially in the celebrated and influential final chapter of the book.23 I begin at the chapter's third and final section,24 for here, after dealing with the need to recover the...

Conclusion

But enough of this religious imagery.139 I must admit that I am in two minds, caught in Bloch's materialist enthusiasm, but suspicious of how he fails to live up to his own method, particularly his key category of the discernment of myth. Not merely the acumen required to differentiate between myths of subversion and submission, it is more the dialectical insight that myths of insurrection appear in the midst of myths of domination. But, too often, he strays from this strategy, and I want...

Blochs Detective Work

Implicit in Marxism - as the leap from the Kingdom of Necessity to that of Freedom - there lies the whole so subversive and un-static heritage of the Bible____So far as it is, in the end, possible to read the Bible with the eyes of the Communist Manifesto.1 The first of the biblical Marxists, Ernst Bloch offers more than any would-be investigator of the intersection between Marxism and the Bible, as well as theology, might want. One of a collection of European Marxists noted for longevity,...

From the Bible to sentence production and back again

As for my closer reading of Bloch's texts, I begin with sentence production, for it is Bloch's style that says as much about his engagement with the Bible as his sustained exegetical labours. While most work on Bloch has preferred to speak of his utopian hermeneutics, I have always found useful one of Fredric Jameson's strategies, itself drawn from Adorno, which is to tarry with sentence production itself, to treat carefully the craft of creating a text. Atheism in Christianity turns out to be...

Argument and advocacy

Marxism and religion - largely the Christian tradition of Europe - have rarely been even the remotest of friends. The mutual suspicion of an irreducible atheism on one side and complicity with the rulers of this world on the other have not helped matters. Thus, Bloch's reading of the Bible itself must involve a dual advocacy Marxists need to take the Bible seriously as a revolutionary document, and biblical scholars and theologians cannot avoid Marxism in their interpretation. I have no trouble...

Salvation history [Heilsgeschichte the return of biblical myth

Thus far, I have argued that Benjamin at first describes and then adapts for his own use allegorical interpretation, a very theological form of biblical interpretation. He then goes on, in the Passagenarbeit, to seek an alternative mode of breaking out of the nightmare myth of capitalism. But it is one that 137 Benjamin 1999a, p. 462 Benjamin 1972, Volume 5, p. 577. makes use of the language of sex and maternal functions. At first, it seemed as though this was a feature of his concern with the...

Myth and history

I have already passed into myth, since it forms a central element in Benjamin's analysis of fin-de-siecle capitalism 'What would the nineteenth century', he writes in one of the first sketches, 'be to us if we were bound to it by tradition How would it look as religion or mythology '82 As a hell of the eternal return of the same, a Satanic realm that comes out so clearly in Baudelaire's allegory, in the very architecture of the arcades,83 as the world of the fetishised commodity that Benjamin...

The return to theology

In the closing arguments of both Atheism in Christianity and The Principle of Hope, Bloch returns to theology, albeit in his argument for the atheistic logic of the Bible. Yet this argument is, to my mind, the most symptomatic of all, for his theological turn raises all sorts of questions about the nature of his biblical criticism. Note carefully that the title of his most sustained engagement with the Bible is not Atheism in the Bible, but Atheism in Christianity, Atheismus im Christentum. And...

Benjamins Perpetuation of Biblical Myth

The question thus becomes that of interpreting how 'theological concepts', whether direct or indirect, function in the writings of Benjamin.1 After the millenarian enthusiasm of Bloch's engagement with the Bible, Benjamin emerges as a wary and cautious interlocutor. I will argue that the Bible is crucial for Benjamin's thought. Put succinctly, he seeks to use the Bible and the methods of biblical studies, especially allegory, in order to break out of the myths that he saw everywhere around him...