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, exiled in the US during the Nazi era and then opting to live in West Germany after the building of the Berlin Wall, Bloch came to Marxism after his interests in mysticism and expressionism. In fact, Bloch has been a figure of continued interest for theologians, particularly in light of his readings of major figures in the tradition of European Christianity, such as Augustine of Hippo and Joachim of Fiore, let alone his engagement with the great flowering of biblical studies and theology in Germany in the first half of the twentieth century. In fact, the first translations of Bloch's work into English were enabled by the theologians Jürgen Moltmann and Harvey Cox, specifically the
compilation of various excerpts and essays Man on His Own: Essays on the Philosophy of Religion. Atheism in Christianity: The Religion of the Exodus and the Kingdom followed in translation soon afterwards. This comes as no surprise, since, as Tom Moylan shows, Bloch's work had a profound effect on a range of theologians, including various liberal theologians (the death-of-God, developmental and secular theologians), as well as political theology in Germany (Jürgen Moltmann and Johann Metz) and liberation theology (Gustavo Gutiérrez, Franz Hinkelammert and others) in the 1960s and 1970s. Many of these theological responses came during the revolutionary turmoil of 1968 and afterwards.2 In fact, Moylan argues that political and liberation theologies acted to pass Bloch's work, preserved and transformed, into other areas of political and philosophical work such as postcolonialism.
In the critical literature, Bloch's use of the Bible has been less of a focus.3 Indeed, for Bloch, communism was all the poorer for not studying and considering the Bible. In fact, along with Marx and Goethe, particularly his Faust, the Bible forms the major inspiration in Bloch's work.4 It has, he argues, a strange ubiquity that speaks to all people across vast times and spaces.5 Not only is Bloch's breathtaking enthusiasm for the Bible something that draws me in to his writing, but I am also intrigued by his advocacy that Marxists study the Bible not only so as to grasp the thought-world of so many peasants and workers who were part of the struggles for communism, nor even that
2 Moylan 1997. Moylan's work is interested in the way political and liberation theologies have received and questioned Bloch's writings. My interest, although obviously related, is quite distinct, focusing on the intersections between the Bible and theology. (See Capps 1968a; Capps 1968b; Cox 1968; Fiorenza 1968a; Fiorenza 1968b; Fiorenza 1969; Heinitz 1968; Metz 1968a; Metz 1968b; Metz 1976; Moltmann 1968; Moltmann 1982; Pannenberg 1968; Tillich 1965.) The volume of Cross Currents in which many of these essays appear also contains a short excerpt from Bloch himself (Bloch 1968).
3 Thus, the various monographs on Bloch deal with his biblical reflections in a minor register, if at all. See, for instance: Jones 1995; Hudson 1982; Geoghegan 1996. Jameson's essay in Jameson 1971 relates Bloch's programme to medieval biblical exegesis in which the four levels of allegory became a strategy for incorporating nonChristian elements into Christianity: in the same way, Bloch's work draws a whole and disparate range of items into his philosophy and hermeneutics of utopia. And yet, Jameson neglects to mention Atheism in Christianity.
4 'The Bible on the one hand, and the humanist principles of Marx's theory on the other, thus form together the two fundamental cornerstones of Bloch's utopian vision.' Levy 1997, p. 180.
5 Bloch 1972, pp. 21-4; Bloch 1985, Volume 14, pp. 42-5.
there 'is certainly no German culture without the Bible',6 but also to see the revolutionary potential within the Bible itself.
So, it seems useful to explore a little further the ways in which the Bible's cadences may be heard in Bloch's texts. I will run with the wind for a while, tracing closely Bloch's use of the Bible, during which I ask precisely what is happening when he interprets the Bible and why he would want to do so in the first place. The challenge from Marxists like Bloch is that they read the Bible, not with an agenda of ridicule or unmasking (characteristic more now of those who have moved beyond the Church and still associate the Bible with the Church), but with enthusiasm as a central piece of literature. The urgent question that arises from Bloch's work is precisely why Marxist atheists like him should be interested in the Bible, and why he should wish to reclaim it as a document crucial to Marxism's own wellbeing and survival.
However, in what will turn out to be a central aspect of my discussion of both biblical Marxists, Bloch and Benjamin, I argue for a necessary distinction between theology and the Bible, particularly as the two are so often conflated. For the Bible is not necessarily a text that must be read with a theological agenda, although that has been the default position. However, if we understand the Bible as a disparate and unruly collection of texts that has been subdued and brought into line with ecclesiastical requirements, then its break with theology is a little clearer. This uneasy relationship, with the Bible and theology often at loggerheads with each other, is precisely what I want to highlight in my reading of Bloch. In fact, Bloch's best insights into the Bible come when he takes the Bible as the Church's bad conscience.
Given that, Bloch is in the unique situation of having written a monograph on the Bible itself - Atheism in Christianity - and I read this text alongside his magnum opus, The Principle of Hope. Others also appear, such as the collection in Literary Essays and Spirit of Utopia.7 My reading often runs close to the text, but I perpetually fill in the context, especially in biblical studies, in order to
6 Bloch 1991, p. 46; Bloch 1985, Volume 14, pp. 51-2.
7 In light of the central role of Atheism in Christianity, which is in many respects Bloch's complete statement on the Bible, and due to space, I have not offered a detailed reading here of the early Thomas Münzer als Theologe der Revolution, first published in 1921, and then reprinted in Volume 2 of the Werkausgabe in 1985. In this work Bloch seeks to reconstruct Münzer's life and then provide the main elements of his preaching and theology, especially the criticisms of Calvin, Luther and Roman Catholicism in light of their compromise with the world. It is, however, the subject of a subsequent study.
subject Bloch to critique. In Atheism in Christianity, which should be read as an introduction to a Marxist-utopian interpretation of the Bible, Bloch shows that he is fully conversant with the high moment of German biblical scholarship in the early twentieth century. But he also offers a critique that comes out of his Marxist background.
In the end, he argues that there is a consistent theme of rebellion against Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible and God of the New Testament. Not so much a moral atheism that refuses to believe in God on theodicical grounds, but a political atheism that sees an internal logic to the Bible in political revolution against God that can only be realised, not with a refusal to believe in God, but with a rebellion against God. I explore the implications of this central argument as I proceed, for over against a plea for the consideration or appropriation of religious, or more specifically Christian, texts and ideas into Marxism, Bloch argues that the internal logic of the Bible leads us to Marxism itself. Apart from the specific question as to how much influence the Bible has on Bloch's thought, especially in the light of his avowed atheism, I am also interested in the deeper issue of whether the Bible itself, now a very unpopular text in so many quarters, is inseparable from the construction of a Marxist philosophy like Bloch's. In the end, though, I wonder whether Bloch's biblical criticism is still not too heavily influenced by theology, however he may try to free it from that theology.
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