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 running more systematically through the Bible, while The Principle of Hope is a little more selective, focusing on the religious symbols that cluster around birth and death. At one end, Bloch zeroes in on the theme of Eden/Paradise/ Promised Land as a key utopian feature, and at the other resurrection, Day of Judgement and return of the Messiah.
Eden is a paradigmatic example of how a biblical motif launches a trajectory that Bloch follows through centuries of thought.79 After seeking the wished-for geographical Edenic utopias, he concludes: 'Eldorado-Eden therefore comprehensively embraces the other outlined utopias'.80 Yet Eden cannot be separated from the idea of a Promised Land, which he suggests precedes the Babylonian garden story borrowed by the Israelites, nor from the new Jerusalem, when Eden will be restored at the end. But Bloch is interested in the way Eden remains a physical, geographical space, a garden to which entry is forbidden but searching for it and living close by are permitted. This unfallen natural space is remarkably moveable, often connected with other legends, but Bloch finds it in Jerusalem, on the antipodean Jerusalem (Dante), India (in the broadest possible sense), Prester John's Indian kingdom, the voyage of St Brendan and St Brendan's Isle, in the Atlantic (which was often read as India), in what drove Columbus, who believed that close to his newly found 'India' was Paradise, which would soon lie within Christendom, in the south land, terra australis, in the icy north of the kingdom of Thule, and then off earth in the stars, or within the earth.81
Eden becomes, for Bloch, a utopian, future-oriented image. So his focus moves to the end of life, where he finds the efforts to outdo death a reason to exercise a major love, biblical exegesis.82 Here, he traces the rise of belief in
79 Bloch 1995, pp. 758-94; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, pp. 887-929.
80 Bloch 1995, p. 793; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 929.
81 A comparable example of the way a particular biblical theme underlies a whole discussion is the role of the Tower of Babel and Solomon's temple in the discussion of architectural utopias (Bloch 1995, pp. 711-21; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, pp. 832-44).
82 Bloch 1995, pp. 1125-33; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, pp. 1323-33.
resurrection in the latest sections of the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, actively espoused by Jesus and the Pharisees, and then in early Christianity with its strong apocalyptic hope for the end of death itself. The fundamental drive of the resurrection from the first and second deaths (physical death and hell) is 'a thirst for justice; thus the wish became a postulate, the post-mortal scene became an out-and-out tribunal'.83 Resurrection becomes a crucial feature of Bloch's favoured apocalyptic thought. For, on Judgement Day, a collective resurrection overruns the merely individual notion and justice is dispensed by a returned Christ. And this advent of Christ was always expected soonest at revolutionary moments, such as the Albigensian wars or the German Peasants' War: 'retribution for all the living after death, for all the dead after the last trumpet, retained a wishful revolutionary meaning for those that labour and are heavy laden, who could not help themselves in reality or were defeated in the struggle'.84
Along with Eden, Exodus is the other great theme of The Principle of Hope, drawn up into the vast section on 'religious mystery'.85 And, within the discussion of Exodus, Moses is a key figure.86 Here, Bloch wants a distinct, flesh-and-religious leader over against the tendency towards a legendary Moses in biblical scholarship at the time.87 He grasps the real hand of Moses and draws him out of myth, for Moses signals the first religion that began not in astral myth but with rebellion. Moses is thus the 'first heros eponymos, the first name-giving originator of a religion, of a religion of opposition'; 88'The earliest leader of a people out of slavery . . . the first distinctive founder'.89 Moses and the Exodus become the archetype of all other religions that began with rebellion. Not only this, Moses is for Bloch the 'earliest leader of a people out of slavery' per se, religious or otherwise.90 Add to this the primitive communism
83 Bloch 1995, p. 1126; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 1324.
84 Bloch 1995, p. 1132; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 1331.
85 Bloch 1995, pp. 1183-1311; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, pp. 1392-1540.
86 Bloch 1995, pp. 1231-41; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, pp. 1450-64.
87 Or the scholarship of a few years earlier: Bloch refers to a work by Jeremias of 1905 and the more well known Budde of 1900 and Wellhausen of 1901 (see Bloch 1995, pp. 1231-2; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, pp. 1251-2). Given that The Principle of Hope was written between 1938 and 1947, albeit on the basis of earlier notes, these references are somewhat dated.
88 Bloch 1995, p. 1232; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 1453.
89 Bloch 1995, p. 1230; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 1450.
of the bedouin-type existence of the first Israelites Moses led and we have the prime conditions for the kind of religion Bloch would find congenial.91 Yet the Yahweh of the Exodus Bloch finds with Moses is opposed to another image of God: the high 'lord-god', the god of rabbis and Canaanites and priestly privilege, who is equivalent to Baal, the 'lord' (which is precisely what 'Baal' means) of all. But all of this is not what the Exodus God signifies: 'The God of exodus is different in nature, in the prophets he proved his hostility to lords and opium'.92 This God is ultimately the God of the future: 'Ich werde sein, der ich sein werde', 'I will be who I will be',93 the Hebrew Eh'je ascher eh'je that he transcribed in this fashion and used as a leitmotiv throughout his work.
Atheism in Christianity focuses on Exodus in much greater detail, although, here, the troubling fixation on Moses shifts to Exodus itself. It constitutes the motif of the 'exodus out of Yahweh', that is, the move out of a Yahweh who is an ideological sanction of priestly power. This Exodus out of Yahweh recurs throughout the Hebrew Bible. Thus, the serpent in Genesis 3 fascinates him -'the most outstanding passage in the whole of the "underground" Bible',94 and he will trace this theme later with regard to the Ophites. Drawn into the net is Jacob's wrestling with God in Genesis 32 (El, on this occasion, and not Yahweh), Exodus 4: 24-6 where Yahweh attempts to kill Moses and is appeased by circumcision, Genesis 11 and the rebellion of the Tower of Babel, and the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. In each case, a bloodthirsty, vengeful God is outdone by cunning human beings keen to avoid his fury, whether that is listening to the serpent and gaining knowledge of good and evil, or wrestling with a God who is unwilling to bless.
The problem that emerges here, however, has already been signalled by my note on Genesis 32 and El. For the Hebrew Bible contains not one God, Yahweh, but a host of divinities with various names - El, El Shaddai, El Roi, Baal, Adonai, Elohim, Yahweh and so on. Bloch, it seems, is aware of this, for, instead of selecting his preferred divinity, he argues that it allows for alternative possibilities in the concept of Yahweh: 'The change-ability exhibited by the divine lord-of-the-manor and exactor of tribute shows that there is in fact
91 Bloch 1995, p. 496; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 575.
92 Bloch 1995, p. 1235; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 1457.
93 Bloch 1995, p. 1236; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 1457, quoting Exodus 3: 14.
a very changeable, movable factor in the concept of Yahweh himself'.95 He even offers a brief history of God from the Kenite tribal god to a monotheistic figure which enables him to argue for the 'peculiar mutability'96 in the concept of god. And out of the mix he finds a god oriented to the future, who leaves behind every previous conception of god. But, here, we have the residue of liberal theology's 'ethical monotheism' - despite his polemic against the 'watery soul of fire of so-called liberal Protestantism'97 - as the highest expression of religion in the Hebrew Bible found at few points such as prophets like Isaiah. Except that Bloch gives it his own twist, one oriented to the future destined for atheistic oblivion.
If his interest in the serpent and the alternative concept of Yahweh is a little quirky, then his zeal for the Nazirites and prophets is straight out of the Protestant Reformation. The Nazirites call the people back to the nomadic, bedouin-like life of wilderness over against the settled agricultural life of Canaan with its Baals and priests. And, from the Nazirites, with their vows of asceticism and bans on alcohol and hair-cutting, emerge the prophets, for whom Bloch has nothing but praise all the way from the foaming shamans of the books of Samuel and Kings to the considered, rational prophecy of the writing prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Twelve. Such prophecy brings about 'the momentous union of social preaching and the will for a new Yahweh and a coming of his Day'.98 'After the God of Exodus [Auszugsgott], the second great ideal of theology is Yahweh as the embodiment of moral reason'.99 All of the pre-agrarian, primitive-communist memories are brought forth in the prophets.
The climax of this vast coverage of the Hebrew Bible is the book of Job - the voiced protest against an unjust and oppressive God.100 On his way to Job, however, Bloch appropriates many contested positions in biblical studies. Thus, he accepts the historicity of the Exodus from Egypt, Moses as a key figure in that escape, a distinct people of Israel who conquer Canaan and establish kingship - all to argue for the conditions of change in the concept of God.
95 Bloch 1972, p. 92; Bloch 1985, Volume 14, p. 122.
96 'Besondere Wandelbarkeit'; Bloch 1972, p. 93; Bloch 1985, Volume 14, p. 124.
97 Bloch 1991, p. 369; Bloch 1985, Volume 4, p. 405.
98 Bloch 1972, p. 99; Bloch 1985, Volume 14, p. 19.
99 Bloch 1972, p. 104; Bloch 1985, Volume 14, p. 135.
100 Bloch does puzzle over Job's final submission, ruminating on the possibility that the poet knew no other way to finish.
Here, he must take the text as reliable evidence, for there is no other evidence for these positions. In fact, if we think of Romulus and Remus for Rome, or the Iliad for Greece, let alone Enuma Elish from Babylon, the narrative from Exodus to conquest is much better understood as a political myth with little basis in historical events. And so we can apply Bloch's own strictures on myth. What if, to take a growing consensus in biblical studies and archaeology, Israel emerges late from within Canaan, a small moment in the history of Palestine, submerged under empires (Persian, Hellenistic and Roman) and only achieving late independence under the Maccabees in the third century BCE? Further, Bloch assumes positions in biblical criticism that are drawn from the text, especially the opposition between nomadic and settled and that between Yahwism and its Canaanite counterparts. But what are the implications for Yahwism if it is, in fact, one form of Canaanite religion? At the time Bloch was writing, assumptions of Israelite uniqueness dominated work on the Hebrew Bible, as a people, as the inventors of history over against myth, as the producers of a much higher form of religion, as those who led the way forward over against the stultifying effects of Canaanite and Egyptian religion, culture and even architecture.101
My final question for Bloch concerns his rather astute observations on myth that I discussed a little earlier, along with the issue of sources and oral tradition. To be sure, the material about the serpent, or about Jacob wrestling with God, or Cain and Abel, or the Tower of Babel, or even Job, fall into the category of myth, or at least legend, and Bloch's treatment lives up to his discernment of myth. Let me take as examples Genesis 3 on the serpent and Chapter 4 on Cain and Abel. After noting the ambiguity of the serpent figure - poison and healing, dragon of the abyss and lightning high above, healer from leprosy and so on - Bloch zeroes in on a feature of the text long noticed: the serpent speaks with a straight tongue. Thus, in response to Eve's observation that touching the tree in the middle of the garden will lead to death, the serpent replies, 'You will not die; for God [Elohim] knows that on the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like gods [Elohim], knowing good and evil' (Gen 3: 4-5). Not only does God or the gods [Elohim] admit, in verse 22, that the human beings have gained the knowledge of good and evil and become like gods, but Adam and Eve are banished from the garden rather than killed - they do not die. In fact, the risk reverses and the gods fear that the man 'might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever' (Gen 3: 22). And what is the result of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? 'And the eyes of the two of them were opened' (3: 7). What follows, in verses 8-19, is, for Bloch, a mythical overlay of the sort that he finds objectionable, a redactor's narrative that turns the act of eating from the tree of knowledge into punishment for disobedience, although, even here, the punishment - for the serpent, a legless existence; for the woman, pain in childbirth and subservience to her man; for the man, hard labour from a resistant and thorny ground - hints at the sort of punishment meted out to rebels and revolutionaries. Were it not for this high-handed punishment, it is not clear that eating from the tree, desiring knowledge, wanting to be like gods, is an act of rebellion at all, let alone the sin that theology found there. In other words, the hand of a redactor, an orthodox priestly apparatchik, turns an older source into a story of the punishment for disobedience. But Bloch's point is that the earlier source is still visible, as biblical critics are wont to argue for slightly different reasons. The seams and tensions in the text point to different sources that have been brought together, except that Bloch's hermeneutics of class conflict leads him to argue that the tension reflects one between rulers and the repression of rebellion by those ruled. Bloch's espies an echo of earlier resistance in the earliest E source (the name Yahweh Elohim is used) of Genesis 2: 3-7 that lies at the basis of this account.102
Bloch's interest in the serpent carries right through to the Gnostic-Christian sect of the third century CE, the Ophites (ophis: snake). Fragmented and distorted as the information is, coming only through the anti-heretical texts of the Church Fathers such as Hippolytus and Irenaeus, Bloch stresses the way they offered an alternative exegesis of the serpent texts: Moses's staff that turned into a serpent (Ex 4: 2-5; 6: 8-12); the wise logos of Eve in Genesis 3; the mark of Cain and Cain himself in Genesis 4; the bronze serpent set up by Moses in the desert for healing (Num 21: 4-9); and Christ. The serpent of Genesis thus becomes the source of life and reason, saving Adam and Eve from a god who is no more than a demiurge, a deity who created this world and from whom human beings had to escape. Bloch then pursues other texts, such as
102 Gen 3: 8-24 come from the later JE source (which uses the name Yahweh Elohim for God) and the whole lot has then been reworked by a priestly redactor.
that concerning Nehushtan in 2 Kings 18: 4, the bronze serpent worshipped by the people and attributed to Moses until its destruction by King Hezekiah, or the text from John 3: 14, 'And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up' - although he neglects to mention the verse that immediately follows, 'that whoever believes in him may have eternal life' (John 3: 15). In the end, the God who punishes Christ with crucifixion is the same one who punishes the serpent and the first humans in Genesis 3. With the Parousia, Christ will return like the snake of lightning, destroying the world that the Demiurge had made. For Bloch, this 'a rebellion myth second to none',103 and he ponders why it disappeared, why it was stripped of any serious political dimensions by the Church Fathers. And then, in his characteristic encyclopaedic fashion, Bloch traces the serpent through to the 530 CE decree by Justinian against Ophite doctrine, the possibility that the Marcionites worshipped the serpent, its presence on the eucharistic cup in the Middle Ages, the decorations found on Templar churches and in baroque Bibles, and even Nietzsche's rebellion.104 But what he misses is the fact that the Hebrew word Seraph or Seraphim also means serpent, deriving from the winged cobra of the representations of the Pharaohs and Egyptian deities. The serpent, it seems, is even more prevalent in the Bible than he thought.105 A second excellent example of Bloch's 'discernment of myths' comes with his discussion of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. Here, he spots a 'half-concealed break in the picture of this God'106 where the issue is acceptable sacrifice. Abel's sacrifice of the fat portions of the firstling of the flock is acceptable, but Cain's offering of the fruit of the ground is not. Here, we have a bloodthirsty deity who requires the blood of animals as a substitute for human blood. After the murder of Yahweh's favoured Abel by Cain, the picture of Yahweh transforms into something quite different. Usually, the text that follows the murder - with its story of the mark of Cain to distinguish him from others - is read as the curse of Cain. He has, after all, killed his brother in a rage of jealousy, sin lying at the door as a result of Cain's fallen face (Gen 4: 6 and 7). Bloch, however, exploits a break in the Masoretic text in verse 8: 'And Cain said to his brother Abel ... And when they were in the field, Cain rose up
103 Bloch 1972, p. 186; Bloch 1985, Volume 14, p. 233.
104 Bloch 1991, p. 331; Bloch 1985, Volume 4, pp. 365-6.
105 See further on this, Landy 1999.
106 Bloch 1972, p. 90; Bloch 1985, Volume 14, p. 120.
against his brother Abel, and killed him'. This syntactical blip alerts Bloch to a change in the representations of Cain and Yahweh. The nervousness of the other versions (Samaritan Pentateuch, Septuagint, Syriac, Vulgate and others) which add 'Let us go out into the field' points to a problem in the Hebrew - it simply does not make sense at this point.
The change in Cain is one thing: he is either a crestfallen man because his sacrifice was unacceptable, or a murderer. But Bloch is drawn by the break in the picture of God. On the one hand, we have the dystopian, bloodthirsty Yah-weh who places a curse on Cain - 'And now cursed are you from the ground, which has opened its mouth to take the blood of your brother from your hand. When you cultivate the ground it will no longer give you its strength; a fugitive and wanderer you will be upon the earth' (Gen 4: 11-12, my translation). Yet, the text relents in mid stream: 'Yahweh not only modifies his curse, but withdraws it. Instead of an imperial ban on the outlaw, what comes, as though from a different source, is quite the opposite'.107 The mark of Cain is then a mark of protection, and Cain is blessed with a long line of fruitful and productive offspring - city-builders, tent dwellers, livestock owners, lyre and pipe players, bronze and iron tool manufacturers.
But, had he been able to read Hebrew, Bloch would have picked up another textual problem. In Gen 4: 15, he quotes Yahweh's words in the text as 'Not so! If anyone slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold'.108 But, here, the 'not so!' follows the various versions (Greek, Latin and Syriac) rather than the Masoretic (Hebrew) text, which has 'Therefore [lkn]', following on from Cain's plea, 'I shall be a fugitive and wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me' (Gen 4: 14). Therefore, says Yahweh, Cain's killer will be avenged sevenfold, and for this reason the mark is a mark of protection, not punishment. Finally, Bloch lets pass in silence the verse that follows, for Cain with his sign of protection departs from 'the face of Yahweh' (Gen 4: 16). Is this not precisely the exodus out of Yahweh that Bloch seeks?
These are among the best examples of Bloch's method, sorting out tensions and contradictions in biblical myths. However, at other points, he is not so discerning. For, when it comes to a pinch, he leaves myth behind, keen to espy the historical Moses behind the various myths that waft around him,
107 Bloch 1972, p. 90; Bloch 1985, Volume 14, p. 121.
or the concrete historical context of wilderness nomadism and the conquest of Canaan. At times, he loses his mythical nerve, wanting Moses to be more than myth. Of course, the catch is that one of the most likely forms of myth is of the great man (at least) of history and faith. He will do the same thing with Jesus.
Bloch's enthusiastic appropriation of the New Testament has not got the quirky edge of his reading of the Hebrew Bible. As before, I move through The Principle of Hope before returning to Atheism in Christianity. Of course, he will zero in on Jesus, one in a long line of prophets that even includes Zoroaster, Mani and Buddha. But, like Moses, Jesus must be a historical figure struggling to escape his mythical background.109 Bloch wants to establish the fullest revolutionary credentials of Jesus, who provides the basis for social utopia. So he focuses on Jesus's 'downward attraction', towards the poor, and his 'upward rebellion against above', against the powerful. In the end, wealth prevents salvation, and the love-communism of the early community (comparable to primitive communism under Moses) provides the model of a new society. After his glowing appreciation of Jesus, Bloch finds the scandal of Christian love central: 'This is Christian love, a love which is almost micrological, one which gathers up its own in their out-of-the-wayness, their incognito to the world, their discordance with the world: into the kingdom where they accord'.110 Along with love, Jesus's apocalypticism marks him as a revolutionary and as the sign of the 'perfection of the exodus god into the god of the kingdom'.111 Of all things, Bloch treasures biblical apocalypticism highest of all.
Jesus's revolutionary credentials become central in Atheism in Christianity -Bloch stresses the words of fury and divisiveness, sword and fire. He is, however, not the first to argue for Jesus the political revolutionary, for it has been a constant theme in various popular and scholarly Christologies. Indeed, as I mentioned earlier, Bloch's zeal for Jesus the revolutionary firebrand has been influential in political theologies in Europe (most notably Jürgen Moltmann
109 Bloch 1995, pp. 1256-65; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, pp. 1482-93.
110 Bloch 1995, p. 1262; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 1490.
111 Bloch 1995, p. 1265; Bloch 1985, Volume 5, p. 1493.
and Johann Baptist Metz)112 and liberation theologies in Latin America and elsewhere. Compared to these theologies, Bloch gives no quarter to liberal, interiorising anti-Semitic Christologies of Renan, Holtzmann, Wellhausen and von Harnack, particularly when he connects their work with the tran-scendentalising tendencies within the New Testament.
But the most curious aspect of his treatment of Jesus in Atheism in Christianity is the mix of mythical and historical features. Like The Principle of Hope, Bloch undertakes his own search for the historical Jesus, and, in doing so, he follows the dominant pattern of such research in biblical scholarship at the time, namely speculation about the New-Testament titles of Jesus: Messiah, Son of God, Son of Man, kyrios (lord), and so on. And like that research, his wants to identify the titles closest to Jesus's own usage, to gain access to his psychological processes. Bloch's prefers both Messiah and Son of Man: 'Subjectively, then, Jesus considered himself the Messiah in the thoroughly traditional sense; objectively he is anything but an artful dodger into invisible inwardness, or a sort of quartermaster for a totally transcendent heavenly Kingdom'.113 But the enigmatic and apocalyptic 'Son of Man' is closest to Jesus, the one most often on his lips, giving expression to his anti-Yahwistic drive, the desire for human transcendence. Yet, in pursuing the Son of Man through the Hebrew Bible and extra-canonical material, Bloch is squarely in the realm of myth, whether the suffering, dying and returning apocalyptic figure or the heavenly man or Adam, Adam Kadmon of Jewish mythology, and the second Adam of other New Testament theology. And, here, he falls into the trap that his method promised to avoid: on the one hand, he tries to sidestep the myth that seeps through the New Testament, arguing that Son of Man is a real term used by a flesh-and-blood Jesus; on the other, it is a designation that runs back to the earliest precursors of the priestly source in Genesis 1, to the figure of Adam made in the image and likeness of God: 'In the final analysis, then, the doctrine of the Heavenly Adam as the prototype of man belongs to the biblical Azores: to the remaining mountain-peak of a submerged, subversive, anti-theocratic tradition'.114
112 Metz 1969, Metz 1980, Jürgen Moltmann, especially in his first major text, Moltmann 1982.
113 Bloch 1972, pp. 129-30; Bloch 1985, Volume 14, p. 176.
114 Bloch 1972, p. 150; Bloch 1985, Volume 14, p. 195.
I am not so sure, for not only would Bloch have been on better ground if he had argued that the myth of a revolutionary Jesus is one that undermines those of the Kyrios-Christos and the transcendent, eternal Adam. Of course, Bloch would argue that this is a manifestation of the god principle, an expression of the human desire for self-transcendence beyond religious ideology. But the problem runs deeper than this, which involves both the difficulties of secularising theology and the elevation of man onto God's former throne. I will return to these questions below.
All the same, Bloch's enthusiasm for Jewish and Christian materials is striking. One can sense the immense value he accords Moses and Jesus, Christian love and apocalypticism, but, above all, their revolutionary credentials. Is he, then, too sympathetic to religion, too blind to the atrocities and complicities with the powerful that Christianity has manifested, as his critics in East Germany insisted? It seems to me that, for all his shortcomings in biblical criticism and in Marxist theory, the crucial question that exercised Bloch is why such a text was the main inspiration for the various revolutionary groups throughout European history. I have already raised this question earlier, but it remains central to some of Bloch's final moves.
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