It should be no surprise to find throughout the tradition of Christian reflection on the body of Christ that sexual language is frequently employed. Therefore it should come as no surprise to find a number of contemporary patristic and medieval scholars from Virginia Burrus, Kate Cooper and Elizabeth Clark to Caroline Walker Bynum, Daniel Boyarin and Mark Jordan drawing attention to this language.2 The work of queer theorists and the new attention to the different historical and cultural understandings of embodiment have only returned a number of scholars of early Christianity to their treasured texts in an effort to point out that modernity's commitment to the twin-headed heterosexuality and homophobia is a blip in the history of western civilisation. The language of sexuality and queer relations frequently found in accounts of the body of Christ issues from a fundamental erotics driving the enquiry into the body of Christ itself. In the past the enquiry was governed by a calling, a discipleship, a sacrificial obedience, a participation, a desire, an anticipation and relation. The enquiry was conducted within an encompassing affectivity, such that the end of the enquiry (whether it be Ter-tullian in De Carno Christi or Gregory of Nyssa in his commentary on the Canticum Canticorum) is identification with the object of the enquiry: to be made one with Christ. Neither the object nor the enquiring subject has a place outside this affective or erotic economy, the economy of response. I enquire into the nature of this body or into those places (the Scriptures, the Church, the Sacraments) where this body may be found, because I am drawn to it — it is the object of a longing to which I abandon myself.
There is introduced with this erotic affectivity a gendering of relations that opens up questions concerning the maleness of Jesus Christ, and the relationship of this maleness to the economy of salvation. The erotic relations transcend the dimorphism of heterosexuality/homosexuality, as they deepen the mystery of sexuality itself. The erotic is excessive to the sexual,3 bearing as it does upon that caritas which is the mode of God's own activity. It is not that our longing to understand Jesus Christ, to embrace and be embraced by that body which is given so completely for us, negates the sexual. The sexual is the very mark of embodiment itself; a mode of relation
2 See Virginia Burrus, Begotten Not Made: Conceiving Manhood in Late Antiquity (Stanford University Press, 2000); Kate Cooper, The Virgin and the Bride: Idealized Womanhood in Late Antiquity (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998); Elizabeth A. Clark, Reading and Renunciation: Asceticism and Scripture in Early Christianity (Princeton University Press, 1999); Caroline Walker Bynum, Jesus as Mother: Studies in Spirituality in the High Middles Ages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982); Daniel Boyarin, Carnal Israel: Reading Sex in Talmudic Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993); MarkJordan, The Invention of Sodom (University of Chicago Press, 1998).
3 See Michel Henry, Incarnation: Une Philosophie de la chair (Paris: Seuil, 2000), pp. 311—18.
in which the body experiences itself as such. But desire reorders the sexual as a deeper mystery of embodiment unfolds. Divine embodiment moves us to affirm our own embodiment in a new way — as a temple of the Spirit, to use the Pauline term, as holy, as graced, as transcending our understanding. The gendered relations, as set up by the erotic affectivity within which the enquiry into the body of Jesus Christ takes place, are queered. For they render unstable the categories of sexual difference that might attempt to describe those relations or the performance of the enquirer with respect to the gendered body of Jesus Christ. We saw this destabilising of sexual categories when we examined the work of Luce Irigaray in chapter five. It is not that gender disappears. Gender is not transcended. It is, rather, rendered part of a more profound mystery: the mystery of relation itself between God and human beings. Given over sacrificially to God, I am subsequently found in God to be most myself, my sexual, gendered and gendering self. But I have to be taught what it means to be such a self by the Christ who draws me into a kenotic relationship with him. It is then the very maleness of the body of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected that comes to determine how I understand my own embodiment.
So much then for my first analysis of what pertains to the purpose of the enquiry. Let me turn now to a more detailed analysis of the assumed knowledges which the enquiry demands, having already shown how the affectiv-ity circumscribing the enquiry raises, as it queers, some of the categories involved. While so engaged let me also emphasise that these knowledges may indeed, should indeed, undergo revisions and repudiations as well as affirmations as the enquiry proceeds. Knowledges are never stable. But in order to engage in such enquiry, in order to raise questions such as 'how do we give an account of this body ofJesus Christ?' we have to assume that we have some knowledge of what a body is. We assume we know what being human is and even what being 'God' is, such that this differs from being human. We assume knowledge of what being male is, what it means, how it can be read with respect to Jesus's body — an assumption that further assumes knowledge of what being female is. Several recent socio-historical and anthropological studies have pointed out how each culture figures and understands the body differently.4 After Foucault, Pierre Manent has called into question our knowledges about being human;5 and the work of
4 I cite only two of the most important ones: Thomas Lacquer, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990) and Richard Sennett, Flesh and Stone: The Body and the City in Western Civilization (New York: Norton Paperback, 1996).
5 For Foucault's reflections of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century production of 'man', see The Order of Things. For Pierre Manent, see The City of Man, tr. Marc A. LePain (Princeton University Press, 1998).
apophatic theology has always been to question our assumed knowledges about the divine. Furthermore, how do we read the Jewish maleness ofJesus Christ when we do not have the body itself, only a body of writings? Several sets of cultural assumptions must then inform any investigation into the body ofJesus Christ — even when that investigation is a theological one which roots itself in rehearsing the tradition and creeds (of Nicea or Chal-cedon). For example, the nineteenth-century investigations into the historical Jesus, and the type of kenotic Christologies that followed from those investigations, occur at a time of the increasing medicalisation of the body and increasing confidence (following various declarations of rights) about what it is to be human. In this medicalisation, the body is profoundly secularised; in this confidence, to be human is an act of self-assertion, assertion as self-affirmation. In both of these events, the human body becomes a localised site of certain immanent operations. Reduced to what is observable and explicable, the body becomes an organic machine.6 It takes on a disenchanted opacity; it becomes an identifiable substance, a collection of organs and chemicals. The nineteenth century was also a time when the new muscular masculinities, sketched by the likes of Winckelmann, from Greek statues, were being formed in the German gymnasia and the English public schools.7 So the theological investigations work with the cultural assumption that bodies and being human are givens, and being manly was to be strong, forthright and self-controlled. These gendered bodies are constituted of brute data that can be empirically registered and positivistically analysed. Gendered human bodies are objects that can be catalogued. So questions of their meaning and the construction of their gender, questions about the cultural specificity of the scientific interpretations of them, are rendered invisible. As such there is little difference between a live and a dead body; and yet what difference there is is what being human is all about. The nineteenth-century theologians assumed certain knowledges about Jesus's Jewish embodiment, humanity and sex; on the basis of such assumptions, it followed that his historical existence could be sketched, his biography written, his psychological profile drawn while, throughout, his masculinity rendered invisible questions concerning sexuality and gender.8
For several decades the social sciences have been learning how to quarry
6 For the episteme of the gaze with respect to the body see Michel Foucault, Birth of a Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception, tr. A.M. Sheridan (London: Routledge, 1989).
7 See George Mosse, The Image of Man: The Creation of Modern Masculinity (Oxford University Press, 1996).
8 For a further example of how socio-cultural conditions mediate our Christologies see Stephen D. Moore, God's Beauty Parlor and Other Queer Spaces in and around the Bible (Stanford University Press, 2001), pp. 90-130.
and question their own assumptions and thereby reopen debates once thought to be closed and rethink issues once thought to be settled. Theology too needs to understand how time-conditioned are its language and thought; how what it assumes it knows needs to be critically examined. It needs to understand also the kinds of bodies its own discourse has been implicated in producing. History shows how Christian theology shaped the anorexic body of the Middle Ages and the heterosexual body of the nineteenth century. Christian theology was profoundly involved in biopolitics — it still is. Daniel Boyarin has demonstrated how Jewish theology also played its part in the rise of heterosexuality and the development of Jewish male (and by implication female) bodies.9 By taking just one of those three assumptions — knowledges of specifically ethnic bodies, being human and sex — for enquiring into the Jewish body ofJesus Christ, we can begin that critical reflection and think through its theological significance. But we can also begin to ask what kind of bodies is theological discourse implicated in producing today.
Philosophically, questions about the meaning, interpretation, presentation and representation of the body do not arise until late developments in phenomenology such as those of Merleau-Ponty. After Merleau-Ponty (and other phenomenologists like Michel Henry10 and Jean-Louis Chrétien11) bodies are not just there. Embodiment can be rethought. The investigations that have been conducted into the body over the last twenty or thirty years in the wake of phenomenological essays such as 'The Intertwining — The Chiasm' have taught us something of the complex politics of bodies.12 In the work of Foucault and Irigaray — both explicitly indebted to Merleau-Ponty — bodies are no longer simply givens. Nor are they tabulae rasae that receive cultural inscriptions. A new perspective arises that emphasises that we have no immediate access to what is most intimate to us.
Let me be clear, at this point: I am not suggesting that contemporary accounts of the body are any more true or more faithful to the truth of embodiment than the accounts emerging from the Renaissance onwards of the body's facticity. Contemporary accounts are figurations and the scientific
9 See Unheroic Conduct: The Rise of Heterosexuality and the Invention of the Jewish Man (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).
10 See Philosophie et phénoménologie du corps (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1965) and Phénoménologie materielle (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1990).
11 For Jean-Louis Chrétien see La Voix nue: phénoménologie de la promesse (Paris: Editions de minuit, 1990); L'Appel et la réponse (Paris: Editions de minuit, 1992); Corps à corps: à l'écoute de l'œuvre d'art (Paris: Editions de minuit, 1997); and Entre flèche et cri (Paris: Obsidiane, 1998).
12 In The Visible and the Invisible, ed. Claude LeFort, tr. Alphonso Lingis (Evanston, 111.: Northwestern University Press, 1968).
accounts remain significantly institutionalised — by medicine and governments. The point I am making is double-bound: we cannot just assume that we know what a body is; and yet not to assume, not to have any notion of embodiment would stymie any enquiry before it had been undertaken. And so when I came to write my own account of transcorporeality and the body of Christ in the previous essays and chapter of Cities of God I was working with narratives of the unbounded body of Irigaray, the imaginary body of Lacan, the performed body of Butler, and was weaving these notions of the body back into older theological accounts of embodiment evident in Tertul-lian, Augustine and Gregory of Nyssa. Furthermore, I wished to emphasise while composing an argument that it was not an innocent strategy. I was doing no more than offering a Christological interpretation of some continental views of embodiment. Although I related this interpretation directly to the Scriptures, I was not, by doing that, trying to lend my interpretation a divine legitimacy. I was not saying 'this is the nature ofJesus Christ's body and all embodiment' (given that in Christian theology the nature of the world is read in terms of the one through whom and by whom that world was created). I was telling the story of the body of Jesus Christ in another way. Any enquiry into the body ofJesus Christ assumes a knowledge of the nature of embodiment, assumes an account of substance — I was assuming the knowledges of the body that have been fashioned since the phenomeno-logical turn to the body over forty years ago.
This suggests a profound and a productive agnosticism concerning the body itself, to which I will return in the final part of this essay. All we have is a variety of opinions and beliefs that we necessarily assume are true in order to form the basis for the enquiry at all. What we have when we begin the enquiry are culturally mediated models (frequently internalised) that allow us and enable us to make the necessary assumptions. Thus a certain politics is not only evident but inevitable. It is the politics that interests me in this chapter— not the interpretation of the body ofJesus Christ as such. I wish to investigate this politics in what follows to demonstrate (a) how it can be theologically employed and (b) how its employment is part of a larger history of cultural change and transmission — one that demands we ask why are we interested in the body of Jesus Christ today. What does this very enquiry say about where we stand now? Finally I wish also to offer a theological account of both this politics and the history of cultural change and transmission in which it figures. I am aware that this composes a double movement — investigating the cultural politics of the theological representation and then theologically representing the cultural politics itself. I open myself to the criticism of circularity. But I would argue that the criticism of hermeneutic circularity belongs to an ahistorical logic; it is insufficiently materialist. We never step into the same river twice. Similarly we are never in the same position having moved through the reflexive moment. Temporally and contextually we are elsewhere. In confronting the cultural politics within theological reflection and then embracing those politics as something theologically positive, what I am attempting to develop is new methodology for theological enquiry. This methodology would tender a much more public and responsible theology than we are used to.13 I hope, finally, to spell out more of what I mean by 'public'.
To render my investigation into the politics of the Jewish, male body of Jesus Christ manageable and also specific I will examine the question of circumcision in two representations divided from each other both culturally and historically. I chose circumcision for three pertinent reasons. First, it has always been not only a physiological but a political action, since it marks a boundary of inclusion and exclusion. While the act (the removal of the foreskin from around the penile helmet) has remained the same, the way that act is understood and evaluated shifts continually. The technology for accomplishing the act of circumcision, the context in which it is done and the persons involved in its execution have also changed. Now it is performed, on the whole, in hospitals by the laity, by qualified medical staff. This is mainly because the foreskin is viewed as a potential harbourer of certain infections. The politics implicated in circumcision change with each cultural context. Secondly, circumcision has recently formed a focus of interest in accounts of the Jewish male body by Elliot R. Wolfson14 and Daniel Boyarin.15 These accounts detail the theologies of circumcision. They represent the weaving of theological discourse into our present cultural preoccupations with embodiment. Thirdly, circumcision is also viewed in Christian theology as the mark of incarnation. That is, the parentage of Jesus of Nazareth may be ambivalent but his circumcision has traditionally been seen as evidence of the humanity of Christ.16 Circumcision is the first indication of the gendered corporeality of the Christ — for Leo Steinberg this explains the unusual but frequent emphasis in medieval and Renaissance art on Jesus's penis. In my two examples I wish to investigate the different cultural politics in which the circumcision ofJesus is implicated.
13 This project is developed in more detail in my Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice (Cambridge University Press, 2004).
14 Circle in the Square: Studies in the Use of Gender in Kabbalistic Mysticism (New York: SUNY, 1995).
15 Carnal Israel, pp. 197-225.
16 See Leo Steinberg, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion (University of Chicago Press, 1996).
Was this article helpful?