SBL  Toronto 2002

Romans Through History and Cultures Seminar


Taubes, Badiou, Agamben


Reception of Paul by Non-Christian Philosophers Today[1]



Alain Gignac


Université de Montréal




 “Most contemporary receptions of Romans are interpretations by Christians who read this text as Scripture.” (Grenholm and Patte 2000, 1)


As part of the “Romans through History and Cultures Seminar,” I am presenting three contemporary readings of Paul proposed by European philosophers.[2] Sign of the times at the turn of the millennium? These reading have just been published in French, one right after the other: Alain Badiou (1997,1998), Jacob Taubes (1999, translation of the original posthumous German published in 1993), and Giorgio Agamben (2000, translation from the original Italian published the same year). The project pursued here is an ambitious one, since each of these works could—and should—be the subject of a separate study. Three reasons prompt me to undertake this daring task: to bring these works as yet unpublished in English into public view; to bring to light the intersections linking them; and to reflect upon the hermeneutic implications of these non-Christian and not directly theological appropriations of Romans. But I would first like to explain why I became interested in these thinkers who poach in the hunting grounds of theologians and exegetes, and how this interest has come to be grafted, almost impertinently, on this SBL seminar.


1. Why Summon Three Philosophers to This Seminar?


1.1 My reading context: a secularized Quebec


As a Quebec academic professionally dedicated to the interpretation of Paul’s writings, I find myself in a paradoxical situation. I am paid by the State to do theology in a society which is extremely ambivalent, even profoundly ill at ease, about religious matters—now considered irrelevant. We are speaking of a society that will not even draw on its Christian roots, however fertile they may be. Having evolved on the outskirts of North America’s mainstream Anglo-Saxon society and in estrangement from the international (but still Euro-centred) French-speaking community, Quebec has a minority status in both linguistic spheres, but has produced a very distinct culture. And, to my mind, Quebec is now perhaps one of the West’s most secularized societies,[3] having in some sort swung from one extreme to the other in the space of forty years (Lefebvre 2000, Lemieux and Montminy 2000).[4] Once derided as a “priest-ridden province,” Quebec experienced the rapid transformation of its state, social, and cultural institutions, amounting to a secularization which, for all its quietness, was nonetheless radical: Hence, the now familiar tag “Quiet Revolution” used to label the 1960-1980 era. The Church is no longer a major social force; the Bible is no longer a touchstone; and religious experience itself has been overshadowed or at least privatized in the extreme. It will thus be understood that, in today’s Quebec, studying the Bible in a scientific and faith-filled manner mindful of the ancient “fides quaerens intellectum” maxim is no longer a given.


In the context which is mine, why and how should Romans be read today? Two paths quickly appeared to me as dead ends, or at the very least, as unpromising. First, there is what I would call the canonical approach, postulating that the biblical text’s authority and relevance abide in its having been transmitted by the believing community and in its capacity for transmitting that community’s experience.[5] Despite the fact that I personally assume the canonical character of the Bible, I am no longer able to proceed as if this postulate were evident. Besides, what relevance is there in understanding Romans based on traditional categories and issues, such as justification and salvation, when these concepts are meaningless for my fellow citizens?[6] In my Quebec context, I cannot read Romans solely from the believer’s perspective. If I want to make room for the hermeneutic objective of interpretation—seeking to understand myself through the text—, I cannot assert beforehand that I shall reach that objective. Second, there is what I would call the academic approach which undertakes the rigourous descriptive study of the biblical text as if it were any other human artifact proposed for study. Despite the fact that I endorse the demands of scientific principles, I cannot allow them to restrict the scope of my reading. Where is the relevance in explaining Romans from an historical or literary point of view, if this adds nothing to its meaning for my fellow citizens? Notwithstanding the Quebec context—or perhaps because of it!—I cannot read Romans as if this text were insignificant and powerless to fuel the quest for meaning. If I want to honour the heuristic objective of interpretation—explaining the text as it is—, I cannot, a priori, restrict my investigation to this sole objective.[7]


In sum, from where I speak, I must question both my role as a theologian who reflects on the coherence of the faith in and for a believing community and my role as an academic who ensures the cohesion of a scholarly body of knowledge—without denying either role. This questioning led me to the following working hypothesis: read Romans today as a classic of Western culture, in counterpoint to the contemporary philosophical query which is now commonly called (post)modern.[8] Here, my definition of “classic” will not be that of Gadamer (1996, 306-312)—a text fusing two horizons opens onto a revelatory experience,[9] neither will it be performative—a text whose intrinsic narrative and rhetorical qualities are capable of transforming the reader. Though I do not exclude these two possibilities, my criterion is more pragmatic: a classical text is one which is still taught and transmitted because it is deemed fundamentally relevant in its message and/or exemplary in its form and/or capable of “reviving subjects through the word” whose trace it bears (Panier 2002).


That Romans has been a classic along with Augustine, Luther, and Barth is not open to discussion; that it will remain so in the future is beyond demonstration; that it remains a classic for current philosophical discussion—now, that is surprising. Yet, to the question: “Can today’s questions be touched on in a reading of Romans?”, the three philosophers with which we are concerned reply: “Yes.”


1.2 The Context of the Romans Seminar


By proposing to undertake a classical criticism rather than a strictly speaking scriptural criticism, does my contribution respect the spirit of this seminar, as described in the preface to the first book in the collection of its published works (Grenholm and Patte 2000)? Two objections occur to me. On the one hand, the seminar takes a resolutely confessional stance: “Without denying the value and insightfulness of non religious readings, this approach is deliberately focused upon individual and communal interpretations of biblical texts by believers, because these interpretations have been neglected for too long by biblical studies.” (Grenholm and Patte 2000, 3). It is clear that the three thinkers whom I present do not offer a religious reading—which does not mean that they do not respect the religious perspective of the text. Quite to the contrary, taking a view opposed to the above quote, I wonder whether these profane and secular readers of Paul cannot help us rediscover the religious depths of Romans, by getting us out of our confessional ruts and stereotypical readings. It even seems to me that these non-religious readings have been too long neglected by the interpretative community of theologians.


On the other hand, the seminar wishes to establish a dialogue between “church historians, theologians, specialists of present-day receptions of Romans, and New Testament scholars.” (Grenholm and Patte 2000, 1). Now, I am not sure where I should place myself in that enumeration. Trained as a New Testament scholar, I nevertheless can no longer clearly distinguish my work from that of a theologian. What is more, I am not speaking here as a Pauline expert submitting his own interpretation of Romans (which I have done elsewhere in, for example, Gignac 1999), but as a specialist in the current reception of Romans—which I am not! In other words, I am here playing a role of mediation between Pauline studies and the field of contemporary philosophy, even though I am all too aware of the gaps in my philosophical training. Aware as well of my temerity, I take courage in noting that Taubes, Badiou, and Agamben, in their own transgression of disciplinary barriers, were also bound to commit certain faux pas, but this did not prevent them from producing seminal analyses. Now it’s my turn to poach for nutritious game in the hunting grounds of the philosophers.


1.3 Three Philosophers


Taubes, Badiou, and Agamben are little known in the United States; only the last named is systematically translated into English. As part of their university teaching (seminars), they have read Paul in their respective philosophical reading traditions—I shall come back to this—as the culmination and verification of their philosophical process. We are dealing with mature thinkers and not novices. We can unhesitatingly affirm that they are attentive, curious, erudite, empathetic readers who meet the text with what they consider urgent and crucial questions. Broadly, what is at stake is nothing less than examining the possibility of politics in today’s world where the collapse of Marxism gives free reign to the only surviving proponent: neo-liberal thought. In this context, how can the relationship of the subject to the event, to the universal, and to history be thought out? As we shall see, the three are linked by genealogy or rivalry—Agamben dedicates his book to Taubes and, like him, takes his inspiration from Walter Benjamin; Agamben and Badiou, implicitly and even explicitly, sometimes take aim at each other.


For each of the three philosophers, we shall follow the same pattern of presentation. In keeping with the procedure developed as part of the Romans Seminar (Grenholm and Patte 2000, 2-3.25-36.42-43), we shall have to be attentive to their general hermeneutical frame (their philosophical system), to their contextual frame (the problem with which they are concerned), and to their analytical frame. In the last case, this will mean presenting both the results of the reading (their theses) and the manner in which they read. In the course of the exposition, I shall be marking the reactive point of view of the exegete.



2. Three Readings of Romans


2.1 Taubes: Paul, founder of a new people


Jacob Taubes (1923-1987) is a non-conformist intellectual. A rabbi and son of a rabbi, a practising Jew, first a citizen of Austrian and then a naturalised American. Professor at the Freie Universität of Berlin (Brague 2000), his book Die politische Theologie des Paulus (Taubes 1993, 1999b)[10] is the posthumous publication of four lectures delivered to a theological audience in rather peculiar circumstances. Suffering from terminal cancer—Taubes was hospitalized between the second and third lecture—the philosopher was determined to keep his commitment because he wanted his commentary on Romans to be his intellectual testament. Indeed, he insisted that the recordings of his lectures should be published: strange for a man who published so little during his career. Moreover, the tone—by turns confiding, anecdotal, and trenchantly judgemental[11]—and the form—digressions, understatements, circular thought, incomplete demonstrations—are both bewildering. Nor is Taubes devoid of humour about himself: “I should have devoted myself to theology, but by vanity and destiny, I became a philosopher.” (21). Finally, he ends up by describing himself as a Pauline non-Christian (130).


System (world vision)


In a postface not included in the French edition, the editors of the German edition of the four lectures call Taubes’s thought negative political theology, in as much as it proposes a new universalism which undermines the legitimacy of every political order, whether imperial or theocratic (Taubes 1993, 151-152). It would be more exact to speak in terms of a political philosophy of enlistment in history, elaborated through two Judeo-Christian theological concepts: the apocalyptic and the messianic. Hence Taubes’s questions: “…at what epoch are we living? With what present are we dealing ?” (83). Calling himself a “secular theologian” (113), Taubes positions himself at the crossroads of theology and philosophy: this is in no way exceptional, given the pre- and post-war intellectual climate in Germany, Taubes’s stated adherence to Judaism, and, above all, the influences he has accepted.


Die politische Theologie des Paulus reveals to us the author’s intellectual itinerary. Taubes was first the disciple of Gershom Scholem (25) who had himself been the close friend of Walter Benjamin. In critical terms, Taubes falls in line with Benjamin who advocated transforming the world through commitment to political action in the form of messianic nihilism (106-112). So much for the Jewish influences. But, paradoxically, Taubes’s whole opus, and especially the book with which we are concerned, is a dialogue with the conservative Catholic jurist, Carl Schmitt.[12] This dialogue could only be dramatic, since Schmitt , like Martin Heidegger, had given his consent to the Nazi regime and its “theo-zoological” racism (81) and since Taubes admired him, having delved into his writings from the start of his university studies (Taubes 1999a, 153-154):


As a counter-revolutionary apocalyptic thinker [=Schmitt], I knew and still do know that there is an intellectual affinity between us. We are caught up with the same themes, even though we have drawn opposite consequences from them. (Taubes 1999a, 160)


Carl Schmitt thinks apocalyptically, but from the top down, from the domain of the powers, whereas I think from the bottom up. But we both share the experience of time and history as a delay. And this was, originally, the Christian experience of time (Taubes 1999a, 164)


We knew that we were adversaries both in life and in death, but we understood each other deeply because we knew, both of us, that we were speaking on the same level. (106, emphasis added)


The word adversary, to which we may add the word enemy, is here of heavy significance. It will determine the crucial importance of Rom 11:28 which, for Taubes, becomes the key to the whole letter: “As regards the gospel they are enemies of God for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors”(emphasis added). But, if we would understand the full weight of the word, we must know Schmitt’s specific use of it.[13] On this, I shall quote the limpid explanation given by Daniel Tanguay:


He intended this distinction to express a concrete and existential meaning: the political struggle is constituted first by the clash of groups which are gathered together on the grounds of a friends-enemies criterion (See concerning this Carl Schmitt, La notion du politique: La théorie du partisan, Paris, Calmann-Lévy, 1972, p. 65-77). What is here at stake is not some personal antipathy pitting one individual against another, but much rather the watershed dividing human groups between friends and enemies. This divide originates in a primordial existential decision which assigns to a group or a people the title of friend or enemy. This is the decision in which politics expresses its essence. Schmitt will not stop at this simple agonistic definition of the political. Behind the political struggle another struggle is taking form: a struggle between spiritual forces which secretly dominate the actual political struggle. For the political theologian that Schmitt was, this struggle pitted Catholicism against the forces of anarchy and revolution (p. 134-135). But one could say that this struggle was still only secondary to a more essential rivalry: that of Christianity and Judaism concerning divine election. As in the other struggles, Schmitt had chosen his side: the true enemy is the Jewish people (Tanguay 2001, 365-366)


In sum, Taubes institutes a veritable triangular dialogue: Paul, Taubes-Benjamin, and Schmitt. Let’s now see what results it will have for the interpretation of Romans.




“It really does take a certain cheek to tackle this text” (17). What compels Taubes to read Romans is that time is running out, in two senses: As I said, he knows that his days are numbered; but then his entire career also bears the stamp of this apocalyptic urgency. Taubes tells how, during his only meeting with Carl Schmitt, he had defended his apocalyptic and Jewish reading of Paul, showing him the impossibility of founding a Christian anti-Semitism on Rom 11. Schmitt had then made him promise to state his case one day “before passing away” (19).


Taubes seems to have a threefold objective: (1) to defuse the Christian anti-Judaism which takes Paul as its source; (2) to defend his political vision one last time; (3) to build a bridge between philosophy and theology: “Why have I ventured into the theological field? I consider the isolation of faculties of theology fatal to them. In my opinion, the most urgent task for these faculties consists in installing a few windows in their monads.” (20) Inversely, Taubes deplores the lack of biblical culture in his students of philosophy.


Reading approach


Ironically, despite the muddled and disheveled style of his lectures, Taubes is the one among our three philosophers who reflects most on his method, but by an accumulation of little secrets, so to speak. Indeed, in keeping with his objective of recuperating Paul for Judaism, Taubes, the philosopher and rabbi, proposes a Jewish reading of Romans which is at once literal, intuitive, and associative. He lets the word slip in reading the introduction to Paul’s Epistle: his reading is in the Talmudic style (36). Then further on, he will shed light on Rom 9:3 (to be anathema) with an exposé of the Talmudic treatise Berakhoth 32a (52-56).


Taubes is aware that his reading is not that of a theologian, and even less that of an historico-critical exegete: “What I intend to expose here has nothing to do with the Paul studied in the faculties of theology, rightly and legitimately, besides.” (18) “I do not think in a theological mode. I am working with theological material, but thinking from the viewpoint of intellectual history, in line with historical reality. I am asking what political potentials the theological metaphors conceal” (105); “I do not have a very high opinion of the modern biblical criticism begun with Spinoza” (72). Yet, as we shall see, his political interpretation of Paul presupposes and takes into account the historical situation of the apostle. Specifically, he stresses the rivalry between Judeo- and Pagan-Christians which is essential to any understanding of Paul (38-41)—and Badiou will connect with him on this point.


In line with the history of religions (67), Taubes proposes to be a philologist attentive to religious symbolism which, according to him, is a risky intuitive method but one which, if skillfully practised, can be fruitful. He wants to touch the experience which emerges in the Pauline text, an experience that he more than once correlates with the (mystical) Jewish experience recurring in history (79): he relates Paul to Sabbatianism, the liturgy of Yom Kippur, the mentality manifested in the current collections sent by the Diaspora to Israel, the return of young American Jews to Israel, the experience of Walter Benjamin in his youth.[14] Taubes calls this a phenomenological reading: “How does this feel to a Jew?” (76). He thus pleads in favour of a sensus allegoricus, an interpretation contrived to point towards a life experience[15] (71-72).


However, Taubes intends to stick closely to the text: “What does it say? not What does it recount? but What does it say fundamentally?” (118) “The reader must not pretend to be more intelligent that the author and attribute to him concepts he does not possess nor want to possess” (43). Taubes’ definition of philology, a term which surfaces often in his discourse, can doubtless be related to close reading.


Finally, I note a broad hermeneutical openness, summed up in the following formula: “It is easy to read Paul’s history unilaterally and not see the latent elements it conceals. We may say that no one has understood it and that, all the same, no one has entirely misread his words” (90).


What emerges in the course of the reading? General remark: the (intuitive) grasp of the letter as a whole is remarkable: “The Epistle to the Romans is a great fugue which begins in 1:18 with the orgè theou and which then unfurls in waves, in 5, then in 7, and which culminates in the great shout of jubilation in Chapter 8” (49). In the first part of his book, following his conversation with Schmitt, Taubes truly reads. Though indulging in occasional digressions, Taubes gives a close coherent reading of the following passages: the letter’s epistolary framework (Rom 1:1-17 and Rom 15: 30-33); Rom 8:31-9,5; and then Rom 9-11, relating it in an original manner to Rom 12 and Rom 13:


In 9-11 what is provided is the legitimization of the new people of God: In the Epistle to the Romans 12 it is the Christian life which is described, whereas in the Epistle to the Romans 13, he treats the question of knowing how to behave as part of the Roman Empire which represents evil. (67)


Taubes reads with great finesse, not hesitating, for example, to advance a non-Christological interpretation of the benediction in Rom 9:5 (51). I note with interest—and a good measure of humility—that the broad lines of his reading of 9-11 coincide with mine (Gignac 1999): the Apostle’s anguish; the parallel between Paul’s estrangement in Rom 9: 1-5 and Moses interceding for his people[16]; the problem of election; the mechanism of jealousy; key to Rom 9-11 found in Rom 11:28; careful attention to intertextuality.


In the second part of the book, we have rather to do with a passionate trip through the history of philosophy’s reception of Paul in terms of the messianic motif: Marcion and Harnack, Schmitt and Barth, Benjamin and Adorno, Spinoza, Nietszche, and Freud. In my view, the figures of Benjamin, Nietszche, and Freud stand out from this list as philosophers who can help us understand Paul.




The preceding remarks have already introduced the main keys to reading the author; I shall now take up these key points systematically and add to them a few critical assessments:


1. On the one hand, Jewish thought must reappropriate the heretic Paul and, on the other hand, one can only understand him through the lens of Jewish sensitivity. Paul is more of a Jew than many of today’s liberal reformed rabbis (29)! Even Paul’s Greek, which is that of the Diaspora, affords a functional analogy linking his koinè with Yiddish (20). Paul is certainly the Apostle to the Gentiles but this needs to be stated more specifically: He is the Jewish messenger who brings the good news to non-Jews (64.77). The Christian exegete assents to this Judaizing of Paul, in keeping with a strong trend in recent research. Hence, it is perhaps in listening to a Jewish commentary on Paul that this exegete will gain an even better grasp of the Apostle’s Jewishness . Despite its intuitive cast, the analogical method employed by Taubes makes it possible to perceive the Jewish sensitivity of the Pauline text from within. The philosopher seems to have been aware that he was thus throwing a paving stone into the pool of current Jewish theologians.


2. The writing of Romans constitutes the founding act of a subversive political theology, primarily in its criticism of the Nomos which includes both the Pharisees and the whole Roman world (48): “This theology of the Nomos brought law and order to the Roman Empire which, in the Augustan era following the civil wars, was enjoying a long period of peace. At that time, the different groups all participated equally in developing this theology of the Nomos.” (46). In the letter’s opening words, including those of the initial credo of Rom 1:3-4, the vocabulary is unmistakably political (34): Gospel, Lord, Messiah. Now, this letter is being sent to a community in the city which is the very centre of the imperial cult and power. We are reading a veritable declaration of war whose aim is to establish a counter-power (36-37). Similarly, the whole of Rom 13 must be seen as a veiled threat to the imperial order, doubled with a strategic imperative to show prudence in not arousing the suspicions of the authorities. To so highlight the political character of Romans is extremely stimulating, opening up an original perspective which compels us to reread the text. This insight falls in line with a new trend in Pauline research (see, for instance, Horsley 1997 and 2000).


3. Consider this corollary to the foregoing thesis… As Nietzsche had clearly seen, with the spite and envy of one who would make himself the rival of Paul (117-130), the Apostle is operating a revolutionary reversal of values: “…it is not the Nomos but the Crucified One on behalf of the Nomos who is the Imperator. […] By this reversal of values the whole world of that time is turned upside down: the whole Jewish-Roman-Hellenistic theology of the ruling class, all of Hellenism’s eclecticism—all turned upside down. Paul is certainly also a universalist, but in his case the universal is drawn through the eye of the needle of the Crucified One. And that means reversing all the values of this world.” (47). It would be interesting to look closely at how the letter’s rhetoric induces in the reader such a transformation of his identity and behaviour.


4. Paul is the founder of a new people, by enlarging the election of Israel; but he does not renounce his solidarity with Israel nor does he deny the permanence of its election: a universalism which does not destroy Israel’s special status (47)—pace Badiou! Paul thus perceives himself as a new Moses in rivalry with the first Moses (66-67). Recalling Exod 32-34 and Num. 14-15, Taubes contrasts the two figures: “Moses who, as the spokesman of the people of Israel, refuses, who twice refuses, to accept that a new people be born of him and that the existing people of Israel should be annihilated—and Paul who accepts this” (19), in anguish and fear, but with the hope that, in the end, all of Israel will be saved. As I have already pointed out, this reading connects with mine, but sets out from another path that explores the Jewish experience throughout the ages.


5. In several places (83, 87, 135), Taubes insists on the following observation: Paul modifies the dual commandment of love for God and love for neighbour which seems to go back to Jesus; when only the love of neighbour is considered (cf. Rom 13:9): “attention is fixed on the son, on man; there is already no longer any question of the father in this commandment” (83). Here again, another surprise, founded however on a judicious observation. Where Luther had problematicized Romans anthropologically(the justification), where Calvin problematicized it theologically (the justice of God), Taubes brings us back to the anthropological but by means of ethics.


6. This leads us to a final, somewhat obscure thesis which closes Taubes’s seminar like a swan song: there needs to be a new interpretation of Paul based on Freud and his book Moses and Monotheism (139). “Freud who treats the fundamental experience of guild is a direct descendant of Paul” (131). Judaism would be a guilt-bearing religion of the Father, because of the repression of the primordial murder of the Father. Paul could be said to have attempted a reconciliation with the Father through the avowal of this original sin, a sin expiated by the obedience of the Son. But in divinizing the Son he could not escape the fatal necessity of demoting the Father (138). How should this insistence on guilt and this return to a sacrificial interpretation of the death of Jesus be received, envisaged no longer as the vengeance of God but rather as the relief of human guilt? In any case, what we do have is a Jewish reader who reminds us that this question must be raised again and again in our attempts to understand Romans. For better or for worse, this question is an essential current in the Wirkungsgeschichte of Romans, acting like a subterranean force guiding the text’s interpretation.


2.2 Badiou: Paul, founder of universalism


Alain Badiou (born in 1937) teaches at the École normale supérieure in Paris where he read Romans with his students and this led to the publication of his Saint Paul: La foundation de l’universalisme (Badiou 1998).[17] His frame of reading is much more elaborate, rigourous, and exact than that of Taubes and this requires our taking a rather long look at it.


Philosophical system (world vision)


At the cross-roads of philosophy and mathematics, Badiou takes an original approach to certain problems or concerns raised by the Marxist Louis Althusser and by the psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, adding to them mathematical concepts of set theory borrowed from Georg Cantor and Paul Cohen, among others. Badiou’s project consists in re-founding philosophy on new bases (Sedofsky and Badiou 1994). The title of his major work, L’être et l’événement (Badiou 1988), bowing as it does to Heidegger and Sartre, reflects this pretension.[18] More specifically, it is a matter of “re-founding a theory of the subject which subordinates its existence to the random dimension of the event, as to the pure contingency of multiple-being, without sacrificing the motive of truth.” (5) What does that mean?


Based on mathematical postulates,[19] Badiou opposes being and event, the set of “there is” and that of “it happens,” posing them as separate but indissociable. On one side, we have the “ontological” order of being, accessible to knowledge and characterized by multiplicity: being is the juxtaposition of individuals and the locus of particularisms. In a word, it is the situation. On the other side, we have the event which produces the truth of that situation and emerges from it in a contingent, unpredictable, and undemonstrable manner—on the horizon of knowledge, a truth always appears impossible. “For a truth to arise factually requires that it should be without number, without predicate, uncontrollable” (80). The event, as procedure of truth, implies unity (the One), requires that a subject should arise to proclaim it and that it should belong to the realm of singularity (in contrast with that of multiplicity, individuals, and the particularisms of being).


In sum, the ordinary and the extraordinary are in a face off.


There is one point I want to stress as important to the understanding of Saint Paul. The truth in question is that of a subject (in the dual sense of the objective and subjective genitive): the event gives rise to a subject who, simultaneously and by backlash, gives it existence through an act of nomination. The subject interprets the event as event and this interpretation is part of the event. Here, Badiou speaks of intervention, a subjective decision which retroactively gives birth to the event. In other words, subject and event exist in mutual dependence. Now, the event is teleological and normally leads to a reconfiguration of the initial situation from which it has unexpectedly arisen. What is required on the side of the subject is unwavering, active, and faithful commitment, without which the event ceases to be an event at all and risks being perverted, that is ontologized, reduced to an element of being and, hence, trivialized.


Badiou distinguishes four types of truth and, consequently, of events: love, art, science (mathematics), and politics, not to be confused with their counterfeits when they become the objects of knowledge (and of merchandising) on the side of being, in the form of sex, culture, technique, and management (13). What example can be given to make this comprehensible? Badiou puts forward the French Revolution (1789-1794), which arose from the situation of the Ancien Régime (Badiou 1988, 201). But it could also be the Russian Revolution, falling in love, the atonal revolution in music. Through the chaos apparent in rebellions and riots, the revolutionary subject has discerned the unprecedented novelty of a Revolution aimed at universal emancipation (liberty—fraternity—equality) and the institution of democracy. But the revolutionary ideal was rapidly betrayed to serve particular factions.


A second example—a very paradoxical one since it concerns neither love, art, science nor politics and since our author calls himself an atheist (Zizek 2000, 141-142)—is of the utmost interest to us. In Badiou, Christian faith appears almost to be the ultimate paradigm of the event: “…at the heart of Christianity there is this event, situated and exemplary, which is the death of the son on the cross. And, at the same time, the belief does not relate centrally to the being-one of God in His infinite might: Its active kernel is the meaning to be built up out of that death and the organization of faithfulness to that meaning. […] All the parameters of the doctrine of the event are thus deposited in Christianity…” (Badiou 1988, 235). Thus the reading Badiou makes of Romans in Saint Paul is already intuitively present ten years earlier as he reflects on Pascal in L’être et l’événement (Badiou 1988, “Méditation 21”, 235-245).


We note that Badiou uses traditional philosophical vocabulary: ontological, being, event, subject, truth, but in giving it an entirely different thrust. The exegetes who have reviewed Badiou’s book, for the most part favourably (Quesnel 1999, for example),[20] have not picked up on the potential for misunderstanding implied. Thus, when Badiou speaks of the fable of Christ’s resurrection (5) it is surely to avoid laying himself open to the criticism… of have become a Christian. And taking an interest not in the content but in the structure of “resurrection” event, he neutralizes and secularizes it. Nonetheless, the word fable is more ambiguous than it may appear. On the one hand, it can be used to describe an effect of language where the ineffable attempts to express itself—an intuition present in Lacan but explored in depth by De Certeau (1992) and not to be confused either with naiveté or with myth. On the other hand, the word can refer to the very meaning of event which I have just briefly presented: Is it not characteristic of the event to be…fabulous?


Why invoke and analyse this fable? Let us make something very clear: for us, it is very precisely a fable […]: Jesus has risen. Now, this is indeed the fabulous point, since all the rest, the birth, the preaching, the death may after all be tenable. What is “fable” in a narrative is that which, for us, fails to touch anything real, if not that invisible and indirectly accessible residue which clings to whatever is patently imaginary. In this respect, Paul brings the Christian narrative back to its sole point as fable, with the forcefulness of one who knows that, holding this point as real, one is spared the whole imaginary fringe surrounding it. (5)


When Badiou affirms “let us say that for us it is rigourously impossible to believe in the resurrection of the Crucified One.” (6) this is not to belittle the resurrection but to affirm the impossibility he feels—contrary to Paul—to name it an event. In any case, like any event “the Resurrection of Christ is neither an argument, nor an accomplishment. Nor is there any proof of the event, nor is the event itself any proof (52).”


In line with this, our closing remarks turn to the main criticism raised against Badiou (for example Lyotard 1989, 240ff; Zizek 2000, 143-144). If the event is not “in the order of a falsifiable and demonstrable fact” (47), will not the ‘intervention’ which names the event arise from the purely arbitrary? What is to distinguish the option for Nazism from that for the French Revolution? What in the event calls upon the subject to discern something unprecedented and imperative? Badiou would no doubt answer that the subject must be in order with equality, thus with the universal (Terray 1990, 75).


And this leads us to Badiou’s Saint Paul.




The questions driving Badiou’s reading of Paul are clearly developed in chapter 1 “Paul’s Contemporaneity” (5-16). Seeing the upheaval we are experiencing, specifically that revolutionary disillusionment arising from the disappearance of any mobilizing utopia, we find in Paul a model for thinking the event and living militantly. For, notwithstanding the content of his message, Paul makes it possible to rethink the structure of the political, since he is “himself a contemporary of a monumental figure of the destruction of everything political (the beginnings of the military despotism called ‘the Roman Empire’)…” (8)—here, Badiou connects with Taubes.


By renouncing the concrete universal of truths in order to affirm the right of racial, religious, national or sexual minorities, the current epoch no longer has any tools to obstruct the abstract homogenization of the circulation of capital and its complete disregard for persons. Cultural globalization and the retreat into ethnic enclaves are two sides of the same coin: “The capitalist logic of general equivalence and the identity and cultural logic of communities or minorities form an integral whole” (11, cf. 14).[21] We must be open to a reading of Romans which allows us to state clearly some criticism of the current political crisis.


Reading approach


Badiou does not hesitate to accord Paul the status of a classic, but he fails to define this status: “I have always read the Epistles as one returns to classical texts which are particularly familiar, well-worn paths, details abolished, power intact.” (1). He will read Romans as he reads Pascal, Heidegger, and Plato, which means through the lens of being and event. The pieces of the puzzle retrieved from the analysis of Paul fall almost too perfectly into place to reconstitute Badiou’s philosophical system, so much so that, when he writes: “Paul points out,” we would be tempted to read “Badiou points out.” We also have the impression that Badiou keeps less closely to the text than Taubes, though he thinks in a more rectilinear fashion and quotes more Pauline passages in extensio than does the German philosopher.


I want to stress this point: Badiou rereads Paul to find his own conception of the event there. From the start, his reading template is obvious: “The philosophically reconstituted debate covers three concepts. Interruption: What does an event interrupt, what does it preserve? Fidelity: What does being faithful to an event-based interruption imply? Marking: Are there visible marks or signs of fidelity? At the intersection of these three concepts the fundamental inquiry builds up: Who is the subject of the process of truth?” (24)


Badiou’s reading is a-historical, in more ways than one. First, running counter to all exegesis of Romans over the last twenty-five years (Donfried 1991), one can and even must dispense with any contextualization of Paul’s letters, since there is no causal link between the event and the situation which saw its birth—therefore, in the case of Paul, between the Gospel and the Roman Empire (16): “There we have, under the imperative of the event, something dense and timeless, something which, precisely because it involves a thought destined to universality in its emerging singularity but is so independently of any anecdote, we can find intelligible without recourse to complicated historical mediations…” (38). Regarding biographical elements and the circumstances in which the text was written, Badiou will write: “What good is all that? Look at the books. Direct tickets to doctrine.” (17). Yet, in his chapter “Who is Paul?” (17-23), this does not prevent him from being surprisingly well informed with regard to the discussions surrounding the authenticity of the letters, the situation of Judaism in the Roman Empire, the debate stirred up by opening Christianity to pagans and their relation to the Jewish Law, and the political issues involved in Pauline collections. Similarly, his remarks on the reasons for canonizing the Pauline corpus are enlightening and incisive. Nor, as we have seen, is he prevented from making an analogy between our epoch and that of the Roman Empire.


Second, Badiou connects with Bultmann: “All is brought back to one sole point: Jesus, son of God […], and thereby Christ, died on the cross and was resurrected. The rest, all the rest, is of no real importance. We would even say: the rest (what Jesus said and did) is not the reality of the conviction but encumbers and even falsifies it.” (35, cf. also 67).


Moreover, we note that, except for Pascal and Nietzsche (64-67.75-77), Badiou, unlike Taubes, spends little time dialoguing explicitly with philosophers who have read Paul before him. And when he does, it is to insist on the fact that they have not understood Paul… Could it be that Badiou finally has? This attitude stands in contrast to that of Taubes for whom, I recall, no one has entirely understood Paul, just as no one has been completely led astray in interpreting him.




Spelled out and commented on in the six points enumerated below, one thesis stands out: “…for Paul it is a matter of exploring what law can structure a subject stripped of all identity, and suspended from an event whose only ‘proof’ is exactly that a subject proclaims it […] this paradoxical connection between a subject without identity and a law without support founds the possibility within history of a universal predication” (6, emphasis added).


1. Paul, like a Nietzsche—who saw in him his rival, as Taubes already pointed out—is an anti-philosopher (18.62.76), but in a radical sense: not “that philosophy is an error, a necessary illusion, a phantasm, etc., but that there is no longer any place to receive its pretension.” (62) What is more, the figure of Paul is that of a militant, a resistance fighter, as the film-maker Pier Paolo Pasolini so well understood (38-41) in his film project on Paul (Pasolini 1980).[22] Much like a Party faithful or union delegate, Paul is an activist encountering adherents, sympathizers, and opponents; he writes to organize the former or to contest the latter and he busies himself collecting funds for the cause. Taubes had already presented Paul as a political agitator, but without going into as much detail. This Pauline “reconfiguration” is refreshing, after so many centuries of hagiography. However, it is done at the expense of a very dangerous historical uncoupling. Moreover, this recuperation leaves somewhat puzzled: why does a Marxist philosopher like Badiou feel the need to go looking for his figure of the militant in the religious field? Could it be that available revolutionary models no longer exist? Could this be yet another example showing that Marxism is a secularized Christianity (see Agamben in the next pages)? As for the anti- philosophical (philosophical!) category… there’s a question to dig into, but one which puts Paul solidly in the philosophical tradition! In a similar manner, why shouldn’t Paul be presented as an anti-theologian?


2. Badiou finds in Paul, i.e. in 1 Cor 1:17-19, a topological dynamics[23] of four subjective discourses similar to Lacan’s figures of discourse[24] (chapter IV, 43-57). This topology shows that Paul is in actual fact the subject witnessing the event. Taking the Jewish and Greek discourses as two opponents propping each other up, Paul dismisses them both as unsatisfactory: the first is that of the prophet who asks for a sign in the frame of a particular election; the other is that of the sage who questions nature in the frame of a universal cosmos. “ ‘Jew’ and ‘Greek’ designate properly nothing that we could spontaneously understand in the word ‘people’ […] it is a matter of what Paul considers the two coherent intellectual figures in the world which is his” (43-44). To these two master discourses which are also discourses of the father, Paul opposes a third one, the apostle's discourse which proclaims the truth of an event surpassing all discourses based on knowledge, whether of sign or of reason. Paul thereby institutes the discourse of the son in which one will note the apparent convergence with Taubes’s reading of Freud. The destitution of the two master discourses—Jewish particularism and (false) Greek universalization—founds the equality of the sons, which is true universalism. (63) There exists a fourth discourse, that of the mystic, which is in the order of the ineffable and the non-discourse. According to 2 Cor 12: 1-10, Paul is acquainted with it, but refuses to use it, as this would be returning to the discourse of the sign. Hence the expression: “There is neither Jew not Greek.” The analysis of 1Cor 1 is interesting. However, the conceptual interpretation of the Jew/Greek couple in Paul has three weaknesses. (1) Jew/Greek is in fact a polarity of ethnic identity expressed from the Jewish point of view. (2) This polarity does not work the same in Rom as in 1Cor: “there is no longer any difference” (Rom 10:12, quoted by Badiou), but from one end to the other of the letter, the Apostle’s argument is based on this difference! Paul’s universality does not level differences. (3) The analysis of Rom 9-11 shows clearly that by opening election to the Greek, Paul does not obliterate the election of the Jews; it seems to me that here Taubes’s reading of Paul is better. Moreover, the relation with Lacan’s topological system needs to be verified (Zizek 2000, 162-165).


3. The subject who discerns the event and is roused by it is a divided subject (chapter V, 59-68 and Badiou 2000, 327-330). Here again we perceive the influence of Lacan (1977). Contrary to the other three discourses (Greek, Jewish, and mystical) that of the Apostle witnessing the resurrection-event does not unify the subject, but braids together two simultaneous subjective paths: the flesh and the spirit, death and life, the Law and grace, the situation and the effects of the event. In other words, the Christian lives, at the same time, the situation of the first Adam and of the second Adam (73). The flesh refers to the closed identities from which one must liberate oneself: this is the reign of particularistic multiplicity of accountability, it is the refusal of the event. The spirit refers to the consequences of the event to be brought forth, it is the reign of the multiplicity of overabundance, it is the One offered to all. “…an event-made rupture always constitutes its subject in the divided form of ‘no…but.’ and it is precisely this form which bears the universal. For the ‘no’ is a potential dissolution of closed particularisms (whose name is ‘law’), whereas the ‘but’ indicates the task, the faithful labour in which the subjects of the process opened by the event (whose name is grace) are the co-workers” (67-68). This reinterpretation of the flesh/spirit duet as an analogy of the situation/event duet is daring, but adequately expresses the still- there/already-there paradox which characterizes the co-existence of the two ages of the Pauline apocalyptic.


4. In relation with the above thesis and still from a Lacanian perspective: the Law is the mechanism by which the Ego (to be distinguished from the subject) is assigned to death so that Sin should live, that is so that desire should rampage in the form of an automatism (chapter VII, 79-89). Rom 7:7-23 is then read as an autobiography of what Paul experiences after Damascus (59,84): “The law makes death live, and the subject, as life according to the spirit, falls on the side of death. The law distributes life on the side of the way of death and death on the side of the way of life. The death of life is the Ego (in the death position). Sin is the life of death.” (86) “Sin is nothing other than the permutation, under the effects of the law, of the positions of life and death.” (88) “Only a resurrection redistributes death and life to their rightful places, by showing that life does not necessarily occupy the place of death.” (89) By clearly identifying the “I” of Rom 7 with a Christian Pauline “I”, Badiou clearly takes sides in a controversial debate—a plausible option beside the Adamic “I” and the Mosaic “I”. He also follows in the tracks of many readings done from a psychoanalytical perspective (for instance Lacan 1992, 83-84), but his reading of Lacan has been strongly contested (Zizek 2000, 152-156).


5. Basing himself on Rom 6:4-8, Badiou affirms that the relation between death and resurrection is not dialectical as would be two moments of the same reality (chapter VI, 69-78). “The resurrection is neither the co-optation of death[25] nor the fact of overcoming it, but something else” (Badiou 2000, 330, emphasis added). As event, the resurrection emerges from a situation (death) but is not caused by it. Consequently, the proclamation of a crucified Messiah remains folly and is, thereby, the bearer of great rhetorical power, but it does not make “suffering an intrinsically redemptive” function. (74) In sum, unlike the conclusion of Nietzsche’s analysis, there is nothing death-dealing in the Pauline message: to be resurrected, Christ had to die, obviously, but he is not resurrected because he was dead.


 Now, ‘death’ here does not refer to the biological reality, but to one of the two facets of the divided human condition (cf. thesis 3). According to Badiou, the ‘death’ of Christ allows God to enter into solidarity with the divided human being and permits the latter to opt for life. On the one hand, this solidarity is called reconciliation, an equalization which distinguishes itself from salvation (Rom 5:10): “we become like Christ for he becomes like us” (Badiou 2000, 330). On the other hand, to resurrect, to be saved, is to opt for life: “The whole point is to know whether any existence, breaking with the cruel ordinariness of time, encounters the material opportunity to serve a truth and to thus become an immortal, within the subjective division, quite beyond the survival instincts of the human animal.” (70) By this conceptual formalization, Badiou operates as well a “secularization of grace” (70, see also 91). This thesis is Badiou’s most daring. It discards the existential interpretation of “being-for-death” (cf. Heidegger) and a good part of Latin soteriology as well, but it is not without some analogy with Greek soteriology which stressed divinization—”God became human so that the human being might become God.” In this sense, it relativizes the sacrificial interpretation of the death of Christ and replies directly to the Taubes-Freud duet. The theologian, for his part, sits stunned by this immanentization of salvation, its reduction to the opportunity of embracing an intra-wordly cause-event. Moreover, it is remarkable that Badiou revisits the all important reconciliation/salvation distinction in Romans, but from an entirely different perspective, which allows me to note that he never refers to the metaphor of justification—much like Taubes, in fact. Finally, the question remains: Does Badiou do justice to the ‘for us’ of the death of Christ?


6. Finally, Badiou gives an original interpretation of the Paul’s three theological virtues, in the sense of a militancy faithful to the event proclaimed (chapters VIII and IX, 91-103). Faith, love, and hope thus become conviction, love, and certainty. To the very end, Badiou pursues his project of immanentizing the event proclaimed by Paul.



2.3 Agamben: Paul, Founder of the Messianic Fracture


Giorgio Agamben (born in 1942) is a professor at the University of Verona. A jurist concerned with the question of language, he stands at the cross-roads of poetry and philosophy. He is celebrated for the quality of his writing, the finesse of his reasoning, and a remarkable erudition, which are all evident in his book Il tempo che resta—a book which is subtitled a comment on the Letter to the Romans (Agamben 2000a, 2000b).[26] This book is the complement of an unfinished trilogy (Agamben 1998, 1999): as with Badiou’s, Agamben’s reading of Paul cannot be understood without some knowledge of the progress of his thought over almost thirty years.


System (vision of the world)


In an interview with the French daily Libération (Marongiu and Agamben 1999), the Italian philosopher indicates how his meeting with Heidegger had constituted a philosophical vocation[27] and how Benjamin had been for him an antidote to the traces of poison Heidegger’s thought could contain (!) In the interview, he also describes himself as “an epigone […] who is trying to finish, to complete what others, far better than himself, have left undone,” explaining that his political reflections owe a great deal to Benjamin, whose works he edited in Italian, and to Foucault. We should add that Il tempo che resta, dedicated to Taubes, takes up things where the Jewish philosopher had left them off. Several of Agamben’s key concepts had already been outlined in Taubes: the hôs mè of 1 Cor 7:29 (Taubes 1999b, 83.109), the Paul-Benjamin relationship, the katechon of 2 Thess 2:6-7 (Taubes 1999b, 105).


In his Homo sacer trilogy, Agamben intends to unmask the hoax of modern politics, whose model is not the city, i.e. the State founded on law and discussion, but the concentration camp, i.e. the State founded on exception and suspension of the law. He thus dismisses both democracy and totalitarianism as unsatisfactory: Auschwitz only revealed the logic of a system which, since the Second World War, has grown more perfect. No longer exercised by citizen subjects, power is exercised upon an object, “life naked and reduced to the silence of refugees, deportees or the banished: that of an “homo sacer” whose biological body is exposed, without mediation, to the action of a force of correction, of imprisonment, and of death.” (Grelet et al. 1999, emphasis added). The expression Homo sacer, sacred man, thus designates the object of this modern anti-politics for which Agamben has coined the neologism biopolitics. In Roman law, the condemned person became sacer, outlawed and banished. He had no identity: neither religious—he was unfit for sacrifice—, nor civil—he could be executed summarily and with impunity (Custer 1997, 217). As in a camp, the modern State, constantly and at its wills, operates on each “citizen” a desubjectivization, followed by a resubjectivization meant to provoke the subjection of persons who are no longer persons, but naked lives—numbers.


Confronted with this impasse, time and the subject must be rethought. Hence, the interest in the messianic (substantivized adjective), a concept which in Agamben plays a role analogous to the concept of event in Badiou. Hence also, the detour by way of Paul, for the messianic time of Romans can and must become the paradigm of historical time.




Il tempo che resta speaks of urgency and of Paul as the prototype of the messianic thinker, but it never explains the reason for this urgency or the interest held by the messianic idea—very much in contrast with the very clear problematics of Badiou. We must look elsewhere for that: for example in the Homo sacer trilogy. Faced with the aporia of current biopolitics, we must give politics a new foundation. “What does it mean to live in the messiah, what is the messianic life? And what is the structure of messianic time? These questions which are those of Paul, must also be ours” (36, emphasis added), because—are we to imply?—patients in the maw of the bureaucratic health system, people with AIDS, illegal immigrants, and the elderly, among others, are prisoners in a vast concentration camp. In other words, but still only implied: the Pauline structure of time can allow us to subvert the political alienation to which we are being subjected.


Reading approach


“What interests me in the texts of Paul is not so much the domain of religion, but this punctual domain, the messianic, which has to do with religion but does not coincide with it: this is a domain very close to the political. ” (Grelet et al. 1999) Like Badiou, Agamben proposes first of all a philosophical and secular reading of Paul. He follows in the path of the great German philosophical tradition, where Paul is interpreted through Luther’s translation. He shows that the great thinkers of modern political philosophy have honed their concepts by secularizing Paul’s messianic: the Puritan work ethics in Weber (39-41), class in Marx (51-58), appropriation of the unsuitable in Heidegger (59-60), Hegel’s Aufhebung (158-164), and, above all, the conception of history in Benjamin (215-227).


This being said, of the three philosophers presented here, Agamben is the closest to the exegete-philologist model—in that, very different from Taubes. He is attentive to words, to etymology, to textual criticism, to punctuation, to grammar, to the history of theological interpretation; he even proposes his own translation of the passages studied. None of this means that Agamben’s exegesis is not disconcerting, as Denis Müller points out. According to Müller, this interpretation is a “fertile exegetical subversion, free of historico-critical cliques, but just as far removed from certain psychoanalytical or Hebraizing over-interpretations typical of a certain contemporary coquetry.” Agamben reads the text from his position of a reader, without postulating any certainty as to its meaning” (Müller 2001, 52). If for Taubes (Taubes 1999b, 33), everything was found in the exordium of the letter, Agamben conceives his book as “a commentary ad litteram and ‘in every sense’[28] of the first ten words composing the first verse of the Epistle to the Romans.” (8) The titles of the six chapters—which correspond to the six days of the seminar—thus take up the words in Rom 1:1: Paulos doulos christou Ièsou / klètos / aphôrismenos / apostolos / eis euaggelion theou.


Though the book’s title and procedure stress urgency—there is too little time to comment on the whole letter!—we discover along the way that his structure in six “days” and a conclusion titled “Tornada” also relate to temporality. On the one hand, we have a nod at the “6 + 1” biblical arithmetic, the time of creation and the time of rest, which allows a kind of recessed consideration of the whole time of creation. Saturday is not a “day like the others but rather […] the messianic recapitulation and abbreviation of history and creation” (135). On the other hand, this structure is that of a redundant poetic form which Agamben analyzes and which is supposed to be the model of messianic temporality (130-140). This very rigid poetic form, the sextine, is made up of six strophes of six verses, to which is added a last strophe of three verses, the tornada, recapitulating the whole but somewhat apart from it. Only six words can end the verses, they each appear once by strophe, but never in the same sequence, following an order of complex but regular permutation. They also all appear in the final tornada. “The sextine […] is a soteriological machine which through the sophisticated, mèchanè of annunciations and repetitions of rhyming words (which correspond to topological relations between the past and the present) transform chronological time into messianic time.” (134) In other words, the chronological linear time of the reading of the poem (36 + 3 verses), i.e. the time it takes for the poem to end is, in the process, metamorphosed into a recessed time, a rest time, that of the three verses of the tornada, and it does so by folding back on itself—the repetition of the words at the end of the verse constantly referring to what comes before and after in the poem.


This observation on the structure of the book anticipates its most complex thesis on time, but also describes very well Agamben’s style of exposition which, from one chapter to the next relentlessly repeats the same intuitions, but with different shadings or utterances.




Agamben’s overall objective is “to restore the Epistles of Paul to their status as the fundamental messianic text for the West.” (9) Where Taubes scarcely explained what he meant by the term messianic, except in reference to the history of Jewish mysticism, Agamben’s book explores this term methodically. The seven theses that I comment on correspond to the order of the chapters in the book.


1. The messianic perspective erases identity:

a) On the one hand, christ is a title and no longer the proper name of Jesus Christ. According to the author, this is an unquestionable philological conclusion (!)—no polemical or Judaizing prejudices intended (33): Christology does not interest him, but rather the meaning of the word christos, messiah (35). This preliminary thesis makes it possible to examine Romans through the messianic prism. Agamben, while justifying his reading of christos in a functional sense, is very well aware that he is going against the consensus in Pauline research. Now, his argumentation is too rapid, exegetically speaking, and this has a measurable theological impact. In the logic of Romans, can the title of Messiah and the person of the Crucified be dissociated so easily? Obviously, this question is always open to re-examination—for any number of different motives, even if only out of defiance towards the TDNT (Grudmann et al. 1974). However, it is obvious that christos designates someone who has some of the traits of the Messiah, but who at the same time explodes this category. And if Christologists like Moltmann (Moltmann 1993) have wanted to re-messianize Jesus in ways which resemble those of Agamben, this is not without its problems: the hiatus existing between christ and Christ is perhaps the gap which founds Christology (St-Arnaud 1998). Be that as it may, where Taubes is content to stress the Jewish nature of faith in Christ, Agamben proposes to us a messianic without a Messiah.


b) Moreover, the free man Saul has become the slave of Christ; he now has only one messianic name, Paul, and no identity—he can then become the model of the modern messianic subject. This prepares the way for the second thesis. But this slave without identity, can he not also become the model of the non-subject of biopolitics, i.e. of the prisoner in the concentration camp who has only a number tattooed on him by his guards? Here we touch on one of the problems of Agamben’s political position: Isn’t the messianic a flight from the problem? (Grelet et al. 1999) What is the difference between the no-subject of Auschwitz and the messianic subject? A partial response to this objection will be found in theses 2 and 6.


2. The messianic vocation is the revocation of all other vocations and the suspension of all identities. The word klètos, at the heart of Rom 1:1, is also the pivot of Agamben’s interpretation which analyses at length the working of klèsis in 1 Cor 7: 17-32, particularly the last verses (v. 29-31) which repeat five times the expression hôs mè, translated by as not.[29] “To be messianic, to live in the messiah means dispossession, in the form of as not, of all judicial and factual status (circumcised/ uncircumcised, free/slave, man/woman); but this dispossession does not found a new identity, and the ‘new creature’ is only the use and messianic vocation of the old one.” (48) “[…] vocation calls to vocation itself, the former is like an urgency working and hollowing the latter from within, cancelling it to the very extent that it holds its own and abides there.” (44) Messianic faith does not envision salvation as an unrealizable “impotential” utopia, which would imply acting as if it were true. Neither does it envision salvation as the ineluctable necessity of what is to come. Neither does it feed on resentment against the world. Messianic faith envisions salvation instead as an exigency for this world now. “To repeat the words of Benjamin, it [=the messianic subject] contemplates salvation only to the extent that it loses itself in what cannot be saved.” (72) Agamben’s subject without identity has something in common with the subject of Badiou—notwithstanding the quarrel between the two men. It is also with this subject that Agamben replies to the objection raised above concerning a flight from the biopolitical problem. This subject can destroy the system without replacing it, by living what this system demands that we live otherwise: making use of everything while possessing nothing legally. The almost mystical nature of this call which is called only to be called again… is fascinating. From this perspective, could we not rethink Christianity’s eschatological hope, which is too often lived in a mood of indeterminate postponement— thus as unreal—or, worse, in a mood of resignation? Finally, what would happen if we applied this intuition to a specific Messiah who, against all expectations, also made himself a slave, renouncing the messianic vocation even as he assumes it? Even more scandalous: a Messiah having been condemned to the infamy of the cross and cursed by the Law, who thus becomes the Homo sacer? It would be ironic to have Christology use the idea of a philosopher who wants nothing to do with the Messiah.[30]


3. Paul is not the founder of universalism (87-88, against Badiou). Far from cancelling the division between Jews and Gentiles, he divides it again fourfold. Paul himself, from the separated Pharisee that he was, has become the Apostle set aside (aphôrismenos): his experience is also the division of a division. On this subject, Agamben evokes the tale of the Greek painter Apelles who had succeeded in cutting in two with a brush stroke the already untrafine line drawn by Protogenes. He draws on Rom 2:28-29 (the Jew according to the flesh and the Jew according to the spirit) and Rom 9 (Israel and Israel) to affirm that there exists “a sort of rest between each people and itself and between each identity and itself” (87). With Badiou especially in mind, Agamben perhaps denounces the danger of a universalism, of a catholicity which, in the name of an event, would replace one totalitarianism… with another. He dismisses as unsatisfactory particular monolithic identities—which in reality are never monolithic—as well as the universal, for the messianic offers an eccentric position which makes it possible to criticize both. The new cut, the fracture established by Paul, concerns all peoples, without levelling differences. We also note that where Badiou thinks in terms of individuals, Agamben thinks in terms of communities. Though, from their point of view, these two philosophers see that their quarrel about the interpretation of Paul has political consequences, it may also highlight ecclesiological issues. Should we think Christianity in individual or collective terms? In terms of univocal or plurivocal identities? Is there a Christian identity?


4. In correlation with thesis 2: messianic time is a nun kairos—this moment of infinite quality which, being apart and back from the chronos of history, makes it possible to apprehend history and give it meaning. The kairos is a contraction of the chronos. It is the time that time takes to come to an end; the time we have left; the time that we are ourselves (112-113); the time where our history touches eternity without ever entering it—here again, Agamben takes up the metaphor of the division of the division, the fracture:


 …the two extremities of the olam hazzah and the olam habba contract against each other, coming face to face, but without coinciding: and this face-to-face, this contraction, is the messianic time—and nothing else. Once again, in Paul, the messianic is not a third eon between the two times, but rather a caesura which divides the division between times and introduces between them a rest, an unassignable zone of indifference within which the past is shifted to the present and the present stretched into the past. (123-124)


Kairos and chronos are heterogeneous, joined together but not to be added together (118). In passing, Agamben distinguishes and opposes—with just cause—the economy of salvation, truer to his vision of time, and the history of salvation (126-129). This insistence on the kairos in Paul and on criticism of the history of salvation seems valid to me (Gignac 2002). As for the philosophical and theological implications of this conception of time, that would deserve in-depth study.


5. The Nomos is to the Gospel what laws are to the state of exception.[31] The first is neither opposed nor subordinate to the second. Their relationship is not one of exteriority but of intimacy, like two sides—the norm and the promise—of the same reality. Here, Agamben comments on Rom 3:27-31, especially the last verse: “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” He also has an eye on Rom 10: 4: “Christ is the end of the law.” The Law is not destroyed or annulled but deactivated (katargein), thus confirmed—as the exception confirms the rule. The messianic allows usage quite beyond any law. Whereas Badiou tried to understand the complex web of the Law in Paul by means of psychoanalysis, Agamben keeps the political perspective to the end.[32] Can his idea of deactivation serve to get beyond the debate which has crystallized around Rom. 10:4: fulfillment or abolition? Perhaps (see Müller 2001).


6. In Paul, faith is an experience of the word with political repercussions. In an excellent analysis of Rom 10: 6-10 in its connection with Deut 30:11-14, Agamben intends to show that the confession of faith does not designate a truth—I believe that Jesus is the Messiah—or an attitude—I believe in the same ways as Jesus did. In other words, the opposition between faith in Jesus and the faith of Jesus can be overcome. The confession of faith is rather a performative act going beyond essence and existence: it produces a salvation. “It is not between words and things that homologia comes into play, but within the language itself” (210) around a still unresolved tension between law and faith. The messianic is that grace, that excess which prevents faith and law from coinciding or separating (187.212) and which makes it possible to disarm the law. Any politics or religion that forgets this tension in favour of one of the two terms—generally the law—will generate a state of crisis. This is an allusion to the problematics of biopolitics, and faith appears as a possible way out of the logic presiding over the biopolitical. Faith, in its very weakness, makes it possible to disarm the vicious circle of the succession of totalitarianisms. Agamben here presents the consequences of his thesis 5, but from a linguistic perspective. He both distinguishes himself from and moves closer to Badiou, since for the latter the declaration of the subject designates the truth of the event and only this declaration counts. In my view, the redefinition of the faith proposed by Agamben makes it possible to advance the understanding of the faith/salvation link and the debate surrounding the expression pistis christou (see also Vouga 2000, 347).


7. The one who has understood Paul is Benjamin—an intuition already outlined in Taubes (see note 14). “No work of the past ever achieves complete readability except at certain moments of its own history […] between the Epistles of Paul and our epoch, there is a secret rendezvous that we must not miss, come what may” (4th page of the cover). In his last chapter “Tornada,” which I recall corresponds to messianic time, Agamben produces several examples of the influence of Paul on Benjamin’s thinking. Among others, here is the reading he gives of the first thesis of “Sur le concept d’histoire” (Benjamin 2000b, 427-428). The dwarf who, hiding under the table, manipulates the chess game played by historical materialism, is…Paul. Benjamin’s ally, the source of his political philosophy, is thus the Apostle. Here, theologians should perhaps beware of Agamben who, following Benjamin, requisitions the Pauline text. Moreover, this finale displays a dual pretension: since Benjamin has understood Paul and since Agamben has understood Benjamin, then…


3. Reactions of a New Testament Scholar


In ending this presentation, I realize that I have scarcely begun to digest the rich interpretations of Taubes, Badiou, and Agamben or to foresee what consequences this digestion may have on my theological work. In other words, questions are arising at an ever greater pace. In that sense, the present article is truly a contribution to a seminar—a progress report on my reflections, a fervent appeal for truly interactive and interdisciplinary discussions with my colleagues. Not to unduly prolong an already long and technical exposé, I shall indicate rapidly a few of the intersections I see between the three philosophers and the questions they raise.


3.1 Intersections


Taubes the Midrashic commentator, Badiou the mathematician, and Agamben the erudite: several comparisons have been made between these three in the course of the presentation. Can we point to any meaningful intersections among the three?


• The three authors read Paul within a philosophical tradition: French with Badiou, German with the two others who, more than the Frenchman, call upon other philosophers in the interpretation of what they consider the key Pauline concepts.

• Badiou (implicitly) and Agamben (explicitly) claim to understand what meaning Paul has for today’s world.

• Romans is read thematically, often in light of passages imported from the other letters and which have a decisive impact on the interpretation.

• The Pauline writings are taken as fundamental in establishing political thought and as a way of overcoming its current aporias which are described differently by the three authors.

• Paul thus becomes exemplary for his reversal of values (Taubes), for his anti-philosophy (Badiou), for his messianic witness (Agamben). Paul is a founder.

• Romans is radically de-theo-logized: Taubes and Badiou speak of the religion of the son and of sons; Badiou and Agamben go even further in their de- Christo-logizing of the letter. In any case, the accent is placed more on the believer than on the object of faith.

• Paradoxically, we may speak of a secularized theopolitics. Religion and politics join hands, not in their institutionalization, but in the ideas which found political paradigms (see Terray 1990, 74).

• The three authors reinterpret the Pauline criticism of the Nomos as subtly as could be wished but with propositions that must seem very strange to any reader bearing in mind the themes of current theological interpretations: for example, Bultmann’s works of the Law as human self-justification before God or Dunn’s identity markers of the election of Israel. Criticism of the Law thus becomes a declaration of war against Caesar (Taubes); emancipation from the repetition of the situation (Badiou) or a nihilistic response to the state of exception founding the Law (Agamben).

• Three distinct theories of the subject are grafted on to these three criticisms of Law. However, in all three cases, we are faced with a divided subject: divided by guilt (Taubes); divided by the situation/event dichotomy (Badiou) or divided by the subject’s failure to coincide with its identity (Agamben). Badiou and Agamben in particular differ in the way they situate their subject. The first sets the subject in becoming, in an unfinished process moving from the flesh to the spirit, from the situation to the event. The second presents it as the product of a metamorphosis and as the bearer of a new attitude. If I reach for a spatial register: Badiou places the subject above the mêlée of identities whereas Agamben sidelines it to the background. To repeat the formulas of the two philosophers: the subject either evolves according to a “no…but” dynamic (Badiou) or lives out its condition according to the “as not” logic (Agamben).

• Badiou adopts a more individualistic perspective, more psychoanalytical also. Agamben and Taubes never lose sight of the political and community—even communitarian—perspective which is not without its links to their attempt to re-Judaize Paul.

• We should thus rework the Badiou/Agamben quarrel more in depth, perhaps to be surprised by discovering a deeper convergence beyond their divergence (Büttgen 2002). What meaning does a subject without identity have?



3.2 Hermeneutical reflections


Have I succeeded in rendering an account of the density of the intuitions of these three philosophers or have I at least stirred an interest in reading them? Whatever the case may be, reading them has been, for me, an abrasive experience. First, I saw that my exegetical training, focused on 1st century philology and history, and my theological training, centred on the Catholic and more largely Christian tradition, were very slight indeed. I learned that the Pauline corpus has been read and is still being read in another tradition, that of the philosophers. I became aware that Paul even constitutes a compulsory passage for anyone who wants to understand Hegel, Heidegger, and Pascal.


Second, I finally gave up claims as to my own scientific objectivity, thanks to the omnipresent presuppositions philosophers use in their act of reading. I recalled St. Augustine’s Doctrina christiana (1:39-44): in taking up the study of texts, we always manage to find in them our own key to their interpretation. Augustine finds love; Luther, justification; Badiou, the structure of the event; Taubes, messianism; Agamben, ‘what rests.’


Third and as a corollary to the preceding point: I became aware that certain readings deeply rooted in our theological readings were not so obvious: thus, for example, the redemptive value of suffering which Badiou contests out of hand. The disorientation afforded us by philosophers may at the very least get us out of our ruts.


Fourth, we are dealing with three readings of Romans which make no attempt to say the last word on the letter; even more, they do not even bother to read it in extensio—we even note a contraction of the corpus from Taubes (Rom1, Rom 9-13) to Agamben (Rom 1:1) by way of Badiou (Rom 6-7, 10:4). These readings could of course be called partial because they are only partial. But it seems that the axes of reading suggested correspond to certain commonly accepted thematics, though our philosophers do transform them: the problematics of the election of Israel (Rom 9-11); the understanding of the believing subject (Rom 3-8); the universality of the Gospel (Rom 1-4, 10); eschatological urgency in relation to the State (Rom 13); etc.


However, one could reverse the perspective and ask whether our long commentaries on Romans—a genre which is taking up more and more room in theological production—do not ‘sin’ in the opposite direction. On the one hand, by attempting to say it all and burying us under what is becoming a mass of erudition, these commentaries no longer say anything; on the other hand, by claiming to say it all, they forget that any act of reading always leaves a remainder that the key to interpretation proposed has failed to see. It is refreshing to come in contact with rigourously constructed interpretations that, without claiming to be exhaustive, go straight to the point.


Fifth, as several surveys have noted: What does it mean that so many ‘secular’ readers are turning to Paul? “What is being asked of Christianity, and singularly its founding documents, since the exegesis being proposed claims to be neither confessional nor scientific?” (Büttgen 2002, 83; cf. also Beaulieu 1999, 375). Between canonical and scholarly readings, would there be some place for reading Paul as a classic?


Finally and as a corollary of the foregoing point: How can theology assume such a perspective (Romans as a classic) and receive these not strictly theological readings of a document so outstanding in all the turning points of Christian thought over the centuries? Our three thinkers force us to reconsider certain givens of Pauline studies: the time (the delay) of the parousia, eschatology, the kairos, the believing subject, political commitment, redemption, the paradoxical nature of Christian identity, etc.


But does theology really have any choice?—if it “wants to stay in contact with the process and genealogies of modernity without disconnecting from its own historicity or dissolving in an uncritical adaptation to the world and history.” (Müller 2001, 57).


This opens up a work site: to clearly define what a classic is and to explore more in depth the possible meaning and scope of classical criticism.[33]




Agamben, Giorgio. 1998 (Italian 1996). Homo Sacer 1. Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.

______. 1999 (Italian 1998). Homo Sacer 3. Remnants of Auschwitz : the Witness and the Archive. New York: Zone Books.

______. 2000a. Il tempo che resta : un commento alla Lettera ai Romani (Saggi). Torino: Bollati Boringhieri.

______. 2000b (Italian 2000). Le temps qui reste : un commentaire de l'Épître aux Romains / trans. by Judith Revel (Bibliothèque Rivages). Paris: Éditions Payot & Rivages.

Augustine and R. P. H. Green. 1995. Augustine De doctrina Christiana (Oxford early Christian texts.). Oxford [England] ; New York: Clarendon Press.

Badiou, Alain. 1988. L'être et l'événement (L'Ordre philosophique). Paris: Editions du Seuil.

______. 1998 (1997). Saint Paul : la fondation de l'universalisme (Les Essais du Collège international de philosophie). Paris: Presses universitaires de France.

______. 2000. “Saint Paul, fondateur du sujet universel.” Etudes Théologiques et Religieuses 75: 323-333.

Beaulieu, Alain. 1999. “Compte-rendu de Alain Badiou, Saint Paul. La fondation de l'universalisme.” Philosophiques 26: 373-375.

Benjamin, Walter. 1972. Gesammelte Schriften. Unter Mitwirkung von Theodor W. Adorno und Gershom Scholem hrsg. von Rolf Tiedemann und Hermann Schweppenhäuser. [Frankfurt am Main]: Suhrkamp.

______. 2000a. “Fragment théologico-politique.” Pp. 263-265 in Oeuvres I / trans. by Maurice de Gandillac, Rainer Rochlitz and Pierre Rusch / presentation by Rainer Rochlitz (Folio essais; 372). Paris: Gallimard.

______. 2000b. “Sur le concept d'histoire.” Pp. 427-443 in Oeuvres III / trans. by Maurice de Gandillac, Rainer Rochlitz, Pierre Rusch / presentation by Rainer Rochlitz (Folio essais; 374). Paris: Gallimard.

Brague, Rémi. 2000. “Vous vous appelez bien saint Paul?”  Critique 56, no. 634: 214-220.

Büttgen, Philippe. 2002. “L'attente universelle et les voix du prêche. Sur trois interprétations récentes de saint Paul en philosophie.” Etudes Philosophiques no 1: 83-101.

Certeau, Michel de. 1992 (French 1982). The Mystic Fable (Religion and postmodernism.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Custer, O. 1997. “Une mise à nu du politique.” Critique 53: 216-220.

Donfried, Karl.P. (ed.). 1991 (1977). The Romans Debate. Minneapolis: Augsbourg.

Freud, Sigmund. 1951. Moses and Monotheism / trans. by Katherine Jones (International Psycho-analytical Library; 33). London: Hogarth Press.

Gadamer, Hans Georg. 1996 (German 1960). Vérité et méthode : les grandes lignes d'une herméneutique philosophique / trans. by Pierre Fruchon, Jean Grondin and Gilbert Merlio (L'Ordre philosophique). Paris: Seuil.

Gignac, Alain. 1999. Juifs et chrétiens à l'école de Paul de Tarse. Enjeux identitaires et éthiques d'une lecture de Rm 9-11 (Sciences bibliques; 9). Montréal: Médiaspaul.

______. 2001. “Résister au texte pour repenser les ‘genres’ ? Expérimentation herméneutique à partir de Rm 1,18-32.” / presented at 38e Congrès de la Société canadienne de théologie, 19-21 octobre 2001. (to be published).

______. 2002. “Temps et récit de salut chez saint Paul. Romains et la crise des métarécits diagnostiquée par Jean-Francois Lyotard.” Pp. 137-181 in En ce temps-là... Conceptions et expériences bibliques du temps (Sciences bibliques; 10), ed. Michel Gourgues and Michel Talbot. Montréal; Paris: Médiaspaul.

Grelet, Stany, Mathieu Potte-Bonneville and Giorgio Agamben. 1999. “Une biopolitique mineure. Un entretien avec Giorgio Agamben.” Vacarme 10: 4-10 (find on the internet:

Grenholm, Cristina and Daniel Patte. 2000. “Receptions, Critical Interpretations, and Scriptural Criticism.” Pp. 1-54 in Reading Israel in Romans. Legitimacy and Plausibility of Divergent Interpretations, ed. Cristina Grenholm and Daniel Patte. Valley Forge: Trinity Press.

Grudmann, Walter, Franz Hesse, Marinus de Jonge and Adam Simon van der Woude. 1974 (German 1973). “Criô ktl.” Pp. 493-580 in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 9 / trans. by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed. G. Friedrich. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Horsley, Richard A. (ed.). 1997. Paul and Empire. Religion and Power in Roman Imperial Society. Harrisburg: Trinity Press.

______ (ed.). 2000. Paul and Politics. Ekklesia, Israel, Imperium, Interpretation. Harrisburg: Trinity Press.

Lacan, Jacques. 1977. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis (International psycho-analytical library; 106). London: Hogarth Press.

______. 1991. Le séminaire. Livre 17. L'envers de la psychanalyse (1969-1970) (Le champ freudien). Paris: Seuil.

______. 1992. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-1960 / trans. by Dennis Porter (The Seminar of Jacques Lacan; 7). New York: Norton.

Lefebvre, Solange. 2000. “Socio-Religious Evolution and Practical Theology in Quebec, Canada.” International Journal of Practical Theology 4: 284-303.

Lemieux, Raymond and Jean-Paul Montminy. 2000. Le catholicisme québécois (Diagnostic; 28). Québec: Presses de l'Université Laval.

Lyotard, Jean-François. 1979. La condition postmoderne : rapport sur le savoir (Critique). Paris: Éditions de Minuit.

______. 1989. “Sur l'ouvrage d'Alain Badiou, L'Etre et l'événementCahier du Collège International de Philosophie 8: 227-245.

Marongiu, Jean-Baptiste and Giorgio Agamben. 1999. “Agamben, le chercheur d'homme (entrevue).” Libération (jeudi, 1er avril). Paris.

Mimouni, Simon C. 1999. “Jacob Taubes et Paul de Tarse. Notes de lecture.” Revue des études juives 158: 455-464.

Moltmann, Jürgen. 1993 (German 1989). The Way of Jesus Christ : Christology in Messianic Dimensions. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Müller, Denis. 2001. “Le Christ, relève de la Loi (Romains 10,4) : La possibilité d'une éthique messianique à la suite de Giorgio Agamben.” Studies in religion / Sciences religieuses 30: 51-63.

Neusch, Marcel. 1999. “Les penseurs s'invitent chez saint Paul.” La Croix (8 avril). Paris

Panier, Louis. 2002. “Réfléchir théologiquement à partir d'une pratique sémiotique de la lecture biblique.” / presented at Féminisme, sémiotique et sotériologie: Colloque Olivette Genest, 2-4 mai 2002. (to be published).

Pasolini, Pier Paolo. 1980 (Italian 1977). Saint Paul / trans. by G. Joppolo. Paris: Flammarion.

Quesnel, Michel. 1999. “Une lecture philosophique de Paul aujourd'hui.” Le monde de la Bible no 123: 28-29.

Sedofsky, Lauren and Alain Badiou. 1994. “Being by Numbers (Lauren Sedofsky talks with Alain Badiou).” ArtForum 33: 84-87.118.123-124.

St-Arnaud, Guy-Robert. 1998. “Le paradigme du messie, l'Oint est-il près?” Pp. 137-171 in Faut-il attendre le messie? Études sur le messianisme (Sciences bibliques; 5), ed. Robert David. Montréal: Médiaspaul.

Tanguay, Daniel. 2001. “Recension de Jacob Taubes, La théologie politique de Paul.” Religiologiques 23: 365-369.

Taubes, Jacob. 1987. Ad Carl Schmitt gegenstrebige Fügung (Internationaler Merve Diskurs; 134). Berlin: Merve.

______. 1993. Die politische Theologie des Paulus : Vorträge, gehalten an der Forschungsstätte der evangelischen Studiengemeinschaft in Heidelberg, 23.-27. Februar 1987 / Nach Tonbandaufzeichnungen redigierte Fassung von Aleida Assmann. Herausgegeben von Aleida Assmann und Jan Assmann in Verbindung mit Horst Folkers, Wolf-Daniel Hartwich und Christoph Schulte. München: Wilhelm Fink.

______. 1999a (German 1987). “Carl Schmitt, un penseur apocalyptique de la contre-révolution.” Pp. 153-170 in La théologie politique de Paul. Schmitt, Benjamin, Nietzsche, Freud 1999 / trans. by M. Köller and D. Séglard (Traces écrites). Paris: Seuil.

______. 1999b (German 1993). La théologie politique de Paul. Schmitt, Benjamin, Nietzsche, Freud / trans. by M. Köller and D. Séglard (Traces écrites). Paris: Seuil.

Terray, Emmanuel. 1990. “La politique dans L'être et l'événementLes Temps Modernes 45: 72-78.

Vouga, François. 2000. “La nouvelle création et l'invention du moi.” Etudes Théologiques et Religieuses 75: 335-347.


Zizek, Slavoj. 1998. "Psychoanalysis in Post-Marxism: The Case of Alain Badiou." South Atlantic Quarterly 97: 235-261.

______. 2000. “The Politics of Truth, or, Alain Badiou as a Reader of St Paul.” Pp. 127-170 in The Ticklish Subject : an essay in political ontology (Wo es war). London: Verso.

[1] I am grateful to Sybil Murray-Denis for the translation of this paper from the original French.

[2] As I was about to send this article off to the editor, I learned of a project similar to this one but pursued from a philosophical point of view: Büttgen (2002).

[3] In the current Quebec context, it would be unthinkable for the Head of State to recite the 23 Psalm after an event like that of September 11, or to countenance a German-style concordat where the State pays religious ministers. France, where I lived for many years, remains a paradoxical case: the Christian feasts of the Ascension, Pentecost, and All Saints Day are all public holidays and the Church is still a strong institution, but this country already has a long history of laïcisation (which some would distinguish from secularization).

[4] These two studies contain important bibliographic references on the subject and give a more nuanced expression of my succinct statement.

[5] This approach has been described by Grenholm and Patte (2000, 3): “It accounts for the fact that (1) believers trust that they can trace a religious dimension in these texts; (2) believers are powerfully affected in their concrete life-situations by the teachings of scriptural texts; and (3) at times, believers encounter divine mystery through the mediation of Scripture.”

[6] By way of contrast: At the 2001 SBL Meeting in Denver, I attended the consultation group on Pauline soteriology. Whereas the participants raised questions about how they could make a fresh analysis of Paul’s soteriological grammar, no one asked about the relevance of Pauline metaphors for today’s world.

[7] What is perceived as inadequate in the Quebec context may be fully valid in the American context. In fact, in the SBL, some seminars will be governed by the first of these approaches while others will follow the second, with very little cross-fertilization between the two.

[8] See my articles (Gignac 2001, 2002).

[9] Does this statement by Grenholm and Patte (2000, 14-15) follow Gadamer’s line of thought?: “Scripture is revelatory and authoritative for believers. Yet, both revelation and authority are constructed in very different ways in various interpretations of biblical texts as Scripture.”

[10] To simplify the references in this section on Taubes, they will be indicated by page number in parentheses—I am using  the French translation.

[11] The following samples will give some idea of the man and his peremptory affirmations: (1) Jewish readers of Paul are given a bad time: Buber misses the nub of the problem; Baeck is honest but doesn’t have much to say; Klausner possesses almost no religious imagination; Schoeps is only a Protestant (22-24); (2) Philo of Alexander is a court lackey (46); (3) The French do exhaustive research but without making any distinction between what counts and what doesn’t count (74); and American Jews are insolent like all Americans (49); (4) Rudolph Bultmann, in his naiveté, has been duped by Heidegger (100).

[12] We should add that, according to Taubes’s interpretation, Benjamin also dialogued with Schmitt: “The ‘present time’ (Jetztseit), an enormous abridgement of messianic time, determines the ways in which both Walter Benjamin and Carl Schmitt experience history, both sharing a mystical conception of history whose essential message concerns the relationship between the sacred and the profane order.” (Taubes 1999a, 169). For Taubes, the eighth thesis of “Sur le concept d’histoire” (Benjamin 2000b) is an inverted response to Schmitt: “the principal notions of Carl Schmitt are here introduced, reworked, and turned into their opposite by Walter Benjamin” (Taubes 1999a, 168).

[13] “J. Taubes proposes an understanding of Rom 11: 25-36 which is rather hard to perceive, even though C. Schmitt found it enlightening, as he so states. He insists on the term ‘enemy’…” (Mimouni 1999, 458)

[14] After having presented the “Fragment théologico-politique” (Benjamin 2000a) as Benjamin’s densest text (106), Taubes writes: “Obviously, I do not mean to say that this is identical to Paul in a strictly exegetical sense. I mean to say that what it expresses arises from the same experience, and there are signs in the text which confirm that: it is experiences that make Paul tremble and make Benjamin tremble after 1918, that is after the war” (112)

[15] Pace Simon Mimouni (1999, 457) who attributes to Taubes the point of view of Spinoza favouring the strict sensus litterali. Taubes, in contrast, criticizes his predecessor here: among Jewish philosophers, the battle is sometimes fierce!

[16] Taubes doesn’t use Exod 33:19 quoted in Rom 9:15 to confirm this approach which is essential for him. Now, this passage evokes the theophany granted to Moses as God’s positive response to the prophet’s intercession in favour of his people.

[17] To simplify the references in this section on Badiou, they will be indicated by page number in parentheses. The author proposed a shorter version of his book in an article (Badiou 2000).

[18] For an initiation to the thought of Badiou in English, see Zizek (1998, 2000—very critical of Badiou) and Sedofsky and Badiou (1994).

[19] “The thesis that mathematics is ontology has the double-negative virtue of disconnecting philosophy from the question of being and freeing it from the theme of finitude. (…) Mathematics dismantles the perilous theological connection Truth-Being-One.” (Sedofsky and Badiou 1994, 86)

[20] “Such a work, written in a tongue which is not one’s own by habit, cannot leave the exegete indifferent.” (Quesnel 1999, 28). See also (Neusch 1999, Vouga 200l). The latter is, to my knowledge, the only theologian to have undertaken a true dialogue with Badiou on the question of the subject which he, for his part, perceives as a person loved independently of his qualities and acts. It is, so to speak, a matter of reinterpreting justification by faith. Vouga stresses the apocalyptic context of the revelation for the human being, placing him in the company of Taubes.

[21] On the situation of current culture, Badiou’s analysis both connects with and contests that of Lyotard. To counteract the dominant power of neoliberalism and its unifying “metanarrative” Lyotard proposes a return to a pluralism of viewpoints and a serialization of their respective narratives. See Lyotard (1979).

[22] Pasolini transposed Paul into the context of the Second World War: Paul is a man in the Vichy régime (=Pharisees), a collaborator who, stationed in Paris (=Jerusalem) pursues members of the resistance (=Christians). During a mission to convince the supporters of Franco not to take in refugees, he encounters his road …to Barcelona (=Damascus) and becomes a member of the resistance. His engagement will lead him to a dire defeat in Rome (=Athens) and New York (the Rome of today) where he will be assassinated. Now, despite this contemporary setting, the text of the script is woven almost exclusively from passages lifted whole-cloth from the Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s letters!

[23] Topological dynamics, topology, topological system translate here the Lacanian word topique.

[24] The figures of discourse in Lacan are: the master (the Law), the hysteric, the university, and the analyst (Lacan 1991).

[25] There is an implied wordplay in French: “La résurrection [le relèvement] n’est pas la relève de la mort. ” Also, relève refers to the Hegel’s Aufhebung.

 [26]To simplify the references in this section on Agamben, they will be indicated by page number in parentheses—I am using  the French translation. We can give a few examples of the erudition he displays there, quite apart from the philosophical domain: reference to Cervantes (21), to the Digest of Justinian (compared to the Talmud, 30-31), to the grammarians of the Middlge Ages (45), to Roman law (48-50), to the linguistics of Benveniste and Gustave Guillaume (109-110), to Baudelaire (103), and to Kafka 118), etc.

[27] As will be seen in the theses, the idea of vocation occupies an important place in Il tempo che resta.

[28] In French and Italian, the word also means: in all directions.

[29] 1 Cor 7:29-31: I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short, from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

[30] I have in mind the thesis of my colleague Guy-Robert St-Arnaud (1998, 168-69, emphasis added): “…who is in a position to decide whether or not such and such actions of a person adequately justify according him the title of messiah? The first Christians, perhaps implicitly, answered this question. In a way, their response consists in saying that no one can make this judgement. So, they called this Jesus by a well identified proper name, the Messiah-Christ, as the name which puts to rout the very possibility of messianic self-importance […] Christ becomes the very singular name identifying this relentless pruning of the many pretensions to lay hold of the kingdom of God.”

[31] Agamben returns here to the analysis formerly made by…Carl Schmitt to justify the Nazi regime (165-168). The state of exception is characterized by (1) the impossibility of distinguishing those who are within the law and those who are not; (2) the inexecutability of the law; and (3) its informulability.

[32] As for thesis 1, one has the impression that the messianic situation comes dangerously close to the situation of the camp—there, with regard to the identity of the subject and here on the state of exception. Now, by pointed exegesis of 2 Thess. 2:3-9, Agamben replies to the objection. The katechôn binding the lawless man (anomos) until the triumph of the Messiah is traditionally likened to the State, but katechôn and anomos designate instead “one and the same power, before and after the final unveiling” (175). To the anomic dictatorship of the State corresponds another type of overstepping of the law: messianic anarchy.

[33] This essay is part of my research on Lire Romains aujourd’hui, funded by the Government of Quebec’s Fonds québécois de la recherche sur la société et la culture (formerly FCAR) and by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of the Government of Canada. I would like to thank my research assistants Sylvie Paquette and Éric Bellavance for their help.