Paul the S4 sandwich?

One of the keynote speakers at Wake this year was Richard Boothby, whose book “Blown Away” talks of his reactions to his son’s suicide some years ago. He’s a philosopher, with a strong interest in psychoanalysis, so fitted in well with Pete Rollins and with the psychoanalyst Jamieson Webster. She was mostly speaking at the GCAS seminars next door, but as the two shared some content, Jamieson was there for a three-way conversation with Richard and Pete.

I may well come back to Boothby, but one thing which slipped out was that he isn’t a great fan of St. Paul, something I most definitely share. As he said, Paul was capable of some amazingly evocative language (largely on the subject of love – 1 Cor. 1:13 is perhaps the crowning glory of those passages), but he also had some very unpalateable things to say about, for instance, slaves and women – and had some horribly authoritarian views. Pete, on the other hand, thinks that Paul is wonderful, perhaps taking his cue largely from Alan Badiou’s book “Saint Paul, the Foundation of Universalism”. Incidentally, unlike the other books I mention in this post, I have and have read this, and gone through a book group discussing it together with Zizek’s “The Puppet and the Dwarf”, which also focuses on Paul. Badiou definitely suggests that Paul created Christianity by either creating or noticing an “event”, i.e. an unrepeatable phenomenon which changes something about your view irrevocably. Badiou sees this as the “stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks” from 1 Cor. 1:23, something which calls into question the philosophical foundations of both Judaism and Greek philosophy. Zizek similarly sees an event, but one sweeping aside the then-existing distinctions between Jew and Greek, man and woman and slave and master (Gal. 3:28); Rollins sees a fundamental Hegelian/Lacanian contradiction in the concept of the death of God, which he regards as Paul’s overwhelming contribution (personally I think Jesus’ resurrection is a more key moment than his death, and his lifetime ministry is more key than either, so the gospels were an urgent corrective to the Pauline letters which were written first, but there you go…).

Personally, I don’t think picking out one or two passages from a larger body of work and using them as the touchstone for the entire remainder is a valid move, which all of Badiou, Zizek and Rollins seem to me to do to a great extent – add to that that I have the hugest doubts that Paul would agree with or perhaps even understand what any of them have written or talked about in him. However, “Death of the Author” and all that – you consign the words to the page, and the rest of the work is in the head of the reader, and as author you don’t really get to tell people not to read you that way. Being dead, that is… I can’t see, for instance, that Hegel and Zizek would get along well, were Hegel not dead.

I’m therefore aiming to buy a couple of other books. One of those is “Jesus I have loved, but Paul” by J. Daniel Kirk (whose “A Man Attested by God” I much enjoyed. The other I only stumbled across today, called “Profaning Paul”. It sounds strongly as if it might fit very well with the current state of my thinking on the man!

I particularly liked that in the review, mention was made of Colcannon not dealing with the issue of which Pauline letters are actually Paul, which may be a bit Paul, and which are basically forgeries. Let’s face it, I’m not competent in koine Greek, nor am I a textual scholar, and while I can do a bit of theme analysis and come to some conclusions which pretty much match the general run of non-conservative Biblical scholarship, my opinion isn’t worth much, and delving into the rationales is a bit beyond me. Add to that that, whoever actually wrote them, they’ve been part of our canon for at least 1650 years, probably longer. I can do without the argument that I can’t go criticising the authorship from my more conservative friends, given that they’ll criticise me anyhow for not taking scripture as something perfect given to us by divine dictation for all time, or bending with the times. To both of those, I’ll plead guilty and defend my position, which is rather akin to why I don’t think we should still be operating in the UK according to Norman-French laws of the 11th century.

Looking at the description, it seems the author, Cavan Concannon, is not scared of a little scatological language (and neither was Paul), so I’ll sum it up as thinking that Paul is like a shit sandwich – you may get some sustenance, but you have to contend with a very nasty taste in your mouth.

And I’ll still, on occasion, say “My Jesus trumps your Paul”. Even if Paul managed to go to print before the four evangelists…

(there’s a follow-on…)

2 Responses to “Paul the S4 sandwich?”

  1. Chris Says:

    Part of this was something I’m not particularly keen on, i.e. a review not of a book, but of a review of the book. I’ve since received my copy and am several chapters into Colcannon’s “Profaning Paul”, and can unhesitatingly recommend it. Colcannon has a running theme of sitting on a Roman-era (communal) toilet in Corinth, which Paul may once have used. And talking for a couple of chapters mainly about shit, and how we’ve dealt with it over the years. And yes, he wants to underline the fact that Paul’s shit stinks, just as ours does.

  2. Eyre Lines » Blog Archive » More of the same S4… Says:

    […] thinking about my “Paul, the shit sandwich” post, I happened on a podcast episode of The Bible for Normal People featuring Pete Enns and […]

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