Thursday 11 October 2007

Jacob Taubes on Romans 8

The Political Theology of Paul, by the Jewish philosopher Jacob Taubes, is an extraordinary work. Taubes was dying from cancer as he delivered these lectures in Heidelberg. He was not able even to stand as he spoke – but the lectures are filled with warm humour, apocalyptic intensity, and striking new insights. Here’s an excerpt:

“You notice that Paul has very peculiar worries about nature. Of course they’re not ecological worries. He’s never seen a tree in his life. He traveled through the world just like Kafka – never described a tree, or mentioned one…. Just find me one place in a Pauline letter where he lets up from this passion, from this obsession, from this one theme that moves him. None at all, it persists through and through. Look through Kafka’s novels some time, whether there is a tree there. Maybe one on which a dog pisses….

“And yet nature is a very important category – an eschatological category. It groans, it sighs under the burden of decay and futility. What does ‘groan’ mean [in Romans 8]? There he explains that we too groan. You must imagine prayer as something other than the singing in the Christian church; instead there is screaming, groaning, and the heavens are stormy when people pray.”

—Jacob Taubes, The Political Theology of Paul, trans. Dana Hollander (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004), p. 73.


Phil Walker said...

"[Paul]’s never seen a tree in his life. He traveled through the world just like Kafka – never described a tree, or mentioned one…"

I'm not entirely sure I understand what Taubes is getting at here, but my first impression was that that's a bit unfair; Romans 11 is an extended metaphor based on an olive tree.

And again, Paul isn't writing things where you'd naturally interject with some panegyric to the beauty of creation. I suspect that Taubes didn't do any of that in his book or lectures!

Chris TerryNelson said...

William Storrar, who heads up the Center for Theological Inquiry, spoke about Taubes in his sermon entitled, "The Grateful Life," at Miller Chapel at Princeton. It's amazing how Paul has really captured the literary and religious imaginations of many scholars.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic quote! Paul, I reckon, was definitely a conceptualist, not an impressionist, his imagery (like the olive tree) more iconographic than observed. Put the apostle in his tent, tell him to close his eyes, and he couldn't tell you its colour. His MBTI would be INTJ (or possibly ENTJ) :)

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