The portraits of the apostle: Paul of Tarsus and the rise of modern Europe

Tofighi, Fatima (2014) The portraits of the apostle: Paul of Tarsus and the rise of modern Europe. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis deals with the conversation between the interpretations of Paul‘s letters and modern European thought. It is a narrative of an oft-neglected relationship; but, more than that, it tries to push this negotiation further than where it is now. Thus, in this project, I intend to play with the many possibilities that poststructuralist theory provides for alternative interpretations of biblical texts, and to uncover the ways that the Bible can offer new solutions to the challenges of modern thought. My study will focus on three issues: power, religion, and gender. I believe that the debates around these three topics have been crucial to the European self-definition. Besides, Paul has been present in the European discourse on politics, law, and sexuality. His letters have been interpreted only based on a certain kind of normativity at the expense of many alternative readings. The reception of Paul, in turn, provided some ground for further discussions on European identity.
In chapter one, I draw on the complications of physical portraits of Paul to indicate the problems in offering a finalized clear picture of his message. Obsession with portraying the Apostle is not dissimilar to the recurrent reference to him in the works of European intellectuals since the Enlightenment. Paul has thus been involved in the construction of European identity. This does not mean that he has always conformed to what Europe wants. Rather, he has challenged the binary identities that European normativity has built. It is precisely in these moments that the arbitrariness of European discourse is betrayed. Relying on Judith Butler‘s theories on gender normativity, I try to
spot the ways that identity was established through the reiteration of modern categories that may be far from what the text says. In the following chapters, I investigate three passages that signal Paul‘s challenge to modern normative identities.
In the next chapter, I deal with the interpretation of Romans 13, where Paul tells the Roman Church to be subjected to political authorities. This chapter has troubled the interpreters because it is far from what is expected from Paul – promotion of justice in face of brutal regimes. I demonstrate that the readers of Romans 13 lost touch with Paul‘s ethos soon after his death. Relying on Hans Blumenberg‘s description of ―secularization by eschatology‖ at the time of the composition of the New Testament toward the end of the first century CE – i.e. the relegation of the end matters to the transcendental –, I argue that Paul was preaching in the context of what I call the ―daily messianic‖. My formulation of the ―daily messianic‖ consists of what continental philosophers, from Martin Heidegger to Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Giorgio Agamben see as a rupture within the worldly (i.e. ―secular‖) matters. This mode, which had subsumed Paul‘s discourse, was permeated by ―care‖ and ―anxiety; it was beyond calculation or metaphysical description; it was where the distinction between the body and the soul did not make sense; and it was directed toward justice. When the expectation of the parousia lost its immediacy, imminence, and immanence, Paul‘s words lost their messianic significance. No wonder, then, that with very few exceptions like the Jewish philosopher Jacob Taubes, the interpreters have read first and last parts of the chapter (vv. 1-7 on political subjection and vv. 11-14 on eschatology respectively) separately.
In chapter three, I discuss the Incident at Antioch (Gal 2:12-14), where, according to Paul‘s report, Peter led others to Judaize while he could not do that himself all the time. The interpretation of this passage has been fraught with presuppositions regarding Paul‘s attitude toward Judaism. I show that the nineteenth century Protestant readings of Paul influenced philosophers, like Nietzsche and Freud, so that the supersession of ―guilt-inducing‖ Judaism by Christianity gave way to the supersession of ―guilt-ridden religion‖ by modernity. This picture has not changed substantially, as I argue, whether for biblical scholars (even the New Perspective theologians) or for the philosophers of the ―turn to religion‖ – Alain Badiou, Slavoj Žižek, or Jacques Derrida. In my alternative interpretation, I emphasize that because Paul‘s radical Jewishness has often been neglected, he has been taken as some sort of ―Lutheran Jewish‖ man. Read this way, the conflict between Paul and Peter is like any everyday argument between two rabbis. Paul mentions the story, however, in order to establish his authority as a true apostle.
The fourth chapter is about the reception of 1 Corinthians 11:5-16, on women‘s veiling during prayer and prophecy. My survey of the reinterpretations of the passage in modern times shows that Paul‘s veiling injunction has often been construed to subdue the categories that at different points in history could not constitute the standard European identity. It has been assumed that the veil belonged to the ―Jewish‖, the ecstatic ―Greek‖, the exotic ―Oriental‖, or that it has been instituted to silence ―liberationist‖ women or to foreclose the possibility of homosexuality (or cross-dressing). In this manner, the veil has been forcefully discarded from the European stage. No wonder, then, that its resurgence functions as a threat to some European states.
In this chapter, with the help of poststructuralists, I question some of the assumptions about the veil, femininity, subjectivity, and the ethnic other. According to my alternative interpretation, there is no need to reinterpret Paul‘s commandments by othering certain groups or by projecting the encounter between West and its others to the Corinthian correspondence. Paul might have used the veil as a means for integrating women into the church by their inclusion in the ―masculine‖ order.
In conclusion, in response to the claim that modern Europe emerged as a gradual parting of ways between biblical scholarship and secular philosophy, I argue in my work that the conversation between the two has persisted, despite its fluxes throughout history. When this mutual relationship is acknowledged, it can even be pushed to its limits to, on the one hand, read the Bible through the possibilities that poststructuralist theory provides and, on the other, make informed interventions in continental philosophy.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: St Paul, continental philosophy, Europe, political theology, religion, secularism, feminism,women, veil, post-structuralism
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BR Christianity
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BS The Bible
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > Theology and Religious Studies
Supervisor's Name: Jasper, Prof David and Blanton, Dr Ward
Date of Award: 2014
Depositing User: Ms Fatima Tofighi
Unique ID: glathesis:2014-5283
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 07 Jul 2014 11:09
Last Modified: 23 Jun 2017 12:25

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