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Critical Theory and Early Christianity

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Since its inception by members of the so-called Frankfurt School, Critical Theory has challenged the “conventional wisdom” embedded in culture. When applied to a textual tradition, Critical Theory offers new, critical lenses for viewing texts that have long been embedded in the cultures of their reception. Critical Theory not only uncovers the embedded assumptions behind what is received in these texts, but also the assumptions behind how they are perceived.

This volume examines the texts of the early Christian tradition with the lenses of four critical theorists, ranging from the era the Frankfurt School to our contemporary scene: Walter Benjamin, Gilles Deleuze, Alain Badiou, and Judith Butler. This volume is divided into four sections, each devoted to a theorist, and each having an introductory chapter followed by essays applying critical theory to the New Testament and early Christian texts.

These chapters explore topics extending far beyond the conventional categories in Biblical Studies and Early Christian Studies, widening the lenses through which we view these texts, creating new frameworks ranging from “sublimation and textual citation” to “gender performativity.” In Walter Benjamin’s words, “What is at stake is not to portray literary works in the context of their age, but to represent the age that perceives them—our age—in the age during which they arose.” By representing our age in the age during which early Christian texts arose, Critical Theory exposes hidden assumptions in both ages. What is more, new, unfamiliar frames and spaces for understanding these texts are generated, ranging from “the body of Christ without organs” to “the gentrification of urban spaces in John’s Apocalypse.”

Thirteen international scholars contribute to this volume. These scholars are experts in the fields of Biblical Studies, Early Christian Studies, Philosophy, and Critical Theory.

Published: Oct 1, 2021


Section Chapter Authors
I. Introduction
1. Early Christianity: Auras, Rhizomes, Events, and Bodies Matthew Whitlock
II. Walter Benjamin and Early Christianity: Textual Citation, Urban Spaces, and Time
2. Introduction: Benjamin's Aura Matthew Whitlock
3. Ragpicker, Shock, Citation, Dwarf, Castling: A Benjaminian Perspective on Early Christian Textuality Chris Meredith
4. Reading, Libraries, and Urban Change in the Shadow of Capitalism and Apocalypse: Walter Benjamin and John of Patmos Robert Seesengood
5. On Time: Augustine, Borges, Benjamin Carl Levensen
III. Gilles Deleuze and Early Christianity: Body without Organs, Reterritorialization, and Simulacra
6. Introduction: Deleuze's Rhizome Matthew Whitlock
7. The "Body of Christ without Organs" and "Becoming-Christ": The Apostle Paul and Christian Deterritorialization Bradley McLean
8. Face-ing the Nations, Becoming a Majority Empire of God: Reterritorialization, Language, and Imperial Racism in Revelation 9:9-17 Sharon Jacob
9. The Many Acts of the Apostles: Simulacra and Simulation Matthew Whitlock, Philip Tite
IV. Alain Badiou and Early Christianity: Supernumerary Truth, the Event, and Being's Excess
10. Introduction: Badiou's Event Matthew Whitlock
11. Christianity Appears First, As Itself Bruce Worthington
12. Badiou and the Origins of Marxism-Christianity James Crossley
13. Recapitulating the Event: Reading Irenaeus with Alain Badiou Hollis Phelps
V. Judith Butler and Early Christianity: Agency, Gender Performativity, and Mattering Bodies
14. Introduction: Butler's Bodies that Matter Matthew Whitlock
15. Discussing Paul with Judith Butler: Agency, Subjectivity, and Power Valérie Anderson
16. God's Gendered Empire: Performing Butler with the Book of Revelation Patrick McCullough
17. Mattering Bodies: Beauty, Animacy, and Visibility in Origen's On First Principles Peter Mena
VI. Conclusion: What Propels Us Forward?
18. Early Christian Texts in the Age of Technological Reproducibility Matthew Whitlock