Jesus Against the Scribal Elite

Monday, December 31, 2012

Interview with James G. Crossley (Part Six)

This is the final part of my interview with James Crossley. My gratitude to James for his participation. Be sure to pick up his Jesus in an Age of Neoliberalism. Don't read it, though.  It is perhaps the Frenchiest book ever to have been composed in English. Parts one, two, three, four and five are here, here, herehere and here.

AL: In what ways has the work of Alain Badiou influenced you? Do you anticipate bringing NT studies into dialogue with Badiou with your future projects?

JGC: Badiou has probably influenced me mostly indirectly. I like his more explicitly contemporary stuff, especially with a more historicizing emphasis (e.g. his nicely polemical book on Sarkozy). Where I find myself in agreement, though, has probably tended to be due to other influences. To take a straightforward example, the connections between identity politics and free markets (which he has made) seems right but where I’ve developed this it has been more deeply influenced by David Harvey and Fredric Jameson. To take another example of indirect
influence, Ward Blanton has had a long standing and ongoing interest in Badiou and I suspect there have been a number of unknown ideas I’ve absorbed via Ward. 
To make a general distinction, my emphasis has always strongly involved being a historian whereas Badiou would, of course, see himself as a philosopher. But, obviously enough, the philosophical and historical cannot really be separated, no matter where we place the emphasis. And it is in this sense that I do want bring Badiou into dialogue with NT studies in some forthcoming work, particularly his work more known to NT studies (i.e. his book on Paul) and as a dialogue partner to recreate a nineteenth century debate which has never really gone away: Marxism, totalitarianism, the “revolution that failed” and Bakhunin’s famous prophetic criticisms of Marx (and to some extent Orwell’s reading of the history of Marxism in Animal Farm). While Badiou (along with Žižek) have made wildly anachronistic claims (which they acknowledge as anachronistic) comparing Jesus and Paul with Marx and Lenin, I think there is something to this, if not taken too woodenly. Did not a message of radical overturning of the world with the Kingdom of God imply both a radical promise of reversal and a divine dictator? Did not the material attributed to Jesus become both Rome/Empire(s) and a message of liberation? 
That is, of course, playing around a wee bit and I’m not for one moment suggesting Jesus is a Marx, Che or whatever kind of revolutionary figure. In fact, I’m trying much less to work with Jesus the (radical) individual and with the general kind of views and traditions as products of social change in Galilee around the time of Jesus, whether they are appealing, horrific, boring, weird, etc. and how they were taken up, ignored, redirected, influential, changed, modified, became radically misinterpreted etc by the movement that would follow in Jesus’ name. 
Badiou and Žižek, and Marx more generally, will provide a helpful starting point for this, though Bakhunin’s chastening critique (and his associated tradition) will ultimately be more reflective of my ideological position. But all this also raises the question which should be constantly raised of how social upheaval can be significant in historical change in a variety of ways. This kind of history can help us understand much better, or at least more fully, the continuities, discontinuities, and questions of why things happen and change than the one dimensional approach of standard histories of Christian origins.

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