By David Nirenberg
Via so much of Western ecu background, Jews were a numerically tiny or solely absent minority, yet throughout that background Europeans have still anxious greatly approximately Judaism. Why may still that be so? This brief yet powerfully argued ebook means that Christian anxieties approximately their very own transcendent beliefs made Judaism an immense software for Christianity, as an apocalyptic religion—characterized through prizing soul over flesh, the non secular over the literal, the heavenly over the actual world—came to phrases with the inescapable value of physique, language, and fabric issues during this international.
Nirenberg indicates how turning the Jew right into a personification of worldly over religious issues, floor over internal which means, allowed cultures prone towards transcendence to appreciate even their so much materialistic practices as non secular. targeting paintings, poetry, and politics—three actions particularly condemned as worldly in early Christian culture—he finds how, during the last thousand years, those actions however increased the potential of their very own life inside Christian tradition simply because they have been used to symbolize Judaism. Nirenberg attracts on an astonishingly varied selection of poets, painters, preachers, philosophers, and politicians to reconstruct the jobs performed by way of representations of Jewish “enemies” within the construction of Western paintings, tradition, and politics, from the traditional international to the current day.
This erudite and tightly argued survey of the ways that Christian cultures have created themselves by means of pondering Judaism will attract the broadest diversity of students of faith, paintings, literature, political idea, media thought, and the background of Western civilization extra generally.
Hardcover is un-jacketed.
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Extra resources for Aesthetic Theology and Its Enemies: Judaism in Christian Painting, Poetry, and Politics
John of Damascus would assert yet a different relation in the eighth century, amid a civil war over images — the Iconoclast controversy — that shook the eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) in the eighth and ninth centuries (730–787 and 815–843 CE). According to him, the prohibition in the Old 26 Aesthetic Theology and Its Enemies Testament had been addressed only to the childlike Jews, who were prone to idol worship: It was, therefore, for the Jews, on account of their sliding into idolatry, that these things were ordained by law.
Num. 1 The problem is not merely with images and idols, but with how we see and think about things themselves. In this crucial verse our eye’s attraction to those things is represented in terms of inappropriate sexual intercourse (Hebrew zonim, whoring; Vulgate’s Latin fornicantes, fornicating). The fringes that God ordained for their garments were meant to teach Israel’s children how to look at other objects, helping them know things chastely by disciplining their sight. Though at first blush this commandment may seem more cultic than philosophical, the potential for a vast aesthetic critique is spun into its blue threads.
My claim is both much broader and much more modest. Broader, in that it encompasses not only politics but all forms of representation, all embodied knowledge, all aesthetics. And more modest, in that I speak only of history, of habits of thought that humanity has forged for itself, not of eternal truths or of necessity. It is true that a yearning for transcendence yawns beneath so much of our aesthetics, past and present, but that does not mean we should embrace it uncritically. On the contrary, precisely because that yearning has learned to project figures of Jewish enmity into the world, it is crucial that we not do so.