January 08, 2007

Kristeva on ‘Paul and Augustine: The Therapeutics of Exile and Pilgrammage’

Paul of Tarsus

Paul the Cosmopolitan

Kristeva opens this section with a quotation from I Corinthians 9:20 . These are words spoken by Paul who Kristeva describes as ‘a polyglot, an untiring traveler [sic] of the eastern Mediterranean’ who transformed the Christian Church ‘into an Ecclesia’ (77). Kristeva explains how, ‘the Ecclesia apposed to the community of citizens in the polis a community that was other: a community of those who were different, of foreigners who transcended nationalities by means of a faith in the body of a risen Christ’ (77). Paul creates a community of foreigners.

Kristeva comments on Paul’s strangeness, particularly in appearance. He was a Roman but his mother tongue was Greek; he trained to be a rabbi under Gamaliel and claimed that Christ spoke to him in Hebrew. For Kristeva, Paul’s birthplace, Tarsus in Greece, represents his cosmopolitanism, because it is a ‘crossroad of the Roman Empire, where Asia Minor and Syria meet’ and ‘a melting pot of Mediterranean traditions under Hellenistic sway’ (78). Similarly Paul’s original disciples were a Levite from Cyprus named Joseph (or Barnabus), and the Hellenistic Mahahen, foster brother of Herod. Kristeva also comments on the more obvious point of Paul’s double naming: Saul or Paul. For Kristeva, this naming represents a sense of familial game-playing (‘A native part with a native name, a Greek part with a Greek name’ (78)) but also allegiance to Quintus Sergius Paulius who converted to Christianity.

There is cosmopolitanism too, according to Kristeva, in Paul’s journeys:
• a first mission covering Cyprus, Pamphylia, Pisidia, Lycaonia, Antioch and Jerusalem;
• a second mission covering Asia Minor, Alexandria, Macedonia, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus and Antioch;
• a third mission covering Galatia, Phrygia, Ephesus, Corinth and Macedonia;
• and a captivity voyage before he is finally executed in Rome.

Who did Paul target on these journeys? Kristeva thinks that it was not only the Jewish diaspora but also marginals such as ‘merchants, sailors or “exiles” ’ (78). Those who accompanied him were:
• Lydia, a former slave;
• a modest shopkeeper: ‘purple-dye merchant’;
• Aquila and Priscilla, Jews who came to Corinth by way of Rome from Asia Minor;
• itinerant doctors such as Luke;
• and women (‘ladies of quality’).

All these companions are ‘marginal people […] who remained bound to their native culture, [but who] nevertheless created among themselves bonds of solidarity, mutually welcoming each other in holy places where, precisely, the foreigner was safe from any affront, while he had as we have seen, only very few rights in the polis’ (79).

Paul began his preaching in Asia Minor, perhaps encouraged by that culture’s mysticism, Kristeva suggests. Next he visited ‘the traditional Greek world’ and later Ephesus which Kristeva describes as ‘a polymorphous city mixing Jewish exorcists with followers of Artemis’ cult’ (79). Kristeva notes that in this city Paul focussed above all on ideas of hospitality and she suggests that Paul ‘inherited the cosmopolitanism specific of late Hellenism, which already offered material and legal conditions more favourable than before to foreigners and their beliefs’ (79). Both Jewish orthodoxy (nationalism) and Roman authority (the polis) were threatened by such an approach, since ‘[t]he Pauline Church was a community of foreigners’ (80). See Ephesians 2:11-13 and Ephesians 2:19-20

Paul then brought a ‘new dimension where the former foreigners found their cohesion at last’ and this was the point of the Pauline Ecclesia which came to mean an ideal community rather than political assembly (80).

The New Alliance

So how did Paul bring foreigners together and how did he offer an alternative to the Greco-Roman system which promised some prosperity for exiles? Kristeva believes that Paul speaks to the ‘psychic distress’ suffered by foreigners and suggests as a solution ‘a journey between two dissociated but unified spheres’ (81). There is also the ‘threefold equation between the risen Christly Body, the Church, and the Eucharist’ which not only challenged gnosticism [heretical Christian movement] and activated; the making of a new man’, but also creates a ‘unity […] in the transition going from the real to the symbolic (and vice versa) a logic that takes hold of and soothes the foreigner’s psychosis’ (81). Kristeva is adamant that ‘the Pauline Church assumed the foreigner’s passion-inspired division, deeming his being torn apart between two worlds to be a split less between two countries than between two psychic domains within his own impossible unity’ (82). Foreigners survive on such divisions. Kristeva sums up this argument and finally notes that John the Evangelist described Jesus Christ as a stranger to the earth who was only unified with his return to God, the father.

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