Aesthetic Theology and Its Enemies: Judaism in Christian by David Nirenberg

By David Nirenberg

Via such a lot of Western ecu historical past, Jews were a numerically tiny or totally absent minority, yet throughout that heritage Europeans have still nervous very much approximately Judaism. Why may still that be so? This brief yet powerfully argued publication means that Christian anxieties approximately their very own transcendent beliefs made Judaism a huge device 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 significance of physique, language, and fabric issues during this international.

Nirenberg exhibits how turning the Jew right into a personification of worldly over religious matters, floor over internal that means, allowed cultures vulnerable towards transcendence to appreciate even their so much materialistic practices as non secular. targeting paintings, poetry, and politics—three actions specially condemned as worldly in early Christian culture—he finds how, over the last thousand years, those actions however accelerated the possibility of their very own lifestyles inside Christian tradition simply because they have been used to symbolize Judaism. Nirenberg attracts on an astonishingly varied choice of poets, painters, preachers, philosophers, and politicians to reconstruct the jobs performed via representations of Jewish “enemies” within the production 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 way of puzzling over Judaism will attract the broadest diversity of students of faith, paintings, literature, political idea, media idea, and the historical past of Western civilization extra generally.

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Sample text

On the side of Jerusalem we find some wellknown prohibitions: You shall not make yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the waters under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God.  .  20:4–6) The meaning of this passage — among the most influential in the development of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic art — has been endlessly contested. Does it forbid all art, or only graven sculpture? All images, or only those of living things?

We cannot even be sure that he actually existed. Some converts may have brought an aversion to devotional images with them into their new faith. But there were also plenty of Old Christian critics of images to be found, such as Alfonso de Madrigal, alias “el Tostado” (1400–1445), widely admired as the most prolific scholar of his age. And even the most canonical defenders of images in Christian worship, such as Saint Thomas Aquinas, had nevertheless worried about the dangers they posed, and emphasized the viewer’s responsibility to achieve the various orientations of the will necessary to view them appropriately, as signs rather than as things.

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. And here we come to another resonance with other titles and other authors. One of these is (again) Carl Schmitt, whose The Concept of the Political of 1927/1932 made all politics dependent on an enemy.

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