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The Bowels of History, or The Perpetuation of Biblical Myth in Walter Benjamin

From: Journal of Narrative Theory
Volume 32, Number 3, Fall 2002
pp. 371-390 | 10.1353/jnt.2011.0025

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Roland Boer  

Roland Boer is Logan Research Fellow in the Centre for Studies in Religion and Theology at Monash University. His most recent publication is Tracking the Tribes of Yahweh (Continuum, 2002), and he has just completed two books, entitled The Criticism of Heaven and The Criticism of Earth. Both of them deal with Marxism, the Bible, and theology.


1. The argument of this essay is drawn from a much longer study which will appear in The Criticism of Earth. Here I outline the major argument without going into the detailed analysis of the texts in questions.

2. I should point out that I neither take such religious experience as necessarily valid nor that the Bible is in fact "sacred."

3. See the essays on Plato and Aristotle by Luce Irigaray, An Ethics of Sexual Difference, 20-55. Benjamin therefore also forms part of the western philosophical tradition that sees the philosopher as midwife.

4. "Parallelism between this work and the Trauerspiel book. Common to both, the theme: theology of hell. Allegory, advertisement, types: martyr, tyrant-whore, speculator" (Arcades Project 854).

5. "Architecture as the most important testimony to latent 'mythology.' And the most important architecture of the nineteenth century is the arcade" (Arcades Project 834).

6. See Buck-Morss, Dialectics of Seeing, 64.

7. See Gerschom Scholem, Walter Benjamin: The Story of a Friendship, 10-11, 14-15, 28-30.

8. "In his conversations of the time he had no compunctions about speaking undisguis-edly of God. Since we both believed in God, we never discussed His 'existence.' God was real for Benjamin-from his earliest notes on philosophy to letters written in the heyday of the Youth Movement to his notes for his first projected Habilitation thesis on the philosophy of language" (Scholem, Walter Benjamin, 56).

9. See the representative collection edited by Bernhard W. Anderson, Creation in the Old Testament (London: SPCK, 1984). Thus, in an earlier draft of the prologue, Benjamin attempts a redemption of ahistoric, mythic nature by a Jewish history of revelation: "For what returned in the singular, transient historical process was not mythic nature but revelation; and what was repeated as the seal of origin (Ursprungssiegel) or authenticity in every singular artwork was not representative of a deductive genre principle but nothing less than the imprint of the divine Origin" (see Hannsen 44-5).

10. In this respect, Benjamin follows a long tradition that runs from the Hebrew Bible, for in Genesis 15:4 Yahweh promises that the much-delayed Israel will come forth from Abram's bowels.

Works Cited

Anderson, Bernhard W. Creation in the Old Testament. London: SPCK, 1984.
Benjamin, Walter. The Arcades Project. Trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1999.
---. The Origin of German Tragic Drama. Trans. John Osborne. London: Verso, 1998.
---. Selected Writings. Volume 1, 1913-1926. Trans. Rodney Livingstone and Others. Edited by Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1996.
---. Selected Writings. Volume 2, 1927-1934. Trans. Rodney Livingstone and Others. Edited by Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland and Gary Smith. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1999.
Buck-Morss, Susan. The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project. Cambridge, Mass.: Massachusetts Institute of Technology P, 1989.
Hanssen, Beatrice. Walter Benjamin's Other History: Of Stones Animals, Human Beings, and Angels. Berkeley: U of California P, 1998.
Irigaray, Luce. An Ethics of Sexual Difference. Trans. Carolyn Burke and Gillian C. Gill. Ithaca, New York: Cornell UP, 1993.
Scholem, Gerschom. Walter Benjamin: The Story of a Friendship. Trans. Harry Zohn. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1981.
Copyright © 2002 JNT: Journal of Narrative Theory
Project MUSE® - View Citation
Roland Boer. "The Bowels of History, or The Perpetuation of Biblical Myth in Walter Benjamin." Journal of Narrative Theory 32.3 (2002): 371-390. Project MUSE. Web. 25 Jan. 2013. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.
Boer, R.(2002). The Bowels of History, or The Perpetuation of Biblical Myth in Walter Benjamin. Journal of Narrative Theory 32(3), 371-390. Eastern Michigan University. Retrieved January 25, 2013, from Project MUSE database.
Roland Boer. "The Bowels of History, or...

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