- Excluding Judaism: Introduction to This Special Section
The editors of Shofar, Zev Garber and Daniel Morris, have asked me to write a brief introduction to the following four essays, and I am happy to do so. These essays have a lot in common. They were written in connection with the annual conference of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion (COV&R) that I hosted (along with Ann Astell and Thomas Ryba) at Purdue University in June of 2002. The COV&R organization formed in the late 1980s around the work of René Girard, whose theories of imitative desire, sacrifice, violence, and the anthropological role of the Judeo-Christian scriptures in exposing these foundative cultural mechanisms have constituted its centerpiece since its inception. The theme of this year’s meeting was “Judaism, Christianity, and the Ancient World: Mimesis, Sacrifice and Scripture,” and we brought to it (in additional to the members of the COV&R group) a number of the country’s major scholars in biblical antiquity, inviting them both to address the major themes of the conference and to relate their work to Girard’s. The list of these scholars included Michael Fishbane, Alan Segal, Louis Feldman, and Bruce Chilton, among others. A book-length volume containing the public lectures of these four scholars (plus responses from members of COV&R and others), René Girard’s public lecture, the two conversations that took place among these participants with Girard on Judaism and on Christianity, and a series of biblical readings developed from these ideas is in progress.
The papers of Ann Astell, Bernadette Ward, Bruce Ward, and John Ranieri, which you are about to read, were among those delivered at the conference that we felt would be of particular interest to a Shofar readership. But they have more in common than this origin. Two are about philosophy (Ranieri’s and Astell’s) while two are about literature (those of the Wards). Two focus upon individual figures (Ranieri and Bernadette Ward) while two focus upon multiple figures (Astell and Bruce Ward). Taken together, therefore, these four essays form a neat little unit that should interest specialists in both fields. All were written, moreover, in a context in which the relation of Judaism to Christianity was being explored in connection with the work of René Girard (a body of [End Page 56] writing which, in my own estimation, remains of vital importance for the ongoing elaboration of Judaism to a wider audience), and so their ecumenical appeal remains equally apparent.
Three of the four essays raise the theme of Judaism explicitly. Bruce Ward’s essay on Kafka’s Trial, for example, is dazzling. Comparing Kafka’s book at the outset to the Akedah and the effort Kierkegaard’s commentary made in Fear and Trembling to rescue this “knight of faith” from a Christian theological tradition that would exclude him, he makes the astoundingly simple yet powerfully clarifying observation that Kafka’s book is about the revelation of the persecutory mechanism from the perspective of its victim or scapegoat, an identification that renders the book incidentally “prophetic,” therefore, of the genocidal persecution of the Jews that was to come within 25 years of the book’s completion (and within 16 years of the author’s death). He derives inspiration from Girard’s similar anti-sacrificial reading of the Book of Job, and offers his own thesis as a response to Marxist, feminist, and psychological readings of The Trial that would seek for some way of identifying the hero’s culpability for the end to which he comes, an end that in Ward’s view is wildly disproportionate to any crime to which we have been made witness. The guilt of the protagonist is never in question in the eyes of his persecutors (as Ward reads the book), any more than the innocence of the protagonist is in question in his own mind, a difference (or “differend” as Lyotard might call it) which accounts for the sometimes strange disparity between their remarks (“But I’m innocent,” K. protests at one point, which elicits the retort, “That’s what all guilty people say”).
He compares Kafka’s protagonist to...