Thinking, Willing, Blaming: The Prince of This World book event

This response in our book event on Adam’s The Prince of This World is by Linn Tonstad, Yale Divinity School. 

pid_23793Adam Kotsko’s The Prince of This World traces the subterranean logic by which the devil developed first as God’s opponent, then as God’s hench-fallen-angel/chief torturer in the bone-chilling settings in which the joy of the blessed in heaven is enhanced by their contemplation of the eternal torments of those who, unlike them, were not so fortunate as to have been the objects of God’s predestining, grace-filled will. Kotsko treats a wide range of figures in the book, offering creative reinterpretations not only of explicit treatments of the devil’s making and undoing, but of implicit ways in which a place for the devil came to be in Jewish and Christian imaginaries.

Kotsko is an admirably clear writer, organizing a stunning amount of material in accessible, yet never uncomplicated ways. I found the final chapter and the conclusion particularly interesting. Kotsko’s suggestion that one way to break the cycle of demonization in which we are trapped may be to allow even the devil to be redeemed strikes me as a promising option for reconfiguring the relationship between Christianity and hell-driven modernity, bent on the production of carcereal spaces and disposable persons. The interruption of various forms of production of the less-than-human is an urgent, indeed essential project, not only but certainly also in the current political climate in the United States. Continue reading “Thinking, Willing, Blaming: The Prince of This World book event”

Some Seasonal Thoughts on the Passion of Torture: A Response to Adam Kotsko’s The Prince of This World

The first response in our book event on Adam’s The Prince of This World is by Bruce Rosenstock, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

I’m beginning to write my response to Adam Kotsko’s wonderful new book, The Prince of This World, in the midst of my preparations for Passover, Pesach in Hebrew. It’s one of the strange coincidences of our so-called Judeo-Christian heritage that the Septuagint transliterates Pesach as Pascha, creating a proper name with the accidental appearance of having a root in Greek, found in the verb paschein and the noun pathos, meaning “suffer” (Latin patior -> passio). Although Pesach in Hebrew is derived from the verb pasach, to skip or limp, and has nothing to do with suffering, there is nonetheless a clear thematic connection between the festival of Passover and suffering: the “cry” of the Israelites under the lash of the Egyptian taskmasters reaches God and prompts his redemptive response. pid_23793The Book of Exodus does not represent the suffering of the slaves as a punishment, nor does it seem intended to have an educative purpose. To be sure, the Book of Deuteronomy does enjoin Israel to remember their historic suffering in Egypt when, every Sabbath, Israel releases slaves and animals from their painful burden of forced labor. Prompted by his “knowledge of the soul [nefesh] of the slave,” the Israelite householder was supposed to imitate the redemptive action of God. He was supposed to lift rather than assume the burden of pain. Suffering, in other words, was not thought to be in itself redemptive. Action, not passion, redeems. That, arguably, is the message of Passover. The rabbis mentioned in the Haggadah as spending the whole night recounting the Exodus were, in fact, plotting an action against the Romans, one whose end was to lead to the martyrdom of the most famous member of the that group, Rabbi Akiba. His skin was flayed by iron combs (pectines). This is a point that Adam makes: action and passion reverse redemptive valences when the human body is unmade through the machinery of torture. This is the theme that I want to develop in my comments.

Continue reading “Some Seasonal Thoughts on the Passion of Torture: A Response to Adam Kotsko’s The Prince of This World”