In The Shepherd of Hermas (Sim. 5.2), the Shepherd shares with the ever-dense Hermas a parable of a slave whose master leaves on a trip shortly after planting a vineyard. He commands the slave to fence in the vineyard and says he will give him his freedom if he does so. The slave then puts up the fence, but notices that there are a bunch of weeds in the vineyard, so he takes some initiative and pulls up the weeds as well.

I think it says something about the particular way I was formed in the Judeo-Christian tradition that my first thought on reading up to this point was, “Oh shit, the master’s going to be so pissed when he comes back.”

A thought on The Sacrament of Language and The Shepherd of Hermas

As I read The Shepherd of Hermas, I’m struck by a theme that resonates throughout Christian literature — the concern with speaking the truth and rejecting all lies and slander. Obviously this theme seems like common sense and not particular to Christianity, but in Agamben’s terms from The Sacrament of Language, I think this has to be understood as an attempt to get past the oath, according to Christ’s saying in the Sermon on the Mount. The prohibition of slander means to stop using your words as blugeons — instead, only use them for truth. (And avoiding swearing means your words can’t be used as blugeons against you.)

But I wonder if Agamben would say that this doesn’t go far enough — we need to do more than get rid of lies, we need to get rid of truth as well. The upshot of this would be twofold: first, the Christian attempt to eliminate lies foreshadows the history of persecution of heretics, infidels, etc. When the Christians didn’t have power, it was subversive and wonderful, but it quickly took a different turn once they did. Second, maybe the people “speaking in tongues” in the Pauline communities had a point.

I only post this because as I’ve been reading The Shepherd of Hermas, I’ve been thinking, “Wow, if I could figure out a way to make this text interesting, that would be my greatest achievement.” This is my initial attempt.