This morning I was involved in a discussion (on facebook, unfortunately, but then “discussion” is a generous term for what took place) on who is the best philosopher in the “Paul and the Philosophers” course I am taking. In the midst of this discussion, Paul himself was pulled into the rankings. Interestingly, Paul was first in none of our listings. Of all of us, I placed him the highest – second, behind the Jewish philosopher Jacob Taubes. For me at least, part of this was tongue and cheek, but I was also partly serious; I do like Taubes more than Paul.
How can this be? Paul is a part of my scriptures and Taubes is decidedly not. I’ve been spending the rest of the day with this problem in the back of my mind, partially because I figured that I’d better have an answer just in case a member from my congregation last summer came knocking.
The working answer I have come up with is that something being canon has little to do with how compelling, helpful, stimulating, or enjoyable it is; it may even have less to do with being “right” than I would comfortably admit. Rather, something being canon speaks to the level of investment I have in the text. The letters of Paul are a part of the book we have been given to order our lives; Taubes is a badass Jew who I just happen to like a lot.
Now I really do like Paul quite a bit (partially because Taubes has shown me how cool he is) so he doesn’t serve as a particularly good example of my point. So with that I turn to the outright disturbing tale of slaughter and genocide found in Joshua and the utterly dull and entirely antiquated collection of laws found in Leviticus. I like all of the philosophers we read in this course more than I like these two books – hell, I probably even like Bertram Russell more than these books (though I would entertain debate on this point). However, this is just simply not the point. I can read something by Berty, disagree with it or find it completely uninteresting, and then set it aside, untroubled and ready to move on. Likewise, I can find myself uncompelled Zizek’s psychoanalysis and leave it be. Joshua and Leviticus, on the other hand, I must perpetually return to, allowing them to haunt and discomfort me. No matter how dull or repulsive, I need to wrestle with them, asking questions of them and finding ways for them to elicit questions from me.
Paul is a part of measurement up against which I measure my life and Taubes is not. It’s too bad; I would prefer Taubes.