Friday, July 20, 2007

More about Hybridity

There have been some interesting comments on my last post on hybridity. So I want to respond here to those.

In my opinion, hybridity is a buzz word, and it is problematic because many in our field are applying it too loosely. Often I think that it is being used to try to dress up our field and discussions so that it appears that we are saying something new. There is a tendency in many fields to use arcane insider language instead of transparent. This has always been a gripe of mine about the field of philosophy, and I resist bringing over this language into my own writings UNLESS it is going to help us.

The usage of hybridity is confusing in our field when it moves out of the arena of imperialism and post-colonial analysis where it can be argued to make some sense (but, even the scholars who study post-colonialism cannot agree if it is a best term to use or not!).

To apply it as a descriptor of the tradition of early Judaism-Christianity (pre-Nicaea) - to call this a hybrid - is misleading. It is a "single" tradition that develops positions internally that eventually, through normation, compete and force the consolidation of two separate and different traditions with common heritage.

Gnosticism is not a hybrid either. It does not represent the mixture of the views of a colonizer imposed on the colonized. It is the Platonic world view made biblical by people who wanted to think in these directions. It has nothing whatsoever to do with post-colonial hybridity and imperialism.

Gnostic movements did, however, make other Christians anxious, but then other forms of Christianity made certain Gnostic groups anxious as well. I don't think this had to do with hybridity producing colonial anxiety. I don't think that Irenaeus really cared whether the Gnostic groups laid claim to Christian tradition - what he cared about was the fact that some of his own church members, including one of his deacon's wives, had joined a Gnostic church down the street from his own. This led him then to begin to criticize the Gnostics for not really being Christian, but trying to trick people into thinking they were Christians by stealing Christian language and ritual.

All religions may indeed be syncretistic. But this is not a reason to discard the word or replace it with hybrid (which is a word that has too much baggage from the sciences and from philosophy, and is not being applied carefully enough in our field). To say that a religion is "syncretistic" isn't the point. The point is to describe and analyze the way in which this is true. Then a whole range of possibilities presents itself in terms of politics, normation, religious identities, and all the rest.

5 comments:

Jim Deardorff said...

To say that a religion is "syncretistic" isn't the point. The point is to describe and analyze the way in which this is true. Then a whole range of possibilities presents itself in terms of politics, normation, religious identities, and all the rest.

So how can the Jewish-Christian syncretism best be explained? J's teachings against scribes & Pharisees suggest that his view was not the Jewish view with which he was fully familiar. This is supported by the "lost years" evidence, first discovered by Notovitch in 1887 and confirmed by Swami Abhedananda in 1922. Hence the hypothesis that J's teachings and philosophy were strongly altered and shaped into early Christianity by Paul has to be given top priority.

To continue this theme, the writer of Matthew later added much Judaism into his source when forming his gospel. Hence a Jewish-Christian syncretism was produced, with anti-Judaistic elements persisting within it.

This is one of the possibilities, April, the evidence for which it wouldn't hurt to look into.

Geoff Hudson said...

The prophet's teaching against non-existent Pharisees was against priests. Thus (Mk.1:41), the man who was cleansed, was so because the prophet was filled with the Spirit (not with compassion) and it was the Spirit in the prophet that was willing to cleanse the man. The prophet then told the man to inform everyone he had been cleansed by the Spirit, and not to go to the priest and offer sacrifices, and that as a testimony to the priests that he didn't need them to sacrifice on his behalf. Thus in 1:45, the man carried out the prophet's request, and began to talk freely spreading the Spirit (not the news). The prophet's view was that of a Jewish prophet contra the view of a Jewish priest. As Jim implied, we have Pauline philosophy imposed on the original NT documents. For the NT, the syncretism was between prophetic Judaism and Pauline philosophy behind which there was probably considerable state influence.

Deane said...

April wrote:
hybridity is a buzz word, and it is problematic because many in our field are applying it too loosely. Often I think that it is being used to try to dress up our field and discussions so that it appears that we are saying something new. There is a tendency in many fields to use arcane insider language instead of transparent

Deane:
As an illustration, I was recently reading an article by Mario Liverani about neo-Assyrian Imperialism and its effects on colonised cultures. Even though it was written just before theorists such as Said and (more arcanely) Bhabha and Spivak married the discourses of Marxist criticism, Foucault, etc to the investigation of imperialist dynamics, it makes practically all of the same points they do, with much greater clarity, and with many more specific facts to back up the claims. After reading Liverani, I had to ask myself what had been gained by post-colonial criticism.

There's many other examples of obfuscation in modern literary approaches, of course. Here's a dismissal of the use of buzzwords by Wendell Harris, which I found funny:

“Much of what is described somewhat pretentiously as the polysemy of language amounts to no more than the ambiguities that make equivocation possible.”
- Wendell V. Harris, Literary Meaning: Reclaiming the Study of Literature (Hampshire and London: MacMillan, 1996), 55.

Jared said...

Another example of a very good study of imperial/provincial dynamics in antiquity that does NOT use post-colonial criticism is Seth Schwartz's _Imperialism and Jewish Society_.

Geoff Hudson said...

April wrote about Irenaeus:"This led him then to begin to criticize the Gnostics for not really being Christian, but trying to trick people into thinking they were Christians by stealing Christian language and ritual." Now the pot wouldn't be calling the kettle black by any chance would it? I wonder what tradition of 'stealing language' Irenaeus inherited. Thieves usually have no hesitation about lying. So what editorial language in the extant NT tells one that one is reading text incorporated by con merchants bent on deception? Well there is stacks of manipulative, triumphalist, imperialistic and condescending language that can hardly be described as 'internal' or spontaneous. The editorial is that of Uriah Heep working for his master.

By sharp contrast, the language of the gnostics does seem more 'internal', spontaneous and self-effacing. Its writers would disappear into a corner if they could.

All Christian documents are not as 'equal' as has been said.