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Displacing Christian Origins

Philosophy, Secularity, and the New Testament

Recent critical theory is curiously preoccupied with the metaphors and ideas of early Christianity, especially the religion of Paul. The haunting of secular thought by the very religion it seeks to overcome may seem surprising at first, but Ward Blanton argues that this recent return by theorists to the resources of early Christianity has precedent in modern and ostensibly secularizing philosophy, from Kant to Heidegger.

Displacing Christian Origins traces the current critical engagement of Agamben, Derrida, and Žižek, among others, back into nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century philosophers of early Christianity. By comparing these crucial moments in the modern history of philosophy with exemplars of modern biblical scholarship—David Friedrich Strauss, Adolf Deissmann, and Albert Schweitzer—Blanton offers a new way for critical theory to construe the relationship between the modern past and the biblical traditions to which we seem to be drawn once again.

An innovative contribution to the intellectual history of biblical exegesis, Displacing Christian Origins will promote informed and fruitful debate between religion and philosophy. 


“Ward Blanton asks in this innovative study, who has the property rights to the early Christianity legacy? The recent interest exhibited by Continental theorists in early Christianity, Blanton argues, has a  pre-history in the engagement of Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger with Christian origins, the backdrop against which they attempted to ground modern secularity. Examining the critical and philosophical engagements that deeply informed New Testament scholars D. F. Strauss, Adolf Deissmann, and Albert Schweitzer, Blanton uncovers a largely unrecognized strain in the making of modern biblical studies. Displacing Christian Origins is a call for a radical historicization of historical criticism of the Bible, as well as for a more theoretically-aware crossing—or breaking down—of disciplinary boundaries.”

Elizabeth A. Clark, John Carlisle Kilgo Professor, Duke University

“In this academic tour de force, Ward Blanton drags early scholarship on Jesus and Christian beginnings out of the closet of a history of an academic sub-discipline where it has been safely hidden. In a surprising but convincing move, he puts 19th and 20th New Testament scholarship in the context of the expansion of modern technology in the production and dissemination of literature. Thus, the construction of history becomes part of the production of modernity. Blanton shows in brilliantly sharp readings of Strauss and Schweitzer how they interacted with Hegel and Kant in a common search for Christian beginnings as a paradigm for identities of modernity. In a book that is intellectually challenging Blanton also manages to create in the reader a desire to engage in dialogue with history as a way of working through one’s own identity.”

Halvor Moxnes, Professor of New Testament, University of Oslo

"In establishing a series of insightful conceptual and textual links between modern historical and theoretical New Testament studies, Ward Blanton’s remarkable book, Displacing Christian Origins, opens up a new possibility of post-secular critical thinking.  Blanton establishes unexpected and illuminating alliances between such key historical-hermeneutical Biblicists as Schleiermacher, Deissmann, and D.F. Strauss, on the one hand, and philosophers such as Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, on the other. Blanton’s thinking is informed throughout by questions of the relationship of religion and media—questions that derive in part from Heidegger, but take on compelling new forms in the light of recent work by Derrida, Weber, de Vries, Agamben, Badiou, and Zizek.  Blanton’s book is a rigorous project of interdisciplinary reading, attuned to the nuances that both distinguish biblical and philosophical thinking and allow for their mutual illumination."

Kenneth Reinhard, University of California, Los Angeles

"Blanton’s work nicely underlines the importance of interdisciplinary work, particularly, between philosophy (theory) and biblical criticism. . . . Such historically chosen engagements may prove enlightening and enlivening for biblical criticism."

Richard Walsh | The Bible and Critical Theory

"A penetrating study of aspects of the interaction between philosophy and biblical studies."

Alan Le Grys | Journal for the Study of the New Testament

"The author’s analysis is cogent and reflects a mastery of the relevant materials. Blanton’s declared intention is to persuade philosophical theorists and biblical critics to pay heed to one another, but it is biblical critics whom he most often takes to task, for both their positivist conviction that it is possible to isolate historical truth through textual analysis and their ignorance of the philosophical presuppositions that underlie their work."

Religious Studies Review

Table of Contents

Interdisciplinary Maps of Religion and Secularity: Toward a Critical Present
Chapter One
Escape from the Biblical Aura: Hegel and Strauss on “Modern” Biblical Criticism
Chapter Two
The Mechanics of (Dis)Enchantment: Nietzsche and D. F. Strauss on the Production of Religious Texts in the Age of Industrial Media
Chapter Three
Paul’s Secretary: Heidegger’s Apostolic Light from the Ancient Near East
Chapter Four
Reason’s Apocalypse: Albert Schweitzer’s “Fully Eschatological” Jesus and the Collapse of Metaphysics
Displacing Christian Origins as Displacements of Religion and Secularity

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