Monday, August 24, 2009

Jesus or Socrates?

Yesterday, I mentioned Ludwig Hohl’s comparison of Jesus and Socrates. As Hohl is not available in an English translation, let me translate his aphorism – his post, I could call it – from the Collapsing Banks – Von den hineinbrechenden Rändern

“We speak of the similarity of the death of Jesus of Nazareth and that of Socrates, but don’t call attention to the differences, which are just as great. Jesus of Nazareth provoked his death; Socrates did not provoke his, which was merely, for him, inescapable. For Jesus, his death was nothing other than the final action of a series of actions, that we call “miracles” [Wunder]: which were the grasping of another means than that of words, in the doubt, lifted to the most extreme level of despair, of the unbearableness of words in the face of the mental slothfulness of men. He could have lived somewhere else, or moved, he didn’t need to live in Jerusalem. In contrast, Socrates lived by the word his whole life long, not with miracles; and he didn’t know where else he could live besides Athens (see Burkhardt); that he thus chose his death, between two possibilities, doesn’t mean he provoked it.”

Of course, Hohl ignores John’s hymn to the Logos – but I think he is onto something important in seeing Jesus’ life as a series of miracles, wonders rather than signs. For Socrates, the omens must be disciplined by the word; for Jesus, the words are only as good as the community of humans who create them. Instead of words, then, the act – and it is here that the miracle and the everyday converge. In eating bread. In drinking wine.

Hohl does not favor one side or the other. Myself?…


P.M.Lawrence said...

"Jesus of Nazareth provoked his death; Socrates did not provoke his, which was merely, for him, inescapable".

Yes, Socrates did provoke his death. The Athenian trial system involved him at the sentencing stage, after the verdict, where he was invited to suggest a suitable sentence before the jury finally decided that. He suggested that he should actually be rewarded for a public service. The jury was so unimpressed that they actually delivered a larger majority for the death sentence than they had for the guilty verdict.

Roger Gathmann said...

I sorta agree with you Mr. Lawrence. I think Hohl is a little weak here. But he does have an argument in that there was nothing like a Judas in the Socrates story. In that sense, Socrates was definitely not trying to get arrested.

Anonymous said...

Every time you quote Hohl, I tell myself I have to read him. Still haven't, which I hope to remedy soon.

And that is quite the passage you have translated about Jesus and Socrates, words and wonders. The difference between the two, how does it relate to sacrifice, the place of sacrifice?

I suppose I don't have to expound on the sacrifice of Jesus, the sacrifice to end all sacrifices, though that is not quite what happened is it?

And one of Socrates's "last words", as it is reported, was to say that a cock be sacrificed, as he had given his word, and didn't want to go die in debt.

And if they are both in their difference part of a history of sacrifice, the "same" history, what does it mean to choose between the two? Who decides and who gets sacrificed?


northanger said...

what does Hohl imply, exactly, by "provoke"? the high priest was never to rend his garment even under provocation, so there's this…(which turns "sacrifice" into illusion).

"Early lives of Jesus tended to portray him as a spiritual man who was forced to make claims about himself that he knew were false in order to get the people to listen to his message. For example, Karl Bahrdt in his Ausführung des Plans und Zwecks Jesu (1784–1792) maintained that Jesus belonged to a secret order of Essenes, dedicated to weaning Israel from her worldly messianic expectations in favor of spiritual, religious truths. In order to gain a hearing from the Jews, Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, planning to spiritualize the concept of Messiah by hoaxing his death and resurrection. To bring this about, Jesus provoked his arrest and trial by his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Other members of the order, who secretly sat on the Sanhedrin, ensured his condemnation. Luke the physician prepared Jesus' body by means of drugs to withstand the rigors of crucifixion for an indefinite time. &c…"

Roger Gathmann said...

I've never liked that version in which Jesus is a plotting charlatan. Neither did Bulgakov - when, in Master and the Margarita (which is a novel about the darkest miracle of all - the "disappearances" of people - a wonder that no words had yet been invented to describe - the editor explains that now, Jesus has to be shown to have no existence at all, that is when the devil shows up. And says, how interesting! And of course tells the editor that he is going to be beheaded by a Komsomol girl - sacrifice indeed - which happens just as he says.

Roger Gathmann said...

And here's a link!

northanger said...

oh. so that's what you're doing at the library roger.