The Word Became Flesh: An Exploratory Essay on Jesus s Particularity and Nonhuman Animals

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Marquette University Dissertations (2009 -) Dissertations, Theses, and Professional Projects The Word Became Flesh: An Exploratory Essay on Jesus s Particularity and Nonhuman Animals
Marquette University Dissertations (2009 -) Dissertations, Theses, and Professional Projects The Word Became Flesh: An Exploratory Essay on Jesus s Particularity and Nonhuman Animals Andy Alexis-Baker Marquette University Recommended Citation Alexis-Baker, Andy, The Word Became Flesh: An Exploratory Essay on Jesus s Particularity and Nonhuman Animals (2015). Dissertations (2009 -). Paper 596. THE WORD BECAME FLESH: AN EXPLORATORY ESSAY ON JESUS S PARTICULARITY AND NONHUMAN ANIMALS by Andy Alexis-Baker A Dissertation submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School, Marquette University, in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy Milwaukee, Wisconsin December 2015 ABSTRACT THE WORD BECAME FLESH: AN EXPLORATORY ESSAY ON JESUS S PARTICULARITY AND NONHUMAN ANIMALS Andy Alexis-Baker Marquette University, 2015 In this exploratory work I argue that Jesus s particularity as a Jewish, male human is essential for developing Christian theology about nonhuman animals. The Gospel of John says that the Word became flesh not that the Word became human. By using flesh, John s Gospel connects the Incarnation to the Jewish notion of all animals. The Gospel almost always uses flesh in a wider sense than meaning human. The Bread of Life discourse makes this explicit when Jesus compares his flesh to meat, offending his hearers because they see themselves as above other animals. Other animals are killable and consumable; humans are not. The notion that the Word became flesh has gained prominence in ecotheology, particularly in theologians identifying with deep Incarnation. Unless this notion is connected to Jesus s particularity, however, there is danger in sacrificing the individual for the whole. We can see this danger in two early theologians, Athanasius and St. John of Damascus. Both of these theologians spoke of the Word becoming matter. Yet they ignored Jesus s Jewishness and rarely focused on his animality, preferring instead to focus on cosmic elements. Consequently they often devalued animal life. Jesus s Jewishness is essential to the Incarnation. His Jewishness entailed a vision of creation s purpose in which creatures do not consume one another, but live peaceably by eating plants. This Jewish milieu also entails a grand vision for transformation where predators act peaceably with their former prey. Jesus s maleness is also connected to his Jewishness. In the Greco-Roman context in which he lived, his circumcision marked him as less male and more animal-like. Moreover, Jesus s Jewish heritage rejected the idea of a masculine hunter. His theological body was far more transgendered and connected to animality than the Roman ideal. Finally, Jesus s humanity entails a kenosis of what it means to be human. By becoming-animal he stops the anthropological machine that divides humans from animals. We see this becoming animal most clearly in his identity as a lamb, but also in Revelation s idea that he is both a lion and a lamb. His eschatological body fulfills the Jewish vision for creation-wide peace. i ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Andy Alexis-Baker I would not have been able to complete this dissertation without the help and guidance of my dissertation supervisor, D. Stephen Long. He not only read numerous drafts commenting in detail on each new submission but generously allowed me to stay with him while I commuted to Marquette from out of state. He and Ricka Long, whom I also owe a debt of gratitude, were generous hosts to me for part of my time at Marquette and good companions through some hard times. It was while staying with the Longs that I learned what it means to be a compassionate, caring teacher and not just a talking head. I would also like to thank Therese Lysaught of Loyola University Chicago who not only persuaded me to apply to Marquette when she began teaching here, but also encouraged me to continue my work long after her time at Marquette had ended. Without her I may not have attended graduate school, nor would I now be teaching at Arrupe College of Loyola University Chicago. She has been a tireless advocate. I am grateful to be her colleague at Loyola now. Charlie Camosy of Fordham University graciously consented to be an outside reader for my work. I am grateful for his input and willingness to sit on my committee. Daniel Nussberger also provided comments on early chapter drafts, which helped me shift my focus. Finally, during the initial dissertation outline approval meeting, Julian Hills provided some sage advice to me when he told me to do my own creative work ii rather than simply report on what others are doing as I had originally planned. That remark caused me to do something more constructive than I otherwise would have done. I am glad I had the freedom to write this at Marquette University. iii TABLE OF CONTENTS ACKNOWLEDGMENTS... i INTRODUCTION...1 The Incarnation and Ecotheology: A Review...3 Joseph Sittler...3 Jürgen Moltmann...5 Matthew Fox...11 Sallie McFague...14 Catherine Keller...15 Deep Incarnation...22 Niels Gregersen...22 Neil Darragh, Denis Edwards, and Elizabeth Johnson...26 Celia Deane-Drummond...31 Nonhuman Animals and the Incarnation: Recent Literature...33 Overview of this Work...42 CHAPTER 1: THE WORD BECAME FLESH...46 Hermeneutics...50 The Gospel of John...54 The Prologue: The Word Became Flesh...54 The Λόγος Rooted in Hebrew Scriptures...55 A Narrative Reading...61 Flesh Rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures...65 Sinful Flesh...69 iv John 3: Flesh and Spirit...74 John 6: Eating Jesus s Flesh...75 John 17: All flesh John 4: John Timothy 3: Peter 3:18 and 4: Excursus: 1 Corinthian 15: Conclusion...95 CHAPTER 2: THE WORD BECAME MATTER...97 The Word Became Flesh: Early Christian Uses...98 Gnostic Views of the Incarnation The Word Made Flesh: Body, Matter, and Particularity Athanasius Athanasius s Theology of Creation The Matter of Christology Embodied Christology Life of St. Antony and Following Christ The Word Becomes Matter: Christian Philosophy and an Anti-Judaism John of Damascus First Treatise Second Treatise Third Treatise...145 v John s Eschatological Vision Nonhuman Animals and Rationality Conclusion CHAPTER 3: THE WORD BECAME JEWISH The Fluid Boundaries of Jewish/Christian Identity Jesus s Eschatological Messianism Jewish Visions of an Original Peace Law and Sacrifice of Nonhuman Animals in recorded teaching recorded teaching recorded teaching recorded teaching recorded teachingjewish Tradition Jesus s Death as an Animal Sacrifice Conclusion CHAPTER 4: THE WORD BECAME A JEWISH MALE Jesus s Destabilizing Maleness Jesus s Theological Body: Neither Male nor Female in Jesus s Body Maleness in a Hyper-Masculine Roman Empire Jesus s Unmanly Maleness Jesus in the Temple: The Doves Jesus the Mother Hen Jesus the Hunted; Herod the Hunter Hunting in the Jewish Tradition Anti-Hunting in the Tanak Anti-Hunting in Rabbinic Tradition Jesus with the Wild Animals...233 vi Circumcision as a Jewish Identity Marker Conclusion CHAPTER 5: THE WORD BECAME A JEWISH, MALE HUMAN Jesus s Humanity as a Problem for Animal Theology Pigs and Demons: Mark 5: Jesus and Fish Clearing Away Another Challenge: Descartes s Humans and Animals Animal Rights and Homogeneity Framing a Hermeneutic: Derrida, Deleuze and Guatarri, and Agamben Jacques Derrida: The Animal Difference Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guatarri: Becoming-Animal Giorgio Agamben: The Anthropological Machine Jesus Becoming-Animal Jesus: Homo Sacer, Becoming Animal Jesus s Kenosis of Humanity Becoming Animal: Ecce Agnus Dei The Gospel of John Again Becoming-Meat The Lamb of Revelation Conclusion: Behold the Man! Or Behold the Lamb! A Challenge CONCLUSION BIBLIOGRAPHY...330 1 INTRODUCTION In this work, I examine Jesus s particularity as a Jewish, male human for animal theology. My argument is simple. Working through Jesus s particularities Jewish, male, and human provides an essential lens through which to view the Incarnation s significance for nonhuman animals. Yet most Christian theologians writing about nonhuman animals have taken a different path. Working through Jesus s particularity for animal theology seems counterintuitive. Particularities such as Jesus s humanness seem like barriers. After all, many theologians have appealed to Jesus s humanity to exclude other creatures. As a corrective, theologians can respond by relativizing Jesus of Nazareth altogether. That God became a Jewish male in first-century Palestine seems too specific to have universal significance. So one way to broaden the Incarnation would be to search for a messianic structure of life. For thinkers in this milieu, creation s messianic structure does not depend on Jesus. 1 The particularity of religion is one thing, but universal faith is quite another. Some Christian ecotheologians have followed a similar path. The larger climate has not favored highlighting Jesus s particularity. In 1967, Lynn White accused Christianity of having a huge burden of guilt for modern ecological problems. 2 For White, the idea that God transcends creation led theologians to separate humans from the larger environment. Christians focus on their spiritual salvation 1 See, for example, Jacques Derrida, Decontruction in a Nutshell, ed. John Caputo (New York: Fordham, 1997), 22. As soon as you reduce the messianic structure to messianism, then you are reducing the universality and this has important political consequences. Then you are accrediting one tradition among the others and a notion of an elected people, of a given language, a given fundamentalism. 2 Lynn White, The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis, Science March 10, 1967, 2 while ignoring the surrounding material world. Worse still, Christians promote human domination over nonhuman creation, leading to environmental degradation. By focusing on human needs and desires, Christians have helped to commodify nature. So White concluded that Christianity is the most anthropocentric religion the world has ever seen. 3 White s analysis prompted some Christians to take creation more seriously. 4 With such powerful arguments about Christianity in mind, focusing on Jesus s humanity seems foolhardy. Even so, I argue that theological thinking about nonhuman animals needs the Incarnation s particularity. The same could be said for his maleness and his Jewishness. But some theologians argue that for ignoring Jesus s particularity. Instead they focus on Christ s cosmic Lordship. That is, we must relativize his humanity to make room for other creatures. We need to see a universal structure apart from Jesus s Jewishness or maleness. I will build on these previous works, but I will argue for a different starting point. In that light I turn to a review of some relevant literature for the task. 3 Ibid., This is Celia Deane-Drummond s conclusion in Celia Deane-Drummond, What is Creation For?, in A Faith Encompassing All Creation: Addressing Commonly Asked Questions about Christian Care for the Environment, ed. Andy Alexis-Baker and Tripp York (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014), 7 8. While we might object to the sweeping indictment against Christianity that White makes, I take it as also true that Christians have not been quick to take the ecological crisis seriously and are even more reluctant to take on issues around nonhuman animals. So while White s analysis prompted some theological reflection, Christians have not yet lived up to the task and too few theologians are taking seriously the modern ecological and death-dealing crisis in factory farming. These are major issues of our time, and an act of corporate repentance would at least entail serious theological work on these issues from more than niche theologians and scholars. Deane-Drummond argues similarly: Half a century after White s diatribe against Christianity, the attention ethicists and theologians have paid to ecology is still less than one might expect, given the scale and scope of the problems involved. Ibid., 8. 3 The Incarnation and Ecotheology: A Review Joseph Sittler Some theologians have responded to the modern ecological crisis by emphasizing the biblical notion of the cosmic Christ, found especially in Colossians 1:15 20 and Ephesians 1:10, In Colossians, the Pauline author claims that Christ created, sustains, and redeems all things. One of the first modern theologians to use the cosmic Christ vision in relationship to ecology was Joseph Sittler. Sittler first raised the issue of Christology and the environment at the 1961 World Council of Churches meeting in New Dehli. In that address, he appealed to passages from Ephesians and Colossians to argue that God s theater of grace is creation. 5 Only a Christology expanded to its cosmic dimensions, made passionate by the pathos of this threatened earth, and made ethical by the love and the wrath of God can address the radical split between nature and grace that has afflicted Christianity. 6 This split has caused environmental damage and has made even atoms a tool for murder. So even atoms must be reclaimed for God and his will. 7 For Sittler, we must recover the New Testament s vision of a creation-wide redemption. Christ s redemption is cosmic in scope. Sittler s address preceded Lynn White s critique by eight years, calling upon Christians to recognize something already present in Christian tradition. Sittler called for Christians to recognize the truly broad scope of Jesus s work. If Jesus Christ created all things, then Jesus Christ redeems all things as well. Anything less than a creation-wide For the phrase see Joseph Sittler, Called to Unity, The Ecumenical Review 14, no. 2 (1962): 6 Ibid. 7 Ibid., 184. 4 focus on Jesus s redemptive work misses God s radical love for creation. Sittler, therefore, draws from New Testament Christologies to help Christian discourse more faithfully point to God s beauty, goodness, and truth. Sittler had an ethical agenda as well: a cosmic Christ who redeems creation beckons Christians to care for the world around them and to tread lightly and carefully. Interestingly, however, Sittler s passionate call for a cosmic Christ does not really deal with Jesus s particularities. It is also striking that at the same time that he has much to say about redeeming all things, he has very little to say about nonhuman animals. He seems concerned about environmental destruction but says little about how humans treat animals or how such treatment would connect to environmental concerns. I will argue that this type of move results from not paying attention to particularities, which often loses the individual into the many. In such big pictures individuals disappear. We need these large portraits and must recover a sense of Jesus s cosmic work. The question is how to get to the cosmic: do we start with the cosmic as Sittler does, or do we work through Jesus s particular characteristics, uniting the particular and the universal so that Christ s cosmic work also unites the one and the many, the particular and the universal? For if we swing in the opposite direction, theological discourse may easily lose individual creatures in favor of systems. To say this theologically, many theologians talk about God s care for the environment and creation, but tend to ignore individual creatures and particularly whole classes of living creatures we call animals. Despite the beauty of his vision and passion of his call, Sittler seems to have made this move. 5 Jürgen Moltmann In The Way of Jesus Christ, Jürgen Moltmann attempts to develop an ecological Christology for the modern world. His treatment of Jesus relies on the Gospel texts, showing that Jesus s way calls believers to a nonviolent way of life that would challenge the structures of oppression and preach liberation to the oppressed. He therefore grounds his Christology in Scriptures and makes Jesus normative for how Christians think and behave in the modern world. Moltmann also turns to the Cosmic Christ, arguing that it is necessary to recover this biblical vision for the modern world: The rediscovery of cosmic Christology will have to begin with ecological Christology if cosmic Christology is to be of therapeutic relevance for the nature which is today suffering under the irrationality of human beings. 8 Modern Christologies have tended to take their cues from the quest for the historical Jesus. They have therefore focused on humanity. By contrast, Moltmann argues that theologians should focus on creation more broadly. He then points readers to Ephesians and Colossians, where the authors depict Jesus as redeeming the entirety of creation. In the context of human-generated catastrophe, Moltmann argues, we must recover this sense of cosmic Christology. He says earlier in the work: In the danger of annihilation that is hanging over us, God s salvation is the healing and survival of the whole threatened earth and all individual created beings, in their common peril. 9 8 Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), Ibid., 46. 6 Fortunately, Scriptures have provided the means to refocus our theological imaginations. Scriptures depict the always greater Christ. 10 Every time we think we know Christ the texts expand our vision: Christ is the first-born among many brethren Christ is the first-born of the new humanity Christ is the first-born of the whole creation: Jesus is Israel s messiah Jesus is the Son of man of the nations Jesus is the head of the reconciled cosmos: the body of Christ is the crucified and raised body of Jesus the body of Christ is the church the body of Christ is the whole cosmos. 11 The early Christians understood Jesus as having died to reconcile the whole of creation (2 Cor 5:19). The entire cosmos needs redemption. While the Apostle Paul, according to Moltmann, understood this cosmic redemption has not having taken place yet, Colossians and Ephesians see this redemption as already beginning. Moltmann then argues that today we need a cosmic Christology that can take seriously Jesus s differentiated roles. Jesus is 1) creator of all things (creatio originalis); 2) sustainer of all things (creatio continua); and 3) redeemer of all things (creatio nova). Modern Christians have neglected the third aspect, according to Moltmann. Moltmann understands this redemption as an eschatological peace: peace between humans, peace between humans and other animals, peace between all creatures: the peace of Christ is universal and pervades the whole cosmos. 12 In this life evolution and natural selection have created an enormous amount of suffering in the world, particularly with nonhuman animals. Christ, Moltmann argues, suffers with all of evolution s victims. But God 10 Ibid., Ibid. 12 Ibid., 306. 7 redeems evolution too. The cosmic Christ takes up the process and the suffering of every creature since the beginning of time. 13 Because God is the environment within which creation evolves and God is intimately involved in creation through the Spirit, and because Jesus redeems and reconciles the conflicting and warring elements of creation, Christians are those who witness to the coming kingdom that is already present in part. As such, Christians are those who understand themselves as part of a community of human beings, animals and plants based on law. Moltmann points to the Torah where the Sabbath laws apply to all creatures, not just humans. But the law s main function is to regulate human tendencies to exploit one another, other animals, and the environment. This entails an understanding of a nonhuman animal as a living being with its own rights. 14 Moltmann states that this at the very least means working to end factory farming and genetically engineering other animals. He notes that the Gospels do not have much to say about Christ s relationship to other animals, except that angels and other wild animals ministered to him in the wilderness (Mark 1:13), adding that this is an allusion to the messianic peace of creatio
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