Castoriadis on Hebraic culture and racism

κορνήλιος-καστοριάδης-οι-ρίζες-του-μίσουςReflections on Racism

As you saw in the announcement for this colloquium, my first name is Cornelius – in old French, and for my friends, Corneille. 

I was baptized in the Orthodox Christian religion, and in order for me to be baptized in the Orthodox Christian religion, in order for me to be baptized, there had to be a holy eponym. 

Indeed, there was an Αghios Kornelios, the Greek transliteration of the Latin Cornelius – from the gens Cornelia, which had lent its name to hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of the Empire – the Kornelios in question having been sanctified as a result of a story recounted in Acts ( 10-11 ), which I shall summarize. 

This Cornelius, centurion of an Italic cohort, lived in Caesarea, gave much alms to the people, and feared God, to whom he prayed unceasingly. 

After being visited by an angel, he invited to his house Simon, surnamed Peter. 

The latter, en route, also had a vision, the meaning of which was there no longer was any common and unclean food. After arriving in Caesarea, Peter dined at Cornelius’s – dining at the house of a goy is, according to the Law, an abomination – and as he spoke there, the Holy Ghost fell on all those who were listening to his words. This greatly surprised Peter’s Jewish companions, since the Holy Ghost had also poured on the uncircumcised, who had begun to speak in tongues and to magnify God. Later, upon his return to Jerusalem, Peter had to answer the bitter reproaches of his other circumcised companions. After he explained himself, however, they held peace, saying that God had granted repentance unto life for the «nations» as well.

This story evidently has multiple significations. 

It is the first time in the New Testament that the equality of «nations» before God, and the non-necessity of passing through Judaism to become Christian, was affirmed. What is of even more importance, for me, is the contraposition of these propositions. Peter’s companions «were astonished» ( exestesan, says the original Greek of the Acts : ex-istamai, ek-sister, to go out of oneself ) that the Holy Ghost would really want to pour upon all «nations.» Why ?

Because, obviously, until then the Holy Ghost had dealt only with Jews – and at best with this particular sect of Jews who believed in Jesus of Nazareth. It also, however, refers us back, by negative implication, to key characteristics of Hebraic Culture – here I am beginning to become disagreeable – which for others do not go without saying, this being the least that can be said. Not agreeing to eat with the goyim, when one knows the place the common meal holds in the socialization and the history of humanity ?

So then one rereads the Old Testament attentively, notably the books relating to the conquest of the Promised Land, and one sees that the notion of «chosen people» is not simply theological but eminently practical as well.

The literal expressions of the Old Testament are, moreover, very beautiful, if one may say so. ( Unfortunately, I am able to read it only the Greek Septuagint version, from the period soon after Alexander’s conquest. I know there are problems, but I do not think that they affect what I am going to say.)

One sees there that all people inhabiting the «perimeter» of the Promised Land were «smote with the edge of the sword» ( dia stomatos romphaias ), and this without discrimination as to sex or age; that no attempt at «converting» them was made; that their temples were destroyed, their sacred forests cut down, all under direct orders from Yahweh.

As if that were not enough, prohibitions abound concerning adoption of their customs ( bdelygma, abomination; miasma, defilement) and concerning sexual relations with them ( porneia, prostitution, a word that returns obsessively in the first books of the Old Testament ).

Simple honesty obliges one to say that the Old Testament is the first written racist document in history that we possess.

Hebraic racism is the first of which we have written traces – which certainly does not mean that it is first in absolute terms. Everything would lead us to suppose rather the contrary.

Simply, and happily, if I dare say so, the Chosen People are a people like the others

_____

Source: Cornelius Castoriadis, World in Fragments: Writings on Politics, Society, Psychoanalysis, and the Imagination, 1997: 20 – 22

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