Hosting the Stranger

Volume 4 ~ 2011

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Bodies, Textual, Metaphorical and Real: Problematizing Hospitality in the Bible moralisée1This response to Pamela Berger's presentation on the Bible moralisée originated in an interdisciplinary seminar on hospitality, "Hosting the Stranger," organized by Richard Kearney at Boston College. The oral version was given in the seminar on 11 March 2009.

Matilda Tomaryn Bruckner

As illustrated and allegorized in the first moralized Bible of the thirteenth century,2Bible Moralisée, Codex Vindobonensis 2554, Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, commentary and trans. Gerald B. Guest (London: Harvey Miller, 1995), folios 64v-65v. the representation and reinterpretation of hospitality in Judges 19 invite discussion in three related areas that trace an arc through multiple dimensions from the linguistic and textual, to the religious and philosophical, as well as the social, political, and sexual. All three domains intersect and inevitably link together from the perspective of hospitality or “hostipitality,” as Jacques Derrida phrases it to catch the intertwining of hostility and hospitality.3Derrida published two different articles with the title, "Hostipitality": one in Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 5.3 (December 2000): 3-18; the other in Acts of Religion, ed. Gil Anidjar (New York: Routledge, 2002), pp. 356-420. I invoke Derrida's writings on hospitality throughout this response not only because his theorizing echoed as a leit-motif in the seminar from Richard Kearney's opening presentation, but also because Derrida ends the second essay in Of Hospitality: Anne Dufourmantelle invites Jacques Derrida to respond, trans. Rachel Bowlby (Stanford University Press, 2000), pp. 151-55, by conjuring up the testimony of Judges 19 as a way to interrogate the "law of hospitality" and its relation to "'morality' or a certain 'ethics'" (151). I would like to thank my colleague Kevin Newmark for helping me make some progress in understanding Derrida's notion of the interplay between conditioned and unconditional hospitality-and accept responsibility for the limitations that remain. If we follow these links, risks and possibilities come into view, “lethal differences”4Ilse Müllner, "Lethal Difference: Sexual Violence as Violence against Others in Judges 19," in Judges, A Feminist Companion to the Bible (Second Series), vol. 4, ed. Athalya Brenner (Sheffield, England : Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), pp. 126-42). arise as we move around the circuit connecting textual bodies, metaphorical bodies, and real bodies made of flesh and blood.

1. TRANSLATIO, OR HOSTING THE OTHER('S) TEXT:

Consider first the textual, linguistic and metaphorical issues in the “translation” of the Bible, from one language to another, from one people, religion and culture to another, from one time and place to another, from one medium to another. Translatio’s many meanings in a specifically medieval context all seem particularly relevant here:

  • translation as removal of a saint’s physical remains from one place to another
  • translation as linguistic but also cultural transfer from Latin to the vernacular (transposition, “mise au jour,” “aggiornamento”)
  • translatio as the term for metaphor in the Latin rhetorical treatises inherited from Antiquity

The example from the Bible moralisée makes particularly urgent the question of metaphor, or allegory (which in the Middle Ages means, in the most general terms, to say one thing and mean another). This is the move from one level of meaning to another, the reach for figurative meanings fundamental to the Bible moralisée’s multiple levels of images and texts, verbal commentaries that aim to fix and explain how we should understand what we are seeing/reading, in the play of resemblance and contrast.

Pamela Berger focuses on the specific context of Aristotle’s Metaphysics as a object of dispute among theologians at the university in early thirteenth century Paris, where the fundamental question posed is, how to appropriately appropriate the texts and traditions of pagan philosophers? The verbal and visual evocation of the church fathers Jerome and Augustine, the defense of the sacraments (especially the Eucharist represented in image a on 65r), as well as the larger context of the Bible moralisée as a whole, point inevitably to another textual dispute: the Bible in Jewish and Christian traditions. Whose sacred scripture is it? Who has the right to translate and gloss it? What kinds of move from text to meaning, from letter to figure, are authorized?

Metaphorically, the Bible is a site par excellence to demonstrate Derrida’s laws of hospitality, the place where the host (the Hebrew Bible) becomes the hostage (the Old Testament as fulfilled by the New), the place taken over by the guest who “supersedes” the former host (in a hostiletake over?) while keeping it present as testimony to its own/new truth. These reversals and imbrications are at the heart of issues addressed by Emile Benveniste, Paul Ricœur, and Derrida: translation, the interplay of language and silence, hospitality and hostility.5The readings assigned in the seminar included Benveniste, "Giving and Taking," Indo-European Language and Society, trans. Elizabeth Palmer (London: Faber and Faber, 1973), pp. 72-83; Ricoeur, "On Translation," On Translation, trans. Eileen Brennan (London and New York: Routledge, 2006), pp. 3-10; and Derrida's Of Hospitality. But we also need to move them from the textual to the social and political dimensions, if I understand correctly the implications of Derrida’s critique.

Once the aporia posed by the imbrication of conditional and unconditional hospitality is recognized, we are forced to examine the failures, the perversions of hospitality as practiced in the real world. We must think about how the theoretical model of absolute hospitality might require us to improve our necessarily conditioned forms of “hostipitality,” hence the turn in Derrida’s own work on hospitality to problems concerning the North African presence in contemporary France—the invited guest of colonialism now viewed as unassimilated immigrant, Muslim other, etc.6See, for example, his participation in Autour de Jacques Derrida, De l'Hospitalité: Manifeste, sous la direction de Mohammed Seffahi (avec la participation de Michel Wieviorka) (Genouilleux: La Passe du Vent, 2001). In the United States, we can compare this to current discussions about eleven million illegal immigrants, or even closer to home here at Boston College, we might think about the current return of a crucifix to every class room: how does it operate as a sign of hospitality to the “others” hosted by the university?

2. JEWS AS THE "TOO INTIMATE" OTHER OF CHRISTIANITY

Here we need to talk in social and religious, historical and political terms about hostipitality as expressed in the co-habitation and conflict of Jews and Christians in the European Middle Ages, in general, and in northern France at the end of the twelfth - beginning of the thirteenth centuries, in particular. In the Bible moralisée , we can follow the link between the “philosophers” (put on stage in the images) and Jews, heretics, and “publicans” (“poplicanz” in the text). All are gathered together in the Old French term “mescreanz”: those who do not believe, misbelieve, believe in the wrong fashion. By extension, miscreants are understood as evil-doers whose misguided belief, nonbelief or disbelief leads them into evil ways of all sorts. Although the university theologians criticized in this passage are Christian, they are associated by contamination with other mescreanz, and most particularly with Jews, shown with the same visual representations: grotesque faces, devils sitting on shoulders or emerging from their bodies, menacing and disordered figures linked to snakes, the worship of cats, and elsewhere involved in animal sacrifice. These philosophers act, think, interpret like “judaizers,” with all the negative connotations linked to Jews: carnality, venality, blindness, heresy, perversion (both sexual and textual). This is one of the dominant metaphorical thrusts of the Bible moralisée, in both its visual and verbal registers.7 So argues Sara Liption in Images of Intolerance, The Representation of Jews and Judaism in the Bible moralisée (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), throughout the five chapters, but see especially her discussion of the sequence from Judges (pp. 102-6).

Augustinian doctrine argued for protecting (hosting) the Jews within Christian society in their capacity as witnesses to the truth of the Old Testament, its historical testimony verified and kept present in the person of Jews living within the Christian community (unlike the conversions forced on pagans, Saracens, Slavs, etc.). But Augustine also mandated that Jews be kept in a degraded, captive state, in order to testify as well to their punishment as Christ killers. During the Middle Ages, the charge of deicide continued to weigh on later generations of Jews, as repeated accusations of blood libel demonstrate.

In Images of Intolerance, Sara Lipton argues for seeing the Bible moralisée (literally and figuratively) as contributing to and shaping the kind of thinking that motivated royal policy toward contemporary Jews during the reigns of Philip Augustus, Louis VIII, and Louis IX. From the late twelfth to the early thirteenth century (and beyond), the policies of the French kings toward Jews oscillated between protection and exploitation, on the one hand, and expulsions followed by later recalls to renew the cycle, on the other. Jews in northern France (who flourished in a period we now think of as the twelfth century renaissance) were seen as a source of income through taxes and appropriations; a pool of experts in the realms of commerce, money-lending, administration, used by the Church as well as by secular rulers; a lightening rod for popular anger put in the service of the elite, when desired, to deflect it from the monarchy or the great lords (e.g. in 1192, when many Jews of Brie were burned at the stake by Philip Augustus; cf. the burning of poplicans in Troyes in 1198, the burning of Amauricians in Paris in 1210).

These are not only textual but real bodies at stake. They have moved us from biblical traditions into the political domain, and they necessarily remind us of other bodies that figure so prominently in Judges: women’s bodies subject to the power of men who exchange and sometimes destroy them.

3. THE SEXUAL OTHER(S), DEVIANCE AND PERVERSION, SODOMY AND RAPE

In the images illustrating Judges 19, we see graphic images of a woman being raped, her dead body delivered to her husband, who then cuts it up into twelve pieces, each body part easily recognizable (65v C and D, 65v A and B). The violence against the woman’s body could not be more horrifically shown in a medieval context. Indeed, Pamela Berger has stressed how boldly and exceptionally the illustrator represents the woman’s naked body with all its anatomical details. It is made present visually, however much the commentary image may clothe it, explain it away on another plane where the violence is visited on Philosophy, on texts rather than flesh and blood bodies (at least theoretically).

In Judges 19-21, three sets of women’s bodies figure in the story (though only the Levite’s wife is represented in the Bible moralisée ):

  1. The virgin daughter offered by the host (along with the Levite’s wife) to protect against violation of the male body/politic, refused and effaced in this version in both text and image (cf. the comparable scene in Genesis 19, where Lot offers two maiden daughters to the crowd to save his guests, the two angels who earlier visited Abraham and received his hospitality).
  2. The Levite’s (secondary) wife pushed out the door by her husband and raped/killed, then cut up into twelve pieces to call for war (a convention used elsewhere in the Bible but with animals cut up, not humans).

    The woman’s “semiotization” (Müllner 141), the move to metaphor, is already begun in the biblical story when the Levite dismembers her body to use it as a message of horror. In the text and images of the Bible moralisée , further displacement “corrects” the Levite’s callous treatment of his wife, whether alive or dead, in order to allow the metaphorical shift that identifies him with Jesus Christ. In the allegorical image and text, a woman’s vulnerable body is effaced by the abstract personification of Philosophy. The “scandals” of the text are repeatedly avoided by translation, modern as well as medieval and ancient, in both Christian and Jewish exegesis (as the examples from Josephus, Philo, and Ambrose indicate).
  3. The surviving virgins of Jabesh-gilead and the dancing virgins of Shiloh (Judges 21) are “carried off” by the 400 remaining Benjaminites, with the approval of the elders, in order to prevent the annihilation of one of the twelve tribes. Rape is thus regularized, legitimized by marriage.

In this final twist, the victims become the offenders by repeating the same action that led to the call for vengeance against the Benjaminites (cf. the shifting roles in Derrida’s analysis of hospitality),8 See Peggy Kamuf's analysis, "Author of a Crime," in A Feminist Companion to Judges, A Feminist Companion to the Bible, vol. 4, ed. Athalya Brenner (Sheffield, England : Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), pp. 187-207. as women repeatedly pay the price for male solidarity whether in the exercise of hospitality or the efforts to alternately unify or wage war among the contentious tribes of Israel.

Many modern readers have critiqued this story, including Derrida who raises the specter of Judges 19 as a perverted model of unconditional hospitality in order to allow us to contemplate the horror of its conditions for saving the male guest at the expense of a woman’s body. But you do not have to be a Derridean to question this sacrifice of the female Other, as many feminist critics have demonstrated in two volumes of Feminist Companions to Judges.9In addition to the essays already cited, see those by Mieke Bal, "A Body of Writing: Judges 19" (1993, pp. 208-30), and Alice Bach, "Rereading the Body Politic: Women, Violence and Judges 21" (1999, pp. 143-59). And while feminist readings all critique the patriarchal values represented in the story, at least one (Whispering the Word) argues that the same critique is already inscribed in the Hebrew text, if read carefully.10Jacqueline E. Lapsley, Whispering the Word, Hearing Women's Stories in the Old Testament (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), pp. 37-64. There are no heroes here; the characters all partake, though to varying degrees, in the same intertwined identity of offender and victim. The wife has left her husband, but the main opprobrium surely falls on the Levite who passes from victim to multiple offender.11Cf. Müllner: "The story has no heroes; nor does it allow the reader to differentiate clearly between offenders and victims" (139). That critique is inscribed in the refrain reiterated throughout Judges: disorder repeatedly breaks out among the Israelites because there is no king. When it recurs in the final verse (Judges 21: 25), the refrain perfectly describes the perversions of our story: “In those days there was no king in Israel, and every man did as he pleased.”12This translation appears in The Jerusalem Bible (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971), and in Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures (Jewish Publication Society, 1988). In the Latin Vulgate: "In diebus illis non erat rex in Israel: sed unusquisque quod sibi rectum videbatur, hoc faciebat" (my translation: "In those days there was no king in Israel: each man did what seemed right to him") (Biblia Sacra iuxta Vulgatam Clementinam, ed. Alberto Colunga, O.P. and Laurentio Turrado [Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1965]).

In the Bible moralisée , the columns of images and texts representing Judges 19-21 form the longest sequence represented (Lipton 102). It ends with an image of the surviving Sodomites scattered among the rocks, which signifies, according to the verbal commentary, “the miscreants who have abandoned God and are scattered through the world and live in different places among the Christians.”13Guest's translation, p. 105. We are thus led back to focus on the others of medieval society, as on those others (strangers, foreigners) who continue to live among us today, caught up in the interplay of hostipitality.


Footnotes.

  1. This response to Pamela Berger's presentation on the Bible moralisée originated in an interdisciplinary seminar on hospitality, "Hosting the Stranger," organized by Richard Kearney at Boston College. The oral version was given in the seminar on 11 March 2009.
  2. Bible Moralisée, Codex Vindobonensis 2554, Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, commentary and trans. Gerald B. Guest (London: Harvey Miller, 1995), folios 64v-65v.
  3. Derrida published two different articles with the title, "Hostipitality": one in Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 5.3 (December 2000): 3-18; the other in Acts of Religion, ed. Gil Anidjar (New York: Routledge, 2002), pp. 356-420. I invoke Derrida's writings on hospitality throughout this response not only because his theorizing echoed as a leit-motif in the seminar from Richard Kearney's opening presentation, but also because Derrida ends the second essay in Of Hospitality: Anne Dufourmantelle invites Jacques Derrida to respond, trans. Rachel Bowlby (Stanford University Press, 2000), pp. 151-55, by conjuring up the testimony of Judges 19 as a way to interrogate the "law of hospitality" and its relation to "'morality' or a certain 'ethics'" (151). I would like to thank my colleague Kevin Newmark for helping me make some progress in understanding Derrida's notion of the interplay between conditioned and unconditional hospitality—and accept responsibility for the limitations that remain.
  4. Ilse Müllner, "Lethal Difference: Sexual Violence as Violence against Others in Judges 19," in Judges, A Feminist Companion to the Bible (Second Series), vol. 4, ed. Athalya Brenner (Sheffield, England : Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), pp. 126-42.
  5. The readings assigned in the seminar included Benveniste, "Giving and Taking," Indo-European Language and Society, trans. Elizabeth Palmer (London: Faber and Faber, 1973), pp. 72-83; Ricoeur, "On Translation," On Translation, trans. Eileen Brennan (London and New York: Routledge, 2006), pp. 3-10; and Derrida's Of Hospitality.
  6. See, for example, his participation in Autour de Jacques Derrida, De l'Hospitalité: Manifeste, sous la direction de Mohammed Seffahi (avec la participation de Michel Wieviorka) (Genouilleux: La Passe du Vent, 2001).
  7. So argues Sara Liption in Images of Intolerance, The Representation of Jews and Judaism in the Bible moralisée (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), throughout the five chapters, but see especially her discussion of the sequence from Judges (pp. 102-6).
  8. See Peggy Kamuf's analysis, "Author of a Crime," in A Feminist Companion to Judges, A Feminist Companion to the Bible, vol. 4, ed. Athalya Brenner (Sheffield, England : Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), pp. 187-207.
  9. In addition to the essays already cited, see those by Mieke Bal, "A Body of Writing: Judges 19" (1993, pp. 208-30), and Alice Bach, "Rereading the Body Politic: Women, Violence and Judges 21" (1999, pp. 143-59).
  10. Jacqueline E. Lapsley, Whispering the Word, Hearing Women's Stories in the Old Testament (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), pp. 37-64.
  11. Cf. Müllner: "The story has no heroes; nor does it allow the reader to differentiate clearly between offenders and victims" (139).
  12. This translation appears in The Jerusalem Bible (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971), and in Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures (Jewish Publication Society, 1988). In the Latin Vulgate: "In diebus illis non erat rex in Israel: sed unusquisque quod sibi rectum videbatur, hoc faciebat" (my translation: "In those days there was no king in Israel: each man did what seemed right to him") (Biblia Sacra iuxta Vulgatam Clementinam, ed. Alberto Colunga, O.P. and Laurentio Turrado [Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1965]).
  13. Guest's translation, p. 105.