Conference Report: Paul and Contemporary Philosophy

I attended this event today, and it was well worth the day out from other responsibilities.  I think I was probably the only New Testament person in a room full of people who spend their academic lives mmersing themselves in the western philosophical tradition, not least the post-Heidegger part of it  and who (and this is the thing that is really strange) actually seem to understand what they read.  The look and feel of the seminar was therefore very different to what I am used to: even the aesthetics (lots of black and thick rimmed spectacles) not to mention the language (there aren't many NT seminars where the word 'fuck' is used with such abandon … it tends to get saved up for the bar…unless you are at SBL, where it depends entirely on which reception you are attedning as to whether or not you would feel comfortable in using the word).

Anyway, we had papers that: gave an exposition of Alain Badiou's book on Paul; explored the concept of law in Romans 7 with the help of Agamben; guided us through Heidegger's 1920-21 lectures on Paul; and explored the way in which Levinas might be seen as attempting in the late 20th century what Paul was attempting in the early 1st century, i.e. to draw on the resources of Jewish texts and traditions in order to address the fundamental questions of the world beyond Judaism.  All of the papers were excellent, not least because they illustrated the most fascinating aspect of the contempary interest in Paul, namely that he is most interesting when you use him to think with, rather than as an excuse not to do any thinking of your own.  For New Testament scholars, these kinds of debates are important, I have concluded, because there are aspects of Paul's thought that probably only permit of a philosophical explanation (rather than a historical or theological one).  Further reflection in due course, perhaps.