"hors-texte," Pharisaism, and moral arguments from scripture

Alright, let's hack this out:

In On Grammatology, Derrida says "Il n'y a pas de hors-texte", which is often taken in English as "There is nothing outside of the text." Of course, it is also taken that way without most of Grammatology, as well! Spivak understood its implications for "prefaces," as the statement can be read that "there is no preface" -- literally, there is nothing that comes before the text. The preface is a piece of the text. Its story contributes, well or poorly, to the story which it attempts to introduce, but it has no life without that story. The text has no "before," no "outside of the text," nothing that can be taken as superior to the text which is not also itself text, and part of the text. Paul and his Christ live for us because we encounter them in and through the texts of scripture, and through the canon of scripture as a text itself.

The historical quests for Jesus or Paul -- or any other persona of the texts -- set themselves against the text much of the time, as they purpose to judge between bits of text on authenticity criteria that are superior to the texts because they are historically grounded. They intend to use what is before the text to judge the text, just as they would use Rousseau and the living models for his characters to judge his stories about them, And this is precisely the situation in which Derrida says that there is nothing that stands autonomously prior to the text. The factical events of history live only because of the stories that present them. For us who have the text, they are components of its life, and cannot be had without recourse to the text. They are not interpreted without recourse to that text, even though nothing prevents them from being so interpreted but the text itself. No one who had not the text, who had never been touched by the text, would go about tying these facts together in this way and justifying the textual interpretations of them, even if by opposition! So it's a pretty poor way of making conclusions that rely on the text, to attempt explicitly to destroy its integrity in favor of facts interpreted in its light. We wouldn't do that to any other metaphysical system but scripture, unless we intended to destroy it. (Which, now that you mention it, was Lessing's game, and is still the root of modern Biblical scholarship, critical or otherwise: there's a problem that prevents church interpretation, and only church interpretation, from making sense, and I'm piously concerned enough that I'll "help" this discipline of interpretation work on falsified premises so that it believes it cannot work on its original ones -- I'll give it a "historical problem" and watch it fall apart.)

And we have fallen apart! Our historical reclamations have nothing to do with the origins of the texts, and everything to do with falsifying the premises -- falsifying the text itself. Even the Evangelical perspectives that attempt to reject historical critical methods also reject the text itself, in favor of a non-historical and even anti-historical authority the text never had. They have read the text and declared it Qorban, a gift from and a sacrifice before God (as though God wanted it!). All these and more, pre-texts (hors-textes) that have supplanted the text. And I will not tell you that postmodern methods offer anything better -- except a pre-text that demands that the pre-text appear, that demythologizes the pre-text as text in its own right.

We cannot argue with the text, as though it could be made to say what it does not. The text will not be convinced, nor will its inconvenient bits obligingly disappear. We can disagree with the text, but it will not yield. Nor will anyone upholding the moral and ethical normativity of the text yield to the text bent out of shape. But the same fact works in the other direction -- because we have all bent and broken the text into some more or less convenient form of our own. Only the text, fully and consistently read, can stand in identity with the logic of the text. However many ways there are to read the text in full consistency with its own logic, these readings can argue amongst themselves. And they will argue on the basis of pre-texts that submit to the text.


That said, on to Pharisaism. Not the Gospel caricature that has come to be the Christian staple definition for the word, as in legalistic piety and pietistic legalism. No, the phenomenon that grew dramatically in the Hasmonean period, and that survived into the Rabbinic period, was about the adaptation of Torah to daily life. Compare this to the Sadducees and other directly Temple-affiliated sects, who could read Torah as it applied directly to the practices of Temple piety. In contrast to the popular idea that the Pharisees believed that the proper performance of the law would bring the Messiah, the Pharisees had nothing to do with literalism, and everything to do with flexibility. The idea of "the proper performance of the law" is a profoundly debatable topic, and Pharisaism is the location of that debate! But it is debatable only and precisely because doing Torah outside of the environment for which the specific bits of Torah were given leaves a lot of open questions. Again, the Sadducees have no such trouble. In the situations where Torah applied, they applied it. The Pharisaic problem is the declaration that Temple piety applies to the whole of life.

How would you act at home if you got the notion that what your boss required of you in the cleanrooms of the microprocessor fabrication plant was of analogous usefulness outside, and indeed in every part of your life? Especially after you and your whole cohort had been fired from that plant, a rival corporation had taken it over, and years later your people staged a coup to retake it? If you lived the rest of your life like people who belong in a microprocessor fabrication cleanroom?

Now, that's a bit pathological-sounding, because nobody (except maybe IBM in the 60s-80s) makes a religion out of manufacturing computer parts. (Okay, maybe Intel now, with their creepy "all together now" bum-BUM-bum-BUM commercials.) But it was never a religion of the Temple, any more than it was a religion of Jerusalem. Those are pathologies, except as synechdoche. Nor is the entirety of Torah reducible to Temple piety. The true point of Pharisaic adaptation of Torah is that the life of the people that befits their standing before God is totally reflective of that being-before-God, and that it is not restricted to any single group or any single place. It is a remarkably useful philosophy for the diaspora, for example. For the Golah, who lived the exile in the absence of the Temple and the Land -- but no less before God. And indeed for Judaism after 70 and the 130s, as well as for Judaism (but not Christianity) after the failure of Julian "the Apostate" in 363.

It is basically a philosophy of the notion that nothing is outside of the text, but that says something Derrida does not. To say what Derrida says, we must understand that it is a philosophy that exempts nothing in the world from the world of the text, that uses the text as the referent by which the world lives. That places no pre-text above the text, or permits a normative authority from beyond the text to determine the text. And at the same time, that adapts the text to the world just as it adapts the world to the text, reading the two things not merely contiguously, but continuously and consistently.


All that, and I still haven't said that I find in Pharisaism one of the best interpretive keys for the reading of the text for moral judgments, against the reading of moral judgments into the text. And that remains my project for now.


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