A thought on The Sacrament of Language and The Shepherd of Hermas

As I read The Shepherd of Hermas, I’m struck by a theme that resonates throughout Christian literature — the concern with speaking the truth and rejecting all lies and slander. Obviously this theme seems like common sense and not particular to Christianity, but in Agamben’s terms from The Sacrament of Language, I think this has to be understood as an attempt to get past the oath, according to Christ’s saying in the Sermon on the Mount. The prohibition of slander means to stop using your words as blugeons — instead, only use them for truth. (And avoiding swearing means your words can’t be used as blugeons against you.)

But I wonder if Agamben would say that this doesn’t go far enough — we need to do more than get rid of lies, we need to get rid of truth as well. The upshot of this would be twofold: first, the Christian attempt to eliminate lies foreshadows the history of persecution of heretics, infidels, etc. When the Christians didn’t have power, it was subversive and wonderful, but it quickly took a different turn once they did. Second, maybe the people “speaking in tongues” in the Pauline communities had a point.

I only post this because as I’ve been reading The Shepherd of Hermas, I’ve been thinking, “Wow, if I could figure out a way to make this text interesting, that would be my greatest achievement.” This is my initial attempt.

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6 Responses to “A thought on The Sacrament of Language and The Shepherd of Hermas”

  1. ben Says:

    But I wonder if Agamben would say that this doesn’t go far enough — we need to do more than get rid of lies, we need to get rid of truth as well.

    What would be really interesting would be if you could write at length on this theme without mentioning the bit about the true and false worlds from, uh, I think it’s Twilight of the Idols.

  2. Daniel Says:

    “What would be really interesting would be if you could write at length on this theme without mentioning the bit about the true and false worlds from, uh, I think it’s Twilight of the Idols.”

    Cannot be done. There is hard, and then there is impossible.

    It is TotI; “How The ‘True World’ Finally Became A Fable”.

  3. Adam Kotsko Says:

    The remarkable thing is that Agamben pulls off this feat with no apparent difficulty.

  4. ben Says:

    Ah, I wasn’t certain from your post whether this was something Agamben had done, or something someone moved by Agambian considerations might do.

  5. Adam Kotsko Says:

    He discusses the general concepts without using Nietzsche, but he doesn’t use the specific text that I’m talking about.

  6. Nic Says:

    I find this post very interesting in part because it touches a bit on some thinking I’m doing for my AAR paper on Jean Gerson, titled the “The Solitary Vices of Medieval Discernment.” There’s a sexual poltics to determing the true from the false, registered esp in rhetorics of invective. You might look at Jennifer Knust’s book from Columbia UP on sexual slander, which includes an entire chapter on Hermas.


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