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This article is taken from PN Review 64, Volume 15 Number 2, November - December 1988.

St. Paul and the Invention of Self Gabriel Josipovici

In the Hebrew Bible, and in Judaism till the present day, the term for repentance is teshuvah, a turning. You have gone astray in this way or that and now you recognize and admit this and turn back to the right way. The great series of feasts connected with the new year culminates in the Day of Atonement, when, having repented fully, you are forgiven and so can start afresh with the slate wiped clean. But for Paul the important act is not repentance but awakening, an act of faith which totally transforms life, and which can happen at any time and in any place. The psychological and theological power of this notion and of Paul's exposition of it are not in doubt, and twenty centuries of Christianity have shown its ability to remain perpetually relevant. It is, however, worth seeing what are its implications for the concept of the individual.

What is important for Paul is not the taking part in a ritual but the act of conversion. Thus it is not surprising that he systematically takes the ancient Jewish rituals and transforms them into inward events: circumcision must be of the heart, the outward deed is meaningless; the unleavened bread of Passover, which, for the Jews, was a sign and a reminder that their ancestors did not have time to make leavened bread as they escaped from Pharaoh, is used to make a complex point about the inner self:


Know ye ...


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