Well, Miranda’s Marx and the Bible was not nearly as entertaining as his manifesto Communism in the Bible. In the amusement department, I’m a bit disappointed. However, that’s not intended as a complete knock on the book and its value. First of all, I knew that this read would be very different from his seventy-eight page missive on primitive Christian communism. So, I was prepared for a change. And second, it was actually pleasant to read a sustained work of Biblical exegesis that also included fairly large treatments of Marxist theory.
The central theme of the book might be summarized as follows: God is justice. Seem a bit reductionist? Perhaps. Such is a common criticism leveled against Miranda. However, he goes through painstaking efforts to exegetically demonstrate that this thesis is the common theme of the Bible. Primarily concentrating on the Exodus, the writings of the Prophets, the Psalms, and Pauline texts, Miranda employs a thorough study, using the best available resources from his day (especially Von Rad, Bultmann, and Kasemann; although other exegetes abound) in order to prove that the “proper” Christian understanding of God, as outlined in the Scriptures, is a de-ontologized God-to-come. This God-to-come however is not be thought of in terms of ontology. Rather, for Miranda, since God is justice, the hope for a future God is one that is the hope for the eschaton, the realization of justice in the kosmos, of mispat.
Also drawing heavily from the work of Levinas, justice for Miranda is best understood as interhuman compassion, horizontal love, selfless action for the poor and needy – the Other. And this justice is expected because Yahweh is the “God” of the OT who entered human history through justifying activity (i.e. the Exodus). This irruption into human history becomes the unique identity marker of God for Miranda. In fact, this is how idols and false gods are identified as well: those who do not stand for and effect justice are false. Likewise, the atheist is the one who does not fulfill his/her human ability to pursue justice.
How does Miranda define justice? Love and eschatology. He recognizes that there is a forensic element to justice. But this forensic element must not be understood primarily in terms of covenant or law (Sinaitic), for the latter were later developed ideas that modified the primal concept of mispat. Positively, the forensic aspect of justice is one in which God sides with the poor and restores them by giving to them what was taken from them, and also judging the rich by taking from them. This duality stems from Miranda’s insistence that God is not against possessions per se. He is not against property as such. Rather, God is opposed to the differentiation of wealth. He argues in Communism in the Bible that during the desert years there was no differentiation of wealth, and as such there were no social strata. However, once the people entered the land and began to settle, they established cultic activity and started favoring particular social roles over others, which then in turn led to material differentiation. This historical progression is what led to the division between the just and unjust, the exploited and the rich.
Miranda believes however that this bifurcation can be overcome. Comparing the utopian vision of the realized eschaton to that of Marx’s hope that “the world would be transformed when the relationships among men become true bonds of love and justice,” Miranda goes further in claiming that the ultimate transformation of the world is the resurrection of the dead, the mispat of the entire kosmos. He claims that death, as a product of sin entering the world, reversed the original state of life, but that through a commitment to the principle that things are always changeable, death can be defeated. Citing Marcuse’s influence, such hope is characterized as a “new mode of ‘seeing’ and qualitatively new relations between men and between man and nature” (284).
Summarizing in the “Epilogue” he writes:
Contrary to everything we can include within our ontological categories, Yahweh is not, but rather will be. He will be when there is a people who fulfill certain conditions. Thus we are able to understand expressions like this: “Because of his name, Yahweh will not reject his people, for Yahweh has wanted to make you his people” (1 Sam. 12:22). Yahweh is essentially an eschatological God, and all his intervention in history is directed toward forming a mankind in which he is finally able to be.
Then on the next and final page he continues:
[The] biblical authors implacably insist that a god who is conceived as existing outside the interhuman summons to justice and love is not the God who revealed himself to them, but rather some idol. Moreover the whole Bible is directed toward creating a world in which authentic interhuman relationship is possible and is a reality.
God will be only in a world of justice, and if Marx does not find him in the Western world it is because he is indeed not there, nor can he be. As Freud attests, “There is no longer any place in present-day civilized life for a simple natural love between two human beings.” All our rebellion against Western civilization and against its acute extreme called capitalism is the attraction exercised on us by a future world in which justice, authentic love, is possible. Then, in the societal relationship of justice, and not before, the authentically dialectical mind will have to see if God exists or does not exist. Anything else would be vulgar materialism or dogmatism.
Overall, I was pleased with the book. The depth that the OT and NT discuss justice and the differentiation of wealth was illumined nicely. I also like the idea of God de-ontologized, as well as the ontological openness that Miranda ascribes the material existence. In fact, there was a lot of resonance with the work of Meillassoux and Badiou. As has been articulated by Michael Burns in his essay “The Hope of Speculative Materialism,” in After the Postsecular and the Postmodern, Meillassoux rejects the dichotomy of God exists/God does not exist for “divine inexistence.” As Burns notes, “This thesis rests on the assertion that while we can clearly argue that god does not currently exist, we have no reason to believe that he could not one day exist, and thus the notion of a God-to-come is philosophically tenable” (323). Also rejecting dogmatism and drab materialism, Meillassoux’s God-to-come is “the contingent, but eternally possible, effect of a chaos unsubordinated to any law” (324). There are similarities in Miranda’s work that also run across a Badiouian terrain. As Burns highlights, for Badiou there are “two dominant strands of materialist philosophy”: democratic materialism and materialist dialectic (331). The former is summed up as “there are only bodies and languages.” This is equated with bio-materialism. Materialist dialectic on the other hand is summed up thusly: “there are only bodies and languages, except that there are truths.” Truths are the exception to what is there. They are the excess. As Burns says,
[For] the materialist dialectician, truth provides the possibility of an ‘except that’, a possibility capable of inaugurating a completely new situation which shows the logic of the previous ideology to be non-necessary and contingent. This is why the materialist dialectician always has room to hope that things could be otherwise, and this hope creates a space of creative dialogue with the sort of religious position that would also hold to the possibility of justice and hope of the creation of another world (332).
Miranda, I think, would fit well into such a Meillassouxian-Badiouian materialist dialectician matrix. As has been already noted, his commitment to the unbounded openness of the future, while not given much flesh, serves as the impetus that undergirds the historical process leading to the realized eschaton, the God-to-come. And his notion of dialectics is one that steers clear of bio-materialism. Although, it could be argued that Miranda falls into the “materialism of life” category (á la Negri per Badiou’s criticism), I think the following passage demonstrates Miranda’s fit into the materialist dialectician camp:
Particularly inadequate is the definition of matter, which in Newton’s hands is reduced to the pure abstraction of quantity. Such unreal distillates are the necessary consequence of the merely contemplative approach of Western science. On the other hand, dialectics has to conceive of matter in such a way that it includes in matter the existence of love, of heroism, of unselfish dedication, and of intuition of the absolute moral imperative [my emphasis] (274).
In other words, for Miranda, the summary for materialist dialectic would be, “there are only bodies and languages, except that there is mispat.”