COV&R-Bulletin No. 4 (March 1993)
Bruce Chilton, The Temple of Jesus: His Sacrificial Program Within a Cul tural History of Sacrifice. University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 1992. 209 pp. Hardbound, n.p.
Some members of COV&R were present at Stanford March 1, 1990 when COV&R had its beginning. At that initial meeting Bruce Chilton summarized the first four chapters of his book in progress, with René Girard responding. This book is the completion of that work in progress. It is significant for its attempt to put sacrifice in the context of an anthropological perspective and to evaluate the contribution of Girard to understanding sacrifice as a religious and cultural phenomenon. The treatment is divided into three major parts: theory, setting in ancient Israel and the work of Josephus, and argument concerning Jesus's understanding of sacrifice and the Jerusalem temple. There are three appendixes, in one of which he extends his chapter on Girard's analysis of sacrifice with a critique of Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World.
Chilton's thesis is that Jesus's "occupation" of the Jerusalem Temple has nothing to do with "destroying the fabric of the edifice itself" (100). What he intended was not an attack on the sacrificial system as such; it was rather that God's forgiveness is "the condition in which sacrifice is rightly offered..." (133), rather than the condition sacrifice brings about as a remedy.
What Jesus prophetically demanded was pure sacrifice, which required the condition of forgiveness and the offering of animals owned and provided by a forgiven, purified Israel. When the dispute of Jesus and the authorities over purity and sacrifice "resulted in the defeat of Jesus within the precincts of the Temple, his social eating took on a new and scandalous element: the claim that God preferred a pure meal to impure sacrifice in the Temple" (154). This point concerning the communion meal connects the treatise to the argument developed in the first five chapters, where the author calls into question Girard's model of sacrifice as the controlling outlet of mimetic desire and rivalry, presenting instead the meal as the best model for understanding sacrifice.
Chilton's argument and his appreciative critique of Girard should be of great interest to COV&R members and all those who take the mimetic theory seriously. His argument concerning Jesus and sacrifice is obviously very debatable from the standpoint of the mimetic theory. The discussion begun at Stanford in 1990 and continued in this book will be further extended in two articles, one by Chilton and one by me, to be published in the 1993 issue of Bulletin of Biblical Research. Chilton's article is a review-essay on my book, The Bible, Violence, and the Sacred, that includes a sketch of Girard's mimetic theory. In my response to his review I raise three issues about Chilton's critique of Girard's research and my book that are also relevant to this book review. These are Chilton's understanding of Girard's concept of mimesis, differentiation and sacrifice in Girard's work and my own, and Chilton's model for understanding sacrifice. Summarized very briefly and roughly, I argue the following: (1) Mimetic desire is not inherently or inevitably covetous rivalry, although Girard has not always been consistent in his use of terms. He conceives also of "effective" mimesis, that is, the operation of an underlying scapegoat mechanism that enables culture to work; and the "good" or "ideal" mimesis of Christ or the kingdom of God. In other words, "mimesis" and "mimetic desire" have three related yet distinct meanings. (2) Sacrifice can be "effective" as the expression of effective mimesis, in that it is better than the alternative of a mimetic crisis and wholesale conflict or violence. However, sacrifice is generated by violence and entails the justifica tion of victimization, even if in a muted or camouflaged form. In a vision of the new divine-human community proclaimed by the gospel, it will come to an end. (3) The meal or festal consumption model of sacrifice has little or no explanatory power by comparison to the mimetic model. The meal simply presupposes the differentia tions and ritual acts that must be explained.
James G. Williams