Genesis and Apocalypse – Chapter 3

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The Birth of History

The beginning of history is a consequence of the end of eternal return. Once history begins, events are unrepeatable. Hence, every moment is both precarious and ultimately groundless because this moment is passing away forever never again to be actualized. The past that is forever gone is a profound loss but it also opens up the possibility for an actual future. History opens up man to the absolute groundlessness of the present, which brings to man’s attention the utterly contingent nature of events. This groundlessness of history brings about a consciousness alienated from all possible grounds or horizons. This fall into alienation begins with the self-naming of the I AM. This self-naming of I AM is the death of eternal return and the inauguration of irreversible and unrepeatable events. Israel is unique because it is “the site of the dawning realization of the forward or evolutionary movement of history” (57). Israel’s prophetic revolution revolves around the hearing of the revolution of the words of I AM. Altizer recognizes that Nietzsche recognized this better than most. For Nietzsche, Israel is THE revolutionary event, which resulted in a complete reversal of the morality of the will to power. This slave morality led to the blessing of the weak and humble in the prophetic literature. According to Altizer, the birth of a new consciousness, which led to the individualization of a personal faith in relation to the I AM. Altizer writes, “[t]hat actuality is the judgment of I AM, a judgment occurring the immediate future, and a judgment that will be not the epiphany but the enactment of I AM” (58). This future judgment of I AM judges both the past and present, and opens up the actuality of the future that is predicated on the absolute perishing of the past. This “future whose very sounding transforms the past into total abyss, an abyss that now passes into hearing itself, as hearing now realizes itself as self-judgment, a self-judgment which is an interior actualization of abyss” (59).

Altizer believes that apocalypse is most manifest in the Hebrew Bible in Second Isaiah. This apocalypse is simultaneously creation that that will reconcile Yahweh to his people. However, this reconciliation requires the suffering servant be cursed and damned by bearing out sins away. This suffering is inflicted by Yahweh, but it “an apocalyptic act of Yahweh, for it is a fulfillment of the once and for all event of beginning, and a fulfillment of the self-emptying of the beginning” (60). The parallel to Job becomes clear as Yahweh also crushed Job, and Job’s “innocence seemingly calls forth the total judgment of Yahweh” (61). The Christological parallels become evident, as God’s Son also bore away our sins to the cross by suffering, a suffering that was truly historical. Ultimately, the crucifixion is the self-negation of the I AM, a negation occurring in the actuality of history. The crucifixion is consummation of the self-negation of I AM for two reasons: because it occurs in history, and within history events are unrepeatable and irreversible. Altizer follows St Paul in recognizing the absolute identity of crucifixion and resurrection. He also astutely understands that because the crucifixion happened in history it cannot simply be undone by the resurrection. The self-naming of the I AM was the beginning of history and the end of eternal return. We fall prey to renewing the movement of eternal return by thinking that resurrection disrupts the irreversible historical death of Jesus at the crucifixion. “Hence the acts of God are kenotic acts, or acts of self-emptying, and real and actual acts of self-emptying, for they not only occur in the actuality of history, but they occur in and as irreversible acts” (62).

Altizer realizes the uniqueness of Christianity is its history of salvation. The revelations of I AM are utterly historical, hence irreversible. This history of salvation involves the loss of a primordial, eternal transcendence because “that could never speak or act, and hence the loss of an original eternity that is eternally and only itself” (63). Jesus’ proclamation of the apocalyptic Kingdom of God stands for an attack against the past and present. The actuality of the future is finally enacted in the present by Jesus’ apocalyptic speech. This proclamation signaled the forward movement of history, which only realizes itself in totality at the dawning of the end of history. If this totality can only come emerge fully at this dawning at the end of history, then this dawning must be the advent of a total apocalypse. While Christianity at its roots is apocalyptic, its radically reverse its original ground by negating this core element. However, modern apocalyptic negated this negation, leading to a unique, universal apocalypticism.

“Now alpha is omega, or genesis is apocalypse, but it is so only as an absolutely new actuality, and an absolutely new actuality realizing itself in the history or world, and thereby realizing itself in absolute perishing or death, a perishing which is the final realization of the self-naming of I AM, and therefore the final realization of the self-emptying of an original eternity” (66).

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