Nietzsche versus Paul

Abed Azzam

Nietzsche versus Paul

Nietzsche versus Paulbc



  1. From Dionysian Tragedy to Christianity
  2. From Judaism to Christianity
  3. Jesus-Christ and the Two Worlds of Early Christianity
  4. Paul: The First Christian
  5. Science and Art After the Death of God
  6. Beyond Modern Temporality


In a letter from 1885, Nietzsche himself recognized the difficulties involved in the question about the identity of the essential-Nietzsche and suggested to hand this question over to time and wait until some genius in Socratic knowledge might appear and be able to unearth Mr. F. N.1 I do not intend in the present work to claim for myself the genius that Nietzsche himself did not own. Rather, I shall turn precisely to explaining how the knowledge of the essential-Nietzsche, or the knowledge of Nietzsche’s will to truth/illusion, is impossible, insofar as Nietzsche’s way to it cannot reveal it.Nietzsche Versus Paul is a study of the Christian embrace of Nietzsche’s sought-after truth that ends in its obliteration.
Unquestionably, Heidegger’s interpretation of Nietzsche has been the most influential and outstanding attempt at the excavation of the essential-Nietzsche in the last century.2 In this “confrontation … with all Western thought hitherto” through Nietzsche, Nietzsche’s destiny is “not [the destiny] of an individual but [that] of the history of the era of modern times, of the end of the West.” For Heidegger, Nietzsche is the last metaphysician, the last Platonist, and the last nihilist. Nietzsche is a metaphysician insofar as he “thinks his interpretation of the Being of beings as will to power in an essential unity with that determination of Being which arose in the rubric “the eternal recurrence of the same.” Nietzsche is a Platonist insofar as (his) anti-Platonism is one of “theessential possibilities of metaphysics.” This is the “last of these possibilities. … [it is] that form of metaphysics in which its essence is reversed.” And Nietzsche is a nihilist insofar as his “metaphysics. … is the ultimate entanglement in nihilism.”3
Deleuze responded thus to Heidegger’s interpretation of Nietzsche: “The eternal return is as badly misunderstood as the will to power. … [and] every time we interpret the eternal return as the return of the identical or the same, we replace Nietzsche’s thought with childish hypotheses.” While Heidegger locates Nietzsche at the bosom of the negative term of Platonic metaphysics, Deleuze locates him at the other edge of philosophy. For Deleuze, the essence of Nietzsche’s philosophy is the affirmation of difference: “What a will wants is to affirm its difference. In its essential relation with the ‘other’ a will makes its difference an object of affirmation.” Nietzsche’s philosophy, for Deleuze, “forms an absolute anti-dialectics.” And if this philosophy does come to occupy the negative standpoint of the Hegelian dialectics, it does so only through the “great polemical range” it has. The fact that otherness brings difference closer to negative dialectics does not imply that difference should necessarily become reactive. For, the “will to power is not force but the differential element which simultaneously determines the relation of forces (quantity) and the respective qualities of related forces. It is in this element of difference that affirmation manifests itself and develops itself as creative.”4
Though Heidegger’s and Deleuze’s attempts at excavating Nietzsche rule out each other, they nevertheless agree, with Nietzsche, that an essential-Nietzsche ought to be sought. I do not aim at taking the side of Heidegger or of Deleuze. Insofar as Heidegger’s thesis takes the anti-Platonic Nietzsche as its horizon, and insofar as Deleuze’s counterthesis still follows this same horizon, my claim is that both readings remain partial readings of Nietzsche. As such, both are possible interpretations of Nietzsche, and therefore, neither can be said to represent the essential-Nietzsche. For the undeniable fact remains that the negative standpoint which Nietzsche’s writings take is primarily that of the Antichrist and not that of the anti-Plato. Heidegger rids himself from the Antichrist at the very beginning of his Nietzsche: “There is no Christian philosophy. There is no true philosophy that could be determined anywhere else than from within itself. For the same reason there is no pagan philosophy, inasmuch as anything ‘pagan’ is always still something Christian—the counter-Christian.”5 This is no naive methodological consideration, and certainly not one without consequences. It differentiates the history of philosophy, for which Heidegger’s Nietzsche is no less than its culmination, from the history of Christianity. Nonetheless, if Nietzsche says, “Dionysus versus the Crucified,”6 rather than Dionysus versus Plato, and if, as I have proposed, it is the Antichrist that represents Nietzsche’s negative standpoint, then the question of Nietzsche’s negative dialectics cannot dismiss Christianity so simply. The crucial significance of Christianity becomes apparent in Löwith’s criticism of secularization,7 which begins with his vehement criticism of the “Christian spirit” of Nietzsche’sphilosophy8 and does not end without including Heidegger in it.9
A final judgment about the possibility of fleshing out the essential-Nietzsche cannot be made unless Nietzsche’s Antichrist is first examined. The task of unearthing the essential-Nietzsche should take the anti-Christian Nietzsche—rather than the anti-Platonic one—as its central concern. The Antichrist shifts the focus of inquiry from philosophy to Christianity and from the history of philosophy to the history of Christianity. This shift diminishes the primacy of Plato and Hegel for the question about the nature of the Nietzschean negative dialectics as Plato becomes a Christian before Christianity10 and Hegel becomes a Katechon (delayer).11Finally, this shift brings the question about Nietzsche’s negative dialectics close to Paul’s dialectics of faith and law. It is the Nietzsche-Paul relationship that makes the case for, and provides the main axis of, this investigation.
The study of the Nietzsche-Paul relationship has been largely neglected. In fact, relatively minor attention has been given to Nietzsche’s treatment of Christianity and Judaism.12 Some of Nietzsche’s interpreters mainly relate to Nietzsche’s Paul in the context of discussing other themes.13 To the extent that they treat Nietzsche’s relationship to Paul, commentators may be divided into three main camps. One group treats the Nietzsche-Paul relationship in such a way that obscures its true meaning.14 Following Taubes,15 a second group of scholars may more recently be seen as attending to the Nietzsche-Paul relationship by virtue of its renewed philosophical interest in Paul.16 A third group of scholars, beginning with Ernst Bertram, recognizes Nietzsche’s underlying hate toward Paul and their kinship as “overcomers of the law” (within the so-called Lutheran Nordic Christianity).17 Jörg Salaquarda, who is the first to devote his study primarily to the Nietzsche-Paul relationship, deserves special attention.18In this inspiring study, Salaquarda shows how, for Nietzsche, Paul becomes “the decisive figure … in the origin of Christianity.” Further, Salaquarda states that Nietzsche “conceives of his relationship to the Apostle [Paul] essentially in terms of neither a mere conflict nor a secret kinship, but rather in terms of a dialectical overcoming [dialektische Aufheben].” He discovers the “dialectical resemblance” between Nietzsche and Paul, insofar as Nietzsche’s Paul is the “revaluator” of noble-morality and Nietzsche is the “revaluator” of (Paul’s) slave-morality: “The ‘revaluator’ Nietzsche confronts the ‘revaluator’ Paul.” This is the confrontation that Salaquarda understands as grounding Nietzsche’s revaluation in terms of a Hegelian “synthesis … [governed by the law] of overcoming-preservation.”19 After Salaquarda, and in a (protestant) theological thesis, Daniel Havemann locates Nietzsche within a nineteenth-century theological tradition and argues that Nietzsche’s Paul serves to show in the end that Nietzsche’s questioning and revaluation correspond to Judeo-Christian history and its morality.20
In a direction different from Havemann’s theological interest in the Nietzsche-Paul relationship, I develop here Salaquarda’s idea of the Nietzsche-Paul dialectical resemblance and expand its understanding of this dialectics in terms of overcoming-preservation (Aufhebung, sublation). On my view, the Nietzschean formula, Dionysus versus the Crucified, locates the legitimacy of the Dionysian in the hands of the Antichrist: the legitimacy of the Dionysian is the legitimacy of the Antichrist, and not the legitimacy of the anti-Plato, of Hegelian negative dialectics, or of their other possibility (for example, differentiated affirmation). In keeping with the formula of the Nietzsche-Paul dialectical resemblance, the legitimacy of the Antichrist resembles the legitimacy of Christ. My present inquiry is one about the Pauline logic of legitimization that guides the Nietzschean idea of the Dionysian.
Insofar as “Dionysus versus the Crucified” makes Nietzsche’s last word, this work is directed at the whole of Nietzsche’s opus as it culminates in his later writings (1886–1888). As scholars have already reconstructed Nietzsche’s path toward this end,21 I will not account for the development of the Nietzsche-Paul relationship from the early, through the middle, and until the late Nietzsche. The late Nietzsche becomes the focus through which this work observes and analyzes Nietzsche’s earlier writings retrospectively.22
The procedure of this study is shaped as a reconstruction of the Nietzschean history of Christianity as one revolving around the question (of pessimism) about the meaning of suffering. To be sure, this reconstruction involves ancient Greek religion, Judaism, and Buddhism, but it is in no way a history of religion. First, Nietzsche’s starting point is Christianity and not some abstract concept of religion.23 Second, for Nietzsche, Christianity’s embrace of these “religions” through a history of Christianity adheres to a domain different from Christianity’s encompassment of a possible concept of religion. The latter brings about the “essence of religion” alone in the sphere of the psychology of religion that unites the end/telos of Christianity and Buddhism.24 The history of Christianity, on the other hand, permits Christianity to attract Greek religion, Judaism, and Buddhism to follow the question about the meaning of suffering.
The first and the second chapters discuss the anti-Christian Dionysian origins of Christianity in its Greek and Jewish sources and follow their later decay, which prepares the ground for the advent of the Christian faith. Within the Greek path to Christianity, the life-affirming Dionysian tragedy is born from the religion of thankfulness. Socrates follows it as a turning point, which was (wrongly) interpreted by the life-negating (Christian) Plato. Within the parallel Jewish path, examined in the second chapter, Early Judaism is another life-affirming religion of thankfulness. It degenerates into the life-negating Priestly Judaism, bringing the inversion of noble-morality into slave-morality. The latter establishes the teleological history of suffering humanity within which suffering receives its redemptive value and the noble is concealed: when man becomes the blend of the slave and the noble, the latter becomes deep evil (original sin). In view of the fact that Nietzsche conceives of the Antichrist as primary in relation to the Dionysian, it becomes clear how his revealing of the Dionysian origin (tragic art and paradisiacal science) comes to grant the Antichrist the legitimacy it requires. The identity of origin protects the Antichrist from its inherent negativity, insofar as the origin, as such, rids it from all historical dialectics. My claim is that this Nietzschean strategy resembles Paul’s legitimization of the Christian faith through the original faith of Abraham.
God is Dead
Once Nietzsche discovers Christianity as an unauthentic lie with the help his modern genealogical consciousness, a tight linkage between Christianity and Modernity comes to the fore, thereby making room for the formulation of the following points. First, the Nietzschean criticism of Christianity is not independent, but connected to his criticism of Modernity. Nietzsche’s criticism of Modernity constitutes the starting point, according to which he proceeds to criticize Christianity within a history culminating in Modernity. Second, the Christian-modern continuum, which this history establishes, points to the discovery of Christianity’s lack of naive simplicity as one belonging to Modernity. The case is that modern genealogical consciousness conceives of Modernity as an accumulation of the whole history of Christianity. And this fact renders the simple naivety of thepurification of Christianity in Modernity as morality questionable. Or, put in its reversed form, it is due to Nietzsche’s discovery of the nonauthenticity of the lie of modern morality that Nietzsche is brought to uncover Christianity’s concealment of the noble-slave dialectics, a concealment that renders impossible a genuine synthesis of this dialectics along the Christian-modern continuum. Third, insofar as Modernity—as the accumulation of the whole history of Christianity—contradicts the idea of the simple naivety of the purification of Christianity in modern morality, such purification is not the synthesis of the noble-slave dialectics. It is rather the conclusion of Christianity in Modernity. Moreover, the naive belief in modern morality as a simple synthesis of the history of Christianity is the path of Modernity to pure asceticism.
If it is assumed that, for Nietzsche, Modernity includes both the purification of Christianity and the accumulation of the whole of its history, the definition of Modernity becomes one that turns around the question of the continuity-discontinuity relationship between Modernity and Christianity. This relationship of continuity and discontinuity excludes the identity of Modernity with Christianity, something that Nietzsche’s own words explicitly affirm.1 In addition, and from the perspective of the purification of Christianity in Modernity, this continuity-discontinuity relationship is developmental: Christianity is concluded in Modernity. But such a conclusion does not reduce this continuity-discontinuity relationship to an antithetical relationship according to which Modernity is the antithesis of Christianity. For Modernity is also the accumulation of the history of Christianity. Besides its conclusion of Christianity in morality, Modernity includes the (possibility of the) immoral Dionysian, that is, the anti-Christian. In sum, Modernity has a continuity-discontinuity relationship with the Christian and a continuity-discontinuity relationship with the anti-Christian, that is, the Dionysian. But if Modernity’s continuity with Christianity (morality) means its antithetical discontinuity with the Dionysian, Modernity’s discontinuity with Christianity does not necessarily mean that Modernity is identical with the Dionysian.
It is Modernity’s discontinuity with Christianity that defines Modernity as other to both the Dionysian and the Christian. This turns the discontinuity of Modernity with Christianity to the touchstone for a definition proper to Modernity. The development of this initial definition of Modernity should be furthered in the frame of the Nietzschean history of Christianity. How should this task be approached? So far, the reconstruction of the Nietzschean history of Christianity saw the question of the value of life from the viewpoint of suffering as its axis. Accordingly, in turning to Modernity as part of this history, it should be asked how Nietzsche sees Modernity answering this question, insofar as this answer marks Modernity’s discontinuity with Christianity. Additionally, the Nietzschean history of Christianity identified science and art as being discontinuous with Christianity, and more precisely as anti-Christian Dionysian. The definition of Modernity within the Nietzschean history of Christianity (or according to Modernity’s continuity-discontinuity relationships with the Dionysian and the Christian) may be formulated as the following question: what would be the definition of Modernity according to Nietzsche’s view of the discontinuity of modern science and modern art with Christianity, in view of the answer that these two give to the problem of suffering?

About the author:

Abed Azzam’s areas of study include continental philosophy, global intellectual history, and Islamic philosophy. He received his PhD in philosophy from Tel Aviv University. He was a visiting researcher at the Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen, the Freie Universität Berlin, and an AKMI Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin.

He teaches philosophy and critical theory at the University of Potsdam and Freie Universität Berlin. His book Nietzsche versus Paul was published by Columbia University Press in 2015.