Monday, April 18, 2011

Inauthentic Experience

Scholars of early Jewish and Christian mysticism have often seen personal religious experience as a kind of gold standard for visionary texts. According to this assumption, autobiographical first person narrative would be the truest or most convincing evidence that someone really experienced a heavenly journey. Pseudonymity, by contrast, is a difficult and confusing mediating layer--a mask.

We can put the problem more rigorously: In linguistic terms, the question is how author (the person who created the text's content) and principal (the person who takes responsibility for the text) are aligned: are they the same? If not, how do they relate? In biblical scholarship, for example, the question of the authorship of Jeremiah or Ezekiel is about how and when author and principal align. But people who study autobiography and memoir have long recognized that the alignment of author and principal does not make a text less literary, or true.

And now, this interesting study of 40 people who confessed under interrogation to crimes they did not actually commit: 'Seven described their involvement in the crime as coming to them in a "dream" or "vision."' If one is cast in a certain role--say, of criminal who has not confessed, and is under great pressure to do so, one may have an "authentic" experience. But is it less mediated, or truer?


John Hobbins said...


This is such an interesting topic, and I hope you pursue it further. In fact, several interrelated problems are at issue.

An example.

For the sake of argument, let's assume that the author of 2 Baruch was under apocalyptic pressure as it were, such that the content of the visions in the book came to him in visions. Then you have the interpretations thereof, the result perhaps of more conscious cognitive processes. Then you have the letter to the tribes, which is pure parenesis and is bereft of the symbols and ciphers of the visions. Another style of knowledge-transmission and another communication medium. Then you have the frame narrator of it all. (So also 1 Enoch. I could go on.)

The author of content and user of these disparate technologies was, at least on one hypothesis, one and the same person. Furthermore, except for the frame-narrator who is almost by definition anonymous in ancient literature (but see Sirach), the contents of 2 Baruch are attributed to Baruch, with a superimposition of one and sometimes two time frames on that of Baruch of the Bible (1st Temple = 2nd Temple, with plenty of attention, at least in the gaps, to a Third Temple).

It has be admitted that 2 Baruch, written around 90 CE, had an author with an immense ability to code-switch - nor is it possible to find the same range in a single text in Jewish literature of Greco-Roman antiquity preserved in Judaism as opposed to Christianity.

Texts like Revelation and Shepherd of Hermas, not only remakes of 4 Ezra, Assumption of Moses, etc., were transmitted in Christianity because, it would appear, intellectuals who could code-switch so comprehensively were valued.

I'm guessing they were valued in many Judaisms of the same centuries, though traditional Jewish texts might be thought to suggest otherwise.

Unknown said...

"If one is cast in a certain role--say, of criminal who has not confessed, and is under great pressure to do so, one may have an "authentic" experience."

Surely a false confession is by definition an inauthentic experience?