Messianism and Prophecy: Figures of Twentieth-Century Thought

May 4, 2012

University of Chicago, Quadrangle Club Library

Organized by Eric Santner (University of Chicago) and Daniel Weidner (Center for Literary Research Berlin)

Presented by The Bosch Foundation, the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in German Literature and Culture, and the Department of Germanic Studies.

Messianism has played a significant role in twentieth-century conceptions of politics, revolution, and more generally the human capacity to interrupt the course of historical “progress.” In recent efforts to reanimate this tradition, thinkers such as Giorgio Agamben, Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, and Gianni Vattimo have largely drawn on the Letters of Paul as the key resource in this undertaking. These readings have for the most part ignored the broader context of Paul’s thought, most importantly, the link between messianism and the prophetic tradition. That link was still central in the thought of earlier twentieth-century “messianic” thinkers such as Hermann Cohen, Walter Benjamin, Ernst Bloch, Gershom Scholem, among others. Other thinkers of the period such as Gerhard von Rad, Martin Buber, and Abraham Heschel, were at the same time developing new models of understanding biblical prophecy, finding in the literature paradigms for the theory and practice of religious and communal communication. The aim of the workshop is to explore these earlier discourses in relation to the current debates on messianism, “messianicity,” and messianic politics. The presentations and discussions will be based on a series of short texts. For copies of the reader, contact Daniel Weidner at


9:30 Coffee


Opening Remarks

Yvonne Sherwood/Ward Blanton (Glasgow University): 
Anxieties of Territory and Language: Gershom Scholem and W.D. Davies

Daniel Weidner (Center for Literary Research Berlin): 
Righteousness, History, and Prophetic Irony: Gershom Scholem on Jonah, 1919


Nitzan Lebovic (Lehigh University): 
The Prophecy of Destruction: The Principle of the Un-Sayable


Brian Britt (Virginia Tech):
The Suffering Servant in Judaism, Christianity, Theory, and Scholarship

Martin Kavka (Florida State University): 
Is The Prophetic Message Verifiable?


Roundtable Discussion