Redemption and Penance: Physical Humiliation, Bodily Harm, and Death Not Included

WCU Author/Contributor (non-WCU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Nathan Travis (Creator)
Western Carolina University (WCU )
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In conversation with multiple biblical authors; two classical pragmatist philosophers, William James and Josiah Royce; two historians of Judaism, Julie L. Mell and Yishai Kiel; and a few scholars of Royce, I aim to refute the Jewish and Christian idea that “paying” penance requires physical humiliation, bodily harm, or death. Examples of this form of penance abound in the redemption narratives contained within the texts of both the Hebrew and Christian Bible, extrabiblical moral literature of Latinate Christian authors, and the medieval Ashkenazi Jewish work Sefer Hasidism. However, after presenting some of these examples, I will illustrate the grounds on which various biblical authors renounce this form of penitential sacrifice as a means of redemption, including the authors of Ezekiel, Job, Psalms, Leviticus, and Isaiah. Moreover, I argue that this understanding of penance fails to recognize both the psychological suffering experienced by those who are truly penitent and the practical, social component of penance required to bring the penitent individual back into good standing with their community. In light of this, I will conclude by giving an outline for the framework of a redemptive or atoning process inspired by the Jamesian notion of “a certain blindness in human beings” and the Roycean vision of atonement as a communal project.

Presented at WCU's 2022 Research and Scholarship Conference.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2022

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