“Real Circumcision is a Matter of the Heart”

On Badiou's Paul and Boyarin's Jewish Question

Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory 16.2 (2017)

In 1997, two books were published on Saint Paul: A Radical Jew: St. Paul and the Politics of Identity, by the eminent Jewish studies scholar Daniel Boyarin, and Alain Badiou’s Saint Paul: La fondation de l’universalisme. 1 Though the two authors would not encounter each other’s work until many years later,2 their arguments appear as if on opposite ends of the same pole. Both mobilize Paul and Pauline theology in order to investigate the idea of universalism and its place within philosophy and politics. Badiou’s Saint Paul is a loving exploration of the saint which also functions as a sort of précis of Badiou’s own embrace of universalism and its relation to the “event”; Paul’s letters are made to serve as the historically situated demonstration par excellence of Badiou’s universalist philosophy. Boyarin, on the other hand, turns a skeptical eye on Paul, arguing that his practice and advocacy of universalism form an originary source of a logocentric tradition that seeks to eliminate difference and that denigrates the feminine as the wellspring of impure particularity.