Jesus the Pervert

A Žižekian Response to Mark 11.15-17

In: Biblical Interpretation

Most contemporary readings of the Markan temple incident in Mark 11.15-17 seems to reflect a common Western liberal approach to political change, an approach which suggests that political institutions are inherently good yet at times must be reformed in the interest of the marginalized. Thus according to many interpreters, Jesus enacts a (rather unsuccessful) political demonstration to reform the temple back to its idyllic institutional goals. Instead, this paper, informed by contemporary notions of political insurrection, suggests that Jesus’ criticism of the temple is hardly a prophetic renewal or reform. Rather, the narrative of Mark 11.15-17 is meant to show Jesus’ total symbolic rejection of the temple as social, economic, and political core. Jesus’ actions in the temple are not meant to open up a greater access for the poor and marginalized; instead, in an act of free choice, Jesus the pervert rejects the efficacy of the temple itself, and, in a truly revolutionary manner, advocates a movement from the stricture of the relationship altogether.

As the visceral presence of God on the earth, the Second Temple creates an unfortunate economy of desire whereby God must remain at a prohibitive distance, a self-perpetuating cycle where access is controlled and limited on the basis of ethnicity, sexuality, and purity. The temple, endowed with economic, agrarian, and sexual surplus, manufactures a presence of God which must remain structurally inaccessible in order for it to retain the essential neurotic element of desire and distance. However, through judging both the rich and the poor, and halting the flow of sacred goods, Jesus the pervert exposes this neurotic cycle of desire as fantasy at the cost of his own life.

Incorporating insurrectionist insight from Slavoj Žižek, the Occupy Movement, and others like the Anonymous Collective allows our interpretation to move beyond the standard “Jesus as Political Reformer” to a much more dangerous interpretation of Jesus as politically perverse. It is this more dangerous perspective which can make better sense of the reality of Jesus’ execution and help to identify this pericope as an authentic account of political dissent.

  • 10

    Žižek, On Belief, p. 21.

  • 11

    Marx, Capital, p. 198.

  • 13

    Jameson, ‘Postmodernism and the Market’, p. 279.

  • 14

    Marx, Capital, p. 168.

  • 16

    Jameson, ‘Postmodernism and the Market’, p. 281.

  • 20

    Braunstein, ‘Desire and Jouissance in the Teachings of Lacan’, p. 106.

  • 21

    Feher-Gurewich, ‘A Lacanian Approach to the Logic of Perversion’, p. 200.

  • 22

    Ibid., p. 192.

  • 32

    Smith, Map is Not Territory, p. 115.

  • 39

    Soja, Thirdspace, p. 98.

  • 47

    Gray, The Temple in the Gospel of Mark, p. 30.

  • 48

    Soja, Thirdspace, p. 161.

  • 49

    Soja, Thirdspace, p. 161. For more information on heterotopia, also consult M. Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (Toronto: Random House, 1977).

  • 51

    Gray, The Temple in the Gospel of Mark, p. 32.

  • 52

    Gray, The Temple in the Gospel of Mark, p. 36.

  • 55

    Žižek, ‘Hegel with Lacan, or the Subject and Its Cause’’, p. 398.

  • 60

    Feher-Gurewich, ‘A Lacanian Approach to the Logic of Perversion’, p. 192.

  • 61

    Feher-Gurewich, ‘A Lacanian Approach to the Logic of Perversion’, p. 192. Note that soon after the temple incident, Jesus is arrested and executed by people claiming, ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself’ (Mark 15:29).

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  • 63

    Žižek, On Belief, p. 121.

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