Saturday, 3 May 2014


In general, kairos and chronos are opposed or heterogeneous, which is certainly true. But decisive here is not simply the opposition, but the relationship between them. What do we have when we have a kairos, an occasion? The most beautiful definition of kairos I have ever found is in the Corpus Hippocraticum, and it is one which in fact characterizes kairos with respect to chronos. I will quote this definition: chronos esti en ho kairos kai kairos esti en ho ou pollos chronos, "the chronos is where we have kairos and the kairos is where we have a little chronos." Mark the extraordinary implication of the two concepts, which are literally the one within the other. The kairos—to translate it simply as "occasion" or "chance" would be trivial—is not another time: what we get when we grasp a kairos is not another time, but only a contracted and abridged chronos. The precious pearl in the ring of chance is only a small portion (porzione) of chronos, a time which is left. This is the same as the old rabbinic apologue that Benjamin once told to Bloch, according to which the messianic world is not another world; it is this same profane world, but with just a little shift, a very small difference. But this little shift, which results from my having grasped the disconnection with respect to chronological time, is in every way decisive.

Paul defines the relationship between chronological time—that is to say, the item that goes from "creation to" resurrection of Christ—and messianic time, by means of two fundamental concepts. The fist one is typos, foreshadowing, prefiguring, figure. Paul recalls here, in I Cor. 10:1–11, a series of episodes in the history of Israel: "Brothers, I want you to know that our fathers were all under the cloud, that they all crossed the sea and all were dipped in the sea and they all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink. They drank from a rock who was the messiah." Then he adds, "all these things happened to them as types, as figures of us, in order that we do not desire bad things, as they did." And a few lines later, he takes up the same mode: "these things occurred to them in a figural way [typicos], and were then written for our instruction, for us, for whom the extremities of the times have met (ta tele ton aionon katenteken; anatao— the "anti" signifies ‘face to face’.")
Auerbach has shown the importance of this "figural" conception in medieval culture (I say "figural" because Jerome translates typoi in I Cor. 10:6 with in figura), when it becomes the ground for a general theory of allegorical interpretat ion. Through the concept of t ypes, Paul establ ishes a relationship—which we from now on call typological relationship—between each event of the past and ho nym kairos, the now-time, present-messianic time. Thus in Romans 5:16, Adam, through whom sin entered the world, is defined typos tou mellontos, "figure (or foreshadow) of the future," that is to say, of the messiah, through whom peace will abound among men. And in Hebrews 9:26, the temple built by men is an antitype of the heavenly one, which could indicate a symmetrical relationship with respect to the type.

The point here is not simply that each event of the past becomes a figure or allegory of the present time and finds its fulfillment in it; decisive is rather the transformation of the time structure that the typological relationship brings about. It must imply a question of interpretation of the scripture, of the hermeneutical relationship that is established between two texts, between types and antitypes, as in the allegoric paradigm that prevailed in medieval culture. The hermeneutical relationship is only a secularization of the typological-messianic relationship. What is at stake in the figure, is not a hermeneutical problem, but a tension that transforms and binds together past and present, types and antitypes, in an inseparable constellation. The messianic is not one of the terms of the typological relationship: it is the relationship itself. And this is what Paul means when he says "for us, for whom the extremities of the times have met, are face to face." The two extremities of the olam hazzeh and the olam habba contact one another—their face-to-face is messianic time.

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