Taubes, Jakob

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TAUBES, JAKOB . Jakob Taubes was born in Vienna on February 25, 1923. In 1937, as a result of the appointment of his father, Zwi Taubes, as chief rabbi to Zürich, he moved to Switzerland and survived the Nazi persecution. In 1943 he became a rabbi. In 1947 he completed his studies in philosophy at Zürich and published Abendländische Eschatologie (Western Eschatology).

In 1948 he moved to the United States, where he married Susan Anima Feldman. He obtained a post at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, where he worked with Louis Finkelstein, S. Libermann, and Lewis L. Strauss. In 1949 he met Gershom Scholem (18971982). However, his association with Scholem was not successful: personal and theoretical reasons led to a quick breakdown in their relations.

He returned to the United States in 1953 and after being awarded a Rockefeller scholarship he spent the next two years at Harvard University. In the academic year 19551956 he taught at Princeton University. In 1956 he was a professor of history and philosophy of religion at New York's Columbia University, where he remained for ten years. He met Peter Szondi (1893) and Theodor Adorno (19031969). In 1966 he was appointed as the chair of Jewish studies at the Freie Universität Berlin, a post that he held until 1979, when he took charge of the new Department of Hermeneutics. During this same period he taught at the Maison des Sciences de l'Homme in Paris. In Berlin Taubes became an icon of the student movement.

Along with Jürgen Habermas (1925) and Dieter Heinrich (1927), he was editor of the Theorie series of Suhrkamp. In 1983 the first of the three-volume Religionstheorie und Politische Theologie was published and dedicated to Carl Schmitt (18881985), whom Taubes had met in 1978 and with whom he had remained in touch. The history of this working relationship was the subject of his book Gegenstrebige Fügung. In 1987 the Heidelberg Seminar on the Letters to the Romans took place and was eventually published under the title Die politische Theologie des Paulus. After being ill on a number of occasions and spending time in nursing homes, he died on March 21, 1987.

Taubes's work was based on identifying a link between religion and politics. Beginning in the early 1980s he prepared work that would lead to the three-volume Religionstheorie und Politische Theologie, an endeavor that had actually begun in the 1950s when, after producing a work on political philosophy and theology, he published two studies (Theology and Political Theory and On the Symbolic Order of Modern Democracy ), the product of a detailed study of Schmitt's works; or earlier when, in Abendländische Eschatologie, the only book published during his life, he attempted to return to the problem of political theology, the source of which he identified in the origins of Jewish theocracy. In this work, a year after the publication of Lebendiges Judentum (Living Judaism; the book by Zwi Taubes, in which the Zionist standpoint appears as the only means of escape for European Jewry), there is no reference to the so'ha ; however, the whole work is based on the need to question the historical position reached without resorting to the solution proposed by his father. A forerunner of the debate that followed concerning modernity, despite being referred to by Karl Löwith (18971973) in Meaning in History (1949), Abendländische Eschatologie remained forgotten for a long time. The work is an attempt to examine the position in Western history of the need for fulfillment specific to apocalyptics. It is divided into four parts: the first identifies in Jewish apocalyptics and their Gnostic expression "the essence of eschatology"; the second is devoted to the "history of apocalyptics"; and the third and fourth volumes are concerned with its definition, first theologically and then philosophically, in modernity.

The history of philosophy and political theology are the two pivotal themes of his work and they find full expression in Paul's (c. 3c. 66) Messianism. At first Taubes attempted to redefine the idea of Messianism in a different way from Scholem; thus, in the seminar on the Letters to the Romans, in an answer to the views of Friedrich Nietzsche (18441900), Sigmund Freud (18561939), Karl Barth (18861968), Schmitt, Walter Benjamin (18921940), and Scholem himself, he returns Paul to his Jewish roots, believing that Paul's antinomic Messianism, first of all, was the only way to attain the fulfillment of the original apocalyptic requirement of the end of history, without thereby resorting to a dualist Gnostic or Marcionite solution, and also that it represented the most appropriate way of dealing with the question of Law, either the Torah or the Nomos, which nonetheless found its most complete expression in Schmitt's concept of sovereignty. In short, through Paul, Taubes produces a detailed Messianic account of the two main problems of the postmodern age: the end of history and the end of sovereignty. In his opinion, following in the footsteps of Benjamin, Pauline Messianism produced an upheaval of political theology and a radical reconsideration of the history of philosophy.


Works by Jakob Taubes

Religionstheorie und Politische Theologie. Munich, 19831987.

Ad Carl Schmitt: Gegenstrebige Fügung. Berlin, 1987.

Abendländische Eschatologie. Munich, 1991.

Die politische Theologie des Paulus. Munich, 1993.

Vom Kult zur Kultur. Munich, 1996. A collection of essays.

Il prezzo del messianesimo: Lettere di Jacob Taubes a Gershom Scholem e altri scritti. Macerata, Italy, 2000, with an unpublished seminar on Benjamin's thesis.

Messianismo e cultura. Milan, 2001.

Other Sources

On Taubes, see Norbert W. Bolz and Wolfgang Hübener's collection Spiegel und Gleichnis: Festschrift für Jacob Taubes (Würzburg, 1983), Richard Faber, Eveline Goodman-Thau, and Thomas Macho's collection Abendländische Eschatologie: Ad Jacob Taubes (Würzburg, 2001), and also the monograph by Elettra Stimilli, Jacob Taubes: Sovranità e tempo messianico (Brescia, Italy, 2004).

Elettra Stimilli (2005)