The Relationship of Canon and Messiah: The Convergence of Jan Assmann and Walter Benjamin on a Theory of Monotheistic Canon

Colby Dickinson


This paper focuses upon the relationship between the German Egyptologist Jan Assmann and the German-Jewish late modern literary critic Walter Benjamin as regards the movement from canons to messianic forces. It therefore traces the evolution in Assmann’s thought from issues surrounding the processes of canonization to his development of a form of “weak thought” in relation to religious violence before then turning to Benjamin’s portrayal of a “weak messianic force” moving through history which is only conceivable in close proximity to a scriptural legacy and a divine (or “pure”) violence, as he saw it. Additionally, this paper draws a line connecting the work of each in order to solidify the structure and function of the monotheistic canon as being not only at the heart of western civilization, but also at the heart of all cultural transmissions today. That is, the formal elements at work in the canonical-messianic relationship are universally applicable for all identity formation of modern subjectivities, whether political, cultural or religious, insofar as the entire realm of representations appears to be governed by a canonical sense of normativity. A closer inspection then of how these elements were brought together in their original religious context might therefore better enable us to discern the effects that canons have upon the construction of identities in a globalized world today.


Walter Benjamin;Jan Assmann;messiah

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Bible and Critical Theory: ISSN 1832-3391