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our daily bread: quotidian / epiousios

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From Jon Meacham’s review of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch in today’s NYTBR:

[I]n a wonderfully revealing insight of MacCulloch’s, that the “daily bread” for which countless Christians ask in the Lord’s Prayer is not what most people think it is, a humble plea for sustenance. “Daily” is the common translation of the Greek word epiousios, which in fact means “of extra substance” or “for the morrow.” As MacCulloch explains, epiousios “may point to the new time of the coming kingdom: there must be a new provision when God’s people are hungry in this new time — yet the provision for the morrow must come now, because the kingdom is about to arrive.” We are a long way from bedtime prayers here.

Wonderfully reminiscent of the strange dialectical temporalities at play in, say, Benjamin’s theses “On the Philosophy of History,” that. The ur-symbol of the quotidian is actually, when the translation engine is run in reverse, revealed to be shot through with a kind of post-redemptive future anteriority. Because of the imminence of redemption, we must start asking now for what we’ll need after the redemption. And we ask in terms derived from the needs that will be abolished with the redemption, because they are the only terms (and needs) that we know. Because of this, we modify these present terms with a single word that means at once of different substance and not now but very soon. Wonderful….

And more wonderful still: the fact that implicit in the entire complicated structure is the fact that with the arrival of the redemption comes not the abolition of needs but rather their metamorphosis and augmentation – perhaps even their drastic intensification…

Written by adswithoutproducts

April 4, 2010 at 8:48 am

Posted in benjamin, temporality

3 Responses

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  1. “Give us this day our daily bread”
    There are lots if differing opinions of the meaning of ἐπιούσιος, apparently, since the word doesn’t seem to appear outside the Gospels. I’m also interested in the interpretation of this line as a variation on “man does not live by bread alone” – a call for spiritual sustenance rather than material, which points to the needs of the coming society.

    Was also really interested to notice today that the King James Bible translates the passage in Matthew that forms part of the Lord’s Prayer as “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” I learned it as “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Insert rant about the depoliticization of Jesus here.


    April 4, 2010 at 12:34 pm

  2. Dave,

    Yes, but it’s interesting that ἐπιούσιος seems to direct us in both directions at once – toward sustenance of a different type and the normal sustenance we need tomorrow.

    Amazing find w/r/t the debt issue in the KJE, though. I can’t believe I’ve never heard that before!


    April 4, 2010 at 10:22 pm

  3. tomorrow’s material bread is today’s spiritual bread.

    that is, offering bread tomorrow to everyone is our spiritual sustenance, that which makes it more than bread. “The bread of life” indeed.

    We already know this, but it’s a Gospel that’s worth spreading: the whole of the Gospels is a redistributionist tract.


    April 4, 2010 at 11:02 pm

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