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Did Jesus Speak Fearlessly?
I recently read a short book of lectures delivered by Michel Foucault in the 1980s. The topic of his lectures was the ancient Greek practice of fearless speech, or parrhesia.
What does parrhesia mean? Foucault notes 5 basic meanings of parrhesia in Greek writings:
1) The parrhesiast is frank. He says: “I am the one who thinks this and that.”
2) The parrhesiast speaks the truth. The proof of the truth the parrhesiast speaks is not a Cartesian problem of correspondence but a matter of sincerity and courage. The speaker says something dangerous.
3) The parrhesiast speaks dangerously. He takes a risk with his words. Or as Foucault puts it: “When you accept the parrhesiastic game in which you own life is exposed, you are taking up a specific relationship to yourself: you risk death to tell the truth instead of reposing in the security of a life where the truth goes unspoken.”
4) The parrhesiast speaks critically. It is a mode of criticism directed either towards oneself or another; and when directed toward another, the speaker of truth is always in a relationship of inferiority.
5) The parrhesiast is obligated to speak. “The orator who speaks the truth to those who cannot accept his truth, for instance, and who may be exiled, or punished in some way, is free to keep silent. No one forces him to speak, but he feels that it is his duty to do so.”
I want to ask you: Could Jesus be seen as a parrhesiast?
Foucault doesn’t say either way. But he does note that this practice of parrhesia was developed in Greek thought and became closely associated with early Christian groups. Both Greeks and Christians saw parrhesia as a way of caring for the self, a way of defining their self in relation to theirself and in relation to figures of authority. Socrates was a parrhesiast, for example. He died for his words and criticisms directed at those in power. Arguably Jesus was a parrhessiast. Clearly he spoke the truth, dangerously, critically and was duty bound to do so and it got him killed. I’m not sure Jesus was frank; rather, he spoke in metaphor and did not speak explicitly. Four out of five is not bad, however. What do you think?
**Michel Foucault, Fearless Speech, Los Angeles: Semiotext, 2001.