Suspending, Believing, and Truth Telling

Reading Giorgio Agamben’s Pilate and Jesus with Bultmann and Foucault


  • Joel Kuhlin


In this article, Giorgio Agamben's essay Pilate and Jesus and in particular its notion of suspension as stalemate is treated as an important contribution to an ongoing exegetical conversation about the theological valence and event of John 18:28–19:41. In Agamben's essay, the suspension created by the dialogue between the Christ and the "Vicar of Caesar" demonstrates a peculiar stalemate of immanent and transcendent claims to sovereignty. Then, the central concept of believing (πιστεύειν), both for John's Gospel as a whole and the passion narrative in particular, is juxtaposed with the theo-political thrust of Pilate and Jesus. By turning to Rudolf Bultmann, the article suggests a minor corrective to Agamben's reading of John and guides the concept of suspension as stalemate towards a slightly different outcome. Lastly, as a final supplement to Agamben's suspension as stalemate, Michel Foucault's famous emphasis on the Greco-Roman concept of truth telling (παρρησία), from his final two lecture-series given at Collège de France, is also brought into play. Considering the conversation of Jesus and Pilate as taking place from an immanent terrain of truth telling, Agamben's vision of suspension in the trial of Christ is extended further.