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Sovereignty and the SacredSecularism and the Political Economy of Religion$
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Robert A. Yelle

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226585451

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226585628.001.0001

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The Ambivalence of the Sovereign Ban: The Homo Sacer and the Biblical Ḥerem

The Ambivalence of the Sovereign Ban: The Homo Sacer and the Biblical Ḥerem

(p.74) 3 The Ambivalence of the Sovereign Ban: The Homo Sacer and the Biblical Ḥerem
Sovereignty and the Sacred

Robert A. Yelle

University of Chicago Press

Chapter 3 engages with Giorgio Agamben’s argument that sovereignty is disclosed most directly through the ban, which places someone outside or beyond the law. His chief example is the ancient Latin figure of the homo sacer (literally, the “sacred man”), a condemned criminal who, having lost all rights, may be killed with impunity. Whereas earlier theorists regarded the homo sacer as an example of the ambivalence of the sacred— of the convergence of the pure and the polluted in a single category— Agamben argues that this figure should be interpreted not as a sacrifice, but as proof that the sovereign power to place someone under the ban is more primordial than the sacred. Juxtaposing another case of the ban, the biblical herem by which individual victims and entire cities were consecrated to destruction, this chapter contests Agamben’s interpretation of the ban, and his rejection of the idea of the ambivalence of the sacred, while developing his insights to interpret the Exodus and the Conquest of Canaan as moments of sovereign appropriation, where the “outside” and “inside” of the polity— the law- breaking and law- making functions— become indistinguishable.

Keywords:   Giorgio Agamben, homo sacer, herem, ban, sacrifice, sacred, Rudolf Otto, Conquest of Canaan, taboo, violence

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