The Bible, in René Girard’s reading, reveals the violent foundations of social order and critiques the scapegoat mechanism used to transform the conflictual mimesis of human culture into unanimous arbitrary victimage. Girard classifies as myth all those conventional narratives that have been used to justify foundational violence, concealing the guilt of the persecutors and the innocence of the victim. In history, Girard observes, we find ourselves always between myths of persecution and the Gospel revelation of those myths. Given the pervasive presence of scapegoating in human culture, the Bible itself has too often been misappropriated in the service of collective violence, and thus misunderstood as equivalent to myths of persecution. This essay looks to several exemplary works of twentieth-century American literature that call upon readers to reclaim the Bible’s revelation of collective vio-lence. Read in reference to the Biblical touchstone of the woman taken in adultery (John 8), Jean Toomer’s Cane and William Faulkner’s Sanctuary critique a culture in which the Bible has been misused as one more stone to cast, piled upon the victim by those who surely are not without sin. Toni Morrison’s Beloved concludes with the Gospel promise of reversing the scene of persecution in an act of collective forgiveness. Martin Kevorkian is Professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin.

In history, we are always between the gospel and myth.1 —René Girard

“You can smell the lynching,” René Girard remarked to biographer Cyn-thia Haven, discussing the writings of William Faulkner.2 Girard, who spent a year (1952-3) as a young scholar in the South, perceived lynching as part of the American climate:

As soon as summer arrived, an overwhelming heat weighed on you like a curse, provoking an anguish that was not experienced as a purely physical phenomenon, and which I could not separate, in my mind, from the racial malaise that always hung over this country, and remained as it had been described by the great writers of the South, especially Faulkner.3

In this context, Girard insisted upon the real-world value of that literature and its power to reveal hard truths:

This literature was great because it captured a meaning that was really there, and which haunted everything precisely because the majority of men refused to come to grips with it. I remember the scandal of the Congress that never managed to ratify the law that would have automatically passed to the federal level, with the highest guarantee of real justice, for everything related to lynching.4

Haven observes that “some say Girard’s theories of scapegoating were born in the South—but that would go too far.”5 From a bibliographic perspective, Girard developed his theory of the scapegoat mechanism via studies of the realist novel (Deceit, Desire and the Novel, 1966), of literary anthropology (Violence and the Sacred, 1972), and of biblical revelation (Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World, 1978). But it would not go too far to say that the South, and the American literature of racial violence, provides a powerful nexus for all of these forms of illumination. The biblical revelation of the anthropological scapegoat mechanism achieves a specific intensity in the Christ-haunted South, in novels that demonstrate that theory’s explanatory power.

Attending to an image of the Bible from Jean Toomer’s Cane (1923), the present essay’s introductory section (“Crying out from the Ground”) takes up an invitation to read this work of modernist literature for its religious insights on the archaeology of violence. Cane’s invitation lays groundwork for a biblical perspective on collective violence, an orientation informed by Girard’s work. The following two sections (“The Blood of the Prophets” and “Casting the Last Stone”) will develop that perspective through a reading of Cane; that is, the point of the analysis will be to show how Cane reads culture from a biblical perspective. The biblical touchstone for this perspective will be the account of the woman taken in adultery (John 8). The next two sections (“Patterns of Arbitrary Victimage” and “Inverted Easter”) will pursue a complementary reading of persecution through William Faulkner’s Sanctuary (1931). Here, the biblical echoes of the persecuted woman are layered with more direct references to the Easter narrative, against which the failures of culture are measured. Finally, in “Repenting of the Violence of Our Justice,” these critiques will find an answer in Toni Morrison’s Beloved(1987), which concludes by presenting an alternative to the scenes of persecution to which we will now turn our attention.

Crying out from the Ground

“The Bible flaps its leaves with an aimless rustle on her mound”; with this repeated image, Jean Toomer bookends the story of “Becky” near the beginning of Cane.6 As I will suggest, with recourse to Girard, this image cries out to readers o reclaim the Bible—to rescue it from its misuse by the culture of persecution and from its disuse by those who would seek to end the persecution. The story of “Becky” vividly chronicles that persecutorial misuse; the academic reception of Cane has largely perpetuated that disuse. It has, for instance, been suggested that the “aimless rustle” serves as Toomer’s index of the “irrelevance” of the Bible to the culture he depicts.7 While Toomer’s earnest spiritual seeking followed numerous twists and turns, he can scarcely be said to have abandoned the Bible as irrelevant. Among the aphorisms of his manuscript for “Return and Remember,” we find this rather unequivocal, even undiplomatic statement: “People who believe that the scriptures are out of date testify in this way the extent to which profane desires have driven them out of life.”8

Nor are we likely to stray from Toomer’s spirit by searching for religious sig-nificance in the text of Cane, a work more often considered from the perspectives of modernist aesthetics and racial politics. It is understandable that the radical experiment in form that is Cane would be celebrated as an aesthetic event; it is likewise understandable that such an achievement from an author surrounded by vexing questions of identity would become a locus for a discussion of racial politics. Toomer is somewhat (in)famous for his agonistic relation to identity politics, for his insistence that his writing is not simply about race. Less well known is the indication that his writing is not simply about aesthetics. In a letter to Sherwood Anderson, dated shortly before the appearance of Cane, Toomer writes, “It seems to me that art in our day, other than in its purely aesthetic phase, has a sort of religious function.”9 If we listen closely to the “aimless rustle,” if we attend to the archaeology of Becky’s burial mound, we may yet find a dynamic biblical message in Cane.

The Blood of the Prophets

In considering the biblical import of Toomer’s text, one might well begin with the title and its slanted allusion to the Genesis account of Cain. Charles Scruggs, studying Toomer’s papers, finds that the author “wrote Cain for Cane when referring to his novel. Later he corrected his typing ‘error’ in his own handwriting.”10 In this ambiguous name, Cain/Cane, the agrarian landscape of Toomer’s work becomes doubly bound up with the scene of foundational violence. Toomer portrays a regional agriculture of cane rooted in violence; the murdered Cain, who founded the first city, was himself a farmer (Gen. 5:17). From Cain, his labor and his violence, comes Cane, and its sweet and bitter harvests, its syrup and its strife. In his epigraph, Toomer identifies the “deep-rooted cane” first of all with a single-word declaration: “Oracular.”11 The oracular cane speaks, among other things, of the sources of cultural violence.

Louise Blackwell, tracing a diverse network of references, finds that Toomer’s synthesis of biblical allusions raises his text to the level of “prophecy.”12 It is the prophetic strain of Cane that I wish to emphasize, with reference to a definition of prophecy made especially legible by the work of René Girard. In Violence Un-veiled, which pursues a Girardian exegesis of scripture as that scripture reads our culture, Gil Bailie illuminates the somewhat surprising tradition of prophecy that I have in mind. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus proclaims, “This generation will have to answer for every prophet’s blood that has been shed since the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was murdered between the altar and the sanctuary.”13 Bailie’s exposition makes clear that “we are members of that ‘generation’ to which Jesus referred.”14 According to this standard, for what prophets will we have to answer? Zechariah we might at first readily identify as a prophet; a book of the Bible bears this name, after all. But in what sense is Abel a prophet? In precisely the sense mentioned. Abel’s fate at the hands of Cain is well known; in the clear context of Jesus’s sentence, only Zechariah’s presence on the list receives a further word of explanation: “Zechariah, who was murdered.” The blood of both was shed, and it was, as Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:35 emphasize, innocent blood. In a passage closely resembling the statement in Luke, Jesus speaks of “all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of the innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar” (RSV). Here the blood of the innocents appears as interchangeable with the blood of the prophets. In Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World,15 Girard draws out the encyclopedic and universal nature of these declarations:

The text gives us to believe that there have been many murders. It only mentions two of them, however: that of Abel, the first to occur in the Bible, and that of a certain Zechariah, the last person to be killed in the second book of the Chronicles, in other words the last in the whole Bible as Jesus knew it.

Evidently mention of the first and last murders takes the place of a more complete list. …The text has the character of a recapitulation, and it cannot be restricted to the Jewish culture alone, since the murder of Abel goes back to the origins of humanity and the first cultural order. Cainite culture is not a Jewish culture. The text also makes explicit mention of “all the righteous blood shed on earth.” It therefore looks as though the kind of murder for which Abel here forms the prototype is not limited to a single region of the world or to a single period of history.17

Furthermore, the traditional laying of blame at the feet of the Pharisees simply duplicates the structure of the error Jesus highlights: “You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets” (Matt. 23:29-31, NIV). The error, as Girard explicates this paradox, is one of repudiation without acknowl-edgment of ongoing propensities. Girard points out that this error is “not unlike the repudiation of Judaism by the ‘Christians’”:

It is said that the Pharisees were the “sons” of those who carried out the killings (Matt. 23:31). This is not to imply a hereditary transmission of guilt, but rather an intellectual and spiritual solidarity….The sons believe they can express their independence of the fathersby condemning them, that is, by claiming to have no part in the murder. But by virtue of this very fact, they unconsciously imitate and repeat the acts of their fathers. They fail to understand that in the murder of the Prophets people refused to acknowledge their own violence and cast it off from themselves. The sons are therefore still governed by the mental structure engendered by the founding murder….Paradoxically, it is in the very wish to cause a break that the continuity between fathers and sons is maintained.18

Or, as Toomer states the case more minimally in his aphorisms: “It would be distasteful but very fruitful if each one realized that the main trouble with the world is himself.”19

To accept the gospel truth is not merely to notice the fact of historical perse-cution, but to recognize oneself as a member of the same violent generation, the generation that continues to be addressed by Jesus’s words: “Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them. So you testify that you approve what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs” (Luke 11:47-48, NIV). In each case, the proof of the continuity lies in the hypocrisy: the judgment of the historical persecutors and the solemn commemoration of their victims is carried out by those who persist in the ways of violence, “you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you” (Matt. 23:37, NIV). Zechariah, we read, was stoned to death (2 Chron. 24:21). Ret-rospectively, this fact occasions shocked criticism, but criticism from those who continue to sanction scenes of collective violence. The collective act of piling up stones for a funerary monument, when viewed from a certain perspective, serves as a reminder that this same pious assembly possesses an undiminished zeal for hurling stones at newly designated scapegoats.20

For Girard, a hallmark of human culture is its capacity for collective self-deception about the ways of violence, its capacity to sustain lies about the violence of its own repeated foundational acts. Girard quotes and comments upon Jesus’s words on violence and deception:

“Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:43-44). Here the essential point is that a triple correspondence is set up between Satan, the original homicide [here Girard cites a commentary linking this reference to the “murderer from the beginning” with Cain], and the lie. To be a son of Satan is to inherit the lie. What lie? The lie that covers the homicide. This lie is a double homicide, since its consequence is always a new homicide to cover up the old one. To be a son of Satan is the same thing as being the son of those who have killed their prophets since the foundation of the world.21

The Gospels, in fact the whole arc of biblical revelation, expose this lie by consis-tently taking up the perspective of the victim.22 From Abel to Zechariah: “Each in at least some rudimentary way was the embodiment of the Lamb slain since the foundation of the world.”23 nnocent Abel, murdered by Cain, was the first prophet of the revelation made perfect in Christ’s death on the Cross. It was a prophecy that proclaimed itself through the innocent blood, as we learn in Genesis 4:10, when the Lord, the God who takes the side of victims, responds to Cain’s claim of ignorance regarding his brother’s whereabouts: “Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out from the ground” (NIV). Throughout Cane, the stained earth cries out, the pines whisper, the afflicted call out to Jesus. And the sacrificial victims witness from their lapidated tombs.

Casting the Last Stone

“Becky was the white woman who had two Negro sons. She’s dead; they’ve gone away. The pines whisper to Jesus. The Bible flaps its leaves with an aimless rustle on her mound.”25Toomer’s “Becky” participates in this tradition, as does Hawthorne’s tale of Hester, draw-ing from the biblical account of the “Woman Taken in Adultery” or pericope de adultera (John 8). In each account, the “fallen woman” serves as the pharmakos or scapegoat, the typical victim who becomes the focal point for the angry mob’s self-righteousness. The biblical episode presents a key instance of Jesus intervening to prevent a collective sacrificial murder of the kind he has come to abolish. The literary accounts cited present a failed echo, portraying Christian crowds who ignore the implication of the gospel message. Toomer’s account is particularly succinct yet thorough in its irony.

Becky’s story emphasizes how the gospel message of forgiveness has been perverted into a myth of persecution in the service of collective sacrifice and expul-sion: the “white folks and black folks . . . prayed secretly to God who’d put His cross upon her” and “joined hands to cast her out.” Here we see two key features of human culture as observed by Girard. The first is the striking unanimity of the condemnation, as the white folks and Black folks, all the people of the town, join hands and call with a single voice for the victim’s expulsion. Their unanimous victimization speaks to the power of mimetic contagion to govern behavior. Girard reads the capacity for unified violence as one implication of Aristotle’s anthro-pological insight at the beginning of his Poetics: that the human differs from the other animals by possessing a greater aptitude for imitation. Insofar as humans imitate one another’s desires and attempt to grasp for the same objects of desire, mimetic behavior leads to envious rivalries and widespread societal resentment, since it is ordinarily impossible for all to acquire the very same object. This mi-metic rivalry and resentment, when left unchecked, leads to the proliferation of conflictual violence. But the same mimetic principle can also produce a kind of focus that allows for punctuated limits on violence. The scapegoat mechanism accomplishes this containment by providing an object towards which all can direct their resentment, leaving their rivalries behind (for at least a while) and transferring all blame to the victim. The victim reverses the economy of conflict. Though not all can simultaneously satisfy an acquisitive mimetic desire, all can simultaneously participate in an act of mimetic aggression. (It should be noted that mimetic aggression is not the only possible inversion of conflictual mimesis. Robert Hamerton-Kelly describes the state of mimetic rivalry as arising from “a desire whose goal or direction should be a truly transcendent spiritual person but instead is aroused by the immanent neighbor. The biblical name for this is idolatry, and its antidote is faith in the unseen God.”)26

A second key feature of the text from Cane cited above is the juxtaposition of violent prayers and violent actions. The people of the town apparently pray for God to bring his judgment and cast Becky out; at the same time, they take matters into their own hands and cast her out on their own initiative. Their sanctimony accords with the tendency of human culture to resort to the mask of religion and attribute human violence to God. The modern anthropological imagination often treats God as a human invention. Girard concurs to this extent: the violent God is a human invention, one used to hide the human face of foundational violence through a projection of that violence onto a sacred source; true divinity, above all as revealed through Christ, has no part in this violence.

Like Hester, Becky refuses to redirect the mob’s anger by revealing who gave her the child: “She wouldn’t tell.”27 They do not stone her to death directly, but Toomer makes clear that they participate in an equivalent collective act when they cast her out. By consigning her to exile, the people of the town superficially circumvent Jesus’ challenge to let the one “that is among you without sin, cast the first stone” (John 8:7, GNV). No one casts the first stone. No, everyone casts all the stones. And she dies, effectively at their hands, hands joined in unanimous expulsion. She dies on a strip of ground “islandized between the road and railroad track” where only the “blue-sheen God” of the train looks upon her as it rumbles past, shaking the ground.28 The “fallen woman” perishes in exile, beneath a mound of stones, crushed by the rubble of a collapsed chimney in the treacherous cabin to which the persecutors have relegated her.

In a lynching, a collective murder, death arrives at the climactic moment of unanimous violent contagion. At this moment the persecutors act as if possessed; in what Girard has called the key words of the gospel passion, “They know not what they do” (Luke 23:34, KJV). Peter echoes these words later, addressing a crowd on the topic of the crucifixion: “And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers” (Acts 3:17, NRSV). Peter does not call the crowd “friends” idly in this context; he himself was overpowered by the sweep of violent contagion, giving in to the perspective of the persecutors and denying Jesus three times on the night of Jesus’s arrest (Mark 14:66-72). The message of Peter suggests that we are all susceptible to such moments. But in the wake of the gospel revelation, Girard observes, the retrospective self-justifying narratives that emerge from such moments of human weakness are becoming increasingly unconvincing, less durable. The myth of divinely justified violence has become harder to maintain.

The dissonance produced in Becky’s case grows stronger the longer that she survives her death sentence. The gap between the unified community judgment and her death presents complications that would not have arisen in a straightfor-ward lynching. The story of Becky is about a community myth that, somewhat by chance, reveals its own violent logic. Becky is a scapegoat in the etymological sense of a “goat that departs,” one driven out, cut loose from the community. The fatal consequences of her exile, though brought to termination by an “accident,” bring home the violence encoded in the community’s self-righteous judgment.

n the interim period, individuals have sporadically transgressed against that “sacred” judgment, in a tentative dance with the force of hatred: “Folks began to take her food again. They quit it soon because they had a fear.”29 he judgment against her is public and unified. As a corollary, any help offered is desperately secretive and limited to individuals. The aptly-named John Stone, who contributes building materials for her cabin, “would have shot the man who told he gave the stuff.”30 Fragmented acts of charity remain hidden, and not out of any sense of nobility or humility: “Folks from the town took turns, unknown, of course, to each other, in bringing corn and meat and sweet potatoes.”31 There will be no public reversal of the persecution, no stand against the vox populi which has assumed the status of the vox Dei. The members of the town never look upon her. Nor do they give a thought to the increasing peril of her circumstances: “Trains passing shook the ground. The ground shook the leaning chimney. Nobody noticed it.”32 All along, she has been under a death sentence. Once the town cast her out, “nothing was said” of her while she yet lived, because “if there was a Becky, that Becky now was dead.”33 Ultimately, the cruel logic becomes literal. But not, as the sporadic but clandestine charity seems to indicate, until many individuals have had some time to experience a few pangs about the harshness of the collective judgment.

The Bible, its pages flapping uselessly, becomes the last stone to be cast upon the pile, a tragically fitting conclusion to Becky’s collective lapidation at the hands of people who erroneously believe themselves to be “without sin.” Barlo, a sometime lay preacher given to moments of inspiration that cause the official clergy discomfort,34 tosses the Bible on the heap as he heads home from church, perhaps in a gesture of conscious irony. The book cast upon the mound, the pile of stones sanctioned by the self-righteous, is the book that takes their measure: “(No one has ever touched it).”35

With scenes such as these all too resonant with historical and present reality, too often is the Bible seen as merely a tool of hatred, and too easily is it dismissed by those who would seek to heal the hatred. But Toomer makes clear in Cane’s conclusion that he does not accept as inevitable the cultural appropriation of the Bible by the violent. In “Kabnis,” the final piece in the multi-genre modernist assemblage that is Cane, the skeptical, formally-educated title character meets an old man named Father John. He was born a slave, a “black man who saw Jesus in the ricefields, and began preaching to his people.”36 Father John, now reduced to living in an obscure basement, seems almost completely cut off from any form of communication. Some nights he talks some. All anyone can ever make out is one, maybe two words repeated, over and over: “Death. Death. Sin an[d] Death. All night long y[ou] mumbled death” says Kabnis.37 ne woman, Carrie K., be-lieves Father John might know something: “He’s deaf an blind, but I reckon he sees too.”38 One morning, the final scene of what Toomer envisioned as a drama, Father John, prodded by Kabnis and encouraged by Carrie K., begins to testify:

He mumbles. With a grave motion his head nods up and down. And then, on one of the down-swings –

Father John (remarkably clear and with great conviction): Sin.39

Kabnis, still skeptical and full of disgust, now tries to silence him, but Carrie urges Father John to continue. After some difficulty, Father John completes his sentence: “O th[e] sin th[e] white folks ‘mitted when they made the Bible lie.”40 Kabnis at first maintains a contemptuous pose, but, when Carrie asks him for his “best Amen,” he sinks to his knees. As light streaks through the iron-barred cellar window, Carrie speaks the final words of the drama: “Her lips murmur, ‘Jesus, come.’” The profound epiphany that warrants this worshipful response is the simple insight that the persecutors “made the Bible lie.” To call upon Jesus is to call for a return of the truth, to reclaim the Bible from the culture of lies, from the culture that works to silence Father John’s truth.

The skepticism to be overcome is immense. Kabnis lives in a world where lynch mobs turn their violence upon Black babies.41 His impressions of God have heretofore been determined by cultural violence, and thus he has believed that “God, he doesn’t exist, but nevertheless He is ugly. Hence, what comes from Him is ugly. Lynchers and business men.”42 Indeed, Kabnis’s first impulse that such a God does not exist rings true from a Girardian perspective: the God of lynch mobs, or of predatory economic violence, has no being other than that constituted by human culture. And for Kabnis, in his bitterest moments, this is the only God his experiences bring to mind. Yet, in the midst of this bile, Kabnis is torn by the dis-sonance of an irrepressible thought: “Oh Jesus, Thou art beautiful.”43 Gwendolyn Brooks reconciles these torn emotions in a single image: “The loveliest lynchee was our Lord.”44

Patterns of Arbitrary Victimage

The image of the Bible flapping its leaves with an “aimless” rustle on a burial mound called out for a closer look at Cane; we find an equivalent provocation writ large in what some have called the “purposeless” patterning of William Faulkner’s fiction. Echoes of the Cross abound in Faulkner, but the beauty of Christ is felt, if at all, primarily through its absence from his fictional worlds. Faulkner’s various retellings of the Passion truncate the arc of the narrative to end in tragedy: for Faulkner’s Christ figures, from Benjy in The Sound in the Fury (1929) to Temple Drake in Sanctuary (1931) to Joe Christmas in Light in August (1932), tragedy commands the stage. But why do these stories remain devoid of redemptive resurrection? Why, in André Bleikasten’s influential figuration, does Faulknerian narrative revert to “the master trope of Light in August, the circle,” which governs “apparently meaningful, yet ultimately purposeless patterns of repetition”?45

The easy answer lies with a modernist presupposition of the author’s faith-lessness. Biographer Frederick Karl relates that Faulkner’s professed version of Christianity was non-transcendently humanistic, with “an emphasis on the individual’s code,” rather than an attempt “to know God or achieve a state of grace.”46 Nevertheless, Karl cautions us to “not accept [Faulkner’s] denials of his own way of working,” such as his claim that Christian allegory and symbol-ism are central only to A Fable.47 Rather, we would do well to consider carefully the pervasive elements of Faulkner’s fiction that resonate with that of “deep believers—Dostoyevsky, most obviously, O’Connor, Graham Greene, François Mauriac.”48 In particular, as a Girardian reading may help us to see, Faulkner’s novels have much to tell us about the man-made God of violence, the critique of which likewise emerges from the work of each of those deep believers mentioned.

Focusing on Sanctuary, we may discern a cultural meaning to those “purpose-less patterns of repetition,” a meaning that goes to the heart of why Faulkner’s novels consistently observe an Easter story gone wrong. One glaring pattern of repetition in Sanctuary is the cycle of arbitrary victimage: Tommy, shot by Popeye ostensibly for “spying” on him when he was in fact watching Goodwin; Goodwin, convicted and lynched for an assault on Temple Drake which was perpetrated by Popeye; Temple, of course, who found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time; and, ironically, Popeye himself, executed for a murder he did not commit. Differences in their respective fates clearly exist, yet all fit the basic “psychosocial” definition which Girard employs to describe the scapegoat: “The victim or victims of unjust violence or discrimination are called scapegoats, especially when they are blamed or punished not merely for the ‘sins’ of others … but for tensions, conflicts, and difficulties of all kinds.”49 For Girard, this sacrificial victimage is the foundational ordering mechanism in every society. Moreover—and Faulkner offers a demonstration very early in Sanctuary—it is a mechanism that selects victims in an arbitrary manner. The scapegoat mechanism has no genuine concern for justice, even when it acts in concert with the sanction of law; it is driven by an expedient rage for order. Scapegoating redirects widespread frustration and channels resentment towards a more or less arbitrary victim, who becomes a victim primarily by virtue of being available. The victim may or may not be innocent in the sense of true justice—in fact, the victim, a human, is almost certainly guilty of something. But the victim of scapegoating is always innocent of having produced the widespread resentment and violence of the entire community; he or she is innocent of having caused the societal divisiveness that sacrificial violence seeks to overcome in the name of purification. The Gospels, in Girard’s reading, reveal the scapegoat mechanism and call for an end to sacrificial violence—the perfectly innocent Christ is, in a sense, the most arbitrary of all victims; his lynching is least susceptible to mythic claims that he was justly executed.

Girard attributes the continued but concealed presence of the scapegoating mechanism to the failure of our sacrificial culture to come to grips with the Cru-cifixion as a divine, exemplary, final lesson against sacrifice.50 Christian culture has not yet fully assimilated the saying of Hosea, as repeated by Jesus, against the ritualism of foundational violence: “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’” (Matt. 9:13, NIV). To the extent that churches and any other human institutions persist in justifying ritualized persecution, their narratives occupy the space of “myth.” When Girard states that “in history, we are always between the gospel and myth,” he indicates that the gospel message against sac-rificial violence is only gradually “seeping in through history” to move us away from myth.51 He refers to John 16:12: “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (RSV). In Light in August, Faulkner’s characteriza-tion of the preacher Hightower might serve to paraphrase Girard’s observation of the slow efficacy with which the critique of violence-driven sacrificial religion proceeds.52 Hightower imagines that he looks out from his pulpit and sees himself in the faces of the congregation:

The faces seem to be mirrors in which he watches himself . . . a charlatan preaching worse than heresy, in utter disregard of that whose stage he preempted, offering instead of the crucified shape of pity and love, a swaggering and unchastened bravo killed with a shotgun in a peaceful henhouse, in a temporary hiatus of his own avocation of killing. The wheel of thinking is slow; the axle knows it now but the vehicle itself is still unaware.53

Human culture, long used to—even dependent upon—ideas of a violent God, a killer, is slow to accept what has already been revealed, “the crucified shape of pity and love.”

Inverted Easter

At the center of the Sanctuary universe—wherein revenge-hungry murder juries return eight-minute guilty verdicts for the innocent (in two separate cases)—stands a failed Easter story.54 A hint of this distortion comes by way of a description of Temple’s head: “It turned to an excruciating degree … like one of those papier-mâché Easter toys filled with candy, and became motionless in that reverted position.”55 Temple’s horribly crucified form may be seen as a monstrous fulfillment of Jesus’s prophecy about his own body: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19, NIV). Faulkner carefully constructs the chronology of the crime so that, on the fateful morning of her assault, Temple realizes, “I haven’t eaten since Friday … and now it’s Sunday.”56 This fasting, as separation from her physical existence, and her mysterious inability to leave the scene of danger, place her in a state of moribund entombment. The cruel twist is that rather than resurrection, the third day brings the most brutal destruction.

ulia Kristeva supports a Girardian view of the Gospels, which finds in them the message of abolishing “the violence of shed blood.” She stresses Christ’s mes-sage of Eucharist at the Last Supper: “Through it, sacrifice (and concomitantly death and melancholia) is aufgehoben—destroyed and superseded.”57 The same can hardly be said regarding the pseudo-Eucharistic ritual that transpires between Popeye and Temple: “she took a bite obediently . . . half the chewed mass of bread and meat lying upon her tongue” like a caricature of the holy mass caught in the act of transubstantiating.58 Nor does Popeye’s odd last supper communicate any evident grace through his inanimate disciples, as he ritually arrays 12 cigarette butts in his prison cell in preparation for his execution.59

Subsequently, Temple ends up cast into the role of Satan, which Girard reminds us means “the accuser.”60 Temple, far from acting as a Christ of mercy (or for that matter, justice) accuses the innocent Goodwin Lee. She becomes a fittingly inverted Christ figure for what Faulkner reveals to be a society of persecution and arbitrary victimization.

Girard opposes the etymology of Satan with that of the Paraclete, “‘the lawyer for the defense,’ the defender of victims.”61 In a world wherein men and women, even Christ figures and especially church figures, have assumed the role of the Angry God, defense lawyer Horace Benbow acts as a failing substitute for the Holy Spirit. His muted appeals for the victim are ineffectual echoes of a Lost Cause classicism: his given name, Horace; his “O tempora! O mores! O hell!” (his despairing and frustrated adaptation of Cicero); his vague and wishful appeal to “the harmony of things.”62 Though he believes his client to be innocent, Horace’s defense comes across as rather half-hearted. We may note that the judge feels the need to prompt Benbow to speak up for his client. The prosecuting attorney examines Temple Drake, the accuser, with a long string of leading and insinuating questions, queries whose gratuitous prefaces and embellishments are clearly calculated not only to sway the male jury but to challenge the men of the gallery to take justice into their own hands (“this is no longer a matter for the hangman, but for a bonfire of gasoline”)63 The prosecutor prompts her to speak, and “let these good men, these fathers and husbands, hear what you have to say and right your wrong for you.” At this incitement, the judge “glances at Horace, his eyebrows raised. But Horace made no move. He sat with his head bent a little, his hands clutched in his lap.64 A second time an obvious emotional appeal to a spirit of outraged vengeance—“You are your father’s only daughter?”—causes the judge to look Horace’s way; but, again, he makes no move.65 This question from the prosecutor evokes the worst of persecutory Christian culture. The pros-ecutor’s call to the men of the courtroom to avenge the wronged daughter of a fellow father echoes the structure of a familiar Anti-Semitic libel, that the murder of the Father’s only child must be avenged.

At a third, less inflammatory juncture (one which contains no overt appeal to the audience’s manhood or honor), Horace finally raises a technical objection. “Sustained,” says the Judge; “I have been on the point of warning you for some time, Mr. Attorney, but defendant would not take exception, for some reason.”66 For some reason—the possible motive is all too plain. Horace acts like one afraid (and, as it turns out, prudently so) to present a strong case for the defense. Though he sits in the court of law, and he is engaged to defend an innocent man, he knows that the case has already been decided by the wildfire of public anger; the appointed paraclete dares not speak against the unanimous verdict of the populace, a verdict which no court can overturn.

On the way home after the trial, Horace encounters the lynching scene that follows hard upon the hasty official verdict: “A circle had formed about a blazing mass in the middle of the lot . . . from the central mass of fire there came no sound at all.”67 The collective murder of Goodwin is complete; the voice of the innocent has been silenced. The crowd recognizes Horace: “It’s his lawyer” “Here’s the man that defended him. That tried to get him clear.” “Put him in too. There’s enough left to burn a lawyer” “Do to the lawyer what we did to him. What he did to her.” There may be enough gasoline left, but the lust for vengeance has apparently spent itself sufficiently for the time being; the mimetic contagion does not again reach a level of crisis, and Horace escapes. A sort of communal order has been restored, sealed by the sacrificial fire “roaring silently out of a peaceful void.”68

In Horace’s imagination, even before the sham trial, there remains nothing beyond death and the image of useless sacrifice, as he envisions Temple “lying with her head lifted slightly, her chin depressed like a figure lifted down from a crucifix.”69 The unjust violence drives Homer to despair, as he reflects upon Temple and the others: “Better for her if she were dead tonight, Horace thought, walking on. For me, too. He thought of her, Popeye, the woman, the child, Goodwin, all put into a single chamber, bare, lethal, immediate. . . . And I, too; thinking how that were the only solution.” “Perhaps,” Horace reflects, “it is upon the instant we realize, admit, that there is a logical pattern to evil, that we die.”70 Yet perhaps, too, there can be hope in the revelation of human patterns of evil.

Repenting of the Violence of Our Justice

In the biblical critique of persecution that we have observed in Cane and Sanctuary, ironic echoes of scripture serve to underscore the distance between the cultures portrayed and the Holy Spirit of truth. The worlds Toomer and Faulkner project belong to a culture maintaining, and maintained by, the myth of sanctified violence. But, at the same time, that myth, attenuated by the spread of gospel truth, has become less effective, less convincing. These worlds, with their violent foundations, remain strong enough to produce horrific distortions of the Gospel. But the weakening of myths is visible, even in the very desperation and frequency with which the restlessness of the mobs triggers the sacrificial mechanisms. Caneemphasizes the stunning power of the scapegoat mechanism to mobilize decisive, unified action in an otherwise riven society. But it is a unification that, after the initial convergence of unanimous opinion, persists in appearance only. Individual waverings transgress the sacred prohibition, albeit with fear and loathing, and never within the public sphere. Sanctuary emphasizes the arbitrary injustice of the scapegoat mechanism in its selection of sacrificial victims. But even in the midst of the contagion of violence, the odd solitary voice, however ineffective and halting, speaks of the innocence of the victim.

The present essay will conclude with a final literary scene, one that presents an alternative to the scenes of collective persecution discussed above. At the end of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, word has reached the community that a woman, who 20 years ago killed her baby in an act of desperation, now appears to be plagued by a figure that may be the child’s grown-up ghost: “Sethe’s dead daughter, the one whose throat she cut, had come back to fix her.”71 As the women deliberate about this development, they fall into three groups: “those that believed the worst; those that believed none of it; and those, like Ella, who thought it through.”72 Ella becomes the moral leader of the community, responding unequivocally to any notion that this vengeance being visited upon Sethe might be righteous:

“Guess she had it coming.”

[Ella:] “Nobody got that coming.”“

But, Ella –”

“But nothing. What’s fair ain’t necessarily right.”73

Contained in Ella’s profound declaration is the idea that we must renounce the violence of our justice. Our human notions of fairness are easily corrupted by ap-peals for reciprocal violence. “You can’t just up and kill your children,” someone objects. “No, and you can’t just up and kill the mama,” Ella replies.

What makes Ella’s renunciation of vengeance most powerful is that she was most decidedly among those who had passed judgment on Sethe when the crime was first committed. When Sethe got out of jail, “Ella junked her and wouldn’t give her the time of day.”74 That is, Ella had joined those who unanimously joined hands against Sethe and cast her out, who made sure that Sethe’s sentence of communal expulsion was even more decisive than the one prescribed by law. But, when con-fronted with the notion of a persecuting “something-or-other,” when confronted with a bodily incarnation of the community’s spirit of accusation, Ella cannot support it. Much scholarly debate has speculated as to the ontological status of the vengeful “ghost” figure. Whether or not the question can be resolved, we can assert that the figure’s persecutory actions accord with the Ella’s past judgment of Sethe. And that Ella renounces both the figure and the judgment concurrently:

Whatever Sethe had done, Ella didn’t like the idea of past errors taking possession of the present. Sethe’s crime was staggering, and her pride outstripped even that; but she could not countenance the possibility of sin moving on in the house … Nothing could be counted on in a world where even when you were a solution you were a problem. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,” and nobody needed more; nobody needed a grown-up evil sit-ting at the table with a grudge75

She renounces the incarnation of evil, “what could very well be the devil himself,” one who indeed visits as Satan, the accuser.

Ella has the strength of stomach to act according to Toomer’s aphorism: it is distasteful, but fruitful, to begin by recognizing that she herself is unavoidably a problem with the world. So when she comes face to face with a problem to which she has contributed, she does not project the blame for violence elsewhere. In-stead, she reverses her stance of judgment, and asks the community to join with her. This transformation is an essential aspect of the Pauline model of conversion: from persecutor to apostle.

First, the women pray. Then, led by Ella, they proceed in a large group to Sethe’s house. Their first steps toward the house of the accused have a remark-able effect, as they find themselves transported to happy scenes from their youth. Most remarkably, they find themselves “not feeling the envy” that has poisoned their lives.76 United in their mission of mercy, they find themselves liberated from mimetic rivalry.

In the end, in rescuing Sethe from the figure of accusation, the community stages a collective murder in reverse. The sacrificial diagram is reenacted, with Sethe as the focal point and the crowd surrounding her. But rather than a sacrifice or expulsion, the action depicted is of Sethe leaving her position as the accused and running out to rejoin the community that had previously ostracized her. A community that has just joined together, not in casting stones, but in singing: “Building voice upon voice … it was a wave of sound wide enough to sound deep water. . . . It broke over Sethe and she trembled like the baptized in its wash.”77

his singing, in which no words can be discerned, bears an affinity with a gesture of the gospel story of the accused woman, a curious detail of Jesus’s relation to language and sign-making in the scene.78 Twice while he is being challenged by the persecutory authorities, Jesus “bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground”; “And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground” (John 8:6, 8, NRSV). In fact, these moments of writing in the dust bracket the famous statement, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” In a fascinating study, “Writing in the Dust: Irony and Lynch-Law in the Gospel of John,” Matthew Schneider pursues the significance of Jesus’s unspecified writing:

The importance of this element of the story lies more in the act of writing itself than in what is or is not written on the ground. The very action of writing, in other words, is itself symbolic, and forms an essential part of Jesus’s ethically-oriented response to the situation,” an orientation that is “resolutely non-accusatory.”79

The words cannot be discerned; the point is to act without violence. More precisely, Schneider suggests, Jesus’s action symbolizes “the deferral of violence through representation.”80 This same deferral of violence, this same inversion of a potential scene of collective victimization, accompanies the enigmatic, wordless singing of the gathered women. Women who have gathered to come to the aid of the accused.

Though all assembled crowds as a rule carry a potential menace, the only threat of violence on this day comes from Sethe herself. For a moment the spirit of recrimination overwhelms her, as she relives those moments leading up to her crime those 20 years ago. The past grips her, and Sethe acts as a madwoman, mov-ing to attack once more the figure of a man she believes has returned to take away her baby.81 But Ella stops her, and averts a repetition of violence. The potential tragedy, once defused, becomes an occasion for joyful laughter.82

What happened to the persecuting ghost or woman? No one can be sure: “Disappeared, some say”; “One point of agreement is: first they saw it and then they didn’t.”83 Is this irenic vagueness a cover-up, merely another myth? Let us say that while it is conceivable, it seems unlikely that this narrative, focused as it is on the rehabilitation of a former outcast, conceals a further persecution. The figure of accusation is not violently driven out; it is not killed; rather, as the object of accusation rejoins the community, that figure vanishes. It has no further be-ing. The spirit of vengeful justice has been renounced. The community has been reconstituted, refounded, through a collective expression of forgiveness.

“What’s fair ain’t necessarily right.” We must repent of the violence of our human notions of justice. Micah 6:8, a verse often cited in the cause of social justice, presents the scope of the challenge. For we must love not merely the justice, but the entirety of the commandment: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

Cite this article
Martin Kevorkian, “Between the Gospel and Myth: The Biblical Critique of Persecution in Cane, Sanctuary, and Beloved”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 50:2 , 145-163


  1. Robert G. Hamerton-Kelly, ed. Violent Origins: Walter Burkert, René Girard, and Jonathan Z. Smith on Ritual Killing and Social Formation (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1987), 145.
  2. 2Cynthia L. Haven, Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2018), 64.
  3. Ibid., 65. Haven here quotes from a 2008 interview.
  4. Ibid. The scandalous omission of which Girard speaks—from the never-enacted Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill introduced in 1918 to the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018—still persists. As of August 2020, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act lies dormant. In June 2020, days after the group murder of George Floyd, the Justice in Policing Act was introduced, including a provision to make lynching a federal hate crime
  5. Haven, Evolution of Desire, 64.
  6. Jean Toomer, Cane, ed. Darwin T. Turner (New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 1988), 7, 9.
  7. For one exception, and regarding the more general sense of the question of that supposed irrelevance, see, for example, Robert A. Gorman’s exploration of a nonorthodox left tradition in “Marxism and Theology in Liberal America,” International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 3.4 (Summer 1990): 463-483. Gorman includes Black theologians James H. Cone and Cornel West, specifically highlighting West’s reliance upon “black novelist Jean Toomer” (474-5, 483); see Cornel West, Prophesy Deliverance! (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1982), 121-5
  8. Jean Toomer, The Wayward and the Seeking: A Collection of Writings by Jean Toomer, ed. Darwin T. Turner (Washington: Howard University Press, 1980), 429.
  9. This letter to Anderson is dated December 22, 1922; Cane was published in 1923; cited in Udo O. H. Jung, “‘Nora’ Is ‘Calling Jesus’: A Nineteenth Century European Dilemma in an Afro-American Garb,” CLA Journal 21.2 (December 1977): 253.
  10. Charles Scruggs, “The Mark of Cain and the Redemption of Art: A Study in Theme and Structure of Jean Toomer’s Cane,” American Literature 44.2 (May 1972): 277. Scruggs cites the Toomer papers, Fisk University Library, Box 32, Folder 7.
  11. 1Toomer, Cane, iii.
  12. Louise Blackwell, “Jean Toomer’s ‘Cane’ and Biblical Myth,” CLA Journal 17.4 (June 1974): 542.
  13. Luke 11:50-51, as quoted in Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads (New York: Crossroad, 1995), 197.
  14. Bailie, Violence Unveiled, 197.
  15. 5This easily-misunderstood title is a phrase from Matthew 13:35, printed in Greek as the book’s epigraph, in which Jesus quotes from Psalm 78: “I will open my mouth in parables. I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.” The same phrase, “since the foundation of the world,” apo kataboles kosmou, occurs in the passage from Luke cited above regarding the blood of the prophets. Girard notes that “kataboles really seems to imply the foundation of the world in so far as it results from a violent crisis; it denotes order in so far as it comes out of disorder. The term has a medical use to mean the onslaught of a disease, the attack that provokes a resolution,” Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World, with Jean-Michel Oughourlian and Guy Lefort, trans. Stephen Bann and Michael Metteer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987), 160.
  16. Ibid.,159.[/efn_note

    Girard gives further emphasis to the idea that the statements, often grouped as “Curses against the Pharisees,” are not directed exclusively towards that tradi-tionally maligned group:

    In referring to the whole of the Bible, Jesus is pointing not only at the Pharisees but at the whole of humanity. Clearly the dreadful consequences of his revelation will weigh exclu-sively on those who have had the advantage of hearing it—if they refuse to take its meaning, if they will not recognize that this is a revelation that concerns them in the same way as it concerns the rest of humanity. The Pharisees to whom Jesus is speaking are the first to put themselves in this difficult position, but they will not be the last. [It cannot be deduced from the gospel text that their innumerable successors will not fall under the same condemnation even if they belong to a different religion named Christianity].16

    Ibid., 160. I have placed the final quoted sentence in brackets to indicate a corrected transla-tion as it appeared in The Girard Reader, ed. James G. Williams (New York: Crossroad Herder, 1996), 159. The original translator rendered the sentence as: “It can be deduced from the gospel text that their innumerable successors will not fall under the same condemnation, even if they belong to a different religion named Christianity.” This rendering omits a crucial negation (starting with “It can” vs. “It cannot”), and thus inadvertently seems to imply that those calling themselves Christians would automatically be exempt from this condemnation; this error unconsciously perpetuates the Anti-Semitic interpretation which Girard’s reading negates. In the original French, the final two sentences read, “Les Pharisiens auxquels parle Jésus sont les premiers á se mettre dans ce mauvais cas, mais ce ne sont pas les derniers, et on ne peut pas déduire du texte évangélique que leurs innombrables successeurs ne tombent pas sous le coup de la condemnation, sous prétexte qu’ils ne se réclament plus de la même chapelle,” Des choses caches depuis la foundation du monde (Paris: Bernard Grasset, 1978), 183.

  17. Ibid., 160-61.
  18. Toomer, The Wayward and the Seeking, 420.
  19. See also Michel Serres, Rome: The Book of Foundations, trans. Felicia McCarren (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991) for a discussion of scenes of lapidation in the forming of civilizations.
  20. Girard, Things Hidden, 161.
  21. As Girard pointed out on numerous occasions, Nietzsche’s animosity towards the Bible derives from a perspicacious, though caricatured reading: the scriptures do, as Nietzsche noted with distaste, reveal a preference for the side of the victims; but Nietzsche envisioned a distorted form of this biblical perspective, in which the resentful siding with victims becomes itself a new form of persecution. Such a caricature can become a reality, but it represents just one more instance of our violent culture’s perversion of revelation. See, for example, Girard’s “Dionysus versus the Crucified” MLN 99.4 (Sep. 1984): 816-835 (reprinted in The Girard Reader, ed. Williams, 243-61), and Markus Müller’s “Interview with René Girard,” Anthropoetics 2.1 (Spring/Summer 1996) “If you read Nietzsche carefully you can see that, from my point of view, he mistakes the caricature of Christianity for the real thing. He sees the origin of Christianity, the idea of all the weak getting together against the strong, as some kind of super PC. This in my view doesn’t make any sense, because Nietzsche is blind to the principle of the mob, whereas the early Christians were obviously a small minority fighting the mob. And Nietzsche sees Dio-nysusas the opposite of the mob, the individual, whereas it is obvious from Euripidesand from everything we know, and the most elementary common sense, that Dionysus is the mob, is that mania, that homicidal fury of the lynch mob that the tragedy portrays. So he is both the most lucid and the most blind … He’s a total cultural mystery, he is indispensable because he discovered, I think, the difference between the archaic and the Christian when he said that the latter are for the victims, but instead of finding that good in principle, he says it’s bad.”
  22. Bailie, Violence Unveiled, 198; Bailie here alludes to Revelation 13:8.
  23. 4Toomer, Cane, 7, 9; this same paragraph appears at the beginning and ending of this early vignette in Toomer’s experimental composition, which has been considered as a novel and a short story cycle[/efn_note ]If the biblical list of victims begins with Abel, the list from American literature might begin with the ‘A’ of The Scarlet Letter.24 Girard, “Levi-Strauss, Frye, Derrida and Shakespearean Criticism,” Diacritics 3.3 (Fall 1973): 36.
  24. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, Violent Origins, 134.
  25. Toomer, Cane, 7.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Ibid., 8.
  28. Ibid., 7.
  29. Ibid., 7-8.
  30. Ibid., 8.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Ibid., 23.
  33. 5Ibid., 9.
  34. Ibid., 106.
  35. Ibid., 114.
  36. Ibid., 116.
  37. Ibid.
  38. Ibid., 117.
  39. Ibid., 92; Toomer here draws upon a specific documented account of a lynching.
  40. bid., 85.
  41. Ibid.

  42. Gwendolyn Brooks, Selected Poems (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), 89
  43. Frederick C. Crews, “The Strange Fate of William Faulkner,” New York Review of Books(March 7, 1991), 52.
  44. Frederick R. Karl, William Faulkner: American Writer (New York: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1989), 929.
  45. Ibid., 930.
  46. Ibid., 929.
  47. Hamerton-Kelly, ed., Violent Origins, 74.
  48. Girard, Things Hidden, 180-264.
  49. Hamerton-Kelly, ed., Violent Origins, 144.
  50. Girard himself notes that Faulkner’s “great novels, like Light in August, contain a Christian symbolism that is also a symbolism of the emissary victim” (Haven, Evolution of Desire,70).
  51. William Faulkner, Light in August (New York: Vintage, 1987), 539.
  52. William Faulkner, Sanctuary (New York: Vintage, 1987), 306, 327.

  53. Ibid., 73
  54. Ibid., 93.
  55. Julia Kristeva, Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989), 131. Martha J. Reineke’s work also connects Kristeva to Girard; see Sacrificed Lives: Kristeva on Women and Violence (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997) and Intimate Domain: Desire, Trauma, and Mimetic Theory (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2014).
  56. Faulkner, Sanctuary, 148.
  57. Ibid., 330.
  58. Hamerton-Kelly, ed., Violent Origins, 142.
  59. Ibid.
  60. Faulkner, Sanctuary, 289-90

  61. Ibid., 298.
  62. Ibid., 299.
  63. Ibid., 300.
  64. Ibid., 301.
  65. Ibid., 311.
  66. Ibid.
  67. Ibid., 234.
  68. Ibid., 232.
  69. Toni Morrison, Beloved (New York: Signet, 1991), 313.
  70. Ibid., 313-14.
  71. Ibid., 314.
  72. Ibid., 315.
  73. Ibid.
  74. Ibid., 317.
  75. Ibid., 321.
  76. Ibid., 318, 321.
  77. Matthew Schneider, “Writing in the Dust: Irony and Lynch-Law in the Gospel of John,” Anthropoetics 3.1 (Spring/ Summer 1997): 4;
  78. Schneider’s reading is here inflected by the thought of Eric Gans, who developed his theory of generative anthropology beginning with Girard’s concept of mimetic desire. Girard him-self has offered an extended reading of this passage from John 8, as a critique of stoning as “the ritual imitation of a founding murder” (122) in When These Things Begin: Conversations with Michel Treguer, trans. Trevor Cribben Merrill(East Lansing: Michigan State University
  79. Morrison, Beloved, 322.
  80. Ibid., 325, 326.
  81. Ibid., 323, 328.

Martin Kevorkian

University of Texas at Austin
Martin Kevorkian is Professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin.