David Dawson teaches at the University of Costa Rica in San José. He wrote Flesh Becomes Word while a Visiting Scholar at Stanford’s Department of French and Italian.
"Not since Erich Auerbach’s magisterial “Figura” has an original philological study doubled so effectively as a theory of history or demonstrated so clear an understanding of history as the invention of acts of signification. The single English term Dawson traces . . . is “scapegoat,” a word whose changing history of material and immaterial meanings, he demonstrates, has “delimited the worlds” in which it is used. . . . Exceeding the work of important “scapegoat” theorists before him (James Frazer and René Girard foremost among these), Dawson’s first-rate study demonstrates with new evidence not only the significance of the term but the central truth of Auerbach’s more general, philological observation that “history is a text in need of interpretation.” An extraordinarily thorough work of textual research and thoughtful analysis, Flesh Becomes Word is a powerful contribution to religious, anthropological, political, and social theory; to philology; and to theory of history. Moreover, it demonstrates all these to be interdependent—evidence, at any historical moment, of “theory” at its best."
—Claudia Brodsky, Professor of Comparative Literature, Princeton University
"In Leviticus, the scapegoat is the goat that got away, symbolically carrying the sins of the people, but neither harmed nor shamed. In its popular usage today, the same word refers to the innocent victim of collective persecution and has become the signifier of vicarious punishment. How did this semantic evolution occur and what does it reveal about what we call Modernity? In 1972, René Girard proposed a bold hypothesis in his book Violence and the Sacred, which reversed the literal and the derivative meanings of the word. . . . When he wrote, Girard didn’t have at his disposal the necessary data to fully ground his hypothesis. David Dawson has done the hard work. The result is stunning. Never has a philological work been so essential for anthropological research. Reading this book has sent chills down my spine in the same way as when I discovered Girard’s masterpiece some thirty years ago."
—Jean-Pierre Dupuy, Professor of Social and Political Philosophy, École Polytechnique, Paris
"Dawson traces meticulously the varying meanings of the term 'scapegoat' in English literature from William Tyndale on. The way he links anthropology to theology is superb, and his book is written with verve and passion."
—Robert A. Segal, Chair in Religious Studies, University of Aberdeen