Bible-Philos Archive

December 23, 2012 – Announcement: Research Fellowships and Post-Doctoral Fellowships in Philosophical Investigations of the Hebrew Scriptures, Talmud, and Midrash
December 19, 2012 – Call for Papers: Philosophical Investigation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Talmud and Midrash
June 12, 2012 – Response: Ofir Haivry on “Philosophy’s Western Bias”
June 12, 2012 – Response: Michael Gibbons on “Philosophy’s Western Bias”
June 12, 2012 – Response: Robert Segal on “Philosophy’s Western Bias”
June 12, 2012 – Response: Steven Horst on “Philosophy’s Western Bias”
June 12, 2012 – Response: Russell Hendel on “Philosophy’s Western Bias”
June 11, 2012 – Response: Dan Baras on “Philosophy’s Western Bias”
June 11, 2012 – Response: Robert Segal on “Philosophy’s Western Bias”
June 10, 2012
April 23, 2012
April 4, 2012
March 29, 2012
March 28, 2012
March 26, 2012
March 26, 2012
February 27, 2012
February 22, 2012
February 14, 2012
February 09, 2012
January 23, 2012
January 11, 2012
December 22, 2011
November 2, 2011
October 31, 2011
October 11, 2011
October 3, 2011
September 15, 2011
July 8, 2011
May 31, 2011
May 4, 2011
April 13, 2011
April 7, 2011
March 24, 2011
March 17, 2011
March 14, 2011
March 8, 2011
Welcome note

 


 

December 23, 2012

Announcement: Research Fellowships and Post-Doctoral Fellowships in Philosophical Investigations of the Hebrew Scriptures, Talmud, and Midrash

Announcement of research fellowships and post-doctoral fellowships on:

Philosophical Investigation of the
Hebrew Scriptures, Talmud and Midrash

The Institute for Advanced Studies at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, in partnership with the John Templeton Foundation, will provide up to two one-year residential awards for advanced scholars and up to four one-year residential awards for post-doctoral students for the purpose of undertaking research on topics in Jewish Philosophical Theology involving the philosophical investigation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Talmud, or Midrash.  Fellows will be expected to spend the year in residence at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, and to participate in seminars and workshops to be held on these and related topics during the year.

Applications are welcome from scholars and students of philosophy, political theory, intellectual history, Bible and Talmud, religious studies, theology, Jewish studies, and related disciplines.

An overview of the “Jewish Philosophical Theology” project at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Shalem Center is available here.

A Select Bibliography of relevant scholarship is available here.

To apply, please submit the following materials no later than January 31, 2013:

1. Letter of interest.
2. Complete cv.
3. Description of proposed project (including, where relevant, projected table of contents).
4. Published or unpublished work related to the project.
5. Any other materials that you believe would be helpful in helping the selection committee evaluate your fellowship application.
6. Two letters of recommendation (post-doctoral applicants only)

All materials must be received no later than January 31, 2013 to assure full consideration. Please direct correspondence to Meirav Jones: meiravj@herzlinstitute.org .

 


 

December 19, 2012

Call for Papers: Philosophical Investigation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Talmud and Midrash

Announcement of a conference on the topic:

Philosophical Investigation of the
Hebrew Scriptures, Talmud and Midrash

The Hebrew Bible occupies an anomalous position on the contemporary academic landscape. The field of biblical studies produces a steady stream of works on the compositional history, philology, and literary character of the biblical texts. But the ideas that find expression in the Hebrew Scriptures—the metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and political philosophy of the biblical authors—have seldom been explored by the field of biblical studies in a systematic fashion. At the same time, philosophers, political theorists, and historians of ideas, who see the study of ideas as the principal interest of their work, tend to assume that the biblical texts fall outside the scope of their disciplines. The result is that despite general agreement that the Bible has had an unparalleled significance in the history of the West, its ideas have remained, until recently, largely beyond the reach of sustained academic investigation.

Much the same can be said about the other classical Jewish sources as well: The Talmud and Midrash seem frequently to explore subjects of intrinsic philosophical interest. Yet these texts remain all but unknown to philosophers, political theorists, and historians of ideas.

The ongoing neglect of the Hebrew Bible, Talmud, and Midrash by philosophers is especially striking given the rapidly growing interest in theological questions in philosophy departments throughout the English-speaking world. Over the last generation, Christian philosophers have labored successfully to introduce “philosophical theology” (or, more recently, “analytic theology”) into philosophy departments at leading universities. In keeping with longstanding Christian philosophical tradition, this discipline has focused on a priori argumentation concerning the concept of God as “perfect being,” and has usually been conducted with little reference to the Bible. As a consequence, philosophical theology has until now continued the larger pattern of academic neglect of the ideas of the Hebrew Scriptures and other Jewish sources. This has also meant that philosophical theology has been of only very limited relevance to Jews, whose tradition of philosophical and theological speculation is largely text-based.

This is unfortunate because philosophy as a discipline could contribute much to the elucidation of the Hebrew Scriptures and classical rabbinic texts. The law-oriented emphasis of much traditional rabbinic exegesis has meant that these texts have not usually been investigated using philosophical tools and with an eye for philosophical questions. So we can ask what do philosophical questions and the answers that have been given until now teach us about the Bible and Talmud? What, for example, does the nature of the mind or language, reality or morals, as understood by philosophers, have to offer us in enhancing or extending the insights from these traditional sources?

The Institute for Advanced Studies at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, with the generous support of the John Templeton Foundation, has launched an initiative aimed at developing a Jewish “philosophical theology” that will seek to advance the study of the ideas of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Talmud and Midrash in the academic setting.

In the context of this project, the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem invites submissions for an interdisciplinary conference on “Philosophical Investigation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Talmud and Midrash,” to be held in Jerusalem on July 22-25, 2013.

Invited speakers:  Lenn E. Goodman (Vanderbilt University), Roslyn Weiss (Lehigh University), Kenneth Seeskin (Northwestern University), Alan Mittleman (Jewish Theological Seminary), David Shatz (Yeshiva University).

This will be the fourth in a series of annual conferences. For the 2013 conference, the organizing committee will give priority to papers and symposiums exploring Human Action: Justice, Righteousness, Love and Awe. The conference will seek to bring to light the nature and significance of normativity and action in Jewish theology by clarifying the meaning of Jewish theological categories having to do with human evaluation and action, and by fitting them into an overall Jewish account of human life and flourishing.

However, superior papers and symposiums will be considered on all subjects relating to the philosophical investigation of the Hebrew Bible, Talmud, and Midrash.

This year both papers and symposiums will be considered for presentation. Paper presentations will be 40 minutes + 20 minutes Q&A. Symposiums should include 3-4 shorter presentations on a single topic, text, or set of texts, and will be 1.5-2 hours including Q&A and discussion. All papers accepted for either format must be submitted in full draft form a month prior to the conference.

Those proposing papers should submit abstracts of no more than 1,000 words together with a current CV. Those proposing symposiums should submit an overview and abstracts of no more than 1000 words each, together with a current CV of each speaker.The submission deadline is February 15, 2013.

An overview of the “Jewish Philosophical Theology” project at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Shalem Center is available here.

A Select Bibliography of relevant scholarship is available here.

For information on past conference and to view this announcement online click here.

A limited travel fund will be available to assist scholars and students wishing to attend the conference. Conference papers will be considered for publication in a forthcoming anthology of papers.

Please direct correspondence to meiravj@shalem.ifas.org.il

 


 

June 12, 2012

Response: Ofir Haivry on “Philosophy’s Western Bias”

Having read Segal’s response (below) I would like to throw in my own take on the issue.

I find it difficult to accept that the difference between argument and story is what separates what is philosophy from what is not. From my own perspective as a historian of ideas, it appears to me that story, even mythical parables, can truly express philosophical arguments, and indeed they often have in the western philosophical tradition.

Let us take one example, and not an insignificant one at that: reading Plato, what one finds is not a systematic exposition of philosophical theory, but rather stories recounting discussions between different figures, each presenting a different position. How is this inherently different from the stories in Genesis, not to mention those in the books of Jonah or Job? Moreover, Plato chooses to insert into his discourses stories and metaphors, such as the parable of the cave or the myth of humans being originally created as twin-creatures. These are even more similar to biblical narrative, and indeed one can find in the Genesis description of the creation of woman out of Adam’s rib a kind of parallel and rejoinder to Plato’s twin-created humans.

Plato is by no means an isolated case. If we look at pre-Socratic philosophers, we find many cases of views and positions presented without any expositiory or systematic argument, sometimes even as the utterings of some deity, and everyone seems to accept this as philosophy. Although of course there are plenty of examples of more systematic and reflective philosophical texts, from Aristotle to Kant, throughout the history of ideas there were always philosophers in the western tradition who preferred to advance ideas by stories and metaphors. Francis Bacon and Nietzche are two examples.

In sum, it does not seem that the biblical style prevents biblical texts from presenting philosophical reflections, any more than the styles of Plato or Nietzche do.

Dr. Ofir Haivry
Jerusalem
ofirh@herzlinstitute.org

 


 

June 12, 2012

Response: Michael Gibbons on “Philosophy’s Western Bias”

A few comments below in response to Professor Baras’s remarks (see below). I hope this doesn’t sound shrill. I apologize if I’ve misunderstood.

1. There may be a difference b/n argument and myth in many cases, but the boundary (boundaries) are blurred. What is the status of Descartes’s evil genie in the Meditations?

2. I would argue that this claim can only be true if one privileges the analytic view of what an argument is; but that began to unravel even in the analytic tradition with Quine and Sellars. Moreover, thinkers such as Robert Brandom have, to my mind, made clear the significance of the “continental” tradition and there is an increasing literature showing the points of tangency and commonality (Davidson’s and Gadamer’s respective works on the Philebus) between the two traditions. I also could never understand how Hegel’s Phenomenology and his Philosophy of Right are not arguments.

3. I don’t think “God said” is an argument. It’s more the logical fallacy of asserting from authority.

4. “Whether a work is to be categorized as philosophy or not is not a very important question.” I don’t know what this means. Not important in what respect? I would suggest that it makes all the difference for the makeup of philosophy. How any discipline is defined determines who teaches, what is learned, and so forth. That’s why these fights continue and, unfortunately in the U.S. at least, often get so ugly. If what is categorized as philosophy isn’t very important, why has analytic philosophy made such a fuss about excluding Heidegger, Hegel and so forth? Why did Nehamas have to keep his Nietzsche manuscript under wraps until after he was tenured? Why did analytic philosophers warn their students about Rorty’s “apostasy.” (The anecdotes are legion and almost comical. Several faculty told the UCLA bookstore not to carry the PMN [Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature] any more after it had sold out several times and the faculty noticed grad students reading it; that’s sad, or worse). As to figuring out a world view, I agree. That’s what is so appealing about Hegel, Heidegger, Gadamer, Emerson, Whitman; not so appealing about much of the hard line analytic tradition.

Dr. Michael T. Gibbons, Ph. D.
Editor-in-Chief, Wiley-Blackwell’s Encyclopedia of Political Thought, 8 Volumes (forthcoming)
Department of Government and International Affairs
University of South Florida
gibbons@ust.edu

 


 

June 12, 2012

Response: Robert Segal on “Philosophy’s Western Bias”

Dr. Baras (see below), many thanks for your firm reply.

My point is not that, as the otherwise obscure Justin Smith maintains, any “systematic reflection on the nature of reality and on humanity’s place in that reality” falls outside philosophy but that there are different forms of “reflection.” For me, it blurs the distinction between philosophy as argument and philosophy as myth to subsume them both under the category philosophy.

Just how do YOU make sense of the fact that the Bible–or Homer or Hesiod–puts its “philosophical” reflection in the form of myth–or, if the term myth seems too narrow or too loaded, story rather than formal argument?

I myself would certainly put Hegel and Heidegger in the camp of philosophers. Argue they do–even if, say, Hegel argues from, above all, history. I myself would not put Kierkegaard so readily in that camp. I have never read Levinas and so cannot say.

The Bible does not argue. It pronounces. In citing lines like “God says,” you may be confusing explanation with argument. When God, in the first creation myth, says “Let there be,” and there is, not only do we not get an explanation of how God’s declaration yields the physical world, but we get no explanation of the existence of God himself. There is no argument for the existence of God. By contrast, Aquinas, bless his heart, offers no fewer than five proofs of the existence of God. I recognize that you yourself grant that the existence of God is a premise in the Bible. But there is not even an argument from the existence of God to the creation of the physical world. Instead, we get a story.

I grant that the line between philosophy and literature can be blurry. Indeed, Martha Nussbaum and others argue that, say, Henry James is as philosophical as Kant. Fine. But she too is using “philosophy” broadly, the way you and Smith do. And if the line is blurry, then the Bible is as appropriated compared with Homer as compared with Plato. But then what is new in this forum?

My only objection, and it comes from my specialization in theories of myth, is that to separate the content from the form–to separate reflection from story–is to miss what for me is the heart of the Bible: that whatever profundities it may offer, it offers them AS stories.

The theorist of myth who most ignores the form in order to make myth the “primitive” counterpart to, for him, not philosophy but science is E. B. Tylor, the founding father of anthropology. Tylor disregards the story in order to turn myth into the equivalent of a scientific law: whenever it rains, it rains because the rain god decides to send rain. But myths, in the Bible or elsewhere, are more other than scientific-like generalizations. Among other things, myth, like literature, is particularistic.

The contemporary theorist of myth who goes furthest in the direction of stressing myth as story rather than as scientific-like explanation is Hans Blumenberg. For my part, he goes too far. Still, his nemesis is Tylor and company.

Robert Segal
University of Aberdeen
r.segal@abdn.ac.uk

 


 

June 12, 2012

Response: Steven Horst on “Philosophy’s Western Bias”

An interesting conversation.

Robert Segal (see below) is, I think, correct that little if any of the Bible contains the kind of argumentation and analysis characteristic of Western philosophy, though one could argue that there is some dialectic, sometimes implicit, in books like Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Psalms. There are, however, views expressed on such philosophical topics as ethics and the nature of the good life. I am less convinced that there is much explicit metaphysics (though doubtless there are things I’m overlooking), and think that there are interesting epistemological issues raised in considering the texts, but not developed theoretically within them. (Most prominently, the question of how limited our understanding is of God’s ways.)

As to the contrast between myth and philosophy, I would make two suggestions. In a set of texts as numerous as those in the Bible, it need not be all one thing. And I would point out that Plato himself resorts to myth-telling at crucial points in a number of his most important dialogs. From the standpoint of viewing philosophy as the method rather than the content, one might conclude that in these passages Plato is not doing philosophy. But if one takes the Seventh Letter seriously, there is reason to think that Plato regarded “philosophical ideas” as something that could not be adequately expressed discursively, so he might not be the best contrast. (Of course, most of the subsequent philosophers do not make use of myth, except perhaps as the basis of thought-experiments.)

Steven Horst
Professor of Philosophy
Wesleyan University
shorst@wesleyan.edu

 


 

June 12, 2012

Response: Russell Hendel on “Philosophy’s Western Bias”

Robert Segal (see below) gives a criteria for being classified as philosophical: The content should be in argument form. Robert also erroneously asks “Put bluntly, what justification is offered for accepting them? Because the Bible says so?” This is simply not so. What I shall try and do in this short posting is demonstrate that in key areas: ethics, God, theodicy, the Bible is philosophic.

ETHICS:
Gen the story book precedes the Law books of the bible. Why? Because God does not want us “accepting” the laws because he says so. Rather Genesis offers the philosophical underpinnings to accept the rest of the bible. Gen 5 states that “all people are created in the image of God.” This is an argument – perhaps THE argument – for universal ethics. The Talmud relates that Rabbi Akiva saw it this way also. Here is a very modern application: >I go to another planet and meet planetary creatures. Am I allowed to eat them or is this murder? Am I allowed to sleep with them – is this bestiality or extra marital sex?< The bible answers this question for me by giving the “Divine image” argument as a philosophic basis for the civil morality which follows (In passing: That is why Jewish Civil law was formulated equally for men and women…they were both created in the image of God…again a simple but powerful philosophical argument that settles important questions which secular society did not settle for thousands of years).

GOD
The Bible did not believe in the God of the philsophers. Rather the BIble believed in the God of prophecy. To assert that God exists is simply to assert that God communicates in dreams and prophecies (Here I am following Ralbag that there is a continuoum from dreams to prophecies). The Bible NEVER asked us to simply ACCEPT this fact; it asked us to PARTICIPATE in this fact. For example, Deut 15ish discusses how we recognize true prophetic signs vs non true prophetic signs. Throughout Deut 15 there is an emphasis that “You have seen….” In fact the classical defense for accepting the Bible (Rambam Yesoday Torah Chapters 8-10) is that we as a nation saw it. I don’t for example believe that Gen 1 is either philosophy or myth – it is psychology. Genesis 1 is informing us how the dream world and prophecy is created and the 7 stages needed for them. See my article “Dreams The True Religion Science Conflict” in the Winter 2012 issue of CCAR (where I apply my methods to other near eastern cultures also). Later parts of the Bible also do not ACCEPT these things. Cf. Gidon’s prayer in Judges that he is in need of a miracle because HE DID NOT PERSONALLY SEE IT.

Again let me show places of modern relevance. Bertrand Russell alleges to be an aetheist. But his books clearly speak about dreams containing dialogues with God figures. A critical examination of Russell’s aetheism (which no one has ever done) would show that Russell denied the God of the Church. He did not deny God and God was very much part of this life. Another modern day relevance: The God of the Philosophers is normally identified with the “PRimal Mover.” But Hawkins has shown that cosmological physics gets along fine without a primal mover. Again: Hawkins is not denying God…He is denying the God of the philosophers and for my part I see no need to retain that God.

THEODICY
If there is any place in the bible with argumentation, certainly theodicy is it. The Bible encourages performance to avoid punishment and to obtain reward. Lev 25 deals with argumentations – “If I dont work the land what do I eat in the 7th year.” More importantly Lev 27 deals with a “coincidence approach” to calamities instead of accepting them as caused by sin. The FORM of the book of Job is the form of argument – 3 sets of dialogues of Jobs 3 friends with Job followed by a lecture by Elihu at the end. Throughout Deut there is a theme that excessive material wealth may lead one to forget that God enabled prosperity and erroneously think “My personal intervention” caused it.

I have tried within the span of a short posting to show the wealth of philosophical arguments in the bible. I also have tried to show that these philosophical arguments are relevant to problems we face today. The Bible is many things: Law book, myth book, psychology book and also philosophy book.

Russell Jay Hendel
PhD ASA Dept of Math Towson University; Towson Md 21244 www.Rashiyomi.com

 


 

June 11, 2012

Response: Dan Baras on “Philosophy’s Western Bias”

A few notes to Prof. Segal (on Justin Smith’s article, see below):

1. I do agree that there is a significant difference between philosophizing by argument and philosophizing by myth and instruction. Smith was being careful when he wrote:

Now it is of course very difficult to define “philosophy,” but if we think of it broadly as systematic reflection on the nature of reality and on humanity’s place in that reality, then it is clear that Europe can make no special claim to be the home of philosophy.

2. You write that “Western philosophy operates by argument”. This is probably true of most analytic philosophy, but, if I’m not mistaken, not of great proportions of continental philosophy. What would you make of Hegel, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Levinas and maybe even Wittgenstein, to name just a few Western philosophers who do not present arguments of the type I think you have in mind, in much of their writing? Indeed, the boundaries between such philosophy and literature is far from clear. But, conventionally, most would call their works western philosophy.

3. Strictly speaking, that “God said” and that “it will benefit you in the afterlife” are arguments. The problem with these argument is that their premises would seem to us today highly questionable.

4. Whether a work is to be categorized as philosophy or not is not a very important question. Different people can use the word “philosophy” in different ways. The issue should be whether a work is beneficial to us in figuring out our own world view. The problem, in my mind, is not the lack of argument, but the lack of argument which is premised on what we would find intuitive or reasonable without further argumentation.

Dan Baras,
Ben Gurion University of the Negev
dbaras@gmail.com

 


 

June 11, 2012

Response: Robert Segal on “Philosophy’s Western Bias”

I also read Justin Smith’s article, to which there were dozens of rejoinders.

For my part, the Bible is not philosophical but mythic. My field is myth. I do not use the term negatively, be assured. There are theorists of myth who do deem the Bible philosophical. But by philosophical they are referring to the content, not to the method. They mean that the Bible deals with basic issues–of ethics, teleology, and cosmology, maybe even of ontology. Kenneth Burke, an American literary critic, argues that the creation story or stories in Genesis are the “temporizing of essences,” which is to say the putting of metaphysics in story form. Rudolf Bultmann argues of the New Testament and Hans Jonas argues of Gnosticism that these mythologies are expressions of existentialism, which the two learned from early Heidegger. There are theorists who find metaphysics in “primitive” myths–for example, the anthropologist Paul Radin.

But philosophy as story is almost the opposite of philosophy as argument. Western philosophy operates by arguments. The Bible does not. The Bible may make claims, often merely tacit, about the nature of God, of the world, and of humans, but it does not argue for its claims. It simply presents them–and presents them as stories. So do many Eastern religions–for example, the stories in the Upanishads intended to illustrate radical monism.

Undeniably, one can reply that philosophizing simply takes different forms and that limiting philosophizing to one form is narrow minded. But I think that the difference in method is so great that the “philosophy” found in the Bible and in the key works of most other religions are more aptly called myth.

Furthermore, there is a difference between the Bible and the philosophizing of theologians, even of theologians committed to finding philosophy in the Bible. For me, Augustine, for example, tries–wrongly–to turn the Bible INTO philosophy, as of course do many Jewish thinkers.

I do not think that the objection to calling the teachings of the Bible nonphilosophical is on the grounds that they are particularistic rather than universal. The teachings may require adherence to the religion, but they can stlll be universal in their applicability. The objection, again, is to the form those teachings take. Put bluntly, what justification is offered for accepting them? Because the Bible says so?

As heretical as I will sound, I think that the Bible–Tanach–is better understood when it is compared with Homer than when it is compared with Plato.

Robert Segal
University of Aberdeen
r.segal@abdn.ac.uk

 


 

June 10, 2012

Media: Justin E. H. Smith, “Philosophy’s Western Bias”

In his NY Times opinion piece, Justin Smith discusses the study and teaching of ‘non-Western philosophy’. While Smith has east Asian schools of thought in mind when he refers to ‘non-Western philosophy,’ his discussion has several points of relevance to the contemporary study of Jewish thought.

Smith writes:

Western philosophy is always […] the standard in relation to which non-Western philosophy provides a useful contrast. Non-Western philosophy is not approached on its own terms, and thus philosophy remains, implicitly and by default, Western.

The contemporary study of Jewish thought, we may note, has been obsessed with cultural influence. This may make us prone to misunderstanding Jewish philosophy by failing to see it on its own terms.

Smith also points out that

[N]on-Western philosophy […] is crudely supposed to be wholly indigenous to the cultures that produce it and to be fundamentally different than Western philosophy in areas like its valuation of reason or its dependence on myth and religion [… whereas] many if not most of [Western philosophy’s] practitioners reject the idea that what they do is essentially bound to the discipline’s past […] modeling [Western philosophy] after the sciences.

While Smith is primarily concerned with noting that Western philosophy is just as culturally bound as those non-Western philosophies, on the flip side of the same coin is the conclusion that culturally bound modes of thought may have universal relevance. As a corollary, while the fact that Jewish thought has a particular history and the fact that its modes of articulation are often strikingly different from those of the ‘Western’ philosophic tradition have been taken to imply that Jewish thought is particularistic and hence less qualified than ‘Western philosophy’ to discuss universal matters, they do no such thing. We have only to think in the terms of Jewish thought in order to discover its broad relevance.

Another insight may call into question the division of ‘General’ and ‘Jewish’ philosophy, as Smith writes:

‘The “Greek miracle” is in the end only a historiographical artifact, a result of our habit of beginning our histories when and where we do, for there was always influence from neighboring civilizations.’

Applying this insight, we may note that, when ‘Western philosophy’ is divided off from its Hebraic antecedents, its history is warped.

Meir Simchah Panzer, Bar Ilan University
meirsimchah@gmail.com

 


 

April 23, 2012

Symposium: An Ethic Independant of Halacha?

The Association for the Philosophy of Judaism is pleased to invite all interested parties to its forthcoming symposium on R’ Aharon Lichtenstein’s paper, “Does Jewish tradition recognize an ethic independent of halakha?” (in Modern Jewish Ethics, ed. M. Fox), which will take place on its new site http://www.theapj.com/blog from 22-29 April. The symposium will center around the nature of the relationship between halakha (Jewish Law) and morality. The symposium will be led by Alan Mittleman (JTS) and Daniel Statman (Haifa).

Please contact info@theapj.com with any questions.

Dani Rabinowitz
dani.rabinowitz@some.ox.ac.uk
info@theapj.com
www.theapj.com

 


 

April 4, 2012

Media: Yoram Hazony, “The Rav’s Bombshell”

This essay, appearing in the April issue of Commentary, suggests that the Orthodox Jewish talmudist and philosopher Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik saw the philosophy of the Hebrew Bible as reflecting a thoroughgoing naturalism. That is, he rejected the common medieval view requiring the existence of a supernatural order as a metaphysical basis for interpreting Hebrew Scripture. Instead, he argues that prophecy, immortality, redemption and miracles are phenomena that take place within the order of nature. What is meant here by “nature”? Soloveitchik distinguishes sharply between the scientific and the normative spheres, while taking both of them to be as aspects of the natural world—a move that bears a strong resemblance to the arguments of philosophers such as Wilfrid Sellars and John McDowell. Biblical phenomena such as prophecy and miracles are then seen as existing due to the presence of this normative sphere in human experience.

This reading of the Bible has much to recommend it. It eliminates the metaphysical dualism (“this world”/“the other world”) that is so often imposed on the Hebrew Scriptures by later readers. And the placement of religious phenomena such as prophecy and miracles as a part of human experience of the normative realm seems to me to have a great deal of promise. But does the McDowell-style assertion of the normative sphere as a “part of nature” really help here? Or is this just a reintroduction (as Josh Weinstein asked me recently) of metaphysical dualism through the back door, leaving a scientific/normative divide that is just as problematic as the earlier dualisms that the Hebrew Bible was supposed to help us overcome? My inclination is to see this as a serious problem that would have to be patched up in the argument. But overall, this view of the biblical authors as accepting a kind of “religious naturalism” seems to have a great deal to offer current discussion of the Bible and philosophy.

Original article in Commentary here.

Footnoted longer version of the article from my blog here.

Yoram Hazony
The Shalem Center, Jerusalem
yhazony@herzlinstitute.org

 


 

March 29, 2012

Book Announcement: Moshe Simon-Shoshan, Stories of the Law

I am pleased to announce the publication of my book, Stories of the Law: Narrative Discourse and the Construction of Authority in the Mishnah (Oxford University Press, 2012).

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION AND TO ORDER 

Moshe Simon-Shoshan
mdshoshan@gmail.com

 

 


 

March 28, 2012

Call for Papers for a proposed volume: Biblical Philosophy? Exploratory Essays, ed., Mark Cauchi and Avron Kulak

We invite essay submissions for a proposed volume entitled Biblical Philosophy? Exploratory Essays to be reviewed by Continuum Books.

The purpose of the volume is to explore the relationship between the Bible and philosophy. According to the traditional story of the development of Western thought, what we call philosophy originated in ancient Greece, where it existed for approximately five hundred years without any relationship to the Bible. What, however, are we to make of the fact that, for approximately two thousand years, from Philo and Justin the Martyr to Agamben and Taylor, the Bible has been an integral part of the history of Western philosophy – a much longer period of time than the period in which it was not? Has the traditional account of the origins of philosophy adequately addressed the implications of this history when it insists that philosophy is primarily Greek – that philosophy originates in, or is concerned primarily with, the ancient Greek conception of logos, rather than with modes of thought derived from other traditions (e.g. biblical faith)? Given, in other words, that the history of Western culture has, in the last two thousand years, never lost contact with the Bible in the way that it did lose contact with the ancient Greeks, is it not possible that the Bible and its modes of thinking have had a greater impact on philosophy than is often assumed? What would uncovering the neglected relationship between the Bible and philosophy reveal about the concept, practice, and history of philosophy, as well as about particular concepts, practices, and movements within the history of philosophy?

The proposed volume seeks to explore in the broadest manner possible, from both continental and analytic traditions, questions pertaining to the neglected relationship between the Bible and philosophy. To give shape to this interrogation, the volume will be divided into three main parts: (1) conceptual issues raised by the relationship between the Bible and philosophy, e.g. what is faith/reason/philosophy; (2) historical issues raised by the relationship between the Bible and philosophy, e.g. how to (re)tell the history of philosophy, the Bible’s influence on philosophy, etc.; and (3) philosophical readings of biblical texts, concepts, values, and practices. Under this rubric, the following questions might be considered:

  • Is the Bible in itself antithetical or unamenable to reason and philosophy?
  • Is it true that the Bible is merely concerned with “faith,” while the ancient Greeks were concerned with “reason”?
  • What do we mean by “reason” and what do we mean by “faith”?
  • What is the relationship between ancient Greek and biblical thought – between the values that are central to each tradition and those that comprise our modern and, perhaps, postmodern conceptions of reason and faith?
  • How have biblical concepts and values (creation, sin, covenant, liberation, revelation, prophecy, miracle, love…) contributed to the development of modern and postmodern thought?
  • What can we learn by looking systematically at the substantive references made to the Bible by modern philosophers (Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Levinas, Derrida, Ricoeur, Marion, Badiou, Agamben, Taylor, MacIntyre…)? Would these references suggest that the Bible plays a role not only in the history of philosophy but also in the history of reason itself?
  • Would it be legitimate to speak about a “biblical philosophy” in distinction, say, to theology? If so, what would the former be?

Article Requirements:

  • Articles should be no more than 8000 words in length (excluding notes)
  • Articles should follow the Chicago Manual of Style (style 1), using endnotes.

Schedule:

  • Submit proposals of one single-spaced page by July 1, 2012
  • Authors will be notified by September 1, 2012
  • Essays are due Jan 31, 2013
  • Authors will be notified by Mar 31, 2013

Correspondence

Mark Cauchi
mcauchi@yorku.ca

 

 


 

March 26, 2012

Association for the Philosophy of Judaism: Symposium and Essay Prize

The Association for the Philosophy of Judaism is pleased to invite all interested parties to its online symposium on halakha (Jewish law) and the philosophy of law, currently taking place on its new site www.theapj.com/blog. The symposium is entitled “Authority, Halakha, and the Official Vigilante,” and will center around a discussion of the problems of authority and law in relation to Mishna Sanhedrin 9:6, in particular the rule that zealots may attack the Jewish man who is having sexual relations with a Gentile woman. On March 20th materials will be posted on the new website one of which will be a video discussion of the issues by the symposium participants Laliv Clenman (Leo Baeck), Ken Ehrenberg (SUNY), and Sari Kisilevsky (CUNY). Of particular relevance will be the following texts: Mishna Sanhedrin 9:6, Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 81b-82b, and Palestinian Talmud Sanhedrin 27b.

————————–

The Association for the Philosophy of Judaism is dedicated to encouraging new work in the philosophy of Judaism.

Our annual APJ Essay Prize will be awarded to new work in the philosophy of Judaism. The winner will receive $500 and will also have their paper published in Faith & Philosophy, subject to the ratification of the editorial team of the journal. We are grateful to Faith & Philosophy for their support of our prize.
We define the philosophy of Judaism broadly, to include any of the following:
§ Philosophical engagement with any of the key texts of Rabbinic Judaism (Biblical or Rabbinic)
§ Philosophical engagement with any of the key tenets of Jewish faith
§ Philosophical engagement with any of the key concepts of Jewish peoplehood, such as communal identity over time.
§ Philosophical engagement with classical texts of Jewish philosophy and with philosophers of Judaism, i.e. with texts and philosophers that dealt with any of the issues raised above.

We invite submissions of new work in any of these fields to be considered for the prize. Candidate essays should be no longer than 10,000 words and include a 500 word abstract; they must not have been published elsewhere and must not be under review by any journal until we have finished considering it for the prize.
Entries should be prepared for blind-review and sent to info@theapj.com
Deadline for entries is 31 August, 2012
Winner will be announced by 1 November, 2012
The Association for the Philosophy of Judaism reserves the right not to award the prize if no entry is thought to be of a suitably high quality.

Dani Rabinowitz
dani.rabinowitz@some.ox.ac.uk
info@theapj.com
www.theapj.com

 


 

February 27, 2012

Announcement: Conference on Levinas, Biblical Exegesis and Literature

The Boston College Center for Christian-Jewish Relations announces the 2012 Corcoran Chair Conference that will take place on March 18-19, 2012. The topic for the conference will be Levinas, Biblical Exegesis and Literature, and more information can be found here.

Theodore A. Perry, Ph.D.
Corcoran Visiting Chair in Christian-Jewish Relations
Boston College Center for Christian-Jewish Learning
ta.perry@bc.edu

 


 

February 22, 2012

Book Review: Monotheism and Ethics, ed. Tzvi Langermann (Brill, 2011), vi + 289 pages.

Growing out of an eponymous conference at Bar-Ilan University, this collection of articles investigates relationships between monotheism and ethics. With such a topic, the articles can barely hint at the breadth of the subject matter. They also vary widely in quality. Several articles deserve remark in the context of the Bible-Philos list.

The articles of Joseph Boyle and William Wainwright claim to draw philosophical implications from the Bible but—rather oddly—barely touch the Biblical text.

In high contrast, Menachem Kellner energetically argues from the Mishnah, a Koranic quotation of the Mishnah, and other sources for moral universalism. The direct focus on breaking out of Jewish exceptionalism unfortunately sidelines consideration of the flipside of universalism: with greater status comes greater responsibility—in this case greater responsibility for non-Jews. This flipside is built into the sources marshaled, and it would be very desirable to hear more from Kellner on the obligations of non-Jews.

Michael Fagenblat, though he did not attend the conference, joins this collection with an exciting article, “think[ing] beyond the dichotomy of being and goodness” and contributing to the growing body of work on Levinas’ dialogue between the Hebraic and the Greek traditions. Fagenblat shows how the concept of creation is inherently ethical, in contrast with the concept of being in the Greek philosophic tradition to which values must somehow be added, and he develops an account of how Levinas’ ethics could be understood as a phenomenology of creation.

Lenn Goodman argues against reduction of piety to ethics and reduction of ethics to religion, and he shows how moral and spiritual insights clarify and confirm one another. Goodman’s article is less remarkable for its conclusions than for its perspective and voice: clear, unapologetic, rooted in tradition, with echoes of Rabbi A. J. Heschel and the Biblical prophets.

Meir Simchah Panzer
Bar-Ilan University
meirsimchah@gmail.com

 


 

February 14, 2012

This review of Aaron W. Hughes, The Invention of Jewish Identity: Bible, Philosophy, and the Art of Translation (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2010) which recently appeared on Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews: An Electronic Journal may be of interest to list members. The book was reviewed by Randi Rashkover of George Mason University.

Meirav Jones
meiravj@herzlinstitute.org

 


 

February 09, 2012

Book Review: Eric Nelson, The Hebrew Republic: Jewish Sources and the Transformation of European Political Thought (Harvard University Press, 2010), 229 pages.

It is commonly maintained that modern political thought developed in Europe only when centuries of Medieval and Renaissance “political theology” yielded to the rising tide of secularism. Nelson argues instead that a central key to the rise of modern political ideas was a resurgence of political theology in the seventeenth century. Christian thinkers in the wake of the Reformation looked to the “Hebrew Republic” (the political system instituted by Mosaic law) as the authoritative political constitution since it had been designed by God. In their investigations, these thinkers turned for interpretive assistance to the growing mass of rabbinic literature being published and translated as part of Europe’s Hebraic revival.

Nelson highlights three political ideas that evolved out of the growing interest in Hebraism. First, humanism’s “constitutional pluralism” gave way to “republican exclusivism,” a notion that arose from rabbinic discussion on Deuteronomy 17 and 1 Samuel 8, particularly the Midrashic association of kingship with idolatry. Second, the concept of redistribution of property, which had formerly been rejected due to Roman writers’ critique of agrarian laws, began to gain repute; this ideological transformation occurred as European thinkers examined the Biblical laws regarding distribution of land and the Jubilee year, using Maimonides as a guide. Third, early modern thinkers advanced the Erastian belief that religious authority should be subjected to civil authority, noting that God, as the Hebrews’ King, issued religious laws; yet they simultaneously argued for toleration, claiming that only those religious laws necessary for civil peace ought to be promulgated.

Nelson’s book remains almost exclusively in the realm of theory and could benefit from a stronger exploration of the causal linkages between the Hebraic revival and concrete political developments. That being said, this book is well worth reading, making a thorough case for the often ignored but evidently undeniable influence of Hebraism upon modern political thought

Amy Gabriel
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Toronto, Canada
amira.gabriel@gmail.com

 


 

January 23, 2012

Announcement of a conference on the topic:

Philosophical Investigation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Talmud and Midrash

The Hebrew Bible occupies an anomalous position on the contemporary academic landscape. The field of biblical studies produces a steady stream of works on the compositional history, philology, and literary character of the biblical texts. But the ideasthat find expression in the Hebrew Scriptures—the metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and political philosophy of the biblical authors—have seldom been explored by the field of biblical studies in a systematic fashion. At the same time, philosophers, political theorists, and historians of ideas, who see the study of ideas as the principal interest of their work, tend to assume that the biblical texts fall outside the scope of their disciplines. The result is that despite general agreement that the Bible has had an unparalleled significance in the history of the West, its ideas have remained, until recently, largely beyond the reach of sustained academic investigation.

Much the same can be said about the other classical Jewish sources as well: The Talmud and Midrash seem frequently to explore subjects of intrinsic philosophical interest. Yet these texts remain all but unknown to philosophers, political theorists, and historians of ideas.

The ongoing neglect of the Hebrew Bible, Talmud, and Midrash by philosophers is especially striking given the rapidly growing interest in theological questions in philosophy departments throughout the English-speaking world. Over the last generation, Christian philosophers have labored successfully to introduce “philosophical theology” (or, more recently, “analytic theology”) into philosophy departments at leading universities. In keeping with longstanding Christian philosophical tradition, this discipline has focused on a priori argumentation concerning the concept of God as “perfect being,” and has usually been conducted with little reference to the Bible. As a consequence, philosophical theology has until now continued the larger pattern of academic neglect of the ideas of the Hebrew Scriptures and other Jewish sources. This has also meant that philosophical theology has been of only very limited relevance to Jews, whose tradition of philosophical and theological speculation is largely text-based.

This is unfortunate because philosophy as a discipline could contribute much to the elucidation of the Hebrew Scriptures and classical rabbinic texts. The law-oriented emphasis of much traditional rabbinic exegesis has meant that these texts have not usually been investigated using philosophical tools and with an eye for philosophical questions. So we can ask what do philosophical questions and the answers that have been given until now teach us about the Bible and Talmud? What, for example, does the nature of the mind or language, reality or morals, as understood by philosophers, have to offer us in enhancing or extending the insights from these traditional sources?

In Fall 2010, the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, with the generous support of the John Templeton Foundation, launched an initiative aimed at developing a Jewish “philosophical theology” that will seek to advance the study of the ideas of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Talmud and Midrash in the academic setting. This initiative is part of a broader “Analytic Theology” project of the Templeton Foundation, which will also support Christian centers for philosophical theology at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Innsbruck, Austria. The Jewish component of the project envisions the development of a uniquely Jewish discipline that will use philosophical tools and methods for examining classical Jewish sources. The project is open to Jewish and non-Jewish scholars interested in the philosophical elucidation of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Talmud and Midrash.

In the context of this project, the department of Philosophy, Political Theory and Religion (PPR) at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem invites submissions for an interdisciplinary conference on “Philosophical Investigation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Talmud and Midrash,” to be held in Jerusalem on July 22-26, 2012.

Invited speakers: Eleonore Stump (Saint Louis University), Michael Fishbane (University of Chicago), Shmuel Trigano (University of Paris X-Nanterre)

This will be the third in a series of annual conferences. For the 2012 conference, the organizing committee will give priority to papers and symposiums exploring human knowing: prophecy, narrative, and law. The conference will seek to develop aspects of a Jewish theological epistemology. The conference will address itself to refining our understanding of how the traditional Jewish modes of exploring man’s relationship with God in the world, by means of prophecy, narrative and law, can be clarified by looking at the ways in which these different modes function and what they can and cannot contribute to our understanding of God and man.

However, superior papers and symposiums will be considered on all subjects relating to the philosophical investigation of the Hebrew Bible, Talmud, and Midrash.

This year both papers and symposiums will be considered for presentation.Paper presentations will be 40 minutes + 20 minutes Q&A. Symposiums should include 3-4 shorter presentations on a single topic, text, or set of texts, and will be 1.5-2 hours including Q&A and discussion. All papers accepted for either format must be submitted in full draft form a month prior to the conference.

Those proposing papers should submit abstracts of no more than 1,000 words together with a current CV. Those proposing symposiums should submit an overview and 3-4 abstracts of no more than 1000 words each together with a current CV of each speaker.The submission deadline is March 4, 2012.

An overview of the “Jewish Philosophical Theology” project at the Shalem Center is available here.

A Select Bibliography of relevant scholarship is available here.

A limited travel fund will be available to assist scholars and students wishing to attend the conference. Conference papers will be considered for publication in a forthcoming anthology of papers.

Please direct correspondence to meiravj@herzlinstitute.org

 


 

January 11, 2012

Symposium on “Philosophy in Halakhah: The Case of Intentional Action” The Torah u-Madda Journal 14 (2006/7)

The Association for the Philosophy of Judaism is pleased to announce a symposium on Jed Lewinsohn’s paper “Philosophy in Halakhah: The Case of Intentional Action,” The Torah u-Madda Journal 14 (2006/7), pp. 97-136, which will be held on our website (http://philosophyofjudaism.blogspot.com) on January 22-29, 2012. Participation is open to all.

Aaron Segal, Dani Rabinowitz, and Sam Lebens
Association for the Philosophy of Judaism
asdphilosophy@gmail.com

 


 

December 22, 2011

Announcement of Research Fellowships and Post-Doctoral Fellowships in

Philosophical Investigation of the Hebrew Bible, Talmud and Midrash

The department of Philosophy, Political Theory and Religion (PPR) at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, in partnership with the John Templeton Foundation, will provide up to two one-year residential awards for advanced scholars and up to four one-year residential awards for post-doctoral students for the purpose of undertaking research on topics in Jewish Philosophical Theology involving the philosophical investigation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Talmud, or Midrash. Fellows will be expected to spend the year in residence at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, and to participate in seminars and workshops to be held on these and related topics during the year.

Applications are welcome from scholars and students of philosophy, political theory, intellectual history, Bible and Talmud, religious studies, theology, Jewish studies, and related disciplines.

An overview of the “Jewish Philosophical Theology” project at the Shalem Center is available here.

A Select Bibliography of relevant scholarship is available here.

More information on research fellowships and post-doctoral fellowships is available here.

To apply, please submit the following materials no later than January 31, 2012:

  1. Letter of interest.
  2. Complete cv.
  3. Description of proposed project (including, where relevant, projected table of contents).
  4. Published or unpublished work related to the project.
  5. Any other materials that you believe would be helpful in helping the selection committee evaluate your fellowship application.
  6. Two letters of recommendation (post-doctoral applicants only)

All materials must be received no later than January 31, 2012 to assure full consideration. Please direct all correspondence to m.jones@shalem.org.il .

 


 

November 2, 2011

Book Review: Jacob Howland, Plato and the Talmud
(Cambridge University Press, 2011), 294 pages.

Athens and Jerusalem have stood metonymically for reason and faith, and have been taken as antithetical approaches to life. Plato and the Talmud by Jacob Howland opens with a critique of this dichotomy: the Socratic tradition includes elements functionally equivalent to scripture, divine service, and prophecy in the Jewish tradition, while the Talmud loves rational inquiry. In fact, both Greek and Jewish textual traditions aim to “shape the minds and mold the ethical and spiritual dispositions of their readers” (p. 12) and “concur that the unexamined life is a deeply impoverished one” (p. 13). So while Athens and Jerusalem are not compatible, both hold that “the tension between rational inquiry and faith, between the attempt to extend the frontiers of understanding and the acknowledgement of impenetrable mysteries, is essential” (p. 13).

Howland reads Plato’s Euthyphro and Apology and Bablylonian Talmud, Ta‘anit, chapter 3 in light of each other. The texts, he shows, are driven by comparable notions of how inquiry functions vis-a-vis faith and by a similar awareness of the limits of human understanding. Howland’s comparisons are judicious and often deep, showing both areas of agreement and difference. Though the interpretations of the aggadic passages in Ta’anit about Honi are not altogether convincing for this reader, Plato and the Talmud meets its expressed standard for success, namely that the reader be stimulated to return to the texts with fresh questions.

Throughout the book, the dialogues and Talmud are approached as pedagogical writings. In particular, their narrative and aggadic sections, it’s argued, offer models for piety. As such, in each case the whole text becomes not merely something for readers to think about but a lens for them to think through. Outside of the comparative framework, Howland shares, almost as asides, stunning observations about the stories.

Another interesting contribution of the book is the argument, important for philosophers, that philosophy needs prophecy. Howland claims that “it would not be possible to produce a definition of anything, much less to employ it accurately, if one were unable to perceive the form of the thing one seeks to define” (p. 190), so “antecedent familiarity is the sacred gift that makes philosophy possible” (p. 191).

Jacob Howland’s comparison of Plato and the Talmud bears great fruits and urges its readers to “rediscover the sacred character of thought itself” (p. 260).

Meir Simchah Panzer
Bar Ilan University
meirsimchah@gmail.com

 


 

October 31, 2011

Media: Spengler’s “Is Modern Science Biblical or Greek?”

This essay on the question of whether modern science is in some respects essentially biblical in character was published last week on David Goldman’s “Spengler” blog at Asia Times Online: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/MJ25Ak02.html

Goldman’s background is in finance rather than academia, but his proposal that Eric Auerbach’s famous characterization of biblical narrative in “Odysseus’ Scar”—the first essay in his book Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (Princeton, 1953)— should lead us to reconsider the possible sources feeding into early modern science is worthy of attention. Goldman is right: Auerbach’s comparison of Homer and Genesis is pregnant with potential implications for metaphysics, epistemology, and the history of philosophy and science, and much of this terrain is still uncharted. There is much to be considered here.

Yoram Hazony
The Shalem Center, Jerusalem
yhazony@herzlinstitute.org

 


 

October 11, 2011

Eleonore Stump, Wandering in Darkness: Narrative and the Problem of Suffering.
Oxford University Press (2010), xix + 668 pp.

In Wandering in Darkness, Stump collates a career-long treatment of the problem of evil with her expertise in medieval philosophy. This is not, however, a traditional theodicy. First, she focuses on suffering rather than evil. Evil, per Stump, is too easily analytically assessed from a non-subjective position. Rather, the ubiquity of personal suffering offers an ideal inroad to reconcile itself to the sacred texts, one that is not mired in historically problematic definitions of God or evil. She then fleshes out suffering with an intriguing and incisive argument on love and the “desires of the heart”.

Second, Stump sets forth a new methodology that offers to fill a systematic limitation of analytic philosophy: analysis of narrative texts such as those that make up most of the Bible. From her medieval work, she plots the relationship between analytic and narrative analyses in terms of two medieval Roman Catholic orders: Dominican (analytical) and Franciscan (narratival). Her claim breaks new ground when she promotes these two as complementary analyses, but incomplete on their own. In this second move, Stump refuses to let “knowledge how” be reduced to “knowledge that”. In brief, there are things we can know through biblical and other narratives that we cannot know otherwise.

Third, with this dichotomized epistemological skill set in hand, Stump then spends the majority of Wandering in Darkness exegeting the narratives of Abraham, Samson, Job, and more with both Franciscan and Dominican analyses. This yields deep insights that probably stem more from decades of her thinking about these texts than from a mere application of an exegetical formula.

Wandering in Darkness is an immense tome that reflects Stump’s sincere desire to reform her own analytical tradition through the sage wisdom of different medieval traditions. Even so, her lack of engagement with knowledge qua skill (the third member of the traditional epistemological trichotomy) and reiteration of the analytically fashionable categories of knowledge makes me wonder how deep the reformation has gone in her own thinking. Nevertheless, Stump’s scholarly reputation gives weight to Wandering in Darkness‘s proposal that we must think of knowledge more broadly. In Wandering in Darkness she provides a coherent work with a plurality of examples in which the Dominican and Franciscan analyses symbiotically sharpen philosophical thinking.

Dru Johnson
The King’s College,
New York, New York
ajohnson@tkc.edu

 


 

Symposium on Eleonore Stump, “Saadia Gaon on the Problem of Evil,”
Faith and Philosophy 14:4 (2007)

We are pleased to announce an online symposium on Eleonore Stump’s article “Saadia Gaon on the Problem of Evil,” Faith and Philosophy 14:4 (1997). Professor Stump has kindly agreed to participate in the symposium. The symposium will be held on 14-21 October on the following site http://philosophyofjudaism.blogspot.com/ Participation is open to anyone. Queries can be addressed to asdphilosophy@gmail.com

Aaron Segal, Dani Rabinowitz, and Sam Lebens
Association for the Philosophy of Judaism
asdphilosophy@gmail.com

 


 

October 3, 2011

Trigano Book Tour, January-February 2012

Professor Shmuel Trigano, author of Philosophy of the Law: The Political in the Torahreviewed here, will be touring the United States and Canada to promote his book in January-February 2012. From January 22 – February 6 he will be speaking at McGill, U. Toronto, U. Montreal, CUNY Graduate Center, JTS, The Institute for Jewish Thought and Heritage, University at Buffalo, and more.  Anyone interested in organizing further talks for him should be in touch with Prof. Trigano directly at shmuel.trigano@gmail.com , or can contact Shalem Press at shalempress@shalem.org.il .

Meirav Jones, The Shalem Center
meiravj@herzlinstitute.org

 


 

September 15, 2011

Michael Bergmann, Michael J. Murray, and Michael C. Rea, Divine Evil?  The Moral Character of the God of Abraham
Oxford University Press (2011), 333 pages.

This collection of essays grew out of a conference on the moral character of God in the Hebrew Bible.  The structure of the book, together with some of its rhetoric, makes the reader feel that she is witnessing a fierce trial.  The prosecution and defense each consists of a formidable group of contemporary philosophers and theologians, who vigorously debate the charge that God in the Hebrew Bible acts immorally (and even capriciously and abusively), particularly by issuing commands to perform apparently immoral actions.  The trial ends without a verdict.  In its stead one finds a stimulating concluding essay by Howard Wettstein, which looks not to take sides in the debate as much as to challenge the shared assumption of both sides that “some such defense is what traditional religion implicates.” To this end, Wettstein looks at Talmudic and Midrashic sources, which he argues reflect a religious sensibility that differs from the one he finds in many of the contributions.

Whether or not the religious sensibilities of the contributions resonate with all readers, they are certainly quite rich. Aside from the nuanced and often creative discussions of the “first-order issues,” the essays naturally give rise to central methodological questions about the study of the philosophy of the Hebrew Bible. For instance, a thread running throughout many of the essays is that when assessing the moral character of God in the Hebrew Bible, one has to keep in mind what one knows about God from all other sources, such as one’s religious tradition, later canonical texts, and religious experience.  This is good epistemological advice, but in some cases it seemed to translate into a highly dubious methodology according to which one need never try to read the Hebrew Bible in a naive, unfiltered manner; other essays and replies implicitly or explicitly challenged this very point.  Anyone interested in the appropriate methodology for the philosophical study of the Hebrew Bible or in the main problematic that was the topic of the conference can’t ignore this provocative collection.

Aaron Segal
University of Notre Dame
asegal@nd.edu

 


 

July 8, 2011

CFP: Christian Hebraism in the Middle Ages
Seeking participants for session on Christian Hebraism in the Middle Ages at the International Congress on Medieval Studies
The medieval studies workshop at University of Chicago is currently accepting proposals for its session at the 47th International Congress in Kalamazoo, entitled: Christian Hebraism in the Middle Ages.

Scholarship on Christian Hebraism (the Christian study of the Hebrew language and Jewish texts, including the Old Testament) generally focuses on the Church Fathers or European intellectuals of the 17-18th centuries. This panel seeks to reevaluate the state of Hebrew learning in the medieval Christian world, after Jerome (d. 420) and prior to Johannes Buxtorf (d. 1629). By analyzing specific cases of medieval Hebraism, the papers will enable a fuller picture of Christian Hebraism as it occurred in varied historical and cultural circumstances. Papers will address questions such as the following: What motivated medieval Christians to learn Hebrew, and which Jewish texts did they study (Old Testament, Talmud, Kabbalah)? Was their knowledge directed outwardly (e.g., to proselytize and polemicize against Jews) or inwardly (e.g., to translate and interpret the Bible for a Christian audience)? Who were their teachers (e.g., rabbis, converts to Christianity, other Christian Hebraists), and what anxieties existed about learning from Jews? Where did Hebrew lessons occur and which institutions supported them? In what ways was the Old Testament considered a Jewish or a Christian text?

Please send an abstract (250 words max.) and a “Participant Information Form” (available at http://www.wmich.edu/medieval/congress/submissions/index.html#PIF) to shachar@uchicago.edu by FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 9.

Uri Shachar,
Graduate co-Coordinator, Medieval Studies Workshop

 


 

May 31, 2011

Shalem Announces Templeton Fellows in Philosophical Theology for 2011-2012

Shalem’s Department of Philosophy, Political Theory and Religion is pleased to announce the appointment of three Templeton Fellows in Philosophical Theology for academic year 2011-2012. The fellows will be:

Senior Fellow
Asa Kasher (Tel Aviv University)

Research Fellow
Michael Fagenblatt (Monash University)

Post-Doctoral Fellow
Hannah Hashkes (Hebrew University)

Fellows will spend the year at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem writing a book or a series of articles investigating philosophical aspects of the Hebrew Bible, Talmud or Midrash. The fellowships are a part of a three-year project in “Analytic Theology” made possible by a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation.
A separate announcement will follow with details concerning applications for fellowships for 2012-2013.

 


 

May 4, 2011

Emily Arndt, Demanding Our Attention: The Hebrew Bible as a Source for Christian Ethics
Forewords by Yvonne Sherwood and Jean Porter
Eerdmans (2011), 197 pages.

This posthumous book by a young scholar at Georgetown University is a modest reworking of what was regarded at Notre Dame University as an exceptional doctoral dissertation. Arndt argues overall that the Hebrew Bible, far from being marginal to the pursuit of ethics—including Christian ethics—offers an indispensable resource for contemporary ethical reflection. Formally, she develops a close reading of the akedah narrative (the “binding of Isaac”) from the Hebrew text of Genesis 22, drawing on historical-critical exegesis as well as theological reflection on the narrative as a crux for our understanding of various perdurable issues. She argues that the methods of the textual critic and philosopher (historical-critical/philosophical-theological) ought not to be regarded as mutually exclusive, but rather, in intelligent practice, as necessarily congruent elements in our appropriation of the Hebrew Bible as a resource for philosophical thought. Her argument is that the akedah and other “problem” narratives are in fact of primary importance for understanding a characteristic disposition of the Bible to connect attentive and meditative reading with the development of moral discernment. Particularly to be commended here is her appreciation for philological nuance and resonance in the Hebrew, and her Auerbachian attunement to the role played both by structure and style in the creation of meaning.

David Jeffrey
Baylor University
David_Jeffrey@baylor.edu

 


 

April 13, 2011

Shmuel Trigano, Philosophy of the Law: The Political in the Torah 
Introduction by David Novak; Gila Walker, trans. 
Shalem Press (2011), 555 pages.

In English-speaking countries, the idea that there could be “philosophy” in the Hebrew Bible seems a little strange. But this isn’t the case in France. In French thought, going back to Levinas, Marion, Gilson, Tresmontant, and Neher, the idea of the Hebrew Bible as a work of philosophical significance is something of a commonplace. With the new Shalem Press translation of Shmuel Trigano’s classic Philosophy of the Law into English, Anglophone readers have the chance to have a good look at one of the most important works in French on the philosophy of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Trigano is probably the most important Jewish philosopher currently writing in the French language. He’s a professor of politics and sociology at the University of Paris—Nanterre. But don’t let that fool you. He’s not what Americans would call a “sociologist” any more than Martin Buber was. Trigano is the genuine article—an extraordinarily gifted philosopher in the French style (with all this entails), who in this 1991 work gave France its first systematic take on the political philosophy of the Hebrew Bible. That makes this one of the founding documents of the modern study of the political philosophy of the Bible. And indeed, Trigano deserves to be considered in the same league with other founders of this discipline such as Michael Walzer, Daniel Elazar, and Aaron Wildavsky.

The translator did a great job. But it’s still French philosophy, which means you have to work at it a bit. Don’t make the mistake of passing on this book because of that. Trigano is bursting with ideas on important subjects hardly touched thus far in other studies of the political philosophy of the Scriptures. For example, Trigano’s is the first serious attempt by a modern philosopher to understand what the contest for leadership between Judah, Joseph, and Levi (which in different avatars keeps reappearing throughout the first half of the Bible) is really all about. Trigano is right that without understanding this contest, you can’t make sense of the political philosophy of the Bible more generally. On this and other crucial issues, Trigano’s book is a good place to start.

Yoram Hazony
The Shalem Center, Jerusalem
yhazony@herzlinstitute.org

 


 

April 7, 2011

Job Y. Jindo, “Toward a Poetics of the Biblical Mind: Language, Culture, and Cognition” 
Vetus Testamentum 59 (2009), pp. 222-243

In this programmatic article, Job Jindo proposes to employ tools of cognitive linguistic studies to create a new philological approach to the study of ancient texts, specifically the Hebrew Bible. Cognitive linguistics explains the interaction between language and human cognition by viewing metaphoric use in language as a key to understanding cognitive activity. Following the work of Johnson and Lakoff and their students, Jindo explains that we systematically utilize concepts from one domain of our life in order to conceptualize another domain. Thus a metaphoric concept is the use of a conceptual domain (target domain), for instance time, in terms of another domain (source domain), for instance money. This transfer is analyzed in detail by a systematic mapping of each term in one field onto a term in the other.

The awareness of the differences between the metaphoric concepts of our culture and those embedded in ancient texts is of crucial importance to our ability to make sense of their meaning. This point is clearly demonstrated by two biblical metaphoric concepts with which Jindo concludes the article, The Cosmos is a State and The Cosmos is a Divine Estate. By describing these biblical metaphors Jindo illustrates how mapping the terms of the ancient Near Eastern domains of statehood-kingdom and inheritance customs onto biblical expressions can enhance our understanding of the biblical mind.
Jindo demonstrates well the advantages of cognitive linguistics as an instrument for deciphering biblical texts.  It should be noted, however, that this philological tool, like many others provided by careful biblical scholarship, does not supply a conclusive scheme for getting to the roots of the meaning of biblical expressions. As opposed to law collections from the ancient Near East, it is precisely the force of a human and religious experience in its uniqueness and the poetic quality and truth of its expression that makes the Bible such an enduring and meaningful text.

Hannah Hashkes
The Shalem Center, Jerusalem
HannahH@shalem.org.il

 


March 24, 2011

Chaya T. Halberstam, Law and Truth in Biblical and Rabbinic Literature 
Indiana University Press, 2010

In this book, Halberstam surveys some of the most important texts on truth in the Hebrew Bible and classical rabbinic literature thoroughly and intelligently. Her analysis pays a great deal of attention to contemporary philosophical theories while avoiding the pitfall of anachronism. However, Halberstam’s association of the idea of truth in the biblical and talmudic sources with the correspondence theory of truth, without even considering that fact that truth in these sources often refers to the principle of stability is somewhat troubling. What is lacking, in my opinion, is a closer attention to the etymology of biblical and rabbinic language.

Similarly, there is a neglect of the phenomenology of rabbinic thought. Talmudic discussion is typically an exchange of opinions. The Talmud presents reasoning of two sides as they would in court, in a debate, not as it would if it were presenting its final conclusions. Some of the points appearing in the rabbinic discussions are presented as heuristics, for the purpose of fleshing out a debate. Halberstam is not always aware of this possibility. Nevertheless, her book is important for the sources that it makes available and for her opening a discussion with respect to them.

Joseph Isaac Lifshitz
The Shalem Center, Jerusalem
isaacl@shalem.org.il

 


 

March 17, 2011

Decisions have been made on speakers and topics for this year’s Shalem conference in Jewish philosophical theology:
“Philosophical Investigation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Talmud and Midrash”
Location:  The Shalem Center, Jerusalem
Dates:      June 26-30, 2011
Speakers:

  1. Rachel Adelman (Harvard Divinity School), “’Such Stuff as Dreams are Made Of’: Imagining God’s Body in the Narrative of Redemption”
  2. Ira Bedzow (Emory University), “Must we be Satisfied with Modern Jewish Thought or Can There be a Contemporary Jewish Philosophy?”
  3. Louis Blond (University of Cape Town), “The Paradox of Perfection Theology”
  4. James Diamond (University of Waterloo), “The Biblical Moment of Perception: Angelic Encounter as Metaphysics”
  5. Jeremy England (Princeton University), “Staff or Serpent? Expectation and Perception in a World of Laws”
  6. Michael Fagenblat (Monash University), “Kabod: Phenomenological Metaphysics in the Hebrew Bible”
  7. Lenn Goodman (Vanderbilt University), “God and Israel as Lovers: The Song of Songs”
  8. Hannah Hashkes (Shalem Center), “Torah’s Seventy Faces: Rabbinic Hermeneutics and Metaphysics”
  9. Yoram Hazony (Shalem Center), “Wrestling With God”
  10. Jacob Howland (University of Tulsa), “Cosmos and Philosophy in Plato and the Bible”
  11. Dru Johnson (St. Mary’s College), “Phenomenal Theology?: Some Pentateuchal Cautions for Analytic Theology”
  12. Asa Kasher (Tel Aviv University), “Radical Negative Theology”
  13. Steven Kepnes (Colgate University), “Holy, Holy, Holy:  The Language of the Nature of God in Isaiah”
  14. Sam Lebens (Birkbeck College, London; and Yeshivat Torat Yosef Hamivtar, Efrat), “How to Cut a Sentence into Bits: Logic and Law in the Talmud and Beyond”
  15. Berel Dov Lerner (Western Galilee College), “Divine Plans and Human Obligations”
  16. Joseph Isaac Lifshitz (Shalem Center), “The Judicial Ground of the Talmudic Style of Discussion”
  17. Michael Miller (University of Nottingham), “Examination of Metatron and the Principal Angelic Figures Within Early Rabbinic Tradition”
  18. Alan Mittleman (Jewish Theological Seminary), “The Problem of Holiness”
  19. Dani Rabinowitz & Kelly Clark (Oxford University & Calvin College), “How Did the First Protagonists of Genesis Understand the Nature of God?”
  20. Tamar Rudavsky (Ohio State University), “Time and Eternity as reflected in Scripture and Philosophy”
  21. Kenneth Seeskin (Northwestern University), “The Destructiveness of God”
  22. Aaron Segal (University of Notre Dame), “Metaphysics Out of the Sources of Halacha or a Halachik Metaphysic?”
  23. Josh Weinstein (Shalem Center), “Gone Fishin’, or The Matter, Form and Power of a Leviathan, Civill and Ecclesiasticall”
  24. Roslyn Weiss (Lehigh University), “’Kol Tuvi’—The Transcendent God of Goodness”
  25. Jacob Wright (Emory University), “Shalem’s ‘Jewish Philosophical Theology’ Project and the Guild of Biblical Studies”

Further information: Yoram Hazony, yhazony@herzlinstitute.org .
For registration and logistics, please write to Kate Deutsch, kated@shalem.org.il .

 


March 14, 2011

Dear Bible-Philos List Members,

The conference announcement below is a good example of the way in which the texts of what used to be called “Chinese religion” are now increasingly being regarded as works of “Chinese philosophy,” or at least as works containing philosophy, in the academic setting. I will occasionally send out announcements concerning developments in Asian philosophy where these seem as though they might serve as models for the kind of work we might be doing to advance the philosophical investigation of the Hebrew Bible and classical rabbinic sources in academia.

Yoram Hazony
yhazony@herzlinstitute.org

——

Conference: 
Happiness and the Dao: Ancient Greek and Chinese Approaches to Ethics 
March 25-26, 2011 
Department of Philosophy 
Hong Kong University

Ancient Greek ethics focuses largely on the theory and practice of eudaimonia, the happy or flourishing life. Classical Chinese ethics similarly focuses on the theory and practice of the dao, the proper way of life. The workshop will inquire into how these two ethical orientations compare and contrast with each other. How might the two central concepts of eudaimonia and dao relate to each other? What conception of a flourishing life is implied by various Chinese views of the dao? What conception of a practical, normative way is implied by various Greek views of eudaimonia? What insights into contemporary ethical life might be provided by reflection on these ancient ethical themes? These are among the questions that the workshop will address.
All welcome!
http://philosophy.hku.hk/happydao

 


March 8, 2011

Review of Seth L. Sanders, The Invention of Hebrew 
University of Illinois Press, 2009

For two thousand years, Near Eastern kingdoms and empires shared cuneiform, a script, not a language. Hebrew, as the first widely written vernacular, changed this.  This book seeks to answer a number of questions arising from this change, for example, why create a specifically native literature, what motivated the considerable effort and innovation required in the eighth or ninth century B.C.E. to create local vernaculars like Hebrew, that is, the deliberate writing down and transformation into literature of languages people actually spoke—a literature that not only makes possible but also its very existence aims for a popular participation in the written text. In pursuit of these questions, the book attempts to determine the historical processes that made possible this shift in communication from imperial cuneiform to the native vernacular of a national culture.

Sanders rightly claims that the answers to these provocative questions have considerable implications for social theory. To take only one example, he observes that Hebrew formed a regional order that is difficult to explain as the work of a single state apparatus, that is, the diffusion of alphabetic writing in the Iron Age took place, according to Sanders, independent of the palace.  And, of course, popular participation—both through reading and listening as often attested to in the Tanach—in written texts has clear cultural and political implications. I highly recommend this book.

Steven Grosby
Clemson University

 


 

Dear Bible-Philos List Member,

Thanks for subscribing to Bible-Philos. This list is intended to create a common space for scholars interested in exploring the ideas of the Hebrew Bible, Talmud and Midrash. List subscribers are invited to post announcements related to the philosophical investigation of the metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and political thought of the Hebrew Scriptures and classical rabbinic sources, or to the historical reception of these sources and their ideas in the later history of the West. Announcements can be posted about conferences, workshops, publications, fellowships and other subjects of interest to list members.

One of the obstacles to the development of this field of study has been the lack of an efficient way of keeping track of relevant publications. Books and articles directly relevant to the subject matter appear under the rubric of philosophy, political theory, Bible, Talmud, Jewish Studies, literature, law, theology, and other disciplines. This list is intended to provide a way for list members to learn of publications of interest in a timely and systematic fashion. To spare authors the awkwardness of having to announce their own publications, the Bible-Philos list invites list members to submit brief reviews of books and articles that are of direct relevance to the subject of the list. Please limit reviews to 300 words.
The subject matter of this list is interdisciplinary. At this point there are more than 500 scholars and students subscribed from a broad variety of disciplines. Please make sure that any submissions are worded in such a way as to be appropriate for scholars from different disciplines.

This is a moderated list. Posts will be screened for topicality, collegiality, and coherence. We will not post announcements or reviews where these are concerned principally with the historical or literary aspects of the Bible or rabbinic sources, and do not have clear relevance to philosophy or to the history of ideas.

Announcements and reviews may be submitted to bible-philos@herzlinstitute.org .
If you have feedback and suggestions, please be in touch with me atyhazony@herzlinstitute.org .

Yoram Hazony
The Shalem Center, Jerusalem