Lenn Goodman

Lenn E Goodman is Professor of Philosophy and Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Vanderbilt University. His books include Creation and Evolution; Islamic Humanism; In Defense of Truth: A Pluralistic Approach; Jewish & Islamic Philosophy: Crosspollinations in the Classic Age; Judaism, Human Rights and Human Values; God of Abraham; Avicenna; On Justice: An Essay in Jewish Philosophy; and his Gifford Lectures, Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself. Books now in press – Coming to Mind: the Soul and its Body (co-authored with D. G. Caramenico) and Religious Pluralism and Values in the Public Sphere. His translations with commentary include Ibn Tufayl’s Hayy Ibn Yaqzan;  Saadiah Gaon’s Arabic translation and commentary on the Book of Job; and (with Richard McGregor) The Case of the Animals vs Man before the King of the Jinn, a classic ecological fable by the Ikhwan al-Safa. Goodman and his colleague Philip at work on a new translation and commentary of Maimonides’ Guide to the Perplexed. Goodman has lectured widely in the United States and abroad. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife Roberta.

Biblical Logic

Contrary to the notion of religion in general and biblical piety in particular as a fabric of sheer faith and fiats, the Hebrew Bible makes its case by way of reasoning, commending its norms for their wisdom and utility and nesting its claims in appeals to experience and understanding. This paper examines three patterns of argument distinctive to the biblical canon: 1) The Torah invites a sense of discovery by contrasting actuality with virtuality. The pattern is prominent in the creation narratives of Genesis but also in the account of Balaam’s mission and, in extenso, in the historiography of the Book of Judges. 2) We find striking instances of what I call the biblical non sequitur in God’s decision to send no new flood in the aftermath of Noah’s deluge – not despite but because God knew the evil bent of the human heart. There’s a similar turn in the commandment not to scorn Egyptians – not despite but because Israel were slaves in their land. 3) The Torah uses dramatic thought experiments, again often relying on a sense of discovery. Powerful examples are found in the stories of Job and Jonah. Uniting these three modalities is an axiological perspective that governs and energizes the argument. Moral, covenantal, and at times aesthetic concerns redirect an inference toward conclusions quite different from those that might have been expected had the reasoning held to a more abstract, formalistic schema. The effect is to enhance the biblical portrayal of God, not by violating the Torah’s distaste for objectification of the Divine but by allowing readers to share in a God’s eye perspective on nature, human relations, and human history.