The Phi­los­o­phy of Hebrew Scrip­ture: An Introduction

Yoram Hazony
  • Review
By – April 30, 2012

Yoram Hazony, an Israeli polit­i­cal philoso­pher and founder of the Shalem Cen­ter, wants to cre­ate a par­a­digm shift in how we view and under­stand the Bible. Nev­er one to shy away from ambi­tious goals, Hazony gives us his newest work, The Phi­los­o­phy of Hebrew Scrip­ture: An Intro­duc­tion, a book that attempts to undo gen­er­a­tions of mis­guid­ed think­ing as to the gen­er­al nature and pur­pose of the Bible.

Essen­tial­ly, Hazony con­tends that we think of ancient books in two crude ways: either as books of phi­los­o­phy or books of rev­e­la­tion. Accord­ing to Hazony, phi­los­o­phy bases itself on the great­est thought and log­ic of man, while books of rev­e­la­tion con­note stale sto­ries based on the artis­tic whims of ancient writ­ers. Hazony attempts to col­lapse this false dichoto­my, or bet­ter yet, to make a case that in truth the Bible belongs as much to the realm of phi­los­o­phy — and there­fore a con­tem­po­rary con­ver­sa­tion on pol­i­tics, social trends, and gen­er­al thought — as do the works of Pla­to or Socrates. After Hazony makes a lengthy argu­ment to prove this point, the rest of his book attempts to apply this new method to high­light the nov­el ideas we can now glean from the Bible.

Both of these sec­tions suf­fer from the same prob­lem, and suc­ceed because of this same prob­lem. Hazony, a bril­liant thinker, engages in wish­ful Aggadic think­ing in order to fit his the­o­ries into a noto­ri­ous­ly mal­leable text. His philo­soph­i­cal excur­sions about the nature and pur­pose of the Bible end up more as his own wish­ful, albeit intel­li­gent think­ing than any­thing that can be said to arise from the actu­al text of the Bible. In that same vein, when he applies his new tools of tex­tu­al and con­cep­tu­al analy­sis to famous bib­li­cal sto­ries he emerges with inge­nious ideas, but ideas that speak more to his Aggadic mind than to an illu­mi­na­tion of the text. As a close read­er of texts Hazony floun­ders, but as a builder of philo­soph­i­cal edi­fices based loose­ly on the Bible, Hazony suc­ceeds and deserve both acclaim and a large audi­ence.

How­ev­er, though rid­dled with many method­olog­i­cal flaws, or at least method­olog­i­cal ques­tions that Hazony bare­ly seeks to explore, the book rep­re­sents an impor­tant semi-aca­d­e­m­ic work that rais­es inter­est­ing ques­tions for both the Bib­li­cal schol­ar as well as the Bib­li­cal laymen.

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Joseph Win­kler is a free­lance writer liv­ing in New York City. He writes for Vol1Brooklyn, The Huff­in­g­ton Post, Jew­cy, and oth­er sites. While not writ­ing, Joe is get­ting a Mas­ters in Eng­lish Lit­er­a­ture at City Col­lege. To sup­port his extrav­a­gant lifestyle, Joe also tutors and unabashed­ly babysits. Check out his blog at nocon​ver​sa​tion​left​be​hind​.blogspot​.com.

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