To the modern reader, the biblical injunction “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God” seems strange: how can one of the most fundamental human emotions be commanded? In his new book on the subject, Jon D. Levenson first places the verse from Deuteronomy in its historical context and then proceeds to examine how it has been understood by Jewish thinkers through the ages. (Interview by Debra Liese).
[Seen in the context of other documents from the ancient Near East], “love” has a technical, legal meaning in Deuteronomy and elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. . . . [However], the technical usage doesn’t preclude the emotional or affective connotations that the word has for most people. To put it differently, sometimes loving may simply mean loyal service and faithful obedience, but we need to guard against over-generalizing from such passages, just as we need to guard against interpreting “love” in this context as a purely subjective, emotional state without normative behavioral correlates.
I try to show that in Deuteronomy God falls in love with Israel—I don’t think the language is exclusively technical but rather [that] it connotes passion—and demands a response that has its own affective character. In other words, we have to reckon with both an outward and an inward dimension. . . . In fact, the movement is in both directions. Actions awaken and deepen emotions, and emotions generate and make sense of actions.