Why the Bible, Contra Leo Strauss, Is Part of the Western Philosophical Tradition

According to Leo Strauss, the Hebrew Bible stands in “radical opposition” to philosophy. Strauss bases this argument on the contention that philosophy began when the ancient Greeks discovered “nature”—i.e., that which is unchanging and universal—as distinct from mere custom, and hence the idea that there exist universal definitions of truth and goodness. By contrast, he claims that Jewish scripture maintains the pre-philosophical view that everything is governed by custom. Yoram Hazony contends that even if Strauss’s definition of philosophy is correct, the Hebrew Bible should in fact be studied as the very beginning of the Western philosophical tradition:

[T]he decisive move that turned ancient Israelite thought into a force in the history of ideas was the discovery that there is only one God, who is the creator of all things in heaven and earth. But although this fact is well known, its meaning . . . is not well understood today. In the ancient world, . . . [there] were gods for each nation, gods of weather and agriculture and fertility and war, and more localized gods such the god of the apple harvest or the god of a given field. Each of these gods was understood as making normative demands upon human beings in the area of its own competence. If a man or a woman wanted something from the god that lorded over a particular nation or place or activity, then finding a way of pleasing the relevant god was of the utmost significance.

In other words, the gods of the ancient world were each of them recognized as promulgating a local standard of right that governed, or held good for, certain peoples or places or activities. . . .

In practice, the system of thought known from the nations of the ancient world—paganism—amounted to the localization of what was considered true or good. As Strauss observes, what the god of any given place might endorse or demand could easily be different from what was demanded by another, neighboring god. In other words, an understanding of the world as being governed by many gods amounted to the recognition of numerous different standards for determining what is true and good, with each god asserting its own standard, different from the others.

By contrast, the [biblical] discovery that the world was governed by one God was the discovery that there is only one normative order, only one standard for judging what is true and good. As such, this one standard had to be independent of all local standards, and consequently, of the claims that were otherwise being made in the name of ancestry, authority, and custom in any given place.

Read more at Jerusalem Letters

More about: Ancient Greece, Hebrew Bible, Leo Strauss, Natural law, Political philosophy, Religion & Holidays

Planning for the Day after the War in the Gaza Strip

At the center of much political debate in Israel during the past week, as well as, reportedly, of disagreement between Jerusalem and Washington, is the problem of how Gaza should be governed if not by Hamas. Thus far, the IDF has only held on to small parts of the Strip from which it has cleared out the terrorists. Michael Oren lays out the parameters of this debate over what he has previous called Israel’s unsolvable problem, and sets forth ten principles that any plan should adhere to. Herewith, the first five:

  1. Israel retains total security control in Gaza, including control of all borders and crossings, until Hamas is demonstrably defeated. Operations continue in Rafah and elsewhere following effective civilian evacuations. Military and diplomatic efforts to secure the hostages’ release continue unabated.
  2. Civil affairs, including health services and aid distribution, are administered by Gazans unaffiliated with Hamas. The model will be Area B of Judea and Samaria, where Israel is in charge of security and Palestinians are responsible for the civil administration.
  3. The civil administration is supervised by the Palestinian Authority once it is “revitalized.” The PA first meets benchmarks for ending corruption and establishing transparent institutions. The designation and fulfillment of the benchmarks is carried out in coordination with Israel.
  4. The United States sends a greatly expanded and improved version of the Dayton Mission that trained PA police forces in Gaza after Israel’s disengagement.
  5. Abraham Accords countries launch a major inter-Arab initiative to rebuild and modernize Gaza.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security, U.S.-Israel relationship