The Dangers of Reading Too Little, or Too Much, into the Hebrew Bible

Oct. 13 2016

Noting the tendency of the Bible’s interpreters—from talmudic rabbis to Augustine to Maimonides and Aquinas—to read their own agendas into the text, Benedict Spinoza argued that Scripture must be read exclusively on its own terms, without introducing philosophical concepts. Such an approach prevails among academic Bible scholars today, but Kenneth Seeskin, a philosopher of religion, makes the case for more expansive interpretation:

[I]f part of the meaning of a text is contained in what it says, another part is contained in the direction to which it points. It is as if in addition to giving us a picture of the society in which he lived, an author can put us on a trajectory that leads to something beyond it. With respect to the Bible, it is hard to read the prophets without taking the idea of trajectory seriously. Although there are passages [in Isaiah] that glorify war as much as Homer did, [its author] could still look beyond the prevailing beliefs of his time to a day when the lion would lie down with the lamb. As the Talmud (Ḥaggigah 3a) tells us: “Just as what is planted is fruitful and multiplies, so are the words of the Torah fruitful and multiplying.”

Needless to say, if a text puts us on a trajectory to something new, it does not necessarily follow that the author knows exactly where that trajectory will lead. . . . My claim is simply that looking at where a text leads helps us to gain a perspective from which to appreciate the significance of what it was trying to say. The moment we ask about the direction to which a text points, we have begun to read it philosophically.

[Thus], to understand the opening verses of Genesis, we have to invoke categories like contingency and necessity that have no correlates in biblical Hebrew. To understand the full import of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac, we have to skip millennia and look at the thought of Kant and Kierkegaard. To understand what it means for a people to be holy, we have to take into account ideas that were not fully expressed until the 20th century.

This does not mean that philosophers get the last word on everything, only that they get a word.

Read more at Bible and Interpretation

More about: Benedict Spinoza, Hebrew Bible, Jewish Philosophy, Midrash, Religion & Holidays


Syria’s Druze Uprising, and What It Means for the Region

When the Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011, the Druze for the most part remained loyal to the regime—which has generally depended on the support of religious minorities such as the Druze and thus afforded them a modicum of protection. But in the past several weeks that has changed, with sustained anti-government protests in the Druze-dominated southwestern province of Suwayda. Ehud Yaari evaluates the implications of this shift:

The disillusionment of the Druze with Bashar al-Assad, their suspicion of militias backed by Iran and Hizballah on the outskirts of their region, and growing economic hardships are fanning the flames of revolt. In Syrian Druze circles, there is now open discussion of “self-rule,” for example replacing government offices and services with local Druze alternative bodies.

Is there a politically acceptable way to assist the Druze and prevent the regime from the violent reoccupation of Jebel al-Druze, [as they call the area in which they live]? The answer is yes. It would require Jordan to open a short humanitarian corridor through the village of al-Anat, the southernmost point of the Druze community, less than three kilometers from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Setting up a corridor to the Druze would require a broad consensus among Western and Gulf Arab states, which have currently suspended the process of normalization with Assad. . . . The cost of such an operation would not be high compared to the humanitarian corridors currently operating in northern Syria. It could be developed in stages, and perhaps ultimately include, if necessary, providing the Druze with weapons to defend their territory. A quick reminder: during the Islamic State attack on Suwayda province in 2018, the Druze demonstrated an ability to assemble close to 50,000 militia men almost overnight.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Druze, Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy