Academic Bible Scholarship Shouldn’t Be Confused with Torah Study

Currently a professor at Harvard, Jon Levenson is one of America’s leading scholars of the Hebrew Bible. He reflects here on how he sees the connection between his commitments to Judaism and the demands of academic study:

As I see it, there should be room within religious Jewish communities for historical-critical scholarship—intellectual honesty in our times demands it—but historical-critical scholarship alone does not constitute “Torah.” In order for biblical scholarship to be defined as “Torah,” it must recognize that the meaning of a scriptural text cannot be limited to the intentions of the original authors or the cultural meanings that the texts offered their first hearers, important as these are. It must pay respectful attention to the processes of recontextualization and appropriation within the continuing Jewish tradition, including those within the Bible itself. It cannot reflexively brand those processes as wrong, definitively and irreversibly superseded by the characteristically modern focus on the authors of the text and their historical worlds.

Similarly, such scholarship should recognize that the Bible has multiple uses and that, in the Jewish case, standing legitimately among them are those that encourage faith in God, identification with the people Israel over the millennia, and the enriching of practice (such as that of prayer). Needless to say, these are not the uses to which biblical scholarship in most contemporary colleges and universities is addressed. Nor can they be.

Neither the secular academic approach to the Bible nor the religiously driven one is likely to refute the other or to go away. A more nuanced model of the relationship is called for. In particular, both religious traditionalists and critical scholars need to be more self-aware when claiming to relate what the text “really” means.


More about: Academia, Biblical criticism, Hebrew Bible, Jewish studies, Torah

Russia’s Alliance with Hizballah Is Growing Stronger

Tehran’s ongoing cooperation with Moscow has recently garnered public attention because of the Kremlin’s use of Iranian arms against Ukraine, but it extends much further, including to the Islamic Republic’s Lebanese proxy, Hizballah. Aurora Ortega and Matthew Levitt explain:

Over the last few years, Russia has quietly extended its reach into Lebanon, seeking to cultivate cultural, economic, and military ties in Beirut as part of a strategy to expand Russian influence in the Middle East, while sidelining the U.S. and elevating Moscow’s role as a peacemaker.

Russia’s alliance with Hizballah was born out of the conflict in Syria, where Russian and Hizballah forces fought side-by-side in an alliance with the Assad regime. For years, this alliance appeared strictly limited to military activity in Syria, but in 2018, Hizballah and Russia began to engage in unprecedented joint sanctions-evasion activities. . . . In November 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury exposed a convoluted trade-based oil-smuggling sanctions-evasion scheme directed by Hizballah and [Iran].

The enhanced level of collaboration between Russia and Hizballah is not limited to sanctions evasion. In March 2021, Hizballah sent a delegation to Moscow, on its second-ever “diplomatic” visit to the country. Unlike its first visit a decade prior, which was enveloped in secrecy with no media exposure, this visit was well publicized. During their three days in Moscow, Hizballah representatives met with various Russian officials, including the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. . . . Just three months after this visit to Moscow, Hizballah received the Russian ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Rudakov in Beirut to discuss further collaboration on joint projects.

Read more at Royal United Services Institute

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Lebanon, Russia