Why the Hebrew Bible Belongs in Philosophy Courses

June 21 2021

Thanks to faddish objections to “Eurocentrism,” university philosophy departments have increasingly sought to look beyond ancient Greece and Rome—and Western Europe—to study the philosophical traditions of India, East Asia, and elsewhere. “Good for them,” writes Dru Johnson. But, he adds, this broadening of horizons should also include the great thinkers of the ancient Near East:

Why hasn’t the Bible been included in the mix? First, many would cite the well-rehearsed reason/revelation divide. The Bible reveals. Philosophy reasons. [But] the Jewish philosopher Yoram Hazony has argued that this divide doesn’t do justice to Greek philosophy, where Parmenides, Empedocles, Heraclitus, and even Socrates are guided by the gods in the development of their thinking. Reason met revelation in Greece too.

Second, some might say that narrative, poetry, and law are not the genres of philosophical discourse. Since the Hebrew literary tradition consists almost entirely of these, it’s not philosophy. Yet, we find a robust and broadly inclusive list of literary forms taught as rigorous philosophy today: dialogues [Plato], allegories (Frank Jackson’s “What Mary Didn’t Know”), meditations (Descartes), journal entries (Marcus Aurelius), personal reflections (Camus), aphorisms (Cicero), and novellas (Nietzsche), to name but a few. This literary pluralism could hardly exclude narrative, poetry, or legal treatise.

Third, some will worry that it’s the religionists who want their Scriptures, which are presumed to be antithetical to reason, taught as philosophy. This objection has its eye on the back door, sure to keep religion from sneaking into the tent of philosophy. But it’s not just the current religionists who want to see the Hebrew Bible’s inclusion as philosophy. Atheist biblical scholars, such as Jaco Gericke, would argue for its inclusion just as the atheist Oxford historian, Tom Holland, had to revisit his own faulty assumptions about the influence of the biblical intellectual tradition on us today.

For a spirited and in-depth discussion of whether the Tanakh should be considered a work of philosophy, see here and here.

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Read more at Fifteen Eighty-Four

More about: Hebrew Bible, Jewish Philosophy, Philosophy, University

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy