Yoram Hazony, Dru Johnson, and Ryan O’Dowd will be presenting a panel titled “‘Hebrew Bible and Philosophy’ as an Emerging Field” at Harvard Divinity School (October 24–25, 2014). The “Ways of Knowing” conference is specifically targeted at Ph.D. students and early career scholars. The panel will consist of three papers and a time of response.
Yoram Hazony, “Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture as a Field of Study”
For nearly twenty centuries, most readers of the Hebrew Bible have assumed that its authors intended it to be a work of “revelation” and not “reason”—that is, as a work of miraculous provenance providing knowledge by means of authoritative pronouncements. But it is uncertain that the biblical authors thought of these texts in this way. Recent scholarship has argued that much of what biblical narrative and poetry does was intended to advance recognizable arguments of a general nature on subjects such ethics, political theory, theory of knowledge, and metaphysics. This means that whatever their status as works of revelation, the Bible also consists of works of reason that engage questions generally regarded as “philosophy.” At times, biblical philosophy offers answers to these questions that are of more than historical interest. Reading Hebrew Scripture as philosophy thus has implications both in and beyond academia: It impacts the way disciplines such as philosophy, political theory, and intellectual history are both taught and studied. It also raises important questions for theology, potentially challenging traditional theological categories and re-opening the question of what message the Hebrew prophets and scholars who composed the Bible sought to convey concerning both God and man.
Dru Johnson, “Methodological and Sociological Barriers to the Philosophical Study of Hebrew Bible”
In this brief paper, I will sketch out the variety of approaches employed in the last decades in attempting to describe the Tanakh’s philosophical approach. Special attention will be given to methods investigating ways of knowing in a text or corpus of the Hebrew Bible. First, an initial methodological problem is broached by the Hebrew-Greek mind debates of the last century, where scholars argued that access to the mentality of biblical authors was most likely off-limits to us. That view has largely been overlooked after James Barr’s devastating critique of its faulty linguistic assumptions. Second, even if one agrees that we have a shared mentality with the biblical authors, the Tanakh is not a philosophical treatise in the ways to which the West has become accustomed. By what criteria can we utilize rhetorical and literary analysis to understand the philosophy offered or presumed in the Hebrew Bible? Even more problematic: Is there a consonant view of knowledge maintained by different biblical authors? Or, as Michael Carasik suggests, are there multiple theories of knowledge at work across these variegated texts? Socially, the academic realm has often been critical of attempts to understand Scripture philosophically. Philosophers typically do not understand narrative and poetry as forms of argument or speculative reasoning. Biblical scholars have also resisted the notion of continuity in thinking across the canon, even if they can see stripes of philosophical engagement in segments of the Tanakh. The challenges to studying the Hebrew Bible philosophically loom largely. In Ryan O’Dowd’s paper, we hope to show a few successful examples of such research and why they avoid some of the objections posed above.
Ryan O’Dowd, “Examples of Success: New Research in Hebrew Bible and Philosophy”
Other members of this panel will respond to commonly held objections to reading the Hebrew Bible from a philosophical perspective. This paper seeks to outline the broad range of research that has emerged in this interdisciplinary area in recent decades. The studies reviewed in turn reveal gaps and questions that call for yet further analysis. The main body of the paper examines two very different projects. The first, a Genesis commentary by Leon Kass of the University of Chicago, approaches philosophy not as “some specialized academic subject matter…practiced by card-carrying professional philosophers,” but as “the love and pursuit of wisdom.” Such wisdom “seek[s] to discover the truth about the world and our place in it.” On the other hand, Eleonore Stump of Saint Louis University—a “card-carrying” analytic philosopher— draws creatively on analytical and continental philosophy as complementary perspectives for exploring suffering and desire in the lives of four biblical characters: Job, Samson, Abraham, and Mary of Bethany. Professors Kass and Stump exemplify marks of success and provide relative endpoints on a vast new horizon of biblical research.