Politics names only one of the possible connecting points for theology and philosophy. To another we might well give the name religion, and by this we are to understand the questions that arise when approaching questions of ethics, epistemology, and being from a particular confessional tradition. Religion generally conveys the conception of deeply ingrained set of beliefs and mental practices that traverses the psyche of the individual to a much deeper level than that typically associated with politics. From a certain perspective these beliefs and practices are viewed as errant and illegitimate methods of knowing. Religion, then, becomes something opposed to the exercise of human reason and the texts associated with religion are rendered suspect. Particularly when the texts in question are portrayed as originating in a supernatural or revelatory manner.
Or so the story goes. In The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture Yoram Hazony makes the case that the reason/revelation dichotomy has been used to marginalize the Hebrew Bible and render it obscure to the modern reader. He identifies a typology that divides literature into the camps of reason and revelation, where reason is generally associated with philosophical texts written by people like Plato or Thomas Hobbes, while the Bible is firmly counted in the revelation camp as an example of a miraculous knowledge that is to be believed on faith alone. Hazony argues against this reading, arguing that it is a view of the Hebrew Bible forged by the early Christian readings of the texts as well as by anti-Semitic tendencies in the German Enlightenment that celebrated the advent of Greek thought and sought to exclude all things Jewish from the halls of learning. Noting that even Parmenides and Plato make appeals to gods and goddesses in their philosophies, he argues that the texts of the Hebrew Bible should not be banned as examples of the pursuit of human reason simply because they use phrases like “the Lord said.” Hazony then goes on to outline how one might approach the Hebrew Bible as a work of reason, and draws out an ethics, political philosophy, and epistemology from its texts.
The result is an intriguing and at times insightful book. Hazony provides a good overview of the three major divisions of the Hebrew Bible into the History of Israel, the Orations of the Prophets, and Writings. This is a fairly standard way of dividing the works of the Hebrew Scriptures according to major genre or literary traditions. Hazony`s main novelty is to place the central focus on the History, rather than the Torah, as a continuous narrative which opens up “a space in which a certain discourse arises, and a search for truth that is, in effect, unending.“(65) This certain discourse, which is then understood to be written across the face of the Hebrew Bible, is essentially philosophy; Hazony argues that the biblical authors are “concerned to advance arguments of a universal or general significance.t(23)
Hazony adeptly traverses the biblical narrative, drawing on its typologies and parallels to produce a cohesive and close-knit reading of the text. The ethics of the bible is the ethics of the shepherd, a freedom-loving and at time rebellious figure, who stands in opposition to the pious farmer. This typology is cast first with the story of Cain and Abel, where Cain is supposed to represent the piety of the grain-keeping nations like Babylonia and Abel is the figure of dissent whose echo can be read across the History in the stories of Abraham, Jacob, and all the stories of “dissent and disobedience that give use the courage to wrestle with man and with God where we must.”(139)
There is certainly something intriguing about this reading, which recaptures a sense of the heroic, of tempering obedience to the law with reason and courage. Hazony’s attention to the literary cohesion of the biblical corpus is exquisite, his attention to the historical context in which it arose less so. The simple dichotomy between shepherd and farmer does not provide an accurate picture of the socio-economic realities of the Ancient Near East, and reading too much into this typology may be to cast the concerns of the modern imagination back into the text. Hazony, who is quite skeptical of most of the efforts of historical criticism, intends to read the Bible as a completed literary work. In this case, one could well imagine, that the mythic past of simpler economic times already informed the contemporary imagination, thus providing the biblical philosopher with a framework within which to advance his arguments.