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4.4 out of 5 stars

TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 February 2013
In his introduction, Hazony makes two major points. The first is that the history of philosophy as taught in the universities and in general text books, pays next to no attention to the philosophy of the Hebrew Bible: for them the history of philosophy begins with the Greeks and with Christianity. (Teaching, as I do, the philosophy of Biblical Judaism as part of my History of Philosophy course, I had been quite unconscious of this first point.) The second point is that, while they ignore the fact that early Greek philosophers like Parmenides, Empedocles and even Socrates claim that the philosophical positions they expounded were attained with the help of the gods, they dismiss as unworthy of philosophy any position in the Hebrew Bible that is attributed to a revelation by God. The distinction, let alone the clash, between Reason and Revelation, Hazony believes, simply did not exist before the Fathers of the Christian Church first adopted it, to be vigorously resumed by the Enlightenment as part of its denigration of Revelation.

In the rest of the book Hazony then shows the philosophy that is to be found in the Hebrew Bible. He writes that the many books that make up the Hebrew Bible as we now have it were collected, EDITED and then presented to us to make a coherent philosophical whole. The Redactor saw the historical books from Genesis to the Babylonian exile as central, and the books of the Prophets as a philosophical, political, ethical and, above all, critical commentary on especially the later parts of that history. There is further philosophical material in Psalms, Proverbs, Job and Kohelet (Ecclesiastes).

This does not mean that these philosophical commentaries have a single viewpoint or message - conflicting ones are presented to us as a challenge for our own philosophical thinking, their truth to be tested by experience and not (like the Virgin Birth, Resurrection, or the Trinity) laid down by credal formulations. God's wisdom is not contrary to the human wisdom resting on experience, but an extension of it.

The historical books present their own philosophical material. The narrative is often "instructional". For example, a careful study of five of the sons of Jacob can, by implication, tell us what does and does not contribute to good leadership. The repetition across the Bible of certain similar but not identical situations were intended to invite us to see common principles at work in them, which is again an exercise of philosophical meditation. The repetition of certain phrases is also designed to emphasize what the contexts in which they appear have in common.

The Hebrew Bible repeatedly makes the point that Abraham and his descendants will be a blessing to ALL by the nations of the world and a light to lighten the gentiles. That is because their values and their way of life - their philosophy, in short - has universal validity, and, because their ability to produce in practice the good life can be tested by experience, is capable of being perceived by all. (Hazony implies that obedience to the Mosaic Law can be justified because it has these good effects in practice. I can see that this is broadly true of the Ten Commandments - but not how it can be true of many of its remaining 603.)

When it comes to what values the Hebrew Bible actually promotes, Hazony believes that they are the values of freedom and independence, as characterized by "shepherds" like Abel (and also Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David) as opposed to those of "farmers" (like Cain), who are tied to the soil, to tradition, to obedience and - ingeniously - the urban life (Cain becomes the founder of Hanoch, the first city, Gen.4:17) - in other words the values prized by rulers of states and empires who, more often than not, will be the targets of the Prophets. Unlike the idea of surrounding states (and later of Plato and Aristotle) that it is the state in which man finds his fullest development, the ethos of the Hebrew Bible exalts the independent individual who does not hesitate to argue - successfully - even with God, as Abraham, Jacob (Israel, who "struggled against God and prevailed") and Moses sometimes do. The Bible recognizes that kingship is a necessary evil to prevent chaos, for God reluctantly accepts this (I.Sam. 8:22) and had even anticipated it in Deut.17:14-17; but it is made clear that this should be a limited and God-fearing monarchy, unlike the neighbouring ones in which the kings were treated as divine and ethically unaccountable. Alas, even the best of kings, like David, will have ethical failings for which they will be chastized by prophets.

Hazony devotes a long chapter to the Bible's support for "the Ethics of a Shepherd" - illustrating it with the stories of Cain and Abel, of Abraham and of Joseph. The chapter is closely argued but intensely controversial and has in fact resulted in a lengthy debate (and not just about this point) between Hazony and another scholar, Jon D. Levenson, in the pages of the Jewish Review of Books in 2012 and 2013. Hazony's chapter includes an explanation why God accepted the sacrifice of Abel but spurned that of Cain, and including also a radical take on the so-called Sacrifice of Isaac, which many readers will find hard to take.

In two chapters towards the end, Hazony discusses some rather technical differences - more of specialist than of general interest - between Biblical and Greek philosophy (How do we achieve knowledge of what is good? What is meant by saying that something is true?). There is also a technical appendix in which he explains what he means by Philosophy.

Many of the end notes - 80 pages on a text of 273 pages - are not just references, but are a really important part of the book. That is a little trying in a work which, though difficult in places, is written (and argued) with exemplary and attractive lucidity.
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on 15 July 2013
Yoram Hazony presents a compelling argument: the Hebrew Scripture can and should be read as a work of philosophical reason. He does not altogether dismiss the place of Scripture as a work of revelation (`miraculous knowledge'), however, he rightly challenges the historical claim that Scripture can only be read as revelation - a view taken up by the Church Fathers in Antiquity as a positive against philosophy, and then used by Enlightenment thinkers negatively against the church. The patristic reading of the Hebrew Bible is `an alien interpretive framework that prevents us from seeing much of what is in these texts', suppressing the Bible's appeal to reason (p. 3). The Hebrew Scriptures, however, predate the reason-revelation dichotomy by five hundred years, and are written in a unique language with a unique understanding of the world. Hazony believes the Hebrew Bible has been too long overlooked as a work worthy of philosophical worth, thus rendering it irrelevant for the purpose of study in schools and universities alike. However, it holds valuable insights that speak today to both Jew and Gentile.

In the introduction, `Beyond Reason and Revelation', Hazony illustrates how the great Greek philosophical texts often refer to the inspiration or revelation of deities (for example, Parmenides' goddess and Socrates' daemon). However, this does not preclude them from being considered great philosophical texts. Far from it, they are the bedrock, so if ancient Greek philosophy can accommodate divine revelation then why the objection to the Hebrew Scriptures?

`Part I: Reading Hebrew Scripture' consists of Chapter 2, `The Structure of the Hebrew Bible', Chapter 3, `What is the Purpose of the Hebrew Bible?' and Chapter 4, `How does the Bible Make Arguments of a General Nature?' Here, Hazony seeks to provide tools for reading the Scriptures as works of reason, and helps to clarify the structure of the Hebrew Scriptures, as distinct from Christian Bibles. He shows the cohesion between the historical narratives from Genesis to Kings (which constitute the larger and most significant part of the canon), and the Prophets and Writings, which to some extent add comment to the history. Unlike the New Testament, which Hazony argues was meant to serve as a witness or `testimony' to the events it documents, the Hebrew Scriptures - and particularly the History - was composed with the view of preserving the post-exilic community by seeking the `life and the good' of the individual and the nation, and moreover the nations. Indeed, Hazony is convinced that the philosophical arguments of the Hebrew Bible have `universal or general significance', despite the objection often raised that narratives are concerned with the particular rather than the general. He demonstrates how, for example, character typology is utilised in the narratives to establish arguments of a general nature.

In `Part II: The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture: Five Studies' Hazony devotes a chapter to `The Ethics of a Shepherd', where he characterises the biblical shepherd from Abel onwards as non-conformists who challenge the submissive obedience of their counterparts, the farmers (Cain, Noah, etc.). Shepherds hold what Hazony calls `outsider's ethics' and thereby seek the good even if that means challenging the state (or, seemingly, God). In `The History of Israel, Genesis-Kings: a Political Philosophy', Hazony presents a political philosophy from the Exodus, the period of the Judges and the establishment of the Kings, where the extremes of political tyranny and anarchy are both eschewed, and where a united, `limited state' (limited in military, territorial and economic ambition) is led by a ruler who is equal among his people. In `Jeremiah and the Problem of Knowing', Hazony deals with epistemology, opinion and falsity versus truth and experience. In `Truth and Being in Hebrew Scripture', Hazony explores the Hebrew words for truth (emet) and word/thing (davar), where truth is a quality of objects rather than statements. Thus, a thing or word is true if it is proved to be reliable or faithful, rather than a correspondence between a statement and an outside reality. Finally, in `Jerusalem and Carthage', Hazony revisits Tertullian's opposition between Jerusalem and Athens (representing faith and reason respectively), and argues that the distinction is false because Tertullian's Christianity represents a non-reasoning faith which cannot be found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Therefore, Carthage (Tertullian's home) ought to be pitched against Jerusalem rather than Athens, as Jerusalem has more in common with Athens than Tertullian ever conceived. Faith in the Hebrew Scriptures is belief in God's reliability and commitment, rather than to a prescribed catechism about God.

In `Part III: Conclusion', the closing chapter - `God's Speech After Reason and Revelation' - Hazony calls into question the whole reason-revelation debate, arguing that there is no modern consensus over what reason actually is because the medieval understanding of reason which frames one side of the dichotomy is untenable. Equally, revelation if understood in terms of the monistic view of the Hebrew Scriptures (where knowledge and truth occupy the same realm) challenges the Greek metaphysical view which frames the other side. It may require a new understanding of both sides, according to Hazony.

This is an excellent book, and I particularly enjoyed Part II with its five studies. I gained valuable insights through Hazony's philosophical reading of the narratives, especially with reference to the Patriarchs in Genesis. His distinction between the shepherd and the farmer is most compelling. Personally, I would have liked to have seen a distinction made between the New Testament and the patristic understanding of Christianity which has been imposed back onto it. I believe that many of Hazony's arguments hold true for much of the New Testament texts too, especially if they are read within a Hebrew context (for example, the continuity of the shepherd type in the Gospels and Epistles). I also gained from Part I with a fresh understanding of the integral structure and purpose of the Hebrew canon.

I have used this book as an introductory text with Liberal Arts undergraduates, in a module which seeks to read the Hebrew Scriptures philosophically. It has proved very helpful, and students have valued Hazony's attention to the contradiction with which Greek classics are accepted despite their unambiguous reference to divine revelation, while Hebrew texts are excluded. Highly recommended for academic and general interest in biblical, philosophical and theological study.
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VINE VOICEon 27 April 2013
If you're going to read theology/philosophy written by an academic, you've go to be careful. This book is just wonderful. I could read it on the train. I loved the interpretations of Jeremiah and Genesis. I loved the idea of a vulnerable God, who admires 'entrepreneurship'. When it goes on to philosophy rather than Scripture, it gets a bit less fun.

This is the kind of book that motivates me to go back to the texts and see them in a fresh light. The author is doing his bit to rehabilitate the Bible as one of the great sacred texts of civilisation - a practical self-help book above all.

There's a good video of Hazony discussing the book with the Chief Rabbi on You Tube.
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on 23 October 2014
A must for all thinking christians. First of all, because the author helps us demystify the Bible. By approaching it is as a book one can think about without necessarily stepping on sacred ground - because it is a book that has a lot to say about how we live, think and interact. The Bible is quite earthly.
Also, mr Hazony sheds new light on what are by many considered to be "familiar" Scriptures, but lets us discover new perspectives by his knowledge of Hebrew.
Easy to read, but profound in its insight.
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on 9 August 2013
Book tries to hard to describe the Hebrew Scriptures as a non-revelatory tract based on reason and almost natural law. Some good textual analysis but still fee there is a hidden agenda which makes an otherwise scholarly work fall flat!
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on 13 August 2013
This book is an exciting new look at the Hebrew Bible. It is full of new insights. The author often says "I could say more, but not now", so there is plenty of room to develop some of his ideas further.
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on 28 November 2012
Haven't yet finished reading but in terms of goods and services everything was excellent; the product was what I expected and in accordance with Kindle downloading services the book arrived immediately. Thank you
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