Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Levenson on the Bible as Story

Jon Levenson, writing in an excellent little book called Sinai and Zion:

[T]hose who come to the Hebrew Bible in hopes of finding a philosophical system flowing smoothly from a theorem will be disappointed. The religion of Israel was not a philosophical system; it had no such theorem. To be sure, every religion is the heritage of a particular community with a history of its own, and this element of history introduces a factor that frustrates the philosophical impulse in every religion. But in the relgion of the Hebrew Bible, the philosophical impulse, if it exists at all, is stunted....

Israel began to infer and to affirm her identity by telling a story. To be sure, the story has implications that can be stated as propositions. For example, the intended implication of the historical prologue [to the Sinai covenant] is that YHWH is faithful, that Israel can rely on God as a vassal must rely upon his suzerain*. But Israel does not begin with a statement that YHWH is faithful; she infers it from a story. And unlike the statement, the story is not universal. (pg. 39)

*see here for an explanation of "vassal" and "suzerain." YHWH is the covenant name of God, which Jews (like Levenson) do not pronounce.

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