Shepherds and Farmers
of Hebrew Scripture
By Yoram Hazony
Cambridge University Press, 286 pages
In the opening chapter of his new book, The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture, Yoram Hazony laments that “the Hebrew Bible remains a closed book for the overwhelming majority of educated men and women.” His lament is certainly deserved, particularly when it comes to American Jews. Their education in non-Jewish matters may be deep, but their overall knowledge of Jewish texts tends to be distressingly thin. For this population in particular, Hazony’s book provides an exciting, highly readable introduction to the tenach.
Hazony discusses two historical and eschatological legacies that have done a disservice to Hebrew Scripture and continue to alienate otherwise knowledgeable Americans from it. First was the Christian perspective of the “Old Testament,” which determined that the core of its divine message had to do with the witnessing of miraculous events—a focus that unfortunately accentuated the differences between reason and revelation, science and faith. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul declares that the Christian’s responsibility is to testify to the fact of Jesus’s resurrection. Once the New Testament established this focus, many readers of the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, could not help but read the latter in the same way as they read the former—as a text whose primary purpose is “to witness” God’s performance of miracles rather than God’s presentation of the law. That view of the purpose of divine texts had an impact on modern thinkers such as Immanuel Kant in the 18th century and Bertrand Russell in the 20th, who came to hold the Hebrew Bible in low regard because they viewed it through the Christian lens.
About the Author
Matt Abelson is a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary.