THE VIEW THAT ATHENS AND JERUSALEM represent two very different and antagonistic sources of Western civilization has long been a feature of the Western tradition. It dates back at least to Tertullian’s passionate second-century polemic against Greek philosophy. Those Enlightenment thinkers who preferred Greek reason to Hebrew revelation confirmed it resoundingly. And again just over a century ago, again from the side of Athens, the culture critic Matthew Arnold boiled down his civilization to two fundamental forces:
And to give these forces names from the two races of men who have supplied the most signal and splendid manifestations of them, we may call them respectively the forces of Hebraism and Hellenism. Hebraism and Hellenism, – between these two points of influence moves our world.
Today as well — arguably to the greatest extent since the Enlightenment — the camps of religion and culture view each other with a deepening mutual distrust.It is no trivial matter then to deny the necessity of this antagonism, to claim that it is based on a tragic misunderstanding, and to suggest moreover that our culture’s health depends on overcoming it. An ambitious new work by the Biblical scholar and philosopher Dr. Yoram Hazony, The Philosophy of the Hebrew Scripture, makes this point audaciously, and would deserve consideration even if it achieved nothing more. In fact, perusing the footnotes, one discovers that almost every claim is precisely situated within the labyrinthine debates of contemporary scholarship. But it’s the invisibility of its erudition and the unabashed scope of its argument that gives the book its appeal.