Philosophical Investigation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Talmud and Midrash

July 23, 2012 - July 26, 2012
Institute for Advanced Studies, Shalem Center

Konrad Adenauer Conference Center
Mishkenot Sha’ananim
Jerusalem
Israel

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Keynote speakers:

Dan Baras
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Ari Barbalat
University of California, Los Angeles
Joshua Berman
Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan
Tony Biondi
Winchester University
James Diamond
University of Waterloo
Michael Dormandy
Oxford University
University of Innsbruck
Michael Fishbane
University of Chicago
Kenneth Green
University of Toronto
Hannah Hashkes
Shalem Center
Yoram Hazony
Shalem Center
Jacob Howland
University of Tulsa
Jonathan Jacobs
John Jay College
Dru Johnson
King's College
Steven Kepnes
Colgate University
David Lambert
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
David Lemler
École Pratique des Hautes Études
Berel Dov Lerner
Western Galilee College
Western Galilee College
Yitzhak Lifshitz
Shalem Center
Katherine Munn
Oxford University
Meir Simchah Panzer
Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan
Theodore Perry
Boston College
Moshe Shoshan
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Benjamin Sommer
Jewish Theological Seminary
Eleonore Stump
Saint Louis University
Shmuel Trigano
University of Paris X-Nanterre
Roslyn Weiss
Lehigh University

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The Hebrew Bible occupies an anomalous position on the contemporary academic landscape. The field of biblical studies produces a steady stream of works on the compositional history, philology, and literary character of the biblical texts. But the ideasthat find expression in the Hebrew Scriptures—the metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and political philosophy of the biblical authors—have seldom been explored by the field of biblical studies in a systematic fashion. At the same time, philosophers, political theorists, and historians of ideas, who see the study of ideas as the principal interest of their work, tend to assume that the biblical texts fall outside the scope of their disciplines. The result is that despite general agreement that the Bible has had an unparalleled significance in the history of the West, its ideas have remained, until recently, largely beyond the reach of sustained academic investigation.

Much the same can be said about the other classical Jewish sources as well: The Talmud and Midrash seem frequently to explore subjects of intrinsic philosophical interest. Yet these texts remain all but unknown to philosophers, political theorists, and historians of ideas.

The ongoing neglect of the Hebrew Bible, Talmud, and Midrash by philosophers is especially striking given the rapidly growing interest in theological questions in philosophy departments throughout the English-speaking world. Over the last generation, Christian philosophers have labored successfully to introduce “philosophical theology” (or, more recently, “analytic theology”) into philosophy departments at leading universities. In keeping with longstanding Christian philosophical tradition, this discipline has focused on a priori argumentation concerning the concept of God as “perfect being,” and has usually been conducted with little reference to the Bible. As a consequence, philosophical theology has until now continued the larger pattern of academic neglect of the ideas of the Hebrew Scriptures and other Jewish sources. This has also meant that philosophical theology has been of only very limited relevance to Jews, whose tradition of philosophical and theological speculation is largely text-based.

This is unfortunate because philosophy as a discipline could contribute much to the elucidation of the Hebrew Scriptures and classical rabbinic texts. The law-oriented emphasis of much traditional rabbinic exegesis has meant that these texts have not usually been investigated using philosophical tools and with an eye for philosophical questions. So we can ask what do philosophical questions and the answers that have been given until now teach us about the Bible and Talmud? What, for example, does the nature of the mind or language, reality or morals, as understood by philosophers, have to offer us in enhancing or extending the insights from these traditional sources?     

In Fall 2010, the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, with the generous support of the John Templeton Foundation, launched an initiative aimed at developing a Jewish “philosophical theology” that will seek to advance the study of the ideas of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Talmud and Midrash in the academic setting. This initiative is part of a broader “Analytic Theology” project of the Templeton Foundation, which will also support Christian centers for philosophical theology at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Innsbruck, Austria. The Jewish component of the project envisions the development of a uniquely Jewish discipline that will use philosophical tools and methods for examining classical Jewish sources. The project is open to Jewish and non-Jewish scholars interested in the philosophical elucidation of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Talmud and Midrash.

The conference will be held in English.

For further inquiries and information please see our website or e-mail Rachel Heimowitz at rachelh@shalem.org.il.

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July 23, 2012, 10:00am IST

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