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The Hebrew Bible and Philosophy of Religion

The Hebrew Bible and Philosophy of Religion

Jaco Gericke
  • Book Info
    The Hebrew Bible and Philosophy of Religion
    Book Description:

    This study pioneers the use of philosophy of religion in the study of the Hebrew Bible. After identifying the need for a legitimate philosophical approach to Israelite religion, the volume traces the history of interdisciplinary relations and shows how descriptive varieties of philosophy of religion can aid the clarification of the Hebrew Bible’s own metaphysical, epistemological, and moral assumptions. Two new interpretative methodologies are developed and subsequently applied through an introduction to what the biblical texts took for granted about the nature of religious language, the concept of deity, the properties of Yhwh, the existence of gods, religious epistemology, and the relation between religion and morality.

    eISBN: 978-1-58983-708-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  2. Preface
    (pp. vii-ix)
    Jaco Gericke
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. x-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Part 1

    • 1 A Philosophical Approach to Ancient Israelite Religion
      (pp. 3-14)

      Interdisciplinary research in the study of the Hebrew Bible is nothing novel.² In fact, it is impossible to do any other kind. All forms of biblical criticism have recourse to at least one auxiliary subject, be it linguistics, literary criticism, history, archaeology, anthropology, sociology, psychology, theology, philosophy, or another. In a pluralist hermeneutical context where different methodologies offer different insights, none of these auxiliary fields can lay claim to be the handmaid of biblical interpretation. All are equally useful aids in their own right, depending on what one wants to achieve in the reading of the text. The only essence...

    • 2 Philosophical Approaches to the Study of Religion
      (pp. 15-40)

      Most Hebrew Bible scholars lack expert knowledge of philosophy of religion. Consequently, this chapter offers a basic introductory metaphilosophical overview of that subject in order to set the scene for the discussion to follow. For let us suppose that the agenda of Hebrew Bible interpretation is essentially historical and descriptive. Whether there can be a hermeneutically justified philosophical approach to ancient Israelite religion within biblical scholarship at all will depend on what we understand under the concept of “philosophy of religion” itself. And here lies the catch, if only because the meaning and use of every term of the concept...

    • 3 Philosophy of Religion and Hebrew Bible Interpretation: A Brief History of Interdisciplinary Relations
      (pp. 41-80)

      Many histories of biblical interpretation discuss general philosophical influences on prominent biblical scholars.³ Conspicuously absent from these types of overview, however, is a discussion exclusively devoted to a historical account of the relationship between Hebrew Bible interpretation and philosophy of religion. When present in biblical-theological assessments at all, references to the philosophy of religion are few and far between.⁴ In view of this gap in the research, this chapter seeks to offer a cursory introduction to traces of philosophy of religion within Hebrew Bible interpretation.

      In view of the conceptual complexities in writing a unitary history (given the intertwining of...

    • 4 The Hebrew Bible in Philosophy of Religion
      (pp. 81-114)

      In this chapter we pick up the story from the parting of the ways late in the eighteenth century. The plot represents an inversion of the scenario sketched in the previous chapter: our concern lies not with the way philosophy of religion has featured in Hebrew Bible studies, but with how the Hebrew Bible has featured in modern philosophy of religion. Once more it is beyond the scope of the discussion to provide a thorough treatment and evaluation of everything that could be said on the Hebrew Bible in philosophy of religion. It is impossible to note everything philosophers of...

    • 5 Descriptive Currents in Philosophy of Religion for Hebrew Bible Studies
      (pp. 115-154)

      Biblical scholarship is for the most part a historical and descriptive enterprise. Stereotypically, philosophy is thought to be evaluative. However, descriptive varieties of philosophy of religion do exist and some of their methods can be used for the clarification of concepts, beliefs, and practices in ancient nonphilosophical religions. In other words, there are subcurrents on both sides of the analytic-Continental divide that, when adopted and adapted through a shrewd bit of “theological engineering,” offer the biblical scholar hermeneutically legitimate forms of philosophical analysis. In this chapter we take a closer look at those philosophical traditions.

      Descriptive or elucidative philosophy is...

    • 6 Possible Analogies for a Philosophy of Ancient Israelite Religion
      (pp. 155-198)

      In the previous chapter we looked at three descriptive philosophical currents that offer tools for the clarifying of concepts, beliefs, and practices in religion. The objective was to get biblical scholars’ heads around the idea that we engage in descriptive philosophy of religion that limits itself to the elucidation of meaning. Now we go one step further than theorizing about a philosophical perspective on Israelite religion (the objective genitive) by imagining the presence of philosophical assumptions in Israelite religion (the subjective genitive). In order to do this we shall be broadening the very concept of “philosophy” via possible analogies to...

    • 7 Philosophical Criticism as Biblical Criticism
      (pp. 199-222)

      In this chapter I shall attempt to show how currents in descriptive philosophy of religion can be combined and adapted to create a form of philosophical exegesis that can be employed fruitfully as a new type of biblical criticism. In doing so I hope to offer what could become an independent and officially recognized form of textual interpretation that supplements already extant linguistic, historical, literary, and social-scientific perspectives. Bringing together insights from previous chapters, the new interpretative methodology aims to be both philosophical and historical and, because it has as its focus the clarification of meaning only, to bring to...

    • 8 Toward a Descriptive Philosophy of Ancient Israelite Religion
      (pp. 223-240)

      In traditional interpretations of the Hebrew Bible, a distinction is usually made between involving auxiliary disciplines on the level of exegesis versus involving them in a larger-scale approach:

      In this chapter we make the following distinction:

      Philosophical criticism as discussed in the previous chapter is therefore the precursor to what I discuss in this chapter as the philosophy of Israelite religion. By this latter concept I mean the philosophical clarification of larger clusters of folk philosophies of religion (plural) in books, sources, traditions, and redactions within the Hebrew Bible. We are no longer simply doing exegesis of a particular passage;...

  6. Part 2

    • 9 The Nature of Religious Language in the Hebrew Bible
      (pp. 243-258)

      The words “religious language” (henceforth RL) do not occur in the Hebrew Bible. In philosophy of religion, the concept refers to statements or claims made about divine beings. In that sense the RL of the Hebrew Bible denotes the god-talk of ancient Israelite religion. Most approaches to biblical god-talk in contemporary philosophy of religion have tended to be evaluative, either trying to make biblical god-talk seem philosophically credible or attempting to prove it nonsensical. Few philosophical inquiries are actually interested in the provisioning of a purely descriptive analysis of the RL of the Hebrew Bible for its own sake. This...

    • 10 The Concept of Generic Godhood in the Hebrew Bible
      (pp. 259-292)

      In the Hebrew Bible there is a phenomenon that, for want of a better word, was called an אל. But what is an אל? Interestingly, purely in terms of grammatical form, this question is not only linguistic, historical, literary, sociological, psychological, anthropological or theological in nature. Questions that take the form “What is X?” (where X is a concept, as in “What is knowledge?”/“What is justice?”/“What is a person?”/“What is an אל?”) are also typical of philosophy (conceptual analysis) in general and of philosophy of religion in particular.

      The question “What is God?”’ is sometimes also phrased as “What is...

    • 11 Yhwh—A Philosophical Perspective
      (pp. 293-342)

      In the previous chapter we looked at the concept of generic divinity in the Hebrew Bible. In this chapter, our concern lies with the Hebrew Bible’s conceptions of absolute Godhood, that is, with a descriptive philosophical theology aimed at clarifying textual representations of the God Yhwh.

      Commenting on previous related research, James Barr once stated, “Most biblical scholars have no time for the philosophical theologian’s, ‘It depends on what you mean by “God.” ’ ” ³As we saw in the previous chapter, one biblical theologian who apparently made time was Rolf P. Knierim, when he wrote that “one of the...

    • 12 Natural A/theologies in Ancient Israel
      (pp. 343-370)

      In biblical theology, it is commonplace to suggest that the Hebrew Bible does not attempt to argue for or prove the existence of Yhwh.² Scholarly literature on the subject simply points to the biblical dictum that only fools doubt Yhwh’s reality and insists that the nature of “atheism” in ancient Israel was at best practical, not theoretical (e.g., Ps 10:4; 14:1; 53:1; Zeph 1:12). The following example may be taken as typical:

      The thought of the Old Testament is centred in God. Yet it is nowhere attempted to prove God exists. For the God of the Old Testament is the...

    • 13 Epistemologies in Ancient Israelite Religion
      (pp. 371-404)

      Purely descriptive epistemological perspectives on ancient Israelite religion as encountered in the pluralist and dynamic traditions of the Hebrew Bible are rare.² To the extent that epistemology is a concern in biblical scholarship, the focus is on hermeneutics and metacommentary.³ The interest typically lies with the epistemological assumptions of the readers of the Hebrew Bible, rather than with those implicit in the worlds in the texts themselves.⁴ Exceptions exist, of course, particularly with reference to the study of wisdom literature⁵ and with regard to research on the concept of revelation in ancient Israelite religion. In this regard it is noticeable...

    • 14 Religion and Morality in Ancient Israel
      (pp. 405-446)

      The word “ethics” does not appear in biblical Hebrew. Of course, this does not mean that there were no assumptions about the nature of morality in ancient Israel. This fact has been recognized, yet up to now, scholarly discussions on ethics in the Hebrew Bible have been primarily concerned with what philosophers call substantive theories of morality. These include descriptive ethics, which provides a supposedly unbiased account of the Hebrew Bible’s moral beliefs; and normative ethics, which classifies the contents of moral beliefs in the Hebrew Bible via ethical theory and discerning the intricate operations of its applied ethics in...

    • 15 Summary and Conclusion
      (pp. 447-452)

      The foregoing provocative romp through everything hitherto forbidden in the study of ancient Israelite religion barely touched the tip of the iceberg. There is a whole new world below this point, one that we have only begun to explore. There are more than enough issues of interest to keep those with an affinity for things philosophical busy for the remainder of their scholarly careers. Those who do follow this road will never again have to worry about new ideas for research when there is so much waiting to be done in countless unexplored realms under, inside, and above the worlds...

  7. Bibliography
    (pp. 453-486)
  8. Index of Biblical References
    (pp. 487-488)
  9. Index of Modern Authors
    (pp. 489-496)
  10. Index of Subjects
    (pp. 497-500)