Kalev’s Anti-Blog: Strauss on the Bible

By Kalev Pehme

Leo Strauss has the uncanny ability to make the unorthodox seem orthodox. In his treasure-trove of an essay, “Jerusalem and Athens,” Strauss provides us with one of the strangest examinations of the Bible, but he makes it seem completely normal. First, Strauss does not consider the Bible history, in the modern sense of the word or even in the ancient sense. He likens the Bible to “memories of ancient histories,” adopting the atheist Machiavelli’s term in the Discourses. Machiavelli uses it in the following way: “Infinite examples read in the memories of ancient histories demonstrate how much difficulty there is for a people used to living under a prince to preserve its freedom afterward, if by some accident it acquires it, as Rome acquired it after the expulsion of the Tarquins.” “Memories of ancient histories” may mean that there are memories within ancient histories or it may mean that there are memories of ancient histories with an implication that these histories may not be around any more.

When Strauss clarifies he writes: “Let us grant that the Bible and in particular the Torah consists to a considerable extent of ‘memories of ancient histories,’ even of memories of memories; but memories of memories are not necessarily distorting of pale reflections of the original; they may be re-collections or re-collections, deepenings through the meditation of the primary experiences.” Strauss knows, of course, that memory and recollection are two different things. A memory is about the past and something that has happened in the past. As Aristotle teaches, a memory is like a persistent image or picture of something that happened. In memory, we often attempt to re-experience what happened in the past. Recollection, however, is an active search for knowledge, and often that search is for something that one has not experienced or known and hence is not a memory at all. In Plato’s Republic, in the example of the divided line, the lowest section belongs to the natural images of the world that are illuminated by the Sun. An image is not the same thing as the original. Memories contain such images and these images are not what they are of.

The double-character of the image also admits to human examination with our perceptions and that examination ultimately makes us see not only various attributes about things, but to see contradictions in the relations between things, as well as what their numbers are. Our thinking leads to looking for and discovering an order that comprehends the contradictions. Our thinking also creates images that aid in our remembrance of what we have learned. We interpret what we learn and image them and we trust or have faith in these images in the same way that we trust or have faith in the images of the natural world we see, for example, reflected in a puddle of water. In recollection, we attempt ultimately to relate the visible to the invisible in a way that enables us to see what is image and what is the original. In the end, ultimately we recollect knowledge that we already had and forgot, so to speak, because what is intelligible and what can be known is the very divine mind to which our souls in their individuality must acquire or recollect. Recollection, unlike memory, is an act of the soul that shares in that divine mind and is a part of our timeless immortality.

Moreover, Strauss does something cagey as well. He uses the hyphenated re-collection that gives a sense of collecting pieces again. This view adumbrates Strauss’s later and very radical statement: “The Bible on the other hand is not a book. The utmost one could say is that it is a collection of books. But are all parts of that collection books? Is in particular the Torah a book? Is it not rather the work of an unknown compiler or of unknown compilers who wove together writings and oral traditions of unknown origin? Is this not the reason why the Bible can contain fossils [like the references to other gods] that are at variance even with its fundamental teaching regarding God?” The basic reality, Strauss tells us, is that the Bible has notable contradictions, because of the original compilers were so pious that they could not rationalize the works that they compiled.

This astonishing notion flies in the face of the obvious, i.e., that Moses wrote the Torah, including the part where he writes about his death. There is only one Moses, and he is not a compiler. Moreover, Strauss also goes beyond the usual view of the Bible. Strauss denies that the Bible is miraculous or even to the point of denying that there are any real miracles in the Bible. He does so not in an anti-theological way, but because a miracle “presupposes that of nature and the concept of nature of foreign to the Bible.” There is no nature in the Bible. The great Greek philosopher Herodotus was the first man to examine in detail the difference between nature and convention. The Bible does not make that distinction. Moreover, Strauss tells us that the Bible contains no poetry, because the very character of poetry as it was understood in ancient time and modern times is alien to the Bible. We cannot read the Bible as if it were simply poetry, even the Psalms are songs.

Yet, the Bible is primarily “memories of ancient histories,” and because memory is always of a particular original things and preserved in the mind we have to assume that the Bible is either a remembrance that there were ancient histories or the content of these ancient histories/ But, at the same time, the Bible itself is not history, not poetry, and does not have a single author or editor. But the Bible is full of tales. Strauss, however, reads the Genesis as if it were a single book with a single writer. “‘In the beginning God created heaven and earth.’ Who says this? We are not told; hence we do not know. Does it make no difference who says it? This would be a philosopher’s reason; is it also the biblical reason? We are not told; hence we do not know. We have no right to assume that God said it, for the Bible introduces God’s saying with expressions like ‘God said.’ We shall then assume that the words were spoken by a nameless man.”

But underlying this problem is something that Strauss doesn’t say openly. Strauss asks, “Who says this?” He doesn’t say, “Who writes this?” Incorporeal beings like angels and god himself cannot speak as human beings do. We speak through a physical medium, a throat, voice box, and so on. We communicate to express our thoughts, volition, and emotions\, and we use symbols, moreover, to do so. Proceeding like Aristotle, we can say that a word, like a physical reality, has matter and a form. The word is a symbol whose matter is a sensible sign, and its matter is imposed on it by convention. By understanding word and its nature, we see that the word imitates all of reality that is constituted of matter and form. The matter of language are both the sounds and the alphabet we use; the form of the language is meaning and we can distinguish in language what is essence and what is particular and individual. If we accept the notion of recollection as Plato understands it, and we accept that although language is conventional and particular, but is yet connected to the whole of things are both physical and noetic, then it is true that we can, in truth, know the whole of things, the position that Athens takes with respect against Jerusalem.

Both the Bible and the philosophers make a claim to wisdom, Strauss says, but the claim of the Bible comes from compiled “memories of ancient histories” which include the notion that the god in question can speak, say things. How man communicates with god of necessity be on another level than human language, perhaps in the way Moses comes face to face with the faceless god. Strauss goes through a number of other interpretations of the creation and his analysis culminates in the notion that man is the peak of creation. Man is made in god’s image, and then Strauss says something exceptionally telling: “Bisexuality is not a preserve of man; but only man’s bisexuality could give rise to the view there are gods and goddesses: there is no biblical word for ‘goddess.’ Hence creation is not begetting.”

Here, Strauss carefully walks around the problem but points to it. What is the human form? A man who is both man and woman (not a hermaphrodite) does not exist in nature. The question then goes to the obvious problem. The bisexual man is an “idea.” But, then, we have to ask whether there is an idea of man. The idea of man we frequently get is a cosmic man, an Adam Kadmon, for example. Another example is the highly comic circle men in Aristophanes’s speech in the Symposium. In other words, the original man, the original Adam, is not a man. Our human shape is a completely individual thing and it is corporeal. The Adam that is created technically speaking cannot have a body. As soon as we speak of a man or a woman, we are speaking of something that is not an idea, but individual human corporeal beings. Moreover, Adam cannot be a sexual being, even though he has both sexes. We can see this line of thinking between the lines here, because Strauss does not make it explicit, but draws our attention to creation and begetting. To do what the Bible does, then, here is to make something noetic that is not noetic. If such a pattern and dynamic exists in the Bible, then we might have to draw the conclusion that the Bible rejects, that there are other gods. If man can be transformed into an idea, then, of course, it is possible for to create other noetic beings such as gods and goddesses. And this noetic man is made in god’s noetic image.

This entire argument is critical, because of what Strauss says later on in the essay about Plato’s theology. It is almost a throw-away line where Plato’s discussion of the education of the philosophers in the Republic “theology is replaced by the doctrine of the ideas.”

The conventional view of Plato (which is wrong) is that there are ideas for things in some kind of separate realm of ideas which we access. Some people still believe that there is a cosmic bed of which all other beds are just particulars. The actual doctrine of the ideas is the Platonic critique of that very notion. Yes, there are noetic things and a noetic cosmos; however, not everything in the universe has an idea hidden up in some kind of heaven. In part, Strauss is re-enforcing the view that Jerusalem is actually a discovery of Plato and that Jerusalem is a part of Athens where people believe in the ideas and morality instead of philosophy.

The kind of man Adam is, moreover, important for that part of Jerusalem that is morality. Following an argument that can be found in Maimonides’s Guide for the Perplexed, essentially, the argument presupposes that Adam (and Eve),now corporeal beings, fell because of a desire to be like god. In eating of the tree Adam and Eve acquire the knowledge of good and evil. But this knowledge is not the knowledge that Adam could have, i.e., the knowledge of what is correct and incorrect, true and false. Man fall is into morality, of world of good and evil, the true realm of god who later gives Abraham’s descendants the land of Canaan and the means to conquer it. It is the political world.

According to Strauss, the character of the god of Genesis and Exodus is “unfathomable” and he uses that epithet twice for god and the fall of man is part of that mystery. He notes later, “For almost all purposes the word of God as revealed to His prophets and especially to Moses became the source of knowledge of good and evil, the true tree of knowledge which is at the same time the tree of life.” Of course, if there is a tree of life, then we are all growing on it. God is unfathomable because of Strauss’s translation of god’s name, “I shall be What I shall be.” It seems to have a metaphysical cast, this name of god, “we hesitate to call it metaphysical, since the notion of physis is alien to the Bible.” Strauss draws out attention that the Bible is not a metaphysical text, which would mean that it would have to be reasonable. Metaphysics is the sacred science where man investigates the whole of things and how it hangs together, what the nature of things are, and ultimately provides man freedom and comprehensive knowledge. In effect, there is nothing unfathomable and everything can be questioned and must be questioned in metaphysics. The Bible is not a book of physics or metaphysics; it is not even a book. A metaphysical god like that of Aristotle is pure thought thinking itself, and that god is beyond good and evil and who doesn’t create the world, but is only the source and end of all motion and everything in the world including man is a slice of his thought. This god is knowable. The god of the Ten Commandments and all morality is not knowable and shall be what he shall be. That is what we learn from “memories of ancient histories.”

About Kalev Pehme

I am an icastic artist and a Straussian. I am not a conservative or neocon Straussian. Sadly, there are too many of them. My interests are diverse, however, and sometimes quite arcane. I have a deep interest in Daoism, Indo-Aryan religion, Buddhism, Plato, Aristotle, and whole lot more. I love good poetry. I also enjoy all things ancient. And I would like to meet any woman who is born on May 29, 1985.
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24 Responses to Kalev’s Anti-Blog: Strauss on the Bible

  1. thag says:

    “He doesn’t say, ‘Who writes this?’ Incorporeal beings like angels and god himself cannot speak as human beings do.”

    Not understanding this. Part of the puzzle is that God’s speech is introduced as such. So the mystery doesn’t lie in that God can’t speak like human beings do – he does, explicitly, according to the Bible.

    I do very much like the rest of your essay, though. Some really nice points. I just didn’t follow you on that one note…

  2. thag says:

    I was also wondering what you might have to say about Strauss bringing up the Preface to Beyond Good and Evil, specifically: “Truth is *not* a woman…”

    Nietzsche: “Supposing that truth is a woman…”

  3. icastes says:

    If truth is a woman, then, of course, god is not pure mind and not wise.

    The question of speech is one of the great contradictions about god. To eliminate idolatry would seem to require that god doesn’t speak like a man. Yet, explicitly god speaks like a man. There is no way to resolve this contradiction and thus the pious simply chalk it up to being a mystery.

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  5. Will Altman says:

    I think you should know that your claims about Strauss’s ability to make the unorthodox sound orthodox–indeed the claims you make about Strauss in this essay as a whole–are entirely consistent with the claims I make in my book. The place where I would object to your analysis is the same place that I object to Strauss’s: the Ideas of Plato. While the “Idea of Bed” is subject to criticism in the dialogues, “The Idea of the Good” is not. Meanwhile, Plato entrusts an account of the “noetic cosmos” to Timaeus and the Athenian Stranger, not to Socrates. As is the case with Strauss, your anti-theological passion causes you to misread Plato, i.e. to read him in opposition to “Jerusalem.” But unlike Strauss, you do not (it seems to me) take the terrible step that I discuss in my book, a step predicated on the insight that the only way for “philosophy” to overcome “Jerusalem” is to use “Jerusalem” against itself. The difference then, is that Strauss takes considerable pains to make unorthodoxy sound religious while you do not. And that’s why YOU are not the principal theoretician of National Socialism and also why you think that my claim that Strauss is is ridiculous.

  6. icastes says:

    The noetic cosmos is worked out in great detail in the Philebus. The Pythagorean version is a comedy.

    The idea of the good is only an idea in an indirect way. Because the good is beyond all being, it has no form or ideas whatsoever. However, because it is one as well, the Good has a dyadic structure that allows us to recognize it as if it were an idea.

    As for your attempt to overcome Jerusalem with Jerusalem, it doesn’t work, and it doesn’t work like that in Strauss. You are using a modern dialectic that is contrary to the Platonic one that Strauss uses, which is the fault of your position. Jerusalem is the world of politics and the conventional Platonic ideas. Plato discovered Jerusalem in Athens, but he never attempted to overcome it, because you can’t remove Jerusalem from Athens. Instead, Jerusalem is critiqued through a rigorous examination of the so-called doctrine of the ideas. Ideas are not what they seem to be. There is a second sailing. The whole of the political problem as well as the philosophical problem is that Jerusalem and Athens exist side by side. The notion of using Jerusalem to overcome Jerusalem would produce some kind of new synthesis, and that is not the way Strauss thinks. If you want that kind of dialectic, you need to go Hegelians, for example.

    I have no anti-theological ire. I like all the gods and goddesses, as well as the nymphs and other divine beings. I find monotheism as we get from the desert gods of the Middle East to be unrealistic about the world and the divine, however. But my point, as well as Strauss’s point does remain, that the doctrine of the ideas does in truth replace theology and that is the role of Jerusalem. Plato, again in the Philebus, makes the point that the gods are the ancient report of the ideas.

    My objection is that you have not adequately accounted for the ideas, which has led you to a political interpretation of something that goes beyond the political, which has also led you to slander Strauss. The unorthodox here is that the Strauss’s analysis of the Bible is completely Platonic, but he makes this analysis sound Jewish, which is quite a feat. It is not that Strauss is attempting to overthrow Jerusalem, which, as I said, cannot be done. There is no thesis, antithesis, synthesis at work here. Athens and Jerusalem are two poles of the problem of political philosophy that cannot be undone from each other. And like the Platonic dialectic that must be used, one looks to that which unites them both, but is not identical with either one. That is what Strauss does. He does not work to overcome or destroy Jerusalem. Your thesis is just wrong.

    • Will Altman says:

      Interestingly enough, Philebus is central to the “Platonism” of Jacobi as well. But any Platonist knows that its GENESIS EIS OUSIAN is nonsense and you, my friend, are no Platonist. I would be curious to learn where you think what “Plato” says in Philebus differs from what Timaeus argues with respect to ontology and “the Ideas” in “the Pythagorean version.” Your view of “beyond being” in Republic is likewise necessarily tendentious; you simply cannot abide the possibility that only the transcendent God “is what is.” This, not your respect for polytheism, is the basis of your anti-theological ire. But the heart of things is: “I find monotheism as we get from the desert gods of the Middle East to be unrealistic about the world and the divine, however.” My claim is that LS’s attack on the transcendent Idea of the Good (wherein you slavishly follow him) is part and parcel of a radical critique of what you euphemistically call “monotheism as we get from the desert gods of the Middle East,” i.e. what an honest man (or a Nazi sympathizer) would call “Judaism and the God of Israel.” The Nazis too believed in “gods”; they also aimed to annihilate the God Who does not stand “beyond good and evil.” Your reading of “Jerusalem” is likewise tendentious: it is LS’s term for revelation. Please point out for me a text where LS claims what you do: “Jerusalem is the world of politics and the conventional Platonic ideas.”

  7. icastes says:

    Mr. Altman, to not recognize the desert gods of the Middle East is not to accept their claim to singularity. That there are three of them vividly testifies to the multiplicity of these gods that claim to be one and only.

    Strauss is not attacking the transcendent Good, but accepting it. It is beyond being. It completes the beings, but itself is not a god. What you are calling a god is something entirely different. What you are calling a god is simply the principle of universal manifestation and does not require any morality or theology as we find it in Aristotle, for example, a point Strauss also makes in this essay. A divine personality that becomes involved in theology, morality, and politics must accept questioning and cannot evade inquiry, precisely because there is a transcendent Good. Aristotle’s god is beyond good and evil as he is pure thought. To question the desert gods and their politics doesn’t make me or Strauss a fascist.

    What you cannot abide is that Jerusalem is Plato’s discovery and that Plato is not a conventional Platonist. No one is attempting to eradicate any gods and goddesses here. I simply don’t accept that monotheism is a metaphysically sustainable position, especially now that Aristotle has been shown to be wrong. The universe is not geocentric and it is not eternal in the way Aristotle thought it to be and it is not the way that his monotheistic religious followers thought it to be as well.

    And the only divined revelation there is is philosophy, because Jerusalem is an essential part of Athens. Your effort to cast Strauss as a destroyer of Jerusalem is a fantasy, because you do not accept a transcendent Good or Whole, as Strauss calls it more often. You also misread and misunderstood what Athens is. Your conventional interpretation of Jerusalem is precisely what I say it is; you embody my contention in your response, which is not based on the philosophical problem, but on a badly purported political allegation based on “ideas” and an eccentric moral righteousness– one which finds a lot of nomos, but no phusis.

    “…it can be said that the discovery of nature is identical with the actualization of the human possibility which, at least according to its own interpretation, is trans-historical, trans-social, trans-moral, and trans-religious.”

    And what do you think is revealed in revelation? Conventional ideas? Customs? Penal codes? Etc..

  8. Will Altman says:

    If there was an answer in your response to my question (where does LS assert that “Jerusalem is the world of politics and the conventional Platonic ideas”?), I didn’t recognize it as such. Please point out these texts to me because I am claiming your use of “Jerusalem” is not to be found in LS. Three desert gods? The three Peoples of the Book regard the Torah beginning with “in the Beginning” as the primordial instance of OFFENBARUNG, i.e. of what LS called “Jerusalem.” In any case, the following claim, a claim about what I believe, is unquestionably false: “What you are calling a god is simply the principle of universal manifestation and does not require any morality or theology as we find it in Aristotle.”

  9. icastes says:

    Strauss writes: “The Aristotelian god is like the Biblical God is a thinking being, but in opposition to the Biblical God he is only a thinking being, pure thought; pure thought that thinks itself and only itself. Only by thinking himself does he rule the world. He surely does not rule by giving orders and laws. He is not a creator-god; the world is eternal as god. Man is not his image: man is much lower in rank than the other parts of the world. For Aristotle it is almost blasphemy to ascribe justice to his god; he is above justice as well as injustice.” Aristotle’s god is beyond good and evil.

    As for the three gods of the Middle East, they have a problem. If the original Torah is a true revelation, then the two other desert gods cannot make that claim. The same goes for Christ and Allah. Moreover, to the extent that the original Judaic claim is modified by the two other gods, the two additional gods undermine their origins. These three gods and subdivisions within their own realms clearly are different gods without any unity.

    Moreover, it is pretty clear that revelation in Strauss in the sense you mean it is solely confined to Judaism. Nowhere in Strauss does he promote or join together the vulgar notion of revelation with Islam and Christianity, and rightfully so. After all, if there is an offenbarung, the original one can’t be wrong and can’t be altered.’

    “I believe that I should introduce an observation, which is apparently very trivial, by a broader reflection,” Strauss writes. “Many years ago I was struck by the fact that Glaucon while wholly unprepared for the doctrine of ideas, accepted it almost immediately. This clue was offered by his reference to Momus. In brief he was prepared for the ideas by the gods, a certain kind of gods, gods who have no proper names. Everyone knows that Nike was present at Marathon and Salamis, etc., but that she is the same whether sculptured by X or Y, worshipped in A or B, etc.: compare the reference in the _Republic_ to the statue they are making of the just man. In other words, the ideas replace the gods. For in order to do that the gods must be a pre-figuration of the ideas. But since the doctrine of the ideas is simply a myth, that doctrine must contain an answer to the question, What is god? From this I jumped to the conclusion that the primary and most important application of the question, What is?, is the question, What is god? Needless to say, that question is equipollent to the question, What is man? This conceit supplies the key to Aristophanes and so many other things. There is a very clear remark in Calvin’s ‘Institutes,’ which I summarized in full ignorance of the fact that in the first two pages of the chapter on Calvin in my German book on Spinoza. I plan to use the key sentence from Calvin as a mottoe in my book on Aristophanes.”

    The theological-political problem is the problem of the ideas, and for that problem to be fully seen requires Jerusalem to be seen in its non-vulgar meaning that scholars use today.

    As I said, you have missed all that in Strauss’s work, including his examinations in this essays on Plato and in this essay as well. That you advance that absurdity that Strauss was using Jerusalem to destroy Jerusalem in part comes about because you don’t know what the problem of the ideas is and because of some kind of monotheistic morality and politics that is far below Aristotle’s lovely, pure thinking god.

  10. Will Altman says:

    Finally the truth: “revelation in Strauss in the sense you mean it is solely confined to Judaism.” Bravo! That’s the point I’ve been trying to get you to admit: for Strauss “Jerusalem” means the revealed basis of Judaism. Since no believer in Judaism believes that Aristotle’s “god” is God, leave Aristotle and the necessarily non-Jewish “god” who “is beyond good and evil” out of a conversation about “Jerusalem,” i.e., “revelation in Strauss in the sense you mean.” Meanwhile, your derivation of multiple “gods” from human-all-too-human disputes about God is sophomoric; in any case, it’s the God of Israel that is important here, especially in the context of National Socialism. As for the passage you quote, I’m guessing that you won’t be interested in the fact that I identify in my book the specific “key sentence” in Calvin to which LS refers in this letter to Bernadete (I suspected that you were following SB); Meier has failed to find it and cites multiple possibilities none of which is right. As for using Jerusalem against itself, Benardete’s remark “that the Athens side comprehends the Jerusalem side” (on the same page from which you have quoted the letter) is crucial to my argument: the Athenian Stranger re-enacts “divine laws” in the context of “the cosmic gods,” and LS’s revival of the Athenian Stranger is really the use of an anti-“Jerusalem” pseudo-revelation against itself; this leaves open the door, by the way, to your “god” of Aristotle. To be more accurate, my claim is that the German Stranger, following the lead of Plato’s Athenian, lays the theoretical basis for a re-enactment of a pagan, or, if you prefer, an Aristotelian “jerusalem” (the small case indicating my use of a term LS never uses) where the “gods” in question do indeed stand “beyond good and evil” and are coeval with PHYSIS against what both Strauss and I (now finally joined by you) mean by “Jerusalem,” i.e. the revealed basis of Judaism.

  11. icastes says:

    No, you did not read my previous comments with any care. I said and will continue to say that there is only one revelation: It is philosophy. No other candidates need apply. Strauss and I are of one mind about that.

    The Jewish side of Strauss is both Platonic and Jewish. The only political claim to revelation Strauss takes seriously is Judaism, because the revelation comes in the form of law and in a potentially true way under certain circumstances and, as you conveniently forget, Strauss was Jewish. But the issue is whether that Judaic claim is true or, if it is true, in what way is it true. For the word revelation has various meanings and traditions, which must be addressed in pieces unless one wants to dismiss it out of hand as moderns do. One of the major problems is that there are Christians who want to include their claim to revelation the same level as Strauss’s Judaism and with Strauss’s blessing. They do so by fudging Christianity and Judaism in a way that is not permitted by either religion. In any event, there is no real Christian claim to revelation, and it is not clear from the Greek godspells that Jesus makes any claim to revelation. As for Islam, it suffers from the same problems as Christianity and then some. But as far as I see, there aren’t too many Muslims who look to place the Prophet in a philosophical context. But all three of these religions come from barbarian lands and peoples. Aren’t we for the West, which had 10,000 years of a wonderful pagan religion? The Greek and Roman world was manifestly superior to their Middle Eastern barbarians and why adopt their intellectual failures?

    The many gods and their place among us is the problem of how what is transcendent manifests itself in the world of genesis. A single monotheist god is impossible unless it takes the form of Aristotle’s speculation, which we know empirically is wrong. However, many gods who manifest the transcendent in various ways, including through ritual and myth are obviously how the world is. To deny that is to deny simple reality that is around us everywhere throughout the world.

    By the way, these problems are addressed very well by Plato who is not a monotheist.

    I quoted the letter because it was convenient. But Strauss’s critique of the conventional Platonism that informs your comments is found throughout his work, especially in his work on Plato. I quoted on it here from Strauss’s “Jerusalem and Athens” essay. It is not a Benardete thing, but Strauss’s approach that is important.

    The question of revelation is the question of the status of philosophy. It is not Judaism or any other form of monotheistic ideology, which cannot be sustained metaphysically unless another Aristotle comes around and articulate a full cosmos that includes a god who may or may not be the first and final cause of all motion. Until then, monotheism is dead.

  12. Will Altman says:

    Nonsense. Monotheism lives as long as there is a single pious Jew, Christian, or Muslim. In fact, monotheism lives as long as the United States stand by “In God we Trust.” But prior to all deism, theism, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism is the God of Israel, fons et origo of monotheism, OFFENBARUNG, and what LS called “Jerusalem.” You are content to falsely and glibly pronounce the God of Israel dead; the Nazis, intent on extirpating VERJUDUNG at its source, were rather more practical about keeping Him so. But as far as the published statements of LS go, “Athens” and “Jerusalem” are incompatible and there is absolutely no basis in anything written by LS to support your perfectly idiosyncratic claim: “there is only one revelation: It is philosophy.” Show me where LS said this. I will admit that Benardete came close to saying it because he learned from a rather more private LS how “Jerusalem” could be overcome by “Athens”: if “philosophers” re-enacted “divine laws,” as the Athenian Stranger did.

  13. icastes says:

    Oh my goddess! Thank you for the subjectivity that manifests itself in German. Whatever you believe if expressed in German is true. Lockstep in goose-step! The current propaganda in the world today is to accuse your opponent what you are. The proverbial pot calling the kettle black. Good, there is no reason to take you seriously.

    No, god is objective. Check out Catholic theology some time. Belief in a god does not make a god real. Revelation is not believing that something is real; it is that which is real, which is obviously your last concern.

    Verjudung? So, now we find out the truth about you. So, the Jews are corrupting the world. And you are preventing it? What a joke! The Big Lie!

  14. Will Altman says:

    Don’t be a dope. First of all, you ducked my question: kindly show me where LS said “there is only one revelation: It is philosophy.” Secondly, moral outrage is out of place from a fellow whose “philosophic” stance “beyond good and evil” has permitted you to repeatedly accuse me of being “moralistic.” We are agreed, however, about this: monotheism is the BELIEF in one God and therefore that belief is not dead; I would add that neither is its Object, despite what Nietzsche says. As for VERJUDUNG, it isn’t my word, it’s a basic concept characteristic of the anti-Semitic or better the anti-Jewish world-view. In case you hadn’t noticed, I am defending Judaism and the Jewish root of monotheistic Revelation while you are defending (“oh my goddess”) a neo-pagan alternative to “monotheism as we get from the desert gods of the Middle East.” And that puts you, along with your teacher, in some unsavory company.

  15. Will Altman says:

    Dear Kalev: I think I’ve had enough of our little debate. It has certainly been a very interesting day but I can’t afford another one like it. Please allow me to express my admiration for the vigor, passion, and knowledge you have brought to bear on matters of related interest. All best wishes, Will.

  16. icastes says:

    If you read Strauss, you will discover that there is an agreement that the philosopher is also king, legislator, iman, prophet, etc.. If that is the case, then philosophy is the revelation.

    That you are defending Judaism by accusing Strauss of attempting to destroy Jerusalem is hardly a defense of Judaism’s monotheism.

    I should also point out that the plain text of the Torah is filled with many gods (“fossils,” as Strauss notes). It may have been the eventual agreement among Jews that there is only one god, but it didn’t start out that way. Just look at the world around you, and you will see many gods of many kinds, unless you refuse to look at the world as it is.

  17. SPQR says:

    The unity of the divine is no more disproved by the multiplicity of views about the divine than the unity of right is disproved by the multiplicity of views about right.

    All divination presupposes its own form, which is one and irreducible to any man-made form. In this sense, there can be only one truly divine form, whereas all particularized forms must be merely divined on the basis of the true divine form, as its attributes. In other words, all politheism presupposes a monotheistic core, just as all numbers presuppose a fundamental singularity.

    Strauss’s defense of Jerusalem’s irreducibility to Athens includes indications that although Jerusalem’s God, who is one singulare tantum, is not reducible to morality or political life, neither is he numb to truly human affairs. The One that is beyond morality is, ironically, the somehow providential Good itself (pace Epicurus and his children).

    Does the One “Idea of the Good” replace the person of God *for us*? We are prevented from resolving God’s morality in God’s Idea as long as we fail to discover the true divine form aside from the one monarch who is the original form presupposed by every political whole, and under whom every human society is united.

    The ARCHE is not a mere philosophical abstraction or private “magical” intuition, but the ARCHOS himself–the true King. The good or truly political philosopher–Socrates–introduces no new divinity; nor does he replace the divine with the merely divined in the medium of reflection. His attempt to replace the moral God with the impersonal Idea thereof remains necessarily aporetic.

    Modernity departs from antiquity by attempting to resolve Jerusalem (Revelation) within Athens (Philosophy) systematically. The temptation to invoke philosophy as consummate revelation is expressed allegorically by pre-modern neo-Platonists such as Origen, but it is not until the rise of modernity that we see non-allegorical or “scientific” attempts being made to *replace* Religion with a “new philosophy”–i.e. to subsume Religion/Jerusalem under or within Philosophy/Athens, once and for all.

    Following in Lessing’s footsteps, Strauss critiqued strenuously any rejection of the mutual irreducibility of Athens and Jerusalem. There are *signs* of A in J and *signs* of J in A, but that is all. The temptation to overcome the “wide and ugly ditch” between J and A remains as alive as the ditch remains unconquered. To wit: no sooner is the divine conceived as idea simpliciter (the idea replacing the god) than the idea converts into a deified form (the god replaces the idea)–the face of a fateful will (FAS) in need of interpretation.

    Far from destroying our civil piety (PIETAS), genuine recognition that the one true divine form is none other than the original or natural form of all divination sustains our piety towards political authorities, as towards the apollonian attributes of the true Jove–the One God in whom our Nation as a whole trusts.

  18. icastes says:

    The Epicurean gods? It’s hard to believe that they are gods. I write about that in my anti-blog “Some Remarks on Atheism” which was written some time ago, but is still in the archives somewhere.

    Polytheistic religions have all recognized that there is a single divine; monotheists, however, particularly the desert gods of the Middle East, limit the divine to one thing, a thing, which, of course, cannot be divine on its own.

  19. Alexandrian says:

    @SPQR – It is not the multiplicity of views about the divine that is the issue. It is metaphysics that compels one to reject atheism and monotheism. The world we all see, the nature of nature, has many unrelated and conflicting forces in it. Strauss’ question is “What is god?” not “What is God?” and for such a careful writer that is an important distinction. The “equipollent” question is “What is man?” Not the careful selection of “equipollent” and the combinations of force, power, and significance in it’s meaning. Were the question “What is God?,” the question “What is man?” would not be equipollent.


  20. Luke says:

    This is not on topic, feel free to delete.

    Can any of you suggest a forum frequented by the kind of people who have an interest in Strauss but not restricted to discussion of Strauss?

    Several times I have submitted questions about e.g. Aristotle or Heidegger on the Yahoo! Strauss group but they have always been denied by the moderator. The Yahoo! groups specifically devoted to other philosophers tend to be neglected or spam-infested.

    In any case here’s a brutally off-topic question for Mr. Pehme:

    You mentioned briefly once on the Strauss group that you had reservations of Heidegger’s notion of aletheia as unconcealment. Would you elaborate a little or point me to a discussion of this somewhere?

    • icastes says:

      I really don’t know of any groups, and I don’t participate in any. As for Heidegger and “truth” (the man who told the truth about his life), I intend to do something about that in the future. It has a lot to do with the falsity of his etymology and his total neglect of what aletheia meant in ancient Greece. Patience. Eventually, I get to everything.

  21. Luke says:

    I look forward to reading it. It seems hard to believe but as far as I can tell Heidegger’s entire edifice falls apart if he is substantially wrong about the pre-Platonic understanding of truth.

    Given our ‘fallenness’ there would be no way for us to improve on the Greek understanding of anything originary, with the exception of what the “experience of history” teaches us.

  22. SPQR says:

    Mr. Alexandrian,

    The multiplicity of gods is identical to the multiplicity of views about divinity simpliciter.

    Classical monotheism is not the plain denial of other gods (thus, e.g., Christian theology acknowledges innumerable gods, and indeed, it once referred to its own saints as gods). Rather, it proclaims the ontological primacy of the “separate” unity of the divine over any particularized god, i.e. over the horizon of multiplicity/relativity.

    Aristotle, the “father” of Metaphysics, is certainly not compelled by his Metaphysics to reject monotheism.

    Only a radical empiricist would believe that “the world we all see” IS “the nature of nature.” For anyone else, the Nature of nature remains partially hidden to us.

    In Latin ‘What is god?’ and ‘What is God?'” are identical. By the same token, “What is Man?” = “What is man?”.

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