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How to Read the Bible According to Leo Strauss
Luz, Ehud.
Modern Judaism, Volume 25, Number 3, October 2005, pp. 264-284 (Article)
Published by Oxford University Press
For additional information about this article
Access Provided by Tel Aviv University at 10/23/10 9:34PM GMT
doi:10.1093/mj/kji016© The Author 2005. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions,please e-mail: journals.permissions@oupjournals.org.
 Ehud Luz
In choosing the title of my article I have tried to follow the example of Leo Strauss, who uses “How to” in the titles of a number of his studies.Strauss claims that in reading a text the question “How?” precedes thequestion “What?” We cannot penetrate into the deep meaning of thetext without first meticulously analyzing the form in which it appearsor presents itself for us. “How” means some kind of what is usuallycalled by such thinkers as Bultman and Gadamer “pre-understanding.”It implies our basic approach to the text. This statement, as I shallshow, is also valid for Strauss’s approach to the Bible.
 There are some similarities between Strauss’s reading and those of Buber and Rosenzweig. All these thinkers are concerned with thequestion of how to overcome alienation and ideological suspiciontoward the biblical text created by atheistic and historicist social sci-ences: how to “save” the text, namely, to retrieve its meaning for themodern man. However, unlike Buber and Rosenzweig, Strauss doesnot search in the Bible for the living speech of God. He was neither atheologian nor a biblical scholar. He was a philosopher, and themotives that led him to interpret the Bible are mainly philosophicalones. Yet his insights are no less fruitful than those of Buber andRosenzweig for making us aware of the biblical message. It is espe-cially correct for un-Orthodox readers whose approach to the Bible isdirectly or indirectly shaped by Spinoza’s criticism. For Strauss, theBible is one of the two roots of Western culture, side by side with clas-sical philosophy. Each of these claims to possess the only right answerto the most important question for a human being: What is the goodlife? Strauss believes that there is an eternal conflict between the Bibleand classical philosophy that can never be reconciled; moreover, thestruggle between them is the secret of the vitality of Western culture.However, in the last two centuries, under the impact of the Enlighten-ment and modern philosophy, the main lines of the conflict have beenobliterated, and as a result there has been a deep depreciation of thestatus of both philosophy and theology. Therefore, there is an urgentneed to clarify anew the essential nature of the old conflict by unbi-ased reflection on its origins in classical philosophy and the Bible.
How to Read the Bible according to Strauss
Strauss’s philosophical oeuvre may be perceived as an effort to restorethe prestige of both of them. From a Jewish perspective we may addthat Strauss believes that only on the basis of classical philosophy, ormore precisely Socratic-Platonic philosophy, is it possible to defend Judaism effectively.In the following presentation, I shall first discuss Strauss’s generalhermeneutical presuppositions, with special attention to their rele-vance for his understanding of Judaism. Then I shall show what hismain intentions are in his interpretation of the Bible. In this way Ihope to be faithful to Strauss’s demand to understand a philosopheras he understood himself.
 In his lecture on Freud and his book
 Moses and Monotheism
Straussraises the question, What is “a good non-religious Jewish thinker”(pp.287–288)?
From his discussion of Freud it seems that such athinker would have three necessary virtues: loyalty (fidelity), intel-lectual probity, and love for the truth. As we shall see, there is aninternal connection among these three virtues.Interestingly, Strauss explicitly calls loyalty to one’s own commu-nity the primary qualification of a good Jewish thinker. He believesthat it is an existential necessity for a good thinker as a matter of dig-nity and integrity. Since he knows that one cannot get rid of one’spast, he makes a virtue out of this necessity. Not only does he feel anobligation not to desert the community, but he also supports anddefends its survival and its heritage. It seems that Strauss believes thata person who denies his or her origin, who is unable to accept thecommunity into which he or she is born, can never elevate him- orherself to the virtues of intellectual probity and the love of truth thatare necessary characteristics for a genuine philosopher. To a certainextent, fidelity to the community, being grateful to it for what it hascontributed to the development of one’s personality, is necessary forachieving human perfection. In this sense, it is close to piety, since both of them are connected to reverence toward one’s ancestors. Theyare not “primitive” properties, as the Enlightenment would have it.
 Loyalty holds back the Jew from fully deserting the Jewish com-munity and its heritage; furthermore, it can become a strong motivefor a full return to Judaism. Indeed, Strauss dedicated a major part of his oeuvre to proving that such a return is possible from a philosophi-cal point of view, although there are enormous psychological difficul-ties in adopting this position. The difficulties arise mainly from themind-set of the age. Most of the Jews today, who want to remain Jewish,

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