By David Janssens
Examines the early works of German-Jewish political thinker Leo Strauss (1899-1973).
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Additional resources for Between Athens and Jerusalem: Philosophy, Prophecy, and Politics in Leo Strauss's Early Thought
As he claims in the Theological-Political Treatise, his critique of the Bible is based on an impartial, scientific reading of Scripture. This is the claim—the claim to greater “honesty” mentioned earlier—with which, after Spinoza, biblical science developed into one of the most important tools of the Enlightenment, if not the most important. Why this striking reversal? Strauss provides the following motivation. 20 To begin with, he points to the method of biblical science, which Spinoza explicitly models on natural science.
65 As the early writings show, however, the young Strauss is not prepared to make this momentous decision without further ado. Before taking this step, he considers it his first and foremost duty to revisit the one genuine 28 BETWEEN ATHENS AND JERUSALEM obstacle to an unqualified return to orthodoxy, the obstacle that is at the same time the basis of his own youthful commitment: the critique of religion. 67 Spinoza was the first to attack the authority of revealed religion by offering a systematic and scientific analysis of the Bible in order to disengage theological claims to truth and political claims to power.
68 More importantly, the critical shockwaves of the Theological-Political Treatise also affected the Jewish religion and the ancient vault of the galut. This does not exhaust Spinoza’s significance for Judaism, however. 69 In Spinoza’s model, citizenship was open to all, and hence also to Jews. On the basis of his critique of the Bible, Spinoza had concluded that Mosaic Law was no longer effective. 70 In this respect, Strauss argues, the Theological-Political Treatise can be regarded as the founding document of Jewish assimilation: When what mattered was the justification of the breakup of the Jewish tradition and the entry of the Jews into modern Europe, perhaps no better, but certainly no more convenient, reference offered itself than the appeal to Spinoza.
Between Athens and Jerusalem: Philosophy, Prophecy, and Politics in Leo Strauss's Early Thought by David Janssens