Philosophical Interpretations of the Old Testament

April 2, 2014 — Leave a comment

Philosophical Interpretations of the Old Testament, by Seizo Sekine (University of Tokyo), was recently published in de Gruyter’s Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft (BZAW) series. The book was translated by J. Randall Short (Tokyo Christian University), in collaboration with Judy Wakabayashi (Kent State University).

Philosophical Interpretations of the Old Testament is based mostly on 旧約聖書と哲学―現代の問いのなかの一神教 (Kyūyaku Seisho to Tetsugaku: Gendai no Toi no Naka no Isshinkyō; The Old Testament and Philosophy: Monotheism in the Context of Contemporary Challenges), published by Iwanami Shoten in 2008. The English volume also includes a chapter on Old Testament Studies in Japan, which is based on a paper that the author presented to the Society for Old Testament Study in Japan in 2009.

Here are the aims and scope of the book, followed by the table of contents.

Aims and Scope

Western biblical studies have tended to follow either faith-based theological approaches or value-free historical-critical methods. This monograph challenges the two extremes by pursuing the middle path of philosophical hermeneutics. While drawing on Eastern and Western philosophical writings from ancient to modern times, the author proposes original interpretive solutions to a wide range of important biblical texts, including the Akedah, Second Isaiah, the Decalogue, Qohelet, Job, and Jeremiah. Yet, this is not a collection of antiquarian studies. Readers will also gain fresh and stimulating perspectives concerning monotheism, religious faith and identity, suffering and salvation, and modern and postmodern ethics. Finally, in a supplementary essay, the author introduces readers to the history of Old Testament studies in Japan, and he outlines prospects for the future.

Table of Contents


Part I The Old Testament and Philosophy
Part II Old Testament Thought and the Modern World
Part III The Prophets and Soteriology
Part IV Old Testament Studies in Japan

Philosophical and Historical Interpretations

Historical Interpretation
Examples of Historical Interpretation
Philosophical Interpretation
Examples of Philosophical Interpretation
The Relationship between the Two Approaches and the Task at Hand
Monotheism in the Context of Contemporary Challenges

Part I The Old Testament and Philosophy

Chapter 1
Philosophical Interpretations of the Sacrifice of Isaac: Inquiring into the True Significance of the Akedah


1. An Evaluation of Kierkegaard’s Interpretation
1.1. Kierkegaard’s Interpretation
1.2. Westermann’s Critique
1.3. Questions for Westermann

2. Interpretations by Kant, Buber, Levinas, Derrida, and Miyamoto, and a Critical Summary
2.1. Kant’s Interpretation
2.2. Buber’s Interpretation
2.3. Levinas’s Interpretation
2.4. Derrida’s Interpretation
2.5. Miyamoto’s Interpretation
2.6. Critical Summary

3. Examining the Theory that Treats Verses 15–19 as a Later Accretion
3.1. Translation of Verses 15–19 and Notes
3.2. Grounds for Treating Verses 15–19 as a Later Accretion
3.3. Examining the Theory that Treats Verses 15–19 as a Later Accretion
3.4. The Theory that Treats Verse 19 as a Later Accretion

4. A Reconstruction of the Dialogue among God, Abraham, and Isaac, and their States of Mind
4.1. Silence or Dialogue
4.2. Translation of Verses 2–4 and Verse 9 with Notes
4.3. When Was Abraham “Told” about “the Place”?
4.4. Toward Understanding the Characters’ States of Mind

5. Isaac’s Feelings
5.1. The Father’s Love
5.2. Translation of Verses 7–8 with Notes
5.3. Isaac’s Self-sacrifice
5.4. Why Did Isaac Not Run Away?

6. Abraham’s Feelings
6.1. In His Relationship with Isaac
6.2. Abraham’s Logic and Conviction: With Reference to Josephus
6.3. Abraham’s Statement: Returning to the Akedah
6.4. The True Meaning of Abraham’s Statement
6.5. Faith and Unbelief
6.6. Contradictory Views of the Talkative Abraham
6.7. The One Who is Weak and the One Who Fears God

7. God’s Self-Denial
7.1. Doubts about “God”
7.2. Criticism from Philosophy of a Personal God, and its Outcome
7.3. Nishida’s Understanding of the Akedah
7.4. Abraham’s Evil and God’s Love
7.5. Summary
7.6. Self-Negation within the Creator God
7.7. Self-Negation within the Ethnic God
7.8. The Meaning of Self-Negation
7.9. Additional Comments on Agape: Agape in the Old and New Testaments
7.10. The Meaning of be-har yahwe yera’e

A Retrospect of the Main Points Concerning “the True Significance of the Akedah”
Prospects for Collaboration Between Old Testament Studies and Philosophy

Chapter 2
The Paradox of Suffering: Comparing Second Isaiah and Socrates


1. Theodicy of Suffering in Israelite Religion
1.1. Suffering of the Righteous in the Book of Second Isaiah
1.2. Max Weber’s Interpretation and its Merits
1.3. Despair in Life

2. Egoism of Suffering in Greek Philosophy
2.1. The Execution of Socrates
2.2. The Relationship between Love and Suffering in Aristotle
2.3. Hope in Life

3. Suffering as the Starting Point of Liberation from Egoism
3.1. Abandonment of Egoism
3.2. Devotion
3.3. The Paradox of Suffering

Chapter 3
Reconstructing Old Testament Monotheism: A Dialogue between Old Testament Studies and Philosophy


1. What is Problematic about Monotheism?

2. Various Views of God in the Old Testament’s Self-Understanding
2.1. The God Who Directs Israel’s Wars
2.2. The God Who Uses Other Nations to Punish Israel’s Sins
2.3. The God Who Does Not Guide History

3. Various Views of God Classified in Terms of Religious Studies
3.1. The Relationship with Polytheism
3.2. The Law of Monolatry
3.3. The Formation and Significance of Monotheism

4. Philosophical Reflections about the Concept of God

5. The Anthropological Significance of Atonement Faith
5.1. Atonement of the Righteous in Judaism and Christianity
5.2. Egoism of Suffering in Greek Philosophy
5.3. Atonement as the Starting Point of Liberation from Egoism


Part II Old Testament Thought and the Modern World

Chapter 4
Modern Aspects of the Old Testament Understanding of God: Qohelet, Schoenberg, Jung

1. Suspicions, Criticisms, and Verbal Attacks against the Old Testament God
1.1. Qohelet’s Suspicions of the God who Requites Good and Evil
1.2. Schoenberg’s Criticism of the God who Rejects Idols
1.3. Jung’s Statement that “Job’s God is a Fool”

2. A Response from the Old Testament
2.1. The Nihilism of Qohelet and his Triumph Over It: The Ontological Personal God and the Non-ontological Transcendent One
2.2. Schoenberg’s Uncertainty: Toward the Idea of Atonement Thought
2.3. What Jung Missed: Demythologizing the Creation Story

3. How Does the Old Testament Understanding of God Challenge the Modern World?
3.0 What Kind of Age is this Modern Period?
3.1. Doubts about the Concept of God
3.2. Sensitivity to Suffering
3.3. The Givenness of Existence

Chapter 5
Toward Regenerating Ethics: Seeking an Ordered Path of Joyful Coexistence


1. Two Attitudes Toward Ethics
1.1. Emotional Draconianism and Ethical Education
1.2. Theoretical Ethical Relativism and Skepticism
1.3. Aphasia and Working to Overcome It

2. Two Grounds for Rejecting Murder: Awareness of Order (Ri)
2.1. A Ktisiological Reason (Ri)
2.2. A Soteriological Reason (Ri)
2.3. Summary

3. Seven Paths (Ro) for Arriving at the Two Understandings of Order (Ri)
3.1. Religion
3.2. Philosophy
3.2.1. The Philosophical Hermeneutics of Gadamer and Ricœur
3.2.2. Plato’s Criticism of Democracy
3.2.3. Wonder (thaumazein) is the Beginning of Philosophy (philosophiā)
3.3. Science
3.4. Summary
3.5. Law
3.6. Politics
3.7. The Arts
3.8. The Art of Discovering Good Things


Part III The Prophets and Soteriology

Chapter 6
A Genealogy of Prophetic Salvation: Isaiah, Second Isaiah, and Jeremiah


1. From the Book of Isaiah
1.1. The Call of Isaiah
1.2. Early Messianic Prophecies
1.3. David’s Scion
1.4. Those Who Received Instruction
1.5. Second Isaiah’s Suffering Servant

2. From the Book of Jeremiah
2.1. Jeremiah and the Deuteronomistic Historian
2.2. False Prophets
2.3. Messiah
2.4. Sacrifices
2.5. The New Covenant

Chapter 7
The Prophets and Deuteronomism: The Book of Jeremiah

1. Questions about Authenticity

2. True and False Prophets

3. An Examination of Thiel’s Theory about the Deuteronomistic Historian’s Redactional Intentions
3.1. The Theology of Thiel’s Deuteronomistic Historian
3.2. Ideas and Expressions Unique to the Deuteronomistic Historian (Other than those Cited by Thiel)
3.3. Ideas Unique to Jeremiah

4. Interpretation of the “New Covenant” Prophecy: The First Point of Debate

5. Interpretation of the “New Covenant” Prophecy: The Second Point of Debate

6. The Prophetic Content of Jeremiah’s Authentic Texts

7. A Comparison of the Ideas of the Deuteronomistic Historian and Jeremiah

8. Revisiting Questions about Authenticity: The Task of Philosophical Interpretation

Part IV Old Testament Studies in Japan

Chapter 8
Old Testament Studies in Japan: A Retrospect and Prospects


1. A Retrospect
1.1. A Brief History of the Society for Old Testament Study in Japan and the Japanese Biblical Institute
1.2. Brief Overview of International Research Achievements
1.3. Brief Overview of Domestic Research Achievements

2. Prospects
2.1. Old Testament Studies in Japan: Reflections and Prospects
2.2. Looking to the Future of the Society for Old Testament Study in Japan



Subject Index
Author Index
Ancient Sources Index

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