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The Unbinding of Isaac

A Phenomenological Midrash of Genesis 22


Stephen J. Stern

In The Unbinding of Isaac, Stephen J. Stern upends traditional understandings of this controversial narrative through a phenomenological midrash or interpretation of Genesis 22 from the Dialogic and Jewish philosophies of Franz Rosenzweig, Martin Buber, and, most notably, Emmanuel Levinas. With great originality, Dr. Stern intersects Jewish studies, Biblical studies, and philosophy in a literary/midrashic style that challenges traditional Western philosophical epistemology. Through the biblical narrative of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Rebecca, Dr. Stern explains that Rosenzweig, Buber, and Levinas Judaically exercise and offer an alternative epistemic orientation to the study of ethics than that of traditional Western or Hellenic-Christian philosophy. The Unbinding of Isaac makes the works of these three thinkers accessible to those outside philosophy and Jewish studies while also introducing readers to the playfulness of how Jewish tradition midrashically addresses the Bible.


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Chapter I: A Historical and Philosophical Sketch: Rosenzweig,Buber and Levinas 1


Chapter I A Historical and Philosophical Sketch: Rosenzweig, Buber and Levinas The [Greek concept Sophia] specifies a closed realm of thought, knowledge for its own sake. This is totally alien to [the Biblical word] hokmah, which regards such a delimination of an independent spiritual sphere, governed by its own laws, as the misconstruction of meaning… the severance of thought from reality. —Martin Buber1 The terms of life are not “essential” but “real;” they concern not “essence” but “fact.” —Franz Rosenzweig2 The presence of being in truth is grasp and appropriation, and knowledge is a tel- eological activity. —Emmanuel Levinas3 artin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig, and Emmanuel Levinas are part of a tradition in philosophy called dialogic. From a distance, they appear to be saying similar, if not the same, things. This is incorrect. They have notable differences with one another. However, this book is not exploring their differences. This chapter focuses on their shared concern with Hellenic philosophy. Their concerns often appear general and reductive. However, the importance of their shared insights outweighs their reductive generalizations about the Hellenic-Philosophical tradition. M 2 A The Undbinding of Isaac B Philosophically, Rosenzweig, Buber, and Levinas are generally con- cerned with two related issues. First, they believe that most traditional Hel- lenic-Christian-Philosophers act as if they are thinking alone in isolation, philosophizing alone in their quest for knowledge.4 This presupposes that the philosopher does not need the other, that is, anyone but him or herself; the philosopher is supposed to be able to find...

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