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The Unbinding of Isaac

A Phenomenological Midrash of Genesis 22

Series:

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 III: Gesticulative Mischaracterizations: When Fiction is a Bodily Fact 44

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Chapter III Gesticulative Mischaracterizations: When Fiction is a Bodily Fact A thing can never be presented personally and ultimately has no identity. Violence is applied to the thing; it seizes and disposes of the thing. Things give, they do not offer a face. They are beings without a face. —Emmanuel Levinas1 thics as first Philosophy” is not just a philosophical challenge but also a bodily challenge. When Levinas calls for Ethics as First Philosophy, in which one resists privileging representa- tions over specifics, he is not merely saying that one can go from the repre- sentation to the specific or from the specific to the representation. The priv- ileging of teleodogma is more insidious and complicated than this. He is also talking about the danger of the moment when one’s gestures to or with the other enact that the other is no more than a representation or idea, where the other as an object can be grasped and tinkered with as one might grasp and tinker with an idea. This is exemplified in Pharaoh’s relationship with Sarai. In this chapter, we find Pharaoh wanting to rape Sarai. Seeing her as an object for himself, Pharaoh does not see Sarai as an other to him. She–as other–doesn’t count for him. What counts is what Pharaoh believes Sarai to be an object for his pleasure. From where Sarai stands, she is not what “E A Gesticulative Mischaracterizations B 45 Pharaoh thinks her to be. She is not an object for...

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