On Reaffirming a Distinction Between Athens and Jerusalem

Leora F. Batnitzky

Abstract: Much recent work in Continental philosophy has attempted to dissolve any absolute distinction between “Athens” and “Jerusalem.” Against this trend, this article argues that contemporary philosophers and theologians must recognize precisely that distinction. The denial of a distinction between Athens and Jerusalem is philosophically dangerous because it ultimately reduces philosophy to history, since philosophy is no longer understood as a discipline that can, potentially at least, move from opinion to truth. This denial is also theologically dangerous, because it ultimately elevates philosophy to religious heights. To illustrate these points, the article turns to the thoughts of Leo Strauss and Emmanuel Levinas, contending that despite the received interpretations of their philosophies, Strauss’ conception of the relationship between Athens and Jerusalem is correct, while Levinas’ exemplifies precisely the philosophical and theological dangers of uncritically conflating the two.

Biography: Leora Batnitzky is a professor of religion and director of graduate studies for the religion department at Princeton University. Her teaching and research interests include philosophy of religion, modern Jewish thought, hermeneutics, and contemporary legal and political theory. She is the author of Idolatry and Representation: The Philosophy of Franz Rosenzweig Reconsidered (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000) and Leo Strauss and Emmanuel Levinas: Philosophy and the Politics of Revelation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). She is beginning a new project on the relations between modern legal theory and modern religious thought. She is co-editor of the Jewish Studies Quarterly since 2004.

Volume 2, Number 2 (Spring 2007) pp. 211-231