Samuel Fleischacker- Words of a Living God -part one

On revelation and words

The Book of Doctrines and Opinions:

Back to Orthodoxy and Contemporary Thought. Is revelation ineffable or in words? Kant, Schopenhauer, and Otto thought the natural experience of the sublime stood alone, Barth and Rav Soloveitchik both said that there is no meaningful numinous with the kerygmatic.

Sam Fleischacker in this guest post, criticizes the positions of Martin Buber, Louis Jacobs and even Zev Farber by arguing that a Jewish theology of revelation is in words. (James Kugel agrees that it is words) In Part One of the essay-here, Fleischacker argues that the idea of an ineffable revelation does not solve modern philosophic or historic problems. For him, it is not a Jewish understanding. In Part II, he will offer his own theory of revelation in words.

Sam Fleischacker is Professor at University of Illinois at Chicago and, in 2013-14, a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford. His most recent books…

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About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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2 Responses to Samuel Fleischacker- Words of a Living God -part one

  1. The reading of Buber is an odd one. “At the origin of this sort of theology stands of course Martin Buber, whose I-You encounter — the core of all revelation, for Buber — is widely understood to be pre-linguistic.” I don’t know if this is ‘widely understood’ or not, but it seems wrong.

    Even in the passage cited, Buber is writing about the “prelinguistic _word_” [vorzunglichen Wort]. What exactly this is, is open to interpretation, and to different translations, but it is certainly not “wordless”. The “I-You” is a “basic word”–again, open to interpretation, or even dismissal, but cannot be considered an endorsement of “wordless encounter”. The writer may not like the way Buber uses language, or his idea of what a word is (I find Buber troubling here), but it doesn’t mean that encounters are dissociated from language. Buber _is_ interested in the relation of language to what is ‘outside,’ ‘above,’ or ‘below’ language–and really, all but the most banal forms of deconstruction have to take this up–but this does not make him interested in wordlessness.

    Finally, this: “Wordless encounter theologians draw a sharp distinction between language and reality.” I would argue the opposite, and, if anything, that’s their problem. Buber is problematic not because he draws a sharp line between language and the world, but because he includes so much of the world in language: silent words, primal words, ground words, ‘prelinguistic’ words, all of these blur the distinction between word and world.

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