Cruel Justice, responsibility, and forgiveness: On levinas's reading of the gibeonites

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This study explores the question of Levinas's use of biblical figures and their relationship to his philosophical interrogations, by analyzing Levinas's brief but revealing comments in one of his early Talmudic readings ("Toward the Other", 1963) on the episode related in II Samuel 21 in which the Gibeonites demand justice of King David for their previous mistreatment at the hands of his predecessor Saul. A detailed exposition of the Gibeonites and their role in the Bible, including some Talmudic commentary and classical Jewish exegesis of the particular episode concerned, is followed by a close reading of Levinas's own commentary in which vulnerability, the persecution of the stranger and the destitute, responsibility, justice, forgiveness, and compassion emerge as major themes. Throughout his reading, Levinas consciously creates echoes and parallels with the Nazi persecution of the Jews, the German Occupation of France and Vichy collaboration, and the Shoah in general. While Levinas's actualization of the biblical episode is wholly consistent with his understanding of the Jewish reading of Scripture, the study concludes by going beyond the immediate issue of the post-war relations between Jews, Germans, and Germany—the context in which most commentators of Levinas's reading have maintained it—in order to raise questions as to the relevance of Levinas's ethics for tackling seemingly irresolvable problems of justice, responsibility, and forgiveness in an increasingly complex world of terrorism and violence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)253-271
Number of pages19
JournalModern Judaism
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Religious studies
  • History
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Sociology and Political Science


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