Chair: Birgit Schäbler
“Love Your Neighbor” – “I am a Horror to My Neighbors”: Differing Concepts of Neighborliness in the Hebrew Bible – A Terminological and Theological Overview
The English term “neighbor” relates to at least two different concepts for which the Biblical Hebrew (and other languages like German and French) use different terms. This paper illustrates these concepts of “neighborliness” with two terms from the Hebrew Bible: rēaʿ (German: “Nächster, Freund”) and šākēn (German: “Nachbar, Bewohner”). Regarding the term rēaʿ, the paper focuses on the command to love one’s neighbor in Leviticus 19:17–18, since the synonyms in the immediate context contribute significantly to the semantic spectrum. There are also some brief remarks on the Greek term πλησίον in the Septuagint and the New Testament. The term šākēn offers important insights into the concept of neighborliness and the socio-historically relevant structure of society behind the biblical texts. The šākēn stands for a mere partnership of convenience, comments one’s fate in praise or, more often, reproach, and functions as metaphor or within merisms. Brief remarks on the Greek term γείτων in the Septuagint and the New Testament are included. Finally, the paper presents the Hebrew Bible’s proposal for neighborly cohabitation that successfully masters everyday life and ensures the cohesion of society: The šākēn must become a rēaʿ.
1 Introduction: Semantic Concepts
The English term “neighbor” covers a large semantic range, as the juxtaposition of two verses from the Bible shows: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (NRSV), the famous commandment from Leviticus 19:18, on the one hand, and the individual lament in Psalm 31:12 (Eng. 11) on the other: “I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors”. The Biblical Hebrew (as the German, by the way) uses different terms for both neighbors. Thus, one can correlate the idea of “neighborliness” to two differing, however overlapping, semantic concepts in the Hebrew Bible. The overlapping aspect can be termed as “closeness” (to varying degrees): One notes a spatial nearness between the one party (e.g., the speaker, the subject) and the other (the neighbor as the object). This closeness, however, does not automatically generate a close relationship. Various circumstances trigger at least two divergent concepts: The neighbor can be an object in need that requires some kind of attention, help, or even love by the subject on the one hand – and on the other hand, “neighbor” can refer to one or several persons nearby who take friendly or hostile actions or even no actions at all towards the subject.
In this paper, I want to illustrate these different concepts of “neighborliness” with the help of two terms from the Hebrew Bible: rēaʿ (German: “Nächster, Freund”) and šākēn (German: “Nachbar, Bewohner”). Regarding the term rēaʿ, I focus on the command to love one’s neighbor in Leviticus 19:17–18, since the synonyms in the immediate context contribute significantly to the semantic spectrum. The term šākēn offers important insights into the concept of neighborliness and the socio-historically relevant structure of society behind the biblical texts. Why does that matter at all? In his 1980 dissertation, Ronald Lee Cook writes in the preface: “The quality of a person’s life receives its most thorough test in relationships with neighbors. In that interpersonal arena of life values and convictions are examined daily”.
World as the Limit of Globalization: Between Derrida and Nancy
Jacques Derrida’s late book, Voyous (Rogues, 2005) provides a short discussion of the Algerian elections of 1992 that explores how democracy is intrinsically open to its own undoing. This somewhat shocking argument deploys the idea of “autoimmunity” to discuss how, in the attempt to inoculate itself against its enemies, democracy sometimes allows itself to be attacked in order to survive. At first glance, this argument may seem to be preposterous. However, my argument will begin with Derrida and then move on to Jean-Luc Nancy’s use of ‘world’ in his critique of globalization. In my conclusion, I will suggest how Derrida allows us to rethink the world concept in terms of intersubjectivity, indicating what needs to be put in place to prevent autoimmunity from becoming insidious.
The paper consists of four parts. First, my argument will explore Derrida’s deployment of autoimmunity in the political context and then briefly examine the hermeneutical implications of his interest in the meaning of neighbors and neighbourliness, particularly in his later work. Augustine’s treatment of Luke 10: 25-37 in his famous treatise on rhetoric will foreground my discussion of Derrida’s disagreement with Carl Schmitt’s reading of Matthew 5:43-44 in Donner la mort (The Gift of Death, 1995), which enables us to return to basic sources and read the word ‘neighbour’ in two different ways. Second, having broached the question of what is not communal in the proximal sense, I examine Nancy’s distinction between globalization, a contemporary and largely economic concept, and mondialisation, a philosophical term that refers to the process whereby the world becomes a world. This discussion focuses on two major works, Le sens du monde (The Sense of the World, 1993) and more recently in La création du monde (The Creation of the World, 2002), that use the world concept extensively. In the third part of the paper, I deal more specifically with the historical aspects of Nancy’s ontology, which argues implicitly that Western political life is constituted through a “weave” between subject and citizen whereby the neighbor is transcended and also preserved through the retention of quasi-communal bonds. Finally, in the fourth and concluding section, I return to Derrida’s reflections on autoimmunity, but this time the focus will be on how links between individuals are formed under the heading of spectrality, a technical term that helps us understand how worlds are both shaped and dissolve in human time. The conclusion of the paper argues that the threat of autoimmunity can be contained, if not eliminated, through a politics of world that recognizes the existence of neighbors but also permits a normative reading of this ancient word.