Wednesday, January 9, 2013

From Athens to Jerusalem

from the pages of Kadima, the newsletter of Congregation Adas Emuno:

From the desk of …                    
 Rabbi Barry Schwartz


I’ve really enjoyed working recently on a new slideshow (PowerPoint) presentation. It’s called “From Athens to Jerusalem: An Archeological Tour and Discussion.” I will debut the slideshow at the annual Jewish community learning event called Sweet Tastes of Torah on February 2 at Temple Emeth in Teaneck.

As you know, I love history, and over the past three decades I have been privileged to visit many of the world’s great archeological sites. This show presents photographs of my visits to the wonders of the Mediterranean basin. More specifically, it visits the remarkable remnants of ancient Near East civilization in six countries: Greece, Italy, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and Israel.

The tour begins in Athens and ends in Jerusalem. Along the way I visit Delphi, Knossos, Rome, Pompeii, Ephesus, Sardis, Petra, Cairo, Luxor, Abu-Simbel and Masada. In Israel I venture off the beaten track to see half a dozen more fascinating sites. In each place I try to highlight what makes the site unique, that is to say, what contribution that particular place has made to Western civilization.

It is no accident that I begin in Athens and end in Jerusalem. These two cities have come to symbolize the two great philosophical worldviews of the West; the humanism of the Greeks and the theism of the Hebrews. The former holds reason as the ultimate source of authority; the latter posits revelation in that role.

The early Church father Tertullian (c.168-c.225) asked famously: “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” Jewish and Christian religious thought has been wrestling with that question ever since. In fact, I would argue that the attempt to harmonize reason and revelation is the single greatest issue behind the evolution of religion in the modern world.

I explore this issue toward the end of my slideshow. And this year we have been revisiting the question time and again in our weekly study of the great medieval sage Maimonides (1135-1204). His attempt to meld his faith and his philosophical learning set the stage for almost every other important Jewish thinker to this day.

The noted cultural critic Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) suggests in his celebrated work Culture and Anarchy that “Hebraism and Hellenism are the two essential philosophies of life between which civilized man must choose.” The esteemed social philosopher Leo Strauss (1899-1973) opined in his oft-cited essay Jerusalem and Athens that “Western man became what he is, and is what he is, through the coming together of biblical faith and Greek thought.” And in his latest book, The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning, theologian and Great Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argues for a grand synthesis of reason and revelation, stating that “Science takes things apart to see how they work; religion puts things together to see what they mean.”

If you are intrigued by all this, it’s never too late to join our enthusiastic Torah study group every Shabbat morning at 10:00 AM. We love talking theology and ethics and the big questions of life. And come out to my slideshow at the event in Teaneck on February 2 at 7:00 PM, for the photography if not the philosophy!

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