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Levinas and the Unnamed Balaam on Ontology and Idolatry

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Abstract Levinas establishes an intriguing connection between idolatry and ontology. This connection is aptly illustrated by the biblical character of Balaam, the ambiguous Mesopotamian prophet or sorcerer of Numbers 22–24, who is almost never mentioned in Levinas’s work but who is present, albeit hidden, in the talmudic reading “Contempt for the Torah as Idolatry.” A deconstruction of this talmudic reading uncovers Balaam’s footprints. It also clarifies different meanings of idolatry—exposing its ontological violence, but also, perhaps, its necessity for ethics and law.

10.1163/147728511X606192
/content/journals/10.1163/147728511x606192
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/content/journals/10.1163/147728511x606192
2011-01-01
2016-08-25

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