Wisdom and Dialogue: Clement of Alexandria and Franz Rosenzweig

Kang, Hi-Jae, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Ochs, Peter, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

The inquiry of my dissertation proceeds in two main parts. The first is focused on the life and work of the German-speaking Jewish philosopher and educational visionary, Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929). The second is focused on the work of the Greek-speaking Christian theologian and pedagogue, Clement of Alexandria (c.150 – c.215).

Rosenzweig and Clement present two great, poignant examples of wise theological teaching that dialogically engages with secular pagan learning, modern and ancient, Jewish and Christian. Both of these thinkers are remembered for the way in which they devoted their impressive intellects to the study of the reigning philosophies of their day – the Kantians, Hegelians and idealists for Rosenzweig; the Platonists, Stoics, and Gnostics for Clement. Although they found these philosophies inadequate in themselves to answer ultimate questions of value and meaning, they did not abandon them in their theological pursuits. Instead, they brought them along with them, transforming them and putting them into the service of scriptural inquiry and theological reflection.

I believe these two thinkers are important because, by their example, they provide a model for how to bring together two sides of us, which are often viewed in contradistinction. On the one hand, they serve as models of religious persons who maintain an unswerving faith in the reality of God. On the other hand, they serve as models of for wise pedagogues, who exude faith in the power of reason; not the kind of reason they found inadequate in the popular philosophies of their day, but the reasoning of their times enlisted into the service of re-forming people in relation to God.

I begin this dissertation with an introductory study of the life and thought of the German-speaking Jewish philosopher, Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929). Specifically, I examine two decisive turning points in Rosenzweig’s life. The first is Rosenzweig’s decision to “remain a Jew” after contemplating conversion to Christianity. The second is Rosenzweig’s decision to turn away from academic life in the German university system to assume the directorship of the new Freies Jüdisches Lehrhaus (free Jewish house of learning) in Frankfurt.

In the first part of my study of Rosezweing, I challenge the traditional narrative of Rosenzweig’s so-called “conversion” to Judaism and rejection of academic life presented by Nahum Glatzer, which has been widely accepted and retold by Rosenzweig scholars. I argue that Glatzer’s portrayal remains beholden to a dichotomous understanding of revelation and reason, which Rosenzweig firmly rejects. Contrary to Glatzer’s portrayal, I contend that Rosenzweig’s decision to embrace his Jewishness was not motivated by an inscrutable experience of “unmediated relation with God.” Rather, according to Rosenzweig’s re-telling, his decision was motivated by the rejection of his early “neo-Marcionite” assumption that faith was a private matter, which could remain separate from his public life as a German intellectual.
Rosenzweig’s decision to turn away from academic life in the German university system should not be seen as a rejection of intellectual life. Rather, the prejudices of the German academy at the time would not have allowed for Rosenzweig to be openly and unapologetically Jewish in his philosophical work. Rosenzweig did not reject intellectual life when he decided to become the founding director of the Freies Jüdisches Lehrhaus. Rather, he saw the Lehrhaus as a place where he could actively pursue his envisioned methods of “New Thinking” and “New Learning,” while simultaneously addressing the educational needs of the Jewish community in Frankfurt at the time.

In the second part of my study of Rosenzweig, I argue that the pedagogical model of “New Learning” at the Lehrhaus is the practical outworking of the philosophical and theological form of dialogical, “New Thinking,” presented in his opus, The Star of Redemption. Moreover, I argue, that Rosenzweig’s method of “New Thinking” emerges from his critical engagement with German idealism, following from Friedrich Schelling’s mature critique of Hegelian idealism and proposed system of “positive” philosophy.

In the second part of my dissertation, I turn my attention to the early Greek-speaking Christian theologian and pedagogue, Clement of Alexandria (c.150-c.215). Almost nothing is known about Clement’s biography. In my study, I focus on the writing for which he is the most well-known, the Stromateis. My study proceeds in two sections. In the first, I focus on questions pertaining to the peculiar genre and literary form of the Stromateis. In the second, I examine Clement’s often neglected notes on logic and semiotics in “Book VIII” of the Stromateis.

At first glance, the Stromateis appears to be a haphazardly arranged collection of notes and extracts on a wide variety of topics, lacking a coherent organizing principle or thematic connection. In my first chapter on Clement, I show how the Stromateis reflects the literary form of a genre of popular writings common at the time, which we now call “miscellanies.” I argue that in the Stromateis, Clement has not simply adopted the literary fashions of his era. Rather, he has deliberately chosen the literary form of the Stromateis to engage with cultural and intellectual environment in which he was writing – which contemporary classicists commonly referred to as the “Second Sophistic” – by simultaneously affirming and contesting popular assumptions about Greek cultural/intellectual authority and the means by which knowledge is communicated.

In my second chapter on Clement, I offer a three-part analysis and discussion of Book VIII of the Stromateis, which has received little attention in contemporary Clement scholarship. In part 1, I provide an overview of the contents of Stromateis 8, and its relation to arguments made around the time in which Clement was writing by philosophical skeptics, like Sextus Empiricus. In part 2, I offer a more detailed study of specific topics in book 8; specifically, those passages in which he talks about issues related to semiotics, including his explication of the meaning of “cause,” and his theory of causal relations. In part 3, I reconstruct a “non-binary relational semiotic” using insights derived from parts 1 and 2. I then use this reconstructed semiotic to help clarify and explain two controversial issues among Clement scholars – whether Clement thinks it is acceptable to “lie” to someone for their own benefit (and why he talks about concealing the meaning of things from people) and the authenticity of the so-called “Secret Gospel of Mark” letter attributed to Clement.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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