Is God Eternal? Revisiting Mendelssohn and Rosenzweig on Reason, Revelation, and the Name of God Journal Article uri icon



  • AbstractThis essay calls for a reassessment of one of the best‐known episodes in modern Jewish thought: the debate between Moses Mendelssohn (1729‐1786) and Franz Rosenzweig (1886‐1929) about how to translate the name of God. Ostensibly writing to celebrate the two‐hundredth anniversary of Mendelssohn's birth, Rosenzweig famously criticizes his predecessor's decision in his German translation of the Pentateuch to render God's name as “the Eternal” and “the Eternal Being,” accusing Mendelssohn of privileging factors such as eighteenth‐century philosophical commitments over fidelity to the biblical text. My essay argues that we have yet to fully understand the content and significance of this canonical episode in modern Judaism. Exploring Mendelssohn's Hebrew and German writings, I develop a new reading of the central concerns animating his treatment of God's name, and I suggest that his position has much to offer broader conversations about reason and revelation. Far from simply advancing a claim about translation or privileging Enlightenment philosophy over the Bible, Mendelssohn is engaged in what we might call an ecclesiastically and biblically focused project of theological repair. He is attempting to shape the practices of his religious community so that members encounter the Bible in a way that allows for ecclesiastically vital philosophical reflection—for philosophical reflection that corrects what he sees as a long‐standing problem in the ways that Jews (and others) have spoken about God. Moreover, Mendelssohn's approach can contribute to contemporary debates about what is often termed “postliberal theology,” providing resources for theorizing the role of reason and philosophy in religious life.

publication date

  • January 1, 2017

has restriction

  • closed

Date in CU Experts

  • February 12, 2017 11:41 AM

Full Author List

  • Sacks E

author count

  • 1

Other Profiles

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0266-7177

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1468-0025

Additional Document Info

start page

  • 69

end page

  • 91


  • 33


  • 1