The relationship between the philosophical ideas of Emmanuel Lévinas (1906-1995) and his religious background has been recently drawing much scholarly attention. The paper examines three levinasian key-concepts, doubtlessly based on the biblical verses: visage
(face), me voici
(here I am), and l'amour du prochain
Levinasian implication of visage
, symbolising the otherness of the other, can be traced back to a handful of highly important biblical usages of panim
(face), namely God's face, which only a selected few had a chance to gaze upon (ex. Moses, Jacob, and Gideon). Such usage is, however, scarce in number, and more than two thousand and one hundred other examples of panim
in the Hebrew Bible do not correspond to, nor echo this levinasian concept.
Then, me voici
, for the philosopher, represents a human responding wholeheartedly to the call of the other, and ready to serve as his hostage. This too rarely finds its biblical equivalent. In the five Books of Moses, the expression hinneni
in French) is used twenty-two times: five of them may carry a levinasian connotation; thirteen, largest in number, signify the contrary, i.e., God-like figures who command and dominate, and the remaining four should not mean more than a simple ‘yes’ when addressed by another human. In all the five examples, seemingly echoed in levinasian discourse, hinneni
is uttered by a human to God's call.
Levinasian understanding of neighbourly love agrees largely with the traditionally accepted meaning of Leviticus 19:18, but it deviates from the plain, and grammatically sound interpretation of the verse in two significant aspects: 1) its translation of kamokha
: “[love your neighbour] as [this love] is yourself” (opposed to “love your neighbour as yourself”), and 2) ignoring the last two words of the verse: ani YHWH
(“I am the Lord”). These are to testify, on the one hand, the central role of the neighbourly love in levinasian ethics, and, on the other hand, the lack of God's love in the philosopher's perspective as the basis for human loving care.
From these comparisons, I observe that levinasian human ethics are mostly, if not exclusively, molded out of the image of biblical figures responding to the divine, and that Lévinas, in speaking of human love, seems to be purposefully reticent on God's love enabling it. The philosopher eagerly encourages to love the Torah (teaching to love one's neighbour), and only through that could he maintain the hope to love his God.