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God Interrupted: Heresy and the European Imagination between the World Wars Hardcover – January 4, 2009

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (January 4, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 069113670X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691136707
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,305,045 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Winner of the 2008 John Templeton Award for Theological Promise

Co-Winner of the 2008 Best First Book in the History of Religions, American Academy of Religion

"Elegant. . . . Heresies, Lazier argues, represented an object of interest and inspiration. Yet his finely wrought analyses demonstrate that while all his subjects were indeed fascinated by the issues these heresies raised, they were less a source of inspiration than challenges in need of resistance, reworking, and overcoming."--Steven E. Aschheim, Times Literary Supplement

"God Interrupted is intellectual history of a high order: eye-opening, skillfully wrought, rich in implication and touched with literary flair. . . . [I]n writing of a pivotal moment in modern theology's history and its reverberations, he has not only made his case for its wide historical significance but also crafted a book that provoke those still struggling to determine the amplitude and frequency of the God's oft-interrupted call."--Robert Westbrook, Christian Century

"[W]onderful, erudite, and beautifully written . . . "--Anna Yeatman, H-Net

"The brilliant scholar Benjamin Lazier makes a convincing case that two religious heresies exerted far-reaching influence on Weimar-era thought well beyond the confines of religion. . . . Lazier navigates the eddies and tributaries of these intellectual currents with astonishing clarity, erudition, confidence, and wit. This book is a landmark, a tour de force of both synthesis and original thought."--Jewish Book World

"What Commonweal readers would find most rewarding about . . . Lazier's intellectual history is that [it] succeed[s] in giving a sense of the organic environment . . . in which the philosopher's intellectual life was rooted and from which it richly sprang. For the same reason, Commonweal readers might also find [this] book somewhat disturbing, for [it] serve[s] as [a] reminder of a deep anti-Semitism that, as the recent controversy over Pope Benedict's rehabilitation of the Society of St. Pius X indicated, has not been entirely uprooted from Christianity to this day."--Bernard G. Prusak, Commonweal

"It is quite the conceptual task to bring together these three seemingly disparate thinkers under a coherent conceptual roof. The way that the gnosticism-pantheism dialectic threads together these three thinkers is impressive. It is perhaps no surprise that Lazier received the 2008 Templeton Award for Theological Promise."--Clarence W. Joldersma, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith

"This rich and informative intellectual history is a compelling challenge to historians to take theology seriously by convincingly arguing for the importance of the theology of heresy . . . for a comprehensive understanding of these three scholars' life and work. . . . Grippingly persuasive."--Yotam Hotam, Journal of Modern History

"This book is highly recommended for those who want to catch a theological-philosophical glimpse into the challenges faced by those who lived during the interwar period."--Wessel Bentley, Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae

From the Inside Flap

"God Interrupted is a disciplinary miracle, a union of history, philosophy, and theology into a new form of illumination. Lazier is a sure-footed guide through the thought of Hans Jonas, Leo Strauss, and Gershom Scholem, three of the twentieth century's most intrepid explorers of the relationship between faith and reason. He is also a profoundly original thinker who teaches us how to ask their basic questions about the relationship between man, God, and the universe in ways appropriate to our own de-secularizing age. As lucid as it is lyrical, this marvelous book is essential reading for anyone concerned with the choices that seem to confront us today, between political science or political theology, liberalism or theocracy, reason or revelation."--David Nirenberg, Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago

"Benjamin Lazier makes a compelling case, in lucid and lively style, for the centrality of gnosticism and pantheism in European thought between the two wars and for decades afterward. This book will establish him as a major authority in modern intellectual history."--Robert Alter, University of California, Berkeley

"God Interrupted is a work of an unusual talent. The analysis is brilliant; virtually each page sparkles with novel insights."--Paul Mendes-Flohr, University of Chicago Divinity School

"This is a fascinating and highly original look at the return in interwar German-Jewish thought of certain heretical tendencies of the Jewish past. In part a study of political theology, in part a study of 'modern heresy,' Lazier's book exhibits a capaciousness and creativity that will no doubt transform the way we think about the place of religion in modern intellectual history."--Peter Gordon, Harvard University

"God Interrupted tells a fascinating story about three Weimar Jewish intellectuals--Hans Jonas, Leo Strauss, and Gershom Scholem--and their significance for understanding the trope of heresy in interwar Europe. This has the potential to be the most important book on theology in Weimar Germany."--Leora Batnitzky, Princeton University

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Format: Paperback
Benjamin Lazier's God Interrupted is a remarkable book that should be read not only by those interested in some very significant philosophical and theological debates from the 1920s and 1930s, but also by those concerned by current issues, including whether humans have any moral obligations toward the natural world. Lazier focuses primarily on the complex conceptual interplay among three prominent Jewish thinkers: Hans Jonas, Leo Strauss, and Gershom Scholem. In the process, however, Lazier demonstrates how closely intertwined Jewish thought was with Christian theology and European philosophy in general during this period. I learned a great deal form this important text, about the content of which I will make only a few general remarks.
As revealed by its subtitle, Heresy and the European Imagination between the World Wars, the book addresses the two major religious heresies that erupted in post World War I Europe: Gnosticism and pantheism. During the 1920s and beyond, Jonas agued, a version of the ancient Christian (and Jewish) heresy of Gnosticism had reappeared in the twentieth century. According to Gnosticism, creation is the botched work of either an evil or incompetent creator who is not the true God. The immortal human spirit has been somehow "thrown" into a corrupt body in a fallen world, from which escape is possible only by attaining gnosis (knowledge) of the true God. Jesus is the messenger and savior who has been sent by the true but wholly other God to save humans enslaved in an evil cosmos. According to Jonas, Gnosticism showed up not only in the writings of St. Paul, but also 2000 years later in the highly influential "crisis theology" of Protestant theologians such as Karl Barth, and in the work of Jonas's mentor, Martin Heidegger.
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Format: Paperback
Lazier takes on three giants: Hans Jonas, Leo Strauss and Gershom Scholem. He places them in the debates he believes were raging in Weimar Germany about pantheism and gnosticism. That much seems true and one may learn much about these religious and philosophic issues between the first and second World War. A great strength in this book is his focus on texts that are not yet available in English or have recently become available in English. One would like to see Jonas' work on Paul in English. More and more of Strauss' European writings are now available. Except for Scholem's letters and collections of essays he published, there is a lack of his earlier writings in English.
Because of this focus-panthesim and gnosticism, it appears though that Lazier misses the central issue of concern for these three intellectuals: nihilism as formulated by Nietzsche. Each developed projects in response to it. Hans Jonas' and Leo Strauss' responses may be seen as a response to Heidegger. It was through Heidegger that questions once thought closed could be reopened. Closed questions concerning Reason and Revelation could be reopened and rethought to their roots and their tensions. It would appear that these debates concerning pantheism and gnosticism were a means to begin to explore the crisis that nihilism created: the death of God and its implicationsfor modern man.
Lazier also does not focus on what it meant to be Jewish to these three intellectuals. Classic Liberalism failed the Jewish community. It could not prevent Jew hatred in civil society. The cosmopolitanism it promised was an empty promise. Classic Liberalism became eclipsed by nationalism, a form of illiberalism, which had no place for Jews.
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3 of 27 people found the following review helpful By M. Andreacchio on February 11, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Lazier's "intellectual history" opens with Arendt's apology of nature as Mother Earth in the aftermath of the repudiation of God the Father in heaven: Earth is capitalized; heaven is not.

Lazier argues as follows. Is this not because Earth includes heaven? God the Father is merely posited in heaven, whereas He belongs to Earth. The Father is abstracted out of the Mother. God is Earth. Earth is the Nature of God. God is life itself: EXISTENCE. Is it possible to avert the loss of Earth in the aftermath of the death of the heavenly Father? Or must we end up with total war?

In speaking of Strauss, Jonas and Scholem, Lazier writes:
"All three revived an ancient Greek distinction: they set law and convention (NOMOS) against teleological notions of nature (PHYSIS), and for the most part they adjudicated this context in favor of the latter" (16).

Even setting aside the problem that <notions> ARE <nomoi>, Lazier says nothing about the fact that the Greek habit of setting NOMOS against PHYSIS was peculiar to the SOPHISTS opposed by Socrates. Nor is Socrates' way compatible with the habitual practice of modern sophistry to <use> NOMOS in the interests of Mother Earth.

Lazier appears to be arguing that nature is "good" because or in the sense that the Earth is good. Perhaps we need God the Father merely to take care of the Mother: we can use NOMOS to cultivate PHYSIS, especially now that the Father is no longer in Heaven. We can (or might be able to) rebuild or sustain the City of Man starting from a divinized Earth (a composite of Earth and God).

Is this not one of the projects--if not the foremost project--Strauss objected to throughout his writings and life?
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