Levinas and the unnamed balaam on ontology and idolatry

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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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-145
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2011


  • Balaam
  • Levinas
  • Talmud
  • idolatry
  • ontology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Religious studies
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Philosophy
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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