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Buber's Saul

Reading an interview answer of Levinas about Buber where he talks about asymmetry as the main feature that distinguishes him from Buber. He comments on a text by Buber about Samuel, Agag, Saul and the Amalekites. Buber stresses that he always thought Samuel must have understood God's message wrongly - the order could not have been to wipe out the Amalekites in punishment and what God was asking from Saul was something else than murdering every one in a town as punishment. The bible (Samuel 15) has that Saul went down to the town and destroyed the weak and useless but kept what was good and also took the king Agag as a prize. Buber prefers to believe God would never ask anyone to do that - to complete their deliverance from evil by doing further evil. Levinas claims that Buber was clearly not thinking of Auschwitz. In fact, he seems right as far as the biblical text is concerned - Saul regrets his sin of disobedience and Samuel states to Agag, before killing him, that he deserves not to be spared and that nothing from that town could be taken for holocaust. It seems like punishment was prescribed. But Buber has an important point here: the idea that God cannot really order punishment. This is not to say that one cannot punish, we punish for many different reasons, but that cannot be a divine (i.e. perfect, morally commendable or right) commandment. I take Buber's insight to be that God's intelligence, wisdom or justice would go beyond what that deals in punishment.

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