Three Wells: Essays and Lectures on the Biblical, Political, Geometrical Mind


Robert Sacks entered his studies as a student of Jacob Klein and also of Leo Strauss. Throughout the last seven decades Mr. Sacks has devoted himself to Klein’s project of de-sedimentation of our inherited thought, which in more ordinary language means recovering the original questions and moments of insight of the great thinkers of Athens and of Jerusalem—not as intellectual or spiritual heroes, but has essentially human truth-seekers such as we ourselves might be. From Leo Strauss Mr. Sacks learned what close reading of a text means. The essays and lectures in this volume are an astonishing record of the fertile influence of these two mentors on the their author.

In her Introduction to this collection of Robert Sacks’ works Janet Dougherty writes: “There is a kinship of themes among the writings collected here. The conflict between land and sea recurs persistently in the stories of the Israelites’ emergence from slavery and reappears in Shakespeare’s Tempest, in which Prospero almost explicitly takes on the task of reconciling sea and land, of making peace between the chaos of forces both human and non-human and the demands of political life. Sacks alerts the reader to the need for the solid ground defined by Euclid’s postulates by pretending to demonstrate the trisection of an angle. But we are reminded that ungrounded claims to understanding may represent a possibility of immediate and original knowing we would not want to dismiss. If there is a lesson to be gleaned from these readings taken together, it comes across as something like this: With no return to the sea, to whatever is at the origin of things, life and thought on the solid dry land becomes sterile and once-seen truths are sedimented into prejudice. But without the order of law and rationality, mere assertion—the more forceful the more successful—and even violence itself, rule. The sea and the land are not simply separable. They mutually define one another, not only in the opening Book of Genesis but in human experience.”