Sunday, January 29, 2006

Aristotle and the Jews

Did Aristotle meet a Jew who impressed and influenced him?

Louis H. Feldman, Jew & Gentile in the Ancient World, p. 5:

The first cultural contact between Greeks and Jews is said to have occurred in the fourth century BCE, when a learned Jew from Coele-Syria supposedly met Aristotle in Asia Minor. This meeting, which took place about 340 BCE, is reported by Clearchus of Soli (about 300 BCE), as quoted in Josephus (Against Apion I.176-83). The passage is extremely complimentary to the Jews, who are said to be descended from the philosophers of India. This particular Jew, we are told, not only spoke Greek but had the soul of a Greek. He had come to test Aristotle's learning but, in the end, it was he who imparted to Aristotle knowledge of his own. Clearchus marvel, in particular, at the astonishing endurance and sobriety displayed by this Jew in his way of life.

Lewy, however, cites cogent reasons for concluding that the Jew whom Aristotle met is a figment of Clearchus's imagination similar to those representatives of Oriental priestly wisdom who are often depicted as superior in wisdom to the great Greek philosophers... [T]he whole story appears to be imaginary and stereotyped, relayed secondhand through Clearchus of Soli...

In Aristotle's own writings (Meteorologica 2.359A) there is one reference to a bitter and salty lake in Palestine, presumably the Dead Sea, in which it is impossible to sink; but that he locates it not in Judaea but in Palestine, which in this period refers to the area along the Mediterranean coast, so called because it had been inhabited by the Philistines, would indicate that he derived his information secondhand.

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