Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Greek Philosophy and Ancient Jews

Many medieval Jewish philosophers claimed that the Greeks received the tenets of philosophy from the Jews. Some even attributed this to a meeting between Aristotle and Jeremiah (see this post). The following are R. Yitzchak Herzog's thoughts on the viability of such a suggestion.

R. Yitzchak Herzog, Judaism: Law and Ethics, pp. 197-198:

Nor would Greek philosophy exercise a very powerful attraction over their [Palestinian Jewish] minds. The Aristotelian system, despite its pronounced monotheism, would rather horrify them by its conception of God's relation to the world, and by its doctrine of the eternity of the Universe. Nor would the mental heirs of the prophets fail to perceive the gulf which, notwithstanding striking affinities, separated the Jewish system from Platonic transcendentalism and Stoic Pantheism.

The search for a first principle which formed the impelling motive of Greek philosophy, would appear meaningless to men whose ancestors had long ago found God. The Palestinian teachers, moreover, like the prophets of old, so vividly realised the presence of God, that to speculate about Him would amount with them to an attempt to move away from Him... While recognising the infinite distance separating the creature from the Creator, Israel's sages taught at the same time with the fiery enthusiasm of immovable conviction that it was man's supreme function on earth to enter into close relations with his Maker by means of a life realising itself in the practice of righteousness and justice, of charity and benevolence, of purity and holiness.

The spirituality of the God-idea evolved by Greek metaphysics had nothing new to offer to those who carried forward the labours of the prophets. At a time when the Hellenic race had not yet emerged from the savage state, the Sinaitic revelation had declared that no possible amterial representation could in the remotest degree serve as symbolic of the Supreme Being... [W]hile in the language of the Greek metaphysics, the conception of God becomes so rarefied as almost to dwindle out of sight, in the vivid and forcible word-pictures of the Torah and the prophets, the God-idea is brought into the boldest relief.

From Greek ethics, the Palestinian teachers would also have little to learn...

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