16 February 1986 ver. 1.0

17 March 2003 ver. 2.1 (annex April 2006)


The Impact of Greek Culture on Normative Judaism from the Hellenistic Period through the Middle Ages c. 330 BCE- 1250 CE


Home page http://www.houseofdavid.ca/


1.0 Jewish Cultural-Religious History

1.1 Palestinian Judaism During the Ascendancy of Hellenistic Culture (332 BCE-640 CE )

1.2 Normative Judaism

1.3 Outside Influences on Jewish Culture

2.0 Greek Cultural-Religious History

2.1 Classical Greek Culture (Sixth to Fourth Centuries BCE)

2.2 Pagan Hellenism in Palestine (332 BCE-mid fourth century CE)

2.3 The End of Ancient Greek Culture – and its Revival Under Islam

3.0 Jewish Response to Pagan Hellenism

3.1 Under the Hellenistic Monarchies (332-167 BCE)

3.2 Hellenistic Culture as the Rabbis Experienced it Under the Pagan Roman Empire (First to Fourth Centuries CE)

4.0 The Impact of Greek Culture on Normative Judaism from the Hellenistic Period through the Middle Ages c. 330 BCE- 1250 CE


Table 1 - Some Differences between the Hellenistic Philosophical-Scientific World View and that Reflected in the Torah

Table 2 - Being Rational in Context: Four Rational Responses to Drought

Table 3 - Variables making for Rapid Hellenization

Table 4 - Phases of Impact of Greek Culture on Normative Judaism

Annex - The Origins of the Seder by Prof. David Golinkin


Select Bibliography


1.0 Jewish Cultural-Religious History


1.1 Palestinian Judaism During the Ascendancy of Hellenistic Culture (332 BCE-640 CE )

For the early history of Judaism see my Israelite Religion to Judaism: the Evolution of the Religion of Israel

It is likely that the Judaism of the fourth century BCE of the Persian province of Yehud (Judah, Judaea) is that reflected in the Torah (Genesis to Deuteronomy).  It would have most resembled that later practiced by the Sadducees and Samaritans.

“Jewish religious life underwent a dramatic metamorphosis in the thousand years between the conquest of Alexander and the ascendancy of the Arabs (332 BCE-640 CE).  Judaism in late antiquity, with all its varieties and nuances, was a far cry from that known and practiced in the First Temple, Persian, or even early Hellenistic period.  Beliefs and practices hitherto marginal or unknown had now assumed center stage; new forms of religious leadership and new types of institutions had crystallized; the number and kinds of books considered sacred had expanded greatly; new holidays were added to the Jewish calendar, and older ones were recast and given new meanings in light of the evolving tradition and cataclysmic historical events.[1]


1.2 Normative Judaism

Normative refers to what subsequent Jewish tradition considered legitimate and normative (See Avot chapter 1 and subsequent tradition - Mishnah, Babylonian Talmud, Geonim etc[2].)  It implies no value judgment on the historical legitimacy, sincerity, piety or morality of the likely majority of Jews of every period who lived outside of the retrospectively blessed “normative” tradition.  Thus the Sadducees, Essenes, Apocalyptic Jews, Pharisees, Zealots and others were all developments of earlier Jewish tradition.  However, all of these, except the Pharisees, were retrospectively rendered “non-normative” by later rabbinic tradition which was the only Jewish tradition to survive.  This is not at all dissimilar to the approach of the Deuteronomistic History in the late First Temple of Exilic period.  Put another way, normative refers to the Rabbinic literary tradition which remained normative in Rabbinic circles until the beginning of the 19th century, and in traditional circles, until the present.

It is interesting to note that:

·        Josephus, a Pharisee, described the Pharisees as being few in number but with a strong following among the people;

·        There are only a few hundred rabbis mentioned in the Mishnah and Talmuds;

·        Roman-Byzantine period synagogue mosaics in Galilee, synagogue art in Dura-Europos, Jewish magic bowls from southern Mesopotamia and Hellenistic Jewish literature indicate that the majority of Jews had, at most, only one foot in the “normative” tradition

Of course, to say a tradition is normative is not to say it does not change over time.


1.3 Outside Influences on Jewish Culture

Outside influences on Jews throughout history have been stronger than their impact on the normative tradition and much stronger than their impact on normative literature.  Foreign influences that have been successfully integrated into the normative tradition in pre-modern times, include all, or elements of:

·        The Canaanite literary tradition (see)

·        Greek logic, science and philosophy (see table)

·        Sufism (Islamic mysticism) through the works of Maimonides son Abraham and Bahya ibn Paquda;

However, whereas in the normative tradition foreign influences have been integrated into a Jewish framework, for most Jews of the time, the situation was messier.  They, in reality, were often cultural Canaanites, Babylonians, Hellenistic Greeks etc. with greater or lesser influence of Israelite-Jewish values.  Sometimes it is difficult to know whether a literary work is fundamentally Jewish, expressed in Greek terms, as are those of Josephus, or fundamentally Greek in values and outlook.  This question has never been resolved as it pertains to the philosopher Philo.


2.0 Greek Cultural-Religious History


2.1 Classical Greek Culture (Sixth to Fourth Centuries BCE)

The splendor of Classical Greek civilization does not need to be recounted here.  Greek artistic and literary accomplishments highly influenced Western culture.  However, the major impact on the Jewish cultural tradition was made by Greek philosophy and the closely related Greek science and mathematics.

Greek science was of truly world-shaking importance because without it, it is possible that the Scientific Revolution, and hence our own culture, would never have arisen. A couple of quotes - 

 “On Why it is said that the Greeks “invented” science.

In short, because they introduced the notions of natural causality and rational proof; because they tried to eliminate what they considered to be supernatural elements from their explanations for natural phenomena, because they made (often unobserved and sometimes unobservable) connections between phenomena and ordered them into parts and wholes or causes and effects (rather than just amassed observations), and because they tried to think their way rationally (which does not mean logically or sensibly to modern tastes) through the perceived order of observed phenomena.  The belief in natural causation with consequent natural effects was matched by a belief that knowledge precedes by reasoning from intellectual premise to rational conclusion.”

 “… (The) law of causality…. States that there is conformity with law throughout nature; nothing is arbitrary, there is a necessity for everything, as we see in the regular occurrence of all phenomena.  Without this necessity, no accumulation of experience would be possible…. Its success in the realm of theoretical physics provides the fullest confirmation of the general law.

The conception of general conformity with law existing in nature is contained in Greek philosophy from the beginning.”

From  Sambursky, Samuel, The physical world of the Greeks; translated from the Hebrew by Merton Dagut ; with a new preface by the author, Princeton University Press, 1987, c1956. pp. 16 and 159


2.2 Pagan Hellenism in Palestine (332 BCE-mid fourth century CE)

In 332-331 BCE Alexander the Great conquered Palestine as part of this larger conquest of the Persian Empire.  After Alexander’s death, Egypt and Palestine were taken over by Ptolemy while Syria, Mesopotamia and Persia were taken over by Seleucus.  After a 23 year struggle, the Seleucids took over Palestine in 200 BCE.  During this period, a number of key developments took place:

v     Philosophy – Philosophy remained centered in Athens.  The new schools of Skepticism[3], Cynicism, Epicurianism[4] and Stoicism [5] developed. All of these were more concerned with man’s internal state and ethics than with man as a functioning member of society or with the larger questions of science, metaphysics and other theoretical questions.  These developments were probably related to the end of the citizen-controlled city state and the inability of Hellenistic kingdoms to establish firm order.  These factors created the feeling that the outside world was in chaos and uncontrollable and that, consequently, one had to seek inside oneself for security.

v     Science and Mathematics Alexandria became the center for these disciplines.  The royal Museum was a great center of scientific and literary research.  It is interesting to note that astrology was a Hellenistic creation which they developed as a “science” closely related to the doctrines of Stoicism (See Koester pp. 156-159; 376-380; Lloyd pp. 29-30).  It can be argued that the Greek belief in Fate or Necessity, to which even the gods are subject, predisposed them to developing a concept of nature as a system governed by immutable natural laws.  The extension of this paradigm into human affairs was the ultimate concept behind astrology[6].  Lloyd wrote – “In the Stoics’ eyes, the rational basis for the practice of divination, as for science itself, is the philosophical belief in the unbreakable chain of cause and effect.”

The number of Greek philosopher-scientists who changed world history by laying the groundwork for the scientific method and a world view[7] was quite small.  Outside of the Museum-Library at Alexandria, the institutional basis to support research and the dissemination of results was very poor and haphazard;

v     Greek Higher Culture in the Hellenistic Age was Limited to the Social Elite - Even within Greek literate society, the common sense was mythic, not philosophical-scientific, as evidenced by classical Greek drama. The ordinary Hellenistic Greek and Jew of the period, i.e. the rural and urban poor, were much more alike than their intellectual elites whose contrasting views are outlined in Table 1. Their world was one haunted by magic and the supernatural.

v     Greek Cities (most of these would be considered small towns today on the basis of their populations) – These were widely founded by Alexander the Great and by the Seleucid Empire.  With their Greek traditions of self-government and the related institutions these entities were quite different from the oriental towns that they displaced.  At times, older cities were partly depopulated (e.g. Babylon[8]) in order to round up inhabitants for the new Greek polis.  At other times, existing cities (Jerusalem, Acre, Beth Shean, Rabbat Ammon, Samaria etc.) were given Greek names and refounded as Greek cities.  At other times entirely new cities were founded. 

v     The Greek cities became centers for the diffusion of Greek culture -  Koester (pp. 356-357) discusses, what he calls, the “philosophical marketplace” of the second century and preceding centuries -

“The real life of ‘philosophy’… had left the schools and gone into the marketplace and onto the streets of the big cities.  Many people called themselves ‘philosophers’; it was difficult to know whether a man offering his wisdom in the street was a god, a magician, the apostle of a new religion, or a true philosopher.  In the imperial period the army of wandering missionaries or philosophers had become legion. All of them competed with each other, advertising their art in order to attract disciples, outdid each other in demonstrations of their power, and were by no means disinclined to draw money out of people’s pockets.  Such missionaries competed even within the same religious or philosophical school … pagan, Christian and Jewish philosophers of this sort did not address the educated establishment but the common people, that is anybody they could meet in the streets…. Foremost was the art and adroitness of public speech.  Even if these preachers and philosophers adhered to quite different schools of thought they agreed in their criticism of existing conditions, in their attack upon the shallowness, vanity, and corruption of the bourgeois urban life, and in their moral summons …. The entire scale of miraculous deeds of power was commonly used, from magical tricks to predictions of the future, from horoscopes to the healing of diseases and maladies, even the raising of dead people…. The ancient and new insights of philosophers and great thinkers were not in demand, but rather whatever could clarify the world and its powers as they affected peoples’ everyday problems…. New deities recommended themselves rather than critically tested philosophic doctrines; demonic forces were better explanations of the world than scientific knowledge.  Simple moral rules of human behavior offered better advice than psychological insights into the motivations of human actions.”

v     The Greek and Macedonian settlers who formed the core of non-local citizens of the many “Greek” cities of the Hellenistic were mainly poor, single, uneducated males who promptly married, or formed informal alliances with local women.  Their male children would have a Greek education[9] but from their mothers, they would imbibe the traditional folk culture of the region surrounding their island of Hellenism.  Generally, the Greeks were good at organizing and this, combined with a total lack of traditional duties and restraints toward the “barbarian” i.e. non-Greek, natives, enabled them to exploit the peasantry much more effectively and ruthlessly than was done by Persians working through traditional local elites.

v     Seleucid attempt to use the Greek cities to support the integrity of the Empire - The Seleucid authorities hoped that the network of Hellenistic cities would function as a “cultural glue” which might help to maintain the empire’s integrity.  In part, to bind these cities to the Seleucid state, the Seleucids followed the practice of allowing Greek cities special trading privileges within the empire[10]and empowering them to tax the surrounding peasantry.  Squeezing maximum taxes from the non-Greek peasantry tied in with wide-spread Greek attitude that non-Greeks were inferior, barbarians.  They did not consider that they had any mission to Hellenize the “barbarians”. In fact, the privileged position of Greek settlers was dependant on not incorporating natives into their ranks.

v     Seleucid policies of favoring Greek cities had the impact of ensuring hostile relations between those cities and the surrounding country side which, in turn, made the cities look to the central government for security thus guaranteeing the city’s loyalty to the empire and giving the royal government secure bases throughout the empire.


Quoted from

Heritage and Hellenism: The Reinvention of Jewish Tradition

by Erich S. Gruen; U California Press, Berkeley Los Angeles London 1998


“In the wake of Alexander the Great's triumphant successes, Greeks and Macedonians came as conquerors and settled as ruling classes in the lands of the eastern Mediterranean. Jews endured a subordinate status politically and militarily, a minor nation amidst the powers of the Hellenistic world. For them, the experience was a familiar one. The Jews of Palestine and the Diaspora simply exchanged the suzerainty of the Persian empire for that of Alexander's successors. The … Greeks may have been largely impervious to the precepts and principles of Judaism, but Jews could hardly escape the blandishments of Hellenism. … The degree to which acculturation took place in Judaea itself and the time when it began in earnest elude any certainty. A vital point, however, undergirds the discussion in this book. "Judaism" and "Hellenism" were neither competing systems nor incompatible concepts. It would be erroneous to assume that Hellenization entailed encroachment upon Jewish traditions and erosion of Jewish beliefs. Jews did not face a choice of either assimilation or resistance to Greek culture.… The prevailing culture of the Mediterranean could hardly be ignored or dismissed. But adaptation to it need not require compromise of Jewish precepts or practices. The inquiry can be formulated thus: how did Jews accommodate themselves to the larger cultural world of the Mediterranean while at the same time reasserting the character of their own heritage within it?

“... Transplanted Greek communities mingled with ancient Phoenician traditions on the Levantine coast, with powerful Egyptian elements in Alexandria, with enduring Mesopotamian institutions in Babylon, and with a complex mixture of societies in Asia Minor. The Greek culture with which Jews came into contact comprised a mongrel entity-or rather entities, with a different blend in each location of the Mediterranean. The convenient term "Hellenistic" employed here signifies complex amalgamations in the Near East in which the Greek ingredient was a conspicuous presence rather than a monopoly.

“’Judaism,’ it need hardly be said, is at least as complex and elastic a term. The institution defies uniform definition. And changes over time, as in all religions, render any effort to capture its essence at a particular moment highly problematic. "Hellenistic Judaism" must have experienced considerable diversity, quite distinct in Alexandria, Antioch, Babylon, Ephesus, and Jerusalem-also a feature common to most or all religions. Simplistic formulations once in favor are now obsolete. We can no longer contrast "Palestinian Judaism" as the unadulterated form of the ancestral faith with "Hellenistic Judaism" as the Diaspora variety that diluted antique practices with alien imports. Hellenism existed in Palestine, and the Jews of the Diaspora still held to their heritage. Each individual area struck its balance differently and experienced its own peculiar level of mixture. … But it is essential to emphasize that Jews were not obliged to choose between succumbing or resisting. Nor should one imagine a conscious dilemma whereby they had to decide how far to lean in one direction or other, how much "Hellenism" was acceptable before they compromised the faith, at what point on the spectrum between apostasy and piety they could comfortably locate themselves. And the idea that some form of "syncretism" took place, an amalgamation of pagan and Jewish practice or belief, misconceives the process.

“… Many Diaspora Jews and even some dwelling in Hellenistic cities of Palestine grew up after a generation or two as Greek speakers and integrated members of communities governed by pagan practices and institutions. They did not confront daily decisions on the degree of assimilation. They had long since become part of a Hellenic environment that they could take as a given. But their Judaism remained intact. What they required was a means of defining and expressing their singularity within that milieu, the special characteristics that made them both integral to the community and true to their heritage….. Jews engaged actively with the traditions of Hellas, adapting genres and transforming legends to articulate their own legacy in modes congenial to a Hellenistic setting. At the same time they recreated their past, retold stories in different shapes, and amplified the scriptural corpus itself through the medium of the Greek language and Greek literary forms. In a world where Hellenic culture held an ascendant position, Jews strained to develop their own cultural self-definition, one that would give them a place within the broader Mediterranean world and would also establish their distinctiveness….

The age of the Maccabees conventionally occupies a central place in this subject. Jewish rebellion against the harsh impositions of the persecutor Antiochus IV led to a shaking off of the Hellenic yoke and the emergence of an autonomous state under the Hasmonaean dynasty. This clash supplies the locus classicus for a fundamental split between Judaism and Hellenism. Or so we are told. The idea is examined afresh here. A very different portrait emerges, suggesting that the division is artificial and that the Hasmonaean era in fact provided an atmosphere even in Palestine conducive to Jewish reconceptualization in Hellenic terms.

“This work explores the reconceptualization on several fronts. The Exodus story itself, the very heart of the Jews' understanding of their past, the origin of their nation, and their relations with Gentiles, underwent notable transformation in the Hellenistic era. The Jews did not refrain from tampering even with their central myth in the light of experiences in a changed world. And that was only the beginning. Ancient Hebrew heroes appear in new guises and new circumstances. The multiple treatments of Joseph, in every variety of literary exercise, present an instructive illustration. Hellenistic Jews found no inconsistency between regarding the Scriptures as Holy Writ and rewriting them to their own taste. Some of them sought simply to explain incongruities, others to abbreviate tales, thus making them more pointed or omitting unpalatable matters. Some placed the emphasis differently and thereby improved the behavior of their ancestors, and some elevated their actions by portraying them in the form of epic poetry or tragic drama. Others took still greater liberties. They expanded the conquests of King David, invented new international associations for Solomon, blended Babylonian and Greek legends with the tale of Abraham, and turned Moses into the cultural provider for Egyptians, Ethiopians, Phoenicians, and Greeks. Nor did they stop there. Inventive writers added episodes to received texts, adapted pagan folk tales and inserted amusing stories into the books of Ezra and Daniel, and even gave a wholly different tone to the book of Esther by affixing new material in strategic places. The Scriptures stimulated the creative talents of Hellenistic Jews.”



2.3 The End of Ancient Greek Culture – and its Revival Under Islam

After about 120 BCE Greek science started to loose its originality.  Little of worth was produced after 200 CE.  Much of what was written, especially by Roman writers[11], were digests of knowledge.  This had the perverse effect of spreading the often erroneous conclusions of Greek science while eliminating the really useful part – the scientific mindset.

The last great Greek philosopher was Plotinus (205-270 CE) whose adult life virtually coincided with the great crisis of the Roman Empire (235-270 CE) marked by civil wars, barbarian invasions, terrible inflation and economic decline.  This crisis destroyed the social base of Greek culture in the Roman Empire[12].  The establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Empire, in the early to mid-fourth century marked the beginning of a new Christian culture whose languages were Greek, Latin, Aramaic, Egyptian, Armenian, British (i.e. Old Welsh) etc. depending on place and class.  This is effectively, the beginning of the Middle Ages from a cultural point of view.

The Roman emperor Julian the Apostate tried to revive classical Greek religion and culture in the mid fourth century.  He is said to have consulted the Oracle of Delphi.  The Pythia responded with the following oracle:

"Tell to the king that the carven hall is fallen in decay;

  Apollo has no chapel left, no prophesying bay,

  No talking spring. The stream is dry that had so much to say."

During the second to fourth centuries CE, all peoples in the Empire, pagans and others, were becoming more mystical, more religious and even more prey to magic which, in any case, had always been strong in the Greek and other cultures of the Empire.  This mystical, anti-rational trend was probably one of the causes of the decline of Greek science as well as contributing to the triumph of Christianity and to the decline of Greek history writing[13] and its eventual replacement as a popular form by Byzantine hagiography.

After a period of almost total eclipse, from the fourth century CE, Greek learning was revived in the Arab-Muslim world through the translation of Greek texts into Arabic.  It should be noted that what was translated was not a cross-section of Greek literature.  The Arabs translated and studied virtually everything they could find on philosophy, medicine, the exact sciences, astronomy and the occult but were uninterested in Greek poetry, drama and history.

“The translation of Greek and Syriac works into Arabic… became serious business under Harun ar-Rashid (786-809)….  By the year 1000 AD, almost the entire corpus of Greek medicine, natural philosophy and mathematical science had been rendered into usable Arabic versions…. The scientific movement in Islam was both distinguished and durable … by the end of the ninth century translation activity had crested and serious scholarship was under way.  From the middle of the ninth century until well into the thirteenth, we find impressive scientific work in all the main branches of Greek science being carried forward throughout the Islamic world.  The period of Muslim preeminence in science lasted for 500 years – a longer period of time than has intervened between Copernicus and ourselves.”  From Lindberg, David  C., The Beginnings of Western Science, University of Chicago Press, 1992 p. 168-180


3.0 Jewish Response to Pagan Hellenism

All Jews, even those in the Latin speaking west and in Parthian Mesopotamia, were in direct, or often indirect,  contact with Hellenistic culture from the fourth century BCE until the rise of Islam.  However, the nature of the challenge this posed, and the nature, degree and rapidity of Hellenization varied greatly depending on era, class, location and education[14] (see). 


3.1 Under the Hellenistic Monarchies (332-167 BCE)

The first major Jewish contact with Greek culture was when Judah was ruled by the Ptolemies. The Jews in Judah did not meet Greek scientists, philosophers or historians.  The Jews met mercenaries, tax collectors, petty officials, money lenders and merchants who penetrated even the most obscure village[15].  Jews outside Judah proper, who lived near Greek cities, also had to suffer the generally rapacious colonists.

Under Persian rule, Judah had been a theocracy under the rule of the high priest with the Torah recognized, by the Persians, as the law of the land.  This situation continued under the Ptolemies and Seleucids.  Although 40 “Greek” cities were founded in Palestine, none were within the autonomous province of Judah.  Eventually,[16] one faction of the Jewish ruling class, led by priests, attempted, with royal support, to abolish the Torah as the royal law of Judah and to refound Judah as the territory of a new polis – Antioch of Jerusalem.  It is possible that such a transformation would have conferred on the ruling class a right to exploit Jewish peasants without restraint, perhaps trading privileges within the empire and certainly social acceptance as Greeks within the vast Hellenistic world. 

This led to the Hasmonean revolt which put an end to religious Hellenization in the sense of abandoning the Torah for a Greek life style.  It also led to an explosion of new varieties of Judaism – Apocalyptic Judaism, Hasidim (not to be confused with the modern mystical variety), Essenes, Sadducees, Pharisees and no doubt others. 

In the wake of the success of the Hasmonean revolt cultural and linguistic Hellenization in Eretz Israel continued apace until, by the third or fourth century CE, Greek was probably the majority language of the country.

 “The motivation of the Hasmonean revolt has often been misunderstood.  It has been contended that this revolt came in protest to the process of Hellenization in Judaea, but this was patently not the case.  The Maccabees revolted in response to the persecutions imposed by the king and, according to Bickerman and others at least, at the instigation of radical Jewish Hellenizers.  The fact is that the Hasmoneans themselves quickly adopted Hellenistic mores; they instituted holidays celebrating military victories (Nicanor Day on the 13th of Adar) as did the Greeks, and signed treaties with Rome and forged close alliances with the upper strata of Jerusalem society.  The latter’s Hellenized proclivities – like those of the Hasmoneans themselves … are attested by names such as Alexander, Diodorus, Appolonius, Eupolemus, Antiochus, Numenius, Jason, Antipater, and Aeneas. “[17]


3.2 Hellenistic Culture as the Rabbis Experienced it Under the Pagan Roman Empire (First to Fourth Centuries CE)

The Jerusalem Talmud, also called Palestinian Talmud, is an amalgam of the teachings of three important rabbinical academies all of which were located in major Hellenistic Greek cities i.e. Caesarea (the capital of Roman Palestine), Sepporis and Tiberias.  Thus, the rabbis and students had to be able to speak Greek and were daily exposed to Hellenistic-Roman institutions and culture.  This urban environment included:

v     Street philosophers, with their popularized and simplified philosophy; 

v     Greek literature, both classic and popular Hellenistic, was widely available.  On the other hand, science was a rare specialist taste.  Even in the great Hellenistic cities books on science would have been hard to find;

v     An active oral culture that allowed the rabbis to learn many Greek proverbs etc. which may have originated in a literary milieu;

v     Greek theatre which was universally available.  However, plays always involved dedications to the pagan gods.  Though Philo, and no doubt many other good Jews, attended the theatre, the rabbis would not;

v     Greek schooling.  The curriculum consisted of:

·        Study and memorization of Homer and Euripides and, to a lesser extent, of Demosthenes, Thucydides and Meander;

·        Reading and writing;

·        Arithmetic; and,

·        Rhetoric.

Although some Jews in rabbinical circles were given enough of a Greek education to enable them to deal with Roman officials, it is doubtful if many rabbis attained a full Greek education.

During the Talmudic period (135-500 CE) rabbis in Palestine lived in a complex linguistic environment.  Many rabbis:

v     spoke Greek on the street;

v     spoke Mishnaic Hebrew, by then a dead language, in the school room;

v     spoke Aramaic loaded with thousands of Greek words in informal discourse with their colleagues; and,

v     used the same Aramaic, supplemented by Greek, for writing.


4.0 The Impact of Greek Culture on Normative Judaism from the Hellenistic Period through the Middle Ages c. 330 BCE- 1250 CE

See Table 4 - Phases of Impact of Greek Culture on Normative Judaism



Table 1 - Some Differences between the Hellenistic Philosophical-Scientific World View and that Reflected in the Torah

Table 2 - Being Rational in Context: Four Rational Responses to Drought

Table 3 - Variables making for Rapid Hellenization

Table 4 - Phases of Impact of Greek Culture on Normative Judaism



Table 1

Some Differences between the Hellenistic Philosophical-Scientific World View and that Reflected in the Torah

Nb. Hellenistic Philosophical-Scientific world view was the property of very small elite within the larger Greek-speaking community during the Hellenistic-Roman period.  Jewish folk beliefs probably diverged significantly from those reflected in the Torah in most periods.



Hellenistic Philosophical-Scientific

Judaism as Reflected in the Torah

Centrality of Man vs. Centrality of God

Man is at the center and “Man is the measure of all things” (Protagoras)

Theocentric - man’s task is to serve God.


The gods in Greek traditional polytheistic religion were capricious and not particularly ethical.  The sole requirement was to believe that the gods existed and to perform ritual and sacrifice, through which the gods received their due. The very unsatisfactory nature of this religion[18], from an ethical viewpoint, opened the way to secular science of ethics[19].

Greek philosophers, with their demythologized world view (see), could only fit in the divine if the gods were removed from the material world and man.

Ethical Monotheism

Law – Divine or Secular?

Law (nomos) is to suit society.  It can be made and changed by the society.

Law (Torah) is God’s revelation regarding how God wants people to live.  It cannot be changed by society in theory though it is adaptable in practice.

Secular or Theocratic Rule?

Democracy, and other secular forms of government, follow from above.

Theocracy by authorized interpreters of God’s law.

Ethics[20] also called moral philosophy the discipline concerned with what is morally good and bad, right and wrong. The term is also applied to any system or theory of moral values or principles.

The Sophists, Plato and Aristotle[21] produced the preeminent early ethical thinking in Greece.  In the Hellenistic-Roman era, Middle-Platonism[22], the Stoicism[23] and Epicurianism[24] and finally, from the third century, Neoplatonism became dominant.  Starting in the mid-fourth century, Christian theology gradually took over the field in the Roman world.

“Unlike the ethical system of Greek philosophy, which seeks to define virtues (who is courageous, generous or just, etc.), the bible demands of every human being, and behave virtuously toward his fellow man, and is not concerned with abstract definitions.”[25] In the Torah, however, behaving virtuously is equal to obeying God’s Law regardless of whether we would view specific laws as moral, social or cultic[26].

Source of Knowledge

N.b. The incompatibility of the Greek concept of Nature, as being governed by immutable natural laws, and the scriptural belief in miracles[27] was a major issue for medieval Islamic, Jewish, and Christian philosophy.


- Reason is the key to finding the truth about anything – ethics, nature of man, the natural world.  Popular beliefs and commonly-held opinions to be rejected as sources of knowledge.

- Nature is demythologized.  Nature is governed by immutable natural laws. It is to be studied and can be understood using logic and generalized theory[28].  Though nature could be understood, the Greeks did not assume, unlike modern Western culture, that understanding could lead to control of nature and the world around them.  The major exception to this fatalistic approach was astrology[29].

The general Torah approach is:

-          The Torah tells you everything you need to know – the rest should be left to God[30];

-          If the community and individual are in God’s favor, god will ensure that everything will be fine with the community and individual;

-          Sacred tradition is binding.

Since God created and maintains everything, natural phenomena, and everything else, should be admired as testimony to God’s providence and greatness.  It should not be analyzed.


Greek medicine was scientific in that it combined close observation with generalized non-mythological theories of how the body operates[31].

Sickness is divine punishment due to sin.  Accordingly, resorting to a physician is a sign of faithlessness.  The proper response to sickness would be repentance, prayer, sacrifice, fasting.  During Talmudic times medicine was accepted but it was strictly a collection of cures unrelated to generalized theories on how the body operates.

View of History

-          Beginnings of scientific history.  The Greek historians looked for human and non-mythological reasons for events[32].

-          This leads to a sense of uncertainty and lack of confidence in the future – bad luck, uncontrollable actions of enemies etc. can destroy our future and there is no supernatural salvation in the real world.

-          Salvation History – the relationship with God and God’s Law must explain everything.

-          This leads to a sense of confidence in the future – i.e. if the Jews follow the Torah God guarantees a good future.

Role of Reason

Philosophy – rational thought to gain knowledge.

Israel is told what it needs to know.  Before Deuteronomic Reform God’s expectations were through traditional law and prophetic messages.  After the acceptance of the Torah through exegesis of the Torah.


Table 2

Being Rational in Context

Four Rational Responses to Drought




Rational Action


-          Lack of Rain due to rain god (Baal) being defeated by god of death and senility (Mot)

-          Sacrifices can strengthen Baal in his war against Mot thus enabling Baal to send rain

Sacrifice to Baal


-          God made and controls weather

-          If God does not send rain it is because the Jews have not properly kept the Torah law – either ritual or moral;

-          Prayer, fasting, sacrifice and self-amendment can turn away God’s anger and win God’s favour.

-          When God’s favour is won God will send rain. 


Self-examination, prayer, fasting, sacrifice

Hellenistic Philosophical-Scientific world view

-          Drought is due to immutable natural laws.

-          Study nature to understand why the drought has happened

-          Enjoy yourself since there is nothing that you can due to affect the drought.

Western Scientific world view

-          Drought is due to immutable natural laws.

-          These laws, once understood, can be manipulated to society’s advantage

-          Study nature to understand why the drought has happened;

-          Figure out how people can intervene to improve the situation

-          Take action e.g. seed clouds


Table 3

Variables making for Rapid Hellenization


Variables making for Rapid Hellenization


Fastest – being in Alexandria or other major center of Greek culture.  Any urban center promoted Hellenization

Slowest – rural areas in Palestine and Babylonia


Literacy in Greek


Upper of middle

Nature of Work

If work involved Roman authorities in the east it had to be conducted in Greek within Hellenistic social norms.


Almost the whole Diaspora outside Babylonia spoke Greek – even in Rome itself.  A large minority of Jews in Palestine spoke Greek as their main language and many others, with varying degrees of fluency, were bilingual Aramaic-Greek. Naturally, speaking and thinking in Greek promoted Hellenization.


In Palestine the impact of Hellenization widened and deepened century by century from the fourth century BCE until the seventh century CE.  From the mid-fourth century CE the impact of the Greek Christian Church was important.


Table 4

Phases of Impact of Greek Culture on Normative Judaism



Impact On Normative Jewish Tradition[1]

Other Impact


Alexander the Great to the Maccabean uprising (c. 335 - 180 BCE)

A possible impact of Greek mores was to lower the status of Jewish women

Kohelet may be influenced by Greek philosophy[33] and may even be seen as confronting the ancient Near Eastern Wisdom tradition, as exemplified in the Biblical Book of Proverbs, with Greek Skepticism.

Greek architecture, language, names, the military, government and social forms


Judea was autonomous, theoretically ruled, out of the way province within the great Hellenistic empire of the Ptolemies' (Egypt), and then that of the Seleucids (Syria-Mesopotamia)

Maccabean uprising to the Destruction of the Temple (mid-second century BCE – 70 CE)

The Selucid persecution led to an explosion of new varieties of Judaism – Apocalyptic Judaism, Hasidim (not to be confused with the modern mystical variety), Essenes, Sadducees, Pharisees and no doubt others. 

Pharisees adopted and adapted Hellenistic elements[34]:

- Hellenistic, possibly Stoic, hermeneutical method[35]

- Resurrection parallel to Greek immortality of soul and judgment of dead;

- Self-government institutions including Sanhedrin[36]

- Pharisees were an association of unrelated men bound by common interests who met for common meals and whose main institutional tie was the school – similar to Hellenistic philosophical schools and Hellenistic religious associations (thiasoi)[37].

- Possibly development of the synagogue[38]

-          Hellenistic Jewish literature.

-          Philo [39]– had no impact on normative Judaism but formed the basis for early Christian theology

-          Josephus

-          Independence mid-second to mid-first centuries BCE

-          Indirect or direct Roman rule there after.  Romans strongly supported Greek language and culture

Destruction of the Temple to the close of the Palestinian Talmud (70 – mid fourth century CE) 


The Palestinian rabbis of 70-650 CE were exposed to Greek art and architecture, Roman and Greek government and institutions, street philosophy and spoken Greek[40].  Few rabbis would have had a Greek education or be knowledgeable about Greek literary culture including science and philosophy.

- Rabbinic literature included many references to elements of popular Hellenistic culture including popular stoic philosophy, elements of logic, and certain data from Greek science but not its outlook, assumptions and scientific method[41] i.e. the really valuable part was not absorbed by Jewish tradition at this time.

- Liturgical forms including piut and, possible the Shma’ and ‘Amidah[42]

- the seder[43]

- legal forms such as ketubah[44]

- from Plato’s theory of ideas the concept that the soul possesses perfect knowledge before birth

- Stoics and rabbis had social similarities.  Both were scholar-officials involved in legal exegesis.  From Stoicism – possibly hermeneutical principles and Stoic values, not in Bible, held by rabbis include: health; simple life; self-improvement; fortitude; work ethic; imitatio dei, generosity; theory vs. practice; good vs. merely valuable; and such literary images as life being a deposit in trust.


-          Basically tolerant pagan Roman rule until mid fourth century

-          Persecuting Christian Roman rule thereafter

Between Saadia Gaon (882-942 CE; Egypt and Iraq) and Moses Maimonides (1135-1204; Spain, North Africa, Egypt)

Greek philosophy, science, medicine and mathematics absorbed via Arabic translations[45] and, to some extent, via Arab Muslim commentators[46].  In science and philosophy, Jewish scholars absorbed the data and, more importantly, method, world view and pre-suppositions. Also absorbed were more dubious works e.g. Hermetica, astrology.

In their philosophy of nature… Hellenistic and medieval Jewish thinkers… for the most part… adopted the view that the universe is governed by immutable laws…. However, the philosophical view of nature posed problems for the traditional Jewish (and Muslim and Christian) view as expressed in the Bible and Talmud.  For traditional Judaism the universe did not run according to set immutable laws.  Rather God directly regulated the workings of the universe that he had created, insuring that events would lead to the specific goal He had in mind.  The medieval Jewish philosopher, unable to give up this view of nature completely, sought in his philosophies of nature to reconcile the biblical and Talmudic concepts of creation and miracles with the theories of secular philosophy.”[47]

Greatest Greek philosophical influences were Aristotle, Plotinus[48] and Plato in that order.

Neoplatonic writers included: Solomon Ibn Gabirol; Bahya ibn Paquda; Moses and Abraham ibn Ezra; Judah Halevi.  The most important Aristotelian[49] was Maimonides.

Most important items:

- Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah was the main conduit for entry of Greek science and philosophy into rabbinic legal tradition[50].  The code itself is based on Greek logic and codification principles. The 14 volumes in this work encompass the full range of Jewish law, as formulated for all ages and places. It completely reorganizes and reformulates the laws in a logical system. It opens with a section on systematic philosophical theology, derived largely from Aristotelian science and metaphysics, which it regards as the most important component of Jewish law.


- Neo-Platonism[51] fusing with older Jewish Mystic tradition to form Kabbalah[52]

- Bahya ibn Paquda’s Neo-Platonic and Islamic Sufi influenced Hovot ha-Levavot (Duties of the Heart) was the founding work of Jewish ethical or pietistic literature[53] and has strongly influenced subsequent works and the lives of pietistic groups such as the Musar Movement.

- Judah Halevi’s Neo-Platonic influenced Kuzari and Maimonides’ Guide to the Perplexed have an ongoing influence on traditional Jews. 

The greatest syntheses of Greek and Jewish thought are Maimonides works – Guide to the Perplexed and Mishneh Torah[54].

Maimonides’ Guide to the Perplexed and Solomon Ibn Gabirol’s classic Neo-Platonist work – Fountain of Life (Latin - Fons Vitae, Hebrew - Mekor Haiim). Guide to the Perplexed and Fountain of Life were studied by Christian philosopher-theologians during the Middle Ages.

Within the context of Arab-Islamic culture. This period coincides with the apogee and subsequent decline of the Abbasids.  Arab-Islamic culture, including science and philosophy declined rapidly after the beginning of the 13th century.

12th Century Provence

“The confrontation between the Gnostic tradition contained in the Bahir and the neoplatonic ideas concerning God, His emanation, and Man’s place in the world, was extremely fruitful, leading to the deep penetration of these ideas into earlier mystical theories.  The Kabbalah, in its historical significance, can be defined as the product of the interpenetration of Jewish Gnosticism and neoplatonism.” G. Sholem col. 520.





Insight Israel

Vol. 6, No. 8

April 2006


The Origins of the Seder

by Prof. David Golinkin

In memory of my teacher

Prof. Saul Lieberman z”l

On his 23rd Yahrzeit

                        9 Nissan 5766


I) Introduction


There is no question that the Seder, which is celebrated on the first night of Pesah - or on the first two nights in the Diaspora – is the central ritual of the holiday of Passover. But what is the origin of the Seder and the Haggadah?


The Torah instructs us to slaughter the Korban Pesah, the paschal lamb, to eat it with matzot and marror, and to sprinkle some blood on the lintel and the two doorposts (Exodus 12:22 ff.) It also instructs the father to teach his son about the Exodus on Pesah (Exodus 12:26; 13:6, 14; Deut. 6:12 and cf. Exodus 10:2). (1) These mitzvot, however, are a far cry from the many rituals which we do at the Seder and from the literary forms which we recite in the Haggadah.


Furthermore, the Seder and the Haggadah are also missing from the Second Temple period descriptions of Pesah, including a papyrus from Elephantine (419 B.C.E.), the book of Jubilees (late second century B.C.E.), Philo (20 B.C.E.-50 C.E.), and Josephus. (2)


They are first mentioned in the Mishnah and Tosefta (Pesahim Chapter 10) which scholars date to either shortly before or shortly after the Destruction of the second temple in 70 C.E. (3) What is the source of the elaborate rituals and literary forms of the Seder and Haggadah?


In the first half of the twentieth century, Lewy, Baneth, Krauss, and Goldschmidt drew attention to the fact that the forms of the Seder are based on Graeco-Roman table manners and dietary habits. But the most detailed evidence of this borrowing was provided in 1957 when Siegfried Stein published “The Influence of Symposia Literature on the Literary Form of the Pesah Haggadah” in The Journal of Jewish Studies.(4) Since then, Stein’s basic thesis has been adopted with variations by various scholars who have written about the origins of the Seder. (5) Stein proved in a very convincing fashion that many of the Seder rituals and literary forms found in Mishnah and Tosefta Pesahim and in the Haggadah were borrowed from the Hellenistic banquet or symposium. Let us first compare the rituals.


II) The Seder Rituals and Vocabulary



The “hero” of Mishnah Pesahim, Chapter 10, is the shamash, the servant, who mixed the wine with water and served it, brought in the matzah, hazeret and haroset, and more. According to the Tosefta (10:5), “the Shamash dipped the entrails [in salt water] and served the guests”, while “The Banquet” of Philoxenes of Cythera (5th-4th century B.C.E.) relates that “the slave set before us…sweetest morsel of entrails” (Stein, p. 28).



According to the Mishnah (10:1), even a poor person may not eat on Erev Pesah “until he reclines” on a couch. Athenaeus relates that in Homer’s time “men still feasted sitting, but gradually they slid from chairs to couches, taking as their ally relaxation and ease” (Stein, p. 17). Furthermore, according to the Talmud (Pesahim 108a), one must recline on one’s left arm while eating. This too was the practice at symposia as seen in many ancient illustrations. (6)


Many Cups of Wine

According to the Mishnah (10:1), a person must drink four cups of wine at the Seder. The Greeks too drank many cups of wine at the symposium. Antiphanes (4th century B.C.E.) said that one should honor the gods to the extent of three cups of wine (Stein, p. 17).


Netilat Yadayim

According to Tosefta Berakhot (4:8, ed. Lieberman p. 20), the servant poured water over the hands of those reclining at a Jewish banquet. The Hebrew term is “natelu v’natenu layadayim” (literally: “they picked up and poured water on the hands”). Both Stein (p. 16) and Bendavid say that this is a translation of a Greek idiom which means “to take water on the hands”. (7)



According to the Mishnah (10:3), the servant brings hazeret, which is lettuce (8), before his master, who dips it in salt water or other liquids until the main course is served. Indeed, the Talmud relates (Berakhot 57b = Avoda Zara 11a) that Rabbi Judah the Prince, who was very wealthy and well-versed in Hellenistic culture, ate hazeret all year long. Similarly, Athenaeus (ca. 200 C.E.), Rabbi Judah’s contemporary, mentions lettuce seven times in his “Learned Banquet”, an encyclopedic compilation about Greek and Roman food and drink (Stein, p. 16).



According to the Mishnah (10:3), the servant serves haroset with the meal. The tanna kamma (=the first or anonymous rabbi in the mishnah) says it is not a mitzvah, while R. Eliezer bar Zadok says it is a mitzvah. The first tanna was no doubt correct because the Mishnah itself (2:8) says that haroset was eaten at banquets all year long with flour. Once again, Athenaeus describes similar dishes at length, and discusses whether they should be served before or after dinner. Heracleides of Tarentum, a physician of the first century B.C.E., recommended eating these dishes as appetizers rather than as dessert (Stein, p. 16).


Hillel’s “Sandwich

According to the Talmud (Pesahim 115a) and to the Haggadah itself, Hillel the elder used to eat a “sandwich” of the paschal lamb, matzah and marror. Similarly, the Greeks and Romans used to eat sandwich bread with lettuce (Stein, p. 17).



According to the Mishnah (10:8), “one may not add an afikoman after the paschal lamb”. The Tosefta, Bavli and Yerushalmi give three different interpretations of this word. In 1934, Prof. Saul Lieberman proved that the correct meaning is “one should not stand up from this eating group and join that eating group” (Yerushalmi Pesahim 10:4, fol. 37d). He refers to the Greek word epikomon – at the climax of the symposium the revelers used to leave their house and barge into another house and force the family to join in their merry-making. The mishnah is saying that this particular Hellenistic custom may not be done after eating the paschal lamb. (9)


III The Literary Forms of the Seder and the Haggadah

Stein (p. 18) explains that the literary forms of the Seder and Haggadah also echo those of the symposia:

Since Plato, a literary species, the so-called Symposia, had developed in which a description was given of a banquet held by a few learned men who had met at a friend’s house to discuss scientific, philosophical, ethical, aesthetical, grammatical, dietetic and religious themes over a glass, and very often over a barrel of wine, after they had dined together. Plutarch, one of the most famous contributors to [this] literature, summarizes earlier practice and theory in the following manner: “A symposium is a communion of serious and mirthful entertainment, discourse and actions.” It is meant to further “a deeper insight into those points that were debated at table, for the remembrance of those pleasures which arise from meat and drink is not genteel and short-lived…but the subjects of philosophical queries and discussions remain always fresh after they have been imparted…and they are relished by those who were absent as well as by those who were present at dinner”.


Let us now examine some of the Seder-Symposia literary parallels:


Easy Questions

According to the Mishnah (10:4), after the servant pours the second cup of wine, the son asks his father questions. But if the son does not have understanding, his father teaches him: “How different this night is from all other nights!”(10) The father then, according to the manuscripts of the Mishnah, asks or exclaims about three subjects: why do we dip twice, why do we eat only matzah, and why do we eat only roasted meat. (11)


Plutarch, a contemporary of the five Sages in the Haggadah who reclined in Bene Berak, says that the “questions [at a symposium] should be easy, the problems known, the interrogations plain and familiar, not intricate and dark, so that they may neither vex the unlearned nor frighten them…” (Stein, p.19). According to Gellius, the questions were not too serious; they may deal with a point touching an ancient history. Macrobius says that he who wishes to be a pleasant questioner should ask easy questions and be sure that the subject had been thoroughly studied by the other person. Many symposia questions deal with diet and food:

-         are different sorts of food or one single dish eaten at one meal more easily digestible?

-         Does the sea or land afford better food?

-         Why are hunger allayed by drinking, but thirst increased by eating?

-         Why do the Pythagoreans forbid fish more than other foods? (Stein, pp. 32-33)


The Sages in Bene Berak

The Haggadah contains one of the most famous stories in rabbinic literature:

A story is told of Rabbi Eliezer Azaryah, Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Tarfon who were reclining at Bene Berak and were talking about the Exodus from Egypt that entire night, until their pupils came and said to them: “Our masters, the time for the morning Shema has arrived.”


Similarly, the symposia literature is supposed to include the names of the participants, the place, the subject of discussion and the occasion. Macrobius (early 5th century C.E.) relates:

During the Saturnalia, distinguished members of the aristocracy and other scholars assembled at the house of Vettius Praetextatus to celebrate the festive time [of Saturnalia] solemnly by a discourse befitting freemen. [The host explained] the origin of the cult and the cause of the festival (Stein, pp. 33-34)


Sometimes, the symposium lasted until dawn. As early as in Plato’s Symposium (4th century B.C.E.), the crowing of the cock reminds the guests to go home. Socrates, on that occasion, went on to the Lyceum (a gymnasium where philosophers also taught) (Stein, p. 34).


Begin with Disgrace and Conclude with Praise

According to the Mishnah (10:4), the father at the Seder “begins with disgrace and concludes with praise”. This, too, was a Roman technique. Quintillian (30-100 C.E.) says: “[It is good in a eulogy to]… have ennobled a humble origin by the glory of his achievements…at times weakness may contribute largely to our admiration” (Stein, p. 37).


Pesah, Matzah and Maror

According to the Mishnah (10:5), Rabban Gamliel said that one must explain “Pesah, Matzah and Maror” at the Seder and he proceeds to connect each term with a biblical verse. In the Talmud (Pesahim 116b), the Amora Rav (Israel and Babylon; d. 220 C.E.) said that the items must be lifted up when explaining them. Similarly, Macrobius relates in his Saturnalia: “Symmachus takes some nuts into his hands and asks Servius about the cause and origin of the variety of names given to them”. Servius and Gavius Bassus then give two different etymologies for the word juglans (walnut) (Stein, pp. 41-44).


The Nishmat Prayer

According to the Mishnah (10:7), we must recite Birkat Hashir, the “blessing of song” at the Seder. One opinion in the Talmud (Pesahim 118a) states that this refers to the Nishmat prayer which says:

Were our mouths filled with song as the sea, our lips with adoration as the spacious firmament, were our eyes radiant as the sun and the moon…we would still be unable to thank and bless Your name sufficiently, O Lord our God…

Similarly, Menander (4th century B.C.E.) gives an example of a logos basilikos (words praising the King):

As the eyes cannot measure the endless sea, thus one cannot easily describe the fame of the emperor.

Thus, in Nishmat, the basileus is not the emperor, but God, the King of Kings (Stein, p. 27).


IV) Conclusion


What can we learn from all these parallels? The Jewish people throughout the generations did not live in a vacuum; it absorbed much from its surroundings. But it did not absorb blindly. The Sages absorbed the form of the symposium from the Hellenistic world, but drastically changed its content. The Greeks and Romans discussed love, beauty, food and drink at the symposium, while the Sages at the Seder discussed the Exodus from Egypt, the miracles of God and the greatness of the Redemption. The symposium was meant for the elite, while the Sages turned the Seder into an educational experience for the entire Jewish people.


Indeed, this pattern repeated itself throughout Jewish history. Various scholars have shown that the 13 Midot of Rabbi Yishmael and as well as the 32 Midot are based on exegetical methods borrowed from the Ancient Near East and the Hellenistic world. Rav Saadia Gaon and others were greatly influenced by the Muslim Qal’am, while Maimonides was greatly influenced by Aristotelianism. Medieval Jewish bible commentators were influenced by Christian exegetes, while the Tosafists were influenced the by Christian glossators.(12)  In most of these cases, the rabbis borrowed the literary, legal or philosophical form of their contemporaries but totally changed the contents.


We are bombarded today by a host of outside influences from the Western world. May God give us the wisdom to selectively adopt some of their forms and to fill them with Jewish content as the Sages did at the Seder.




1.    For a summary of the biblical passages about Pesah, see Siegfried Stein, The Journal of Jewish Studies 8 (1957), pp. 13-15 and Baruch Bokser, The Origins of the Seder, Berkeley etc. 1984, pp. 14-19.

2.    A. E. Cowley, Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century B.C., 1923, pp. 60-65 quoted by Chaim Rapael, A Feast of History, London etc., 1972, p. 128 and Franz Kobler, A Treasury of Jewish Letters, Vol. 1, Philadelphia, 1953, p. 22; Book of Jubilees, Chapter 49; Philo, The Special Laws, II, 145 ff.; Josephus, in numerous passages. Regarding these passages, see Stein, pp. 15, 20-23 and Bokser, pp. 19-25. There are a number of parallels between the New Testament and Mishnah and Tosefta Pesahim (Stein, p. 23 and Bokser, pp. 25-28) which seem to indicate that the kernel of the rabbinic texts pre-dates the Destruction in 70 C.E. – see the following note.

3.    David Zvi Hoffman, Y. N. Epstein and Yosef Tabori believe that the basic texts are pre-destruction; while Stein, Bokser, Shmuel and Zev Safrai, and Shamma Friedman believe they are post-destruction. It is possible to explain most of the texts in both fashions and my tendency is to agree with the earlier dating. In any case, the exact date of these texts does not influence the main thesis of this article.

4.    Stein, pp. 13-44.

5.    See, for example, Bokser, Chapter 5; Raphael, pp. 86-92; Yosef Tabory, Pesah Dorot, Tel Aviv, 1996, pp. 367-377. Bokser thinks that the Sages adopted the symposium after the Destruction in order to find a replacement for the Paschal sacrifice, which could no longer be brought. Yisrael Yuval, Shnei Goyim B’vitnekh, Tel Aviv, 2000, pp. 77-107 maintains that the Seder was the Jewish answer to the early Christians who developed a Christian Seder/symposium at Pesach which retold the story of Jesus and his resurrection. I do not find Yuval’s theory convincing. I think that both Jews and Christians reworked the symposium, but not because they were competing with each other.

6.    For illustrations of the symposia, see Hugo Blumner, The Home Life of the Ancient Greeks, London, etc., 1893, pp. 210-211, 222; Raphael, p. 89; Magen Broshi, Al Hayayin B’eretz Yisrael Hakedumah, Tel Aviv, 1985, p. 35; Michal Dayagi-Mendels, Drink and Be Merry: Wine and Beer in Ancient Times Jerusalem, 1999, pp. 87-97.

7.    Abba Bendavid, Leshon Mikra Uleshon Hakhamim, Vol. 1, Tel Aviv, 1967, p. 136 and cf. Tabory, p. 199, note 29, for a lengthy discussion of the etymology of this idiom.

8.    There is vast literature on this subject. See, for example, J. Feliks, Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol. 11, cols. 62-63, s.v. lettuce.

9.    Saul Lieberman, Hayerushalmi Kifshuto, Jerusalem, 1934, p. 521. His explanation was accepted by Daniel Goldschmidt, Seder Haggadah Shel Pesach, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, 1948, pp. 11, 33; Chanokh Albeck, Sisha Sidrey Mishnah, Seder Moed, Jerusalem-Tel Aviv, 1952, p. 179; Stein, p. 18, note 20 and p. 36; Bokser, p. 65 and the literature ibid. p. 132, note 62.

10.                       This is the correct translation according to many modern scholars. See, for example, Raphael, p. 27.

11.                        For the development of Mah Nishtanah from three to four questions, see, for example, Daniel Goldschmidt, Haggadah Shel Pesah etc. Jerusalem, 1960, pp. 10-13.

12.                        Space does not allow me to list all of the literature on these topics.



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Neusner, Jacob (ed.), Normative Judaism, Garland Publishing, Inc., 1990.

Newsome, James D, Greeks, Romans, Jews : currents of culture and belief in the New Testament world, Trinity Press International, c1992.

Rajak, Tessa, The Jewish dialogue with Greece and Rome: studies in cultural and social interaction, Leiden ; Boston : Brill, 2001.

Rihll, T. E.  Greek science, Oxford University Press, 1999.

Sambursky, Samuel, The physical world of late antiquity, Routledge and Kegan Paul, [c1962]

Sambursky, Samuel, The physical world of the Greeks; translated from the Hebrew by Merton Dagut ; with a new preface by the author, Princeton University Press, 1987, c1956.

Scholem, G, Kabbalah article in Encyclopedia Judaica vol. 10 cols. 489-653, Keter 1972

Schürer, Emil, 1844-1910 , The History of the Jewish people in the age of Jesus Christ (175 B.C.-A.D. 135), literary editor:Pamela Vermes ; organizing editor:Matthew Black, Edinburgh : T. & T. Clark, 1973-1987.

Smallwood, E. Mary, The Jews under Roman rule : from Pompey to Diocletian : a study in political relations, Leiden : Brill, 1981.

Sterling, Gregory E. (ed.), The ancestral philosophy: Hellenistic philosophy in Second Temple Judaism - essays of David Winston , Brown Judaic Studies, c2001.

Talmon,  Shemaryahu (ed.) Jewish civilization in the Hellenistic-Roman period, Philadelphia : Trinity Press International, c1991

Tcherikover, Victor, Hellenistic civilization and the Jews ; translated by S. Applebaum, Atheneum, 1970.

Twersky, Isadore, Introduction to the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah), Yale University Press, 1980.

Twersky, Isadore, A Maimonides Reader, Behrman 1972

Winston, David, The ancestral philosophy : Hellenistic philosophy in Second Temple Judaism,  Brown Judaic Studies, c2001.

Wylen, Stephen M, The Jews in the time of Jesus : an introduction,  Paulist Press, c1996.

Zakovitch, Yair. The concept of the miracle in the Bible (English translation), Shmuel Himelstein. Tel Aviv : MOD Books, c1991.

[1] Normative here refers to the Rabbinic literary tradition which remained normative in Rabbinic circles until the beginning of the 19th century, and in traditional circles, until the present.  It is not always possible to distinguish borrowing from parallel development in the shared Hellenistic milieu or just the use of Greek terminology for a Jewish concept.

[1] Levine, Lee I. Judaism and Hellenism in antiquity: conflict or confluence?, Hendrickson Publishers, 1998. p. 96.

[2] See article Authority Rabbinical in Encyclopedia Judaica vol. 3 cols. 907-911, Keter 1972

[3] From Encyclopedia Britannica article on Philosophy, History of “ There was still another Hellenistic school of philosophy, the Skeptic school initiated by another of Zeno's contemporaries—Pyrrhon of Elis—a school that was destined to become of great importance for the preservation of a detailed knowledge of Hellenistic philosophy in general. Pyrrhon had come to the conviction that no man can know anything for certain nor ever be certain that the things he perceives with his senses are real and not illusory. He is said to have carried the practical consequences of his conviction so far that, when walking in the streets, he paid no attention to the vehicles and other obstacles, so that his faithful disciples always had to accompany him to see that he came to no harm. Pyrrhon's importance for the history of philosophy lies in the fact that one of the later adherents of his doctrine, Sextus Empiricus (2nd–3rd century AD), wrote a large work, Pros dogmatikous (“Against the Dogmatists”), in which he triedto refute all of the philosophers who had a more positive philosophy, and in so doing he quoted extensively from their works, thus preserving much that would otherwise have been lost. It is a noteworthy fact that the British sensualists of the 18th century, such as David Hume, and also Immanuel Kant derived most of their knowledge of ancient philosophy from Sextus”.

[4] From Encyclopedia Britannica article on Philosophy, History of  “The thought of Zeno's contemporary Epicurus also comprised a philosophy of defense in a troubled world. It has been (and still is) considered—in manyrespects justly—the opposite of Zeno's. Whereas Zeno had proclaimed that the wise man would try to learn from everybody and would always acknowledge his debt to earlier philosophers, Epicurus insisted that everything he taught was the result of his own thinking, though it is obvious that his physical explanation of the universe is a simplification of Democritus' Atomism. And whereas the Stoics had taught that pleasure and pain are of no importance for a man's happiness, Epicurus made pleasure the very essence of a happy life. Moreover, the Stoics from the beginning had acted as advisers of kings and statesmen. Epicurus, on the other hand, lived in the retirement of his famous Garden, cultivating intimate friendships with his adherents but warning against participation in public life. The Stoics believed in divine providence; Epicurus taught that the gods pay no attention whatsoever to human beings. Yet in spite of these contrasts, the two philosophies had some essential factors in common. Though Epicurus made pleasure the criterion of a good life, he was far from advocating a dissolute life and debauchery; he insisted that it was the simple pleasures that made life happy. When in his old age he suffered terrible pains from prostatitis, he asserted that philosophizing and the memory and love of his distant friends made pleasure prevail even in the grips of such pain. Nor was Epicurus an atheist. His Roman admirer, the poet Lucretius Carus (c. 95–55 BC), in his poem De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things), praised Epicurus enthusiastically as the liberator of mankind from all religious fears;and Epicurus himself had affirmed that this had been one of the aims of his philosophy. But although he taught that the gods are much too superior to trouble themselves with paying attention to mortals, he said—and, as his language clearly shows, sincerely believed—that it is important for human beings to look at the gods as perfect beings, since only in this way could men approach perfection. It was only in Roman times that people began to misunderstand Epicureanism, holding it to be an atheistic philosophy justifying a dissolute life, so that a man could be called “a swine from the herd of Epicurus.” Seneca recognized the true nature of Epicureanism, however, and in his Epistulae morales (Moral Letters) deliberately interspersed through his Stoic exhortations maxims from Epicurus.”

[5] From Encyclopedia Britannica article on Philosophy, History of

 “The Stoic system was created by a Syrian, Zeno of Citium (about the turn of the 3rd century BC), who went to Athens as a merchant but lost his fortune at sea. Zeno was consoled by the Cynic philosopher Crates, who taught him that material possessions were of no importance whatsoever for a man's happiness. He therefore stayed at Athens, heard the lectures of various philosophers, and—after he had elaborated his own philosophy—began to teach in a public hall, the Stoa Poikile (hence the name Stoicism).

“Zeno's thought comprised, essentially, a dogmatized Socratic philosophy, with added ingredients derived from Heracleitus. The basis of human happiness, he said, is to live “in agreement” (with oneself), a statement that was later replaced by the formula “to live in agreement with nature.” The only real good for man is the possession of virtue; everything else (wealth or poverty, health or illness, life or death) is completely indifferent. All virtues are based exclusively on right knowledge—self-control … being the knowledge of the right choice, fortitude the knowledge of what must be endured and what must not, and justice the right knowledge “in distribution.”The passions, which are the cause of all evil, are the result of error in judging what is a real good and what is not. Because it is difficult to see, however, why murder, fraud, and theft should be considered evil if life and possessions are of no value, the doctrine was later modified by making among the “indifferent things” distinctions between “preferable things,” suchas having the necessities of life and health; “completely indifferent things”; and “anti-preferable things,” such as lacking the necessities of life or being ill—while insisting still that the happiness of the truly wise man could not be impaired by illness, pain, hunger, or any deprivation of external goods. In the beginning, Zeno also insisted that either a man is completely wise, in which case he would never do anything wrong and would be completely happy, or he is a fool. Later he made the concession, however, that there are men not completely wise but progressing toward wisdom. Though the latter might even have true insight, they are not certain that they have it, whereas the truly wise man is also certain of having true insight. The world is governed by divine Logos—a word originally meaning “word” or “speech,” then (with Heracleitus) also a speech that expresses the laws of the universe, and, finally, “reason.” This Logos keeps the world in perfect order. Man can deviate from or rebel against this order, but by doing so he cannot disturb it but can only do harm to himself.

“Zeno's philosophy was further developed by Cleanthes, the second head of the school, and by Chrysippus, its third head. Chrysippus elaborated a new kind of logic, which did not receive much attention, however, outside the Stoic school until in recent times (under the name of “propositional logic”) it has been hailed by some logicians as superior to the “conceptual logic” of Aristotle. In the mid-2nd century BC, Panaetius of Rhodes adapted Stoic philosophy to the needs of the Roman aristocracy (whose members were then governing the known world) and made a great impression on some of the leading men of the time, who tried to follow his moral precepts. In the following century, in the time of the decay of the Roman Republic, of civil war,and of slave rebellions, Poseidonius of Apamea, who was also one of the most brilliant historians of all times, taught that the Stoic takes a position above the rest of mankind, looking down on men's struggles as on a spectacle. In the periods of the rising monarchy and of its established rule, Stoicism became the religion of the republican opposition. The most famous Stoic was the younger Cato, who committed suicide after the victory of Julius Caesar. It was also the guiding philosophy of Seneca the Younger, the educator and (for a long time) the adviser of Nero, who tried to keep Neroon the path of virtue but failed and finally had to commit suicide on the orders of the Emperor. In spite of the oddities of Zeno's original doctrine, Stoicism gave consolation, composure, and fortitude in times of trouble to many proud men to the end of antiquity and beyond.”

[6] The extension of paradigms beyond their useful boundaries is a common happening.  One need only consider Social Darwinism as a more recent example.

[7] From Encyclopedia Britannica article on Physical Science -  “The physical sciences ultimately derive from the rationalistic materialism that emerged in classical Greece, itself an outgrowth of magical and mythical views of the world. The Greek philosophers of the 6th and 5th centuries BC abandoned the animism of the poets and explained the world in terms of ordinarily observable natural processes. These early philosophers posed the broad questions that still underlie science: How didthe world order emerge from chaos? What is the origin of multitude and variety in the world? How can motion and change be accounted for? What is the underlying relation between form and matter? Greek philosophy answered these questions in terms that provided the framework for science for approximately 2,000 years.”

[8] See the Hellenistic Period in Ancient Iraq by G. Roux, Penguin 1964

[9] From Encyclopedia Britannica article Education, History of

“The primary school.  The child from seven to 14 years of age went to the school of letters, conducted thither, as in the classical period, by the paidagxgos, whose role was not limited to accompanying the child: he had also to educate him in good manners and morals and finally to act as a lesson coach. Literacy and numeration were taught in the private school conducted by the grammatistes. Class sizes varied considerably, from a few pupils to perhaps dozens. The teaching of reading involved an analytical method that made the process very slow. First the alphabet was taught from alpha to omega, and then backward, then from both ends at once: alpha–omega, beta–psi, and so on to mu–nu. (A comparable progression in the Latin alphabet would be A–Z, B–Y, and so on to M–N.) Then were taught simple syllables—ba, be, bi, bo—followed by more complex ones and then by words, successively of one, two, and three syllables. The vocabulary list included rare words (e.g., some of medical origin), chosen for their difficulty of reading and pronunciation. It took several years for the child to be able to read connected texts, which were anthologies of famous passages. With reading was associated recitation and, of course, practice in writing, which followed the same gradual plan.

“The program in mathematics was very limited; rather than computation, the subject, strictly speaking, was numeration: learning the whole numbers and fractions, their names, their written notations, their representation in finger counting (in assorted bent positions of the fingers and assorted placementsof either hand relative to the body). The general use of tokens and of the abacus made the teaching of methods of computation less necessary than it became in the modern world.

“Secondary education.  Between the primary school and the various types of higher education, the Hellenistic educational system introduced a program of intermediate, preparatory studies—a preliminary education, a kind of common trunk preparing for the different branches of higher culture, enkyklios paideia (“general, or common, education”). This general education, far from having “encyclopaedic” ambitions in the modern sense of the word, represented a reaction against the inordinate ambitions of philosophy and, more generally,of the Aristotelian ideals of culture, which had demanded the large accumulation of intellectual attainments. The program of the enkyklios paideia was limited to the common points on which, as noted earlier, the rival pedagogies of Plato and of Isocrates agreed, namely, the study of literature and mathematics. Specialized teachers taught each of these subjects. The mathematics program had not changed since the ancient Pythagoreans and comprised four disciplines—arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and harmonics (not the art of music but the theory of the numerical laws regulating intervals and rhythm). The primary function of the grammatikos, or professor of letters, was to present and explicate the great classic authors: Homer first of all, of whom every cultivated man was expected to have a deep knowledge, and Euripides and Menander—the other poets being scarcely known except through anthologies. Although poetry remained the basis of literary culture, room was made for prose—for the great historians, for the orators, Demosthenes in particular, even for the philosophers. Along with these explications of texts, the students were introduced to exercises in literary composition of a very elementary character(for example, summarizing a story in a few lines).

“The program of this intermediate education did not attain its definitive formulation until the second half of the 1st century BC, after the appearance of the first manual devoted to the theoretical elements of language, a slim grammatical treatise by Dionysius Thrax. The program then consisted of the seven liberal arts: the three literary arts of grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic and the four mathematical disciplines noted above. (These were, respectively, the trivium and the quadrivium of medieval education, though the latter term did not appear until the 6th century and the former not until the9th century.) The long career of this program should not conceal the fact that in the course of the centuries it fell into disuse and became rather largely a theory or abstraction; in reality, literary studies gradually took over at the expense of the sciences. Of the four mathematical disciplines, only one remained in favour—astronomy. And this was not merely because of its connections with astrology but primarily because of the popularity of the basic textbook used to teach it—the Phaenomena, a poem in 1,154 hexameters by Aratus of Soli—whose predominantly literary quality was suited to textual explications. Not until about the 3rd and 4th centuries AD was the need of a sound preparatory mathematical education again recognized and put into practice.”

[11] From Encyclopedia Britannica “The spirit of independent research was quite foreign to the Roman mind, so scientific innovation ground to a halt. The scientific legacy of Greece was condensed and corrupted into Roman encyclopaedias whose major function was entertainment rather than enlightenment. Typical of this spirit was the 1st-century-AD aristocrat Pliny the Elder, whose Natural History was a multivolume collection of myths, odd tales of wondrous creatures, magic, and some science, all mixed together uncritically for the titillation of other aristocrats. Aristotle would have been embarrassed by it.”

[12] See Burn chapter The End of Ancient Greece.

[13] “(Herodotus) … swallows many superstitions, records many miracles, quotes oracles piously, and darkens his pages with omens and auguries; he gives the dates of Semele, Dionysus, and Heracles; and presents all history, like a Greek Bossuet, as the drama of a Divine Providence rewarding the virtues and punishing the sins, crimes, and insolent prosperity of men. But he has his rationalistic moments....

Nevertheless the difference between the mind of Herodotus and that of Thucydides is almost the difference between adolescence and maturity.

Thucydides is one of the phenomena of the Greek Enlightenment, a descendant of the Sophists …. He received all the education available in Athens, and grew up in the odor of skepticism. When the Peloponnesian War broke out he kept a record of it from day to day. In 430 he suffered from the plague. In 424, aged thirty-six (or forty), he was chosen one of two generals to command a naval expedition to Thrace.

Because he failed to lead his forces to Amphipolis in time to relieve it from siege, he was exiled by the Athenians. He spent the next twenty years of his life in travel, especially in the Peloponnesus; to this direct acquaintance with the enemy we owe something of the impressive impartiality the Peloponnesians and the Athenians from the moment that it broke out, believing that it would be an important war, and more worthy of relation than any that had preceded it…. Herodotus wrote partly with an eye to entertain the educated reader; Thucydides writes to furnish information for future historians, and the guidanceof precedent for future statesmanship.... Herodotus ranged from place to place and from age to age; Thucydides forces his story into a rigid chronological frame of seasons and years, sacrificing the continuity of his narrative. Herodotus wrote in terms of personalities rather than processes, feeling that processes operate through personalities; Thucydides, though he recognizes the role of exceptional individuals in history … leans rather to impersonal recording and the consideration of causes, developments, and results. Herodotus wrote of far-off events reported to him in most cases at second or third hand; Thucydides speaks often as an eyewitness, or as one who has spoken with eyewitnesses, or has seen the original documents; in several instances he gives the documents concerned. He has a keen conscience for accuracy; even his geography has been verified in detail. He seldom passes moralistic judgments upon men or events … he keeps himself aloof from his story, gives the facts with fairness to both sides, and recounts the story of

Thucydides' brief military career as if he had never known, much less been, the man. He is the father of scientific method in history, and is proud of the care and industry with which he has worked. "On the whole," he says, with a glance at Herodotus, the conclusions I have drawn from the proofs quoted may, I believe, be safely relied on. Assuredly they will not be disturbed either by the lays of a poet displaying the exaggeration of his craft, or by the compositions of the chroniclers that are attractive at truth's expense-the subjects they treat being out of the reach of evidence, and time having robbed most of them of historical value by enthroning them in the region of legend. Turning from these, we can rest satisfied with having proceeded upon the clearest data, and having arrived at conclusions as exact as can be expected in matters of such antiquity. . . . The absence of romance in my history will, I fear, detract somewhat from its interest; but if it be judged useful by those inquirers who desire an exact knowledge of the past as an aid to the interpretation of the future-which, in the course of human affairs, must resemble, if it does not reflect, the past-I shall be content. In fine, I have written my work not as an essay which is to win the applause of the moment, but as a possession for all time.'"

Nevertheless, he yields accuracy to interest in one particular: he has a passion for putting elegant speeches into the mouths of his characters. He frankly admits that these orations are mostly imaginary, but they help him to explain and vivify personalities, ideas, and events. He claims that each speech represents the substance of an address actually given at the time; if this is true, all Greek statesmen and generals must have studied rhetoric with Gorgias, philosophy with the Sophists, and ethics with Thrasymachus. The speeches have all the same style, the same subtlety, the same realism of view; they make the laconic Laconian as windy as any Sophist bred Athenian. They put the most undiplomatic arguments into the mouths of diplomats, and the most compromising honesty into the words of generals. The "Funeral Oration" of Pericles is an excellent essay on the virtues of Athens, and comes with fine grace from the pen of an exile; but Pericles was famous for simplicity of speech rather than for rhetoric; and Plutarch spoils the romance by saying that Pericles left nothing written, and that of his sayings hardly anything was preserved,'"

Thucydides has defects corresponding to his virtues… there is no humor in his book…. he has an eye only for political and military events. He fills his pages with martial details, but makes no mention of any artist, or any work of art. He seeks causes sedulously, but seldom sinks beneath political to economic factors in the determination of events. Though writing for future generations, he tells us nothing of the constitutions of the Greek states, nothing of the life of the cities, nothing of the institutions of society. He is as exclusive towards women as towards the gods; he will not have them in his story; and he makes the gallant Pericles, who risked his career for a courtesan advocate of feminine freedom, say that "a woman's best fame is to be as seldom as possible mentioned by men, either for censure or for praise.""… Here at least is an historical method, a reverence for truth, an acuteness of observation, an impartiality of judgment, a passing splendor of language and fascination of style, a mind both sharp and profound, whose ruthless realism is a tonic to our naturally romantic souls. Here are no legends, no myths, and no miracles. He accepts the heroic tales, but tries to explain them in naturalistic terms. As for the gods, he is devastatingly silent; they have no place in his history. He is sarcastic about oracles and their safe ambiguity, and scornfully exposes the stupidity of Nicias in relying upon oracles rather than knowledge. He recognizes no guiding Providence, no divine plan, not even "progress"; he sees life and history as a tragedy at once sordid and noble, redeemed now and then by great men, but always relapsing into superstition and war. In him the conflict between religion and philosophy is decided; and philosophy wins.” THE STORY OF CIVILIZATION: PART II NT THE LIFE OF GREECE: Being a history of Greek civilization from the beginnings, and of civilization in the Near East from the death of Alexander, to the Roman conquest By Will Durant, SIMON AND SCHUSTER, NEW YORK, Pp. 433-435

[14] Cf. See Levine, Lee I. Judaism and Hellenism in antiquity: conflict or confluence?, Hendrickson Publishers, 1998. pp. 18-32

[15] See Koester.

[17] Levine, Lee I. Judaism and Hellenism in antiquity: conflict or confluence?, Hendrickson Publishers, 1998. pp. 39-40

[18] From Encyclopedia Britannica article on Science, History of – “There seems to be no good reason why the Hellenes, clustered in isolated city-states in a relatively poor and backward land, should have struck out into intellectual regions that were only dimly perceived, if at all, by the splendid civilizations of the Yangtze, the Tigris and Euphrates, and the Nile valleys. There were many differences between ancient Greece and the other civilizations, but perhaps the most significant was religion. What is striking about Greek religion, in contrast to the religions of Mesopotamia and Egypt, is its puerility. Both of the great river civilizations evolved complex theologies that served to answer most, if not all, of the large questions about mankind's place and destiny. Greek religion did not. It was, in fact, little more than a collection of folk tales, more appropriate to the campfire than to the temple. Perhaps this was the result of the collapse of an earlier Greek civilization, now called Mycenaean, toward the end of the 2nd millennium BC, when a dark age descended upon Greece that lasted for three centuries. All that was preserved were stories of gods and men, passed along by poets, that dimly reflected Mycenaean values and events. Such were the great poems of Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey, in which heroes and gods mingled freely with one another. Indeed, they mingled too freely, for the gods appear in these tales as little more than immortal adolescents whose tricks and feats, when compared with the concerns of a Marduk or Jehovah, are infantile. There really was no Greek theology in the sense that theology provides a coherent and profound explanation of the workings of both the cosmos and the human heart. Hence, there were no easy answers to inquiring Greek minds. The result was that ample room was left for a more penetrating and ultimately more satisfying mode of inquiry. Thus were philosophy and its oldest offspring, science, born.”

[19] “The Greek looked out upon the world through an atmosphere singularly free from the mist of allegory and myth: the contrast between the philosophy of the East and the first attempts of the Ionian physicists is as striking as the difference between an Indian jungle and the sunny, breeze-swept shores of the Mediterranean.  Greek Religion exercised hardly more than an indirect influence on Greek philosophy. Popular beliefs were so crude as to their speculative content that they could not long retain their hold on the mind of the philosopher. Consequently, such influence as they directly exercised was antagonistic to philosophy. Yet it was the popular beliefs which, by keeping alive among the Greeks an exquisite appreciation of form and an abiding sense of symmetry, did not permit the philosopher to take a partial or an isolated view of things. In this way Greek religion indirectly fostered that imperative desire for a totality of view which, in the best days of Greek speculation, enabled Greek philosophy to attain its most important results.” http://www.nd.edu/Departments/Maritain/etext/hop01.htm

[20] From Catholic Encyclopedia “As ethics is the philosophical treatment of the moral order, its history does not consist in narrating the views of morality entertained by different nations at differnt times; this is properly the scope of the history of civilisation, and of ethnology. The history of ethics is concerned solely with the various philosophical systems which in the course of time have been elaborated with reference to the moral order. Hence the opinions advanced by the wise men of antiquity, such as Pythagoras (582-500 B.C.), Heraclitus (535-475 B.C.), Confucius (558-479 B.C.), scarcely belong to the history of ethics; for, though they proposed various moral truths and principles, they dis so in a dogmatic and didactic, and not in a philosophically systematic manner. Ethics properly so-called is first met with among the Greeks, i.e.in the teaching of Socrates (470- 399 B.C.).”

[21] Aristotle’s ethics are based on his view of the universe. He saw it as a hierarchy in which everything has a function. The highest form of existence is the life of the rational being, and the function of lower beings is to serve this form of life.

[22] From Encyclopedia Britannica “the various kinds of Platonism can be said to have in common is an intense concern for the quality of human life—always ethical, often religious, and sometimes political, based on a belief in unchanging and eternal realities, independent of the changing things of the world perceived by the senses. Platonism sees these realities both as the causes of the existence of everything in the universe and as giving value and meaning to its contents in general and the life of its inhabitants in particular. It is this belief in absolute values rooted in an eternal world that distinguishes Platonism from the philosophies of Plato's immediate predecessors and successors and from later philosophies inspired by them—from the immanentist naturalism of most of the pre-Socratics (who interpreted the world monistically in terms of nature as such), from the relativism of the Sophists, and from the correction of Platonism in a this-worldly direction carried out by Plato's greatest pupil, Aristotle”

[23] From Encyclopedia Britannica “Perhaps the most important legacy of Stoicism, however, is its conviction that all human beings share the capacity to reason. This led the Stoics to a fundamental sense of equality, which went beyond the limited Greek conception of equal citizenship. Thus Seneca claimed that the wise man will esteem the community of rational beings far above any particular community in which the accident of birth has placed him, and Marcus Aurelius said that common reason makes all individuals fellow citizens. The belief that human reasoning capacities are common to all was also important, because from it the Stoics drew the implication that there is a universal moral law, which all people are capable of appreciating. The Stoics thus strengthened the tradition that sees the universality of reason asthe basis on which ethical relativism is to be rejected. … Both Stoic and Epicurean ethics can be seen as precursors of later trends in Western ethics: the Stoics of the modern belief in equality.”

[24] From Encyclopedia Britannica “Epicurus developed his position systematically. To determine whether something is good, he would ask if it increased pleasure or reduced pain. If it did, it was good as a means; if it did not, it was not good at all. Thus justice was good but merely as an expedient arrangement to prevent mutual harm. Why not then commit injustice when we can get away with it? Only because, Epicurus says, the perpetual dread of discovery will cause painful anxiety. Epicurus also exalted friendship, and the Epicureans were famous for the warmth of their personal relationships; but, again, they proclaimed that friendship is good only because of its tendency to create pleasure. Both Stoic and Epicurean ethics can be seen as precursors of later trends in Western ethics… the Epicureans of a Utilitarian ethic based on pleasure.”

[25] Encyclopedia Judaica vol. 6 cols. 933-934, Keter 1972

[26] see Maimonides’ 13 Principles of Faith “… we believe that the entire Torah which is found in our hands today is the Torah which was given through Moses, and that it is all of divine origin.  This means that it all reached him from God in a manner that we metaphorically call “speech”.  The exact quality of that communication is only known to Moses … to whom it came, and that he acted as a scribe to whom one dictates….And there is no difference between: And the sons of Ham were Cush … or And his wife’s name was Mehetabel… or I am the Lord, or Hear, O, Israel, the Lorod our God, the Lord is One.  For all are of divine origin and all belong to the Law of God which is perfect, pure, holy and true..  for this reason, in the eyes of the Sages, there was no greater unbeliever and heretic than Manasseh, because he thought that  that in the torah there were grain and chaff and that these chronicles and narratives have no value at all, and that Moses said them on his own”  Maimonides’ Commentary on the Mishnah Tractate Sanhedrin trans. Fred Rosner 1981, p.

[27] “…the definition of the miracle by the philosopher Hume: ‘A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature…’…This view does not coincide with that of biblical literature, which does not know of the concept of nature…(to the scriptures) miracles…are an integral component of God’s rule in his world” Zakovitch, Yair. The concept of the miracle in the Bible (English translation), Shmuel Himelstein. Tel Aviv : MOD Books, c1991. P21

[28] From  Sambursky, Samuel, The physical world of the Greeks; translated from the Hebrew by Merton Dagut ; with a new preface by the author, Princeton University Press, 1987, c1956. p 16

“On Why it is said that the Greeks “invented” science.

In short, because they introduced the notions of natural causality and rational proof; because they tried to eliminate what they considered to be supernatural elements from their explanations for natural phenomena, because they made (often unobserved and sometimes unobservable) connections between phenomena and ordered them into parts and wholes or causes and effects (rather than just amassed observations), and because they tried to think their way rationally (which does not mean logically or sensibly to modern tastes) through the perceived order of observed phenomena.  The belief in natural causation with consequent natural effects was matched by a belief that knowledge precedes by reasoning from intellectual premise to rational conclusion.”


“… (The) law of causality…. States that there is conformity with law throughout nature; nothing is arbitrary, there is a necessity for everything, as we see in the regular occurrence of all phenomena.  Without this necessity, no accumulation of experience would be possible…. Its success in the realm of theoretical physics provides the fullest confirmation of the general law.

The conception of general conformity with law existing in nature is contained in Greek philosophy from the beginning.”

[29] From Encyclopedia Britannica “Astrology is a method of predicting mundane events based upon the assumption that the celestial bodies—particularly the planets and the stars considered in their arbitrary combinations or configurations (called constellations)—in some way either determine or indicate changes in the sublunar world. The theoretical basis for this assumption lies historically in Hellenistic philosophy and radically distinguishes astrology from the celestial omina (“omens”) that were first categorized and cataloged in ancient Mesopotamia. Originally, astrologers presupposed a geocentric universe in which the “planets” (including the Sun and Moon) revolve in orbits whose centres are at or near the centre of the Earth, and in which the stars are fixed upon a sphere with a finite radius whose centre is also the centre of the Earth. Later, the principles of Aristotelian physics were adopted,according to which there is an absolute division between the eternal, circularmotions of the heavenly element and the limited, linear motions of the four sublunar elements: fire, air, water, earth.”

From Koester, Helmut, Introduction to the New Testament, Fortress Press ; Berlin [Germany] ; New York : De Gruyter, c1982.p. 380

“…astrology began its victorious advance, advertising its ability to disclose the relationship of human fate to the powers of the stars.  Thus astrology and magic became allies, because magic had always understood its craft as an intervention into the mysterious network of the powers of nature and cosmos.  Things celestial and terrestrial, stars and human beings, sould and body, spirit and matter, word and sacrament, names and gods – all were seen as corresponding parts of the same”scientific” conformity to the principles of the universe.”

[30] Deut 30:10-14 – “if you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the law, if you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.  For this commandment which I command you this day is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, `Who will go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, `Who will go over the sea for us, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' But the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

Deut. 29:29 "The secret things belong to the LORD our God; but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

[31] “The historical role of Hippocrates and his successors was the liberation of medicine from both religion and philosophy. Occasionally, as in the treatise on "Regimen," prayer is advised as an aid; but the page-by-page tone of the (Hypocratic) Collection is a resolute reliance upon rational therapy. The essay on "The Sacred Disease" directly attacks the theory that ailments are caused by the gods; all diseases, says the author, have natural causes. Epilepsy, which the people explained as possession by a demon, is not excepted: "Men continue to believe in its divine origin because they are at a loss to understand it. . . . Charlatans and quacks, having no treatment that would help, concealed and sheltered themselves behind superstition, and called this illness sacred in order that their complete ignorance might not be revealed." The mind of Hippocrates was typical of the Periclean time spirit-imaginative but realistic, averse to mystery and weary of myth, recognizing the value of religion, but struggling to understand the world in rational terms. The influence of the Sophists can be felt in this move for the emancipation of medicine; and indeed, philosophy so powerfully affected Greek therapy that the science had to fight against philosophical as well as theological impediments. Hippocrates insists that philosophical theories have no place in medicine, and that treatment must proceed by careful observation and accurate recording of specific cases and facts. He does not quite realize the value of experiment; but he is resolved to be guided by experience.” THE STORY OF CIVILIZATION: PART II NT THE LIFE OF GREECE: Being a history of Greek civilization from the beginnings, and of civilization in the Near East from the death of Alexander, to the Roman conquest By Will Durant, SIMON AND SCHUSTER, NEW YORK, Pp. 343-344

[32] “The origin of Greek historiography lies in the Ionian thought of the 6th century. The Ionian philosophers were doing something unprecedented: they were assuming that the universe is an intelligible whole and that through rational inquiries men might discover the general principles that govern it. Hecateus of Miletus, the most important Ionian predecessor of Herodotus, was applying the same critical spirit to the largely mythical Greek traditions when he wrote, early in the 5th century, “the stories of the Greeks are numerous and in my opinion ridiculous.” Herodotus was more of a traditionalist, but he introduced his work as an “inquiry”” Encyclopedia Britannica

[33]  See Hengel, Martin, Jews, Greeks and barbarians : aspects of the Hellenization of Judaism in the pre-Christian period; [translated by John Bowden from the German], SCM Press, c1980. p. 121

[34] The best general coverage of the topic fourth century BCE to fourth century CE is in Levine.

[35] The way in which the Rabbis built up … Talmudic law by means of an exegesis of the relatively few provisions contained in the Bible is still a mystery…. Orthodox Jews affirm that the methods used by the Rabbis and the results reached by them are of Sinaitic origin: God revealed them all to Moses during the forty days Moses stayed with him, and Moses, though not writing them down, transmitted them to Joshua, Joshua to the elders and so on. This dogma goes back to the Talmud itself …. But it is precisely in this province of 'legal science' that may be found the really important points of contact between the Talmud and other Hellenistic creations.

The thesis here to be submitted is that the Rabbinic methods of interpretation derive from Hellenistic rhetoric. Hellenistic rhetoric is at the bottom both of the fundamental ideas, presuppositions from which the Rabbis proceeded and of the major details of application, the manner in which these ideas were translated into practice. This is not to detract from the value of the work of the Rabbis. On the contrary, it is important to note that, when the Hellenistic methods were first adopted about 100 to 25 B.C., the 'classical,' Tannaitic era of Rabinic law was just opening. That is to say, the borrowing took place in the best period of Talmudic jurisprudence, when the Rabbis were masters, not slaves, of the new influences. The methods taken over were thoroughly Hebraized in spirit as well as form, adapted to the native material, worked out so as to assist the natural progress of Jewish law. It is the kind of thing which mutatis mutandis, happened at Rome in the same epoch…. However, in its beginnings, the Rabbinic system of hermeneutics is a product of the Hellenistic civilization then dominating the entire Mediterranean world..

There were, then, these diametrically opposed views: the Pharisaic, according to which the authority of the fathers must be unconditionally accepted, and the Sadducean, according to which the text alone was binding, while any question not answered by it might be approached quite freely, in a philosophical fashion. In this situation, Hillel declared that Scripture itself included the tradition of the fathers; and that it did so-here he took a leaf out of the other party's book-precisely if read as, on the most up-to-date teaching of the philosophical schools, a code of laws ought to be read. There existed, he claimed, a series of rational norms of exegesis making possible a sober clarification and extension of legal provisions. If they were applied to Scripture, the opinions expressed by the fathers would be vindicated, would turn out to be logical, not arbitrary; and in fact, he contended, some measuure of traditional, Rabbinic authority would always remain indispensable-not everybody was in a position to judge the merits of a doctrine approved by the experts…. His first public debate before the Pharisaic officers on the question whether the paschal lamb might be slaughtered even if Passover fell on a Sabbath--culminated in the demonstration that what he concluded from the Bible by means of his system of interpretation coincided with the traditional ruling. It was then that the Pharisees made him their leader and accepted his innovation…. He not only created the basis for a development of the law at the same time orderly and unlimited, but also led the way towards a bridging of the gulf between Pharisees and Sadducees.

On the one hand, he upheld the authority of tradition. Actually, in a sense, he increased it: as, for him, the traditional decisions were all logical, necessary inferences from the Bible, they were equal in rank to the latter….

First, the fundamental antithesis he tried to overcome was that between law resting on the respect for a great man, on the authority of tradition, and law resting on rational, intelligible considerations. This antithesisis common in the rhetorical literature of the time. His contemporary Cicero distinguishes between arguments from the nature of the case and arguments from external evidence, that is to say, from authority….

Secondly, Hillel claimed that any gaps in Scriptural law might be filled in with the help of certain modes of reasoning-a good, rhetorical theory.…

Thirdly, the result of such interpretation was to be of the same status as the text itself, was to be treated as if directly enjoined by the original lawgiver. This view also can be paralleled….

Fourthly, Hillel's assumption of 'a written Torah and an oral Torah' is highly reminiscent of the pair … ius scriptum and ius non scriptum (or per manus traditum

Fifthly, there is an idea which at first sight looks the exclusive property of the Rabbis, for whom the Bible had been composed under divine inspiration: the lawgiver foresaw the interpretation of his statutes, deliberately confined himself to a minimum, relying on the rest being inferable by a proper exegesis. (It is this idea which gradually led to the doctrine that the oral Law no less than the written is of Sinaitic origin: God, by word of mouth, revealed to Moses both the methods by which fresh precepts might be derived from Scripture and all precepts that would ever be in fact derived.) But even this is a stock argument of the orators.

Sixthly, it is the task of a lawgiver to lay down basic principles only, from which any detailed rules may be inferred. Just so, Cicero, in the imaginary role of a legislator, announces that 'the statutes will be set forth by me, not in a complete form-that would be endless but in the form of generalized questions and their decisions'….

Seventhly, it is the task of a lawgiver, if he wants to regulate a series of allied cases, to choose the most frequent and leave the others to be inferred on the ground of analogy. …

Hillel's jurisprudence, then, i. e. his theory of the relation between statute law, tradition and interpretation, was entirely in line with the prevalent Hellenistic ideas on the matter. The same is true of the details of execution, of the methods he proposed to give practical effect to his theory. The famous seven norms of hermeneutics he proclaimed, the seven norms in accordance with which Scripture was to be interpreted… betray the influence of the rhetorical teaching of his age….

In conclusion, attention may be drawn to four points that should be borne in mind when these matters are pursued in greater detail.

First, the influence of Hellenistic philosophy was not confined to the period of Hillel. It had started before; and it went on afterwards, in an increasing degree, for a long time. The systems of interpretation advocated by Ishmael and Akiba some 150 years later can be understood only against the background of the rhetorical teaching of the time….

Secondly, the influence of Hellenistic philosophy was not confined to the domain of interpretation. Such fundamental matters as the distinction between mishpatim, rational, natural laws, 'commandments which, were they not laid down, would have to be laid down,' and huqqoth, inexplicable laws, 'commandments which the evil impulse and the heathens refute,' are not of purely Jewish origin; and even the teaching that 'you have no right to criticize the huqqoth' was probably a commonplace before Plato…. Students of Roman law are familiar with the statements by Julian, 'It is impossible to give reasons for everything that our forefathers laid down,'and by Neratius, 'Wherefore it is not correct to inquire into the reasons of what they laid down, otherwise much that is secure would be undermined.'

From "Rabbinic Methods of Interpretation and Hellenistic Rhetoric" by David Daube, from Hebrew Union College Annual, vol. 22, pp. 239-264. Copyright 1949.

The hermeneutical rules for interpreting classical Greek literature that were in vogue in Hellenistic rhetorical circles were well known, especially in a major cultural center such as Alexandria. These rules, which include inferences a minori ad maius, inferences by analogy, and so on, were widely used among Greek rhetors and appear in the third-century C.E.Tosefta; their introduction into Pharisaic circles is attributed to Hillel, who lived at the end of the first century B.C.E. What are we to make of this coincidence between Greek and Jewish intellectual circles?

Almost a half century ago, D. Daube and S.Lieberman addressed this issue, each adopting a very different position. Lieberman, an avowed minimalist, admits that the terminology itself was borrowed. The rules appearing in both Jewish and Hellenistic traditions are identical; Hillel rendered into Hebrew terms that had already been in use for generations among the Greeks. However, the polemic between Daube and Lieberman is not whether the rabbis borrowed the terms themselves, but whether they also appropriated the hermeneutical methodology associated with these terms. Daube adopts a maximalist position, claiming that these rules were first introduced into rabbinic circles under the influence of Greek models. …

Was this type of hermeneutical activity indeed practiced within Pharisaic (or any other Jewish) circles before the first century B.C.E.? There is no indication of this in any earlier source, either biblical or postbiblical. Nor do we encounter any indirect evidence. We know of no exegesis that might be best explained by assuming the existence of these hermeneutical rules. Later biblical books have some material that appears to be based on a midrashic interpretation of earlier sources, as do a number of books from the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, and Qumran scrolls. However, in none of these instances have traces of hermeneutical rules been detected! Thus, Lieberman's assertion that midrashic methods similar to those of the Greeks were to be found among Palestinian sages remains an assumption only. Probably whatever midrashic activity did take place among the early Pharisees was intuitive and strictly ad hoc, with no theoretical underpinning as the later hermeneutical rules provided.

Thus, it is very possible that this area of midrashic activity among Pharisees began to develop significantly and dramatically only in Hillel's time with the aid of well-defined Greek hermeneutical rules that not only widened the parameters of such inquiry but also, by their very crystallization, motivated others to work in a similar fashion. If this be granted, then Hillel himself may well have been associated with such an innovation, and in all probability he appropriated both the methodology and terminology….

From  Judaism and Hellenism in Antiquity: Conflict or Confluence? By Lee I. Levine, University of Washington Press, SEATTLE & LONDON, 1998

[36] See Levine, Lee I. Judaism and Hellenism in antiquity: conflict or confluence?, Hendrickson Publishers, 1998.pp. 84 ff.

[37] See Hengel, Martin, Jews, Greeks and barbarians : aspects of the Hellenization of Judaism in the pre-Christian period; [translated by John Bowden from the German], SCM Press, c1980. p. 121

[38] See Levine, Lee I. Judaism and Hellenism in antiquity: conflict or confluence?, Hendrickson Publishers, 1998.pp. 141-142

[39] See Amir (Neumark), Y, Philo Judaeus  article in Encyclopedia Judaica vol. 13 cols. 409-415, Keter 1972; and an interesting summary statement in Koester, Helmut, Introduction to the New Testament, Fortress Press ; Berlin [Germany] ; New York : De Gruyter, c1982. p. 280

[40] On the adaptation of Greco-Roman elements to Jewish use see Fischel, H. A., Essays in Greco-Roman and Related Talmudic Literature, Ktav, 1977 pp. XVIII-XXIII

[41] From Sambursky, Samuel, The physical world of late antiquity, Routledge and Kegan Paul, [c1962] pp. ix-x

“In the history of Greek science one has to distinguish between two parallel developments: on the one hand scientific achievements  in the technical sense, comprising all the factual discoveries and inventions in mathematics, astronomy and the physical and biological sciences, and on the other hand scientific thought, aiming at the formation of comprehensive theories and the philosophical foundation of a scientific world-picture.   The development of science proper, taken in the first sense… faded out after the second century AD…. Scientific thought, however, continued… until the last Neo-Platonists in the middle of the sixth century AD. … In ancient Greece the scope of experimental research remained restricted because the Greeks, with very few exceptions, failed to take the decisive step from observation to systematic experimentation.  Thus hardly any links were formed between the few branches of science that developed, and they did not expand sufficiently to produce a coherent and interdependent system…. The scientific world-picture of Aristotle… became dominant in Greek and medieval thought.  In fact, it is one of the three major world views in the history of science, being followed after a long interval by that of Newton which has since been replaced by that of relativity and quantum physics.”

[42] See Levine, Lee I. Judaism and Hellenism in antiquity: conflict or confluence?, Hendrickson Publishers, 1998. pp. 164-166

[43] See Levine, Lee I. Judaism and Hellenism in antiquity: conflict or confluence?, Hendrickson Publishers, 1998. pp. 119-124

[44] See Levine, Lee I. Judaism and Hellenism in antiquity: conflict or confluence?, Hendrickson Publishers, 1998. pp. 116-119.

[45] From Lindberg, David  C., The Beginnings of Western Science, University of Chicago Press, 1992 p. 168-180

“The translation of Greek and Syriac works into Arabic… became serious business under Harun ar-Rashid (786-809)….  By the year 1000 AD, almost the entire corpus of Greek medicine, natural philosophy and mathematical science had been rendered into usable Arabic versions…. The scientific movement in Islam was both distinguished and durable … by the end of the ninth century translation activity had crested and serious scholarship was under way.  From the middle of the ninth century until well into the thirteenth, we find impressive scientific work in all the main branches of Greek science being carried forward throughout the Islamic world.  The period of Muslim preeminence in science lasted for 500 years – a longer period of time than has intervened between Copernicus and ourselves.”

[46] From http://www.magicdragon.com/UltimateSF/timeline12.html “Various Jewish scholar wrote and translated scientific and mathematical works from Arabic to Hebrew.  These include: Abraham ben Ezra… Maimonides… Johannes Hispalensis … Samuel ben Abbas, an unknown Jew of England who wrote 'Mathematicum Rudimenta'”

[47] Ivry, A. L., in article Nature, Encyclopedia Judaica vol. 12 cols. 888-889, Keter 1972; for the weaknesses and eventual failure of Islamic science see Huff.

[48] From the Encyclopedia Britannica “As far as is known, the originator of this distinctive kind of Platonism was Plotinus (AD 205–270)… Plotinus, like most ancient philosophers from Socrates on, was a religious and moral teacher as well as a professional philosopher engaged in the critical interpretation of a long and complicated school tradition. He was an acute critic and arguer, with an exceptional degree of intellectual honesty for his, or any, period; philosophy for him was not only a matter of abstract speculation but also a way of life in which, through an exacting intellectual and moral self-discipline and purification, those who are capable of the ascent can return to the source from which they came. His written works explain how from the eternal creative act—at once spontaneous and necessary—of that transcendent source, the One, or Good, proceeds the world of living reality, constituted by repeated double movements of outgoingand return in contemplation; and this account, showing the way for the human self—which can experience and be active on every level of being—to return to the One, is at the same time an exhortation to follow that way..”

[49] Aristotle and the Peripatetic School

1.       Aristotle’s writings fall int two categories:

a.       Exoteric Works – largely poetic dialogues modeled after Plato and designed for publication.  Only fragments of these remain

b.       Esoteric Works  these are Aristotle’s works as we know them.  They probably originally lecture notes which accounts for their difficult abbreviated nature.  They seem to have been originally confined to the archives of philosophical schools.  The esoteric works were published by Andronicus of Rhodes in the mid-first century CE, i.e. almost 300 years after Aristotle’s death.

2.       Peripatetic School

Aristotle’s School, known as the Peripatetic School, continued afte his death with its primary interest being natural science, along with the composition of character studies, especially of poets and philosophers.

3.       Aristotle’s Influence

  • Aristotle’s influence before the Roman Imperial period, say early first century CE, was minimal.  Evern his ethics were unappreciated because their applicability seemed too linked to the vanished world of the polis.  Perhaps a measure of the differing esteem enjoyed by Plato and Aristotle is that it is believed that we still posess all of Plato’s writings whereas about 80 percent of Aristotle’s have been lost.
  • The Ancient Aristotle, like the Ancient Galen and the Ancient Ptolomy in their fields, was one among a network of scholars working in science and philophy in the Hellenistic-Roman period (say 350 BCE – 250 CE).  Psychologically and practically this bears no relation to these men as unchallengable authorities in their fields in the Muslim and Christian Middle Ages when they slotted into an intellectual culture based on absolut authorities – for the Christians - God, the Bible, the Church; for the Muslims – Allah, the Koran, Muhammad.  It is ironic, that Aristotle, the empiricist, should have become the unchallengable authority on science in the Middle Ages; doubly so as he was ignored until after the creative period of Greek Science.

[50]  Following quoted from Twersky, Isadore, Introduction to the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah), Yale University Press, 1980; Twersky, Isadore, A Maimonides Reader, Behrman 1972; Goldstein, B. R, Maimonides, article Encyclopedia Judaica vol. 11 cols. 754-782, Keter 1972

 “The influence of Maimonides on the future development of Judaism is incalculable.  No spiritual leader of the Jewish people in the post-talmudic period has exercised such an influence both in his own and subsequent generations…. In his philosophic views Maimonides was an Aristotelian… and it was he who put medieval Jewish philosophy on a firm Aristotelian basis.  But in line with contemporary Aristotelianism his political philosophy was Platonic.”

“It is repeated emphatically in the Mishnah Torah, where Maimonides extols the wise men of Greece and insists upon the indispensability of their scientific writings:

… all this is part of the science of astronomy and mathematics, about which many books have been composed by Greek sages – books that are still available to the scholars of our time.  But the books which have been composed by the sages of Israel… have not come down to us. But since all these rules have been established by sound and clear proofs, free from any flaw and irrefutable, we need not be concerned about the identity of their authors, whether they were Hebrew prophets or Gentile sages.  For when we have to do with rules and propositions which have been demonstrated by good reasons and have been verified to be true by sound and flawless proofs, we rely upon the author who has discovered them or has transmitted them, only because of his demonstrated proofs and verified reasoning.”

“Furthermore, Maimonides’ halakic formulation, which grafts philosophy onto the substance of the Oral Law, dovetails perfectly with his view on the history of philosophy.  In common with many medieval writers, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim, Maimonides is of the opinion that Jews in antiquity cultivated the science of physics and metaphysics, which they later neglected for a variety of reasons, historical and theological.  He does not, however, repeat the widespread view, as does hal-Levi, that all sciences originated in Judaism and were borrowed or plagiarized by the ancient philosophers…. Maimonides does not care to trace all philosophical wisdom back to an ancient Jewish matrix.  His sole concern is to establish hokma as an original part of the Oral Law, from which it follows that the study of the latter in its encyclopaedic totality – that is, Gemara – includes philosophy.  This position – a harmonistic position unifying the practical, theoretical, and theological parts of the law – which Maimonides codified in Mishneh Torah.

“In one broad generalization, we may say that the Mishneh Torah became a prism through which reflection and analysis of virtually all subsequent Talmud study had to pass,  There is hardly a book in the broad field of Rabbinic literature that does not relate in some way to the Mishneh Torah.”

[51] Neo-Platonism was also fundamental to the development of Christian theology and Islamic Sufism and had a close relationship to Aristotelianism.  The following is from the Encyclopedia Britannica  “Relationship to Neoplatonism. Aristotle's works were adopted by the systematic builders of Neoplatonism in the 3rd century AD. Plotinus, the school's chief representative, followed Aristotle wherever he found a possibility of agreement or development, as he did in Aristotle's theory of the intellect. And Plotinus' pupil Porphyry, the first great harmonizer of Plato and Aristotle, provided the field of logic with a short introduction (Isagoge). … Neoplatonism dominated the school of Athens, where, apart from logic, Aristotle's writings were destined to be studied mainly as a basis for philosophical disputations.”

[52] “From the beginning of its development, the Kabbalah embraced an esoterism closely akin to the spirit of Gnosticism, one which was not restricted to instruction in the mystical path but also included ideas on cosmology, angelology and magic.  Only later, and as a result of the contact with medieval Jewish philosophy, the Kabbalah became a Jewish “mystical theology,” more or less systematically elaborated.  This process brought about a separation of the mystical, speculative elements from the occult and especially the magical elements…. The confrontation between the Gnostic tradition in the Bahir and neoplatonic ideas concerning God, His emanation, and man’s place in the world, was extremely fruitful, leading to the deep penetration of these ideas into earlier mystical theories.  The Kabbalah in its historical significance, can be defined as the product of the interpenetration of Jewish Gnosticism and neoplatonism.” From Scholem, G, Kabbalah article in Encyclopedia Judaica vol. 10 cols. 489-653, Keter 1972

[53] From Encyclopedia Judaica vol. 6 cols. 922-925, Keter 1972 – “There is no specific ethical literature as such in the biblical and talmudic period insofar as a systematic formulation of Jewish ethics is concerned.  Even the Wisdom literature of the Bible, though entirely ethical in content, does not aim at giving a systematic exposition of this science of morals and human duties, but confines itself to apothegms and unconnected moral sayings.  The same is true of tractate Avot, the only wholly ethical tractate of the Mishnah…. The beginnings of Jewish ethical literature in the Middle Ages are rooted in the development of Jewish philosophy of that period” 

[54] “…the orderly shaping of material scattered through the vast talmudic literature in a properly coherent pattern-all this in itself owes much to Maimonides' philosophical approach. More directly, Maimonides formulates his philosophical, theological, and ethical views as part of the halakhah, giving them the same authority and stating them with the same precision as the topics traditionally associated with the law. For the first time in Jewish legal codification, Maimonides presents the laws under highly revealing headings, such as Hilkhot yesodei hatorah ('The Laws of the Foundations of the Torah'), or Hilkhot deot ('The Laws of Ethical Conduct'). In the former section Maimonides presents Aristotelian physics and metaphysics and in the latter section his advocacy of the golden mean (the 'middle way'), in exactly the same manner as he presents all the details of the law in other sections of his code. Each detailed statement is a halakhah, a rule for the regulation of thought and belief as well as of practice. Maimonides believed that his philosophical views were true, and that truth has the sanctity of Torah; so he had no hesitation in taking the further step of incorporating into the halakhah the truths of which he had become convinced.We consider first Maimonides' Hilkhot yesodei hatorah, in which he Elaborates on the cosmological ideas of his day, holding that contemplation of the marvels of the universe leads to love and worship of the Creator. The doctrine of the spheres and their music is described. The spheres are disembodied intelligences, their motion in their revolution around the earth being evidence of the power of the Prime Mover. Furthermore, to the consternation of traditional talmudists, Maimonides identifies Aristotelian physics and metaphysics with, respectively, the Talmudic ma’aseh bereshit ('The Work of Creation') and maaseh merkavah

('The Work of the Chariot'); applying a talmudic statement to his own purpose, he gives these a far higher priority than the 'debates of Abbaye and Rava'. It is only when we realize that the phrase 'the debates of Abbayeand Rava' stood in Mimonides' day for the whole range of taditional talmudic-halakhic studies that his radicalism becomes fully apparent. Paradoxically, the supremacy of philosophy and theology over halakhah has here itself become part of the halakhah, since Maimonides gives this supremacy halakhic status by incorporating it into his code.” From A TREE OF LIFE: Dversity,Flexibility, and Creativity in Jewish Law (SECOND EDITION) by LOUIS JACOBS, The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2000 p. 43.