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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

The Greco‐Roman World

The Bible itself laid the foundation for the pursuit of wisdom in Judaism, even though the Bible is not a philosophical text. Fusing ancient Israelite wisdom with covenantal theology, the book of Deuteronomy stated that the laws given to Israel are wisdom that the people of other nations can appreciate and the torah or teaching (understood in postbiblical Judaism as the Torah) is wisdom proper to Israel (4.5–8). The identification of Torah and wisdom meant that the scholar of Torah is also the carrier of the sapiential tradition and that to stand in a proper relationship with God, the wise person must fathom the truth of the Torah. As attested in the Wisdom of Ben Sirach, by the 2nd century BCE, the fusion of Torah and wisdom was fully in place: The Torah was understood to contain not only divine commands that regulate social relations and Israel's relationship with God, but also information about God's created world. Since Torah is revealed wisdom, the pursuit of wisdom about the world, which is the task of philosophy, would have to be linked to the interpretation of the divinely revealed text.

Jewish philosophy began in earnest during the Hellenistic period, when Diaspora Jews encountered Greek philosophy. As Greek‐speaking Egyptian Jews lost their facility in Hebrew, they translated the Bible into Greek—the Septuagint—and began to study it in light of Greek philosophy. The first Jewish philosopher known by name, Aristobulus (ca. 180–145 BCE), wanted readers to understand the Torah philosophically in order to demonstrate the rationality of the Jewish religion. (A few extant fragments of his work are in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha [ed. James Charlesworth, Garden City: Doubleday, 1985], pp. 831–42.) Writing in Greek to Jews and Gentiles, Aristobulus presented Judaism as a type of philosophical school. He did not wish to assimilate the Jewish religion into Greek philosophy, but rather to argue that Judaism is superior to other philosophical schools because “Plato and the philosophers borrowed from Moses.” Though Aristobulus equated the God of the Jews and the God of the Gentile philosophers, his teachings were thoroughly Jewish because he also identified the rational wisdom of the philosophers with “Torah.” Precisely because the Torah teaches philosophical truths, it must not be taken literally. Through allegorical reading of the Septuagint, Aristobulus and other educated Jews could explain to themselves and to non‐Jews the meaning of Jewish practices, beliefs, and sacred texts that kept the Jews a people apart in the Greco‐Roman world. Allegory would typify much of the early Jewish Hellenistic philosophical tradition.

Another typical example of Judeo‐Hellenistic philosophical writing was the author of the Wisdom of Solomon, who was conversant in Middle Platonism (a philosophical school that flourished from 80 BCE to 220 CE and was steeped in Stoicism), as well as in Israelite Wisdom tradition. The Wisdom of Solomon was an attempt to place the Jewish religion within a broad philosophical text, intelligible to educated contemporaries who are at home in Hellenistic philosophy. The author identifies himself with King Solomon and, on the basis of 1 Kings ch 3 , presents King Solomon as achieving a union with Wisdom through searching and praying ( 7.7–9; 9.1–8 ). For the duration of Jewish philosophy, the beliefthat King Solomon was the prototype of the sage and patron of arts and sciences would legitimize the study on philosophy and science and would make Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs, two works attributed to him, central texts for philosophical commentaries.

The most important and prolific Jewish philosopher of the Hellenistic period was Philo of Alexandria (15 BCE–50 CE). At home in the culture of the Greek polis and thoroughly proficient in the philosophy of the major Greek schools of Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, and the Pythagoreans, Philo's allegiance to Scripture was never in question. He rejected a radical allegorical reading of the Bible and argued that those who advocated it merely wished to assimilate into Hellenistic Roman society and abandon Judaism. For Philo true philosophical life is to be found in the divine law of Moses, which leads its adherents to the attainment of the ultimate end of human life—the seeing of God. Philo's exposition of Scripture's truths was meant to prove the uniqueness and epistemological superiority of the Jewish tradition over other intellectual and religious traditions.

The prophecy of Moses plays an important role in establishing the perfection of the Hebrew Scriptures. For Philo, Moses was the most perfect of men with reference to his priestly piety (Mos. 2:66) and his constant and unbroken nobility of life and other virtues (Mos. 1:24; 29; 2:58). With no sin and imperfection, Moses was “king, lawgiver, high priest, prophet,” and “in each function he won the highest place” (Mos. 2:292). Philo provides a highly idealized account of Moses' life, illustrating his outstanding moral and religious qualities. Moses' prophecy itself proved his intellectual perfection since he comprehended the incorporeal, intelligible world of Ideas. Using the language of allegory to do it, Moses wrote down what he had seen of the incorporeal world of real essences. The intellectual study of “mental things and real existences” is the allegorical study of Scripture. In accordance with the Platonic schema of the Republic, Philo portrays Moses as the philosopher‐king who “attained the very summit of philosophy,” and he is credited with discoveries wrongly attributed to others (Mos. 2:2). While Moses was not God, he was not merely human either. Philo applies to Moses the same title—theos—that he applies also to the Logos. Indeed, Moses receives a “divine communication,” meaning that “all that follows in the wake of God is within the good man's apprehension while he himself is beyond it.” As the embodiment of Logos, Moses is called “the law‐giving Word,” by which humanity could be rescued from the bondage of matter. Thus Moses is the supreme high priest, who bestows “a blessing which nothing in the world can surpass” (Mos. 2:67). Moses rescued mankind from the bondage of matter.

Philo adapted to Scriptures the same method that the Stoics used to interpret Homer and Greek mythology. The Hebrew Scriptures for him are the inspired word of God. Moses' utterances were “absolutely and entirely signs of the divine excellence, conduct and particularly the nation of his worshippers, for whom he opens up the road which leads to happiness” (Mos. 2:189). The Bible was composed in a state comparable to that of the philosopher when he is inspired to recall intelligible ideas beyond the world of sense and matter. That means that for Philo, the Torah is inspired, but Moses and not God was its author, a daring notion indeed as far as later rabbinic Judaism is concerned. The same inspiration also filled the Septuagint translators who preserved the true meaning of the mysteries conveyed by Moses.

At Sinai Moses’ purified soul was engraved or inscribed by God. By virtue of this divine impression of knowledge, Moses was a “living law” even before he composed the written laws. In his own person Moses functioned as a kind of seal designed to impress the law in the shape of his life on those who would become his followers (Mos. 1:158–59). Moses expressed his extraordinary knowledge through the act of writing (rather than speaking) whenhe composed the Torah, which contains laws of proper conduct and facts about the structure of the cosmos. The language at his disposal, however, was post‐lapsarian; it was no longer the original Adamic language, which had been mimetic. Whereas Adamic language presented reality by giving names to things on the basis of direct apprehension of the essences of things, Moses could only use an imperfect language. Moreover, since Moses addressed all Israelites, who by definition were imperfect and ill prepared, he had to use audio‐visual aids to convey his conceptual message. The result was the anthropomorphic language of the Bible, which requires allegorical interpretation.

The upshot of Philo's analysis is that only the Mosaic law enables those who follow it to live by the Stoic mandate of life in accordance with nature. The zenith of the well‐lived life is an individual, ecstatic, unmediated experience of coming to know the transcendent and immaterial God. This is a contemplative, mystical experience in which the “eye of the mind” or the soul comes “to see God.” As the goal of human life, this mystical experience governs the direction of the happy life, organizing all human activities to attain it. Since for Philo the revealed law of Moses is the ideal law, which God implanted in nature at creation, the universal goal of “seeing God” is achievable only for those who live by the law of Moses, since it alone guides humanity in accordance with nature. Hence the experience of “seeing God” constitutes the community of “Israel” which for Philo is a nonethnic intellectual‐religious category (“those who see God”) rather than an ethnic or national category. This view would enable Christian readers to adapt Philo for their own needs, making him into a Church Father, and explains why the works of Philo were preserved in the church rather than in the synagogue.

Philo illustrates the extent to which a Jewish intellectual in 1st‐century Alexandria could creatively reconcile the Greek philosophical tradition with Scripture‐based religion. Yet Philo did not chart the future development of Judaism. Instead, the Rabbis of the land of Israel and Babylonia articulated what became normative Judaism. Although the Rabbis reflected on the same themes of concern to Philo, they did not adopt his allegorical method of interpretation. Similarly, while the rabbinic academy shared many features with Greco‐Roman philosophical schools, including the total commitment to the love of wisdom (which the Rabbis equated with Torah), and the life‐long cultivation of moral and intellectual virtues, rabbinic speculations about God, the universe, the problem of evil, and the purpose of human life proceeded hermeneutically and homiletically rather than systematically and demonstratively. In addition, rabbinic views developed from the Hebrew text, rather than from the Septuagint. These views, found in a wide variety of early and late rabbinic texts, are extremely diffuse and diverse and are extremely difficult to categorize and to compare to the oeuvre of a single individual like Philo.

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