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Athens and Jerusalem: A Theologico-Political shtrom through Jewish philosophy

Lecturer: Jon Rubin

Originally Taught: Evening Sem 1 2022

In the second century CE, Tertullian, a Christian apologist, wrote On the Prescription of Heretics which contains a wonderful amount of bile against the impact that Greek philosophy had had on Christian thought, leading him to ask, in a now famous phrase: “What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” Tertullian was of course too late and both Islamic and Christian theology has not ceased to be caught in a fraught negotiation with Greek ideas. But before Tertullian, is the man who started this weaving together of Greek and monotheistic thought: a Jewish thinker, Philo of Alexandria. According to Wolfson’s assessement, for sixteen hundred years, philosophy was “fundamentally Philonic”. Wolfson includes Islamic, Jewish, and Christian philosophy in this assessment. He does not see the end of this Philonism of philosophy until Spinoza in the seventeenth century. However, “fundamental” is not the same as exclusive or total. Just as there were Christian and Islamic thinkers who sought to disentangle theology from Greek thought, so too were there significant Jewish thinkers (namely Halevi and Crescas) who sought to separate theology from Greek thought, before Spinoza.

This course offers an extremely partial (in the full sense of a selection of preferred parts) introduction to some key Jewish thinkers from Philo to Derrida.

The guiding thread throughout is a theological-political concern about philosophy and the means, motive and opportunity to think, despite the efforts of the polity or the clergy. The course will begin with Philo in the first century BCE and end with Derrida in the twentieth.

  1. Philo: Every Good Man is Free
  2. Halevi: The politics of history
  3. Maimonides: The politics of prophecy
  4. Crescas: On the eternity of the world
  5. Spinoza: Appendix to Book One of the Ethics and the Preface to the Theological-Political Treatise
  6. Mendelssohn: The Pantheism Controversy
  7. Maimon: Origin of Moral Good and Evil
  8. Rosenzweig: Part One of The Star of Redemption
  9. Benjamin: Critique of Violence
  10. Shestov: Athens and Jerusalem
  11. Arendt: ‘The Reversal of Contemplation and Action’ in The Human Condition
  12. Derrida: Politics of Friendship