How Does One Become a Jewish Philosopher? Reflections on a Canonical Status

Michael Zank

Abstract


Many recent journal articles and monographs by students of Jewish philosophy have been dedicated to the question of definition: what is Jewish philosophy, and how can it be distinguished from its others, such as Jewish thought, non-philosophical Judaism, and non-Jewish philosophy, philosophical theory of religion, etc. In this essay, I take a somewhat playful alternative approach by asking about philosophers rather than philosophies. The first parts compares the status of philosophers in different cultures. In comparison with the high regard for philosophy and philosophers, philosophers were not regarded highly by the Jews, at least not since the rabbinic tradition made Hellenism appear contemptible. Conversely, Hellenizing Greeks and Jews considered Judaism not just compatible with the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle but itself a philosophy and regarded the Jews as a race of philosophers (Theophrastus). The canon of Jewish philosophers wavers between none and all, depending on who establishes such a canon. In the final section, I follow the intuitions of Gillian Rose, whose death-bed conversion may, to some, put her beyond the pale of Jewish philosophers and who contributes a useful mode of decanonization to the discussion of who is a Jewish philosopher.

Keywords


Philosophy, Jewish; Hellenism; canon; Rose, Gillian; Wolfson, H. A.; Philo of Alexandria; paideia

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