Jewish Monotheism and Greek Rationalism

Following in the footsteps of Socrates, Greek philosophers believed all areas of human life, including religion, need to be subject to rational analysis. Stoic philosophers developed this idea by arguing that human reason comes from a divine and eternal rational force called the Logos, which is the cause of all order throughout the world. Since order is the basis of goodness in things and in people, the Logos is the cause of all goodness in the world. Thus, all traditional forms religious thought and practice can be judged according to how well it reflects the work of the Logos. Cleanthes’ “Hymn to Zeus,” identifies the chief of the Greek gods with the Logos.

Jews encountered Stoic philosophy in the Diaspora when Jews settled in Greek cities and practiced their traditional religion without sacrificial rituals. Such rituals could only be performed at the temple in Jerusalem. These rituals were an outward sign for the Jews of what separated them from other people and of their privileged connection with God. The Jewish encounter with the Stoic idea of the Logos helped them develop a new understanding of how their God was the only true God, whose goodness is revealed to rational persons in the order of the world. They saw the work of Wisdom, a divine spirit present with God in creation (Proverbs 8:22-31), doing the works that Stoics attributed to the Logos. The Jewish encounter with Stoic philosophy led some Jewish thinkers to view the spirit of Wisdom ordering the inner life of persons (their souls) in the way that Stoics see the Logos doing, as seen in Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-8:8.

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The Jewish encounter with Stoicism appears to have had two or important effects. It helped Judaism complete the monotheistic turn that began in the Jews return from captivity in Babylon and resettlement in Jerusalem which included the rebuilding of the temple. After the temple was rebuilt, Jews continues following their ancient religious law in a manner the emphasized separation from other people. The encounter with Stoicism also help Jews broaden their understanding of “righteousness,” the central focus of Jewish belief and practice, so that righteousness of individuals before God included the development of well-ordered souls and the exercise of the same moral virtues as God philosophers had argued were essential to a genuinely happy life. As Jews were seen practicing a philosophically informed religion, they probably were better able to integrate themselves into the life of Greek cities.

1. The Jewish encounter with Greek philosophy occurred during the Hellenistic Period when most of the eastern Mediterranean world was governed by Greeks, the result of Alexander the Great’s conquests. How did the conditions of life in the Hellenistic world cause Greek philosophers and Diaspora Jews alike to begin thinking about matters of individual happiness and social order in “universal” terms? Why did traditional religious beliefs and practices have to be adapted to a new reality? (See chapter 10 in Martin, Ancient Greece, and the reading on Philosophy and Religion in the Hellenistic World.)Order Now
2. Note how Cleanthes’ “Hymn to Zeus” describes the universal scope the Logos’ work in ordering nature and providing a basis (possibility) for order and goodness in the lives of humans. Note how the work of God’s spirit of Wisdom is described similarly in Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-8:8. Identify particular statements in each writing that make similar points the source of order in the world and source of goodness in human life.

3. Stoics, perhaps intentionally, describe the Logos as an impersonal divine force. Note how this is not the case with the spirit of Wisdom in the Wisdom of Solomon. In comparing these two writings, explain how the “Hymn to Zeus” presents a philosophy about God and the divine nature of the world that is not attached to any particular religion (despite the fact that Zeus is addressed), while Wisdom of Solomon presents form of religious practice for Jews in the Diaspora that is informed by philosophical ideas.

Integrate your answers to these questions in an essay of the topic, When Jewish Monotheism Meets Greek Rationalism. Length: 500-650 words. For more information on Jewish Monotheism and Greek Rationalism watch :

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