Christianity in Jewish Terms

By Tikva Frymer-Kensky; David Novak et al. | Go to book overview
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medieval Jewish philosophical traditions drew directly on the work of Philo. Nevertheless, many of the philosophical issues raised by Philo were revisited centuries later in the work of figures such as Sa'adiyah Gaon ( 882-942) and Moses Maimonides( 1135-1204), both of whom may have been influenced by traditions that ultimately led back to Philo.

The controversies about philosophical Judaism in the centuries following Maimonides' publication of the Guide to the Perplexed may help us understand why Philo's writings were apparently not preserved in ancient rabbinic academies. The Maimonidean controversy concerned, in part, the compatibility of universalizing allegorical interpretation with the particular demands of the Law. Maimonides' allegorical approach, perhaps indirectly inherited from Philo, was developed by interpreters like Rabbi Ya'akov Anatoli ( thirteenth century), whose Malmad Hatalmidim (Goad of the Students) was studied every week in some synagogues. However, halachists such as Rabbi Shlomo ben Adret ( 1235-1310) warned that allegorical interpretation was weakening faith and observance, and he placed some of its practitioners under the ban. For example, he banned those who interpreted the personalities of Abraham and Sarah as representations of universally significant Greek philosophical concepts. But this was exactly the exegetical approach pioneered by Philo. The kind of philosophical interpretation embodied in the works of Philo and Maimonides never vanished from Judaism, yet its complex relation to Jewish particularity made it a minority interest, under occasional clouds of suspicion.

Finally, during the period of the Reformation a striking change occurred. Just when some Protestants rejected Philo of Alexandria as Philo Judaeus, Jewish scholars, notably Azariah dei Rossi ( 1511-1578), rediscovered him. Philo's storehouse of Jewish interpretation was reopened to Jewish scholars. More than three centuries after this rediscovery, Harry Austryn Wolfson ( 1887-1974), pioneer of Jewish studies in America, developed an interpretation of the intellectual history of the West in which Philo was the seminal figure, the founder of a philosophical tradition without which the classical philosophical works of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam would have been impossible.


Conclusion

Philo's work was motivated by a question that later divided Judaism and Christianity: can the religious experiences and traditions of an

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