Academic journal article Shofar

The Philosopher-King in Medieval and Renaissance Jewish Thought, by Abraham Melamed

Academic journal article Shofar

The Philosopher-King in Medieval and Renaissance Jewish Thought, by Abraham Melamed

Article excerpt

Albany: State-University of New York Press, 2003. 269 pp. $25.95.

Abraham Melamed presents his book as a study of Jewish political thought in the medieval and Renaissance periods. However, it is also, to my mind primarily, a study in Jewish theology focusing on issues of prophecy and revealed law. As such it is the more valuable to a contemporary student of Jewish religious thought. After all, Jews were stateless in these periods, and problems of political theory had no application in reality. Melamed argues that Plato's Philosopher-King theory was applied first by Muslim thinkers such as Al-Farabi and Ibn Rushd as a model for understanding Muhammad as Prophet and Lawgiver, and by Jewish thinkers as models for understanding Moses as Prophet and Lawgiver. By contrast, Christian thinkers whose Two Swords theory posited a distinction between civil authority and religious authority used Aristotle's Politics. Like Plato's Philosopher-King, Moses and Muhammad, as Founders of the Religion, would have sole and absolute political power in teaching and applying a set of laws that the Prophet would know to be true; and like Plato's Philosopher-King, the Prophet-Lawgiver would not live a solitary and isolated life contemplating the truth, although the contemplative life is the highest life humanly attainable. Instead, the Prophet-Lawgiver would accept the responsibilities of statesmanship and the practical duties of a political leader with a view towards shaping the ideal society here on earth. Melamed's acute and penetrating analysis of Maimonides' theories of revelation and prophecy demonstrates Maimonides' dependence on Plato's theory of the Philosopher-King, although on every other issue in philosophy, Maimonides follows Aristotle.

There is much that is original in Melamed's book. …

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