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Jewish Philosophy in the Medieval World


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Jewish Philosophy in the Medieval World

V78.0425


MW 9:30-10:45

SILV 414
Prof. Elliot R. Wolfson

The aim of the course is to introduce the student to the main figures and themes in medieval Jewish philosophy. Topics to be discussed include reason, faith, and prophetic revelation; Israel’s election and universal human nature; creation versus eternity; divine heteronomy and moral autonomy; free will, necessity, and divine omniscience; evil, justice, and divine omnipotence; prayer, contemplation, human perfection.

Course requirements consists of a midterm, final, one classroom presentation, and a research paper. Attendance and class participation will also be factors in determining the grade.


The main textbook for the course is The Jewish Philosophy Reader, edited by Daniel Frank, Oliver Leahman, and Charles Manekin. The pagination of all the readings are from this book. Students are required to purchase a copy and to bring it to class.
In addition to the required course readings, it is strongly recommended that all students read the following works in the course of the semester (books will be put on reserve in the library):
Isaac Husik, A History of Mediaeval Jewish Philosophy

Julius Guttmann, Philosophies of Judaism, section II

Colette Sirat, A History of Jewish Philosophy in the Middle Ages

The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Jewish Philosophy, edited by Daniel Frank and Oliver Leaman
Session I: General Introduction to Jewish Philosophy: Scripture and Textual Reasoning
Session II: Reason, Faith, and Prophetic Revelation

Reading: Leo Strauss, “The Mutual Influence of Theology and Philosophy,” pp. 570-582

Samuel H. Bergman, Faith and Reason, pp. 583-585

Saadia Gaon, Book of Beliefs and Convictions, pp. 175-176

Judah Halevi, Kuzari, pp. 203-208

Abraham Ibn Ezra, Commentary on Exod 20:2, pp. 215-217

Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, pp. 139-150
Session III: Israel’s Election and Universal Human Nature

Reading: Philo, On the Creation of the World, pp. 15-19

Judah Halevi, Kuzari, pp. 209-211

Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, pp. 23-25


Session IV: Creation versus Eternity

Reading: Genesis 1-3, pp. 7-10

Philo, On the Creation of the World, pp. 11-15

Judah Halevi, Kuzari, pp. 208-209

Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, pp. 27-32, 232-233

Session IV: Divine Heteronomy and Moral Autonomy

Reading: Genesis 22, pp. 39-40 (Binding of Isaac)

Philo. On the Creation of the World, pp. 15-19

Saadia Gaon, Book of Beliefs and Convictions, pp. 171-175

Judah Halevi, Kuzari, pp. 211-214

Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, pp. 223-232 (Foundations of the Law)

Idem, Guide of the Perplexed, pp. 40-41, 129-131


Session V: Free Will, Necessity, and Divine Omniscience

Reading: Exodus 9, 10, 14 (Hardening of the Pharaoh’s heart), pp. 46-48

Philo, On the Creation of the World, pp. 19-23

Saadia Gaon, Book of Beliefs and Convictions, pp. 177-180

Maimonides, Commentary on the Mishnah, pp. 48-50 (Eight Chapters)

Idem, Guide of the Perplexed, pp. 25-27


Session VI: Evil, Justice, and Divine Providence

Reading: Job, 1-2, 42, pp. 60-62

Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, pp. 73-78

Gersonides, Wars of the Lord, pp. 78-79


Session VII: Prayer, Contemplation, Human Perfection

Reading: Bachya Ibn Paquda, Duties of the Heart, pp. 105-108

Solomon Ibn Gabirol, Fountain of Life, pp. 190-200

Judah Halevi, Kuzari, pp. 212-214

Abraham Ibn Ezra, Commentary on Exod 23:25-6, pp. 217-218

Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, pp. 228-232 (Ethical Dispositions)



Idem, Guide of the Perplexed, pp. 234-242


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