In reading the works of Western Philosophy the Bible is absent. It is Plato or Aristotle, the Stoics or the Neo-Platonists we encounter again and again. The spirit of their thinking hovers over every age of philosophical writing. However we would look in vain for the Bible in the recesses of Western metaphysics. The Prophets are absent when the philosophers speak of God.
What we mean by the absence of the Bible in the history of philosophy is not references or quotations; scriptural passages have occasionally found admittance. What we mean is the way of thinking, the mode at looking at the world, at life; the basic premises of speculation about being, about values, about meaning.
Open any history of philosophy. Thales or Parmenides is there; but is Isaiah or Elijah, Job or Ecclesiastes ever represented?
The result of such omission is that the basic premises of Western philosophy are derived from the Greek rather than the Hebraic thinking.
One of the most mistaken opinions is that Moses taught the same ideas as Plato or Aristotle, that there is no disagreement between the teachings of the philosophers and the teachings of the Prophets. The difference, it is claimed, is merely one of expression and style.
In his book The Prophets, Abraham Joshua Heschel describes the unique aspect of the Jewish prophets as compared to other similar figures. Whereas other nations have soothsayers and diviners who attempt to discover the will of their gods, according to Heschel the Hebrew prophets are characterized by their experience of what he calls theotropism—God turning towards humanity. Heschel argues for the view of Hebrew prophets as receivers of the “Divine Pathos”, of the wrath and sorrow of God over his nation that has forsaken him. In this view, prophets do not speak for God so much as they remind their audience of God’s voice for the voiceless, the poor and oppressed.
Some would say that Christianity took a wrong turning when the Church Fathers attempted to explain God’s actions in terms of Greek Philosophy. The Old Testament Prophets give us a much clearer concept of God than Aquinas who was so influenced by Aristotle.
What I love about the Prophets is their “Passion” for the Lord which is translated into their out pourings.
Take Hosea 11:8 in his speaking of God.
“My mind is Turning Over Inside Me. My Emotions Are Agitated All Together.”
This is no “unmoved mover.”
“Prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony, a voice to the plundered poor, to the profane riches of the world. It is a form of living, a crossing point of God and man. God is raging in the prophet’s words- Heschel
I first encountered Abraham Heschel in 1985 whilst browsing among bookshops in Modern Jerusalem. He has been one of the most powerful influences in my journey.
What Heschel said about Vatican II demonstrates that he was truly ecumenical in his outlook.
“The great spiritual renewal within the Roman Catholic Church by Pope John XXIII is a manifestation of the dimension of religious existence. It already has opened many hearts and unlocked many precious insights.”
“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ….get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.” – Abraham Heschel.
An interesting example of overly categorical thinking are the distinctions between substance, attribute, and mode in medieval metaphysics. They say more about how we think than about how things actually are, which is why I find Berkeley appealing. The thought of a “substance” existing without properties is ludicrous – we can say the words, but we don’t truly mean anything by them.
For my part, I do find it frustrating to read the fathers and other early sources because there is a lot of Semitic material missing, which they can’t be blamed for not knowing, but which nonetheless skews their interpretation. If the fathers had had access to the Ugaritic texts and other near eastern materials, the history of theology and hermeneutics would have been very different.
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To-day is Holocaust Day and if there had been more Jewish/Semitic material in the teaching of the medieval church and beyond would the Nazis ever have come to power? The Medieval Church all but ignored the Jewish Dimension. Even Luther when he discovered that he couldn’t covert the Jews suggested burning them.
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Yes, dark times in the history of the Church, which sadden me. There is still much reconciliation work to be done. In one sense, “too little, too late.” But the future is ahead of us and we can try to learn lessons from the past by arguing against the heresy of replacement theology and keeping our hearts and our purses open to support the survivors of the Holocaust and their descendants. The Joshua Fund is one charity, for example, that works with them in Israel.
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A Jewish theologian who has done much to promote Jewish-Christian relations is Michael Wyschogrod. His book “Abraham’s Promise is excellent. It’s published by SCM press under the auspices of Stanley L Hauerwas of Duke Universityand Peter Ochs of the University of Virginia. Hauerwas is Christian and Ochs is Jewish.
There is a superb introduction by R. Kendall Soulen. He is Professor of Systematic Theology at Wesley Theological Seminary in the US. The book is a series of articles and essays on themes that Jews and Christians can debate and share with profit. The one on Sin and Atonement is especially relevant.
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The Church resolutely opposed Hitler. Many Catholic priests died as a result of Nazi persecution.
If the Jews had converted to Christ in obedience to God, and not wrought bloody persecution against the Church, there would never have been a problem of ‘Jewish-Christian’ relations. Many Jews converted to Christ. Those that continued to adhere to rabbinical teachings, in opposition to Christ, are called in the Apocalypse, “a synagogue of Satan”.
Modern day Judaism is more inimical to Christianity than any other false religion. No other group, apart from Satanists, goes so far in denigrating the person of Christ in its writings.
Specific references in the Talmud quoted here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_in_the_Talmud
Not very complimentary.
On the theme, Malcolm, of Christian-Jewish relations, alas, as you know, the sotry goes right back to the time of the Lord and the eventual throwing out from the synagogues of the first Christians. We can see, in St Cyril’s Alexandria how the nearness of the two faiths actually exacerbated mutual hostility – real internecine conflict. Thank God that, in our time, so much has been done to heal these age-old wounds. The aspect of some types of self-styled traditional Catholicism I detest is the trace elements (and more) of anti-semitism. But then I am a great supporter of Israel and of better Jewish-Christian relations.
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