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.