Commentary: On the Supremacy of Reason (4Maccabees 1:1-2)

In my own endeavor to incorporate the ancient philosophy of Hebraic Stoicism as my own personal philosophy, I have sought to better understand the work known as “On the Supremacy of Reason”, otherwise known as 4th Maccabees. In my search for a better understanding of this treatise, I have consulted not only the Tanak (which the author cites frequently) but the works of Philo of Alexandria (who was himself a Hebrew Stoic), as well as the ancient Greek and Aramaic (Syriac) versions of this document, in order to explore its profound teachings.

Having made such a deep investigation, and wishing to share the fruits with others seeking this same path, I am writing this commentary for the benefit of the restoration of Hebraic Stoicism.
The author opens with the words:

The subject that I am about to discuss is most philosophical, that is, whether devout reason is sovereign over the emotions. So it is right for me to advise you to pay earnest attention to philosophy.
(4Macc. 1:1 RSV)

By “philosophical” the author refers not just to philosophy in general, but clearly to the philosophy of Stoicism.

The key term “devout reasoning” is in the Greek ευσεβης λογισμος combining ευσεβης “godly, devout, reverent “ with λογισμος “calculation, reasoning, thought, reasoning power” from the Greek root λογος (Logos).  The term is similar to Philo’s term θειον λογον “Divine Reasoning”.

The Aramaic text has רעינא שרישא דשלם literally “true mind of peace” or “true mind of shalom”.  The Aramaic word שרישא is used in the Old Syriac and Peshitta in Matthew 22:16 when the Talmidim say to Yeshua “Teacher, we know that you are true” and where the DuTillet/Munster Hebrew has “we know you are am man of the faithful ones אמונים))”

In Genesis 15:6 we read concerning Avraham:

“And he believed (האמן) in YHWH, and He counted it to him for righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6)

The verb “believed” here in the Hebrew is the root for the word “faithful ones” in Matthew 22:16.

The official Targum to Genesis 15:6 paraphrases:

 “And he believed in the Word (Memra) of YHWH. And He counted it to him for righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6 Targum Onkelos)

And Targum Pseudo-Jonathan has:

“And he believed in YHWH, and had faith in the Word (Memra) of YHWH, and He reckoned it to him for righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6 Targum Pseudo-Jonathan)

Philo of Alexandria made a very interesting comment about this verse (Gen. 15:6):

“It is best, therefore, to trust in God, and not in uncertain reasoning, or unsure conjectures. “Abraham trusted in the Lord, and it was counted to him for Righteousness” (Gen. 15:6) And Moses governed the people, being testified to that he was faithful with his whole house. But if we distrust our own reason (LOGOS, Word), we shall prepare and build ourselves a city of the mind which will destroy the truth.” (Philo of Alexandria; Allegorical Interpretation, III, 228)

Hebraic Stoicism combines Stoic λογισμος “rational thought” with Jewish ευσεβης “devoutness” in a combination that the Aramaic translator understood as the רעינא שרישא דשלם “true mind of peace.” 

This system combined devout Torah Observant Judaism with the highly rational Stoic philosophy. The author of this treatise will demonstrate thru the arguments that it presents, that this philosophy Hebraic Stoicism naturally arises from the Torah, and not simply an attempt to synthesize something new by combining Judaism with Stoicism.. 

 For the subject is essential to everyone who is seeking knowledge, and in addition it includes the praise of the highest virtue — I mean, of course, rational judgment. (4Macc. 1:2 RSV)

The Greek word for “rational judgment” in this verse is φρονησεως “prudence” or “wisdom”.  The Aramaic has רעינא רמיסא “calm mind”.  The phrase reminds us of Proverbs 14:17 which reads differently in the Aramaic:

A man hasty in whatever he does never seeks counsel, But a wise man is calm (רמיסא). (Proverbs 14:17 Peshitta Aramaic)

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