Is Torah Compatible with Stoicism?

Ancient Hebraic Stoics appear to have found themselves responding to certain Gentile Stoics, who claimed that Hebraic Stoicism was irrational. This debate between these Gentile Stoics and Hebraic Stoics finds itself cast in 4th Maccabees as a dialog between Antioch Epiphanies and an elderly Jew named Eleazar (shortly before Antioch Epiphanies has him tortured and killed). Antioch Epiphanies states:

[7] …it does not seem to me that you are a philosopher when you observe the religion of the Jews.
[8] Why, when nature has granted it to us, should you abhor eating the very excellent meat [pork] of this animal?
[9] It is senseless not to enjoy delicious things that are not shameful, and wrong to spurn the gifts of nature.
(4Macc. 5:7-9 RSV)

Antioch Epiphanies is making the argument that pork is not only “delicious” but a “gift of nature”. He is indicating that it is un-Stoic not to accept “gifts of nature” since a major tenant of Stoicism is to live in accordance with nature.

Eleazar responds:

[22] You scoff at our philosophy as though living by it were irrational,
[23] but it teaches us self-control, so that we master all pleasures and desires, and it also trains us in courage, so that we endure any suffering willingly;
[24] it instructs us in justice, so that in all our dealings we act impartially, and it teaches us piety, so that with proper reverence we worship the only real God.
[25] “Therefore we do not eat defiling food; for since we believe that the law was established by God, we know that in the nature of things the Creator of the world in giving us the law has shown sympathy toward us.
[26] He has permitted us to eat what will be most suitable for our lives, but he has forbidden us to eat meats that would be contrary to this.
(4Macc. 5:22-26 RSV)

Eleazar is saying that the Torah teaches us the virtues, and that abstaining from unkosher foods teaches us the virtue of self-control. That living a Torah Observant life, even in the face of oppression (even torture and death) manifests the virtue of courage. The Torah teaches us to act impartially in our dealings with others, thus manifesting the virtue of justice.

Moreover Eleazar argues that kosher foods are “most suitable for our lives” while unkosher foods are “contrary to this,” implying that kosher foods are healthier and thus, abstaining from food that is “contrary to [being] suitable for our lives” is itself living in accordance with nature, that is, nature’s Creator.

The ancient Hebraic Stoics believed that Abraham’s faith, was not an irrational faith, but a rational faith in the Logos, the rational intellect which pervades the universe.

In Genesis 15:6 we read concerning Abraham:

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

The Targums were ancient Aramaic paraphrases of the Torah and the Prophets.  The official Targum to this verse 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 Psedo-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)

The ancient Hebraic Stoics saw Abraham’s faith as a rational faith, and ultimately as a faith in the Logos.

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